Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Books to Movies: July-Dec 2016

We're back with a new list of books being adapted into film. You have plenty of time to read the book before these are released. Check them out!

Nerve by Jeanne Ryan (in theaters today! July 27)
Teenage Vee takes part in a high-stakes game of virtual dare called "Nerve," where she's dared to do different things that are virtually broadcast to thousands of other players. For each dare completed, she gets a prize (good ones). So Vee is competing in the game, but it soon turns dark for her. The movie stars Emma Roberts and Dave Franco.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (in theaters Sept. 2)
Set in the 1920s in Australia, Tom is a lighthouse keeper, living a solitary life on the island with his lighthouse. He meets and marries young Isabel, but the two have trouble conceiving. One day a boat washes on shore the tiny island, with a baby inside. The two make a decision that changes all of their lives. This atmospheric book is beautifully written and contemplates some very serious moral issues. I'd definitely read it before seeing the movie, which promises to be very well done, starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender.

The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers (in theaters Sept. 23)
Based on a true story, Phiona lives in a slum in Katwe, where she and her family live in very poor conditions. One day, she follows her brother and meets a missionary named Robert Katende, who grew up in the slums as well. Katende is trying to empower the children of this village by teaching them chess, which Phiona immediately excels at. Within five years, Phiona has rose to fame as a chess champion. This heartwarming story will be in theaters soon, starring Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (in theaters Sept. 30)
Jacob discovers the crumbling remains of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children on a remote island off the coast of Wales. He goes through the rooms, discovering one strange thing after the other, including pictures of the "peculiar children" that are quite eerie. Some of these children may have been more than just "peculiar," and actually been dangerous, and maybe still might be there. This novel is creepy in a good way, including all sorts of awesomely unexplained pictures. It's definitely worth reading before the film. The film stars Asa Butterfield (who you may remember as Ender, from Ender's Game a few years back) and Samuel L. Jackson.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (in theaters Oct. 7)
If you haven't read this bestselling thriller yet, now's the time. Every day, Rachel takes the same train, at the same time. She stares out the same window, at the same houses, every single day. In particular, she pays attention to one house, with one family. One day, she sees something shocking. It's just an instant, but she feels compelled to tell someone. But can she really be a reliable witness in an instant? This book will keep you on the edge of your seat, with lots of surprise twists and turns. The film stars Emily Blunt and Laura Prepon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

TTT: Books Set Outside the US

Happy Top Ten Tuesday to you! Today we are discussing our top ten favorite books set outside the United States. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments below!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles – Bowles’ masterpiece, The Sheltering Sky tells the story of American travelers, Port and Kit Moresby a husband and wife who attempt to escape their lives by wandering aimlessly through North African cities and deserts.

The Mouse-Proof Kitchen by Saira Shah – After learning their newborn baby daughter has serious neurological disabilities; Anna and Tobias move to a crumbling farmhouse in Aix-en-Provence, France. They struggled to adapt to their new situation, but are supported by their eccentric neighbors who eventually become part of their family. (See my full review here.)

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles – A short, quirky read about a Samuel, lonely linguistics professor living in Barcelona. The appearance of a stray cat leads Samuel to a series of unexpected interactions and a reunion with a mysterious woman from his past.

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor – A charming tale of a young GP beginning work in the small country village of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland. Barry Laverty agrees to be the apprentice of Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, an older man with a strange method of dealing with his patients. Barry has a lot to learn when it comes to dealing with the town’s colorful residents.

