Night Film

Night Film
book-coverMarisha Pessl
© 2013

The other day, I was talking to my brother about True Detective, which is easily the best new show on television.  I mentioned that I have a hard time watching it after dark (I have taken to sandwiching it between innocuous episodes of Friday Night Lights).  When it comes to creep-factor, True Detective has it in spades (dudes in gas masks and tighty-whiteys, eerie music, weird evangelists, occult stick sculptures).  My brother confessed that he has had nightmares every night he has watched it.

If you aren’t watching it, you should be. Here’s the official trailer (which, I can assure you, does not do the show justice): Continue reading

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The Yellow Birds

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The Yellow Birds: A Novel
Kevin Powers
© 2012
226 pages (hardcover)

I should preface this review by saying that I’m not and never have been in the military.  Other than my grandfathers (neither of whom spoke much about their service), no one in my family has ever been in the military.  I have no idea, therefore, whether the experiences described in this book are accurate or embellished, commonplace or unique, realistic or sensationalized.

But the book’s author, Kevin Powers, “served in the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar.”  This is a fictionalized account that I presume is based at least in part on his own experience.  And it is gritty and raw and sad. Continue reading

Swamplandia!

Dry Tortugas National Park

Swamplandia!
Karen Russell
© 2011
316 pages (hardcover)

Several years ago, my husband and I decided to celebrate our last-ever spring break (as third-year students in law school) by taking a road trip down Highway 1 through the Florida Keys.  We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and rented a convertible for the 113-mile drive from mainland Florida to Key West.  We toured the Keys on jet skis, took a sea-plane to Dry Tortugas National Park, frolicked with six-toed cats, ate ridiculously good food, and enjoyed some amazing sunsets.

But before we began our trek toward Goombay Smashes at Blue Heaven and the world’s best strawberry shortcake at Sarabeth’s, we made the most of our visit to the mainland by popping in to Everglades National Park.

There’s no way to put this mildly: the Everglades freaked me out.  Why?  This:

Continue reading

We the Animals

9780547576725_custom-146c8df757e1701e713e13712c5a9c0662f29f52-s6-c30 We the Animals
Justin Torres
© 2011

I love the opening line of Anna Karenina:Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Unhappy families all have their own special brands of dirty laundry and dark secrets.

But it’s rare that you get to see what makes an unhappy family so unhappy (unless, of course, you have the misfortune of coming from one).  People often keep their unhappiness behind closed doors.

We the Animals opens those doors.  Wide. Continue reading

The Good Lord Bird

UnknownThe Good Lord Bird
James McBride
© 2013

Happy Black History Month (or, as it is known to Millennials and the politically-correct, African-American History Month)!  There are lots of great recommended-reading lists that suggest books to read in celebration and recognition of this month (like this one or this one).  Tried and true favorites like Native Son by Richard Wright, One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Beloved (or Sula or The Bluest Eye) by Toni Morrison are list frequenters.  But, this year, I noticed a new addition to some lists: last year’s National Book Award Winner for Fiction, The Good Lord Bird.

The Good Lord Bird is written as the memoir of Henry Shackelford, a 103-year-old black man who was forcibly freed from slavery by John Brown when he was just a kid.

His account begins: “I was born a colored man and don’t you forget it.  But I lived as  a colored woman for seventeen years.”

Continue reading

Player One

UnknownPlayer One: What Is to Become of Us, A Novel in Five Hours 
Douglas Coupland
© 2010

Five people converge in an airport bar.  They are:

  • Karen: “Karen likes crossword puzzles because they make time pass quickly.  Karen makes quilts and donates them to charity because she savours the way quilting slows down time.  Karen finds it strange that people who militantly remove time-expired dairy products from their refrigerator think nothing of abandoning a bottle of Kraft Catalina salad dressing on the fridge door’s condiment shelf for years at a time.”  She is an attractive but lonely, thirty-something divorcée with a teenage Goth daughter, who works as a secretary to three psychiatrists.  She’s in the airport bar to meet Warren, a guy she’s been flirting with on the Internet, in person for the first time. Continue reading

Looking for Alaska

Unknown-1Looking for Alaska 
John Green
© 2005

First things first: if you’re not familiar with John Green, here are some of the reasons he is awesome:

  • He writes great books for “young adults” that are not condescending.  They are about important issues (often death), but they are never preachy.
  • His books have won tons of awards, including the Edgar Award for best YA novel (for Paper Towns), the Corine Award (for Paper Towns), and the Michael L. Printz Award by the ALA (for Looking for Alaska).
  • He and his brother, Hank, self-proclaimed nerds, are the “VlogBrothers.”  The VlogBrothers encourage their fans (“nerdfighters”) to fight against “world suck” (What is “world suck,” you ask?  Check out: “How to Be a Nerdfighter”).
  • He uses his popularity and visibility for good.  There are millions of nerdfighters, most of whom are teens, and he tries to help educate them on important issues.  Every Tuesday, he posts a new video.  This week’s is on raising the minimum wage: Continue reading