Wilde Lake

Finished Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The bestselling author of the acclaimed standalones After I’m Gone, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know, challenges our notions of memory, loyalty, responsibility, and justice in this evocative and psychologically complex story about a long-ago death that still haunts a family.

Luisa “Lu” Brant is the newly elected—and first female—state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland, a job in which her widower father famously served. Fiercely intelligent and ambitious, she sees an opportunity to make her name by trying a mentally disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death in her home. It’s not the kind of case that makes headlines, but peaceful Howard county doesn’t see many homicides.

As Lu prepares for the trial, the case dredges up painful memories, reminding her small but tight-knit family of the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Now, Lu wonders if the events of 1980 happened as she remembers them. What details might have been withheld from her when she was a child?

The more she learns about the case, the more questions arise. What does it mean to be a man or woman of one’s times? Why do we ask our heroes of the past to conform to the present’s standards? Is that fair? Is it right? Propelled into the past, she discovers that the legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. Lu realizes that even if she could learn the whole truth, she probably wouldn’t want to.”

I’ve been a fan of Laura Lippman’s for years now (I think about 13? But a while) and I have loved everything she’s ever written.  If you had pressed me before, my favorite would have been To the Power of Three or maybe What the Dead Know.

Now, my favorite is absolutely this one.  No contest.

It helps that there are some definite parallels to To Kill a Mockingbird but it’s also amazing just on its own merits.  It’s not something you need to have read to love Wilde Lake (though if you haven’t read TKaM, you need to get on that), though.

I don’t want to get into the plot because of potential spoilers, but there is so much going on with this novel.  Obviously you’ll get drawn into the dual mysteries (what happened with AJ when he was a teenager? And who killed the lady now? Is it the man that Lu is prosecuting? If not him, then who?) but there’s also so much going on with family and the ways that we deal with our relatives, the way that we resort to childhood roles and ways of dealing with things, even if we don’t want to and actively try not to.

This is an absolutely perfect book and, like I said, her best yet.  And if you’ve already read Laura Lippman, you know that’s saying a lot.

Highly recommended.

 

Ask Me How I Got Here

Finished Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Addie has always known what she was running toward. In cross-country, in life, in love. Until she and her boyfriend—her sensitive, good-guy boyfriend—are careless one night and she ends up pregnant. Addie makes the difficult choice to have an abortion. And after that—even though she knows it was the right decision for her—nothing is the same anymore. She doesn’t want anyone besides her parents and her boyfriend to know what happened; she doesn’t want to run cross-country; she can’t bring herself to be excited about anything. Until she reconnects with Juliana, a former teammate who’s going through her own dark places.

This book is really interesting and fairly dark.  I’m glad that it was a novel in verse, because I feel like that showed Addie’s growing depression in a different and more compelling way than straight prose necessarily could.  You can see Addie start to disengage from everything after her abortion (even though she knows that she absolutely did the right thing and that she was in no way ready to have a kid) and even so, it’s so clearly a hard thing for her to go through.

I also love the fact that this book doesn’t go any of the expected routes.  Addie’s parents are nothing but supportive and her boyfriend is, too.  He doesn’t act horribly toward her and he doesn’t ditch her or make her go through everything herself.  Addie’s lucky to have such a strong support system.  (And even so, things get really hard for her.)

I read Christine Heppermann’s earlier collection, and this is even better. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

Recommended.

Marvel Marathon, Day 2

The Backstory:  So I decided I wanted to see Captain America: Civil War 3.  The problem: I’ve only seen the first Avengers (I liked it, but didn’t remember it that well) and was worried that I would be lost as all hell seeing CA3.  The solution: A binge.  I consulted the internet, which said that I would be ok if I just saw Captain America, the first Avengers, the second Captain America and the second Avengers.  (I decided to add the first Iron Man, because Tony Stark.)

This is day two.

CAPTAIN AMERICA 2:

Okay, this is my new favorite of the Marvel superhero movies. It’s insanely good and there’s a lot of intrigue. I also really like Black Widow, who we got to know a little better this time around. I wish we had seen more of the other Avengers (especially Tony Stark and Bruce Banner) but sure. I’m getting really excited for CA3. 

AVENGERS 2:

I had been warned that this was not as good as the first Avengers and that’s an understatement. Even so, I really enjoyed it, primarily because I love Bruce Banner and Natasha/Black Widow. (Can we get origin movies for them soon, PLEASE?) I cannot wait for the next one and I do plan to watch the Thor and Ant-Man movies soon. 

