raising2If you’re not a fan of traditional parenting books (or even if you are) you might want to check out Elizabeth Beckwith’s Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and with chapters such as “How to Scare the Crap out of Your Child (in a Positive Way)”, and “Mind Control: Why it’s a Good Thing” Elizabeth Beckwith offers a new spin on the traditional parenting books.

Despite the title, Ms. Beckwith has some pretty sound advice to offer. For example, “speak loudly and disparagingly of people who do bad things”. See a guy speed through a parking lot? Make sure you tell your kid what a moron that guy is, and that that’s how people die. As Ms. Beckwith says “it’s always good to sprinkle the fear of death into these lessons whenever possible”.

This method lets you pepper lessons into daily life rather than having sit-down conversations about topics such as drugs or smoking. See a scantily-clad woman on the street? Make sure you mention that she looks like a hooker. This not only shows your daughter that it’s not ok with you to dress this way, but it also sends the message to your son that this is NOT the kind of girl you bring home.

Each lesson is illustrated with colorful stories from the author’s own childhood. So whether you’re looking for parenting advice or just want a great memoir to read Raising the Perfect Child through Guilt and Manipulation is definitely worth checking out, as long as you don’t mind a little colorful language.

 

redrosesLooking for that special someone? The library can help you with that age-old question! Just go online to your library account and check the “Find Compatible Mate” box, fill out the simple three question survey and click submit. It won’t be long before you are on the path to Happily Ever After.

In addition, the library can help smooth the path of true love for you – romantic poetry is in non-fiction under 821 and you’ll find Shakespeare’s sonnets at 822.33. And did you realize that date night can be even more special when you spend it at the library? Snuggle together in front of the fireplace at Fairmount! (both pairs of feet on the ground at all times, please and thank you); stroll hand-in-hand along the giant windows at Eastern; climb together to the second floor at Main where you can share that special view of 4th and Main.

For more tips on dating and falling in love, check out our special guide!

follow the moneyWhat do you do if you want to really understand a country, to understand its people and feel its heartbeat? You can follow the rest of the tourists, or you can take the advice of Watergate reporter Bob Woodward’s source, ‘Deep Throat’, and ‘follow the money.’

Starting out in Lebanon, Kansas – the geographical center of America –  journalist Steve Boggan did just that in Follow the Money by setting free a ten-dollar-bill and accompanying it on an epic journey for thirty days and thirty nights through six states, across 3,000 miles armed only with a sense of humor and a small, and increasingly grubby, set of clothes. As he cuts crops with farmers in Kansas, pursues a repo-woman from Colorado, gets wasted with a blues band in Arkansas and hangs out at a quarterback’s mansion in St Louis, Boggan enters the lives of ordinary people as they receive – and pass on – the bill. What emerges is a chaotic, affectionate and funny portrait of the real modern-day America. (description from publisher)

it'sadisaster

I picked up It’s a Disaster because I saw David Cross on the cover, and went in with low expectations (I mean, he was in all three Alvin and the Chipmunks movies). The cover on the dvd looks cheesy (a shame, since the theatrical poster is so fantastic) and the premise seemed a tad forced:

Four couples meet for Sunday brunch only to discover they are stuck in a house together as the world may be about to end.

But I was pleasantly surprised.  Julia Stiles, America Ferrera, David Cross, and Erinn Hayes are all fantastic in this dark comedy. Written and performed with the pacing of a play, It’s a Disaster is for fans of live theater and comedy shows.

What makes this movie stand out from other independent comedies is the fantastic build-up.  The first part of the film is paced slowly and leads the viewer to believe that this will be a standard examination of the relationships of people in their thirties.  As the story progresses, there are a smattering of twists and surprises (some much more surprising than others) that help build on the film’s twisted sense of humor.   Don’t be surprised if you’re left asking, how would I react if I knew I only had a few more hours to live?

Fans of The House of Yes, Igby Goes Down, and Election or anything featuring David Cross should give this movie a try.

frankshowGrandpa Frank is just a grandpa and he doesn’t seem to like anything (except pickled onions), so how could his grandson possibly talk for a whole minute about him in front of his entire class?

