I’m a latecomer to Eureka. It was recommended by friends and Netflix, and still I resisted. When I finally yielded and started watching (from the beginning, of course), I was disappointed that it had taken me so long. It reminded me of a hybrid of three of my favorite shows — Warehouse 13, Psych, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Like the town of Eureka, Warehouse 13 is top secret. Rather than being a town filled with the top brains in the country, it is a storage facility filled with artifacts with ties to history and literature. The employees of Warehouse 13 are tasked with traveling the world to retrieve these supernatural objects and prevent them from causing harm to their owners and protecting the objects once they’re in the Warehouse. A mixture of humor, clever references, and strong character development makes this the strongest contender for Eureka fans.
Psych is a comedy detective show focused on Shawn Spencer and Burton “Gus” Guster, two childhood friends that own a psychic detective agency. Neither one of them is a psychic, but Shawn’s strong detective skills make him pretty impressive at pretending to be one. Psych is filled with lots of cultural references and silly capers. Eureka fans have to suspend disbelief pretty often, and this skill will be useful when watching Psych.
You’ve probably already seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A show about a normal high school girl that happens to be the one chosen slayer, endowed with strength and skill mismatched to her petite frame. The show follows her and her group of friends (and Watcher/Librarian Giles) from high school to college, as she fights vampires and demons. But let’s say you haven’t seen Buffy, or you’re thinking, “Why would someone suggest that Buffy and Eureka are watch-alikes?” I have one word for you — camp. Some may call them cheesy, breathlessly pointing out how saccharine the dialogue can be or how ridiculous the special effects are (something that can be said for Warehouse 13, as well), and I understand those arguments. But these self-aware, absurd shows are fun in many of the same ways.
Might I also recommend Castle and Angel (and point out that I probably watch too many television shows?)
Deb Perelman has garnered a pretty significant following from her blog Smitten Kitchen, and has transformed cooking in her 42-square-foot Manhatten kitchen from a feat to a pleasure. She crafts everything from unique desserts to one pan entrees to sophisticated appetizers, and more; documenting her accomplishments with beautiful photographs and detailed instructions.
One of the primary things that sets Perelman apart from other food bloggers is her excellent conversational writing style. She is witty and warm, and provides a healthy mix of anecdotes and edification. That is why I was ecstatic to see that she had released a cookbook, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. This charming cookbook features a diverse array of recipes, accompanied by exceptional tips and explanations. Much of the cookbook features vegetarian friendly recipes — as Perelman was a vegetarian for a large chunk of her life — but there are definitely recipes for the carnivores included as well.
When I saw this book at the library, I promptly checked it out. And then a few days later, bought it. It now sits in my kitchen with a fine layer of bread flour on it from repeated use (the recipe for homemade pizza dough is now a family favorite.) I bought it because it met my two cookbook criteria: Providing photographs of every dish and using fresh and affordable ingredients. I recommend checking this cookbook out as soon as possible. And then you have to make the pizza dough, the sesame-spiced turkey meatballs and smashed chickpea salad, and, of course, the apple-cider caramels.
Pulitzer Prize winning author, Junot Díaz writes with a kind of swagger and cool that makes it pretty hard to believe that he’s a creative writing professor at MIT. Having recently finished reading his third published book, a collection of short stories called This is How You Lose Her, I am convinced that he knows every dirty word in English and Spanish. Particularly if the words are referencing female anatomy. So be warned, this is not the novel for anyone offended by salty and sexual language.
But if you can get beyond that, I can’t recommend this book enough. Díaz, himself a Dominican immigrant, tells stories about immigrants that help create a full picture of why someone is who they are. He shows that machismo is often a projection due to a lack of respect, and poor behavior isn’t something to be excused, but it can sometimes be explained. This is never more true than in his semi-autobiographical character, Yunior, the protagonist of most of this collection.
