Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

Growing up with the Star Wars prequels, I remember when Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace came out. The movies have a range of highly passionate fans, but also appeal to broad audiences. It’s a difficult balancing act to produce such a movie. I feel that my more passionate side wanted more out of this movie, but it’s hard to say if that desire could have been quenched by one film. I enjoyed certain scenes and they will stick with me for some time. Star Wars is often fast-paced in the beginning so I will need to spoil things from early in the movie to put events into perspective.

The opening texts explains that the former Emperor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) voice has been broadcast across the galaxy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has been seeking out Palpatine in order to destroy him. Meanwhile Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are on a mission to gain information from a spy within the First Order. Poe and Finn end up being discovered while getting this information and must perform multiple lightspeed jumps to try and get away which is visually appealing with all the places they fly. Kylo finds Palpatine at an ancient Sith world. Palpatine asks Kylo to kill Rey (Daisy Ridley) and in exchange he’ll hand over his enormous fleet of ships he’s been building called the Last Order.

Poe, Finn, and Chewbacca return to the base of the Rebels with the plans of the First Order and news of the return of Palpatine. Rey has been working on her training with Leia (Carrie Fisher) but senses something is wrong. Rey determines she must go alone and destroy Palpatine before his plans move forward, only to have Poe and Finn say she can go alone; but they’re going with her “alone.” Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) go after a trail Luke had pursued to find one of two Sith compasses to the Sith home world. They find the dagger Luke was looking for with Sith writings on it that C-3PO is capable of reading, but C-3PO is unable to read aloud due to laws passed against that. As they come out of the caves Chewbacca gets arrested by the First Order and Kylo Ren arrives. Rey sees a ship escaping and uses the force to try to pull it back to save Chewbacca only to have Kylo try to free it from her grasp with the force. As they struggle, Rey accidentally shoots lighting from her hand and destroys the ship.

This movie has a lot of events going on both big and small. I do think it would have benefited to be made into another movie, which is both a positive and a negative. I don’t feel like we reached the level of closure that we wanted, but leaving people wanting more also shows they care. It’s certainly a technical spectacle with the musical score by John Williams just helping to make it feel like an epic adventure. I’m personally a fan of fight choreography, which I don’t feel was as developed in this film. I don’t think this movie is fantastic, which is how I measure Star Wars films. It’s still a good movie with some great scenes. I do hope there’s enough of a push to develop these characters further in the Star Wars Legends (all canon Star Wars stories). Rated PG-13.

Ryan

Jumanji: The Next Level

I’m not sure if you’d call this a sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle or possibly another installment in a series that includes Jumanji and even Zathura: A Space Adventure. After the nearly billion-dollar box office of the previous film, it was more a question of when than if the series would continue. With this strong comedic cast adding Danny DeVito as Eddie, Danny Glover as Milo, and Awkwafina as Ming; they decided to build on what they created instead of trying do the same thing as last time. I wasn’t sure if they were going to lean too much into having Danny DeVito and Danny Glover take over in the game, which thankfully they did not. Overall, we get a good edition to the series that I think gives it a reason for more.

We see Spencer (Alex Wolff) living his life alone in New York City, where he’s going to college. His friends are coming back home for Christmas and he can’t seem to bring himself to respond to their messages. He goes home only to find that his Grandpa Eddie (DeVito) is living with them while he recovers from hip surgery, and Eddie is sleeping in the same room as Spencer. The next morning Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) have breakfast wondering why Spencer hasn’t joined them. Milo (Glover) goes to visit Eddie since Eddie has been ignoring him and they seem to have some past grievance to resolve. Spencer’s friends next arrive at the house to find that Spencer has gone into Jumanji once again.

Despite Fridge’s objections, Bethany and Martha convince him to go into the game to help Spencer. As they return to the game, they find Eddie is in the body of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Milo is in Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha is in Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), Fridge is in Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), and Bethany didn’t get taken into the game. The group is quickly escorted onto a plane by Nigel (Rhys Darby) and dropped in a desert. They encounter an ostrich which Eddie agitates, and it ends up taking one of his character’s 3 lives. Then they are chased by the ostriches until they manage to jump a canyon. When they get into town, they start to learn what they must do to progress the game. They run into Spencer, who is the character Ming (Awkwafina) as he is trying to accomplish a task. With the group reunited, they break up to accomplish various tasks.

