And I Do Not Forgive You
by Amber Sparks
This collection of short stories was interesting in the sense that presents its theme very clearly on the cover. It is a series of stories and “other revenges.” A revenge fantasy can be a delicious treat for the psyche when done right. I found that some of these stories did not deliver on the edginess that a bright purple axe on the cover would suggest. “Mildly Unhappy With Moments of Joy” is one such story that is bogged down by its passive-aggressive tone.
Passive-aggressive revenge is a very modern way to deal with problems. Personally I would much rather read something with a Shakespearean flavor. In it two best friends seemingly drift apart. The cause is unclear. Divorced friend attempts to track down married friend even after being artfully ghosted by her. (Married friend decides to skip town in order to solidify that she really doesn’t want to talk to divorced friend.) Eventually everything settles down and the equilibrium of mild unhappiness is restored. “In Which Athena Designs a Video Game with the Express Purpose of Trolling Her Father,” is similarly passive-aggressive, but in a much more delightful way since Athena is making a very pointed statement by making her dad the villain of the game.
“A Place for Hiding Precious Things” stood out as one of the more powerful tales. It’s about a motherless princess whose father decides that he would like for her to marry. Marry him that is. The princess and her fairy godmother are having none of that and devise a plot to facilitate an escape. This story uses the fairytale rule of three wonderfully as the princess asks for the royal seamstresses to create three dresses: one the color of blood, one the color or bone, and the last the color of death. Other honorable mentions are “Is the Future a Nice Place For Girls,” which is about a medieval queen who gets the opportunity to travel through time with her infant daughter. The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” is a pleasant romp as the protagonist cons a fellow conman who is able to see her despite her plain appearance as she shoplifts her way through life.
The best of the tales in terms of telling a gripping and revenge-soaked story is “The Eyes of Saint Lucy,” where a daughter recounts the series of events that led her martyr-obsessed mother to strike out against her philandering husband once and for all. With a chilling refrain of, “Because there is no God,” this one is the one most likely to induce shivers. – Katie
Where’d You Go Bernadette?
By Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is a MacArthur Grant winning architect first, a mother to a 15 year-old daughter, and a wife I guess. This was one of those books that really just hit me at exactly the right time. I picked this book up because a patron recommended it to me and I had also seen the trailer for the movie. I found myself completely engrossed in the character’s little domestic squabbles because it was so funny. It also probably helps that I too fantasize about buying a quirky old house and then disappearing into a thicket of blackberries.
Bernadette’s daughter Bee has earned herself the reward of her choice because she’s been pulling in top notch grades and she decides she would like for the whole family to take a trip to Antarctica and as the title suggests, Bernadette vanishes before the family finishes zipping their parkas into their luggage. This is primarily because her husband, Elgin Branch, is seeking involuntary commitment because she has just gone far too cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs for his liking.
This novel is written in an epistolary style (mostly in the form of emails) and I think that lends itself well to the content. The characters are so self-involved and ridiculous that it is a delight to watch them muddle their lives in such style. It was a very quick read and some marvelous hijinks ensue, but what I really wanted to delve into was the way that Semple portrays the struggles that Bernadette faces as a woman in a male-dominated field. Her one and only completed project, the Twenty Mile House, was a residence that she built using recycled and locally sourced materials before eco-consciousness was even a thing. When her house is purchased by wasteful male architect that she had some battles with over discarded fixtures, she decides she would rather destroy her noteworthy creation rather than see it in the hands of a gnat.
All creators have been known to have artistic hissy fits from time to time, but Bernadette Fox takes this to the extreme and develops agoraphobia and what many around her consider an obstinate and abrasive personality. She’s essentially a female Howard Roark, but instead of being praised for her genius she’s branded antisocial and therefore a target for everyone in her community. Truly Bernadette’s major fault is that she demands excellence from everyone around her and most people to not measure up to her standards. As Whitney Cummings put it, “For a girl to get called crazy, we just have to send you two text messages in a row.” – Katie
Here’s a book for my fellow 90s kids. I don’t read many celebrity biographies. I am not crazy about celebrities. I am skeptical that they’re always trying to sell their brand or product and they’ll tailor their biography around the aforementioned. I have, however, read all the books put out by the cast of the television show Full House. I just love that show! And while I enjoyed most of the biographies, Barber’s was the best. Barber is real, honest and funny. She also writes well, which helps! I plowed through the book in two sittings. It felt like talking with a close, down-to-earth friend. Kudos to her for keeping it real throughout the whole book. No subject was off limits yet, she remained respectful while sharing very personal stories about her relationships. She shares lots of inside information about her acting days on set and also her personal journey with anxiety. Kudos to her. – Kristin
My Lady’s Choosing
by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
In honor of Valentine’s Day I thought I would mix it up by trying something completely different. By different I mean a choose-your-own-romance novel that resembles Jane Austen on steroids. Normally I am not enraptured by this sort of work, but what I found interesting was the format. Typically narratives with branching pathways are reserved for adventure tales and not deciding who the heroine rides off into the sunset with. Essentially it takes a staple of childhood and updates it for a more mature audience and it proves to be fun.
There are four main love interest options (a few more if you count some of the side characters that are thrown in here and there.) You are the plucky but poor attendant of a noblewoman until your life takes a turn for the better and you are freed from her service. There’s the bitingly witty Sir Benedict Granville, the absurdly manly horseman Captain Angus McTaggert, the bad boy Lord Garraway Craven, and the charming explorer Lady Evangeline. Each plot line has their own little intrigue to entice the reader. The path you choose depends largely on whether you’re into Darcy and Elizabeth style banter, teaching war orphans, being a governess to the children of a house with a dark secret, or egyptology.
