Monday, January 25, 2016

The Children's Home

This month I read The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert, which fell in the so-so category. I added this selection to my 2016 reading list thanks to its intriguing synopsis and cool cover. “Don't judge a book by its cover,” the saying goes, well, maybe I should’ve listened.

From the publisher: "In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up…but the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind."

The book was a little odd and creepy, which are both good in my book. One big issue I had with the story though was that the reader was given no sense of time or place for the tale. The where and when were as much a mystery when I ended as when I started. Overall, it had a slow start, good middle, but the ending of the book went right over my head and I was totally lost. I can (and do) enjoy books strictly for their fun or entertainment value; in fact most of the novels I read fall in that category, but when reading an allegorical novel, I feel like it’s a given that there should be a message to be taken beyond the last page. What that message was in this case, is beyond me. The fault here could totally lie with the reader, so despite the less than glowing review, you know the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, so give it a shot.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Libraries, Love 'em!

As you all know I love to read. I love books period, but equally loved and revered in my heart is my good ol’ public library, which actually isn’t old, it’s pretty new and quite hip (photo above is from my library's upstairs alcove). It has a lovely little fireplace with some comfy chairs placed nearby for some cozy cold-weather reading. Of course these are prime real estate, so they are never, ever, ever available when I stop by for a visit. It also has a little cafĂ© downstairs, which on occasion has had surprisingly good banana bread, but I digress.

Libraries in general are undervalued and underrated, so I thought I’d throw them some much needed and well-deserved love. So, here’s a little reminder as to the wonders they have to offer, and a little virtual poke and a nudge in hopes you’ll go and rediscover your local library.

Beyond the obvious access to books, libraries offer a wealth of information and other resources. Whether you’re looking for reference materials, magazines, DVDs, audio books or even e-books. Yes, you can borrow e-books for free, you don’t need to make Amazon or B&N richer. Don’t forget about the librarian and/or all the other wonderful staff always ready, willing and able to help answer your questions. English author Neil Gaiman said “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” Ain’t that the truth! (Pardon my grammar).

Libraries also build community through the countless programs and classes they offer; bringing local citizens together that might otherwise have nothing in common. My library for example has a mahjong group (don’t know what mahjong is but I’m glad there’s a group just for them), yoga classes, and computer classes. Just as importantly, they have free concerts on weekends that help make art and music accessible to individuals that might not otherwise be exposed to these moments of beauty that help feed not just the mind, but the soul.

Lastly, libraries are the great equalizer. They serve everyone in the community, regardless of age, income level, ethnicity, or religion. They offer everyone free access to books and computers. Thanks to libraries, knowledge is but a fingertip away from everyone’s hands.

So, love your public library and show it. Start with a visit.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Must-See Films of 2016

I’ve become much more persnickety of late in choosing my must-see movies. Whether due to the too high price of a movie ticket, my middle-aged cynicism and lack of patience with the same old regurgitated stories, or the fact that thanks to On Demand I can wait out the big movie companies like a pro, the number of “must-see” films (by which I mean I have to watch them as soon as they’re released) is miniscule compared to the days of yore when I was at my local movie theater every weekend.

Nowadays, it takes some true originality, great acting, and quality filmmaking to get me into a movie theater seat. A bit of nostalgia sometimes helps too. In 2015, the extent of my in-theater screenings was The Martian and Creed. Both of which I loved for widely different reasons. It’s a proven fact that fewer Americans are going to the movies. Granted, the fact that home-entertainment options are improving all the time is undoubtedly having an impact, with Netflix, video games and mobile apps readily available to everyone with a smartphone, but I do believe the caliber of movies is also partially to blame. In a clip I saw online of a 1979 Merv Griffin interview with Francis Ford Coppola, Coppola explained that movies have to have “quality and integrity because they have such a tremendous influence on the world and on people.” I don’t think that belief is held by most filmmakers today.

So while 2016 will have its fair share of sequels, including Ride Along 2 (January 15), Kung Fu Panda 3 (January 29), Zoolander 2 (February 12), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (March 25), and The Purge 3 (July 1); there’ll be plenty of action blockbusters like Captain America: Civil War (May 6), X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27), Ghostbusters (July 15), and Suicide Squad (August 5); and even some animated hits like Finding Dory (June 17) or Ice Age: Collision Course (July 22) - the few films which I can’t wait to see had in fact previously captured my heart as books. The four films on my early must-see list for 2016 are as follows:

Me Before You (Release Date: March 4, 2016)
I read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes back in 2014. As I stated then in my book review post, Moyes’ beautiful tale of love offered a “complex story on what it really means to love someone selflessly and unconditionally.” As with the book, the film focuses on a small-town girl, played by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, who meets Will, played by Sam Caflin, a rich and successful young man who is struggling to come to terms with his handicap after an accident. While I’m usually the first to say that the movie is never as great as the book, I’m holding out hope that like the film version of The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You will manage to once again prove me wrong.

A Monster Calls (Release Date: October 14, 2016)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is actually a children’s book, which I read and loved, but for which I never wrote a review. Set in England, it focuses on Conor, a 13-year old boy who struggles to cope with the fact that his mother has terminal cancer (though it's never directly mentioned in the book) and he’s being bullied at school. Each night Conor is visited by a monster who tells stories intended to highlight certain truths to the young child.

While the full movie trailer hasn’t been released, I did find this very short teaser. The film will feature Liam Neeson as the monster, as well as the director of The Orphanage and, more importantly, one of the producers of Pan’s Labyrinth, so hopefully it will be as visually stunning as that unforgettable film. The book was emotionally gripping, let’s hope the movie is too. I’m sure I’ll need a hanky or two for this one.