The movie is designed in a very imaginative way, as the characters find themselves in a video game adventure. The video game has unusual strengths and unique skill sets for the players. The movie’s creative settings are introduced by the game’s “levels”, and they are visually engaging locations that utilize fantasy in a very successful way. I do think the personalities of Spencer and Fridge were a bit weak as they spend a lot of the movie complaining. Overall, it’s a fun edition to the series with a good mix of action and comedy. Rated PG-13.

Ryan

New Nonfiction Coming in January 2020

Check out this selection of nonfiction books for your reading list in the new year.

 

01/07: Martha Stewart’s Organizing: The Manual for Bringing Order to Your Life, Home & Routines by Martha Stewart – The ultimate guide to getting your life in order&;with hundreds of practical and empowering ideas, projects, and tips&;from America&;s most trusted lifestyle authority.

01/07: Animalkind: Remarkable Discoveries About Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion by Ingrid Newkirk & Gene Stone – The founder and president of PETA and a bestselling author pair their tour of the astounding lives of animals with a guide to the exciting new tools that allow humans to avoid using or abusing animals as we once did. Animalkind is a fascinating study of why our fellow living beings deserve our respect, and moreover, the steps every reader can take to put this new understanding into action.

01/07:The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy, Updated and Expanded Edition by Elizabeth Kendall & Molly Kendall – An updated, expanded edition of the author’s 1981 memoir detailing her six-year relationship with serial killer Ted Bundy, which was the basis for the Amazon Original docuseries, includes a new introduction and a new afterword by the author, never-before-seen photos, and a startling new chapter from the author’s daughter.

01/07: Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel J. Levitin – A leading neuroscientist and best-selling author examines how to make the most of our post-60 years by examining those who age joyously and discussing resilience strategies and practical, cognitive enhancing tricks. Levitin turns his keen insights to what happens in our brains as we age, what you can do to make the most of your seventies, eighties, and nineties today no matter how old you are now.

 

 

01/14: Elemental Knits: A Perennial Knitwear Collection by Courtney Spainhower – This book is for women who aspire to be ever stylish, more comfortable, and less wasteful. A collection of 20 customizable knitting patterns counsels do-it-yourself crafters on how to select practical patterns and fibers while creating wardrobe-enhancing fashions for different times of the year.

01/14: Brain Wash: Detox Your Mind for Clearer Thinking, Deeper Relationships, and Lasting Happiness by David Perlmutter & Austin Perlmutter – The #1 New York Times best-selling author of Grain Brain and his son, also a medical doctor, explore how modern culture threatens to rewire our brains and damage our health, offering a practical plan for healing.

 

 

01/21: Murder Your Darlings: And other gentle Writing Advice from Aristotle to Zinsser by Roy Peter Clark – From an influential American writing teacher comes a collection of 50 of the best writing strategies distilled from 50 writing and language books—from Aristotle to Strunk and White.

01/28: A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II by Simon Parkin – Tells the triumphant story of a group of young women who helped devised a winning strategy to defeat the Nazi U-boats and deliver a decisive victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.

 

~Semanur

 

 

 

New Fiction Coming in January 2020

 

Still looking for books to read? Ask a Librarian! Ranging from adventure and women’s fiction to literary and historical fiction, these are some suggestions for January, new releases for every kind of reader. Check out some book recommendations here!

 

01/07: Moral Compass by Danielle Steel – At an elite private school in Massachusetts, a wide circle of lives will be forever changed by a devastating series of events in Danielle Steel’s riveting new novel. Steel illuminates the dark side of one drunken night, with its tragic consequences, from every possible point of view.

01/07: Treason by Stuart Woods – Stone Barrington takes on a scheming rebel in this latest action-packed thriller from #1 New York Times-bestselling author Stuart Woods. Upon returning to New York City after a whirlwind British excursion, Stone Barrington is notified of a delicate situation within the country’s administration. A close friend requires his expertise and subtlety to eradicate a destructive presence in a classified agency–only it soon becomes clear that this renegade was sent by a rival Stone has encountered before.

01/07 : Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict – From Marie Benedict, the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room! An incredible novel that focuses on one of the people who had the most influence during World War I and World War II: Clementine Churchill. Lady Clementine is the ferocious story of the ambitious woman beside Winston Churchill, the story of a partner who did not flinch through the sweeping darkness of war, and who would not surrender either to expectations or to enemies.

