Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Home!

So, how is your St Petersburg/Moscow/Russia reading adventure going?

I admit I’m struggling a bit this month. I wanted something a bit light and modern and, guess what – apparently that doesn’t exist in Russian fiction. Russian authors, historic and modern, tend to write really dark, really tragic stories steeped in mysticism and history. And it’s always cold.

Obviously, this is a huge exaggeration but I still could not find anything that wasn’t deeply sad (and not bittersweet sad but depressingly sad). I think a lot of this has to do with tradition and with Russian history which seems especially harsh with despotic leaders, crushing military battles and the bleakness of Soviet communism. And Siberia truly is extremely cold. Surely someone, somewhere has been happy? And warm? Sadly, I’m still looking for that book (please let me know if you’ve found one!)

Instead I’m going to watch the DVD of Anna Karenina starring Keria Knightly. Yes, very sad and tragic (and cold), but I’ve read that the costumes are exquisite and the production is very theatrical. I’ll let you know what I think.

If you’re still searching for a Russian connection, you might try a DVD too. The Americans, a TV series starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell is about a young Russian couple that have been sent to America as “sleepers” – KGB agents that are infiltrating the United States by posing as Americans. It’s gotten lots of great reviews. Or check out The Last Station starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer about Leo Tolstoy’s later years when, to his wife’s horror, he said he planned to give up everything to live in poverty. Child 44 stars Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman about a disgraced Soviet police officer that has been exiled to the countryside and is now searching for a serial killer.

So tell me, what you reading (or watching) this month?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The lives of classic movie actresses and actors have always piqued my interest. How they lived their lives, their scandalous affairs(if they actually had any), and what they did to become an icon are just a few of the things that I always want to know. Media coverage of both classic film stars and modern film stars seldom reveal the whole truth and as a result, fans usually have to wait until after the star’s death to learn the full truth, if that. Shelving a cart of new books one day, I stumbled upon The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The cover immediately captured my interest as the woman looked like she could have been a classic movie star. Reading the blurb proved that she was and I knew I needed to read this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the gripping tale of Evelyn Hugo, an adored movie icon. Evelyn’s story is heart-wrenching and pure psychological romance fiction as readers are drawn into Evelyn’s stunningly glamorous world. With her popularity blossoming in the 1950s when she made her way to Los Angeles, Evelyn dominated the Hollywood scene in her relentless and ruthless rise to the top of the movie industry. Evelyn always knew what she wanted and was not afraid to use her body or the people around her to get it. Living in the public eye was a price she paid for being famous, but Evelyn still managed to keep secrets from the public and some of her closest friends that they never would have guessed.

After her decision to leave the Hollywood and show business in general in the late 80s, Evelyn became a recluse. She was never seen out, declined to sit down for interviews, and pictures of an aging Evelyn were almost non-existent. When she reaches out and contacts an unknown magazine reporter named Monique Grant to interview her, everyone in the journalism community is shocked. Why would Evelyn choose Monique to reveal her scandalous and glamorous life? What makes her so special? Why is Evelyn choosing to do this now? Monique has her own issues. She’s not exactly the number one journalist in the world, let alone her city or even her area of expertise. She’s not even 100% happy with where she is working as her career has stalled. Monique’s personal life is just as messy. Her husband left her just five weeks prior and Monique is still reeling.

Recognizing the Evelyn Hugo interview as the potential major career boost that she desperately needs, Monique decides she will do whatever it takes to make this a success and sits down with Evelyn. It becomes clear right off the bat that Evelyn has ulterior motives and it’s left to Monique to figure those out. Quickly Monique becomes wrapped up in the story of Evelyn’s life from her entrance to Los Angeles in the 1950s and the seven husbands she had before she retired in the late 80s. As Evelyn weaves her life’s story for Monique, she discovers that Evelyn’s ruthless ambition led her to some slightly questionable, but nevertheless sustaining, friendships and a major forbidden love that had the ability to potentially ruin Evelyn’s career. Evelyn’s professional and personal lives are forever linked together. As Monique formulates Evelyn’s story, she realizes Evelyn never does anything without having a reason. Monique begins worrying why Evelyn chose her to write her story and when Evelyn’s story finally reaches the present, Monique realizes that she and Evelyn are connected in a truly tragic and life-changing way.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought that I would. Multiple storylines were at play throughout the novel and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in each one. The vivid descriptions of Evelyn’s life as she navigated the rocky waters of fame and her personal life were so well depicted that I found myself believing for a bit that she was a real person. I wanted to learn even more about Evelyn Hugo and her seven husbands. She is fascinating. Highly recommended.

