Life and Other Near DeathLibby Miller finds out (on the same day) that her husband is not at all who she thought he was, and their marriage was not what she thought it was. And that she has terminal illness.  The internal monologues make you wonder how you, too, would cope with a day like that. For me, the first half of the book was most interesting, as Libby struggles to cope with seismic shifts in every aspect of her life – her job, her home, her health, and her family.  She begins to realize that nothing at all in her life will ever be the same.  This Camille Pagan novel is written in the first-person, so we are privy to her wildly swinging emotions. Her reaction to her husband’s news is both horrifying and funny.

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences  is an odd amalgam of standard fiction and chick-lit. Some of the latter’s conventions are apparent – the tone is self-effacing and self-mocking, the main character is young (ish) and attractive, and good at her professional job – though she is a PA to a horrible boss. There is a spirit of re-invention, and, inevitably, a romance with a man who is a soul-mate, rather than someone she has stayed with, out of habit.

However, the reader (or this reader, anyway) had certain expectations about the illness that were not met, so it didn’t follow a typical airport fiction trajectory.(No spoilers here).  The tone often veers into pretty dark territory – the illness and death of Libby’s mother is a driving factor in how Libby deals with her diagnosis. The result is that the reader is thrown off balance, and isn’t quite sure where the story is going. It’s a novel with a high-concept plot that delves deeper than expected.

 

 

what phil's havingI enjoy a good travel documentary, but what really hooks me in are the ones that focus on the local food that can be found and enjoyed when you are on vacation. I’ll Have What Phil’s Having is what I would call a food travel documentary and definitely fulfilled my wish for more of a focus on food than the sites that you would see in a traditional travel documentary.

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having follows Emmy Award-winner Phil Rosenthal, the creator of the hit show Everybody Loves Raymond, as he travels around the world looking for fantastic food in various countries and cities. Phil visits six sites: Tokyo, Italy, Paris, Hong Kong, Barcelona, and his hometown, Los Angeles. At each place, he seeks out what he thinks to be the world’s best food, looking for chefs, ground-breaking style-setters, and leaders in the culinary world to expand his palate and find places where both locals and tourists go to find the best food.

What I loved about this documentary is that Phil was looking for restaurants and chefs that both kept the food traditions of their communities alive and also were working to create new foods, ideas, and restaurants. He acknowledges that he looks for places that both tourists go to, but that going off the beaten path and looking for places that the locals know of will sometimes lead you on a new adventure.

This documentary caught and held my interest because of the wide variety of food he tested, the places he visited, and because of his hilarious commentary and facial expressions as he experienced anything new for the first time. He also gives tours of the famous and historical sites around as enticement for visiting the places that he is at as well. Highly recommended.

orphan blackOrphan Black is an action thriller television series that debuted in 2013 on BBC America. The fourth season is set to begin in April 2016.

Orphan Black begins by introducing viewers to Sarah Manning, a woman back in the states and on the run from an abusive relationship who is trying to get in contact with her young daughter whom she hasn’t seen in over 10 months. She’s getting ready to take the train when she sees a woman commit suicide right in front of her. Interesting twist: this woman looks exactly like Sarah. She decides to assume the dead woman’s identity and lets herself into the woman’s apartment.

Everything seems to be working out perfectly when she realizes the woman has $75,000 in the bank. She decides to drain the woman’s bank account and then skip town with her daughter and her foster brother. Her plans are cut short when unfinished business from both the dead woman’s past and her own past come barreling into her life, leading Sarah down a deadly trail of thrilling mystery that all lead her to the stunning conclusion: she is a clone, there are more of her out there, and that someone is trying to kill all of them. Sarah has no choice but to continue to live a double life as herself and the dead woman, as she meets other clones and realizes that they are all entangled in a complicated plot as genetically identical individuals who all grew up in very different circumstances.

Highlighted by a tour de force performance by Tatiana Maslany (she plays all of the clones, giving each of them distinct personalities, speech patterns and behaviors), this is compulsive television viewing.

Washington 2I am a lover of American History, but I must admit that my presidential knowledge is limited. Somehow, I don’t think I’m alone in needing to brush up on my presidential repertoire. To start, we have to see what you already know. There were two different quizzes I plucked from the internet that will test your knowledge of the 43 presidents. The first one gives you five minutes to input as many president’s names as you can remember. Thankfully you do not have to know when they served, but you do need a first and last named, spelled correctly. I found that it took me about three minutes to input all the names I knew for sure, which was little more than half. Then I just sat there willing my brain to dig a little deeper, feeling oh so tempted to steal a hint from the internet. Seem a little tough? Well the second quiz tests your knowledge of what the presidents looked like when they were in office. As an added bonus, it is a multiple choice. Unfortunately I somehow did a little worse on this one. Sound like fun? Give them a try.

