Category Archives: book to film

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Fledgling

Alas or Hooray… we are living in a world where the relevance and popularity of Octavia Butler is on the rise! Her Kindred has just been adapted to an excellent graphic novel, Dawn (the first book in the Lilith’s Brood series) is becoming a TV show, and Parable of the Talents is currently reality. (not to spoil that dystopian book, but there’s a populist president brought into office by white supremacists chanting “Make America Great Again”)

Butler published Fledgling in 2005, just a year before her death. The book’s protagonist is named… well she can’t remember, at least for a while. She wakes up in terrible pain unable to remember anything, except that she is HUNGRY. What’s she hungry for? Well, turns out she’s Butler’s take on a vampire, so she’s hungry for blood. But Butler’s version of vampires (Ina) don’t necessarily kill for blood, instead cultivating extended families of human “symbionts” to feed off of. In turn, the humans gain supernatural health and longevity, and there’s a lot of sex too (it is a vampire story, after all).

Not that this is going to help entice you to read this book, but I’d like to say one of my favorite things about this book is the fact that everyone in it KNOWS there are vampires in culture. This is one of my greatest pet peeves about most genre films/books. The zombie apocalypse comes (like, say, in the walking dead) and nobody, nobody, nobody, has any idea what a zombie is. They’re always, “whoa, if you get bitten who knew you’d turn?” Anyone whose ever seen a zombie movie! Zombies, werewolves, and vampires as recognizable to modern Americans as Michael Jackson. Case in point— Thriller. So I find it refreshing that when our protagonist and her humans are trying to figure out what/who she is, they pour through hundreds of years of vampire folklore. Because scrubbing that from the universe while playing on this folklores tropes is just wrong. Butler even drops a lame Bella Lugosi joke, which even her characters find lame! Awesome.

Like many of Butler’s novels, the plot moves forward as an initially unsure protagonist gains skill and confidence to lead her community through struggle. The protagonist learns her name and finds that she is the product of genetic experimentation. The social mark of this experiment endangers and empowers her.

Overall, this is not my favorite Butler novel, and frankly I think a large part of that is that the main character appears to be only 10-11 in human years (but is really older, because… vampires), yet still is object of a lot of sexual desire and has a lot of sex (again, because vampires). Fine and good, but… yuuuuuuuck and eeee… it was just too much for me. I don’t really see the point, given the books interest in polyamorous relations.

Go read it– and all of Butler’s other works, too.

Availability: USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommended

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

The AlienistOk– this review is more or less a joke review. That’s because, in the eyes of Kaitlyn and myself, The Alienist by Caleb Carr on audiobook is a joke book.

Full disclosure, our displeasure is our own (read: Kaitlyn, who downloaded it) fault. We downloaded an abridged book, and so what should have been 18 hours was only 4 hours, and those 4 hours were about as interesting as an episode of Criminal Minds. That’s not to be mean to Criminal Minds— we watch that all the time when we don’t want to think or really pay attention to our electricity use. And yes, in moving we canceled cable, but still… Shemar Moore, Paget Bruster, Joe Montegna, and the rest really do a nice job on this formulaic police procedural in the trappings of pseudo-scientific psychobabble.

And, if you listen to the abridged audiobook of Carr’s Alienist, which is set to become a TV show on TNT later this year, that’s exactly what you’ll get. “Alienist,” back in the later 19th century and into the 20th, was what we now call “psychologist.” The story of The Alienist tells a fictionalized story of the clandestine first use of psychological profiling in the tracking and arrest of a serial killer in New York City. So yes, it really is Criminal Minds, if you picture Penelope Garcia looking up information by going to the library. So like The Nick, a Showtime show about doctors and their drama set in New York at the turn of the 20th century, the Alienist is a period piece that we already know the story to. A sadistic, but abused and misunderstood killer evades a wily band of profilers until he doesn’t.

The promise of such a story is that we get to learn about the theories, methods, and mores of psychology in its formative years. That sounded great! But it turns out if you abridge a novel, you monster you, you pull out all the interesting and informative things about the period and make an episode of Criminal Minds that, while admittedly entertaining, is derivative drivel.

Here’s hoping the TNT show eschews that strategy when bringing Carr’s book to the screen.

Kaitlyn has refrained from contributing to this joint review as she is actually going to go read the book. I, on the other hand, am refusing to spend any more time on anything referencing this. Oh, and Teddy Roosevelt was a character and he actually was the police commissioner of NYC. There– we DID learn something!

Recommend—– THE FULL VERSION!!!

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio), USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommend the full audio version.

[Your editor burst out laughing at the Criminal Minds comment because that is exactly the way she watches the show. ]

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, read by Keven Kernerly

Lovecraft Country

Here’s how we came to listen to Lovecraft Country. After approximately 20 attempts of going to the movies with friends collapsed in last-minute mishaps, Kaitlyn and I watched Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele. Get Out was and is our favorite film of 2017– Peele weaves the classic tropes of horror films together to show the endurance and adaptation of racism in America today. Get Out has been a critical and box office break-out success, and HBO spent little time hiring Peele and his Monkeypaw Productions to make a series adapted from Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country (2016). So, driving through the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta and cruelly deprived of access to Game of Thrones while camping, Kaitlyn and I decided to listen to the book that will no doubt be our favorite tv show one day soon.