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson – As a young college student, Wilson, eager to learn more about the Middle East, travels to Cairo. She attempts to submerge herself in the culture, eventually meeting a man who would become her husband and converting to Islam.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang – Two parallel stories set in China during the Boxer Rebellion; Yang untangles the conflict with vivid artistry in this graphic novel. Told through the eyes of a young Chinese peasant boy, Little Bao and Vibiana, an unwanted girl taken in by Christian missionaries, Boxers & Saints is a powerful work not soon forgotten.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami – Set in the Tokyo suburbs, a man searches for his lost cat. In doing so, he encounters a number of bizarre people and events. Both hilarious and strange, Murakami has crafted one of the finest modern novels.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – Raised at the elite school of Hailsham, located in the English countryside, students Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up knowing their lives have strange purpose. Years later as she is about to end one stage of her life, Kathy looks back on her youth and the bonds she had with Ruth and Tommy.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – Growing up in Iran during the height of the Islamic Revolution, Satrapi chronicles the difficulties of living through a period of dramatic upheaval. Volume 1 spans her childhood, while volume 2 covers her time living in Vienna before eventually returning to her homeland.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – A cheat for the last entry, Lahiri’s novel doesn’t really take place outside of the US, but she does weave a beautiful and profound story of clashing cultures. Lahiri captures the struggles of second generation immigrants as they attempt to balance the culture they were born into with the one their parents left behind.

~Meredith T.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reading Outside My Comfort Zone: Room by Emma Donoghue

People who’ve read what I’ve posted on this blog will, I’m sure, have the impression that I don’t read a lot of fiction. As I’ve said in other posts, it’s not because I don’t like it. It’s mostly a matter of having relatively little free time and a pile of non-fiction reading that is more or less compulsory. When I do tuck into fiction I mostly want it to be something not too depressing. So it probably came as a surprise to my co-workers when they discovered that I was reading Emma Donoghue’s Room.

Room tells the story of Jack, a five year old boy who along with his mother (Ma) has spent his entire life imprisoned in a small room by a man called Old Nick. Told from Jack’s perspective, Room tells of the last days of his and Ma’s captivity, of their escape and of their construction (in Ma’s case reconstruction) of human lives outside captivity. In the space of 350 or so pages it manages to be both one of the most devastating and also one of the most uplifting books that I have ever read.

I had gone to see the movie shortly after it was released last year. I spent most of the first 45 minutes curled up in my seat with head in my hands. Brie Larson won an Oscar for her portrayal of Ma and allow me to say that she richly deserved it. How she could get herself into the kind of space to play that character, to say those words and live those experiences, I have a hard time imagining. I could barely watch it. I had the most intense desire to find Old Nick and tune him up properly.

I felt this again as I read Donoghue’s spare and beautiful text, if perhaps less intensely. The book spends a lot of time with Jack’s internal monologue and his struggle to come to terms with the fact that there is an actually existing world outside the confines that he has known all his life. This is, perhaps, the biggest difference between the book and the film. The book gives one a much more intense appreciating for Jack’s doubts as to the reality of anything that exists outside the room.

But thinking about it later (and in the wake of seeing the rest of the film) I realized that this misses and important point. The true glory of this film and of the book, the thing that makes it beautiful and uplifting, is that it tells the story of both Jack and Ma reclaiming agency over their lives. Through years of captivity, Ma retained the fundamental human desire to liberate herself, and she formulated a plan to make it happen. Much of the latter part of the story centers on her difficulties, both in adapting to her newly recovered freedom, and coping with her guilt at having been imprisoned in the first place.

The fundamental point here is that it’s her that’s doing it. She has the will to survive and to protect he son as best she can. She plans her escape and makes it happen. She acts to reclaim the full measure of her humanity. Perhaps the hardest thing about reading this book for me was resisting the temptation to make myself the hero or the avenger.

I recommend this book. But I recommend that you get it from the library. It is an intense and challenging examination of the power of human beings to overcome trauma. It was well worth reading, but I simply cannot imagine anyone wanting to read it more than once.

~John F.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Five Books Worth Reading: Children's Books for Grown-Ups

I try to read a good mix of books (fiction, nonfiction, sci-fi, children's, teens') so I wanted to share some of my favorite children's books I've read in the last couple years that have really stuck with me. So these are books intended for children (middle grade reading level) that I think are valuable to adults as well.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Auggie is a child who has been through a lot due to the facial deformity he was born with. Otherwise, he's a relatively normal kid who loves Star Wars. When he starts mainstream school, he encounters how cruel the world can really be. It's told from multiple perspectives, which really adds to the story. This book is sad, sweet, and quite eye-opening.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
Set in 1930s south, Stella is a young black girl who has few worries in life, since she is used to how everything works in her town. When she and her brother witness a KKK gathering, she learns that everything isn't as nice as she thought. This book covers a lot of ground, discussing the disparities in schooling, housing, jobs, and voting in this time period. It's well-written and stays firmly with Stella's perspective, making some of the perceptions of racism noticeable to the reader that she hasn't noticed. (Also, I read the audiobook, which was very good, if you like that.)