Can You Name the Presidents Quiz 1

Can You Name the Presidents Quiz 2

How did you do? Well if you find that naming presidents is your expertise then I congratulate you! If you are interested on how to get your score up, check out these resources.

Book Resources

 

The History Buff’s Guide to the Presidents by Thomas Flagel

The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents by William A. DeGregorio

U.S. Presidents for Dummies by Marcus A. Stadelmann

 

On DVD

the ultimate guide to the presidents

The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents by The History Channel

 

Websites

Tips and Tricks for Memorizing the Presidents of the United States

Order the Presidents

4 Fun Ways to Memorize the U.S. Presidents

 

Apps

Memorize U.S. Presidents for iPhone

U.S. Presidents for Android

the 5th waveA brand new movie to hit the theaters recently is The 5th Wave. This movie is one of many young adult books that have been made into movies with producers and directors hoping to score big with both young adult readers and fans of somewhat dystopic literature. In order to fully prepare myself for the movie, I decided to dive into the book to see if I liked it.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is the first book in a trilogy (the second book is The Infinite Sea, but the third book, The Last Star, won’t be released until May 24, 2016!). The 5th Wave concentrates on the life of Cassie Sullivan, a teenage girl living with her mother, father, and brother when things start to change. While she’s in school, everything goes dark. All the lights go out and everything electronic stops working. Looking up into the sky, they see a giant ship. An alien invasion has begun.

The Earth is quickly decimated by the alien invasion. Cassie realizes that everything is happening in waves, the largest of which is when a plague is unleashed killing the majority of the world’s population, including her mother. Leaving their home, Cassie, her brother, and father are forced to rely on each other. When further tragedy strikes, Cassie is left to rescue her brother and to keep her promise. The problem is, she has no idea where he might be, only a vague idea that he could be at an army base. On her way to rescue him, Cassie is forced to confront the idea that the aliens may have been living amongst the human population for years and that the very person she has come to trust most could actually be an alien.

I found this book to be extremely intriguing because alongside Cassie’s story, Yancey designates different sections to other characters, so you are able to see how the invasion affects people besides Cassie as well. This adds depth to the book, which I really enjoyed. Check out this book or see the movie and let me know what you think!

lady killerSometimes you just need to take a break from the superhero comics and step into something completely different. If you happen to be in that mood, join me and check out Lady Killer. This graphic novel will be a refreshing break from those men in tights comics who insist on saving the damsel in distress. (Be sure to read the introduction – It’s something you definitely don’t want to miss!)

In Lady Killer, readers are introduced to Josie Schuller, a 1950s housewife who seems to have everything: a fantastic husband, two adorable daughters, and perfect domestic bliss. She does have all that, plus much more! Josie also works outside the home without her husband even realizing what she really does. She isn’t just a lady who goes door-to-door selling Avon though. Josie is a killer.

Yes, I said that right. She’s a killer, an assassin to be specific. Josie doesn’t kill people the way you would expect a lady killer to either. She’s not afraid to get dirty, even though she may seem a little bit delicate with her perfectly done makeup and outfits. Josie is ruthless and has been with the agency for 15 years, performing assassinations whenever asked. Now that she has a family and is working to keep up her picture-perfect life at home, her employers are starting to worry that maybe her priorities are no longer “correctly” in order the way they wish. As a result, Josie soon finds her life to be under attack and she is forced to decide how she really wants her life to be, while hopefully keeping her family blissfully unaware of what mommy really does all day long.


miss meadowsIf this description caught your attention and you’re looking for something similar, check out Miss MeadowsThis movie stars Katie Holmes as Miss Meadows, a perfect, prim, and proper school teacher who under the surface is a vigilante who seeks to right all the wrongs in the world however she can and with any means necessary, like a vigilante Mary Poppins. Right on par with Lady Killer.

 

ant-man movieAnt-Man is a Marvel creation that most recently came out as a movie starring Paul Rudd as Scott Lang and Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym. Dr. Pym was the original Ant-Man, the one who discovered the Pym Particle, a substance that had the ability to shrink items, most importantly a suit. He became Ant-Man and his wife became the Wasp. After a devastating accident, Dr. Pym hid away the formula and the process to find the Pym Particle, locking the suit away.