Marvel Marathon, Day 1

The Backstory:  So I decided I wanted to see Captain America: Civil War 3.  The problem: I’ve only seen the first Avengers (I liked it, but didn’t remember it that well) and was worried that I would be lost as all hell seeing CA3.  The solution: A binge.  I consulted the internet, which said that I would be ok if I just saw Captain America, the first Avengers, the second Captain America and the second Avengers.  (I decided to add the first Iron Man, because Tony Stark and because it’s one of the AFI’s 10 best from 2008.)

This is day one.

CAPTAIN AMERICA:

I had been warned going in that this wasn’t very good and so my expectations were very low. Like Mamma Mia low. :) And I ended up really enjoying this (due in no small part to one Agent Carter). It’s really fun and while yeah, it’s no Batman, it’s pretty solid. 

IRON MAN:

This was so much better than Captain America. I think part of it is the fact that Tony Stark is a better, more interesting character…but most of it is the fact that Robert Downey Jr. is a great actor who also makes basically every movie he’s in much more fun. I like my superheroes smart and sarcastic AND good. 

AVENGERS:

I had seen this one before and it’s just ridiculously fun. I hope they do a Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo (I know the other two—with Eric Bana and Edward Norton—didn’t do well but I think one with him would. It’s great to see everyone together and I’m excited to watch two more movies tomorrow. 

One For the Murphys

Finished One For the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she’s learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she’s placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she’s blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It’s easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she’s there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determined to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighborhood bully and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she’s feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world.”

Oh, you guys, I love this book.  I’m going to try and do it justice, but since I’m pretty sure I’m just going to sound like a crazy person, just go read it.

It reminded me a lot of The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.  Both books deal with girls who want to be with their moms but who are instead put in foster homes.  And both are really, really tough girls who don’t take shit from anyone.

And both will break your heart.

I’ll admit it—I was a mess for the end of this book, especially the last chapter.  It’s really good but also really hard.  So be prepared.  But so, so worth it.

Highly recommended.

Inside Out

Why I Picked Inside Out: It’s one of the 10 best movies from 2015 and I am really not great on kid movies.

Seen before? No

Would I recommend? Yes

Okay, first, let me say how awesome it is to see (okay, HEAR) Phyllis Smith, who played Phyllis on The Office! She plays Sadness and her voice is so perfectly suited to that without it being kind of annoying (think Moaning Myrtle).  She’s sad but not whiny.

The cast of this is seriously amazing, btw.  It’s got Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Louis Black and they are all perfect in their respective roles.

I really enjoyed this movie and may be willing to rethink my stance on kid movies.  (I also really liked Zootopia.)

Shug

Finished Shug by Jenny Han.

Summary (from Goodreads):

SHUG

is clever and brave and true (on the inside, anyway). And she’s about to become your new best friend.

Annemarie Wilcox, or Shug as her family calls her, is beginning to think there’s nothing worse than being twelve. She’s too tall, too freckled, and way too flat-chested. Shug is sure that there’s not one good or amazing thing about her. And now she has to start junior high, where the friends she counts most dear aren’t acting so dear anymore — especially Mark, the boy she’s known her whole life through. Life is growing up all around her, and all Shug wants is for things to be like they used to be. How is a person supposed to prepare for what happens tomorrow when there’s just no figuring out today?”

This is a seriously amazing book.  It reminds me a lot of old-school Judy Blume, and Shug (or Annemarie) is a worthy successor to my beloved Margaret.

All Annemarie wants is for everything to stay the same, but things are changing all around her.  Her sister and her best friend have both gotten boyfriends, and so she feels like she’s being left behind.  And she has feelings for her best guy friend, Mark, except he doesn’t seem to like her that way…or any way, really; he’s been ditching her a lot lately to hang with his guy friends.

Things are made even worse by the fact that her dad is gone almost all the time, her mom clearly has a drinking problem and probably some undiagnosed depression issues and her sister is reacting to this by staying gone as much as possible.  Annemarie seems to be holding everything together by herself, and that’s a lot for a 12-year-old to deal with.

This is a fantastic book.  Highly recommended.

Kramer vs. Kramer

Why I picked Kramer vs. Kramer: it won best picture and is one of the AFI’s 10 best courtroom movies.

