Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Benefits of Crocheting, Knitting, and other Crafts

Franklin County Library has started a crochet class.  We met last week for the first time and our group is starting to learn the basics of the chain stitch, single crochet, and double crochet. 

Several articles have been written recently about the benefits of crochet and any handicraft.  Crafts are stress relieving, self-esteem building, and anxiety reducing.  Crafting has been shown to help postpone or reduce dementia.  The repetitive nature of knitting and crocheting can help combat insomnia and irritability.* 

I (Julie) find that when I am working on a crochet project, my mind has to focus solely on the project so all the whirling thoughts about current events, day-to-day stresses, etc, get pushed right out of my head.  Our current always online environment bombards me with information constantly and sometimes it's nice to just escape, at least in my own mind.  Crocheting and other crafts can help do that. 

On the other hand, if you are someone who wants to connect with other people who love your craft, the online world gives countless opportunities to do so.  Below are three different links to crochet communities, ideas, and patterns. 


Our crochet class is meeting on Thursdays at 10:00 for the next few weeks.  We have a couple more spots available so if you'd like to attend, give us a call at 903-537-4916. 


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tom's Two Cents : Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

“Angle of Repose” is Wallace Stegner’s final novel and his most ambitious fictional work.  It is the story of an artistic and cultivated woman, Susan Burling Ward, who gives up her budding career as a literary illustrator in the East to become the wife of a young mining engineer, moving into the American West of the 1880’s. Published and honored in 1972 with the Pulitzer Prize, it seems even more relevant today in its depiction of a gifted young woman, wife and mother, who struggles against the prevailing notion of her time to allow her dreams to be secondary to those of her husband’s, to follow, not lead, in their relationship. To complicate this relationship even further, she becomes the love/adoration object of a younger would-be suitor, who is her husband Oliver’s chief assistant. The story takes place over Susan Ward’s entire mature lifetime, but it concentrates heavily on the earlier years of her marriage, told mostly in letters to her Eastern lifelong friend, Augusta.

Actually, this is a story within a story. The narrator, Lyman Ward, ex-professor of history, now retired to the family home in Southern California with a permanent leg injury, is Susan’s grandson, reconstructing her story through her letters, art work, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia of her era. Lyman is a sharp-tongued, tough old guy, who stands in stark contrast to his lovely, artistic grandmother and the artsy, literary friends she has left behind in the East. He is also evidently much more like his taciturn father and non-expressive grandfather, Oliver Ward—an engineering genius ahead of his time, though obviously rarely in tune with his highly expressive wife. This was clearly a marriage and attraction of opposites, and therein lies much of the conflict and tension within the story, though it is slow to build.

I would say this is one of the problematic areas of this novel: it takes us from place to place to place, all beautifully and authentically rendered, but redundant in story telling: Oliver gets a promising job in the West, Susan reluctantly follows him, hopeful and ambitious for them, but something inevitably goes wrong, so they must start all over again in a new location, foretelling again the same essential story, ultimately for about seven or eight times. The only real blip in all this is Susan’s admirer and would-be suitor, Frank, though there is a time, earlier in the story, when the reader could posit a romance of sorts between herself and her best friend, Augusta. We have approximately five hundred pages of this before the story takes off like an out-of-control locomotive engine that crashes to a tragic denouement. I could write an entire article on the last chapter, which, in my opinion, is a mess, but I won’t.

