Set in rural Appalachia, Flight Behavior introduces readers to fiery haired Dellaboria Turnbow, a 28-year-old mother of two and wife of sweet, but dull Cub. After getting pregnant at 17, she traded college for rural poverty — helping her in-laws on their sheep farm. We meet Dellaboria as she makes her way toward an adulterous rendezvous, which she skips after seeing what “looked like the inside of joy” that she interprets as a sign from God. Her vision turns out to be a sea of Monarch butterflies that arrive in rural Tennessee after changing weather patterns disturb their flight behavior. The butterflies bring in a cast of characters — from environmental activists to scientists to tourists to journalists — that push Dellaboria to challenge her expectations of herself and those around her.
This book reads as deeply personal, with Kingsolver’s fondness for these characters only matched by the urgency in her description of possible near-future effects of climate change. Kingsolver lives in rural Appalachia (and has a background in ecology and biology), and you can tell that she looks on her home with a mix of affection and frustration. She writes Dellaboria and her family and friends with enough respect to make them complicated, thoughtful, intelligent, and flawed. Readers that enjoyed Kingsolver’s other forays into family and politics in The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will enjoy this beautifully written novel.
More often than not, I feel like I read books about people that I either love or hate — heroes (or anti-heroes) or villains. But in life it is rarely that easy. People surprise you, disappoint you, make you frustrated, make you laugh, bore you, excite you — sometimes all in the same day. No person is always valiant and even Saddam Hussein probably told a good joke once in a while. So it is often those books that show people being human that really appeal to me. In The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg did just that.
The Middlesteins centers around Edie, the family matriarch who has always loved food. Her lifelong memories are tied to liverwurst and rye bread, and she has been able to consume large quantities of food in one sitting since childhood. As she goes from plump to fat to morbidly obese, she marries Richard, raises her children – Benny and Robin, and builds a mediocre career. Her family and career did not meet the high expectations she had as a whip-smart child, and now around 60-years-old, food has become the consistent comfort in her disappointing life. Edie, Benny, Robin, Richard, Benny’s wife Rachelle, and a few additional characters each contribute to this family’s narrative. We see how Edie’s dissatisfaction and deteriorating health effect the family, and how they all deal with trauma and turmoil in their own way.
Just like the characters, the book is imperfect. There are some editing and consistency issues and some of the plot devices feel a little forced, but I would recommend this book for anyone interested in character-driven novels about families.
I wouldn’t call myself a paranoid person. I do sometimes run to get into bed and pull up the covers as quickly as possible after watching a Law and Order: SVU marathon. After reading George Orwell’s 1984, I did start regarding every tv or computer screen with a small fear that it was a potential 2-way telescreen. Despite this, I am typically a level-headed librarian that loves to drop the phrase “peer-reviewed research” into regular conversations.
But Robert Venditti’s The Homeland Directive brought out the conspiracy theorist in me. When I finished reading the graphic novel, I wasn’t convinced that the federal government was spreading an infectious disease in hopes of scaring the population into submission and setting up the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the murder of her research partner. But when I was in the middle of the novel, it didn’t seem entirely far fetched. Venditti was able to take me out of my own perception of the world while I read this graphic novel, and left me thinking far after I finished reading.
Pairing with brilliant illustrator, Mike Huddleston, Venditti wrote a piece that feels outrageous and real at the same time. The illustrations are complicated and portray mood more than action, and the style changes with the setting and cast of characters. All together, this is a stylistic, powerful graphic novel with a well edited story and smart pacing. Everything that needs to be in the story is there, with no extras. I would recommend this book for fans of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man series or Mat Johnson’s Right State.
I have an embarrassing admission…
I’ve never read anything by Carl Hiaasen before. I’ve never read Hoot or Skinny Dip or Native Tongue. And I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I picked up his newest novel, Bad Monkey. With reviewers calling the novel a “misadventure” and described Hiaasen as a “premier humorist”, my expectations were high. I was not disappointed.
Bad Monkey introduces Andrew Yancy, a former Miami Police detective and soon to be former Monroe County sheriff’s officer, who now spends his days counting the cockroaches in local restaurants as a restaurant inspector. Wanting to leave behind his “roach patrol” duties, Yancy believes he may have found his way back onto the force when a tourist fisherman pulls in a human arm and the scandal adverse county sheriff declares the arm’s loss an accident. Yancy believes that there is more going on than meets the eye, so he begins his own investigation.
