To say that I was excited about the release of Janelle Monáe’s newest album, The Electric Lady, is an understatement. Her 2010 album, The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III), is one of my favorite albums of all time. That epic, sprawling R&B recording (that feels like a collaboration between David Bowie, Lauryn Hill, Beck, and Outcast) tells the story of Cindi Mayweather, an android sent back in time to save the people of Metropolis from a time-traveling secret society that prevents freedom and love. Monáe’s first album, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) began the story and The Electric Lady continues with suites four and five out of seven.
But don’t let that complicated back story turn you away. The Electric Lady is as fun as it is smart. Collaborating with Erykah Badu (on the spectacular track Q.U.E.E.N.), Esperanza Spalding, Miguel, Solonge, and Prince, Monáe has created an exciting follow-up album. While there are stand-out tracks (Primetime and Dance Apocolyptic are two of my favorites), The Electric Lady is best listened to in full.
I recently finished the extraordinarily good Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and as much as I’d love to talk at length about my love for that book, Lexie already beat me to it. Shucks. So, instead, I’m going to write about my second favorite young adult novel about a red-headed social misfit published this year – Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s OCD, The Dude, and Me.
Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in (has there ever been a young adult book about someone well-adjusted? Would anyone want to read it?) Diagnosed with OCD, she attends an alternative high school and has to see the school psychologist to work on her social skills. With no friends and a rotten self-image, Danielle’s energy goes into rearranging her snowglobe collection, writing and reading, and pining for her crush, Jacob. That is, until she meets Daniel, a fellow outsider who introduces Danielle to the cult classic, The Big Lebowski and they find themselves at Lebowskifest (something that I’m happy to report is real), a place where Danielle finally feels like she belongs.
Vaughn chose to introduce Danielle diary style — through her school essays, journal entries, and email exchanges– to great effect. Witty and sarcastic, Danielle steadily grows up as the year passes. As she gains confidence, she becomes more likable — a concept that may be inspiring to the self-deprecating among us. Fans of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky should pick OCD, The Dude, and Me.
Twenty years ago Gary King (Simon Pegg) led his four best pals on a “Golden Mile”pub crawl to celebrate the end of their adolescence. Since then, they have all seemingly moved on with their lives and have found varying levels of success. Well, all of them except King, who has never even tried to change.
Simon Pegg is always at his best in films he wrote with Edgar Wright and The World’s End is no exception. Foul-mouthed and drunk, Pegg’s King is delightfully unlikable and yet, it is easy to see why his friends are all willing to join him for one more pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven. King and his friends (each with their own royal pun moniker) Andy Knightly (Nick Frost), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) are all drinking their way toward the storied pub, The World’s End. When they arrive in Newton Haven, there are subtle changes to the town that seem to be for the better. But as the night progresses, the changes seem to take a turn for the sinister, and the friends find themselves increasingly in danger.
A huge fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I went into this movie expecting to love it and was not disappointed. I might even say that it was my favorite of Pegg and Wright’s British bromances disguised as sci-fi and action spoofs. This movie is funny all the way through, and I’m hoping that it only gets better with repeated viewing.
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is delightful! I was smitten with this charming, smart middle grade novel from page one. DiCamillo (Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie) is joined by illustrator K.G. Campbell to bring to life Flora Belle Buckman, a natural-born cynic in the body of a tween girl. Armed with an extensive vocabulary, an abundance of comic book knowledge, and an eye for the truth, Flora makes for a wonderful heroine.
But she wouldn’t see herself as the hero of this tale. The hero (I mean, superhero) is Ulysses, a squirrel who acquires the abilities to write poetry and fly after being sucked up by Flora’s neighbor Tootie Tickman’s Ulysses Super-Suction, Mult-Terrain 2000X vacuum. The story that follows includes a terrifying cat, temporary blindness, a shepherdess lamp, an unexpected villain, a giant doughnut, and much more.
While this comic book/chapter book hybrid is funny and silly, it is also very sweet. The examination of changing mother-daughter dynamics as girls grow up is so beautifully executed and subtle that readers may not notice it until they’ve finished reading. Flora and Ulysses is a great read for loyal readers of Kate DiCamillo and fans of Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (or, really, anyone!)
Bored and restless on a hot summer night in Red Hook, Brooklyn, 15-year-olds June and Val decide to take a pink raft down to the docks and float out into the bay. The next morning, Val is found unconscious under a pylon, but June remains missing. Her absence becomes a catalyst for new relationships and a weight for the residents trying to find a way out.