 

01/21 : American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins – Selling two favorite books to an unexpectedly erudite drug-cartel boss, a bookstore manager is forced to flee Mexico in the wake of her journalist husband’s tell-all profile and finds her family among thousands of migrants seeking hope in America. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page.

01/21: A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende – From the New York Times bestselling author of The House of the Spirits, this epic novel spanning decades and crossing continents follows two young people as they flee the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in search of a place to call home. A masterful work of historical fiction about hope, exile, and belonging, A Long Petal of the Sea shows Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.

01/21: Agency by William Gibson – A sequel to the best-selling The Peripheral finds app-whisperer Verity Jane beta-testing a disturbing AI technology, while a century into the future, an apocalypse survivor discovers his employer meddling in Verity’s influential timeline.

 

~Semanur

 

Last Christmas

From the trailers of this film, I was uncertain if I’d like it. I tend not to like romantic dramas, but I do like some romantic comedies and Christmas films. I spoke to someone who saw this film before I went. This person helped alleviate my concerns that it was too dark, dramatic, or sappy. After seeing it, I’d agree with them. This movie mixes in romance, family relationships, moving on from a point of trauma, and comedy.

The movie starts off showing a choir singing in 1999 in Yugoslavia, then we move to modern day with Kate (Emilia Clarke) going to work. We learn Kate has been looking for a place to stay after accidentally killing the fish of her former roommates. She goes to work at a Christmas shop where her boss, Santa (Michelle Yeoh), asks her about her plans and why she just won’t return to live with her parents. Kate wants to avoid her mother, and her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) ends up having to relay the messages to Kate. Kate gets distracted one day at work by a man looking up at something strangely. She goes outside to look up and she gets “pooed on” which Tom (Henry Golding) says is good luck.

Kate at first rebukes Tom asking her out, but when she agrees after bumping into him again, she sees how unusually optimistic he is. He shows her some interesting and strange sights in the city she’s lived in for years by telling her to “look up” to see what she’s been missing. Tom helps Kate to realize that she should try visiting her family again, and we see the strained family lifestyle she wanted to avoid. Her overbearing mother Petra (Emma Thompson) even tucks her into bed and won’t stop singing a lullaby to her in one scene. Tom takes her on another date where he teaches her to ice skate to practice for her audition of Frozen on Ice. Kate is unusually upbeat for herself, but she’s frustrated by the inability to contact Tom as he leaves his cellphone at home.

While this movie seems to be a romance film, Last Christmas largely is focused around Kate’s personal journey. The movie takes a character who was focused on herself and sees her develop into someone who is both comfortable with who she is and wants to help others. I would say that it’s unfortunate that some of the themes make this a more mature movie, as it has good messages throughout the story. I do like the general theme of a character transformation in a Christmas film as it does match the general theme of finding joy in the winter. I wouldn’t say this movie greatly exceeded my expectations, but I would say that it was undersold by the trailers. Rated PG-13

Ryan

Nicole's Top Ten of 2019

It was such fun to look back on what I’ve read this past year and pick my favorites! Below you’ll find mostly adult fiction titles, including some standout graphic novels, as well as a stellar young adult novel (Wilder Girls!). 2019 was also the year I dabbled in reading outside my comfort zone of generally weird and spooky, venturing into the land of romantic fiction and true crime. Much to my surprise, I was so utterly charmed by a romance novel that it ended up on this list (I’m looking at you Chloe Brown). I hope that if you haven’t read one of these titles you will be inspired to stop by and check it out this winter. Maybe you will also find yourself pleasantly surprised by broadening your reading horizons *wink*. Wishing you a joyful holiday season and happy reading!

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones by Micah Dean Hicks

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

The Institute by Stephen King

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen by Marjorie M. Liu

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

Trent’s Top 10 of 2019

I always enjoy making this year-end list as it provides me an opportunity to reflect on another year of reading, and reflection quickly turns into contemplating future reading. I highly recommend it.  It is highly satisfying to revisit titles you have enjoyed and to consider your plans for reading in the new year, be it more broadly, more deeply, or another goal.

Like many of my colleagues, I have struggled to keep my list to ten titles and included additional notables at the end.