This is an important and worthwhile book by a fine writer, and should you choose to read it, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Chance's Corner: My Summer with Bergman

I don't have the time or the money to go on a real vacation (thanks student loans!), but I was able to squeeze in a cinematic vacation. A cinematic vacation? Yes, I took a vacation by watching some films, particularity films that exuded a summer vibe. Two of those films were directed by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, who is best known for The Seventh Seal, the film where the Grim Reaper plays chess, and Persona, a haunting examination of converging identities. However, for my cinematic vacation, I picked two films from earlier in his career, Summer with Monika and Summer Interlude. Here's how those two "trips" to the Stockholm archipelago went:


Summer with Monika

I'm not sure why I expected a sunny coming of age film from Bergman. His films are usually cold, dark and weighty, and while young love does seem to blossom between teenagers Harry and Monika (Lars Ekborg and Harriet Andersson), things do take an icy turn. Honestly, it took me awhile to get interested in this film. I was about halfway into the second act when it finally clicked with me. I could sense something was happening - something that wasn't just about young love. It's disintegration, and I'm a sucker for disintegration à la Bergman. Love is peeled away to resemble something akin to only lust, and Monika is slowly revealed to be an absolute devil (and that's putting it nicely). Okay, maybe I'm being too harsh on her because I've rushed into feelings before, which ended in emotional turmoil, but I haven't screwed up this bad. Anyways, her future is not made clear, and neither is Harry's, but what is made clear is that they'll be carrying the emotional scars for a very long time.

Summer Interlude

Through a series of flashbacks, Summer Interlude takes us back to the Stockholm archipelago, where we're treated to the blossoming love between a different set of teenagers, Henrik (Birger Malmsten) AKA the Swedish Jack Palance and the ballerina Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson). They spend every waking second together swimming, canoeing, eating wild strawberries, and kissing in front of Henrik's faithful dog Gruffman. Ah, young love - an almost unstoppable force. Almost. Bergman may be paying for the trip, but Henrik and Marie will end up paying the ultimate price. Why? That's life, apparently.

Summer Interlude is widely considered to be a turning point in Bergman's career - a point that hints at the themes of his later masterworks, which include isolation and the power of the past and memory. It's also considerably one of his warmer films, well... warm to a point. As the summer ends, the world grows cold, as does Marie, and Bergman's themes hit with full force in the third act. I can't help but feel that the third act carries on too long, though, especially when the clown/magician full of put-downs comes into play. Yes, there's a clown, and he's really a jerk! Despite the clown, Marie is able to come to terms with life and the past, and manages to find a bittersweet ending.

And that was my summer with Bergman! It was kind of a miserable experience, but when Bergman makes you miserable, it's good?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Julie's Journal : Epic Road Trip!

This year, my husband and I wanted to take some time and see the Rocky Mountains.  I had never been much further west than Fort Worth and neither of us had been very far north.  So after he was finished with Summer School and when Summer Reading was winding down at the library, we took off in his truck to see the sights.  Over the next 12 days we went to 10 states and 5 national parks and traveled 4,456 miles!

We saw mountains and rivers and wildlife, along with buttes and farmland and waterfalls.  We went through canyons and drove above the tree line.  We mostly avoided the cities and tried to avoid crowds, although that proved impossible at Yellowstone!

Grand Teton National Park

We were able to hand feed Chipmunks and Ground Squirrels at St. Elmo, CO.

We saw hot springs and Old Faithful at Yellowstone.  Old Faithful was extremely crowded, so my pictures aren't very good.

We saw moose, elk, beaver, geese, otter, black bears, bison, mule deer, and lots of other wildlife.  We were on a quest to find a grizzly bear, but we weren't successful.

After Yellowstone, we cut across Montana and the Dakotas and stopped at Mt. Rushmore.  We weren't sure how much would be there, but if you ever get a chance to go, we recommend it.  There is a viewing platform and a museum that is very well done.  The day we visited Mt. Rushmore was the only day that it rained on us, or we might have done the walking trail as well.

From there, we headed south towards home.  Our last tourist stop was at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Oklahoma.  I've followed The Pioneer Woman's blog for years, so it was a fun stop for me.  

We were exhausted when we got home, but the trip went by in a hurry.  It's hard to believe that after all the time we spent planning, it's already over.  We added to our memories and expanded our horizons, though, which is what travel is all about!