The Light Between Oceans (Release Date: Unknown)
OMG, I absolutely loved this heartbreaking, hauntingly beautiful and bittersweet book. As I said in my book review post, “This book is this close to perfect. I guess the best way for me to describe it is to say it was as breathtakingly beautiful as the most delicate and perfect of roses, yet like a rose, it had quite a few thorns.”

The tale focuses on a lighthouse keeper, Tom Sherbourne, and his wife Isabel living off the coast of Western Australia, who keep a baby girl who washes up in a lifeboat. The movie will feature Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander as Tom and Isabel, and the talented Rachel Weisz as Hannah. If the early buzz from some online articles is to be believed then the film is "one of the most powerful and emotional dramas" due to be released this year. I better start stocking up on Kleenex.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Release Date: December 25, 2016)
I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy filled adventure tale. I read it and blogged about it back in 2011 and knew even then that it was headed to the big screen. In the story, 16-year old Jacob Portman uses clues from his grandfather to reach a mysterious island with an abandoned orphanage, where he helps and protects a group of peculiar children from horrible creatures who are out to destroy them. The movie will feature a star-filled cast, including Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Asa Butterfield as Jacob, Ella Purnell, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Terence Stamp, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson.

If you’re interested in a comprehensive list of all movies due for release in 2016, check out's 2016 Schedule.

Catch you at the movies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reading Ahead: 2016 Book Preview

A new year is upon us and with it comes the opportunity to find yourself, to think for yourself, to learn something new, and to grow a little bolder, braver and wiser. Believe it or not, you can find the roadmap to accomplishing many of those goals in the pages of a great book, because a great book can change your life.

While every book isn't life-altering, every book does offer it's own special magic to transport us to different worlds and, for a small space in time, to wash away the worries of everyday life. In search for just such a book to kick-start my 2016 into high gear, I perused countless online book previews and Amazon pages and came up with this list of upcoming releases. The list is reflective of my reading tastes which run towards mysteries, thrillers and literary fiction, but hopefully there's something here which captures your interest and imagination.


The Children's Home by Charles Lambert (January 5th)
In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up…read more.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (January 12th)
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life…read more.


Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf (February 2nd)
Sarah Quinlan's husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalized in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded…read more.

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton (February 16th)
Thrillingly suspenseful and atmospheric, The Quality of Silence is the story of Yasmin, a beautiful astrophysicist, and her precocious deaf daughter, Ruby, who arrive in a remote part of Alaska to be told that Ruby's father, Matt, has been the victim of a catastrophic accident. Unable to accept his death as truth, Yasmin and Ruby set out into the hostile winter of the Alaskan tundra in search of answers…read more.

She’s Not There by Joy Fielding (February 23rd)
“I think my real name is Samantha. I think I’m your daughter.” Caroline Shipley’s heart nearly stops when she hears those words from the voice on the other end of the phone. Instantly, she’s thrust fifteen years into the past, to a posh resort in Baja, Mexico—and the fateful night her world collapsed…read more.


Nowhere Girl by Susan Strecker (March 1st)
In an abandoned house, sixteen-year-old Savannah Martino is strangled to death. The police rule Savannah’s murder a random attack of opportunity, which prompts the small New Jersey town to instigate a curfew and cancel football games. Isolated and afraid, Savannah’s sister, Cady, continues to communicate with Savannah through dreams…read more.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz (March 1st)
In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it...

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time…read more.

Only Ever You by Rebecca Drake (March 22nd)
Three-year-old Sophia Lassiter disappears at the playground only to return after 40 frantic minutes-- but her mother Jill's relief is short lived. Jill is convinced the tiny dots on her daughter's arm are puncture marks. When doctors find no trace of drugs in her system, Jill accepts she won't ever know what happened during her daughter's absence and is simply grateful to have her home safely…read more.


The Obsession by Nora Roberts (April 12th)
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous. No matter how close she gets to happiness, she can’t outrun the sins of Thomas David Bowes…read more.

OCDaniel by Wesley King (April 12th)
Daniel is the back-up punter for the Erie Hills Elephants. Which really means he’s the water boy. He spends football practice perfectly arranging water cups—and hoping no one notices. Actually, he spends most of his time hoping no one notices his strange habits—he calls them Zaps: avoiding writing the number four, for example, or flipping a light switch on and off dozens of times over…read more.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (April 26th)
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand…read more.


Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica (May 17th)
In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she's the person Quinn thought she knew…read more.


With Malice by Eileen Cook (June 7th)
Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last 6 weeks should be. She comes to discover she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy three days previous but was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident...wasn't an accident…read more.

The Girls by Emma Cline (June 14th)
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader…read more.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda (June 28th)
It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched…read more.


You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (July 26th)
Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk…read more.

Don't forget...
“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax all you need is a book.”
Happy reading!

New Year, Fresh Start

Look what the New Year dragged in. It’s me! I hope 2015 was a good year for all of you and that you were blessed with a joyous holiday season shared with family, friends and loved ones to cap it all off.

In speaking of a new year someone once said, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” Following that analogy, I’m hopeful that even if my simple life doesn’t read like the next great American novel by year’s end, that I can at least squeeze out a really good novella from 2016.

As always, life is good, albeit simple. No great love affairs or new worlds conquered, but the great thing about each tomorrow is the hope it brings for bigger and better things. Just think, this same time next month I might be scaling Mount Everest with my new, recently divorced husband, George Clooney. Ok, probably not, I’m hopeful, not delusional.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to 2016, and hoping that it will be filled with good health, happiness, laughter, peace and love for you and me. God bless.