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.
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.
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 Days by Elsa Watson and The Dog in the Freezer by 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.
DVD – Ruby and Rhett are teenage siblings whose parents tragically die in an automobile accident. Long time family friends, the Glasses, become their new guardians. The Glasses live in a huge house that comes across as more of an art museum in Malibu. Initially they have to share a bedroom, which is not right for a 16 year old girl and an 11 year old little brother. Ruby notes that something is not right with her new guardians and tries to rely on her parents executor of the estate who claims to be trustworthy. The Glasses somehow seem to pass all the “tests” of guardianship just in time for the state to do a “routine” inspection. As the movie develops, we learn that Mr. Glass is in deep financial trouble with bookies, and Mrs. Glass seems to have turned herself from medical doctor to drug junkie. How will the kids get out of this situation and what does their future hold?
I thought this movie was great on many levels. The actors were superb choices for the characters. There are a few small plot holes, but nothing you cant overlook and use your imagination. This is definitely a thriller movie, and not a “boo” kind of horror movie. I loved that it is an slightly older movie set back in 2000, so the trip down memory lane with VHS and *69 phone calls, and listening in on landline calls was funny to me. It was great to see how Ruby and Rhett maneuvered through this whole horrible situation and thinking about what other options I would have used. I definitely recommend this one for a suspense horror movie night!
Books – Revisiting childhood favorites may be the definition of comfort reading. Some children’s books inspire a ‘what was I thinking?’ response when revisited later in life, but some have enough depth to genuinely repay a fresh, or first, look from a grown-up perspective. The following are four children’s classics which I find myself rereading often–not just for nostalgia, but because their messages still resonate and they still make me think even as an adult. (They’re all from the mid-20th century, because I needed some limit or this list would be five miles long). It goes without saying that they’re still great choices for today’s kids, too!
Twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid has a stiflingly samey middle-class upbringing and an indefatigable independent streak. Accompanied by her younger brother Jamie, mostly because she needs the financial security of his scrupulously hoarded allowances, Claudia runs away from home to an astonishing destination: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The description of Claudia and Jamie’s escapades in the Museum will never fail to be delightful, but re-reading now, what sticks with me is the depth of the story’s messages about emotional resilience and how life’s challenges teach us who we are.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
I think it’s a disservice to this fantastic mystery to call it a children’s book–and I say that despite thinking that children’s books are for everyone, and despite the fact that it’s a beloved Newbery winner. The mystery at its core is deliciously twisty, but what’s striking about this story is the size and breadth of its beautifully-drawn cast. You could cut out the mystery element entirely and still have a fascinating story about strong personalities thrown together through the simple circumstance of apartment living, not unlike Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series for adults.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
I may be one of the two people in the world who loves the movie version of The Phantom Tollbooth, but I still really wish it had been better, because the book deserves the universal fame of better-adapted works like The Wizard of Oz. All the classic portal fantasy elements are there: Milo receives a mysterious package in the mail and is drawn through it into a whimsical nonsense world that needs his help. The Phantom Tollbooth is, sort of, a traditional good-versus-evil story, but it stands out because it’s actually less about outright wickedness and more about the perils of inaction: boredom, not heroism, sets Milo off on his adventure, and instead of moustache-twirling villains he faces enemies like the “Terrible Trivium”, the ultimate waster of time. Juster’s is a deeper, more complex, more contemporary and relevant kind of morality than usual in children’s fantasy, one that could easily be marketed as ‘fractured’ fairy tale were it not so full of genuine heart.
If The Hunger Games is YA lit’s answer to 1984, then The Giver is its Brave New World. I’m as much of a Katniss fan as the next Youth Services librarian, but The Giver did YA dystopia long before, and arguably better. It’s a profoundly political story about every citizen’s complicity in government actions and the high price we pay for a life without discomfort, and it’s as touching, as painful and as thought-provoking now as ever.
Book – My favorite kinds of mysteries are the ones that play games with your expectations – things like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – so I was intrigued by the description of Anthony Horowitz’s new novel. It’s a murder mystery inside a murder mystery: Alan Conway, author of the bestselling Atticus Pünd series of whodunnits, committed suicide just after turning in his latest manuscript. Except that the manuscript is missing the last chapter, and Susan Ryeland, one of his editors, thinks he didn’t commit suicide at all. The first half of the book is Magpie Murders, the final Atticus Pünd novel; the second half is Susan’s investigation into Conway’s death. (Don’t worry; you do get to read the final chapter in the end.)