Our route - marked out by my mother as we traveled.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tom's Two Cents : Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Wallace Stegner is not a familiar name in 20th century literary annals, though he probably should be. He is part of that second-tier group of mid-century writers that included William Styron, John Updike, and others, who were highly respected for their craft, but who did not make it into the top literary critical echelon.  Were they good?  You bet—maybe at times better than the critical darlings like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner.  Stegner was a mid-westerner, who ultimately settled in California, where he taught creative writing for a good many years, producing writer/students like our own Larry McMurtry.  His last two novels, this one, and his last, Angle of Repose, which won the Pulitzer, are considered his best, although there is a respectable body of work before that.

Crossing to Safety touched a particular chord in me.  The principal characters are two couples, Sid and Charity and Larry and Sally, couples who meet in the 30’s, both men striving for position and tenure in a small New England college, where they form an enduring friendship.  This academic scene took me immediately back to my first four years of teaching English at Southern Methodist, fraught with all the same positives and negatives, especially those of a would-be creative writer, striving for recognition in a field, English, that normally came from publishing critical essays, not poems or stories or novels.  Larry, who tells this story, becomes a successful novelist, as he watches his conflicted colleague, Sid, a “wannabe” poet, being pushed into Traditional Academia by his ambitious wife, Charity, the central focus of this novel, even though her female foil, Sally, seems to have a much more momentous problem in her lifelong struggle with polio.

Charity, who seems to have few problems, is the focus of this novel, and we all know her type, indeed we may be her type, live with her type, or struggle with friends of her type.  She is the Classic Control Freak, who must, simply MUST, manage everyone’s life to the nth degree.  To compound the frustration of dealing with her, she is also smart, loving and generous to a fault. Stegner beautifully traces the relationship of these four to its final conclusion.  Though this book is short on plot and long on the subtlety of its character relationships, it is beautifully written in the kind of prose one seldom finds anymore and substantive in its praise of enduring friendship, the thing, as Robert Frost is quoted from, that “I have crossed to safety with” and “what I would not part with” that “I have kept.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Julie's Journal: Small, Happy Things

Occassionally, I go through spells of being down in the dumps for no particular reason.  When that happens, I find it helpful to look at the positives in my life.  My mother would call it counting my blessings!  In that spirit, the following are a few very small things that have been making me happy recently:

1.  Adult Coloring - The coloring fad of a couple of years ago was right up my alley.  I love the peacefulness of coloring and the ability to be creative without having to have drawing skills.  I have discovered that there are all kinds of techniques to coloring and numerous ways to become better at it.

2.  Coloring Cart - In keeping with my coloring hobby, I recently bought a cart to organize all my supplies.  I love seeing everything all neat and organized and accessible!  Plus it's much easier to clean up my mess now!

 3.  Blueberries - Several years ago, as in 8+, I planted two blueberry bushes at my house.  Blueberries are my favorite fruit and I knew they could be grown around here since my parents had a couple of bushes when I was a child that produced more berries than we could eat.  However, I'm not the gardener my father is and my bushes have taken a long time to develop.  But finally, this year, my bushes have produced more than just a few berries.  I'm picking blueberries every evening and have enough to put some in the freezer for future muffins and pies. 

4.  Planning a vacation - My husband and I don't always take a vacation during the summer, but this year we are planning a pretty big trip.  We are planning to go west into New Mexico then north through Colorado and Wyoming.  We're going to stop at Yellowstone and then cut across Montana to the Dakotas and visit Mt. Rushmore.  We really enjoy scenic drives, and plan to see as many sights as we can along the way.  So far, the planning has been almost as much fun as actually taking the trip.  Do you have any suggestions for any "can't miss" attractions on our route?

5.  Back-list books - Summer seems to be a good time to catch up on series that I may have missed when they first came out.  This year I have dived into J.D. Robb's In Death Series.  I am on the 7th one now, Holiday in Death, and I have about 40 more to go, so they should keep me busy for awhile!