While this book is not going to win any awards based on literary merit, it’s short and sweet. Like a lot of choose-your-own books and games, the decisions that you make are often reflective of you as a person. When I read My Lady’s Choosing, I was specifically aiming to go to Egypt with Lady Evangeline and found myself ending up with an outcome that was completely unexpected. –Katie
I admire an author who writes a children’s book that works both as a great read-aloud while also appealing to youngsters just graduating from the easier beginning reader books. Local author Jamie Michalak has one such book with Frank and Bean.
In less than 50 pages and four short chapters we meet Frank, an introverted fellow who craves the peace and quiet required to write in his secret notebook, and Bean, who arrives on the scene with seemingly every instrument known to man. Not surprisingly, Frank (who if you haven’t already guessed is a frankfurter), is not happy about the intrusion. Bean (yes, the musical fruit) honks and toots and vrooms, loudly. (He’s also brought his motorcycle.) This is not auspicious for a workable relationship. And yet.
Bean is on a quest. And it turns out that Frank has the poetry that Bean is seeking to turn his (loud) musical musings into song. The humorous illustrations of Bob Kolar enhance this humorous yet warm story of the beginnings of friendship.
A sure winner with a gentle message.
By Nancy Kellner
Long after I watched it, I still think about The Florida Project from 2017 staring Willem Dafoe. The small budget sleeper which received many acting nominations and awards for Dafoe was recognized by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year in 2017.
Set in Florida the story centers on six year old Moonee who with her mother lives at the Magic Castle, a faded pink stucco two story motel located along a busy freeway. Without helicoptering parents to squash their freedom Moonee and her friends from the motel are free to roam which also means there is no one to protect them when their curiosity and creativity can have dangerous results. A visually captivating film, the single shot of a sign advertising the proximity of Walt Disney World to Magic Castle is not lost on the viewer.
Dafoe with his weathered face has seen many lives pass thru the motel he manages which serves as housing for poor single mothers who resort to any way to make the rent money from reselling fake Disney World tickets to prostitution. Meanwhile the looming threat is family services will discover these desperate acts by Moonee’s mother and she will lose her daughter to foster care. Dafoe is the stability in the lives of the motel residents both children and adults. But for how long can he protect the children and their mothers from making bad choices. As consequences unfold the viewer is left to wonder what truly would be the best outcome for Moonee.
by Stephen King
Ah, Stephen King, my old friend. It’s been a long time since I read anything by the Meryl Streep of horror and I went into this book hopeful and thinking, “It’s going to be traumatic X-Men. I’m definitely going to like it.” To reiterate, it was a very enjoyable experience starting with the punchy cover art of a child in a boxcar, meant to simulate his own bedroom (this is relevant to the narrative and not just for looks).
The novel starts out with twelve year-old Luke Ellis minding his own business and kicking back to have pizza with his parents while he decides whether he wants to go to MIT and Emerson, prematurely, now that he has surpassed the educational capacity of his elite private school. Besides his intellect, what makes Luke special is that he can move objects with his mind. Nothing major, but he does make pizza pans shake and other unusual disturbances that could attract unwanted attention.
One night he is stolen away from his home by a team of expert kidnappers and taken to The Institute where there are other children with similar powers. Some have telekinesis and some have telepathy, but all of them are being experimented on. Luke and his friends are determined to escape and uncover the secrets of this strange and highly secretive facility. Along the way, Luke befriends a number of his fellow inmates and forms an unshakable bond that will last, no matter where they go after their time at The Institute has come to an end.
What really impressed me about King’s latest venture into a coming-of-age story is, that he managed to pull off a really fantastic ending and some truly heartbreaking and horrifying twists. Stephen King is not generally known for having very good conclusions (I’m looking at you, IT), but in this one, everything was wrapped up in a very sensible and satisfying fashion.
The only major criticism I have for this book is that Luke does not sound at all like a child. His dialogue comes across as something that was written by someone who has not encountered someone in their early adolescence in a long time. Since this title has been branded as having cross-market appeal and can be targeted toward young adult and adult audiences, that could be a stumbling point. That may not be a dealbreaker for most people, but I found that some of those choices took me out of what was happening in the narrative because of the way something was said. It felt inauthentic. For an actual teenager, this may cause them to laugh out loud and hit the shelves to find something else. – Katie
Love Your Life Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want
by Rachel Cruze
It seems slightly ironic that I am discovering authors while watching Youtube. Or, maybe that isn’t the case, since anyone in business seems to gravitate towards Youtube and social media to spread their message! I discovered financial guru Dave Ramsey through his Youtube channel. I really enjoy his “tough love” approach with folks who call into the show with financial questions. He is a no-nonsense kind of guy and I really appreciate that! Soon after, I discovered his daughter, Rachel Cruze on Youtube as well. While she is not as tough as her dad, she seems to still have a way with viewers. I decided to pick up her book Love your life not theirs : 7 money habits for living the life you want. I highly recommend this book for the 18-30 year-old in your life who spends a lot of time on social media. Studies have shown that spending time on social media is bad for you! Users may suffer from depression by constantly comparing themselves to what they see on social media. But we need to remember, social media is not real life! And this is one of Cruze’s driving points in the book – constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses is not good. Your friends with expensive cars and designer handbags are broke because they don’t know how to handle their money. Cruze promotes living under your means, which I whole-heartedly agree with. She also encourages young couples to constantly discuss and plan their finances together, from daily budgeting to saving for retirement. This is a wise move because finances are a large factor in marital disputes and unfortunately, divorce. Some might dismiss this as another silly self-help book, but its message is important! -Kristin