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.

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.

 

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.

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

17668473Book-It was a dark and foggy night. Gretchen Müller was in the car with her brother and friends when a Jew was seen walking across the street not too far ahead. Without warning, Kurt decides it speed up in order to hit the Jewish man. When that attempt failed, the boys left car with the sole purpose of beating the man to death. Why? Because to Gretchen and her friends, Jews were evil people. That is what Adolf Hitler told them and ‘Uncle’ Dolf would never lead them astray. Hitler was the man who took Gretchen and her family in after her father was killed saving Hitler’s life. They owed him everything.

But that night, instead of reveling in the idea of taking out the cancer of Germany, Gretchen found herself really looking at the Jewish man. His eyes were full of terror as he was about to be attacked by two members of the Nazi party. Going against everything she was taught by her parents and Hitler, Gretchen ran after the boys in order to stop them.

That night was the first small step on a journey of self-discovery that Gretchen goes on throughout this book. She takes her next step when a young Jew tells Gretchen that her father did not die to save Hitler’s life, he was murdered. In her pursuit of the truth, Gretchen learns some startling facts about Hitler and his party. Now she has to decide if her loyalties truly lie with Hitler and her family or Daniel, the Jew.

You can find Prisoner of Night and Fog on the Lincoln Award Shelf and on the Lincoln Award Kindle. Once you read it, check out the sequel Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

Devil (2010)

devilMovie- Five people at an office building enter an elevator. Only one gets out. Devil combines a locked room mystery plot with the trappings of a horror movie. The five people trapped in the elevator all have guilty pasts and every time the lights go out in the broken elevator, they go back on to reveal that someone else is injured or dead. Police and security guards are watching through the security camera, comparing the sign-in sheet at the front desk to the elevator passengers and researching them and their histories to try to figure out who’s doing it. In true mystery fashion, just as they begin to suspect one passenger especially, that is the next passenger to die. Those watching from the security station are split on whether they are watching a horrific supernatural event (one security guard is superstitious and convinced that the Devil is roaming the Earth) or a bunch of frightened people acting irrationally (one of the police officers is determinedly cynical and irreligious due to personal tragedy). The audience, however, is not left wondering at the end of the movie. We get to see the big scary payoff scene of the Devil speaking through/being one of the passengers, and it is sufficiently creepy.

Devil will appeal to fans of both horror and mystery movies.  While it is not the cleverest movie ever, it has some good surprises and I did not predict too early which one of the people in the elevator was the culprit.

Splice (2010)

4271Movie- Geneticist couple Elsa and Clive have successfully spliced together the DNA of different living animal organisms and created a pair of hybrids named Fred and Ginger, a scientific breakthrough that promises to yield great medical benefits. However, they are not satisfied, and wish to create creatures with human genetics. Against the wishes of their employer, they clandestinely create a human hybrid with DNA from all kinds of animals. Elsa treats the creature like a daughter, putting it in dresses, teaching it language, and naming it Dren. As Dren begins to get older (and more aggressive), Elsa and Clive move her to Elsa’s abandoned childhood home, a farmhouse and barn with plenty of room to hide Dren. Meanwhile, the Fred and Ginger experiment goes horribly, publicly wrong, with disturbing implications for Dren that earn this movie’s R rating.

Dren’s character design resides squarely in the uncanny valley, by turns beautiful and ineffably creepy. Without spoiling anything, the relationships among the characters in this film are really twisted and the movie’s end is quite graphic. I enjoyed the suspense and quiet build-up of the earlier half of the film more than the series of increasingly unpleasant events that make up the latter half of the film, though I suspect many who typically enjoy films in the horror genre will relish the ending. Splice will appeal to fans of other films with genetic experiments gone wrong, such as Jurassic Park and The Fly.

 

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

51-+74IGcjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book- Broke and unemployed Dahlia is pleased if rather confused when a handsome stranger at her roommate’s party offers her a dubious gig– to retrieve his spear (not a real spear, but a spear from fictional Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Zoth).  Naturally, the promise of a $2000 payout after 12+ months of unemployment is too much to resist. However, nothing ever works out as well as it seems it should. Dahlia is quickly embroiled in at least one potential romantic entanglement, the interpersonal dynamics of her employer’s in-game guild, and, oh yeah, a real-life murder. The real pleasure of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is the narrator’s unique voice. Dahlia is steeped in nerd culture and has an acerbic, self-deprecating style that either the reader will love or hate.