6.  Rediscovering Crochet - I used to enjoy handcrafts - particularly cross-stitch and crochet - but hadn't done a new project in a long time.  My mother gave me an afghan kit for my birthday this year and I have really enjoyed working on it.  It is worked in strips and I have finished 2 of the 9 strips.  It will be a pretty plaid pattern when it is finished!

 What small things make you happy? 

Full Disclosure:  The idea for this post came from Modern Mrs. Darcy - a bookish blog by Anne Bogel.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Chance's Corner: Hereditary Review

There was a lot of animosity radiating from my theater as Hereditary faded to black, most of it was verbalized through groaning and other grumblings. The staff quickly bumped up the lights (we didn't even get to see the credits), and as I collected my trash, I turned to the people behind me and kind of rolled my eyes. They rolled their eyes, too, and one of them said, "well, that was stupid and predictable." That's certainly the simple way of putting it, but... they're not wrong. I'd also add "dull" to that critique.

Marketing suggests that Hereditary is this generations The Exorcist - the scariest movie of the year! However, the majority of Hereditary is just straight-up draaaawn out drama, with unfocused meditations on loss and (postpartum) depression. The bits of horror that are sprinkled throughout the first two acts are just staples of the genre - birds flying into windows, supposed specters lurking in the shadows, etc. There's a few "unsettling" things in the lingering pauses, but nothing significant. The only genuine surprise it had up its sleeve, which involved a telephone pole, was met more with giggles than terror. It was so ridiculous, just about as ridiculous as actor Alex Wolff's attempts at sobbing.

Now, the third act does up the ante as it transitions into a full-fledged horror film, but yet again, most of it was met with giggles - except when a particular man smiles, which is pretty ironic. That was the only instant in which I truly felt unnerved - an instant. The rest of it just didn't come off the way writer/director Ari Aster obviously intended, and it ends up feeling like a knock off of Paranormal Activity 3 and Rosemary's Baby once you really think about it.

Toni giving her monologue
Toni Collette is just about the only saving grace of this film. That woman can act! Her yelling monologue at the dinner table is a true standout moment. Unfortunately, her touted Oscar chances were made null and void by the horrific (not in the good way) third act where her character merely becomes an oogie-boogie device - in other words, a creature not a character. I also enjoyed the overall aesthetic of the film, especially the way certain scenes felt like they were unfolding in one of the central character's dioramas. That's about the only nice things I have to say about Hereditary.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Bookish Scavenger Hunt

I copied this idea from Bookish.  Three library employees, Chance, Kass, and me (Julie), found books in the library to meet 15 different criteria.  If you need something to finish up a book challenge, maybe one of our titles will help you!

1.  A book with an orange cover:

2.  A book featuring felines:

3.  A book with the word "sun" in its title:

4.  A book that scares you:

5.  A book written by a woman of color:

6.  A book about a Superhero:

7.  A book with a blue cover:

8.  A dramatic book:

9.  A book that has won the Pulitzer prize:

10.  A book about a secret:

11.  A book with a tree on the cover:

12.  A book whose title contains the letter "Q":

13.  A book written by a celebrity:

14.  A book with a color in the title:

15.  A book whose title starts with the letter "J":

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Julie's Journal : Full Circle

I was doing some cleaning out at my house last week.  I opened up a folder and found something that I knew existed, but hadn't see in years.  It is a clipping from the Mt. Vernon Optic Herald from the July 31, 1986 issue.  Long before I ever dreamed of becoming a librarian or working at Franklin County Library, I was a top reader at our summer reading program. 

It is incredibly meaningful to me to have such a  long history with the library.  I don't just work here, I grew up here.  I spent my summers here.  I remember coming in every week during the summer with my parents and checking out as many books as I could carry.  I'd have them all read by the time we came back the next week.  I used the library regularly until I moved away after high school.  

