Wednesday, June 7, 2017

To Binge or Not to Binge

I have to admit, I have on occasion binged my way through entire television seasons. The temptation is just too great, sometimes it is hard to stop, there are no commercials to tolerate and you can easily fast forward and find out what happens next without having to wait a week. Here is a mix of drama and comedy, in no particular order, that may make it hard to get up off the couch.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Who's Your Wonder Woman?

The new Wonder Woman movie is now out in theaters. Below is a list of movies with strong women: they may not have super powers, but they're all superheroes in their own way. Who's your favorite? 

  • Aliens: Ellen Ripley survives the events of the first Alien film, only to go back to a hive of the dreaded creatures! 
  • Arrival: A linguist (Amy Adams) attempts to decipher the strange language of a visiting alien race. Don't miss the novella, "Story of Your Life".
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Lisbeth Salander, hacker extraordinaire, aids a journalist in unraveling a snarled mystery. You might also try the original Swedish film, or the book.
  • Hanna: Hanna, now 16, was raised to be the perfect assassin, and now is on the run across Europe.
  • Jackie: An account of Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of her husband. 
  • Kill Bill: Left for dead, "The Bride" (Uma Thurman) seeks revenge on her employer and his underlings. 
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: Max (Tom Hardy) might be the title character, but Charlize Theron steals the show as Furiosa in this non-stop post-apocalyptic action movie.
  • Miss Sloane: An ambitious lobbyist (Jessica Chastain) works to pass gun control legislation in this thriller. 
  • Princess Mononoke: The fearsome title character fights to protect the forest, which is being corrupted by an industrial village, in this epic anime. 
  • Room: Try the book, too! Brie Larson is set to get her own superpowers in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, as well. 
  • The Silence of the Lambs: Clarice Starling (Jodi Foster) enlists the aid of a psychotic cannibal to catch another serial killer. Read the book!
  • Stoker: India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) begins to suspect that her mysterious uncle is not all that he seems in this Hitchcockian thriller. 
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane: Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes from a car accident in an underground bunker. Her rescuer claims that there was a massive attack and everyone outside is dead, but parts of his story don't quite add up...
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day: 10 years after a Terminator from the future was sent to assassinate her, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has been targeted again - but this time she's ready. 
  • Wendy and Lucy: Penniless drifter Wendy (Michelle Williams) is on her way to Alaska in search of gainful employment, but when her dog goes missing her plans are put on hold. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Remembering Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day: War Novels

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Celebrated on the last Monday in May many people visit cemeteries and memorials to honor those who have died in military service. Did you know that there are ten national cemeteries in Illinois? Below is a list of  novels organized by war, pick one up for the long holiday weekend.

 American Revolution
Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers by Barbara Hambly
The Hornet's Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War by Jimmy Carter
Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara
Redcoat by Bernard Cornwell

Civil War
Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
North and South by John Jakes
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
March by E.L. Doctorow

World War I
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
To the Last Man by Jeff Shaara
The First of July by Elizabeth Speller

World War II
The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II by Jeff Shaara
The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
Battle Cry by Leon Uris
Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th by Newt Gingrich

Korean War
War Trash by Ha Jin
The Frozen Hours: A Novel of the Korean War by Jeff Shaara
The Marines of Autumn: A Novel of the Korean War by James Brady
The Hunters by James Salter

Vietnam War
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Word of Honor: A Novel of Vietnam by Nelson DeMille

Persian Gulf War/Iraq War
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Redeployment by Phil Klay
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pirtre

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

April Showers Bring May Flowers and Darkness Brings Light!

When I hear this old cliche, I think of beauty and light emerging from gloom and darkness. Then I reflect on flowers and books and the idea that out of tragic circumstances, an unexpected brightness can appear. Characters often struggle, triumph over adversity and eventually find unexpected happiness. Very often, books about growing up in the foster care system end with the hope of second chances. I've listed some of my favorite satisfying reads that embody this theme.

The Language of Flowers by Vanesssa Diffenbaugh 
This is a story of a woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own past.

A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil
Recently divorced and struggling to support her three boys, Molly is stunned when she inherits her aunt's manor house, a house that includes her eccentric old uncle, an ailing bed-and-breakfast, and a beautiful rose garden.

