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.
Margo Lanagan is an artist, and Tender Morsels is a potent story, rich in magic and full of feeling. Liga, with a babe in arms and another on the way – both forced on her in the most unpleasant ways you care to imagine – is rescued from her miserable life by an elemental creature, removed to her Heart’s Desire: her personal heaven, a world that narrowly overlaps her real pre-industrial, vaguely-historical, sort-of-European one. The boundary is firm for a while and Liga raises her daughters in peace and safety, but eventually people start poking their way through – in both directions. What follows is a meditative, surprising, totally unique tale of self discovery, familial and romantic love, magic, fear, and growing up. It’s slow paced and knotted with complex, beautiful language. It’s brilliant and mature and devastating, but uplifting at the same time. Tender Morsels is based on the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. It fills in the bones of that story, adding motivation to the characters and a reason to the movements of the plot, which always bends to fit the whims of the magic, and never the other way around.
“You are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart.”
This book isn’t for everyone: the plot hinges on violence and sexual abuse, so those who are uncomfortable with those topics will be unhappy with this book. It’s written for a teenage audience, but the complexity of the writing and some mature content mean that it’s better suited for older teens or adults who read YA.
Some more novels based on fairy tales:
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.
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.