Get Out: A Film Deserving of the Hype

Horror cinema is an ideal format for illuminating and discussing mass anxiety. Zombie film comes to mind as one representation of “fear-of-the-crowd”, i.e. the fear of being engulfed or overtaken. In 1976, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was shot in a shopping mall replete with lumbering zombies whose sole purpose was to consume. In the 2004 remake, the zombies returned to the shopping malls in which they spent their human lives; but they were super-charged and stronger than ever. 21st-century zombies lack personal agency, wit, and intellect like their slower-moving predecessors; but you can be sure they own and can operate their cell phones.

Get Out , a break-out film written and directed by Jordan Peele has been classified as horror, thriller, and comedy and I’d say it’s a type of zombie film. (You may remember Key & Peele–a sketch comedy television series featuring Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key).  Peele’s film has been a sensation: Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 99%!   Although you won’t find prototypical, grey-faced zombies mindlessly lumbering through a mall, the main protagonist must fight for his life….and his brains. If we look at Get Out in terms of how it fits into or critiques the culture and society that produces it, what current social or cultural issues might be present? (The inimitable Nina Simone sums it up well: “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”) What cultural or social issues does Get Out bring to the forefront or interrogate?

Cinema that enables viewers to experience life from the perspective of another is powerful. As a white woman, I watched Get Out  from the point-of-view of a young black male. In watching from this perspective, I stepped into the shoes of Chris, the lead character. You will certainly sympathize with Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya), as he begins to unravel how his white girlfriend’s family (The Armitage family) and their affiliates are entangled in a twisted and evil operation. Get Out  presents an ominous view of human nature and confronts issues of overt and subtle racism.  Despite some much-needed moments of comic relief (after all, comedy is often a medium for acknowledging & coping with the absurdities and injustices of life), the tone of the film is decidedly morose.  Early on, viewers watch as a young black man is kidnapped–a foreshadowing of chilling and disturbing events to ensue. Horror cinema–unlike Rom Coms or even Drama (in my opinion) most effectively acknowledges and critiques society and culture. Horror effectively conveys and validates terror in a way that no other film genre has been able to do.

In a similar vein as Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, a supplanting operation of the creepiest kind is underway in Get Out  when Chris notices how strangely his black contemporaries are behaving. The speed of the film coupled with the unmistakable feeling  that something horrifying looms in the not-so-distant future contributes to the paralyzing anxiety experienced by Chris as he meets his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. I was not surprised to learn that Peele was heavily influenced by Stanley Kurbrick as Get Out presents several bizarre and anxiety-producing scenes in which you’re not exactly sure what’s going on, but your gut tells you to get out! Subtlety itself takes on a very important role and purpose in this film: sometimes the most terrible realities are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Subtle terror creeps in undetected (but not unfelt, necessarily) until it’s too late. Like Chris, viewers begin to feel a bit crazy as self-doubt sets in. After all, the Armitage family initially appears relatively harmless; but their ignorance is also immediately palpable.

Get Out  effectively uses cinematography, scoring, acting, and directing to produce an undeniably paranoid & distrustful atmosphere. You see and feel what Chris feels. Every detail in this film was carefully considered — even down to the opening song, Redbone, by Childish Gambino: “Well, first of all, I love the ‘Stay Woke’ [lyric] — that’s what this movie is about,” he (Peele) explains to HipHopDX Editor-in-Chief, Trent Clark. “I wanted to make sure that this movie satisfied the black horror movie audience’s need for characters to be smart and do things that intelligent and observant people would do.

This film is not just a run-of-the-mill horror flick designed to give you a thrill: it sticks with you. We don’t do a good job of collectively discussing issues racism in this country, but this film prompts another discussion. The Director stated poignantly in an interview: ” ‘Part of being black in this country, or being a minority in this country, is about feeling like we’re perceiving things that we’re told we’re not perceiving,” said Peele. “It’s a state of mind. It’s a piece of the condition of being African American, certainly, that people may not know. They may not realize the toll that it does take — even if the toll is making us doubt ourselves.'”

