Susan’s Best Reads of 2019

I don’t read as much as I wish I could; I just don’t have time at the moment. It doesn’t help that I wind up with sometimes 600 page books in my hands, and those take longer.  I never know what I’ll read next, and I read a bunch of good ones last year. Here are some of my favorites:

One of the two best books I read this year, I’ve already blogged about: Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull, was amazing. Not just a history of Pixar films, it’s also the best darned, most entertaining book on business and employee management you will read. Pixar is a 5-star company for a reason.

The second of my Best Reads this year is The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James.  From approximately 1898 to 1912, a serial killer traversed the US by train – coming through New Haven’s Union Station on the way – with an MO of bludgeoning his victims with the back of an axe. Because of communications at the time, few people were able to connect the murders. James painstakingly, with the utmost detail, traces the dozens of murders and examines them, deciding if they were likely by the same killer or not, and why. He traces the paths through the states and the seasons, chasing the trail to a man who was most likely the killer. By the time he’s done, you are convinced and amazed. I could not stop reading this book. I read it while waiting for the school bus. I read it while cooking. I would have read it in the shower if I could have. If you love a mystery, if you love history, if you love crime stories, this book is a must.

I’m only 30 years late in reading Neuromancer, the Hugo-winning cyberpunk novel by William Gibson. I can see why it is held as one of the greatest novels of our time. Gibson predicts and writes about today’s modern computers and internet and gaming – long before they existed. The scenarios he describes are both familiar and futuristic at the same time. While not only visionary, it’s written in  a flawless style and with realistic, interesting characters. If you loved Ready Player One or The Matrix (which has to have been influenced by this book), you will love Neuromancer.

If you’re aware of social and racial issues, I strongly recommend Survival Math, by Mitchell S. Jackson. A professor of writing, in achingly beautiful prose worthy of Martin Luther King Jr., with the voice of a preacher without being preachy, Johnson breaks down the issues faced in his own family, examining how he came to where he is, how racism played into it without even being visible, and how despite all the odds, it’s possible to thrive. He covers harsh topics without flinching. The book is brilliant, spellbinding, and a superb read from a voice that soars with truth.

Far more than I expected, I loved Total Recall, an older door-stop of a biography on Arnold Schwarzenegger. From his birth in a tiny town in Austria (which still has only 2500 people) to his divorce from Maria Shriver, Arnold is witty and candid and down to Earth. No matter what you think of his politics or his movies or his personal life, this book may be older, but it was highly entertaining. His best friend just died in September of this year.

Not my favorite, but worth mentioning because of its local importance, is Frog Hollow  by Susan Campbell. Campbell, a former reporter with the Hartford Courant, digs into the history of the notorious Frog Hollow section of Hartford, and through tireless research shows the former glory of the neighborhood as not only an important area in Colonial times, but once a major manufacturing center (in 1898, Pope automotive made half the cars in the US). I was hoping for a deep sociologic dissection of the issues, but instead Campbell gives us an upbeat view from street level about the good aspects of Hartford and the people who live there, not just the doom and gloom of ad-selling news clips.

Last but not least, I’ll throw in a kid’s series you probably missed; with 18 years between my last two kids, I certainly did, but my youngest is so hooked on the British easy reader series Urgency Emergency! by Dosh Archer, I wound up buying most of them. The series is so witty and enjoyable you don’t mind reading them over and over again. Doctor Glenda, Nurse Percy, and the Pengamedics, in predictable melodrama, assist the maladies of Humpty Dumpty, The Big Bad Wolf, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, and many more. They are a delight. The library has several of the stories; be sure to read them all!

Why do we like to be scared? – the psychology of horror

As Halloween quickly approaches, I find myself dipping deeper into the pool of horror films, books and media that always seems to be present, any time of year you go looking for them. I didn’t come to love horror organically, as an over anxious child and teen I was somehow drawn to true crime documentaries, sneaking peeks at the coverage of the OJ Simpson trial, and staying up late to watch E! “Murders of Hollywood”. My first experience with horror movies was staying up in my friends living room, her German Shepard was half blocking my view of The Ring on VHS, which was particularly ironic. So why do we seek out things that scare us, instead of those that comfort us?

The easy answer is : We like to be safe. If we expose ourselves to things that scare us in a safe environment, it’s like going on a roller coaster. Your endorphins spike, your heart rate races, but in two minutes it’s over, you’re back on solid ground. I’d rather know how horrible the world can be so I can prepared for what actually goes bump in the night.

The Horror of It All is a memoir from the front lines of the industry that dissects the hugely popular genre of scary movies.

