Staff Review – Zen in the Art of Writing

Zen in the Art of Writing
by Ray Bradbury

Someday I will write a book. I don’t really have a solid plan, but, I figure, if I just keep writing, at some point I will have enough content to be published! A girl can dream!

I find that I get the most writing done over the Fall and Winter months. It’s also the time where I tend to gravitate towards books about writing. I started out by reading Stephen King’s On Writing, then read some works by Vonnegut and Anne Lamott. I cannot remember how I stumbled upon Zen in the Art of Writing but I am certainly glad I did!

It was a fast read. Bradbury’s collection of essays is excellent! His energy is inspirational and makes me just want to write all day and all night. He really gets the reader pumped up about writing! If you are an aspiring writer, you  need to add this book to the top of your to-read list! – Kristin

Staff Review – Clockwork Angel

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Clockwork Angel
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clockwork Angel is the first book in the Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare. It is set in Victorian London and has an air of steampunk – although it is not explicitly that genre. There are clockwork creations and automatons, a Shadowhunter inventor that tinkers with gears and wires, but the overall setting is not one of steam powered air machines and gear-covered outfits. As a fan of the steampunk genre and aesthetic, I quite enjoyed the subtle notes of it in this series.
The clockwork automatons are intriguing, as they are made from neither Heaven nor Hell and thus the Shadowhunters have no experience dealing with them. They create a unique foe to fight against and are a greater mystery – as our heroes do not know who truly created them, or their nefarious purpose.

Each chapter is…

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Staff Review – Where’d You Go, Bernadette

 

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

 

Staff Review – Vice

 

Personally, I feel I’ve gotten my fill of politics lately by just turning on the TV news.  That said, Christian Bale is superb in his characterization of Dick Cheney, and Amy Adams is remarkable portraying Lynne Cheney.

An award-winning, in-depth characterization of the Vice President and ex-CEO of Haliburton, who, behind the scenes, reveals how much power he acquired over time.

Honestly, I fell asleep during the beginning of the movie. It is quite long.

– Deb

 

Staff Review – Full Circle

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

 

Staff Review – My Lady’s Choosing

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

 

Staff Review – Frank and Bean


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

Staff Review: The Florida Project


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. 

Staff Review: The Institute

The Institute
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

 

Staff Review: Love Your Life Not Theirs

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