 

10. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead – Olga Tokarczuk

42983724Janina is, to be kind, a bit of an odd duck. She lives alone in rural Poland, and when one of her very few neighbors is found dead, Janina instinctively knows why. The animals, obviously, have sought revenge on the neighbor for his cruel hunting activities. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead makes the reader listen to someone we might be guilty of otherwise ignoring or marginalizing. Olga Tokarcruk was belatedly awarded the Noble Prize in Literature for 2018 in November 2019, and I am excited to read more of her translated work.

 

9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Vol 1: High School is Hell – Jordie Bellaire

indexThis is Buffy rebooted, and, much to my surprise, it starts off with a lot of promise. The last few seasons have been either lackluster with brief respites or terrible. So, I was interested but skeptical that rebooting the series by a new creative team back to Buffy’s first days at Sunnydale High would succeed. The comic does a nice job reinventing all the main characters but keeping them recognizable to fans that have continued to follow the series. Here’s hoping the good work continues.

 

8. Normal People – Sally Rooney

normalThough I posted a review of Normal People on “What We’re Reading Now…” in May, I still find myself occasionally thinking back to this book. It has made me, on occasion, consider things from a different perspective. While Normal People was generally rife with upsettingly poor decision making by everyone – it was at the same time believable and relatable. And, if I am still thinking about the book seven months later, then it’s bound to be on a top ten list.

 

7. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

index (1)I picked this up off an inn’s bookshelf six years ago when in Vermont for a wedding. By the time I had to go join the wedding festivities I had read a good third of the book and was really enjoying it. Though every few months I would remember that I had wanted to check out a copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God and read it in its entirety, it took far too long to return to. Beautifully written and a work I should have been introduced to in high school.

 

6. The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie

index (2)I included The Raven Tower in March’s “What We’re Reading Now…”  Leckie creates a fascinating world shown from an unexpected perspective.  I really enjoy how the author plays with language and perception.

 

 
5. The Real Cool Killers – Chester Himes

index (3)The Real Cool Killers is a classic 1950s hardboiled detective novel. Though instead of L.A., Marlowe, and femme fatales, it is Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed and in Harlem where the cynicism isn’t shrouded in glitz.

I did include the excellent A Rage in Harlem by Himes, which introduces Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed, in an earlier “What We’re Reading Now…

 

4. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Complete Series – Hayao Miyazaki

index (4)Set many years after biological warfare has destroyed most of the planet, opposing forces are set mustering for a war that may destroy what remains. Nausicaä, called to serve in her father’s place, has the unique ability to communicate with the fearsome creatures that inhabit the changed world. Using her abilities, Nausicaä must fight to preserve what is left of the world around her.  Miyazaki will leave you thinking deeply about how we interact with the world around us, environmentalism, war, and more. Not to mention the art is sublime.

3. A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

index (5).jpgI kept putting off reading A Gentleman in Moscow even though a coworker kept insisting I go read it immediately, because, honestly, how worth it could be to slog through 500 pages of some guy being sequestered in a hotel for decades? I saw no reason to suffer right along with Count Rostov. She was right, it is a wonderful book, and if you have not read it, you should go do so right now. You will not suffer, instead, you will find unexpected joy right alongside the Count.

 

2. Beware, Beware – Step Cha

index (6)Juniper Song is a devotee of Phillip Marlowe, and in her first appearance in Steph Cha’s excellent Follow Her Home Juniper’s only experience as a P.I. is from what she has learned in Chandler novels.  Juniper, now employed with a investigate firm as an understudy working towards becoming a licensed investigator, has some real-life experience under her belt when a case she’s asked to work quickly turns into a Hollywood murder scandal.  Juniper Song is the modern-day Marlowe we deserve.

 

1. Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

index (7)I read this a week or two after posting last year’s Top 10, and I have been eagerly waiting to put it on this list since. Keiko has a hard time relating to societal expectations and is uninterested in love and advancing her career. She struggles to hide her real interest in and dedication to her current role as a convenience store clerk, as she knows she won’t be understood and accept otherwise. A funny, quirky, and occasionally, heartbreaking novella. However, to be fair, I may be biased in part due to my love of Japanese 7-11 and Lawson convenience stores.

 

Honorable Mentions:

index (8) imc_9781632152855_270 index (9) index (10) index (11)

Tales From the Inner City – Shaun Tan

Lazarus: The First Collection – Greg Rucka, Michael Lark

The Long-Legged Fly – James Sallis

Silent City – Alex Segura

Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life– Eric Klinenberg