Thursday, July 06, 2017

Fantastic Beasts Sequel, The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone, The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Though I haven't seen the first "Fantastic Beasts" yet, I am thrilled that there are more stories to tell in this universe. JK Rowling is such a miraculous author, creating worlds that seem so real, yet are so full of fun fantasy. 

Movies: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them Sequel

Principal photography began yesterday "on the as-yet untitled Fantastic
Beasts and Where to Find Them
sequel at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden outside London," Deadline
reported, adding that along with the main cast from the first film and
previously announced newcomers like Jude Law as a young Albus
Dumbledore, the most recent cast additions include Claudia Kim, William
Nadylam, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Olafur Darri &Olafsson and
Kevin Guthrie.

J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay for the film, "which opens in 1927, a
few months after magizoologist Scamander helped to unveil and capture
the infamous Grindelwald in the first installment," Deadline noted. This
is the second in a planned five-movie series with the original film's
director David Yates. Warner Bros. has set a release date of November
16, 2018 for the sequel

The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone was a total surprise to me. I read a lot of YA fiction, fantasy and science fiction (and subgenres thereof), and I was expecting this to be full of the usual tropes of girl in a horrible situation with horrible or very stupid parents is part of a love triangle that she needs some kind of magic to get out of, and of course she's also a petite blonde whom every guy lusts after, because petite blondes are the standard of attractiveness for women and girls everywhere...NOT. (But try telling that to authors!)
Fortunately, this book was NOTHING like that. The protagonist, Sadie, is half-Iranian and half Irish, much beloved of her parents and grandparents, and she's smart and funny, kind and compassionate, something usually in short supply in books about teenagers. She works in the Hamptons at a fruit and vegetable stand, and while at work notices that a horrible roaring angry drunk has a screaming baby in the backseat of his car in the heat, and as she tries to get the baby out of the hot car to safety, the drunken father beats her with a liquor bottle and his fists, and breaks her ribs and causes internal and facial injuries. The police arrive, arrest this asshat, and discover that he's stolen the child from her mother, and he is subsequently jailed and the baby returned to her mother. While accepting an award from the local Rotary for being a "hometown hero," Sadie meets up with several other teenagers doing good things in the community, and they band together on the spot, eventually developing various ways to counter cyber-bullying and helping others in need in their community as an anonymous group they dub "The Unlikelies." Here's the blurb:
Five teens embark on a summer of vigilante good samaritanism in a novel that's part The Breakfast Club, part The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and utterly captivating.
Rising high school senior Sadie is bracing herself for a long, lonely, and boring summer. But things take an unexpected turn when she steps in to help rescue a baby in distress and a video of her good deed goes viral.
Suddenly internet-famous, Sadie's summer changes for the better when she's introduced to other "hometown heroes." These five very different teens form an unlikely alliance to secretly right local wrongs, but when they try to help a heroin-using friend, they get in over their heads and discover that there might be truth in the saying "no good deed goes unpunished." Can Sadie and her new friends make it through the summer with their friendships--and anonymity--intact?
This rich and thought-provoking novel takes on timely issues and timeless experiences with a winning combination of romance, humor, and wisdom.
The Unlikelies are all from various backgrounds and cultures, from Latina to African-American, and Gordie, the rich kid who cares nothing for wealth (and who Sadie's had a crush on for years), discover that money, while helpful in some cases, is no substitute for actually being there, for volunteering and showing up in person to help others. A rich old man ends up giving Sophie a fortune in Canary or yellow diamonds, and once she discovers that not all problems can be solved by giving someone money, The Unlikelies find that it's okay to help each other get where they need to go, too. They also find that any good idea is inevitably corrupted by someone for their own self-aggrandizement and profit, which is a sad and cynical lesson to learn (but one I wish I'd learned as a teenager in the 70s). This novel's prose was like cold watermelon on a hot day...utterly blissful and juicy. The plot flew along, and the characters were realistic and fascinating. I could not put the book down, and read it straight through while my husband drove us to Portland, Oregon. A strong A for this one, with a recommendation for anyone looking for a great "beach read" or just a well told tale.