Flash forward to the present and viewers are introduced to Scott Lang, a burglar who has just been released from jail and is trying to turn his life around so that he can be in his daughter’s life. His roommate and a few friends approach him with the chance of a lifetime: they heard about a rich man who has a safe in his basement and if Scott can crack it, then they will be set financially for a long time. This heist changes Scott’s life and puts him in the sightline of a very powerful man, former Ant-Man Dr. Pym. Giving Scott a chance to reform his life and atone for his past crimes, Dr. Pym presents him with the opportunity to protect the Ant-Man suit and the formula from a group of scientists who wish to harness the power for dubious reasons. Dr. Pym mentors Scott in the ways to use the suit and how to harness all of its powers, while Scott works to change his life for the better. This movie is an excellent introduction to the background of Ant-Man and provides viewers with some pretty spectacular effects, while also keeping the mood light yet fill of action and adventure.


ant-man bookMoving further down the timeline is Nick Spencer’s Ant-Man. In this volume, Ant-Man is older, somewhat more mature, and has worked with a variety of other superheroes. Just because he’s older doesn’t mean he has become a better superhero though. Throughout this graphic novel, it’s pointed out to Scott that he isn’t even the best Ant-Man and that some people still think he’s dead.

Scott is still trying to better his life and provide for his daughter, something that this graphic novel shows has not been without some significant difficulty. Scott thinks he has it made when Iron Man calls and offers him a job, but quickly realizes that he’s only one of many candidates and just because he’s worked with Iron Man before doesn’t mean he is going to get the job. The realization that his ex-wife is moving with his daughter to Florida and a rumble with an old foe throws Scott off-balance, leaving him to try a new business venture that takes Scott and his family down a dangerous path where he is forced to see that what he thinks is right for his family and what is actually right for his family are two very different things.

What I liked best about this graphic novel is that if you are confused about something that is happening, the writers have written in explanations and have also provided you with the issue numbers of the different graphic novels that will help you to fill in the holes. Plus Scott does a lot of reflective thinking, so that helps. It’s brilliant! Check out this graphic novel for a more sarcastic and humanized approach to a superhero who is just trying to get his life together.

amazing fantastic incredibleIf you think of Marvel, chances are the first name you think of is Stan Lee. He has become the face and name most closely affiliated with Marvel and rightfully so. Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir is Stan Lee’s memoir and it’s not like your traditional memoir. This book is a fabulously illustrated graphic memoir done in full color that gives you a birth until present glimpse into the life of Stan Lee.

With Marvel just recently celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary, the release of this graphic novel comes at a high point when Marvel is once again at the center of awareness. Stan Lee is the most legendary name in the history of comic books and this graphic memoir will answer questions about his life and work history that anyone from comic newbie to comic guru may have.

Following Lee’s life from a small boy in an apartment to his current venture of traveling and speaking in venues around the world, this book gives readers a glimpse into the life of the comic legend and co-creator of Spider-Man, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, and many, many other superheroes. Stan Lee changed the superhero game by insisting his superheroes/villains/other characters were complex characters, dealt with personal issues and used wit in order to give readers more relatable superheroes. He read other characters as flat portrayals of the age-old story of good vs. evil and wanted to bring out the human qualities of these superhuman heroes. This graphic memoir illustrates the life and times as Stan Lee as he first broke into the comic industry and effectively changed comics as the world knows them today.

This book is chock full of advice for writers, readers, illustrators, and anyone else who has a dream that they want to follow, despite what other people may be saying to them. Believing in yourself and not giving up are two of the main themes that are consistent throughout this memoir, reminding readers this through speeches and also through the stories of the superheroes that he created and was able to successfully launch into the mainstream public. Whether you’re a comic fan, love Marvel, or are wanting to learn more, I highly recommend this graphic novel as a look into Stan Lee’s past and the overall history of both Marvel and the cast of superheroes that he created.

 

spider-gwenSo if you’re not aware, a major event has unfolded in the Marvel Universe resulting in the Spider-Verse, the biggest Spider-event in history. In Spider-Verse, this November 2014 debut event began with Morlun announcing the Great Hunt, where he and his family would hunt down and kill every Spider-totem/Spider-creature in the Multiverse. As numerous Spider-themed superheroes were being killed, they realized that they needed to band together, so Spider-Man decided to create a team to help fight against all of the villains. This event launched multiple storylines with villains across the different universes launching their own nefarious plans to take down the different Spider-heroes in their own specific universes.

