The long way to a small, angry planet by Becky Chambers

October 20, 2021 by

[Tricia]

This first book in the Hugo Award-winning Wayfarer series is a fun, warm, big-hearted, space ride. Rosemary is a young woman leaving her old life behind to start fresh as a clerk aboard the Wayfarer. Although the story of the book was interesting, the real appeal of the book to me was the cast of characters, and the way she portrays the day to day reality of this multi-species crew trying to coexist on this small spaceship. The small moments of awkwardness and of understanding among the crew members create a lovely, hopeful community that I very much look forward to revisiting in the next installment of this series.

You can find the book at the Library, and as ebook and an audiobook on both Hoopla and on Libby/Overdrive.

Movie Time with Scott: Mare of Easttown (DVD)

October 1, 2021 by

[Scott]

There haven’t been many good new movies coming out lately, so this month, I’m highlighting a mini-series instead of a movie. “Mare of Easttown” is a 7-part dramatic series from HBO (if you like, you could think of it as a movie with 6 sequels!) and it is, in a word, outstanding. Each episode is a feast to savor. You don’t have to take my word for it, because they’ve got the Emmys to prove it:

  • Winner: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or a Movie: Kate Winslet
  • Winner: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie: Evan Peters
  • Winner: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie: Julianne Nicholson

While she is supported by a great cast, top-notch writers, and a talented director, what makes “Mare of Easttown” so special is Kate Winslet. She utterly transforms herself into Mare Sheehan, a small-town Pennsylvania police detective who is also, quite frankly, “a hot mess.” Tormented personally and professionally, she’s barely keeping it together as a mother, grandmother, neighbor, and friend. She’s also the police officer in charge of investigating murders and missing persons in her home town, and people she’s known her whole life are her main suspects. It’s no wonder she smokes, drinks, and swears like a proverbial sailor. Kate Winslet’s method-acting chops are the stuff of legend, and that legend just continues to grow here. Her co-stars were flabbergasted when she mastered the unique “DELCO” accent of the region (youse guys say “wooder” for water), then kept it going even off-camera. So committed was Winslet to becoming her gritty on-screen persona, she asked her hairstylist for “bed-head,” wore second-hand clothes, and even told the production company to un-retouch a promotional photo of her.  

As for the plot of the series, it starts out as your basic cold-case mystery, but it quickly gets complicated by another case that may or may not be related. It’s a whodunnit that delves into the dark side of a tightknit community where everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows everybody else’s business. If you loved the British series “Broadchurch” starring David Tennant, you’ll recognize the scenario. It seems as if everybody is a legitimate suspect, or a grieving friend or family member, or both. Each character in town has their own story, motivations, and flaws. As you watch, you find yourself doubting your initial suspicions and forming new theories as new information is revealed in jaw-dropping fashion, right up to the harrowing conclusion.

“Mare of Easttown” is currently available on HBO ($14.99/mo.), and now for free on DVD from your local public library.

Mare of Easttown (HBO) TV-MA 7 episodes (417 minutes)

Rotten Tomatoes: 94% Fresh (Critics) | 93% (Audiences)

Mare of Easttown: The Complete Limited Series (DVD)

Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

September 30, 2021 by

[Tricia]

Welp, having said in my review of Harlem Shuffle that I hardly ever read crime novels, I’ve just read another crime novel and loved it. I might just be turning into someone who regularly reads crime novels! I have to admit I only read Velvet Was the Night because I had loved Moreno-Garcia’s last novel Mexican Gothic. I wasn’t especially excited to read another crime novel, but, as is often the case, my assumptions were wrong.