Horror movies and novels are much the same. People chose entertainment because they want to be affected. You choose a romance novel because you want to feel the giddy rush of love, you choose action because you want to feel excitement. Horror is another sensation driven genre. You want to experience the rush with none of the consequences of the situation, which lets you enjoy the sensation and adrenaline spike. Quoted from a 2004 paper in the Journal of Medical Psychology by Dr. Glen Walters “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unreal-ism.”(Walters, 2004)

So if you’re like me and looking for a thrill (while at the same time being wrapped up in a blanket fort for safety) then you’ve come to the right place for some recommendations. All of the things I recommend are available for checkout at the Cheshire Public Library, so let’s tuck in to my favorite genre:

hereditary_xlg.jpgHereditary  – When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.

This movie is fantastic, Ari Aster is a master of portraying agony in a way I haven’t seen in any other movie thus far. His characters experience the broadest range of emotion, and each scene is raw and beautifully acted. It’s really a treat to watch, both for the performances, and the scares. Prepare to have expectations subverted with this movie, Ari Aster is one to watch as a newcomer to the horror genre, and A24 is producing some outstanding content as well. If you haven’t seen it yet, treat yourself to Hereditary, as well as his newest film, Midsommar.

The Stand – The Stand takes place in a post-apocalyptic world triggered by the breakdown of society following the release of a biological weapon. The weapon is a virulent strain of influenza that decimates the population. It follows a few key characters across the United States, attempting to survive and make peace with the people they’ve become after the world has ended. It has elements of horror, elements of suspense, and in my opinion it’s one of the best post apocalyptic fiction novels ever written. Above all else though, it’s a thoughtful, well paced book. (One can’t have a list of horror titles and not mention King at least once, if not multiple times – The Tommyknockers, Salem’s Lot, The Shining…) The characters feel real and well flushed out, and the antagonist is ominous without becoming comic. It’s my go-to summer read, and I keep a paperback copy in my car at all times, so I can dip back in whenever the mood strikes, which is often.

I saw Gone Girl  before I had read the book (I know, the cardinal sin) and I had no context going into it. Gone girl? Sounds like a witty comedy about a girl who’s traveling cross country! I was very wrong. I had no idea about the twists (which I will keep to myself) and I had no idea what a treat I’d be in for when I read the book. They both play off each-other beautifully, and the book is written with punch and one liners that stick with you. The cool girl speech (look it up) is worth the price of the paperback alone. You should definitely treat yourself to this book, as well as Gillian Flynn’s two other titles Dark Places and Sharp Objects.

If you’re looking for something with real world ties, look no further than the masterpiece that is I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by the late Michelle McNamara. McNamara devoted a larger part of her life to sitting up in her daughters old playroom, surrounded by stuffed animals and tracking who would be come to known as the Golden State Killer. Sure she had a day job, but she also somehow convinced retired detectives from the case to send over boxes of case files. She went over phone records, emails, connected leads to perps, and made some of the most important headway the case had seen since it’s beginning in 1976. The case had been unsolved for ten years, and just recently closed with the arrest of a 73 year old Joseph Deangelo, a retired policeman. The book is well written, well researched, and fascinating if you want to know more about detective work, but never had the stomach to do it yourself. You feel yourself dissecting the facts along with Michelle, and the fact that she died before the case was solved makes the ending all the more poignant. It’s definitely worth the read, especially if you’re a fan of true crime and cases being solved.

Dipping into horror as a person with a chronically small comfort zone is more than just a little ironic. It’s taken me twenty five years to accept that strange part of myself, as a small portion of a largely complex whole. As an artist, a writer, and a creative, I find the darkness just as interesting as the light. Luckily, there are plenty of people who agree with me, and the horror genre is booming. Last summer, horror films accounted for 10% of cinema visits by moviegoers under 30-years-old. I’ll support any genre that encourages its artists and producers to push boundaries and visuals, and luckily, horror is doing just that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return of the Rom-Com!

The romantic comedy film genre took a serious dive in popularity over the last 2 decades, going from 2 billion dollars in tickets sales (1999) to less than 1/2 million (2018). Romantic comedy novels followed a similar trajectory.  But the film genre is experiencing a resurgence, and rom-com novels are riding their coattails with a comeback of their own.

The past couple of years have seen an explosion of romantic comedies in publishing – heck, the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction went to a book with a lot of rom-com characteristics: Less by Andrew Sean Greer. As poignant as it is humorous, Greer’s award-winning novel contains many familiar rom-com tropes, and also turns a few on their heads!

Once known somewhat disparagingly as “chick lit”, these smart and sassy stories explore all the quirks and foibles of modern relationships, often tackling difficult subjects but never losing their sense of humor. If you’re new to the genre, this list of recent romantic comedies is a good place to start:

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman are competitive rivals at a publishing company and profess to hate each other, but when the tension reaches the boiling point, they both wonder if the competition is just a game and that maybe they don’t hate each other after all.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. Partnered with a nemesis best man on a paradise honeymoon when her bride twin gets food poisoning, a chronically unlucky maid of honor assumes the role of a newlywed before unexpectedly falling for her companion.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. A 30-year-old math whiz with Asperger’s tries to make her love life as rich as her career by hiring an escort to help her with her lack of knowledge and experience in the dating department.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. Stranded together in an elevator during a power outage, Drew and Alexa agree to pose as a couple at an ex’s wedding and discover afterwards that they are unable to forget each other.