When I moved back to Mt. Vernon in 2008, I came by the library and asked Mrs. Sue if she knew of anybody in town that was hiring.  As it happened, one of the library clerks had given her notice that very day.  By the next week, I was behind the desk.  In October, I will have worked here 10 years, and I have no plans of stopping.  Franklin County Library is still one of my favorite places in Mt. Vernon!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Julie's Journal : Podcasts

My husband finds it unbelievable that I do not usually listen to music in the car.  He loves music and can't imagine being without it, but I find that in our always connected world, those fifteen minutes each morning and evening are some of my only quiet time.  However, I have recently discovered podcasts.  I know that podcasts have been around for awhile, but I have just now really gotten into them.  I have occasionally been listening to an episode during my drive.  A podcast is similar to a radio talk show, but normally on a specific topic and available to download or stream so that it can be listened to at any time.  I've listed a few of the podcasts I've been enjoying below.  If you are aware of any interesting ones that I need to know about, please let me know.

The first podcast I discovered was, fittingly, "What Should I Read Next?"  Anne Bogel talks to bookish people about their lives and interests and then asks them to list three books they liked and one they did not.  After discussing the books and what the guest liked or didn't about them, Anne recommends at least three books that she thinks they will enjoy.  I have found several helpful suggestions in Anne's recommendations, both for myself personally and for additions to the library's collection.  Plus, I just really enjoy listening to people talk about books and all the things that they love about them.

Beautiful/Anonymous is an interesting podcast.  Chris Gethard takes one anonymous phone call and is willing to talk about whatever the caller wants to discuss.  The first one I listened to was quite intense.  In the episode entitled "The Whirlpool Galaxy"  an astrophysics researcher talks about the science of the universe and galaxies and then segue's into a discussion of a great tragedy in her life.  She illustrates quite baldly how cruel people can be to others, even in the midst of great pain.  Be aware that depending on who calls in, the language in the podcasts can be pretty rough.  I have skipped around some in order to find episodes without as much language.

Stuff You Missed in History Class is just what it sounds like.  Yesterday at lunch, I listened to the story of Cassie Chadwick (born Elizabeth Bigley).  Chadwick was a con-woman and made a fortune trading on a lie.  She claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie.  She forged a promissory note from Carnegie and then borrowed millions of dollars from several banks on his name.  Her scheme was particularly brilliant because of the social customs of the time. No one wanted to ask Carnegie if the story was true, so they took her at her word.  Eventually, of course, her lies were exposed and Cassie/Elizabeth died in prison.  The episodes include stories of individuals lost to history, unknown stories about famous individuals, and interesting events from history.

The Moth Radio Hour is a replay of stories told at live Moth events.  From The Moth's website:  "The Moth's mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of the human experience."  StoryCorps records interviews between friends and family members.  People get to tell their stories and ask questions of their loved ones that they have always wanted to ask.

Podcasts are available on just about every possible topic imaginable.  You can listen to sermons from your favorite preacher, laugh with your favorite comedian, and learn from great teachers on any subject that interests you.  Let me know what your favorites are!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Chance's Corner: Ready Player One Review

Full disclosure, I never finished Ernest Cline’s science fiction/fantasy novel Ready Player One, where a dying tech-guru, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), coordinates a Willy Wonka-esque gaming competition to see who will inherent his trillion dollar empire. I didn’t even make it to the second trial. Either I wasn’t in the mood to read it, or it was just a terrible book. Perhaps it was the medium, seeing as it’s not really all that enthralling to read about avatars Parzival and Art3mis re-enacting every scene from 1983’s WarGames in an attempt to win Halliday’s Easter Egg Hunt. But to actually see it on the screen, not WarGames, but a living, breathing virtual world (aptly-named The Oasis), now that’s truly something - especially when it's under the direction of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg really knows how to craft a blockbuster, Jaws is considered the original summer blockbuster, after all, and Ready Player One marks his return to that market after directing a string of modest successes. And all I have to say is… wow, welcome back (not that he ever really left).