This book (which I would not be surprised to see become a series) straddles the line between young adult and new adult and will appeal to fans of both chick lit novels and cozy mysteries. Set in St. Louis, I found that the novel had a surprisingly strong sense of place that I appreciated. My spouse is from St. Louis, and I recognized many of the places and streets mentioned as ones I’ve been to when visiting my in-laws. If you can get behind a novel where the detective wears a Jigglypuff toboggan hat instead of a deerstalker cap, this is the book for you.

Sickened: the memoir of a Munchausen by proxy childhood by Julie Gregory

Book– Munchausen by proxy is a rare form of child abuse characterized by faking or exaggerating symptoms of illness in a child, usually to gain attention from the medical community.  Gregory recounts a harrowing childhood spent in hospital rooms, performing illness (or actually being made ill) to satisfy her mother’s craving for attention. Her mother alternates between deliberately starving and abusing her, turning the rest of the family against her, including her helpless father, and cossetting her with attention. Gregory focuses on the strategies she used to survive, such as stealing food from other students’ lunches and from convenience stores.

The writing is at its best when Gregory is understating her situation; like most works of this kind, overly dramatic language can often actually take away from the impact of the story. She includes scans of her own medical records from the time and it is chilling to see how willing some doctors were to believe her mother’s stories. While Gregory obviously escapes her mother’s orbit, as of Gregory’s memoir, there are still children in Gregory’s mother’s care.

Sickened will appeal to fans of memoirs chronicling mental illness, complicated family relationships, and difficult upbringings.

Renovation by Lane Robins

renovationBook – Sometimes a psychic gift can feel more like a psychic curse. Ever since a near-death experience in his teens, JK Lassiter has been able to read the memories of the people or places that he touches with his hands, sometimes so viscerally that the memories cause him psychotic episodes. Because of this, his parents shut him away from the world. When the book begins, however, JK’s brother has been recently freed JK from their well-intended imprisonment and has helped him land a construction job flipping houses. His first house is in a close-knit neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, where the prior owners have skipped town under mysterious circumstances. Though JK gets a seriously bad vibe from the house, he is determined to see the job through and grab his chance at a normal life. Despite having to wear gloves and keep some distance from people, JK tries to fit in, flirting with the sexy man next door, Nick Collier, and making friends in the neighborhood.

Things turn sour, though, when his desire for the truth and psychic abilities reveal bodies, animal and human, in the backyard of the house. Each of his new friends and neighbors, he begins to discover, has ample motive for the crime. To discover the culprit and to clear Nick and his friends, JK tries to harness his psychic ability that has to this point caused him only anguish.

Renovation will appeal to fans of both romances and mysteries, especially fans of closed-room mysteries. I found that the culprit was fairly easy to suss out early on, but watching JK figure it out was still a pleasure. This one feels like the start of a series, so if you liked it, keep your eyes out for another one.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Book –Set in 1964, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards easily connects to our modern world.  On a stormy Winter’s night, Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver his own twins.  The first one comes easily, a perfect baby boy.  But the twin, his daughter is different; the doctor immediately sees that she has Down’s Syndrome.  Before his wife can notice, he hands the baby girl off to his nurse, instructing her to take the child and leave her at an institution.  He then tells his wife that her daughter was a stillborn, in his mind saving her and himself from the anguish of raising a child with disabilities.

But the nurse, Caroline, can’t bear to leave the baby, and decides to run away and raise the child as her own.  Though separated by distance and lies, the lives of the infant twins and their families are forever intertwined.

In a new city, Caroline raises Phoebe in a happy and loving household.  Meanwhile, the doctor is faced with his wife’s grief over the loss of her infant daughter.  In her mourning, their son Paul grows up in a distant family full of regret and anguish.  His mother is never able to console her heartache, carrying her grief throughout her life.

Kim weaves a story that is powerfully real, illuminating the loss of a child with the gift of a new life.  In our modern world, the doctor would have been able to foresee his daughter’s disability in the womb.  Would he and his wife have terminated the pregnancy, knowing the difficulties they might face? With such high awareness of disabilities like Down’s Syndrome in today’s society, there is so much support available for parents and families.  It’s interesting to wonder what might have been, if these fictional characters represented real people living in the 21st century.