Book– One critic described The Other Americans and National Book Award Finalist work as, “the next great American classic.”
Nora, a jazz composer, returns to her small desert town of Mojave, California following the news that her father Driss was killed. She informs Detective Coleman she doesn’t believe his death was an accident. An undocumented witness’s reluctance to come forward causes complications. Maryam, Nora’s mother, still pines for another life, while her sister struggles to keep up the facade of the successful daughter, living the “good” life. Nora’s encounters with former school mates, one a former Iraq War veteran, lead to unexpected consequences.
Written by Laila Lalami in first-person perspectives The Other Americans is a timely, brilliant novel of fiction and mystery, giving depth and voice to characters as diverse as the people of this country. I am kicking myself for not having read this sooner. You will, too.
Movies – If you are looking for an action-packed movie with a dose of dark humor, look no further than the John Wick series starring Keanu Reeves. Reeve’s delightfully deadpan delivery coupled with the superb fighting sequence choreography sets this movie franchise apart from others.
The first film simply titled John Wick, gives us a glimpse into John Wick’s character, a “retired” shadow assassin grieving the death of his wife. Wick is soon pulled back into the shadowy fray when an envious young thug and his lackeys break into Wick’s residence to abscond with his ride, a pristine 1969 Boss 429. In the process of this ill-advised trespass, the thug callously kills Wick’s pet puppy, a parting gift from his beloved wife. The attack is the impetus behind the resurrection of Wick’s former persona “The Babayaga” and his relentless road to vengeance. Soon it becomes clear why the criminal underground is alight with fearful whispers at his return.
John Wick: Chapter 2 continues the tumultuous arc of our intrepid assassin. His trail of corpses leads the shadowy cabal of assassins and their rules-obsessed governors, the High Table, right to his doorstep. The High Table’s grip on John Wick is not easy to shake leaving him no choice but to take one last job. To complete the job Wick must break a number of important rules a big no-no in the eyes of the High Table. Naturally, when all the dust settles, Wick is designated excommunicado by the High Table. Wick is now persona non grata, stripped of all the rights and privileges offered to the rest of the cabal and with a hefty open contract on his head. Cue the storm of assassins trying to cash in on his demise.
John Wick 3: Parabellum directly follows the end of Chapter 2 and opens with a tense race against the clock as Wick struggles to reclaim his status from underneath the High Table. This third installment continues the world building from the first two films and it’s safe to say that the series’ overarching theme is actions always have consequences. As the film progresses, viewers are introduced to members of Wick’s past including his ruthlessly austere mentor–wonderfully portrayed by Anjelica Huston. The film’s final scene leaves us at the edge of our seats and wanting more. Worry not my fellow Wick fans, John Wick 4 will premiere in 2021!
Fans of Luc Besson will have a blast with this series. I know I did!
DVD – When security expert Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is hired to retrieve a Chinese business tycoon’s daughter, unbeknownst to Breslin, his previous partner’s son is hell bent on revenge. To assure Breslin’s involvement, the villain also abducts his girlfriend. Will he make it in time to rescue both women and still come out alive?
The Escape Plan: The Extractors is the third installment of the franchise and I must admit, it was bad. The plot line is overly simplified and the music score, seemed off. The first movie, Escape Plan, however, was awesome! In The Extractors, Breslin is not even escaping OUT of a prison, using any fancy tools, or high tech gadgets. I’m not sure what the producers were thinking when deciding on Round 3 for this series, but it was a fail for me. Nevertheless, the fight scenes are outstanding, and you get to see Curtis “50 cent” Jackson for all of 5 minutes. If you are looking for a movie for background noise while doing something else and does not require much time, energy, or focus, this works. If you want a serious action adventure – keep looking.
Book- This small book does not do much to answer the heavy handed “why’s” of death or delve into the existential. Death is not a tall, dark hooded figure carrying a sickle. There is not grand act of closure, nor will you be find a Steven Spielberg ending. And, those are all good things, as far as this novella is concerned.