When  your fellow human beings experience something on a mass scale, listen to them. Listening–not denying & not being silent–is revolutionary.

 

 

 

 

Friends! Romans! Readers!

Lend me your ears!

OK, maybe not that funny but I couldn’t resist. It’s time for a halfway check of the first month of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge – how are you doing with this month’s reading?

I have to admit, I haven’t found any books that really grab my interest. If you are a fan of ancient Rome you will find no shortage of books to read – mysteries, romances, fiction all abound in what is obviously a very popular historical time period. While many of these titles are well worth reading, none of them grabbed me, so I took a different route and watched a movie instead. (And that’s not cheating, remember – movies and non-fiction are allowed! Also, no such thing as Library Police.)

I picked a classic, where the city of Rome is as much of a star as the actors – Roman Holiday starring a luminescent Audrey Hepburn and ruggedly handsome Gregory Peck (and co-starring Eddie Albert, who I only remember from watching reruns of Green Acres!) Directed by William Wyler and with costumes by Edith Head, the movie is a call back to the golden age of Hollywood. It’s also the movie that made Hepburn a star and earned her an Academy Award at the age of 24.

Filmed entirely in Rome in 1953, the movie follows a young Princess Ann (Hepburn) who slips away from her gilded cage to have some fun before her royal duties completely take over her life. She meets up with American journalist Joe Bradley (Peck) who, realizing who she is, offers to show her around the city. He is, of course, hoping for an exclusive story but instead finds himself falling in love. Set against some of the most beautiful landmarks of Rome – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum (both inside and out) – the couple (trailed by Joe’s friend Irving (Albert) who is taking pictures of the princess on the sly) enjoy an idyllic day including coffee at a sidewalk cafe, a wild Vespa ride through the twisting streets of the city and a dance party on a barge on the Tiber River. It has all the elements of a romantic comedy, set in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

Although I was surprised by the ending, I enjoyed this movie a lot. Despite the picture on the DVD case, the movie is in black and white and you really do feel like you’re stepping back in time. The stunts and lack of fancy CGI might have made it seem awkward and forced, but instead its charm and heart make it a joy to watch.

So tell me – what have you been reading (listening to, watching) this month?

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore

Wildflower-450Actress Drew Barrymore is anything but conventional.  So it comes to no surprise that her book is unconventional as well. Instead of writing a memoir, Drew wrote a book of stories of her life; stories that she wanted to revisit and share with the world.  And her stories are not placed in chronological order.  One story will be about being a mother, the next one she talks about her time on the set of E.T.  As Ms. Barrymore writes herself in the preface, “This is a book you can dip into and read when you want”.  And it truly is.  You could put Wildflower down and not read it for awhile, but come across it again and be delighted with the stories.  Or, you could binge read Wildflower and learn more about Drew Barrymore.  The choice is really up to you.  Either way, this biography truly is a book of stories that are very fun to read.

I chose to listen to Wildflower on a recent roadtrip.  Drew narrates the book herself and I loved listening to her read.  My favorite part may have been when she was describing her childhood after filming E.T.  Her mother decided to move to “the Valley” and Drew blames her mother for giving her the “Valley Girl” voice that she cannot seem to get rid of.  This happens early in the book, so for the rest of the duration of the audiobook, I would catch myself laughing at her “Valley Girl” voice when she said certain phrases.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Drew Barrymore read (and sometimes scream and sometimes laugh) her own book.

Drew Barrymore has certainly led an interesting life.  She started acting when she was a toddler and describes going on auditions as a child and meeting Steven Spielberg.  Drew talks about legally separating herself from her mother when she was a teenager.  She discusses being a Barrymore and her relationship with her father.  She talks about travelling as a teenager.  Drew discusses producing and starring in movies.  And she discusses being a mother. Perhaps the sweetest story in the book is towards the end.  Drew discusses meeting her husband’s parents, Arie and Coco and how she hit the “In-Law Jackpot”.  She has such a good relationship with her in-laws that she asked Arie to walk her down the aisle and for Coco to walk in with her husband. It is quite clear that the theme of the book Wildflower is Drew Barrymore’s relationships with other people; her family, her friends, her co-stars, and the people that have touched her life.