Red Hook, Brooklyn has become the butt of a lot of hipster jokes in the last couple of years, and along with the gentrification of the neighborhood and the devastation caused by hurricane Sandy in 2012, Red Hook has found itself in national headlines. Pochoda’s examination of this historic neighborhood takes place right on the cusp of this change. Visitation Street is about a specific place at a specific time, but feels remarkably universal. Most young people are reaching to move beyond the circumstances to which they’re born, and as young people from across the country move to newly cool Red Hook, many of the long-term residents of Red Hook are looking for a way out.
Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street presents the voices of this urban, changing neighborhood in the midst of tragedy. I often speed through books I like, wanting to find my way to the conclusion. But in Pochoda’s debut novel, I took my time. I genuinely liked Fadi, Cree, Val, Jonathan, Ren, and Monique — flaws and all.
There comes a point in most people’s lives when they begin to realize that they’re finally an adult. For me that moment came the first time I re-watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and I realized that I sympathized more with the adults and Ferris’ sister than Ferris. Since that day, I’ve noticed a trend in my entertainment sympathies. I watched Easy A and my favorite characters were Olive’s parents (hilariously played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci). I’ve been re-watching The Cosby Show, and my affinity has swayed from Theo to Clair.
So when I watched The Way, Way Back, I was expecting the same. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash*, the writers of the Oscar winning The Descendants screenplay, this is a smart, funny movie about the pain of growing up and the fear of becoming the wrong kind of adult. Liam James is remarkably and heartbreakingly convincing as Duncan, a 14-year-old spending the summer with his mom, Pam (Toni Collette) at her boyfriend Trent’s beach house. Trent, played by a surprisingly unlikable Steve Carrell, is the aforementioned wrong kind of adult. He is obsessed with the “supposed to” in life, caring more about things and image than people. When Duncan finds a job at the local water park, he begins to meet people that have chosen a different path toward adulthood (and have reached it in varying degrees).
There are a lot of reasons to recommend this movie. The supporting cast — Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, AnnaSophia Robb, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and the scene stealing Allison Janney — is fantastic, and the movie is hilarious. But I loved the movie because of how much I cared about Duncan. Teens are often portrayed as arrogant and reckless or completely socially inept nerds, but most kids live somewhere in the middle. James’ performance and Faxon and Rash’s writing helped give me a chance to root for the teen again, which is almost like reclaiming my youth.
I’d recommend this movie for fans of Little Miss Sunshine, Crazy Stupid Love, or Adventureland.
*The Dean from Community has an Oscar!
When I grow up I want to be a Lady Detective just like Miss Fisher—elegant, scrappy and clever (words that also describe my other favorite Lady Detective, Jessica Fletcher!) Phryne Fisher has been dancing around the book world for a while (see my review of the first in that series here: Phryne, Rhymes with Briney), but now we can actually see her shake her beaded tassels in a new gorgeously filmed television series by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, shown in the United States on PBS.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries begins just as Kerry Greenwood’s book series does, with the Honorable Phryne Fisher, played by the seductive Essie Davis, returning to 1920’s Melbourne after being away for a decade or so. While she was away in Europe, Miss Fisher had modeled nude for artists, partied with dancers, worked as WWI nurse, and suddenly came into a title and money. Now that she is returned, Phryne decides that her charm and intellect are perfectly suited to solving murder mysteries around her old hometown. She enlists the help of her gentle butler, her communist chauffeurs/handymen, and her new maid, Dot, who finds herself constantly struggling between good Catholic values and the not-quite-legal-or-virtuous things that Miss Fisher persuades her to do. And of course, the local Detective Inspector Jack Robinson does not find Phryne’s frequent interference in his work amusing (even if he does find her annoyingly companionable.) I loved every episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, but what most puts a sparkle in my eye is Phryne’s marvelous wardrobe! The silk kimonos! The slinky wide-legged pants! And the hats oh THE HATS!
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is so charming, fun and sexy while still addressing many historically controversial issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and terrorism—all while giving us a cracking good whodunit. I highly recommend this series to fans of Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, and those who love history and mysteries
I require two things of a cookbook for me to check it out:
♥ There must be lots of photos.
♥ Those photos must be beautiful.
Checking out a cookbook is not the same thing as USING a cookbook. For me to actually use a cookbook, I require two additional things:
♥ Simple ingredients.
♥ Simple instructions.