Velvet was the Night is a surprisingly tender noir novel set in Mexico City in the early 1970s during a turbulent time of student protests and government crackdowns. The book follows the parallel lives of its two main characters, Maite and Elvis. Maite is a single, lonely, 30 year old office worker who loves romance comic books and music. Elvis is a single, lonely member of the Hawks (a kind of violent squad tasked with rooting out student activists) who loves music and is uneasy with the harsh, violent world he inhabits. He wants to improve himself, learning a word of the day every day. Maite unwittingly gets caught up in a dangerous situation when her neighbor Leonora, who is involved in the student protests, disappears after asking Maite to watch her cat. Elvis is assigned to keep an eye on Maite as his boss joins the list of those desperate to find Leonora, who was in possession of some politically sensitive information when she disappeared. While the plot is propulsive and full of twists, it was the empathetic portrait of these two characters that drew me in. I also knew nothing about what was going in Mexico City in the early 1970s, and I found that historical perspective fascinating. Like Colson Whitehead, Moreno-Garcia is an incredibly versatile author who writes beautifully in any genre. I’m going to have to add her to my list of authors whose books I will automatically read.

You can find Velvet Was the Night at the Library and as an ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Title details for Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Wait list

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

September 27, 2021 by

[Tricia]

Over the summer I watched a documentary that I thought about quite a bit while reading this book. The film, Summer of Soul, told the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a 6 week music festival featuring some of the biggest names in music. I was especially taken with the occasional interviews of the people in the crowd, including a news reporter who was asking audience members what they thought about the moon landing. Those images came to mind quite a bit while reading Harlem Shuffle, the wonderful new novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Colson Whitehead.

Harlem Shuffle is a crime novel of sorts set in Harlem in the late 1950s – early 1960s. It tells the story of Ray Carney, a furniture salesman who is determined to live a different life than his father, Big Mike, who had been a criminal and a pretty rough character. Ray is a smart and decent guy who went to college and started his own business, albeit with money he found from one of his father’s heists after his father was killed. He has a wife and family that he loves, and is trying to keep his head down and not get caught up in the criminal world of his father and his beloved but messed-up cousin Freddy, who is always dragging Ray into trouble. Ray is desperate to keep those two worlds, the “crooked” and the “straight”, separate. However, he is also a pragmatic person, and recognizes that circumstances have led him to live somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of crooked and straight – he is “bent,” as he says. But when Freddy drags him into helping him unload some stolen goods from the robbery of a fancy Harlem hotel, Ray’s two worlds start to collide.

I haven’t read many crime novels so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But while the plot is of course exciting, what grabbed me in this book were the glimpses you get into the world of early 1960s Harlem. There is such a strong sense of place and time and, as with the documentary, you get a fascinating picture of the many different, interesting people who made up this neighborhood. And there are so many layers to this book. The class dynamics, particularly evident in Ray’s relationship with his father-in-law, were fascinating, as were the ways that race and class intersected in the book. I think that what ultimately made the book for me was Ray as a character. He is funny and smart, and his struggle to hold on to his sense of himself in the midst of divided loyalties, financial pressures, and his own inner demons was moving and compelling.

Colson Whitehead is a gifted and incredibly versatile writer, going from coming-of-age fiction and a zombie novel to award winning literary fiction, and his talent draws you in every time. It’s always worth reading a Colson Whitehead novel, and this highly entertaining and interesting crime novel is no exception.

Harlem Shuffle is available at the Library and as an ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Title details for Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead - Wait list

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

August 27, 2021 by

[Tricia]

What a beautiful book! This is a gorgeously written memoir about grief and identity and food and love. Michelle Zauner is the lead singer of the band Japanese Breakfast, and the only child of a Korean mother and an American father. When Zauner was 25 years old her mother died of cancer, and this book explores the complicated relationship she had with her mother throughout her life, and the tremendous impact of losing her at this young age. Zauner weaves into the story her struggles growing up Korean American in a small town in Oregon, her fraught relationship with both of her parents, and her attempt to forge her own identity and life as an artist away from home. But the heart of the book is her relationship with her mother, who she couldn’t bear to be away from as a young child,and couldn’t stand to be around as a teenager and young adult. She writes honestly about almost manically throwing herself into the role of caregiver when her mother gets sick, desperately trying to make up for the years of trying to separate herself from the intensity of her mother’s attention and criticism. Food plays a huge role in this book, as it was the one thing that she and her mother really bonded over. One of the most moving aspects of the book is her panicky realization that she doesn’t know how to cook Korean food, fearing that she will lose what makes her Korean when she loses her mother and her mother’s cooking.

