Monday, July 27, 2015

To Read or Not to Read ????? Part 1

Great book, bad movie? Let’s hope not. Novels are a constant, renewable source of stories for Hollywood, with all-ready-built brand appeal—from the juvenile franchises (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia) to the mass-appeal ( Da Vinci Code, the Bourne etceteras). Not that there are always bad movies made from books. It turns out that good plots and an epic story translate well from page to screen. But the attempt to create this kind by making midsize movies from literary novels has been an ugly business. Remember John Grisham’s The Firm?

I am sometimes hesitant about reading them before they get the big-screen treatment. If you like being able to say the book was better (isn't it always?), then here are some novels to dive into. Click through and see which books you need to add to your shelf — before they get to the theater.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

     What it's about: Two generations of brothers with very different natures come of age in the Salinas Valley, CA.  Who's starring: Jennifer Lawrence will play Cathy, the cold mother of the two boys. Gary Ross will direct.

What it's about: Set in 17th-century Japan, the book follows the story of Jesuits who are trying to bring Christianity into Japan.  Who's starring: Andrew Garfield is playing Father Rodrigues in the film, which is being directed by Martin Scorsese. Adam Driver also has a supporting role.

What it's about: The aptly named film takes on the true life story of the biggest bank robbery in American history, masterminded by George Leslie. Who's starring: Jeremy Renner is attached to star as George.

What it's about: The dramedy follows three Brown University graduates in an examination of their lives after 9/11. Who's starring: Jeff Bridges will play Thwaite, and Lake Bell will direct the adaptation.

 What it's about: A 5-year-old boy grows up in a small shed, which becomes the only world he knows because his mother hides the truth — they're being held captive.  Who's starring: Brie Larson is starring as Ma, the mother.

What it's about: War photographer Lynsey Addario recounts her exploits in wartime and battle-ridden places like Afghanistan. Who's starring: Jennifer Lawrence will play Lynsey, and Steven Spielberg will direct.

What it's about: The recently released book tells the story of Jake, a man who seeks out the love of his life when her husband passes away, only to find that the widow at the funeral isn't actually her.  Who's starring: Hugh Jackman will star in the film adaptation.

What it's about: A rich man spends an ungodly amount of money on one bottle of wine — only to suspect that he's been duped.  Who's starring: Matthew McConaughey will star.

What it's about: A young slave nicknamed "Onion" joins forces with an abolitionist who travels around the country for the cause. Who's starring: Liev Schreiber is playing the abolitionist, with Jaden Smith as Onion.

  What it's about: In this mystery, a woman thinks she may know something about a crime involving a couple she sees on her train commute every day. Who's starring: Emily Blunt is starring, and The Help's Tate Taylor is directing.

 What it's about: The magical series follows two magicians who compete in a mysterious circus that runs from nightfall to dawn. Who's starring: There hasn't been any casting news yet, but Jane Eyre writer Moira Buffini will pen the script.

What it's about: Set in the Prohibition era of the '20s, the novel tells the story of a Boston thief who finds success as a rum runner.  Who's starring: Ben Affleck is writing, directing, and starring in the film, marking his second time adapting one of the author's books — his directorial debut came with the adaptation of Lehane's Gone Baby GoneZoe Saldana and Sienna Miller are costarring.

 What it's about: This bestseller argues that the most common relationship problems can be attributed to fundamental personality differences between guys and girls. Who's starring: Reese Witherspoon is set to headline the film.

  What it's about: A young boy, Jack, has to grow up fast and rescue his kidnapped sister from bandits in turn-of-the-century Texas. Who's starring: Peter Dinklage will star as the bounty hunter who assists Jack.

Watch for Part 2 next with more books going to film!!!

Friday, July 24, 2015

2015 Alex Awards

The Alex Awards are given annually to ten adult books have special appeal with a young adult audience.  

At the American Library Association Conference this year, five of the Alex Award winners presented on their books and the inspiration behind writing, as well as some more personal details about their childhoods and life.  

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr spoke about the wonder he felt when seeing objects under a microscope.  It became his goal to change this wonder into language.  He started keeping notebooks on what interested him, and this eventually led him to radios and the miracle of hearing someone’s voice who is very far away in your own home.  For a long time, all he knew about his book was that it involved a blind girl reading over the radio to a boy who needed it to survive.  When he visited St. Malo the next year, he was inspired to create All the Light We Cannot See.

This book reminds young readers to pursue our intellectual curiosities!

Doerr’s favorite book as a child was The Phantom Tollbooth.

Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia

A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from a hotel room that was the site of a famous murder/suicide fifteen years earlier, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with the dark and giddy pop culture pleasures of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee.

Racculia came to writing because of her love of reading.  As a child she loved The Boxcar Children, Cam Jansen, and Encyclopedia Brown.  Everything changed when she read The Westing Game; “This was it.”  It’s a story for children that was peopled with adults.  It’s the first book where an author asked you to understand adults, and not just as a parent or teacher.  As a teen and adult, Racculia was drawn to novels with young characters.  Stephen King writes a lot about transitions to adulthood where the childhood happenings shaped the character.  Because of the inspiration Racculia received from all these books, it’s not surprising that Bellweather Rhapsody features a cast of teen-aged characters!

Lock In, by John Scalzi

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history.  And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One percent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....

The main character of Lock In, Chris, is never referred to with a pronoun.  This is intentional, and turned out to be an interesting social experiment for Scalzi.  Imagine his surprise when the reviews started coming in gendered!  Scalzi reports that the vast majority of men assumed that Chris was a man, while it was split 50-50 among women.  

Scalzi grew up reading everything he could get his hands on.  His mother’s philosophy was “If you can reach it, you can read it.”  His favorite book as a child was the People’s Almanac, which he thought was the sum of all knowledge.

The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice, by Zak Ebrahim with Jeff Giles

What is it like to grow up with a terrorist in your home? Zak Ebrahim was only seven years old when, on November 5th, 1990, his father El-Sayyid Nosair shot and killed the leader of the Jewish Defense League. While in prison, Nosair helped plan the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. In one of his infamous video messages, Osama bin Laden urged the world to “Remember El-Sayyid Nosair.”

In this book, Ebrahim dispels the myth that terrorism is a foregone conclusion for people trained to hate. Based on his own remarkable journey, he shows that hate is always a choice—but so is tolerance. Though Ebrahim was subjected to a violent, intolerant ideology throughout his childhood, he did not become radicalized. Ebrahim argues that people conditioned to be terrorists are actually well positioned to combat terrorism, because of their ability to bring seemingly incompatible ideologies together in conversation and advocate in the fight for peace. Ebrahim argues that everyone, regardless of their upbringing or circumstances, can learn to tap into their inherent empathy and embrace tolerance over hatred. His original, urgent message is fresh, groundbreaking, and essential to the current discussion about terrorism.

Ebrahim’s story started out as a TED talk in 2014, which prompted an editor to approach him about writing down his story (in only two months)!  In the resulting book, Ebrahim shares how he was able to shed the ideology of how he was raised, and how his mother (a teacher) instilled his love for reading.  He credits her with giving him the tools that ensured he didn’t become a victim of the environment in which he was raised.

Much of this book centers around Ebrahim’s childhood, and his voice resonates with younger readers.

Ebrahim’s favorite books as a child were anything by Dr. Seuss, R.L. Stine, The Westing Game, and “a million other books.”

Those Who Wish Me Dead, by Michael Koryta

When 13-year-old Jace Wilson witnesses a brutal murder, he's plunged into a new life, issued a false identity and hidden in a wilderness skills program for troubled teens. The plan is to get Jace off the grid while police find the two killers. The result is the start of a nightmare.

The killers, known as the Blackwell Brothers, are slaughtering anyone who gets in their way in a methodical quest to reach him. Now all that remains between them and the boy are Ethan and Allison Serbin, who run the wilderness survival program; Hannah Faber, who occupies a lonely fire lookout tower; and endless miles of desolate Montana mountains.

The clock is ticking, the mountains are burning, and those who wish Jace Wilson dead are no longer far behind.

Koryta talked about competing for attention in a world full of distractions (technology).  When you engage with a book, you slow down and consider the characters and plot.  In Those Who Wish Me Dead, you can contemplate how and why people act the way they do, and why the villain inspires a “sickening dread.”

Growing up, The Body by Stephen King was Koryta’s favorite book.

The rest of the Alex Award winners are:
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng : You can read my review here!
Bingo’s Run, by James A. Levine
Confessions, by Kanae Minato
Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle
The Martian, by Andy Weir

Have you read any of the books on this list?  We’d love to hear what you thought!