The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack is a gripping historical fantasy/mystery, similar to MJ Rose's "Hypnotist" series. Semele, the protagonist, is a book antiquities appraiser who finds a book and a set of Tarot cards that have links to her through time. Here's the blurb: 
Semele Cavnow appraises antiquities for an exclusive Manhattan auction house, deciphering ancient texts—and when she discovers a manuscript written in the time of Cleopatra, she knows it will be the find of her career. Its author tells the story of a priceless tarot deck, now lost to history, but as Semele delves further, she realizes the manuscript is more than it seems. Both a memoir and a prophecy, it appears to be the work of a powerful seer, describing devastating wars and natural disasters in detail thousands of years before they occurred.
The more she reads, the more the manuscript begins to affect Semele’s life. But what happened to the tarot deck? As the mystery of her connection to its story deepens, Semele can’t shake the feeling that she’s being followed. Only one person can help her make sense of it all: her client, Theo Bossard. Yet Theo is arrogant and elusive, concealing secrets of his own, and there’s more to Semele’s desire to speak with him than she would like to admit. Can Semele even trust him?
The auction date is swiftly approaching, and someone wants to interfere—someone who knows the cards exist, and that the Bossard manuscript is tied to her. Semele realizes it’s up to her to stop them: the manuscript holds the key to a two-thousand-year-old secret, a secret someone will do anything to possess. Publisher's Weekly: Semele Cavnow, an expert in historical manuscripts, thinks the only complication of her job in Switzerland is the inappropriate sexual chemistry between her and Theo Bossard, her client. Grieving her father’s sudden death and hurt by a fight with her mother, Semele retreats into her work. When she discovers a prophetic manuscript on her last day of the job, she embarks on a quest that stretches back through her personal history and all the way to the ancient world. The prophecy, written by a seer with ties to the library of Alexandria, contains vignettes from throughout history. These are much more interesting than Semele’s story, which is both predictable and slightly melodramatic. With considerable attention to historical detail, Womack gives the readers windows into life in ancient Gundeshapur, Renaissance-era Milan and Paris, and revolutionary Russia.
Personally, I didn't find Semele's story predictable or too melodramatic at all. I found the prose to be very densely woven, but in a rich and interesting fashion, and the plot was succulent and full of twists that kept me turning pages long into the night. I couldn't sleep until I found out what happened to Semele and the manuscript and the son of the insane Russian telepathy scientist (who was also insane, unsurprisingly) who thought that he could force Semele into doing psychic experiments back in Russia with him. Fortunately, he's thwarted in his evil plans, but the manuscript and the cards are lost forever. There's some riveting history of the Tarot and cards in general in this novel, and the idea of psychic powers being encoded onto our DNA also fascinated me. I'd give this page-turner an A, and recommend it to anyone who reads MJ Rose's novels and who likes historical mysteries with a magical twist or three.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman is the third book that I've read of his, and all have contained some of the same weird, crazy, disabled and/or mentally unsound characters, all usually living together or working together somewhere in Sweden, which is apparently a hotbed of people with OCD and alcohol problems. A Man Called Ove was his breakout book, widely read and revered, and my book group, which rarely agrees on anything, read it an loved it! After reading Ove, I got a copy of "Britt Marie Was Here" and read that ASAP, and discovered that Backman has a through-line of strange people with serious mental/physical problems in his books, and that he takes the most irrascible of those and makes them his main character in each book. Britt-Marie is a habitual cleaner, phobic about germs and dirt, and annoyingly self-abasing and shy, but still cruel because no one pays attention to her, including her husband. Once his infidelities are discovered by everyone in a humiliating fashion, Britt-Marie heads off to a small town in the middle of nowhere to be a rec center cleaner, and there she finds herself and her place in the world. Now in "Grandmother," we have a child who is Britt Marie's neighbor before the events of her book, as the protagonist of this story. Elsa is 7 and a half years old, and somehow the most mature member of her family, which includes herself, her mum and her wild and crazy Grandmother, who is dying of cancer, but neglects to tell her grand daughter until it is too late. Here's the blurb:
A charming, warmhearted novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller A Man Called Ove.
Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.
When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman’s bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.
Somehow, Backman manages to make his characters believable but fanciful and whimsical and quirky all at once. As a big fan of characters who are different being able to triumph over the forces of rigid conformity and so-called normalcy, this book made me laugh and cry and feel elated and frustrated, all at the same time. Backman must have known and worked with a number of autistic, OCD, alcoholic or other individuals living with disabilities, because his portrayal of them in his books is spot on. That said, I can't imagine a dog being able to survive on cookies and chocolate and beer. I gather that they need protein to be healthy, and that grains and sugar and chocolate actually make them ill and can be fatal. But in Backman land, all things are possible, and giant dogs can live on cake mix and water, or chocolates, for days on end. Backman's translated prose is insightful and funny, while his plot seems to meander, it never really derails completely. I'd give the book an A, and recommend it to anyone who found "Ove" charming, and who doesn't mind books with child protagonists and large dogs called Wurses. 

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