Matilda by Roald Dahl
Even if you read this book as a child, it's time to revisit it as an adult! I read this relatively recently (within the last few years), and found it much better as an adult. Matilda's desire to learn is admirable, even if there's some suspension of disbelief you need to have. The book and the movie are fairly different though, so be prepared for that if you're used to the film.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Soon to be a film, this book is definitely worth the read. It's sort of a picture book even, so it goes very quickly. This book is about a young boy whose mother is sick. He's visited by a tree monster who claims to know his secrets. It's a very metaphorical type story, so I felt like it was better reading it as an adult because I understood the symbols a little better than I'd think a child would. The book is sad, sweet, and filled with impressive illustrations.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
There are a lot of books about WWII out there for middle grade readers, and this one has received a lot of attention this year. I think that is in large part due to the uniqueness of this story. Ada was born with a deformed foot to a poor mother in London. When the bombs are imminent, children are rounded up and sent off to more rural areas of England for their protection. Ada and her brother escape to a spinster woman who doesn't want them there. Together, they all grow and learn from one another. The details of this book are fabulous, giving just enough minutiae to make me feel "in" the story. An excellent read at any age.

Have you read any children's books I should add to my list?


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Series Review: The 5th Wave

Now that Rick Yancey has completed his trilogy The 5th Wave, and so have I, I wanted to do a quick review of the series as a whole, while also trying not to spoil it for any of you who have not read this series at all yet. (What are you waiting for?)

The 5th Wave
I have booktalked this book to death with the teens (and some adults) at my library. It was gripping, scary, and yet in some way relateable. Cassie Sullivan is a teenage girl struggling to stay alive and save her baby brother in the midst of an alien war. What I loved about this concept was that the aliens were not tentacled green monsters (or anything similar). In fact, they were mostly not present in the book; those that were present looked like regular people, but were emotionless and much more sinister than your average human. I also liked the jumps between character perspectives, which gave me a fuller picture of what was happening in different parts of the world created in this book. We jump between Cassie and some other teen and child characters, learning about their experiences as the "war" progresses.

The Infinite Sea
Continuing our tale where the last book left off (and without giving much away), this book followed much of the same pattern as the previous book, but mixed up who the narrators were. We were able to see into the heads of some of the more secondary characters from the previous story, learning their pre-alien infest backstories and how they got to where they are, as well as catching up with Cassie and the other characters we got to know in the first novel. After the characters have escaped certain death in the first book, they have largely been separated and are trying to survive the harsh conditions on Earth. This second book was very good, but it felt like the "middle," meaning that it was pretty clear we were in some ways just biding time until the last story. Some of this book also took me out of the realm of realism (as much as there can be in an alien infestation story) and into the realm of fantasy, which wasn't super ideal to me. I'm picky like that.

The Last Star
This last book in the series was action-packed. There were so many different fight scenes and near-death experiences over the course of this story. Continuing where we left off in The Infinite Sea, the characters are on the clock before something big and bad happens. (No, I'm not spoiling it!) The fact that there's a clock ticking makes this whole story very intense, keeping you on the edge of your seat and very aware of how much time is left. I wanted the ending to be a little different, but it worked.

Put all together, I really have to commend Rick Yancey for the amazing world-building he created. The books left me constantly questioning what I knew, tricking me along with the characters. There were a lot of ups and downs and quite a bit of blood and death. In that way, the books would make good readalikes for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent. I also really appreciated the fact that Yancey never let us forget that these were children (characters aged 5-19ish) and how that would impact kids on their own in a treacherous world. The concept reminded me a lot of the zombie stories that have been oh so popular in the last five years or so, especially considering the kids are constantly on the move in abandoned places, foraging for survival. But with more guns.

