The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Book– The Dutch House is the latest novel by Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Commonwealth. The Dutch House follows siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy as they navigate a complicated childhood that includes a mysterious, absent mother, a distant but loving father, and a stereotypical evil stepmother straight out of a fairytale. At the center is the “Dutch House,” a beautiful, extravagant, old home where the siblings grew up. The house and the events that transpire reverberate with, and profoundly shape, the siblings’ adulthood.

This is my first Ann Patchett novel. I admire her confidence, which expresses itself in the controlled and well-structured narrative. The Dutch House is not action-packed, but builds its strength on the insights of family, memory, loss and the power of a place. Recommended for fans of contemporary and domestic fiction, The Dutch House is available for digital download, in Large and regular print, and audiobook, narrated by Tom Hanks!

The Green Mile (1999)

DVD – The Green Mile is outstanding. Released in 1999 some would say it’s an oldie, but it’s definitely a goodie. Based on the book of the same name by Stephen King, the movie is full of varying emotions.

The lives of the guards on Death Row are the starting point of the movie. As time passes, they Cover image for The green mileacquire a new inmate- a tall, stocky man who is charged with the rape and murder of two young girls, appears to be uneducated, yet seems to have a mysterious and special gift. With this he is able to help others, including the guards. What happens during his time on the Green Mile and will he be exonerated before his execution?

Lead actor Tom Hanks is perfectly suited for his role as a Prison Guard. His body and facial expressions, aided by the script will have you crying until your eyes are too puffy to watch anymore. This movie has made me wonder about the reality of life on death row and whether there is a correlation to what inmates and guards do (or don’t), on a daily basis. The Green Mile can be summarized in these words: emotional and thought-provoking.

Need a laugh? Try One of These Audiobooks

Books – They say laughter is the best medicine. Lisa Scottoline is well-known for her page-turning thrillers, but did you know she and her daughter, Francesca Serritella, write “Chick Wit,” a weekly column carried by The Philadelphia Inquirer? If you need a laugh, head to Hoopla to check out one of eight audiobooks read by the pair, each a compilation of their favorite essays. Look no further than these titles for a hint at the witty banter within each book: My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space, Have a Nice Guilt Trip, and Does this Beach Make Me Look Fat.

Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon

Book – Speaking of Summer is the character driven story by Kalisha Buckhanon told from Cover image for Speaking of SummerAutumn Spencer’s perspective of her missing twin sister, Summer. Autumn embarks on a lonely, determined, and obsessive journey to discover the truth of what happened. We learn of the sisters’ upbringing in small town Illinois and their eventual journey to New York and the unsettling reality of what happens and doesn’t happen, to missing women.

When news of a serial killer who once lived in her Harlem neighborhood surfaces, Autumn delves deeper into whether Summer was one of his victims, or if she fled, wanting to leave love and loss behind her forever. Broken up into four seasons, Speaking of Summer goes by quickly if you are not paying attention. Who survives and how, are a few of the questions revealed in this intriguing tale. Despite minor and easily forgettable literary lapses, Buckhanon writes a beautiful, compelling and poignant story.

Tired of Winter? Check out Speaking of Summer on Hoopla.

 

 

Over The Hedge (2006)

Cover image for Over the hedgeDVD – What happens when an urban animal family hibernates for the winter in a big log surrounded by their lush and well-stocked forest, then wakes up to find this huge green monstrosity running down the middle of the forest as far as the eye can see? Pure panic ensues when they need to figure out what this thing is, why is it there, and how will they gather food because their forest has largely been torn down. Enter RJ the raccoon. He owes a big black bear a huge cart of human food and thinks he can get a gang to help him steal it all from the inhabitants of the new subdivision. Will they help him, will he make the deadline, will he learn and grow to know what it means to be part of a family?

I absolutely love Over The Hedge. Although it is animated (hello young ones!), there is plenty of adult humor throughout to make it entertaining for all. The animation, graphics, and insight of the natural behaviors of the animals is spot on. A superb cast of actors lend their voices to the film. Wanda Sykes as a skunk? This alone should make you want to watch this!

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Okinyan Braithwaite

Cover image for My sister, the serial killer : a novelBook – Author Oyinkan Braithwaite’s short and dark comedy features two sisters, Ayoola and Korede. The former can’t help but kill off boyfriends with her father’s 8-inch blade, while the latter helps clean up crime scenes and dispose of the bodies. Korede, the troubled narrator, is the head nurse at St. Peter’s Hospital, the elder and keeper of her younger, dispassionate and talented sister. Life in Lagos, Nigeria is especially difficult for women, and less so for men like the sisters’ father, who may or may not have been killed by Ayoola’s hand.

