The Babadook (2014)

babadookMovie- Young widow Amelia has struggled to raise her difficult 6-year-old son Sam alone since her husband died the day Sam was born. Sam is a very stressed out (and stressful) kid–he brings homemade weapons to school, fears imaginary monsters, acts out constantly, and generally runs roughshod over the listless, colorless Amelia. Things intensify, though, when Amelia reads him a bedtime story from a creepy storybook that has appeared on his shelf, Mister Babadook. Both Amelia and Sam are disturbed by the monster in the story, who Sam quickly becomes convinced is stalking them. The presence of the Babadook becomes slowly more pervasive throughout the movie until it finally takes over.

I was particularly struck by how quickly one’s perceptions of the characters change. I was initially annoyed by Sam but by the end of the movie felt quite protective towards him. The settings in the movie are excellent as well:  they are claustrophobic and oppressive, especially inside Amelia and Sam’s house. The Babadook will appeal to people who typically aren’t fans of horror movies. It is mercifully short on scare chords, cheap made-you-jumps, and gore, but still plenty terrifying on a psychological level and full of suspense.

The Equalizer (2014)

MV5BMTQ2MzE2NTk0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM3NTk1MjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_Movie – Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is your normal everyday person. He works at a hardware store. Has a small one-bedroom apartment and is reading the 100 books everyone should read before they die. This latter is an homage to his deceased wife.

The one thing that makes Mr. McCall different is he suffers from insomnia. Every night he goes down to his local diner to have a cup of tea and read. Every night his chats with a Teri/ Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz). Teri is a works in the sex industry. One night she is roughed up and ends up in the hospital. Robert decides to visit her pimp and makes him an offer for Teri’s freedom. He refuses, and this is where the movie goes sideways. It becomes fast paced after this scene and has some pretty good action sequences.

As a viewer, we all know Denzel is never just a regular person in his movies. It did take me some time to figure out who he was, however. I enjoyed how his character helped the everyday person beat back the criminals trying to take advantage. I did not like the watch. It looked as though it was going to be important to the plot, but then later it got lost to the action.

The Equalizer is very similar to another Denzel hit Man on Fire. The only difference is the girl is a grown woman and she was not kidnapped. If you like Denzel and action, this is a good choice. If you are looking for a Chloe movie, leave it. Her character may be why Denzel is doing most of this, but she plays a small role throughout.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook – What could possibly go wrong at a bachelor party held at a respectable middle-aged investment banker’s house in the suburbs of New York?  So thought Kristin, even knowing that some naughty entertainment was scheduled. She gave her husband, Richard, her blessing to host the event for his younger brother and went off to Manhattan with their 9 year old daughter. But something happens that Richard never fathomed and his life becomes a total nightmare. The two beautiful strippers providing the entertainment stab and murder their bodyguards, take their hard earned cash, and flee the scene of the crime.

Bohjalian does an excellent job telling of how Richard and Kristin’s life and marriage start unraveling as a consequence of that night. Richard admits that he had gone into the guest room with one of the girls, but swears that nothing happened, though Kristin has her doubts. Richard is also suspended from his job, is hounded by the press, and threatened with blackmail. Meanwhile we learn of the plight of the two fugitives.  Alexandra and Sonja are not really women, but girls from Armenia and not only are they on the run from the police, but the Russian mob, as well. The girls were kidnapped as adolescents and turned into sex slaves in Russia and then brought to the United States. We find out about their sad and desperate circumstances. And now with no identification, credit cards, or knowledge of any different type of life are they really free? This story of suspense and desperation will keep the pages turning.

Bohjalian wrote this book to bring awareness that human trafficking and slavery is very prevalent and profitable to the exploiters.  To learn more, please visit The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

41350y21tlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book–How do you think you would react if you found out everything you knew about truth and life was a lie? That your parents where duped by a man with a silver tongue. That the world outside is not as evil as you were lead to believe. Meet Minnow Bly. For most of her life she grew up a Kevinian, a cult led by the “Prophet” Kevin. Life as Kevinian is not easy. Everyone lives in the woods, isolated from the world. The men take multiple wives in order to have lots of children. And people who leave or cause problems are punished, severely. Minnow herself lost both of her hands by the order of the Prophet.

But now the Prophet is dead and the Community burned to the ground. The FBI want to know what happened, but Minnow does not want to tell them the truth. Telling the truth means going back to that night. Telling the truth means revealing secrets. Maybe some secrets are meant to be kept quiet.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a quick read filled with mystery and intrigue. It also brings up themes of religion and questions about God. But it is mostly a book about a young girl finding her own way. It is about discovery, first love, and friendship. It is also a great read that you will not soon forget.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

19367226Book– In the vein of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (which uses Conan Doyle’s characters), Sophie Hannah has set out to write a new Hercule Poirot novel, with the permission of Agatha Christie’s estate. When a contemporary author sets out to reanimate the legendary characters of a deceased author’s canon, she has a tall task ahead of her and a lot of expectations to meet that do not apply to a wholly original novel, but I tried to be fair when I read her attempt.