Very, very few cookbooks meet these requirements (thus I am forced to make frozen pizza at least twice a week. Sigh. It is so difficult being a lazy cook with high cookbook standards). So when I discovered that Mary McCartney’s new cookbook, FOOD: Vegetarian Home Cooking, exceeded all of my requirements I just had to hug it. Yup, I hug that cookbook. On a regular basis. Because I love it. I really really love it.
For those of you who are not as obsessed with the McCartney family as I am, Mary McCartney is the daughter of Sir Paul McCartney and the late Linda McCartney, and thus grew up in arguably the most famous of vegetarian families. I was worried that Mary’s long history with vegetarian cooking (not particularly my favorite type of food) would result in complicated and unappealing fancy cuisine and thus dash my hopes that I would ever be able to comfortably tuck in if invited to sit at the McCartney supper table.
Upon opening the cookbook, I was first struck (and almost brought to tears) by Mary’s cozy photographs of lovely people and fresh food and how the photographs reminded me just enough of her mother, Linda, but were still very much the artist’s own. Wonderful and crisp.
Then I started looking at the recipes and I was like “HEY I CAN MAKE THESE!” I made a cold Quinoa salad, a Quinoa and white bean soup, granola bars, zucchini pasta, a coconut-pineapple smoothie and all were easy and successful. My favorite recipe was the hummus and hot pepper jam sandwich – So simple, right?! The recipes are delicious and appealing to even a non-Veggie lover like me. Mary McCartney managed to not only make a beautiful and delicious cookbook, but also to make me feel like a confident, capable cook. And that is why FOOD gets a frequent hug from me. You should probably hug it, too.
I read a lot about The Bone Season before I started reading the book, which means that I read a lot about the book’s author, Samantha Shannon. A twenty-one year old recent graduate from Oxford University, Shannon has been marketed as a literary wunderkind. Every interview and review mentions her age or her status as a “young writer”. As a first-time published author, that is to be expected (here I am doing the same), and I would be lying if I didn’t say that influenced my decision to pick it up.
But this novel stands on its own (well, at least until the next six books in the series are released.) Shannon has created a fascinating near-future paranormal fantasy novel that includes elements of revisionist history and dystopian science fiction. Set in Scion controlled London in 2059, this fast-paced novel introduces readers to Paige Mahoney, a member of the clairvoyant criminal underworld. Scion was formed to find and eliminate clairvoyants like Paige, so being a member of Jaxon Hall’s Seven Dials based gang keeps her a protected and fed member of a family. But when Paige commits a crime that leads to her arrest and capture, she finds herself in Sheol I, a penal colony for voyants run by Rephaim, a race of non-human clairvoyants. While in Sheol I, Paige is assigned to the Warden for training and care and she has to decide if she can trust him, as she tries to find a way to save herself and the other humans imprisoned for life in Sheol I.
Shannon has been called the next J.K. Rowling (pressure anyone?) and The Bone Season has been compared to the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games series. I understand why, and I would recommend that fans of both series check out The Bone Season. But I think that while there are elements of each in this book (magical powers, dystopian future, strong female protagonist), Shannon has created something different. She has said that she was influenced by Margaret Atwood, and this is apparent in her intelligent, literary take on urban fantasy. This might be my favorite read this year (but there are two more months to go, so don’t hold me to that.)
In Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, writer Elizabeth Cline manages to educate the reader on the current state of the worldwide garment industry and to make it a page-turner. I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN. Cline covers the history of America’s Department Stores, the complicated ethics of a global garment industry, a trip to China’s factories for an experiment in fashion manufacturing, the effect of cheap clothes on the secondhand stores and charitable causes, and the role of social media in the “fast fashion” environment–all while unintentionally evolving herself into a “slow fashion” activist.
This is not a see-how-I’m-better-than-you-because-I-only-wear-handsewn-fair-trade-organic-cotton manifesto, but rather a conversation with a super smart friend who’s motto is I-used-to-shop-mostly-at-Forever-21-and-then-I-learned-some-stuff-and-now-prefer-not-to-shop-there. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the book is when Cline admits that only a few years before she began researching the book by sifting through her closet of cheap clothes from H&M, Target & Forever 21, she had participated in protests against her college for using sweatshops to produce their merch. If you were to ask me “Hey, are you against sweatshops and unfair labor practices?” I would say “Duh. Of course.” But then I would sheepishly look down at my clothing and have absolutley no idea how or where anything was made. It takes a lot of work not to buy cheap fasthion, and only Cline’s complete honesty, curiosity, and empathy could produce a book that could convince me to shop (a little bit) less at Target.
I highly recommend Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline to nonfiction readers, fashionistas, and fans of the slow lifestyle movement.