Horowitz is a bestselling author and screenwriter in the UK – he’s a co-creater of the longrunning TV show Midsomer Murders – but despite his two excellent Sherlock Holmes novels, he’s not as well known here. He does a terrific job with both mysteries in Magpie Murders, Pünd’s classic whodunnit set in the 1950s and Susan’s modern, genre-savvy investigation in the modern day. Readers who love the puzzle aspect of mysteries but who are turned off by the violence and heavy reliance on forensics in modern thrillers will love this unique novel.
Book – Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett has the most adorable bunny cover I have ever seen by far. But whilst one might expect to find a cute story of an adorable rabbit beneath this cover, we are instead met by death, mourning, and sleepwalking. The back synopsis was insane; there was such an onslaught of information I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow everything going on when I actually started reading.
Elvis is 11 years old, and her mother has just committed suicide, or so everyone says. Elvis is skeptical, and thinks something more sinister may be afoot in her mother’s death. In the wake of her mother’s passing, Elvis is forced to undergo weekly sessions with the school counseling, and begins tracking her journey through the nine stages of grief. Her father mourns by dressing up in her mother’s clothes and wearing her lipstick. Elvis’s older sister, Lizzie unfortunately inherited her mother’s sleepwalking, and it’s quickly growing out of control. In the midst of trying to save her sister from meeting the same ghastly fate of her mother, Elvis works furiously on her mother’s unfinished memoir, and searches for answers into her death.
There is so much going on in this story; it’s dark, a fair bit depressing, and very quirky. The sleepwalking was a huge aspect of the story, and I was so fascinated by it. Though it wasn’t the sweet story I anticipated from a glance at the cover, this book exceeded my expectations.
Graphic novel – Set in Chicago in the 60s, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is the semi-autobiographical story of Karen, a ten-year-old girl who pictures (and draws) herself as a werewolf. After her upstairs neighbor dies mysteriously, her death officially labeled a suicide, Karen takes it on herself to investigate, learning about her lovely neighbor’s history as a Holocaust survivor, her older brother Deeze’s many and varied relationships with women, and just exactly how far her monster mask will take her. Meanwhile, her mother is dying of cancer, Martin Luther King, Jr. has just been killed, and Karen is probably in love with her best friend.
This is an incredible story, richly layered, full of wonderful, fully-realized characters. Despite the youth of the narrator, there are a lot of heavy themes, but they are rendered with their full complexity intact. And the art is astounding – printed on paper lined like a spiral notebook, the sketchy pencil drawings are absolutely gorgeous, whether Ferris is rendering Deeze’s many weary ex-girlfriends or Karen’s favorite works from the Art Institute. The only unfortunate thing? It ends on a cliffhanger, and Book Two doesn’t come out until next year.
Book – I have a fundamental problem with the term ‘cozy mystery’. I agree that it’s a useful term to distinguish the darker, faster-paced, harder-edged tone of a thriller like Gone Girl from an all-ages mystery puzzler like the marvelously re-readable Westing Game. It seems patronizing, however, to imply that there is anything remotely ‘cozy’ about the slow-burn psychological horror of stories featuring protagonists trapped in increasing danger, like Christie’s terrifying And Then There Were None or J. Jefferson Farjeon’s pleasingly creepy Mystery in White.
For the same reason, I would hesitate to label The Crime at the Black Dudley–the first book in Margery Allingham’s classic Campion series–as a ‘cozy’. Yes, it’s written by one of the Queens of mystery’s Golden Age, and yes, it features an eccentric amateur sleuth in an English country house. But it’s also a story about a group of innocents, and one unknown murderer, locked in a remote house by a gang of international thugs, in the company of their dead host, facing increasing and violent pressure to hand over a document which one of the party has already destroyed. It’s a nightmarish (if over the top) scenario, and Allingham skillfully milks the claustrophobia of the situation for all it’s worth. The story is wonderfully told in other respects as well, like the fact that the narrator, an undercover policeman, turns out not to be the one who saves the day; Allingham intended him to be the star of her series, but Peter Wimsey caricature Albert Campion unexpectedly stole the show instead.
The Crime at the Black Dudley was a great find hidden away in our stacks, a reminder of the manifold delights of cozy mysteries–or whatever you might want to call them.
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!