Lovecraft Country is a novel composed of episodic chapters that follow different members of two African American families living in Chicago during the 50s. When Montrose, the father of Atticus, disappears into a notorious sundown town of rural Massachusetts, Atticus, his Uncle (the publisher of the Safe Negro Travel Guide) and a friend, Leticia, embark on a journey to find and save Montrose. They confront the horrors of 1950s Jim Crow and Northern racism, but these horrors blend seamlessly with supernatural horrors that pay homage to the sci-fi stories Atticus, George and Leticia devour in their spare time. The episodes cover a lot of ground; the sinister manor stories (like Get Out), space-travel, haunted houses, creepy doll stuff, transformations, and witchcraft. But in every richly imagined story, it’s the banal violence Jim Crow that cements itself as the most pervasive and dangerous.

Kaitlyn writes that “at first I wasn’t sure about the style of episodic stories, but it worked. It really worked.”

As I am writing this NPR is describing the violent clash of white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia. As both Get Out and Lovecraft Country show, the horror of Jim Crow and racism are the stuff of nightmares, and nightmares alive today.

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio)
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold BloodIt feels like there are few books anymore that “most people” seem to have read, but when I was asking around for recommendations, this one kept getting mentioned. On the surface, the subject (the senseless murder of the Clutter family in Kansas family in 1959) didn’t appeal to me, but there’s no gratuitous violence in the book, and the author’s voice throughout was somehow reassuring in its authority. The book felt well rounded, introducing us to the family and their community and also following the fortunes of the two perpetrators, who display odd flashes of vulnerability and compassion along with their reckless disregard for human life. It felt much more like a well made black and white movie than, say, an Investigation Discovery show, and it conveyed a vivid sense of the time and place.

Availability:  SMCM, COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Eric Blomquist
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper"s Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife is about Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who after the Nazi invasion of Poland became active in the underground and used their zoo to hide Jews and Resistance members. It is a story about very brave people and my issues with the book aren’t meant to insult them. I enjoyed the setting and perspective of the book and I liked learning about Nazi-occupied Poland for non-Jewish people. I also enjoyed the description of the zoo and Antonina’s love for animals made the book very interesting. I also like that for the main description of the couple as “Christian” they don’t actively villainize atheists and don’t bring it up much, they just leave it at these people used their faith to help other people which I think is a good direction to take it.

My first issue with the book is that there were or two instances where the author seems to imply that the discrimination against Roman Catholics by Nazis was comparable to their discrimination against the Jews, which did leave a bad taste in my mouth. I’m just going to chalk it up to me not understanding the original intentions of the lines in question as this does stop when the main narrative of the story takes over.

The main issue is that I couldn’t stand the way the book was written. For a book entitled The Zookeeper’s Wife there is shockingly little focus on the zoo or the people in it. The book would be going along then every few pages there would be a random tangent about people who aren’t really connected to the family which would last a few pages or even an entire chapter. It got really annoying after a while as because of this I didn’t really hear much about the stuff at the villa or their attempts to help resistance members. I would like to read a story about these people but I don’t need a few pages of a summary in the middle of a story about other people. Also, the book time jumps a lot. The main problem with this time jumping is that it happens at random in the middle of chapters and gets a confusing because the author is trying to document the lives of these people in 1943 and then suddenly they are back in 1942. A good example of this is with Antonina’s pregnancy as she appears to be pregnant and is bed ridden because of health related issues and then suddenly isn’t pregnant anymore and helping hide people in her house only for her to become bedridden again and then she is helping people again and then later she gives birth. Although maybe the birth is miraculous because after the birth the time jumping stops.

I can’t build a relationship with these people because I have no idea what their position is or if their in danger. Also, Jan is kind of mean to his wife, which I found uncomfortable to read about but since it’s nonfiction there isn’t much to be done about changing that attitude. I will say that it probably would have made sense in a more linear story because it comes right up out of nowhere in the middle of the book and isn’t discussed again.

I would recommend the book with reservations because while I found the writing style annoying that is a personal preference and other people might like that about it.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating:   Recommended with reservations

The Book of Ruth, by Jane Hamilton

The Book of RuthWhat stood out to me about The Book of Ruth is the protagonist’s distinct, down-to earth voice. Ruth is introspective and reflects on how gender affects her daily life in the country. The novel captures many feelings and thoughts that I found to be empathetic and relatable to anyone: childhood crushes, adjusting to high school, and questioning the meaning of individuality.

I enjoyed how there were several representations of women and feminism in the book, and how they related to each other. I could see a parallel between Ruth versus Daisy, for example, in their independence and actions. In some ways, the two friends foil each other: Daisy is outgoing and enjoys wearing bright, somewhat revealing clothing, while Ruth is reserved and modest, for instance. However, the two support each other despite their differences, as well as others. The women that Ruth meets are mentors and teachers, whom she learns from during her childhood to adulthood.

I consider the format of the novel could be thought of a kind of everyday epic, because of the span of time the story takes on, through school days, graduation, weddings, and motherhood.

Although the novel is adapted from Ruth from the Bible, I found that the novel is its own entity. While reading the novel, I felt that the story itself was original and could stand on its own. In other words, even without the context of what the novel is based on, the novel is still enjoyable.

I found the novel to be bittersweet: As Ruth gets older, her wants and hopes for life are the same, but life ends up bringing something unexpected.

Availability: COSMOS
Review submitted by: Julia Thompson
Rating: Highly Recommended

Ugly Love By Collen Hover

Ugly Love

 

The romance in this book seemed a little rushed at first. However, by the end of the book the two main characters had great chemistry. The flash backs at first took away from the main storyline but at the same time added to the depth of the main characters. The ending was a little bit rushed. However, over all the book was an enjoyable and interesting read.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Taylor Horkan
Rating: Recommended