My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

9781594748622Book–Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since Abby’s E.T.-themed birthday in the fourth grade, where Gretchen was the only girl who showed up. Their friendship has been the most significant relationship in both girls’ lives, despite class differences between Abby’s and Gretchen’s families and the vagaries of school friendships. The book is set in Abby and Gretchen’s sophomore year, where they  have climbed up to popularity at their selective high school. Trouble starts, though, at a house party at their friend’s lake house, where the girls decide to try LSD. Gretchen has a bad reaction and disappears into the nearby forest for the night. When she reappears, she is…different.

She ceases bathing, wears the same clothes everyday, scribbles listlessly in a notebook, and, most damningly, ignores her nightly telephone date with Abby. Naturally, when your friend takes a turn for the crazy, your first thought is not that she is possessed by a demon, but eventually it becomes clear that there is more wrong with Gretchen than one bad night can explain. I won’t spoil any of the gratuitous-but-fun demonic evil here, but all of the hallmarks of demonic possession are present and accounted for. Abby must decide whether saving Gretchen’s life is worth risking her own; not only her life, but her precarious standing as a poor scholarship student and all of the success that she has fought so hard for. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is part tongue-in-cheek love letter to the 1980s, part touching best friend story, and part gut-curdling horror, but all fun. Hendrix has mastered the tiny niche genre of injecting over-the-top horror into really unlikely and banal scenarios.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

29340182Book–In Shrill, online columnist Lindy West shares a series of highly personal essays on topics ranging from abortion to being fat to her father’s death. The essays seem to be organized vaguely chronologically, but also with a progression from funny and light to more serious and vulnerable. My favorite of the essays was late in the book, a gut-wrenching account of Lindy’s experience with an online troll who, not content with the pedestrian vitriol usually lobbed at women on the internet, decided to pose as Lindy’s recently deceased father and insult her using his face and personal details. Also unlike other trolls, when confronted on how depraved his actions were, he sincerely apologized and gave some insight on what prompted his actions.

Lindy’s brand of humor is crass, sharp, and laden with modern internet parlance; readers will either respond to it or they won’t. While I did enjoy her essays in this collection, I think that her writing is perhaps better suited to shorter form pieces and journalism. I found that her writing style becomes too abrasive to read for long periods and is best enjoyed in short chunks. If you enjoyed this collection, I would also recommend books by Jessica Valenti and Andi Zeisler.

Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman

indexBook Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman is an exploration of anxiety and its effect on one woman’s life.  In 2014,  Kat went public about having General Anxiety Disorder, publishing a blog post on CNN.com titled “Living With Anxiety, Searching For Joy“.  The reception following the publication was incredible; she received an overwhelming response from readers overjoyed to hear a voice that resonated so much with their own lives.

I have to mention first how much I love the cover art of this book;  I’m always a sucker for cute animals, (especially bunnies) and I snatched this off the shelf without a second thought.  It also seems appropriate given the subject matter–rabbits are by nature skittish, nervous bundles of fluff, in my opinion a perfect mascot for anxiety.

Kat Kinsman is a funny, relatable author who does an amazing job showing what life is like for someone living with anxiety.  She delves into all aspects of her life in a format that switches between chronological chapters, and sections titled irrational fear.  The irrational fear segments detail specific activities and instances that incite anxiety in Kat, including but not limited to: “Seeing the doctor,” “Having No way Out,” and “Driving”.  My favorite thing about this book is Kat’s focus on personal relationships–the role anxiety plays in her relationships with others, and specifically its impact on the pursuance of romantic relationships.  Embarking on romantic endeavors is difficult enough without anxiety and I found that Kat’s personal narrative of love and loss really resonated with me.

It’s easy to feel a connection to Kat’s words thanks to the intimate and honest nature of her writing.  Whether or not a reader struggles with a mental disorder, I think anyone can find a connection with some aspect of Kat’s experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man Up (2015)

Man-Up-2015-movie-posterMovie— Cynical thirty-something Nancy (Lake Bell) is single and does not want to be. When a chance encounter on the train leads to her being mistaken as Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date Jessica, she decides to roll with it and go on a date with Jack. Naturally, Jack and Nancy hit it off right away, having a whole montage sequence worth of a cute date until circumstances and an obsessed former classmate of Nancy’s conspire to reveal her identity. Once Nancy’s identity as not the twenty-four year old triathlete Jessica is revealed, Jack and Nancy turn on each other, but it transpires that Jack’s motives for arranging a date with Jessica were more mercenary than he admitted to initially. When the real Jessica contacts Jack and asks for a do-over of their date, Jack must decide if he wants to meet the actual Jessica or explore his new connection with Nancy.

Man Up is a great feel-good, date night type movie with some genuinely funny parts. I especially appreciated that it was less raunchy than some modern romantic comedies (though still a bit raunchy). As a devotee of Meg Ryan-era rom-coms, I’m always pleased when modern rom-coms fall on the tamer side of things. If you like this one, I would also suggest Run, Fatboy, Run (also stars Simon Pegg) and My Best Friend’s Wedding (also has a cynical protagonist).