The Fade Out: Vol. 1: Act One By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

the fade outThe Fade Out: Vol. 1, Act One by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is a gripping journey into the film industry in the 1940s. This dark graphic novel takes place in Hollywood in 1948, beginning with Charlie Parish, one of the writers for a film studio, waking up to find Valeria, the up-and-coming lead actress of his current film lying dead, sprawled on the floor in the room next door, obviously murdered with ligature marks around her neck. The noir film he’s working on has been stuck in endless reshoots with the cantankerous German director barreling down on everyone to do what he wants perfectly or they will have to face the consequences.

Charlie finds himself struggling to write, plagued with writer’s block, troubled at keeping the secret of Val’s death, and turning for help from Gil Mason, an ex-screenwriter who has been blacklisted by the studios for being a suspected Communist. Gil and Charlie have worked out a Everyone involved on-set and off-set, from the head of the studio to the press office to the head of security seems to be hiding something and Charlie is left to wonder just what is true and just what he can tell to the people he thinks would never betray him.

This graphic novel is full of suspense, leading readers down dark hallways and dimly-lit streets with Charlie as he tries to figure out what really happened to Val and why the studio is covering up how she died. The film noir feel is shown through the dark coloring within each panel and the accent colors that pop on each page. The colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser, really bumps up the impact the story has on the reader by adding in color that boosts the intriguing, dark, and mysterious nature of this book. Brubaker and Phillips even add in real movie stars to the book, something that I noticed when I saw that a couple of the characters looked familiar! (There is also a cast of characters at the front of the graphic novel for you to refer back to if you become confused.) The Fade out: Vol 1: Act One is a wonderful read and I highly encourage you to check it out!

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee and Peter David and Colleen Doran

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.

 

The Avengers!

With the release of the new Avengers: Age of Ultron movie on May 1, requests for anything and everything superhero has gone up significantly from books to t-shirts to toys to costumes. If you’re interested in anything Avengers or superhero related at the library, let this blog be your guide.

For those unfamiliar with what superheroes are a part of Marvel’s Avengers, the big names in the movies are Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. More Avenger superheroes are listed in the comics, but as far as the movies are concerned, those six are the key characters.

avengersAvengers: Age of Ultron is the sequel to Marvel’s The Avengers, which came out in 2012. In this movie, Director Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, has gathered together and initiated multiple super heroes as part of the Avengers Initiative.  The Avengers are tasked with working together to stop Loki, who happens to be Thor’s brother, from harnessing the full power of the tesseract, a magical object of unimaginable and hard-to-contain power that has the ability to destroy the Earth. All of the Avengers must stop Loki and his alien forces from destroying the Earth and enslaving humanity to do his bidding.

Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is still in theaters, draws upon events from the previous Avengers movie to bring together the Avengers one more time to fight against Ultron, a robot part of Tony Stark’s new peacekeeping program, that ultimately rebels and takes his job as a peacekeeper too far, leading him to believe that the best way to keep the peace is to exterminate all of humanity.

If the Marvel Avengers movies have you curious about other Avenger or superhero books, the library has many items available for you to check out. Here are just a smattering of the Avenger materials available for checkout. Click on the covers for more information and to put them on hold!

For more superhero or Avenger comics, books, movies, or videogames, check out the library catalog and search for anything you can think of. As always, feel free to call the library and we will be happy to find whatever you are looking for.

avengers world uncanny avengersrage of ultron   avengers season one  avengers1

avengers guide

 

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

as you wishFrom actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.

The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride continues to resonate with audiences. Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets and backstage stories.

With a foreword by Rob Reiner As You Wish is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film. (description from publisher)

Chef

chefChef is a deliciously entertaining comedy about starting from scratch.

When gifted chef Carl Casper suddenly quits his demanding job at a trendy LA restaurant, he’s on his own to pick up the pieces of his once promising career. Finding himself in Miami, he decides to team up with his successful ex-wife, best friend and son to launch a no-frills food truck business.

Taking to the road, Carl reignites his passion for the kitchen and, along the way, discovers a renewed zest for life and love. (description from publisher)