There is a lot going on in this book, but it never feels weighted down or overly ambitious. The stories weave together in a way that feels natural, and Yancy is perfectly imperfect in the way of all the best anti-heroes. Employing a dark sense of humor, Bad Monkey is moralistic without ever coming off as preachy and weird without forgetting reality. Revenge fantasy at it’s best, Bad Monkey, is a seriously fun read. I feel kind of lucky that I have such a backlog of Hiaasen books to read until his next book is released.
I can’t believe I’m about to recommend a horror movie. This feels weird. But The Cabin in the Woods is the kind of movie that creates a lot of confusing emotions, and I bet that’s the kind of praise that producer and co-writer Joss Whedon would hope for. Five college kids enjoy a road trip to an isolated mountaintop cabin, complete with a peaceful lake, sinister locals, and a cellar full to bursting with creepy memorabilia. If it sounds too much like a stereotypical slasher, that’s because it is: this cabin is being controlled remotely by a full staff of suited, vaguely government-looking people who are manipulating the kids’ behavior the way the Gamemakers manipulated The Hunger Games (Push the red button for more fire, pull the green handle to unleash monsters, that kind of thing).
This film was shot in 2009 – well before the success of Thor and The Avengers made Chris Hemsworth bigger than his small but hilarious role as the not-so-stereotypical jock – but it wasn’t released until 2012. If you’ve remained unspoiled since then, somehow, I won’t ruin your fun in watching this movie unspoiled. But I will say: it’s darned surprising. Every time you think you have this film figured out, you find out it goes just a little bit further, and gets a little bit better, than you’d imagined. But this recommendation comes with a warning: The Cabin in the Woods is funny, and smart, and satirical, and downright fun, but the fun of lampooning horror movies can’t be had without actually showing a horror movie, so there are lots of seriously graphic scenes here – definitely stay away if you can’t handle on-screen violence. But if you can, and if you’ve ever wondered: “why?! Why on earth do people like these dumb slasher flicks? What are we, as a society, and as an artistic culture, getting out of it?!” here’s a well-made movie that will offer some interesting answers.
The Figge Museum currently (May 4-September 8) has selections from the CU Art Museum at the University of Colorado Boulder on display as a part of American Pop! exhibit. Make sure you mark your calendars for Thursday, August 1 to hear Donald Warhola, Andy Warhol’s nephew, speak about the exhibit for free. Before you visit, take some time to examine and better understand Pop Art with these great library resources.
Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film
Pop Art Icons. Warhol, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein.
Pop Art: A Continuing History by Marco Livingstone
Warhol by José María Faerna
What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz
Modern Art Desserts by Caitlin Freeman
Roy Lichtenstein by Diane Waldman
For more than 15 years, Amish romance novels have been gaining popularity. Publishers are eager to publish these quick sellers, and their popularity has yielded at least one academic book (Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels by Valerie Weaver-Zercher) and a slew of articles from online newspapers and magazines about the phenomena. The LA Times coined the term “Bonnet Rippers” to describe them, although the books are too modest for much ripping to occur. In the age of Fifty Shades of Grey these books seem to be the demure alternative for ladies (and gentlemen!) looking for a little romance.
If you’re looking to start reading this expanding genre, you may want to start with a series by prolific authors Beverly Lewis, Cindy Woodsmall, and Wanda Brunstetter.
The Storekeeper’s Daughter is the first book in the Daughters of Lancaster County series by Wanda Brunstetter. After the death of her mother, Naomi Fisher takes over all of the responsibilities of managing a household of seven children and helping her father at his store at 20-years-old. She longs to gain the attention of a young man in her community, but with her new responsibilities and after making a horrible mistake while watching her baby brother, Naomi feels like it will be impossible to start her own family.
Beverly Lewis’ The Secret is the first book in the Seasons of Grace series, and introduces readers to Amish Grace Byler and “Englisher” Heather Nelson. After family issues make her reassess her future, Grace breaks off her betrothal and plans a future as a single woman, until she begins receiving attention from another man. Heather comes to Amish country to reconnect to memories of her mother, following a somber medical prognosis. Although they are from different worlds, the two women develop a quick friendship and help each other find what they’re looking for.
In the first book, When the Heart Cries, of Cindy Woodsmall’s Sisters of the Quilt series, we meet 17-year-old Hannah Lapp. Hannah was raised Old Order Amish, but wants to break tradition to be with the Mennonite man that she loves, Paul. He is a modern man, attending college and driving cars, which is unacceptable to her traditional father. She knows that marrying Paul would change the relationship she has with her family, but she also wants to spend her life with him. When tragedy strikes, she finds herself having to seek answers outside of her family’s traditions.