Braithwaite’s prose is unlike those of conventional whodunnits, and therefore may not appeal to mystery lovers and likely challenge those looking to lose one’s self in a book. My Sister, the Serial Killer is driven by vivid portraits of strong, female characters and brilliant storytelling. This is Braithwaite’s first novel, which readers can easily imagine crafted into a feature film.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

BookWe all want what is best for our children. Often the center of our world, we want to believe that our children are perfect, little versions of ourselves. We see them as reflections of ourselves, and thus, their behavior reveals a great deal about us and our parenting. One of the many joys of parenthood is reliving some of the happiest moments of our own childhood, but this time through their eyes. What happens, however, when our seemingly innocent children resent and plot against us?!

Hanna adores her father, who only knows and sees her sweet and angelic side. While he is away at work, Hanna unleashes a strategic, vengeful side that is out to make her mother disappear, quite literally. Suzette loves her daughter, but after falling victim to a number of Hanna’s malicious tricks, suspects that there is something grievously wrong, questioning her daughter’s sanity and her own.

With alternating chapters from Hanna and Suzette’s perspectives, readers get a taste of what goes through the mind of each, as the actions that strain this unnerving mother-daughter relationship. Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage is a suspenseful, psychological thriller that make you question what people are truly capable of. Readers will find this gripping read difficult, wrangling with themes of child psychopathology, family dynamics, and unconditional love. 

The Christmas Card (2006)

DVD –  In the middle of a war in Afghanistan, Master Sargent Cody Cullen receives a Christmas card thru a random act of kindness and never leaves his side. Cody is drawn to the cover art (a picture from Nevada City, California) and the message. He considers the card a symbol of good luck to stay with him throughout the war. Once he is back in the USA, he decides to find the woman who wrote the magical card.

Faith’s long time, distant, Wall Street boyfriend Paul, out of the blue asks her to marry him. Who does she end up with, and what can a retired military officer give her, a corporate guy can’t?

The Christmas Card is one of my favorite Christmas movies! Though predictable to a degree there is enormous, deep passion between everyone. Also, it engages me to think about what life might be like for a man coming home from war. Definitely a warm and fuzzy holiday movie!

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Book – Growing up is hard. Growing up in a poor werewolf family is even harder.

Mongrels written by Stephen Graham Jones is the coming of age story of a young nameless narrator. Steeped in werewolf lore this story bares its fangs and sinks it teeth into you. It’s an inventive take on the werewolf that gets under your skin—in a good way. It’s not a simple horror book but a cleverly disguised social commentary on the impoverished American south. The book follows our young protagonist, an orphan raised by his aunt Libby and uncle Darren. The boy grows up hearing wild and at times gruesome tales from his grandfather. Theirs is a family of werewolves; at least that’s what his grandfather has led him to believe. It’s why his family is always on the run, living at the edges of society, outcasts, transients, wandering the south in a beat up trailer with no destination in mind, scouring for loose change to buy hotdogs. Libby and Darren take up odd jobs always trying to stay two steps ahead of the law and those who hunt their kind. His family is as dysfunctional as anyone else’s, and he always feels like an outsider waiting for something to happen. He desperately longs to fit in, convincing himself it’s for all the right reasons, but he hasn’t turned and if he hasn’t turned by his late teens, he never will. He’s close to it, he can feel it, can scent the coppery stench of blood in the air, he just knows it.

While episodic books might not appeal to some, if you enjoy creature books, I urge you to give this book a try. Dark themes abound in each page and I found myself unable and unwilling to put this book down.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Book – I love author Sophie Kinsella, my favorite books by her being The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me? and I’ve Got Your Number. They’re great romance reads with just the right amount of comedy and cute. But young adult novel Finding Audrey is definitely at the top of my list, still containing some of that romance, but centering on a young teen. Fourteen-year-old Audrey rarely leaves her house, and wears sunglasses everywhere she goes, even indoors. Since an incident occurred at her school, Audrey has become homeschooled and agoraphobic. She suffers from depression and anxiety that cause her to hide from everyone but her family. She avoids all eye contact and wears her dark sunglasses at all times. This is how Audrey lives, in fear of the next thing that will set off her nerves. That is until she meets her brother’s best friend, Linnus.

Linnus sees Audrey and he doesn’t follow the rules. He walks unknowingly into her sacred safe space that no one is allowed into. He takes Audrey by surprise but she finds herself curious to understand Linnus’ intentions. Slowly their comfortability grows, and the two become friends.  Linnus pushes Audrey to move out of her comfort zone. But finding her way in this new world of possibilities is overwhelming for Audrey. Her past has lead her to a life behind closed doors, fearful to venture into the outside world, scared of judgement and the unknown. Linnus doesn’t judge her; his friendship helps Audrey to come out of her shell and give the outside world a second chance.

This is one of my favorite young adult books. Also on my very specific booklist of agoraphobia/anxiety-related fiction is Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall.