Favorite Horror Films on Kanopy

Spooky season is finally here! Personally, I enjoy all things supernatural, spooky, and scary year-round but October is the month I can recommend my favorite books and films to those who reserve their scares just for the month of Halloween.

Kanopy has some really great horror films available for viewing right now, including some of my favorites from the past decade or so. Including an atmospheric German witch tale, a deeply disturbing story of grief and possession, and an Iranian vampire western (yes, you read that correctly) there is an amazing variety of top-notch scares waiting for you. So dim the lights, warm up some apple cider, and queue up on of these films.

Keep your eyes peeled here next Thursday to read about some of my most favorite horror books. If you love reading horror too (it is truly a wide ranging genre full of such talent!) join me later this month for Novel Scares book club where we will be discussing The Good House by Tananarive Due on Zoom.

What are some of your favorite scary movies to watch around Halloween? Share in the comments!

Reconnect@RRPL – Keep Calm … and Read Historical Fiction

2020 has been something else! To escape, lately I’ve been reading one historical fiction novel after another. Not only does taking a peek at the trials and tribulations across centuries help me feel like we really don’t have it that bad, but it is also really entertaining.

The atmospheric The Lost Orphan by Stacy Halls is set in 1754 in London. Bess is a street hawker of shrimp who is forced, due to poverty, to give up her illegitimate day-old daughter to the nearby foundling hospital, with the intention to reclaim her one day. Six years pass before Bess has enough money to do just that, but instead learns that the girl has already been taken, years previously, by someone claiming to be Bess. As she seeks to find out what happened to her little girl, Bess’s story is contrasted with that of a wealthy woman who, under the guise of protecting her own young daughter from the dangers of London, does not allow her to leave the confines of their home. This captivating novel about family, secrets, class, equality, power and the meaning of motherhood is a good reminder that the struggle between the haves and have-nots is indeed a very old story.

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline is another page-turning historical about the plight of less fortunate women. It is set in the early 19th-century in Van Diemen’s land, a penal colony in Australia, where thousands of convicts were shipped from overcrowded English prisons and forced to provide free labor to the settlers there. This novel follows the journey of two such young English women, Evangeline and Hazel, both of whom were wrongly accused and imprisoned. Their stories intertwine with that of an Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, who at the age of eight is adopted as a “curiosity” by white colonists who attempt to “civilize” her. Impeccably researched, this novel educates and enthralls. I read it in one sitting.

Perhaps you also need an escape. Find it in these and other books when you Reconnect@RRPL.

-Carol

Reconnect @ RRPL – #GrumpLit

There are so many fans of A Man Called Ove, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and books along those lines, that there is indeed a hashtag for books starring lovable curmudgeons. I am not sure why this is a trend but let’s face it, Charles Dickens gave us Ebenezer Scrooge and we’ve wanted more ever since. So stop your scowling, because I may have found your next new favorite book!

In The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons, Eudora is an 85-year-old with no friends or family in her life. Although in decent physical shape (she swims laps at the local pool almost daily), Eudora considers herself done living. Having cared for her mother at her own end, Eudora never wants to be in a position where she is forced to rely on someone else when she can no longer care for herself. She’s decided she will end things on her own terms and has written to a clinic in Switzerland that promises to allow her to do just that. Eudora is eagerly awaiting to be accepted into this program when she meets and is befriended by her new neighbors’ daughter, Rose, an adorable, wise-beyond-her-years 10-year-old with a built-in wild fashion sense and an inability to take “no” for an answer.

Rose inserts herself into Eudora’s world, bringing along another older neighbor and widower named Stanley. Their kindness and exuberance for life forces Eudora outside of her comfort zone, and she finds herself not only trying new things, but also reflecting on her past and the possibilities of what might lie ahead.

Although you’ll need a handkerchief nearby (not a Kleenex—Eudora is a classy lady), this novel is ultimately a feel-good story that will lift your spirits and make you laugh out loud.

-Carol

Newly Added Kanopy Films- Top Five Picks

I’m still slowly working my way through re-watching all seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, having severely underestimated how many episodes there were in such a long running show! Luckily for me, I am in no rush. In addition to my comfort blanket of late 90s/early 2000s television, I’ve been watching plenty of movies as well (favorites of 2020 list to come soon!).

Kanopy, one of my favorite library resources, is always adding new films to their extensive catalog of streaming options so there is almost always something that catches my eye. Below you will find a round-up of my top five picks of newly added Kanopy films to watch this month.

Asako I & II

A mysterious and intoxicating pop romance, this film begins with Asako, a young woman who meets and falls madly in love with a drifter, Baku, who one day drifts right out of her life. Two years later, working in Tokyo, Asako sees Baku again or, rather, a young, solid businessman named Ryohei who bears a striking resemblance to her old flame. They begin building a happy life together until traces of Asako’s past start to resurface.

Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival.

Welcome to Me

I adore Kristen Wiig and this film casts her in the role of Alice Klieg, a young woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who wins the lottery. She quits her psychiatric meds and buys her own talk show and inspired by Oprah, she broadcasts her dirty laundry as both a form of exhibitionism and a platform to share her peculiar views on everything from nutrition to relationships to neutering pets. Also starring other fabulous actors such as Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, and Linda Cardellini.

Hari-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Revenge, honor and disgrace collide when a samurai’s request to commit ritual suicide leads to a tense showdown with his feudal lord. From cult auteur Takashi Miike, beautiful cinematography, awesome fight choreography, and a heart-wrenching plot all come together in this unpredictable film.

Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Wild Nights with Emily

In the mid-19th century, Emily Dickinson is writing prolifically, baking gingerbread, and enjoying a passionate, lifelong romantic relationship with another woman, her friend and sister-in-law Susan…yes this is the iconic American poet, popularly thought to have been a recluse. Beloved comic Molly Shannon leads in this humorous yet bold reappraisal of Dickinson, informed by her private letters. A timely critique of how women’s history is rewritten and perhaps a closer depiction of Emily Dickinson’s real life than anything seen before.

Official Selection at the SXSW Film Festival.

The Lighthouse

Two lighthouse keepers, played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, fight each other for survival and sanity on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. From Robert Eggers, the visionary filmmaker behind the horror masterpiece (and one of my favorite films) The Witch.

Nominated for an Academy Award. Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival.

What films have been your favorites so far this year? Do you have any stellar picks on Kanopy to share? Post in the comments! Happy viewing and stay safe out there readers.

Favorite Books of 2020 (So Far)

Can you believe that we are more than halfway through 2020?! I know I surely cannot. Little did we know in January how very different this year would look compared to years past, and really March to now have been a bit of a foggy blur. Not only does my handy dandy planner help me with my to-do lists now more than ever, it also helps me remember what day it is (which was not so much of an issue pre-2020).

One thing that remains constant though is the joy of reading. Despite whatever madness might be occurring, I can always find a comfy perch somewhere and escape into a book for a few hours. Books have been a reassuring friend to me these past five months and I hope you have been able to curl up with a fabulous book as well.

Below you’ll find some of my most favorite books I’ve read so far this year!

Circe by Madeline Miller

Miller’s novel is absolutely amazing. Circe is a beautifully written, smart, feminist tale that takes readers into the world of Greek mythology but with an entirely new vantage point. Circe is the daughter of Helios, god of sun and mightiest of the Titans. She is strange, empathetic, and viewed as weak by her family and peers, turning to mortals for friendship and comfort. Eventually she discovers she holds the power of witchcraft, particularly the power of transformation, and is subsequently banished to live in exile on a remote island. Here is where she truly finds herself and her power. This complex story has it all- complicated heroines, magic, monsters, romance, tragedy, and adventure. It is also very much a story about families and finding our own paths independent of our familial bonds. I wept at the ending not only because of how perfect it was, but because I could have easily read another 300 pages of this masterpiece.

The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer

I’ve written about my fangirl love for Jeff VanderMeer’s work on this blog before, but this is perhaps my most favorite book of his to date. It is also the one that ripped my heart out. It is an exploration of the beauty of humanity, conversely also about the cruelty humanity is capable of, and the endurance of love- all packed into under 100 pages. Readers will be mostly lost if they haven’t read any of the other Borne stories (Borne; Dead Astronauts) so I would highly recommend picking up at least one of those before diving into The Strange Bird. Here we follow a new character- a biotech bird mixed of human, avian, and other creature’s genetic material, known only as the Strange Bird. Following her escape from the lab that made her, she is plagued by mysterious dreams, drawn by some invisible beacon inside her to a faraway location. A difficult and gorgeous story that will stay with you long after you close the cover.

In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

Perhaps my favorite spooky book so far this year (and you know I love spooky books!). An eerie and atmospheric horror story of women and witchcraft, that also reads as a psychological thriller. The story is set in colonial New England and follows a young woman who is lost in the woods while picking berries for her family- or did she leave her family on purpose? Much is unclear about her circumstances. Eventually she runs into a helpful older woman in the woods, who leads her to yet another mysterious and generous woman with a cozy cabin and plenty of food. Quickly it is made clear that all is not what it seems in this forest and these women may not truly be trying to help her return home. Elements of classic fairy tales and folklore, combined with an unreliable narrator and surreal, dreamlike moments unfold into a disturbing story that I could not put down.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I wasn’t sure I liked this book until I was more than halfway through it, but I’m glad I kept reading, because it turned out that I actually loved it. The writing is extraordinary and what kept me turning the pages, but I wasn’t confident this tale of wealth, white-collar financial crimes, and ghosts would all come together and hit me with the emotional impact I expect of a book. Well, The Glass Hotel delivers and in many unexpected ways. The story looks at multiple characters, but begins and ends with Vincent, a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass palace on a remote island in British Columbia. Readers travel to Manhattan, a container ship, the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, and back, as we follow the connecting threads of one devastating Ponzi scheme and the various people it’s long tendrils dragged down with it.

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

This book is tricky- it wants you to think it is one story, but it twists and turns into another story and then yet another story. It is difficult to share why it is so captivating and amazing without spoiling too much of the plot, but I can say the early parts of the book introduce you to two particularly irritating white hipster men. They have an obsession with “real” music which essentially means any music that is from black culture and eventually this morphs into a hyper-focused interest in blues from the pre-war era for one of them. There are some seriously funny but bothersome passages discussing audiophile interests, vinyl collecting, and expectations of “real” musicians. I assure you, it is worth it to keep reading through the annoying narrator. The story really goes off the rails maybe halfway through and takes readers on a a new narrative that shifts our sense of reality and time, eventually ending with a note of satisfying and thought-provoking vengeance. Alternatively, this is also a story about white privilege, appropriation of black culture (especially music) in America, white wealth created from the exploitation of black bodies, the industrial prison system, and many more deep seated themes.

Have you read any of my favorites? What are some of your favorites that you have read in the past six months? Share with me in the comments!

Imagine Your Story : Historical Fiction That Educates, Too

This week had me occupied with a book recommendation from my husband. While we generally agree on films, food and other critical-to-marriage subjects, books are where he sticks to nonfiction, but where I enjoy more of the make-believe varieties.

So when he reads fiction and then wants to talk about it, I am in. And, spoiler alert, he was right (and now that I’ve blogged about it, has bragging rights). The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips is that good. In this book, set in 1601, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I is dying without an heir. Her likely successor is James VI of Scotland, who outwardly professes to be Protestant, but raised Catholic and with a Catholic wife, whose religious convictions are difficult to decipher. Those who wish to see England’s crown pass to a Protestant heir, including spy and stage actor Geoffrey Belloc, are desperate to know James’ heart on the matter.

kingatedge

A man without a dog in this fight is Ottoman Muslim Doctor, Mahmoud Ezzedine, who, banished to England because of unfortunate events, has been forced to become an expert on the nuances of Christianity and English politics. If Ezzedine has has any hopes of seeing his family again, he must assist Belloc. Ezzedine is made to be a judge of that which he knows little, in order to save a realm of which he cares little, in the faint hope he can return to the world he came from.

Today, it can be hard for some people to see beyond their perceptions of a person’s culture. This is one of the themes in this historical fiction/mystery hybrid novel. The doctor becomes a good spy, because while he might be distrusted for his foreignness, his foreignness also makes him invisible. Unseen, what will this man do to become free?

Not only is this book entertaining on so many levels, it may also have you reconsidering your own preconceptions of other cultures and people. In my opinion, that’s good fiction that educates.    ~Carol

Imagine Your Story – Twins, Two Ways

Wow! I just yesterday finished The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and it has been taking up much of my brain space over the last 24 hours. If you haven’t heard of this brand new, of-the-moment novel yet, listen up. The story is set from the 1950s through the 1990s and begins in Mallard, Louisiana, a town whose population is composed mostly of light-skinned African-American people whose founder believed the lighter they are, the better they are. There, readers meet twins Stella and Desiree Vignes, descendants of their town’s founder, who run away when they are sixteen. The two separate when Stella decides to embark upon a life passing as a white woman – a secret she intends to keep from everyone, including her white husband and daughter. Following the trajectory of these sisters’ vastly different lives had me on the edge of my seat and I literally couldn’t put down this book. Not only is it thought-provoking and timely, it is also an exceptionally well-written look at relationships between mothers and daughters and the men they love that had my heart aching. Read this one. I know your book club will.

If you want to totally twin-out, I have one more twin-focused read. This one is a bit lighter but still tugs at the heart-strings. The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine is the perfect novel for word nerds. It tells the stories of Daphne and Laurel Wolfe, red-haired twins who begin speaking their own private languages as toddlers and are obsessed with words and grammar ever since. Unfortunately, they are equally obsessed with an old dictionary that their late father gave them, something that drives a wedge between them. Watch these wicked-smart girls become adults, figure out their careers and raise families, drifting apart even as they can never lose that twin connection.

And, yes, these are very different reads. I guess, maybe, just like twins can be.                     ~Carol (not a twin)

Imagine Your Story – Books

I may have mentioned that I’m finding it a bit hard to stick with an entire book right now. So when I find a novel that compels me to read it in one sitting, not only do I want to celebrate, I want to share!

darcy

My eBook for Something She’s Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell became available on Saturday morning and as soon as I started it, I knew my chore list was shot. This fast-paced and suspenseful domestic thriller stars unreliable (and mostly unlike-able) characters who have shady pasts and who make many bad choices and stir up plenty of family drama.

Floral shop owner Charlotte has the perfect life, including money, a fabulous apartment, a beautiful daughter named Daisy, a handsome husband and a super successful business. Unfortunately, she is wracked by anxiety, is overprotective of her family, and can’t always sleep at night. Adding to her woes is her brother Rocco, who barely has his life together and whose taste in girlfriends has always been horrible, each one less tolerable than the last. But when Charlotte meets his newest girlfriend Ruth, she thinks maybe this time Rocco got it right.

In Ruth’s eyes, however, it is Charlotte who isn’t perfect. Ruth, who didn’t have a good relationship with her mother, thinks that Charlotte doesn’t appreciate what she has. Ruth longs for a daughter just like Daisy–or maybe even Daisy herself. Before too long, Ruth will turn Charlotte’s life upside down and will take readers on a journey filled with twists, turns, and plenty of juicy secrets.

Like cotton candy, this novel won’t overly fill you up or ruin your appetite for your next read, but it sure tastes good as a treat. If this sounds like your type of read, place a hold in our catalog here.