I know this is going to sound like sacrilege, but Spielberg’s Ready Player One is one of those rare films that actually improves on its source material. It scraps the original three trials and creates its own thrilling set pieces, which includes a high-stakes race where iconic cars (The DeLorean! Bigfoot! The Batmobile! Mach 5!) have to outrun King Kong and the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, a game of survival that takes place inside an awe-inspiring recreation of an iconic horror film, and a climactic battle that involves nearly every pop culture character imaginable. Honestly, the numerous crossovers and references left me awestruck. It was like I was a kid again! Throughout the film, I was beaming from ear to ear, I was covered in goosebumps, and I actually shed some happy tears. I’m as sentimental as Spielberg, okay?

In all seriousness, Spielberg’s knack for injecting childlike whimsy and sentimentality into his films is Ready Player One’s greatest attribute… as well as its weakness. My main problem is that I smelled the phony all over the ending, particularly when the central villain, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), smiled and was cleanly dispatched. Uh… okay? The tone never felt quite right after that, but it was the ending, so it didn’t last too long. Speaking of which, I was initially skeptical about the runtime of the film, 2 hours and 20 minutes, but those hours and minutes seemed to just fly right on by, seeing as Spielberg keeps Ready Player One pumping with action.

Unlike the novel, Ready Player One doesn’t tarry too long in the real world or in the quiet moments. Once we’re transported to the beautifully rendered world of The Oasis, we’re lost in it, which does limit certain character and plot developments. Like who are High Five? Well, I know who they are, but who are they? And supposedly there’s some great Rosebud in Halliday’s life, as it’s mentioned several times, but when the Rosebud is finally revealed, I wasn’t buying it. That part ties into the phony, and decidedly rushed, ending. Despite all that, Ready Player One still manages to be an overall fun and thrilling film that’s bursting with pure imagination.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Chance's Corner: Three Billboards + Lady Bird + The Shape of Water Reviews

As most of the Oscar winning and nominated films have filtered into the library this month, I've been checking them out to see what all the hubbub was about. Here I have selected three of the top contenders for Best Picture, which The Shape of Water ultimately won, and reviewed them. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is one of the most vile and morally bankrupt films I have ever seen. It tries to tackle every current hot-button issue, which is certainly why most of the awards shows loved it, but it does it in the worst way possible. It mostly operates in blunt absurdism, working with one of the worst scripts committed to screen that doesn’t reflect real human speech, thought or action. A lot of the script is just projected, rather than acted, e.g. the entirety of the “I hope I get [redacted] on the way!” scene. Sorry for the "[redacted]", but this film is full of foulness. Anyways, that scene doesn’t particularly make a great case for Mildred missing her daughter so much. I’m sure a quiet moment between them later would have better reflected their relationship, but it is never presented. A redemption arc is presented for Sam Rockwell’s abhorrently violent and racist deputy, though, and I’m sorry, but he is irredeemable. I’m kind of shocked he got an award for this? I mean, isn’t he the personification of what Hollywood is supposedly fighting against? I’m not saying they shouldn’t reward great acting, even if it’s against their message, but these actors were merely playing wild caricatures instead of characters in a film that has a highly disturbing ending message.

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig makes a stunning debut as a director, breathing life and vivacity into the modern (well, it's actually 2002) coming of age tale. It's an awkward tale, but in an endearing way. Stylistically, Gerwig presents Lady Bird's (Saoirse Ronan) last two semesters of catholic school through fragments, some funny, some heart-wrenching, but altogether wonderful. It feels incredibly true to life and like a daydream of memories. All around, Lady Bird is well-acted, but Laurie Metcalf is the real knockout here as Lady Bird's mother. She taps into every mother's hopes, fears and dreams for their children... and for themselves. I just can't stress how fantastic she is in this. Okay, I can - she should have won Best Supporting Actress.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water suffers from the same malady surrounding most of director/writer Guillermo del Toro's work - it's hollow and full of contrivances. The key problem is that Elisa's (Sally Hawkins) relationship with Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) is no tale as old as time. For the most part, it feels more like Elisa is feeding and taking in a stray animal, rather than courting a beau. That makes things really awkward when she suddenly strips and presents herself to Amphibian Man. Did he have any concept of what she was doing? It makes for an awkward watch, and while the ending is meant to be beautiful and touching, especially with that revelation seen a thousand miles away, I only felt indifference. I think their relationship would have been more endearing if it hadn't have turned so carnal.