Fight or Flight by Samantha Young. After her delayed flight, Ava has a brief intimate encounter with Caleb, an arrogant Scotsman, and never expects to see him again, but when he is stranded in Boston, they reconnect, and Ava has to deal with her increasing attraction.

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting. After meeting the former actor she had a crush on as a teenager and fangirling all over him, Kailyn Flowers strikes up a friendship with Daxton Hughes who needs help acting as guardian to his 13-year-old-sister.

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin. A modern Muslim adaptation of Pride and Prejudice finds a reluctant teacher who would avoid an arranged marriage setting aside her literary ambitions before falling in love with her perpetually single cousin’s infuriatingly conservative fiancé.

Red, White & Royal Blue  by Casey McQuistion. A big-hearted romantic comedy in which the First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends.

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri. A romantic comedy about gender and sexuality follows the experiences of a traditionally minded Midwesterner who, in the aftermath of an ended engagement, finds herself in a transformative relationship with a self-assured New York businesswoman.

 

 

Upcoming Books-to-Movies

Not every book becomes a movie; not every movie started out as a book, but the two feed off each other like peanut butter and chocolate. Many of the top Oscar-winning films started out as books (The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, No Country for Old Men, Schindler’s List, and more). Some movies were better films than their book (in my opinion, Planet of the Apes, Poseidon Adventure, and Casino Royale are three). Some people want to read a book before they see a film adaption, while others see a great film and want to read the book to see if any good bits were left out.

If you’re of the group that prefers to read the book first, better get started! A whole new wave of book adaptions is readying for the coming year. Here’s a peek at some of them:

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – that’s the collection of T.S. Elliott’s poem collection that became the musical CATS. Whether this is a filmed “stage” production or a cohesive musical film remains to be seen, but it stars Judi Dench and Ian McKellan, no theater slouches. Look for it at Christmas.

Death on the Nile – Kenneth Brannaugh’s second attempt to capture Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in a mystery due out in October of 2020. It also stars Gal Godot of Wonder Woman fame.

Doctor Sleep – Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining stars Ewan McGregor as the adult Danny Torrence, due out in November 2019.

Dune – Yet another attempt to harness Frank Herbert’s cornerstone classic, most assuredly without the winged underwear. Although it bears an all-star cast, I loved the deep details of the novel, and I have a special affinity for the admitted mess of the 1984 Lynch adaption. Like Batman, all the reboots get tedious after a while. Sometimes you can’t capture greatness.

The Goldfinch Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel hits theaters in September of 2019. It has promised to be faithful to the book, a coming of age story of a boy whose life changes in an instant.

The Turning – A modern adaption of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, it’s produced by Stephen Spielberg. Spielberg’s track record isn’t perfect, but still one of the best in Hollywood. The story is the one of the classic horrors of literature. Due out in January of 2020.

Little Women – The long-time classic of girl literature by Louisa May Alcott, it was first adapted for film in 1933, and most recently in 1994. A very strong cast (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, the list goes on) has given this move a lot of buzz. Now’s the time to catch up on the classic story you may have missed (it’s not as bad as you fear). Look for it at Christmas, 2019.

 

The Good Liar – Nicholas Searle’s novel will star Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan as a con man trying to steal from a widow who has more than one trick up her sleeve. Look for it in November of 2019.

The Woman in the Window – A.J. Finn’s #1 thriller of a woman who witnesses a crime will star Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Gary Oldman. Since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, it’s technically a Disney film (with no princesses, no mermaids, and no singing), due out in October of 2019.

Bond 25: Ian Fleming wrote only 12 Bond novels, and two collections of short stories. The films have now exceeded the original material. The movie has been through a long list of issues from a revolving door of writers and directors to explosions on set, and the working title of Bond 25 gives away no details about the story, but you can get your fill on the original novels. The movie, purportedly the last for Daniel Craig, is set for April of 2020.

Deadpool 3, Black Panther 2, Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984 : 2020’s crop of Comic-book Hero films, from Marvel and DC. Most of them still have current story lines, or track down the older versions online or in graphic novel compilations.

Motherless Brooklyn – Jonathan Lethem’s novel of a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome searching for the killer of his best friend won multiple awards for fiction and crime fiction. The all-star cast is headed by Ed Norton, who stars, directed, produced, and wrote the script. During filming, a set caught fire and a fireman died during the response, fueling accusations and lawsuits. It’s due out in November of 2019.