Readers may have met Yunior in Díaz’s The Brief Life of Oscar Wao (winner of the aforementioned Pulitzer) or in his first published collection of short stories, Drown, but I met Yunior for the first time after he cheated on Magda in This is How You Lose Her. As he cheats his way through many of these short stories — and continues to imprison himself in grief and regret following the discovery of his transgressions — Yunior’s story becomes less about each individual relationship and more about how Yunior’s relationships reflect his own self-image and cultural identity. The most powerful passages in the novel occur in his home, when we meet his family and see the effects of his father and brother’s infidelity on the family. Equally funny and frustrating, Díaz has written a complicated novel that feels both universal and unique.
Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water introduces the reader to two eleven-year-old’s from Sudan, Salva and Nya. The story is primarily about Salva, a real-life Sudanese Lost Boy and his struggle to survive after the second Sudanese Civil War lands outside of the doors of his school in the 1980s. Nya’s story comes in smaller bits, explaining what it is like to live in Sudan today, in the aftermath of the civil war. Park was able to accomplish a remarkable feat in this novel, taking a hard to understand, emotionally charged story, and making it relateable and digestible for middle grade readers.
That isn’t to say that this book isn’t emotionally challenging, because it is. Salva saw most people that he loves die, and understanding war, death, and famine are hard concepts for adults, let alone children. But Park laces this brief little book with hope and kindness. Nya’s story gives readers a vision of the hope of the future, showing that a program called Water for South Sudan is helping change the lives of the Sudanese people, providing safe drinking water for entire communities which helps free up time for school and community growth.
Unterzakhn (yiddish for ‘underthings’) by Leela Corman tells the story of Jewish twin sisters at the start of the 20th century in New York City. Esther and Fanya’s stories are told in graphic novel form, spanning more than a decade from childhood through adulthood, with black and white illustrations reminiscent of Russian folk art. The sisters make decidedly different decisions in their lives, but they both chose career paths outside of community and family expectations of them and drift apart from one another (forcefully in one scene).
Fanya starts this story when she finds a woman bleeding in the street and is instructed to go find the “lady doctor”. This encounter brings her to Bronia, a feminist obstetrician who performs illegal abortions, and convinces Fanya’s mother to let Bronia teach Fanya to read. Fanya then begins to apprentice for Bronia, and adapts to the strident expectations of her teacher. While her sister is learning to work as an obstetrician, Esther begins working at the local burlesque theater and brothel — running errands and cleaning up. As she grows toward adulthood, her work changes and she loses her family in the process.
This is a quick, but in no way a light read. The writing and the illustrations show a lot of darkness and pain. The sisters always seem better when they’re together, showing the quick wit and love that seems to be reserved for each other. I had a difficult time putting this book down, because Corman made it easy to care about Fanya and Esther. This is a good read for fans of David Small’s Stitches or anything by Charles Burns.
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
After seeing this personal ad run several times in the magazine he works for, Seattle Magazine, Jeff (Jake Johnson from The New Girl) pitches investigating the person who is running the ad. The editor agrees and allows him to bring two interns with him, Darius (Aubry Plaza, Parks and Recreation) and Arnau (Karan Soni) to Ocean View, Washington to track down the potential time-traveler, Kenneth (Mark Duplass).
Darius quickly takes over the investigation, building a bond with Kenneth, despite her early skepticism. Plaza plays Darius so exquisitely that you begin to see Kenneth through her eyes. Quick to roll her eyes or let out an exasperated sigh on Parks and Recreation, she uses subtlety in her facial expressions in this movie that one might not expect. The story is dark, funny, and smart, and the actors all feel fluid and natural, despite their characters being thrust into odd situations.
Fans of Jeff Who Lives at Home, Win Win, Crazy Stupid Love, and Silver Linings Playbook will want to pick up this quirky story about regret and love.