Hannah does not do a great job of imitating Christie’s characters. For example, bumbling police inspector narrator, Catchpool (an original character), who exists as a reader surrogate for Poirot to be smart at, is afraid of dead bodies due to an apparently traumatic incident at his grandfather’s funeral. Barring how silly it is for a police inspector to fear murder victims, Catchpool is also gratingly incompetent and has all kinds of tiresome (if justifiable) doubts about his fitness for police work. Poirot is not rendered pitch perfect either. He overuses some typically Poirot-esque mannerisms, such as “little grey cells” and gratuitous French, but for reasons I cannot pinpoint, does not hit the mark.

Despite these complaints, I would still recommend this book. The mystery itself is elegantly constructed, with plenty of red herrings, and a beautiful resolution at the end. I did not correctly guess the murderer early on, which I typically do, and actually needed the scene at the end where Poirot explains the plot to everybody to wrap my head around how the murders went down. The Monogram Murders was a much better experience once I decided to read just for the plot, which is excellent, rather than the characters, which were not.

The Boy (2016)

boyMovie – Dolls, dolls, dolls!  A favorite playtime toy of many little girls and boys. But when nighttime falls, all dolls must be put away. Look away from those baby cheeks, especially the eyes, which threaten to sparkle, to twitch, or worse, to blink. Tuck them in tight.  Lock the closet doors. But don’t bother checking in on them after bedtime; they are already out to play.  And so begins the typical horror tale of a doll.

The storyline of The Boy intrigued me: A woman named Greta takes a job as the nanny for a young boy in a secluded mansion. She travels all the way from America to England for the job.  Interesting. Once there she finds out that the boy is actually a life-size doll, a doll that the parents treat as their real son. It is revealed that their son, Brahms was killed in a fire when he was eight years old, a long time ago. The parents reiterate to Greta that she must complete every task on Brahm’s list of rules and be good to him. Greta simply assumes the family is bonkers. She soon learns that bad things happen when Brahm’s rules are ignored, leading her to believe this doll is a real boy.

The lead in this film is Maggie from The Walking Dead! Obviously the doll was creepy as heck, but even more so because of its size. The story plays out in typical horror movie fashion, with jumps and scares and of course the soulless eyes of a doll. But there were a few twists and turns that I really enjoyed. Even though there were many questions left unanswered, I did enjoy this film. If you’re like me, be prepared to sleep with the lights on for awhile. But hey, that’s probably just a me thing. Happy viewing!

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.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)

Movie – A self-described scaredy-cat, I’m definitely not one for horror flicks.  Unfortunately, I have many a times been forced against my will to endure hours of Halloween (all 10 films, remakes included), Freddy (Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason (Friday the 13th), Cabin in the Woods, The Conjuring…the list goes on and on.

For those, like me, who experience severe paranoia following the late-night viewing of these  films, remember, that’s why man invented creature features!  Creature films are my guilty pleasure, from giant spiders, deep sea creatures, Godzilla and the like; I love them.  Sure, a good many of them still manage to make me jump, but who cares when you get to see wonderfully CGI monsters!

But, one film tops my list, my love: Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.  Picture this, a team of scientists headed to the dense jungles of Borneo, searching for a flower that could hold the key to immortality. The Blood Orchid is only in bloom for a limited time, so there’s not a second to lose, even when the adventurers become shipwrecked in the jungle.  They soon discover that they are not alone… And that’s where the incredibly awful CGI anacondas come in!  The film only gets better once the travelers encounter the hunting serpents, and as they are slowly picked off, one..by..one.

With a collection of funny, yet foolish characters (some better than others), that darn bad guy who’s got a gun, and a surprise romance (snakes AND humans alike), I absolutely adore watching this film over and over, again and again.

 

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

naturalsdropBook — Cassie is seventeen years old and is a natural at reading people. In just a few minutes she can figure out your job, your income, and other personal details about your life. With skills like that, it should be no surprise that the FBI asked her to join, The Naturals, special program for teens like her. A program for teens with abilities the FBI can use to solve cold cases. Cassie sees this as an opportunity to solver her mother’s murder case. So she leaves her family behind and moves in with the other members: Lia who can spot lies; Sloane who remembers everything; Dean another profiler; and Michael who can read emotions. For the Naturals, solving cold cases quickly becomes dangerous when a current case hits closer to home for Cassie and her new friends and they must learn to trust each other to survive. Of course a love triangle appears between Cassie, Dean, and Michael because what YA book does not have a love triangle?

What has been described as Criminal Minds for the YA world, The Naturals is perfect for those who love crime, mystery, with some romance tossed into the mix. Jennifer Lynn Barnes creates a great story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Plus, its the first of a series of books! Killer Instinct and All In will pull you into a great story line as Cassie and her friends work with the FBI to solve more crimes.