Our protagonist of Death and Other Holidays is twenty-something April. She narrates her experiences, particularly two losses over the course of a year, month by month and splits her story into seasons. The chapters are tiny, nevertheless Vogel moves April’s story forward seamlessly, similarly in language that moves effortlessly. We experience those poignant moments in which she describes how her best friend Libby moves forward in her life, and despite her acute grief – the difference between what makes for passing the time and what may be a true encounter of love.
April’s story is not bogged down by the superfluous, but described in candid moments, such as the ones we miss. If you are a fast-paced reader, this is not be the book for you. This is one you take in to navigate the sad, the joy, and the hope.
TV Series – What happens after death? Do you turn to dust, enter the spirit world, or join the realms of Heaven or Hell? The Good Place puts a unique spin on the ol’ “What happens to us when we die,” question.
So you’re dead. What now? Enter the almighty architect and faithful guide to your afterlife, Michael. He’s here to help your transition from life on earth to death in the Good Place. You’ve made it into Heaven! Good for you! For Eleanor Shellstrop, this reality is hard to believe. She was pretty much the worst kind of person on Earth–self-centered, greedy, and has never done a nice thing for anyone in her life. She’s pretty sure there’s been some mistake and any second she’ll be dragged down to the Bad Place. She’s terrified Michael will realize his error. In the Good Place, you are paired with your soulmate, and that’s how Eleanor meets Chidi, philosophy and moral professor. They couldn’t be more different, but Chidi agrees to help Eleanor learn to be “good.” With fellow couple, Tahani and silent monk Jianyu, the four delve into what it means to be good.
One of my favorite aspects of the show is that residents of the Good Place are rendered incapable of using curse words. Eleanor has quite the risque vocabulary, which is censored and ends up saying “fork” often. Janet is by far my favorite character. Like a humanized robot version of Siri or Alexa, Janet is a personal assistant to each resident of the Good Place. Simply say “Janet,” and she appears! I love the show’s premise and incredible cast. It’s hilarious, full of drama, and leaves us feeling good. Check out Season 1 and 2 of The Good Place today!
Book & Movie- Ove is an elderly man who just wants to be reunited with his deceased wife. In the past, his rigidity and ill-temperament has kept most social interactions to a minimum, until now, when a friendly family moves in next door and tests his inflexible ways, starting with a slight U-Haul truck mishap. Between Ove’s cynical outlook on life and the humorous exchanges between him and his neighbors, A Man Called Ove can crack a smile of even the callous of people.
I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that this novel was adapted into a movie. Although dark, suicidal ideology is persistent throughout the film, it is more of a dreary storm cloud that never precipitates. Much of the film is spent recollecting Ove’s past, from growing up in his father’s shoes to life with his former wife Sonja, each memory allowing the audience to commiserate with Ove’s irritable self. I have always been one who has appreciated the book more than the movie adaptation in just about all titles, and this is no different, however I praise the director for keeping to the storyline rather than taking it in a different direction. One last note worth mentioning is that the movie is in Swedish but has English subtitles! I for one keep the subtitles on regardless of the language but personally found it taxing attempting to keep up with the dialogue when I would much rather enjoy the movie as a whole.
Movie – To give mankind the awareness of their own death may be an inapprehensible phenomenon, but Ea has done just that. The Brand New Testament is a dark yet humorous film about God, who, by the way lives in Belgium with his wife and daughter. God creates inconveniences and atrocities to all of mankind out of his own boredom. His daughter Ea is not very fond of it and has had enough. After discovering her father’s malicious intentions are being controlled through a dated computer, she rebelliously sends out the death dates to everyone on Earth. What would you do if you knew when your last breath would be? Would you leave the job you dread? Would you spend your life’s savings? Or would you not change a thing? Six very different lives answer just that in Ea’s search for additional apostles to add to the New Testament.