Have I seen it before? Yes.

Would I recommend? Absolutely.

Oh, you guys.  I’d seen this movie a few years ago and I remembered liking it and I remembered crying at the end, but I didn’t realize just how emotionally devastating this book would be.  Part of it is due to the fact that I read Her Again, and there’s so much behind the scenes stuff that makes this even more intense.

It’s about a couple who gets divorced and the kid ends up staying with the dad (Dustin Hoffman) instead of the mom (Meryl Streep), who basically checks out.  It’s complete chaos at first; he has no idea how in the world to be a dad, and Billy is a good kid but he’s only five or six years old.

It doesn’t take too long for him to become a good dad, though…and eighteen months later, Joanna comes back and she wants custody of Billy.

The last few scenes (custody trial through the end of the movie left me absolutely gutted) and this is such an amazing movie.

The interesting thing though is that Dustin Hoffman apparently went full-on Method which would be fine except that he was seemingly determined to make Meryl Streep do it, too.  Her fiance had just died of cancer, and he kept bringing that up to get a more emotional performance from her.  (Even though she was apparently like, STOP THIS NOW.)

Her Again

Finished Her Again by Michael Schulman.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A portrait of a woman, an era, and a profession: the first thoroughly researched biography of Meryl Streep—the “Iron Lady” of acting, nominated for nineteen Oscars and winner of three—that explores her beginnings as a young woman of the 1970s grappling with love, feminism, and her astonishing talent.

In 1975 Meryl Streep, a promising young graduate of the Yale School of Drama, was finding her place in the New York theater scene. Burning with talent and ambition, she was like dozens of aspiring actors of the time—a twenty-something beauty who rode her bike everywhere, kept a diary, napped before performances, and stayed out late “talking about acting with actors in actors’ bars.” Yet Meryl stood apart from her peers. In her first season in New York, she won attention-getting parts in back-to-back Broadway plays, a Tony Award nomination, and two roles in Shakespeare in the Park productions. Even then, people said, “Her. Again.”

Her Again is an intimate look at the artistic coming-of-age of the greatest actress of her generation, from the homecoming float at her suburban New Jersey high school, through her early days on the stage at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama during its golden years, to her star-making roles in The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, and Kramer vs. Kramer. New Yorker contributor Michael Schulman brings into focus Meryl’s heady rise to stardom on the New York stage; her passionate, tragically short-lived love affair with fellow actor John Cazale; her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer; and her evolution as a young woman of the 1970s wrestling with changing ideas of feminism, marriage, love, and sacrifice.

Featuring eight pages of black-and-white photos, this captivating story of the making of one of the most revered artistic careers of our time reveals a gifted young woman coming into her extraordinary talents at a time of immense transformation, offering a rare glimpse into the life of the actress long before she became an icon.”

This book made watching Kramer vs. Kramer almost unbearably emotional (see my review of that tomorrow for more) and I think it’s always nice to be able to get a more thorough picture of a good movie.

As the synopsis says, this book doesn’t cover her whole career (or her childhood).  It’s basically a little of high school, a lot more of college and then her career through Kramer vs. Kramer.  Because of that, we get a really in-depth portrayal of Meryl Streep right as she’s on the cusp of becoming MERYL STREEP.

I’m not sure if this book is for everyone, but if you’re a fan of hers (and who isn’t, really? She’s a phenomenal actress and I don’t think many would argue that she’s the best actress working today) it’s required reading.

Recommended.

Krampus

Why I picked Krampus:  I wanted something funny and, despite the fact that this is not likely to show up on Movie Week, I thought this would fit the bill nicely.

Have I seen it before? No

Would I recommend it? Yes? But only to someone with a really twisted sense of humor.

Easily the best part of this movie is the casting.  It’s solid throughout but it’s helmed by Toni Collette and Adam Scott, two of my favorites.

It’s sort of the anti-holiday movie, but one that shows Christmas as it actually is, with everyone stressed out and kind of snapping at each other.  (I refuse to believe that’s just my family’s Christmas.)

So the family’s youngest kid, Max, throws a little bit of a tantrum and rips up his letter to Santa…and that basically brings Krampus to town.  (Krampus is the dark version of St. Nick and, as the German grandma who knows all about it says, he doesn’t come to give—he comes to take.)

And so yeah, that guy Krampus? Kind of a jerk.

(But it’s still pretty funny.)