While I had heard wonderful things about this book, I had put off reading it fearing that it would be too sad. But I found it to be a lovely, tender, and oddly comforting book.

You can find Crying in H Mart at the Library and as an ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive (I listened to the audiobook which was read by the author and was wonderful).

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

August 18, 2021 by

[Tricia]

I came to this book knowing little about it, other than hearing that it is going to be adapted into a TV series by Mindy Kaling. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this fascinating, genre-blurring, coming-of-age story infused with magical realism, a heist, an exploration of the role of gold in American and Indian culture, and a meditation on the expectations and pressures placed on second generation Indian Americans. Neil Narayan is a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta. He is an average student surrounded by high-achieving Indian American classmates and high expectations for academic success from his immigrant parents. He accidentally discovers that his neighbor and secret crush, Anita Dayal and her mother – also an immigrant from India – have been distilling gold taken from Indian American families around them into a drinkable form. Anita’s mother grew up with this alchemical practice in which drinking gold (mixed with lemonade) instills in you the ambitions and determination of the person you took it from. Neil joins them in procuring and drinking the gold, leading to far reaching, and often painful consequences for all of them.

I found the exploration of the toll that the high expectations of success take on the mental health of Neil and Anita, and those around them, to be particularly powerful. These are complicated and flawed characters trying to understand what success means, and to navigate the intersections of their identities as children of Indian American immigrants, and as young people of color in America. There is so much going on in this book that it can be a little overwhelming at times, but it is a fascinating book that I can’t stop thinking about. A surprising and engaging read.

You can find Gold Diggers at the Library.

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

Movie Time with Scott: The Dig

August 16, 2021 by

[Scott]

The Dig (Netflix)

PG-13

1h 52m

Rotten Tomatoes: 87% Fresh (Critics) | 78% (Audiences)

Can’t say I dig the title, but fans of British period films will love “The Dig.” Set in the beautiful English countryside in 1939, this based-on-a-true-story unfolds slowly and delicately as it reveals its hidden treasures. Chief among the movie’s treasures are the brilliant members of its professional cast, who expertly carry the weight of the film. The wealthy widow (Carey Mulligan) has hired an “excavator” (Ralph Fiennes) to explore the ancient mounds on her property, on a hunch that something special lies underneath. The digging is tedious (as is sometimes the pace of the film) but as they dig deeper, the tension builds – personal troubles are uncovered and museum mucky-mucks vie for whatever is hiding under the dirt, all the while World War II bubbles under the surface. Archeology nerds may be disappointed when the story diverts from “The Dig,” but the movie is ultimately rewarding due to its lovely cinematography and the subtly powerful performances of Mulligan, Fiennes, Lily James, and its fine ensemble cast.

This movie is only available on Netflix, but if you want to dig deeper into its mysteries, you can read our copy of the book it was based on! Or you can explore the history of the Anglo-Saxons with this book on Hoopla.

Memorial Drive, by Natasha Trethewey

August 3, 2021 by

[Lesley]

Former U.S. Poet Laureate (appointed 2012) Natasha Trethewey has achieved a beautiful, dreamlike memoir – truly a memory – about her mother and their relationship. As adults we begin to see our parents in new ways, as people who are separate from us, or not only our mother or father, but a person in their own right. Not only with a history that doesn’t include us, but also parts of their day to day lives that don’t include us.

