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.
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.
Book – “What’s your favorite book?” is a cruel and unusual question to ask any librarian, but when absolutely forced to give an answer, Good Omens is where I tend to land. In an effort to keep this review from getting too gushing, then, I’m going to try to focus more on comparisons than description, because allowing me near superlatives in this case is a dangerous prospect. Let me just give the basics on plot–namely, it’s a humorous take on the Apocalypse (no, really)–and hurry from there to the land of “you’ll like this if”.
The obvious ones first: if you already enjoy the solo work of either Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, then Good Omens is unquestionably worth your time. Even though it was written before the explosion of the internet and the resulting acceleration of mashup culture, it’s a perfect example of the kind of textual remixing that both writers did and do so well, deconstructing classic stories and themes and rebuilding them into something fresh and self-aware. It has all of Sir Terry’s boundless humor (and footnotes!) and sudden moments of profound emotional insight, with Gaiman’s unpretentious lyricism and finger on the pulse of the collective unconscious, and it reads so seamlessly that it’s impossible to tell that it comes from two different authors.
But you by no means need to already be a fan of either writer to love Good Omens; it was the first thing I read of either of theirs, and I was hooked from page one. If you already love Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Eddie Izzard or Christopher Moore, you’re a shoe-in; Good Omens is all about that same irreverent sense of humor. It’s a great choice, too, for fans of Roald Dahl or Ray Bradbury or Kurt Vonnegut, sharing their sometimes dark yet deeply compassionate lens on humanity. It’s for fantasy and sci-fi fans, but for humor fans too. It’s for the reader who wants a quick read that deserves to be called ‘light’ yet tackles big themes and doesn’t shy away from emotional impact. It’s for pretty much anybody who doesn’t mind allowing humor and religion to mix (never, in my opinion, in a way that mocks anyone or their beliefs). And it is–to allow myself just the one moment of gushing–an absolute, unqualified delight.
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.
Book – Game 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 titleA 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.
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.
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 Shopaholicis chick lit at its light, airy, and compulsively readable best.
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 Daysby Elsa Watson and The Dog in the Freezerby 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.
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.
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.