I’ve been a fan of Kadir Nelson’s illustrations for years without realizing it. Nelson is an illustrator and writer who has created some of the most beautiful and powerful books of the past fifteen years. Primarily focusing on African-American history and heroes, Nelson has proven to be adept at writing and illustrating books about challenging subjects gracefully and with age-appropriate illustrations and language. He illustrated the Caldecott Honor books Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, as well as books by Spike Lee, Will Smith, Nikki Grimes, Sharon Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s daughter) and Michael Jordan.
With the release of Nelson’s newest picture book, Nelson Mandela, I took another look at his 2008 release We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. Both books are written and illustrated by Nelson and feature his signature resplendent paintings. We are the Ship tells the story of baseball’s segregation from the start of the Negro League baseball in the 1920s, until Jackie Robinson crossed over into the majors in 1947. This non-fiction book is told in 9 chapters (labeled as innings) and reads as a collective voice. The writing is inspiring without being overly sentimental and smart while still being accessible.
Nelson Mandela is a much shorter work, but no less compelling. The prose is fluid and poetic, and there are few stories more powerful than Mandela’s. Nelson made some stylistic decisions that really make this picture book stand out. The front cover of the book is a striking painting of Mandela’s face (above), with all of the book’s text on the back cover. Light is used prominently throughout the book, from the cover shot of Mandela’s face bathed in light with a black background to the use of a rising sun as the story tells of Mandela’s birth to the absence of light while Mandela was in prison. This use of literal light to convey the figurative impact Mandela has made on so many people helps give visual cues to readers, while the text does a remarkable job filling in the rest of the story for young readers. You can find more books written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson at the Davenport Public Library!
As a personal challenge, I have taken on the task of reading all of the Iowa Children’s Choice 2013-14 nominees before voting ends in March 2014. I am currently seven books down, with 18 books left to read. I’m really fascinated to see how my reactions to the books compare with the voting of Iowa’s 3rd-6th graders. I am taking this opportunity to highlight some of the books that stand out from the pack.
Twelve-year-old Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Fitzroy lives in a zoo. And not just any zoo, but FunJungle, the largest animal amusement park in the world, where his parents work. When the FunJungle mascot, Henry the Hippo, turns up dead, Teddy is convinced that it was murder. Written by Stewart Gibbs Belly Up, is a funny, clever first novel.
Stewart Gibbs has a degree in biology, and worked in a zoo while in college (at one point he was the foremost expert on capybaras). He has also written a number of screenplays. These two occupations are evident in his writing. This book is filled with interesting animal and zoo facts, cleverly sprinkled throughout the story. The action in the novel is fast paced, well-timed, exciting. Overall, the book feels a lot like a well-informed animated movie, which seems to be a pretty great selling point for a children’s mystery novel. I would recommend this book for fans of Swindle by Gordon Korman, Scat by Carl Hiaasen, and M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series.
Miri feels useless. While her father, sister, and all of her peers work in the quarry mining linder all day, Miri is forced to stay out of the quarry and tend to her home. She believes that her father keeps her home due to her small stature, and this makes her a burden for the entire Mount Eskel village. When it is announced that the prince will be choosing the next princess from among the girls of Mount Eskel, Miri believes that this is her chance to prove her worth to her father and her community.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is a gem of a book. One of the biggest criticisms of middle grade fiction is that authors often tell, rather than show. They tell the reader how to feel about a character without letting the reader get to know the character on their own. But Hale masterfully shows the reader that Miri is moral, quick witted, funny, loyal, and strong through Miri’s words and actions. Just like Miri, the reader is conflicted about whether she would be better off marrying the prince and getting to travel and learn or if she should return to her village that she loves to help better her people. This is a conflict that many smart, talented young women deal with as they make their transition from hometown life, to college, and then to a career.
While there are a number of fantastic princess books from Ella Enchanted to The Secret Lives of Princesses to The Princess Knight, Hale is able to do something unique with this book. She isn’t just presenting an internal conflict of a young woman wanting to prove herself (although that conflict plays an important role in the novel), but Hale goes beyond that to create a protagonist that understands the importance of community and family.
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.