Love Actually (2003)

love-actually-dvd-coverMovie- A story of love at Christmas time. Love Actually intertwines 9 mini stories of new love, lost love, forbidden love, and young love. A few of the integrating stories are of the newly elected British Prime Minister falling for his junior staffer, a man who is in love with his best friends new wife, a young boy that has found his first epic love, a man who is dealing with the death of his wife, a married man and his new young attractive secretary, and a woman who is heavily involved with her mentally ill little brother has a complicated love life.

Although it is a movie you need to watch all the way thru from the beginning the first time to keep the stories straight, it truly is one of my favorite Christmas movies ever. Its not a traditional holiday movie in the sense that it is not religious, and not about Santa Clause either. Its about the feeling of Christmas, and the setting is the holiday season. I will say Love Actually is a little chick flick like, but I did find it interesting to see the aspects of British culture through out the sets and language.

The Wit and Wisdom of Downtown Abbey

indexBookThe Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey is perfect as a small gift or stocking stuffer.  Known for beautiful costumes and settings, great characters, stories, and excellent writing – Jessica Fellowes has compiled some of her favorite quotes from the show.  The book is beautifully illustrated with color stills from the series.  Paging through it the reader will be reminded of some of the most memorable scenes and the personalities of the characters. It’s also interesting to experience all the social changes that happened over the six seasons.

Some of the best quotes are from Violet played splendidly by Maggie Smith.  “Have we all stepped through the looking glass?”, “Poor souls. It’s bad enough parenting a child when you like each other.”  Speaking to her grown son Robert: “When you talk like that I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper.”  And loving words between one of my favorite couples: Mrs. Hughes: “You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady.” Carson: “I don’t know how, but you manage to make that sound a little risqué.”  This is just a small example of many, many more.  A fun little book that is truly witty and wise.

You may also like Behind the Scenes of Downton Abbey, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, Downton Abbey: A Celebration, and The World of Downton Abbey.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

boy-in-the-black-suit-9781442459502_lgBook–Matt’s world collapsed the day his mother lost her battle with cancer. And now he is losing his father to the bottle. Nothing is the same anymore. He suddenly feels older than all of his friends and nobody seems to understand what he is going through. When Mr. Ray offers him a job working with him at the funeral home, Matt’s first reaction is to say no. He really did not want to be surrounded by death, it would just remind him of what he lost.

But when Matt realizes that he has two options: work at the Cluck Bucket or work for Mr. Ray, he takes Mr. Ray’s offer. And he is surprised at how cathartic it was to watch another person struggle with their pain. Now, Matt cannot wait for another funeral. He even wears his black suit everyday so he is prepared for work. Then he meets Lovey, who has also dealt with pain and loss, and he begins to realize that maybe he is not actually alone in the world.

The Boy in the Black Suit is a great book about dealing with the loss of a loved one and learning to overcome your trials. It is beautifully written with diverse and funny characters. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading realistic fiction.

All the Wrong Questions by Lemony Snicket

cover-book1Books – Something Unfortunate has arrived.

Young adult readers who followed A Series of Unfortunate Events when it was released (more than a decade ago!), and the parents and other then-adult readers who devoured the books along with them, may already know that the smash-hit series is slated for a new small-screen adaptation to debut on Netflix next year.  That means that right now is a great time to re-visit Snicket’s (aka Daniel Handler‘s) playfully grim universe–especially because that universe has just expanded.

All the Wrong Questions is an recently-completed Unfortunate Events spin-off series, consisting of four main books (1: Who Could That Be At This Hour? 2: When Did You See Her Last? 3: Shouldn’t You Be in School? 4: Why is This Night Different From All Other Nights?) and one volume of related short stories (File Under– 13 Suspicious Incidents). Set a generation before ASoUE, AtWQ chronicles an exciting period in the life of young Lemony Snicket, the narrator/”author” of ASoUE, during his time as an apprentice investigator in a forlorn and mostly-abandoned village called Stain’d-by-the-Sea.

ASoUE and AtWQ definitely belong in the same universe.  They share the same melancholy-yet-hopeful tone, the same focus on heroic individuals struggling often unsuccessfully against a world of selfishness and corruption, and the same conviction that the surest way of telling the bad guys from the good guys is usually that the good guys love to read.  In other ways, however, the two series have significant tonal differences.  Where ASoUE is about as Gothic as a story can be, AtWQ chooses a different downbeat genre and skews heavily noir–if Humphrey Bogart doesn’t actually manage to climb through the pages, it’s not for lack of trying.  Another big difference is that, while ASoUE’s three protagonists are siblings who can depend on one another from page one, Lemony in AtWQ starts out alone and builds himself a found family in the course of the books.  Young readers who have just finished ASoUE should also know that AtWQ is a slightly more difficult read, written for an audience a few years older.

All of that said, I think that every Unfortunate Events fan should give All the Wrong Questions a try.  It’s a quick and enjoyable read with a great sense of humor–and the perfect way to tide yourself over until January 13!

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.