Outside of the central relationship, the story pays no respect to logic or its supporting characters. Logic dictates that you can't flood your bathroom up to the ceiling by just putting a towel at the base of your door, but that's what happens here. And there's no warped boards or black mold afterwards! Such luck! As for the supporting characters, Elisa's friends are a diverse duo, one a person of color (Octavia Spencer) and the other a gay man (Richard Jenkins), but don't let that fool you into thinking this is progressive. Jenkins' character ends up with nothing - absolutely nothing. It's like he's only being punished for the sake of plot. I'm not going to help Elisa! *all hope is stripped away in one day* Okay, I'm going to help Elisa! Was del Toro feeling some Catholic guilt? It certainly feels that way.

I know I’m beating The Shape of Water up pretty badly here, but it does have its positive attributes. The gothic production design is phenomenal, it is a del Toro film, after all, but the film really shines through its performances. While Sally Hawkins is mostly silent (until she breaks out into a random song and dance number) due to Elisa being a mute, she's very expressive and a funny-looking beauty. Octavia Spencer is as sharp and sassy as ever. Richard Jenkins is good, but he deserved better. The real star, however, is Michael Shannon. I had to rewatch the mini-monologue he had in the bathroom because it awed me. The guy's got chutzpah... and dirty hands. Shannon really seems like a man that could snap at any moment.

In the end, I guess I can see why The Shape of Water won Best Picture, seeing as it's much more subdued and nuanced than the very angry Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but out of all the contenders I've seen, Lady Bird has soared the most.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Julie's Journal : What I've Been Reading

The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls is a good read if you're in the mood for something spooky.  I first discovered Simone St. James last year and read her book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare on Overdrive, our e-book service.

The Broken Girls revolves around Idlewild Hall, a school for troubled young women in Vermont, which is now in ruins.  In 1950 four roommates, Katie, Ce-Ce, Roberta, and Sonia, have found a kind of family in one another.  One weekend, Sonia leaves to visit some distant relatives and never returns.  The other three girls are convinced that she has been murdered, but cannot get any authorities to listen.

In 2014, Fiona is a journalist.  Her sister Deb was found murdered on the old sports grounds of Idlewild Hall twenty years before.  While Deb's boyfriend was tried and convicted of her murder, Fiona feels like there's more to the story.  When the hall is purchased and the new owner begins remodeling it, Fiona begins researching the old school in earnest.

Overarching both stories is a third and much older murder.  Mary Hand was killed when her parents shut her out of the house on a frigid night and she froze to death.  Mary never left her old home, though, and everyone who lived at Idlewild Hall or visits there now, will have an encounter with her.

I enjoyed this book.  Ms. St. James is very good at creating a foreboding, spooky atmosphere.  I like the two different time periods and the different points of view the story is told from.  I am going to try and find more of her books to read.

The Broken Girls is available to check out at FCL.

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

I have read some of Kristin Hannah's earlier books and enjoyed them.  I particularly remember The Nightingale and Winter Garden.

The Great Alone generated a lot of buzz when it was published in February.  Set in remote Alaska, it follows the Allbright family.  Father Ernt, mother Cora, and 13 year old Leni, are unprepared for the realities of an Alaskan winter when they arrive to live on land inherited from one of Ernt's Vietnam War buddies.  Their new neighbors rally around them to help them prepare to survive their first harsh winter.  However, their biggest problem isn't the Alaska cold, it is the darkness in Ernt's mind.  As the days get shorter and the weather worsens, Ernt turns more and more to drink to drown out his demons.  Unfortunately, drink makes Ernt mean, and he takes out his anger on Cora.  His new friendship with survivalist, Mad Earl, doesn't help.  Cora wants to believe in Ernt even as he gets meaner and meaner, which leaves Leni trying to survive not only the Alaskan winter, but the danger in her own home as well.