White Oleander by Janet Finch
At the age of 12, Astrid has her world blown away when her mother is sentenced to life in prison for murdering her lover. Sharpened by harsh foster home environments, Astrid remakes herself as a survivor, and ultimately, an artist.

Like Family by Paula McLain
An account of growing up as a foster child describes how the author and her two sisters were abandoned by their parents, her next fourteen years in a series of temporary homes, and the impact of her unrooted life.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
Having suffered abuse and misfortune for much of her life, a young child searches for a better life and finally gets a break in the home of a loving woman with several foster children.

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
A successful divorce lawyer, Paula’s carefully constructed life starts to fracture when family secrets come to light, forcing her to try to come to terms with the power of her story to hurt and heal, and a growing need for family connections.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Close to aging out of the foster care system, Molly Ayer takes a position helping an elderly woman named Vivian and discovers that they are more alike than different as she helps Vivian solve a mystery from her past.

Monday, May 22, 2017

After ALIEN: COVENANT, Try These...All on Hoopla!

Are you a fan of the Alien franchise? Just got back from the latest box office hit in the franchise, Alien: Covenant? Check out these similar titles, all available FREE on Hoopla!

  • Dead Ringers: This Cronenberg horror features twin brothers who take advantage of the fact that nobody can tell them apart - just like Michael Fassbender's android role in Covenant
  • Europa Report: An international crew of astronauts makes the long journey to Jupiter's fourth moon, seeking alien life.
  • The Last Days on Mars: The discovery of fossilized evidence of life on Mars is not as innocent as it seems in this Sci-Fi thriller. 

  • The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer: Area X, a mysterious quarantine zone of the unexpected, has had eleven expeditions. The first returned with reports of the beautiful landscape. The third expedition self-destructed and murdered each other. The eleventh expedition died of cancer months after returning. Annihilation, the first book in this acclaimed trilogy, begins with expedition number twelve. The spooky atmosphere, hiding unknowable horrors, is a perfect fit for Alien: Covenant's sense of dreaded discovery.  
  • At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft: This classic Lovecraft novella follows an expedition to the Antarctic and the chilling discoveries they make there. It's not as interstellar as the Alien franchise but the scares are just as cosmic. 
  • The Manitou by Graham Masterton: Karen Tandy discovers a mysterious lump growing under her skin that baffles all of her doctors. This chilling piece of body horror was the debut novel of eminent horror novelist Masterton. 


  • Aliens: Hoopla has more than enough Alien comics to keep you busy for a long time. A great way to dive into the extra mythology of this popular franchise. 
  • Hellboy: Mike Mignola's acclaimed series is all available on Hoopla! 

Friday, May 19, 2017

David Downing

David Downing’s series featuring British journalist John Russell, is set in Germany under Nazi occupation. While fictional, these books are filled with vivid descriptions of places, characters, and situations that ordinary people faced. Russell and his girlfriend, famous film actress Effi, must navigate the difficulties of life during wartime as John tries to work with the Allies yet remain in Germany. Gritty, but human, each title is the name of a Berlin train station. Begin with Zoo Station set in 1939 Berlin.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Literary Moms

With mother's day coming up, it brought to mind some of the moms that appear in novels.  Here are s few books (both classic and contemporary) featuring some memorable literary moms.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

~ Katie Nolan

Young Francie Nolan, having inherited both her father's romantic and her mother's practical nature, struggles to survive and thrive growing up in the slums of Brooklyn in the early twentieth century.  Katie Nolan, her mother, is a proud woman who will do anything in order to make the lives of her children better.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

~ Mrs. Bennet

From Jane's Austen's classic, Mrs. Bennet is a silly, ill-mannered lady whose sole focus is to see her daughters marry well.

Life after Life - Kate Atkinson

~ Sylvie Todd

Atkinson delivers a wildly inventive novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 and doomed to die and be reborn over and over again. Her mother is an equally compelling character who is deeply devoted to her daughter.

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

~ Marmee

The classic tale of the joys and sorrows of the four March sisters as they grow into young women in mid-nineteenth-century New England.  Their mother Marmee is a strong, loving presence holding the family together acting as head of the household while their father is away fighting in the Civil War for much of the story.

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemison

~ Essun
Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization's bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman's vengeance. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back. She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.