All of this background information leads to Spider-Gwen, Vol. 0: Most Wanted. In an alternate universe, Earth-65 to be exact, Gwen Stacy is alive, having never been thrown off the Brooklyn Bridge by the Green Goblin. In Earth-65, it isn’t Peter Parker that is bitten by the radioactive spider, it is in fact Gwen Stacy, who then becomes Spider-Gwen, also known as Spider-Woman.

Spider-Gwen, Vol. 0: Most Wanted focuses on the life of Gwen Stacy after the death of Peter Parker. Gwen is wrestling with Peter’s death for two reasons: 1) he died in her arms and 2) everyone is blaming Spider-Gwen for his death when in reality, it wasn’t her fault at all. In this universe, Gwen is in a band called the Mary Janes, and shortly after becoming Spider-Gwen, Peter Parker experiments and in trying to become more like Gwen, he becomes the Lizard, which ultimately leads to his death. A man-hunt begins with everyone looking for Spider-Gwen and J Jonah Jameson leading a giant smear campaign against her in the papers and with Gwen’s own father, Captain George Stacy, leading the hunt to capture Gwen.

This first volume is especially intriguing to read because in addition to all of the superhero problems Gwen is facing, she is also dealing with the drama of being in an all-girl rock band and trying to find a balance between her personal and private lives. I highly recommend you check out this graphic novel because it will go more in-depth into Gwen’s world and will allow you to compare the “normal” Spider-man universe with the universe where Gwen has the spider powers.

February is the time of year when our country recognizes the past presidents of the United States. Since this is an election year, the U.S. presidency is on the mind of Americans even more so than usual. I thought it would be a good time to highlight new nonfiction books about the U.S. presidency and presidents.

let the people ruleThe primaries have started in the U.S., and many Americans are left baffled with how the process works, not to mention how a caucus fits in to everything. Primaries are how the people are given a say in which candidate they want to represent their political party in the presidential election. But we didn’t always get a say in this. Geoffrey Cowan’s book Let the People Rule is about the 1912 race for the Republican nomination between Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. It was the first time in American history that primaries were held. It is a great story to read, and also a keen insight into the history of the U.S. primaries.

 

 

a just and generous nationFebruary is also known for being the birth month of one of the nation’s most beloved presidents, Abraham Lincoln. Countless books and movies have been made not only telling the storing of his life, but honoring his work while president of the United States. Lincoln is known as the President that ended slavery in the U.S., but is it possible there was more to his plan to end slavery? Historian Harold Holzer has written A Just and Generous Nation; a book that brings a new account as to why the 16th president sought to end slavery. Holzer writes that Lincoln’s true motivations lie in allowing every American the opportunity to better their stations in life.

 

 

 

the residenceEver wonder what really goes on in the White House? Kate Anderson Brower, a former White House news reporter has compiled a book dedicated to telling the behind the scenes stories within the White House. The point of views are taken from the White House staff that work to maintain the six floor mansion. The Residence is full of anecdotes that reveal the intimate relationship that exits not only between the first family and staff but among the staff themselves. Also featured are first hand accounts of what was happening in the White House during some of America’s most historical events.

 

 

the american odysseyAs President Obama’s time in the White House comes to an end, Americans are once again asking themselves what they want to see out of the next American presidency. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham offers insight into the modern day presidency and life of George H.W. Bush. The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush chronicles the former president’s amazing life using both he and his wife’s personal diaries.

 

 

 

one man against the world

Nothing screams scandal like the presidency of Richard Nixon. Much has been said about his presidency and his premature exit from office, but only recently have the recorded conversations and stunning information been made public. Award winning journalist Tim Weiner writes One Man Against the Worldcovering all of Nixon’s declassified tapes and documents. The result is a calamitous depiction of a tormented man that saw himself as a world leader as much as he saw himself as leader of the United States.

 

 

 

a full lifeBeing president of the United States is generally the culmination of a life’s work. But some presidents, such as Jimmy Carter, have made careers for themselves after leaving the White House. A Full Life:Reflections at Ninety, the autobiography of Jimmy Carter, pretty much sums it all up with that title. Carter looks back at his life, remarking on events with refreshing frankness. From humble beginnings in rural Georgia to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, Carter tells the story of what has been his happy and full life.