Your Library Staff at Home – Spending Time at Court

No, I wasn’t on jury duty, but I’ve recently been to court–Henry VIII’s court, that is! I’ve just read The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, a novel I’ve waited eight years for. This novel closes Mantel’s historical fiction trilogy, depicting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII, ultimately leading to Cromwell’s execution. (Now, now, don’t be mad. It’s not a spoiler, that’s an actual fact!) Mantel’s Cromwell is a dynamic, believable and sympathetic character. Readers will love him as he commits despicable acts, root for him even as he is doomed. She won Man Booker Awards for her first two in the series (Wolf Hall, 2009 and Bring Up the Bodies, 2012) and her latest is a satisfying and poignant conclusion. Oh, but it is 754 pages. Beyond worth reading for this fan, but if you wanted the DVD or streaming version, you’ve lucked out. It (sort of) exists.

Wolf Hall is the British television of the first two books in the trilogy and was broadcast on PBS Masterpiece in April 2015, winning a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries or Television Film. Starring Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, Damian Lewis as Henry VIII, and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, this six part series is beautifully acted, darkly lit, and filmed with incredible attention to period detail and faithfulness to the books. I’m hoping they’ll adapt book three!

Politics, murder, backstabbing and family drama–Cromwell’s life was full of it and his story provides a fascinating escape. Sure the history is dark, the characters are doomed, and we know how it will end, but I dare you to look away.

Your Library Staff at Home- Must Watch Documentaries

Have you watched all the guilty pleasure reality television you can handle? Re-watched all of your favorite classic films? Caught up on all those Oscar-nominated movies that you missed? If you find yourself struggling to find great viewing at home, I’ve put together a list of five stellar documentaries that you can watch at home right now for free!

Faces Places

This utterly charming documentary was recommended to me a while back by Dori, our Adult Services Manager who always has a great film tip up her sleeve, and I finally got around to watching it last week. This delightful film follows 89-year old Agnes Varda, one of the leading figures of the French New Wave, and acclaimed 33 year-old French photographer and muralist JR in what is essentially a roadtrip movie through France. Winner of the Golden Eye at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Available through Kanopy.

13th

Netflix recently made a variety of educational documentaries available for free viewing on YouTube- you can view all of the free documentary offerings here. The amazing documentary 13th is one of these offerings and a definite must watch. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans. This critically acclaimed film will leave you with much to think about.

Bombshell

Bombshell shares the inspiring story of Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr as she fled an oppressive marriage to create a name for herself as one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies in the 1940s. Viewers learn that behind the glamour and sex appeal was a very talented and inquisitive inventor who created a radio system that is now considered the basis of Bluetooth technology. Lamarr didn’t receive credit for this achievement but this film looks to give her recognition long past due. Available through Kanopy.

I Am Not Your Negro

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this Oscar-nominated documentary explores the continued peril America faces from institutionalized racism. In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends–Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadly, the book wasn’t completed and consisted of only thirty pages at the time of Baldwin’s death. Filmmaker Raoul Peck utilizes archival footage and Baldwin’s own words to envision the book he never finished, providing an excellent introduction to Baldwin’s work and an intriguing look at racism in America. Available through Kanopy.

Geek Girls

Geek Girls looks at the “hidden half” of fan culture- women! Nerdy ladies open up about their personal experiences in the world of conventions, video games, and other pop culture circles that are burdened by widespread misogyny. While geek communities have recently risen to prominence, very little attention is paid to nerdy women. Filmmaker Gina Hara, struggling with her own geek identity, explores the issue with a cast of geeky women including a feminist geek blogger, a professional gamer, and a NASA engineer. Official selection of the Cleveland International Film Festival. Available through Kanopy.

I hope something sparks your interest from my list! Each and every one of these documentaries is thought-provoking and well worth a watch. I guarantee you will learn something too, which is always what I expect from a good documentary. What are some of your favorite documentaries? I’d love to hear your picks in the comments!

Happy viewing and stay well!