In The Frank Show by David Mackintosh, Frank’s grandson is nervous about presenting about his curmudgeon grandfather during show and tell.  Especially since his friends have exciting people to introduce, like Fay’s cousin who “tells you if your bag is too heavy at the airport” and Hugo’s stepbrother who’s sports car has an eight-ball gearshift knob.

The Frank Show is the perfect example of a picture book that seems to have been written more for adults than for kids. I see the jokes flying right over younger kid’s heads, and not many children are going to spot Edgar Allen Poe and his raven in the illustrations. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend this book — because it is fantastic.  Mackintosh’s illustrations are funny and child-like, filled with subtle references and jokes. This story is as much about the generational divide as it is about taking people for granted — both topics rarely explored in picture books. Grandpa Frank’s exaggerated stories and cranky advise are entertaining, and his grandson’s fears are completely understandable. Seriously, pick up this book. You won’t be disappointed, unless you’re Frank. I’m sure he’d say that they don’t make them like they used to or something as equally crotchety.

veepJulia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, New Adventures of Old Christine) and Tony Hale (Arrested Development) recently won Emmy’s for their roles on HBO’s Veep. Dreyfus plays former Senator/current Vice President Selina Meyer, who is constantly surprised by the banality of her new job. Hale plays Gary, Selina’s extraordinarily loyal personal aide.  The cast is rounded out with Selina’s staff played by Anna Chumsky (My Girl!), Matt Walsh (Upright Citizen’s Brigade), and Reid Scott (My BoysThe Big C).

Veep features exceptional satirical writing, but what makes it work is the chemistry and experience of the cast.  It would be easy to write off Dreyfus’ Selina as Elaine Benes 2.0, with her nervous energy and superficial nature, but despite her lack of power outside of her office, she has true power over her staff (a power dynamic that Elaine never had). Their deference to her leads to influxes of ego, which are deflated by having to comply with the President’s expectations and perform mundane tasks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t emphasize how great Tony Hale plays Gary.  He deserved the Emmy he won for this role, because he somehow quietly, often in the background, overshadows Dreyfus (not an easy task!).  Hale’s Gary is Buster from Arrested Development, if Buster could function outside of his mother’s living room.  Hale and Dreyfus bring out the best in each other’s characters and the writing.  I would recommend this series to fans of Arrested DevelopmentSeinfeldParks and Recreation, and Louie.

 

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.

belly upTwelve-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.

badmonkeyI 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 Monkeyis 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.

 

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.

After hearing a glowing review on NPR praising this witty and charming book, I quickly placed a hold on a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  Told primarily through emails, faxes, letters, and transcripts of taped conversations, the novel explores the events leading up to agoraphobic housewife Bernadette Fox’s disappearance.  She and her Microsoft bigwig husband promise their gifted daughter Bee that if she gets straight A’s at her prestigious middle school, she can have anything she wants as a graduation gift.  Bernadette’s worst nightmare comes true when Bee succeeds and chooses a family trip to Antarctica.  She attempts to cope with this sudden obligation to be around (gasp) people; she even hires a virtual assistant in India to make all the vacation preparations!  That’s why it is such a shock when Bernadette disappears just before they are due to embark on the trip.  Bee compiles these documents looking for clues, hoping against all evidence that she can bring her mom home again.

Semple was a writer for Arrested Development and it shows in this book, in which witty dialogue and over-the-top scenarios abound.  Bernadette’s feud with the PTA moms at Bee’s school, most notably with the one who lives next door, is ridiculous and hysterical.  Neighbor tresspasses to insist that Bernadette remove some unsightly blackberry vines?  Better erect a 5 ft. x 8 ft. billboard telling her to stay off the property, of course!  But despite all of the wacky humor, at the heart of this novel is a very touching mother-daughter relationship.  Bee will stop at nothing to find out what happened to her mother, and it is her unconditional love and determination that will render you unable to stop reading until you find out how their story ends.