Trethewey’s writing is like looking back through sepia and black and white (faded to gray, even) photos without someone to fill in all of the information behind them. The images are beautiful even if the context might not have been; or the images are plain and don’t illuminate the importance or happiness of the moment. I expect the language to be lush and evocative given the poetic success of Trethewey, and it is; it doesn’t call attention to itself while you are reading, you are just soaking up the essential beauty of words perfectly chosen.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

A poem by Natasha Trethewey:

History Lesson

I am four in this photograph, standing   
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,   
my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,   
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts   
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each   

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side   

of the camera, telling me how to pose.   
It is 1970, two years after they opened   
the rest of this beach to us,   

forty years since the photograph   
where she stood on a narrow plot   
of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips   
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47538/history-lesson-56d2280d442a7
Natasha Trethewey, “History Lesson” from Domestic Work. 
Copyright © 2000 by Natasha Tretheway.
Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, http://www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000)

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

July 30, 2021 by

[Tricia]

While I don’t generally like scary books, I have a soft spot for gothic novels. From Dracula to Rebecca to The Thirteenth Tale, I can’t resist a story with a big dark, decaying estate shrouded in mystery. Add to the mix a smart and interesting heroine, as this book does, and I am a happy reader. Fair warning, this book leans pretty heavily into the horror aspect of gothic novels, so if you are squeamish (as I am) there are some parts you might want to skim.

Set in 1950 in Mexico, it tells the story of Noemi, a smart, independent, somewhat bored young socialite who is sent by her father to check up on her beloved, newly married cousin Catalina. Catalina has sent a troubling letter saying that she is in danger, and asking for help. Noemi travels to the Mexican countryside to High Place, where Catalina lives with her English husband, Virgil Doyle, and his family. High Place is cold, dark, damp, and seemingly haunted – a quintessential English gothic estate on a mountain where the family’s silver mine had been. The Doyle family matches the mansion – they are cold, remote, and disturbingly quiet, with the exception of when the patriarch of the family spouts his disturbing opinions on eugenics during dinner. While the family claims Catalina has tuberculosis and is simply hallucinating, Noemi suspects that there is something very wrong here.

I particularly liked the layers that this book brings to the genre. It speaks to the legacy of colonialism, which has a complicated history in gothic novels, in really interesting ways, and it subverts the gender roles and the typical gothic romance storylines. If you’re a gothic novel fan, you definitely want to read this.

Mexican Gothic is available at the Library and as an audiobook and an ebook on Libby/Overdrive.

Mexican Gothic - ebook

Movie Review: Nobody

July 28, 2021 by

[Scott]

“Nobody” Rated R Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 84% fresh (critics) / 94% fresh (audience)

Bob Odenkirk is not just anybody — you know him as Saul Goodman from and “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” – but in this film, he is “Nobody.” He’s a mild-mannered family man who punches at spreadsheets every day at work, then comes home to a cold wife and a surly teenager. (His little daughter still loves him, though, so thank god for small blessings!) Anyway, he’s in your basic middle-aged suburban sleepwalking nightmare. This all changes, however, when the house is broken into by would-be burglars. Now, he’s mad. A sleeping giant inside him has been awakened, and we find out he’s a man with, shall we say, a “particular set of skills.” Now, if you recognize that reference, then you’ve seen Liam Neeson in “Taken.” And if you’ve seen “Taken,” or “RED,” or “John Wick,” you’ve basically seen “Nobody” — plot-wise anyway. In fact, it’s written by the same guy who wrote “John Wick,” so the similarities aren’t coincidental. But do you care? So what if the plot is thin and/or familiar? It’s only there to string the action scenes together anyway, and the once the action starts, boy howdy, it never lets up. “Nobody” is hyper-violent and gory, with a staggering body count, but Odenkirk brings just enough wry humor to lighten the mood. He plays his dour milquetoast side and his newly-developed action-hero side with equal aplomb, easily carrying the role of retired-but-still-got-it protagonist. This film is definitely not for those with delicate sensibilities, but for those with strong constitutions, it is well worth your 92 minutes! “Nobody” is available for a $5.99 rental or $19.99 purchase on most streaming services, and it is free to borrow from your public library on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Nobody [DVD]