Most Wanted Books of Summer 2019

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Looking for something to read this summer? Let us help! Our Reader’s Depot has new book lists every month, so you’ll never run out of books to read. For even more recommendations, visit the Reader’s Depot display on the library’s main level.

city-of-girlsCity of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – Eighty-nine-year-old Vivian recounts her life after being kicked out of Vassar College, living in Manhattan with her Aunt Peg and the personal mistake that resulted in a professional scandal.

 

The Wedding Partywedding-party.jpg by Jasmine Guillory – After mistakenly spending a night together, Maddie and Theo uncomfortably share bridal party responsibilities for their best friend’s wedding, but despite the sharp barbs they toss at each other, a simmering attraction lingers that just won’t fade.

 

The Mistress of the Ritzmistress-of-the-ritz.jpg by Melanie Benjamin – The director of the luxurious Hotel Ritz in occupied Paris and his courageous American wife, Blanche Auzello, risk their marriage and lives to support the French Resistance during World War II.

 

Resistance Womenresistance-women.jpg by Jennifer Chiaverini – Resisting the power grabs of an increasingly formidable Nazi Party in 1930s Berlin, the courageous American wife of a German intellectual and her circle of women friends engage in a clandestine battle to sabotage Hitler’s regime.

 

The Farmthe-farm.jpg by Joanne Ramos – Ensconced within a Hudson Valley retreat where expectant birth mothers are given luxurious accommodations and lucrative rewards to produce perfect babies, a Filipino immigrant is forced to choose between a life-changing payment and the outside world.

 

The Last Time I Saw Youlast-time.jpg by Liv Constantine – In the aftermath of her mother’s murder, Dr. Kate English reaches out to her estranged best friend Blaire Barrington, a mystery author, who decides to investigate when Kate starts getting anonymous texts from the killer.

 

The Never Gamenever-game by Jeffery Deaver – Colter Shaw is an itinerate “reward-seeker,” traveling the country to help police solve crimes and private citizens locate missing persons. When he learns of a reward for a missing college student in Silicon Valley, he takes the job.

 

Queen Beequeen-bee.jpg by Dorothea Benton Frank – A woman wounded by her past comes to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina to find new meaning in life and to find herself.

 

Meet Me In Monacomeet-me.jpg by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb – Set in the 1950s against the backdrop of Grace Kelly’s whirlwind romance and unforgettable wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

 

night-before.jpgThe Night Before by Wendy Walker – A tale told through parallel accounts of the days before and after a fateful blind date follows a woman’s revelatory investigation into her sister’s disappearance and complicated nature.

 

The Paris Diversionparis.jpg by Chris Pavone – After a leisurely start to a normal day, American expat Kate Moore finds herself partnered with a French agent to investigate a bombing threat in Paris.

 

The Night Windownight-window.jpg by Dean Koontz – When people under Arcadian control begin showing signs of instability, Jane Hawk and her supporters confront the center of power in a showdown that will determine America’s future.

 

The Tenth Musetenth-muse.jpg by Catherine Chung – From childhood, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem to be. But in becoming a mathematician, she must face the most human of problems—who is she?

 

The Turn of the Keyturn-of-the-key.jpg by Ruth Ware – When a high-paying nanny job at a luxurious Scottish Highlands home ends with her imprisonment for a child’s murder, a young woman struggles to explain to her lawyer the unravelling events that led to her incarceration.

 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creekbook-woman.jpg by Kim Michele Richardson – A last-of-her-kind outcast and member of the Pack Horse Library Project braves the hardships of Kentucky’s Great Depression and hostile community discrimination to bring the near-magical perspectives of books to her neighbors.

 

Under Currentsunder-currents.jpg by Nora Roberts – Returning to his hometown of Lakeview where his father’s abuse made his childhood a nightmare, Zane Bigelow begins a relationship with Darby McCray, a landscape designer, but his dark past comes back to haunt Zane and threatens their happiness.

 

big-kahuna.jpgThe Big Kahuna by Janet and Peter Evanovich – When unlikely partners FBI agent Kate O’Hare and con man Nicholas Fox investigate a missing Silicon Valley billionaire known as the Big Kahuna, they go undercover as a married couple in Paia, Maui, to find the man’s son.

 

Anna of Kleveanna.jpg by Alison Weir – Chosen as his fourth wife by England’s infamous Henry VIII, Anna of Kleve, a princess from a small German duchy, hides a desperate secret in a hostile foreign court.

 

The Daughter’s Taledaughter.jpg by Armando Lucas Correa – A tale of love and redemption based on the 1944 Oradour-Sur-Glane massacre follows an octogenarian’s receipt of a cache of letters, written by her mother during World War II, that uncover decades of secrets.