This French film was incredibly thought provoking and had an amusing spin on all things biblical. Although it was in French (English subtitles provided), the dialogue was light enough to truly enjoy the essence of the sheer artistry. The cinematography and plot were engaging. It’s no wonder that the film was up for numerous awards and was generally favorable among critics. If you’re looking for something different but nonetheless refreshing, this is one to see.
Book–In John Green’s first novel since standout hit The Fault in Our Stars six years ago, Turtles All the Way Down follows 16-year-old Aza Holmes. She and her fearless best friend Daisy hear that the criminal billionaire father of Davis, one of Aza’s childhood friends, has gone missing, with a $100,000 reward offered for finding him. Daisy ropes Aza into trying to find him for the reward money. The actual heart of the book, though, is Aza and her struggles with mental illness, anxiety and intrusive thoughts.
Despite the mystery around which the plot revolves, all of the tension and interest in the story derive from Aza’s thoughts and her interior life. If you like John Green’s signature blend of philosophy, eloquence and navel-gazing, this is a great thing: you will love this book. If, like me, you prefer your books to be a touch more plot-driven and full of dialogue, you might prefer John Green’s other books, or possibly another author entirely. What I can say is that Aza has a strong narrative voice and her difficulties with mental illness feel utterly real. If you enjoy this book or want to read more YA books with mental illness themes, I recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.
Books–When Ms. Bixby’s cancer progresses faster than anticipated and she has to leave school before her Going Away party, three of her sixth-grade students—Topher, Brand, and Steve—hatch a plan to skip school, go to her hospital, and provide her with her Perfect Day. They face a steady stream of entertaining obstacles during their quest, but the true depth of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is in the flashbacks that fill in how the boys became such good friends and why they each individually bonded so strongly with Ms. Bixby.
Chapters are told from the characters’ varying viewpoints. Topher is overly imaginative, Steve is extremely book smart, and Brand is the one with common sense. It’s fun to see how the boys get out of each of the sticky situations they get into during their day—What will they do when they bump into a teacher? How will they stretch their money far enough to buy all the things they want for Ms. Bixby’s Perfect Day? Who will be brave enough to use a toilet painted like a shark?
I listened to this book on Hoopla, and I highly recommend it either in audio or book format. It’s a great “boy book” for upper elementary students, but this grown up girl really enjoyed it too. Its themes of friendship, kindness, appreciation, and grief and really for everyone.
Other Juvenile Fiction books by John David Anderson include Posted, Insert Coin to Continue, The Dungeoneers, Minion, and Sidekicked.
Movie – When the rulers of the lands of the dead make a wager one can only image what will happen to the living. This sounds like the start of a gory horror movie, but it not. It is the premise for an animated-film about the Mexican holiday: Día de Los Muertos. In The Book of Life, La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered makes a bet with Xibalba, the rules of the Land of the Forgotten. The wager involves three childhood friends and love.
Xibalba bets that Maria will end up with Joaquín, while La Muerte believes Maria and Manolo are destined to fall in love. Xibalba hedges his bet by presenting Joaquín with a pin that will protect him and makes him the town hero. With no protection, Manolo dies and Xibalba wins the bet. Manolo is transported to the Land of the Remembered where he meets all of his deceased family. He discovers Xibalba’s tricks and vows to travel to the Land of the Forgotten to tell La Muerte so he can get back to Maria.
The animation is colorful and imaginative. The characters were modeled after wooden childrens’ toys. The scenery for the Land of the Remembered depicts some of the most traditional images of Día de Los Muertos. There are colorful sugar skull shapes all over this land. The dead have faces like that of sugar skulls. In addition, there are scenes from the cemeteries where the families have set up offerings and alters with pictures, traditional flowers, candles, favorite foods, and pan de muertos (day of the dead sweet bread).
If you like colorful images, great animation, a cute storyline, and a fiercely independent lead female character, watch this. Also, if you ever wondered about this Mexican holiday, watch The Book of Life to get a small taste of what this holiday means to Mexicans. It is not about worshiping the dead. It is about understanding death is a part of life and this is how you get to celebrate the life of those who have passed on. By showing them how much you love them.