I thought The Great Alone was very well written.  I'm fascinated by stories about Alaska as visiting it is on my bucket list!  I enjoy remote places, but I think I would find the winter darkness very difficult.

The Great Alone is available to check out at FCL and on Overdrive.

Warcross, by Marie Lu

Warcross is a youth book and the first book in a new series by Marie Lu.  Lu is the author of the popular Legend series, which is very popular at FCL, but which I have never read.

Emika Chen is struggling to survive after the death of her father.  She takes small jobs, and works as a hacker/bounty hunter.  In this near-future world, the virtual reality game Warcross is an obsession with most people and Emika hunts for people who illegally bet on the game.  With rent due and no money in site, Emika takes a risk, and ends up accidentally hacking herself into the Warcross championships.  Terrified that she's going to be arrested, Emika is stunned when the creator of Warcross instead invites her to be his guest at his headquarters in Tokyo.  He offers to hire her as a spy within the game to find a security breach.  Emika quickly begins to thrive in the world of the game, but she also finds danger in her search for the person behind the security problems.  Emika learns that not all is as it seems at Warcross and that powerful people often have hidden motives.

I really enjoyed this book.  I thought the world building was wonderful.  The story deals well with questions of technology and its uses.  It shows the dangers of becoming totally dependent on technology and questions the motives of those who advocate for more and more technology in our lives.  I'm interested in where the series will go next.

Warcross is available for checkout at FCL and on Overdrive.

The Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

I remember hearing all the buzz about The Orphan Train when it was first released in 2012, but for whatever reason, I didn't get to it until recently.

Another story that encompasses two different women in two different times, The Orphan Train follows Molly and Vivian.  Molly is 17 and living in foster care.  After stealing a book from her school library, she is left with two choices - community service or juvenile detention.  She ends up working for Vivian, an elderly woman whose goal is supposedly to clean out her attic.  Molly finds though, that Vivian doesn't really want to get rid of anything, just to look through her things and reminisce.  Vivian was one of thousands of children who road an orphan train from New York City to the Mid-west looking for a new home and identity.  Molly and Vivian find that they have much in common - both consider themselves orphans although in truth each had one parent living who was not able to care for them.  Molly begins to try and help Vivian solve some of them mysteries of her past and Vivian helps Molly find a true home for the first time in her life.

I was more interested in Vivian's story than Molly's.  I have read about the orphan trains before, but this book was a less romanticized version.  It brought to life the difficulties the children faced, the uncertainty of being adopted - especially for older children, and the life long struggle with a feeling of not belonging.  I enjoyed the book and have checked out Ms. Kline's more recent book, A Piece of the World, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

The Orphan Train is available for checkout at FCL and on Overdrive.

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Another book that I missed when it was first published is Wonder.  It was made into a movie last year, and I finally read it after my mother recommended it to me.

Auggie was born with severe facial deformities.  He is entering public school for the first time as a fifth grader, and is frightened of the reception he will get from his classmates.  As his first few weeks pass, he finds that many of the kids avoid him and in fact are playing a game in which touching him is taboo.  He does make a few true friends, though.  The book switches viewpoints often, letting us see Auggie's life through the eyes of his classmates, his sister, and others.  I particularly enjoyed his sister's point of view.  She was struggling to navigate high school and wanted to be seen as normal, not as the girl with the brother with the messed up face.  She also struggled with the dynamics of her family where everything, by necessity, has revolved around Auggie for his whole life.  

This was an interesting book.  It wasn't just a typical book about bullying.  It let us see the struggles and reasons behind the choices that the people around Auggie made.  I thought the author did a wonderful job of capturing the voices of the different characters.  The fifth graders sounded like fifth graders, and the adults and teenagers sounded accurate as well.

Wonder is available for checkout at FCL and on Overdrive.