Friday, June 30, 2017

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō

At first I thought--this is just kooky. Now I think--this is kooky, and has some very good ideas and makes some very good points. 

The kooky I think comes from the fact that Ms. Kondo is Japanese, doesn't speak English, and didn't write this for Americans. If you can get past things like thank your socks for all they have given you, you will see that she is recommending a streamlined life of gratitude for everything in your life, even the things you will now be throwing away. 

I look at organization books the same way I look at diet books--unless you are ready, it won't work. So if you are looking to radically transform the way you live (Tiny House people, you need this book) and seriously downsize the amount of stuff you have, take a look. Her methods are very interesting--especially her thoughts on folding clothing and not buying storage containers.

Recommended by Cynthia Lambert
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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

Loved this book--could it have been more exciting, yes, but I think it would have been less of a book if it had. The two stories--the world's fair and the serial killer--are happening together, but except for the city, there is little actual overlap. I kept anticipating more about a serial killer IN the world's fair, which if this were fiction would have been the case, ending in capture atop the Ferris wheel.

This isn't fiction--and it's much better that it didn't focus on the serial killer as much as it did on the Fair and the architects who created the White City. This was an amazing tale--showing just what man is capable of doing when he tries. Reaching new levels of wonder and skill is also what the serial killer did, only not in an uplifting or progressive way, but in a brutal and depraved way. 

Linking these two tales creates a book filled with tension, technology, and man pushing himself in ways never before thought possible. Gripping in every way....

Recommended by Cynthia Lambert
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The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

After hearing about this book for a few years, I thought I would give it a go. I didn't technically read it, as I listened to the audiobook.

This was one terrific mystery--I KNEW who did it, several times. The characters in the book were well done and complex. I suspect there has been growth in the main character over time--but this is the only one I've read, so I'm not sure. 

I truly came to care for Harry Hole (but will say, seriously, his name is Harry Hole? Am I the only person over the age of 12 to find that incredibly funny?), Rachel, and Oleg. I really cared about their survival and their relationships. As a detective, Harry is a great character. He is always angry and, as Rachel says, always involved. He is gruff and seems unsentimental, but it's pretty clear that's not true. He is gruff, but he is all sentiment and intuition and painful emotion. His compassion for Katrine Bratt, his relationship with Oleg, his own conscious--all show that this man is far more than just a nasty, crusty old drunk of an inspector. 

The crimes were grizzly and graphic--just what I expect from a Nordic mystery. Secondary characters like forensic expert Bjorn Holm are delightfully quirky and strange, but entirely believable. The plot moves quickly--more of a page turner than I anticipated--yet remains complex and layered. I was moved to revulsion, fear, sadness, and elation--over and over. 

All in all, it's a great mystery if you like them bloody, complex, and a little strange.

Recommended by Cynthia Lambert
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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nocturnal Animals (2016, Drama)

Nocturnal Animals is a dark and devilishly stylish thriller from Tom Ford, who knows a thing or two about style having worked as creative director for both Gucci and Yves Saint Lauren in the past. It could have been in danger of being a case of style over substance, however, Ford's perfectionism makes this one of the most powerful films I've seen all year.

"Nocturnal Animals" tells the story of Susan (Amy Adams), a very successful art designer who "has everything": The problem? She rarely ever sleeps, and current husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is never around. In short, she is very dissatisfied with her life. One day, she receives a manuscript from ex- husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that is dedicated to her. As she reads Edward's story (a tale depicted on screen as a man losing his wife and daughter in West Texas and hunting down the men who kidnapped them), she flashes back to her time spent with Edward in hopes of understanding why it is devoted to her.

Adapted from Austin Wright's 1993 novel Tony and Susan (click here to place the book on hold.), Ford expertly weaves three narratives, each with their unique look, tone and mood, into a brooding character study. This film often makes you feel uncomfortable yet draws you in to the point where you cannot look away. It has an artistic aspect to it that is rarely seen in Hollywood--namely creativity without regard to political correctness. It is rich with the realities of life and full of passion, power, betrayal and love. 

Recommended by Monica Shine
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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of Ghosts is a psychological horror novel reminiscent of The Exorcist. The story unfolds through the eyes of 8 year old Merry Barrett as she witnesses her older sister Marjorie's increasingly schizophrenic behavior.  The Barrett family is struggling financially and eventually becomes the subject of a reality show documenting her possession and eventual exorcism.  Marjorie's condition, the  cameras as well as the Bartlett patriarch's ever increasing religious fervor puts extreme strain on the family.  15 years later Merry Barrett meets with a best selling author to reveal her memories of the events that took place where reality and unreality become blurred.

Tremblay writes a fast paced story that always leaves the reader guessing at the end of each chapter.  Using alternating viewpoints of 8-year old Merry, a horror blogger reviewing the reality show, and 23-year old Merry we are always left with questions.

It's the sort of 'what actually just happened?' fiction that I enjoy because you, the reader, have to push back against the narrative to gain your own sense of truth. Was Marjorie possessed? Was their father just as dangerous as Marjorie? How reliable is an 8 year old narrator? A traumatized 8 year old narrator? The whole book is wonderfully written with great details and solid characters. Tense and exiting, I would recommend this to thriller readers as well as horror fans.

Recommended by Monica Shine
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Monday, June 5, 2017

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

This is a solid book that will keep you entertained and engaged. That said--the premise has been done before and done better. I suggest that you read the excellent 'A Secret History' by Donna Tartt if you want a first rate example.

The setting is a small liberal arts college where students are so heavily steeped in their "art" that they lose sight of what's the play and what's real life. As the title suggests, these "normal" young people become villains of Shakespeare proportions with dire consequences for all, especially our hero Oliver.

These are stock characters, but very well drawn ones. The "mystery" at the heart of the novel is fairly easily guessed, but still compelling and creepy. Each player's response to the horrible, grisly death is also fairly standard, but again, pretty well written. There are some truly beautiful details and atmosphere. Sadly, Rio relies too heavily on Shakespeare's actual text and the book slows to a crawl in these instances. The heavy handed use of Shakespeare characters and words to further the story left me thinking--why am I reading this and not the original source material?

I suspect that for students of Shakespeare--and I will admit, I am not at all well versed in this area--might find the book more compelling and enjoyable. Then again, I suspect they could just as easily find the book lacking in heft and feeling outside the Shakespeare parts. I don't mind using the Bard's representations of the human experience to infuse an added layer of emotion in a modern setting. 'The Weird Sisters' by Eleanore Brown did this very well. Here, I just kept thinking, I should really read some Shakespeare this summer (and I will). I simply didn't care enough about the characters as much as the parts they were playing.

I hope that Rio breaks out of the shadow of Shakespeare because I believe there is real potential for a beautiful, emotionally complex, and satisfying novel in the writing. In this case, it is good, but not good enough.

Recommended by Cynthia Lambert.
Click here to place on hold.