Luke Pearson’s Hilda graphic novel series is whimsical, funny, and excruciatingly charming. Hilda is a blue haired girl living in a magical world filled with trolls, invisible tiny people, exotic birds, flying giant cats, and a lonely wooden man. Hilda is a kind, thoughtful person, and her character develops nicely throughout the series. Although created for children, this series is a delight for all ages.
Hildafolk is the first and the shortest book in the series. This quick introduction to our curious heroine takes the reader on an adventure through (what Pearson calls) the Scandinavian wilderness (with a large dose of magic). Hilda camps in the rain, draws some interesting rock formations, and has a run-in with a troll.
Hildafolk is followed by the remarkable Hilda and the Midnight Giant. In this sequel, Hilda begins finding tiny letters demanding that she and her mother move away. Isolated in the countryside, Hilda cannot figure out who would be demanding that they move (particularly in such a tiny fashion.) As Hilda solves the mystery, a beautiful hidden world is revealed and Hilda and her mother must decide if they should stay in their beloved home and risk stepping on their neighbors, or moving on to start a new life in the city.
Hilda and the Bird Parade takes place (spoiler!) following their move to the city, where Hilda is trying to learn to fit in. Used to being able to roam the countryside free of supervision, Hilda and her mother are both trying to navigate city the new dangers and lifestyle changes brought on by city life. When Hilda befriends a talking raven, she has an adventure that shows her that her new home could be just as exciting and beautiful as the one that she left behind.
For sheer lighthearted sitcom fun, few shows can compete with The IT Crowd. It follows the well-known workplace sitcom format: in each episode, we see the three principal characters interacting in their shared office. As the IT staff of a large corporation, Jen, Moss, and Roy deal with the technological incompetence of their superiors, the ingratitude of their coworkers, and the everyday indignity of being a nerd. Jen is the head of the department, the “relationship manager,” despite having no knowledge about computers, for which Roy and Moss tease her relentlessly. Roy is a selfish, laid back, halfheartedly kind bloke; perpetually single but not bitter about it, his best friend and coworker Moss is very shy and considerably weirder than his friend. Moss is the type to obsessively count the staples in his stapler and email the authorities about a fire when he gets flustered and can’t reach them on the phone. Luckily, the socially adept Jen is there to smooth things over and keep the place running, but she isn’t without her own foibles; her ignorance has gotten her into hot water more than once, like when she believed Roy when he told her that “typing Google into Google can break the internet” and passed on this dire warning to the board of directors, or when she pretends to be a classical music expert to impress a date – only to have that date ring her up from the set of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” asking for her help on a classical music question.
For a lighthearted workplace comedy, The IT Crowd is in the running as my favorite. The episodes “The Haunting of Bill Crouse” (wherein Moss accidentally convinces the whole office that Jen has died), “Are We Not Men?” (the guys pretend to be soccer fans to make friends and end up accessories to a robbery), and “Italian for Beginners” (where Jen uses translation software to pretend she speaks Italian) are absolutely hilarious, and it was hard to stop that list at just three. Recommended for fans of The Office (British or American), Parks & Recreation, Spaced, Coupling, and Community.
Elliott Holt’s first book, You Are One of Them, is the story of friendship and of the momentous changes in Russia in the 90’s.
The first part of the book is about the friendship of Sarah and Jennifer, 10-year-olds in Cold War Washington D.C. Like the real-life Samantha Smith, Sarah writes to Yuri Andropov, asking for peace between the two nations. Jennifer decides to write a letter as well, and her’s is the one that attracts the attention of Andropov and the world media.
The friendship doesn’t survive and neither does Jennifer, who dies in a plane crash.
The second part of the book is about Sarah’s time in Moscow just after the Soviet Union breaks up. She tries to track down Jennifer, after receiving a letter saying that Jennifer is alive and living in Russia.
The book has a lot to recommend it – the depiction of the life in the 80’s in suburban Washington, D.C., and the adolescent friendship of the two girls. Holt does an excellent job in painting a picture of what it was like for Muscovites and “New Russians” as they desperately try to adapt to consumerism in a chaotic new market economy.
A couple things are bothersome, though. Sarah is rudely unrelenting in her criticism of the way things are done in Russian business and social life. And the ending, to me, is disappointing. To say more would be a spoiler.