I very much recommend this series, even if you aren't a fan of alien books. When I grabbed the first book, I didn't realize the premise was alien-based. Honestly, had I known that I probably would not have read the series, and that would have been quite a shame, since I really enjoyed these books. They kept me on the edge of my seat, made me laugh, made me cry, made me have existential crises, etc. So, give it a shot. Also, if you are an audiobook listener, these were excellent on audio. Some of the best I've ever listened to.


PS-I did see the movie out earlier this year and yes, the book was better. The movie was not terrible though.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Life as a Book: The Hits that Hurt the Most

It’s a drizzly Saturday in Portland, Oregon. I’m standing on a muddy field, rugby ball in hand, wearing the red and black hooped number 10 jersey of the fly half of the Reed College Rugby Club. And even at the distance of years, I can still tell you exactly what I am thinking: “Is this the day that I get killed doing this?” This is not an idle concern. In the preceding seasons I’ve dislocated fingers and broken ribs. I’ve had cuts, bruises, black eyes, and stitches. I’ve been kicked, cleated, clothes-lined, and driven head first into the ground. I’ve separated both shoulders and been knocked unconscious. I’ve been on the bottom of a pile so heavy that it nearly pulled my arm out of joint. But I do know one thing. I’ve got 14 teammates out there who have my back, no questions asked. And so, in a weird way, I feel safe too.

Reading Andrew Smith’s Winger brought back some really intense feelings for me. I don’t read a lot of YA fiction. It’s not that I don’t like it as a genre, but my plate is kind of full and I have a stack of things weighing down my desk and laying claim to the very minimal free time that I have these days. That said, I had some good reasons to make time to read Winger. In the first place, it was recommended to me by one of my colleagues with whom I share a lot of common interests. In the second, rugby plays a central role in the book, and as former player, I still have a degree of fascination with the game that is not quite healthy (although maybe not quite as unhealthy as actually playing).

The central character is Ryan Dean West, a fifteen year old junior at Pine Crest Academy. He plays left wing on the rugby, thus the name of the book and our hero’s nickname. When the story opens we find him newly ensconced in Opportunity Hall, the school’s punishment dorm, sharing a room with his teammate XXX, one of the team’s locks whose temperament is (typically for people who play in the second row) aggressive to the point of psychosis.

Rugby is only one of a number of important themes in Winger. Another is the powerful longing for girls that for adolescent boys (or at least for this one) is generally coupled with an almost complete failure to understand them. Ryan Dean is no more susceptible to this, but certainly no less, and he has the temerity (or this misfortune you might say) to have fallen for a girl who is, by all rights, simply out of his league.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Father's Day Picture Books

To all of you fathers (or fathers-to-be) out there, I wish you the happiest of Father’s Days! There’s nothing quite like the bond between parent and child. So I’m going to take a moment to stress the importance of reading to your young children. Reading aloud to your child not only helps improve their language skills, but it also provides your child with one-on-one attention from their parents. I know that some of my favorite childhood memories are of my twin brother and I, lying on either side of my dad while he read us Harry Potter. So with that in mind, let’s celebrate the special bond between fathers and their children with some father themed picture books.

Little Jumbo’s dad is having a rough day, and he just can’t seem to figure out why. He decides take matters into his own hands to cheer his dad up with some of his favorite things. Turns out Little Jumbo’s favorite things just might be his father’s favorite things as well.

This delightful picture book features classic movie monsters and their young sons as they go about their days and get ready for bed. Turns out that monster dads and human dads have one thing in common; they both love their children.

Who doesn’t enjoy a good dad joke? Well this book is full of them! I would recommend all new dads check it out, if only to brush up on their material.

All week long a young boy looks forward to Friday, because Friday is the day he and his dad go on their special trip. This book goes to show that whether it’s a walk through town or breakfast at the diner, any time with dad is special.

There’s not much better than a walk in the park with dad. In this story a young girl and her father spend the day in the park, and as they walk he asks her all sorts of questions. It may have made me a little misty.

Thunder Boy Jr. doesn’t like that he and his father share a name. He loves his father dearly, but wants to be known for who he is, not who his father is.