Let’s Talk About A Series of Unfortunate Events

In January, Netflix finally released their much anticipated show A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Neil Patrick Harris as villain, Count Olaf. I’ve talked about books and their small screen counterparts pretty recently, and I feel like this particular series merited special mention.

I first read A Series of Unfortunate Events several years ago, while I was still in my early 20’s. I’m not sure what made me pick up the series, as it was clearly for younger readers, which wasn’t really something I was into reading at the time. Could have been the visual appeal of the (then still incomplete) series on the shelf.

Just look at them…

At any rate, despite the somber tone of the series, it is a fun read with plenty of humor and mystery that keeps you interested through the occasionally silly plotlines. Perfect for kids and still highly entertaining for adults. It probably also got me more interested in reading books written for middle grades, which has been a great deal of fun. It is also appealing to the “word nerd” in me, with clever wordplay and interesting vocabulary.

Many of you may remember the first attempt to bring the books to the screen a few years ago, with Jim Carrey in the role of Count Olaf. While it’s not a total train wreck if you pretend that it’s not based on any books, it is not a great adaptation. I think a great deal of that can be traced to the fact that the author was not included in the production.

With the Netflix series, Daniel Handler (the man behind Lemony Snicket) actually wrote the teleplay, and it shows. Of course there were some things there that weren’t in the books, but that’s to be expected and I think it was all very cohesive to the overall story. And visually it looks amazing. It’s like a beautifully illustrated children’s book brought to life, without being cartoony. Check out the trailer here.

I also really loved the casting. It was like the character of Count Olaf was made for Neil Patrick Harris. Sure, Jim Carrey caught the more comic aspects of the Count, but I think he failed to really capture the menace of his darker side. NPH nailed it. Patrick Warburton is also fantastic as Lemony Snicket. But, overall, the whole cast is amazing.

Overall, there are few shows that I have watched recently with the sheer pleasure that I did this one. Did any of you enjoy the show? Or do you like the movie better? If so, why? Let me know in the comments!

My Favorite Book to Television Adaptations

Don’t say Game of Thrones.

I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s just that I haven’t watched the show yet. I was hoping to finish the book series first (I’ll be discussing this more in a future post). Trying to avoid the constant spoilers is next to impossible… Facebook’s tendency to show me things people I know have liked that happen to be spoilers has enraged me on more than one occasion.

However, there are plenty of other great adaptations of books out there that have been made for TV. I have mentioned a few of them in the past, such as The Thorn Birds and Bones. I won’t rehash them here, but those are definitely high on my list.

Rizzoli and Isles

Based on Tess Gerritsen’s mysteries, this one is a series I really enjoyed, despite being almost nothing like the books. The two do share a few characters other than the titular Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli, and a few plot plots, but otherwise they are very different in both tone and plot. Both are excellent. I binged watched most the the series over the summer and really enjoyed it. However, I haven’t yet brought myself to watch the last few episodes yet. I’ve had to part with too many shows I love in the last few years. I’m having issues letting go.

The Andromeda Strain

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The one has actually been adapted twice that I know of. Based on Michael Crichton’s 1969 book, the original movie came out in the 70s. I remember watching it in high school and it was a pretty decent movie that followed the book fairly well. But, I’m looking more at the 2008 miniseries which starred Benjamin Bratt. It’s definitely an update to the original story, but I really liked it. For me, it captured the scariness of the book a little bit better.

Shadowhunters

This series is adapted from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. It veered pretty far from the source material, but it’s full of such pretty people and is still a good enough story that I keep coming back. Of course part of it is just that I really like to look at Matthew Daddario.

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Sherlock

This one might not be totally fair of me to list. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never actually read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the great detective. But, for real guys, have you watched the BBC’s Sherlock? It’s amazing.

Pride and Prejudice

Another great entry from the Brits. This was not my first run in with Austen (that milestone goes to Sense and Sensibility, which I’m still obsessed with to this day), but it’s certainly one of the favorites. Why? Let’s be honest: Colin Firth. I love the man. And the scene where he comes dripping wet out of the lake, although nowhere to be found in the books, was one of the greatest television moments.

I know there are tons more, many of which I haven’t seen, or I have but I have not read the books. What are your favorites?

Iron Cast (Destiny Soria)

In the interest of being totally aboveboard here, I received a free digital review copy of Iron Cast from the publisher in exchange for a review. Don’t worry, I’ll still give 100% honest opinions of it.

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This awesome cover courtesy Abrams Books.

I was extremely excited to read this book for a number of reasons. 1) It was the first ARC (advanced reader copy, for those who don’t know already) I was ever approved for. 2) The cover looked interesting. Because as many of you may know, yes, sometimes I DO judge books (at least a little) by their covers. 3) The blurb sounded very interesting. And 4) It was described as a book perfect for fans of Libba Bray’s The Diviners.

Some of you may recall I have mentioned that particular series before as one I thoroughly enjoyed. Iron Cast surprised me. I really think it surpassed The Diviners. Long story short- it’s completely spectacular.

Before the story itself even begins, Destiny Soria says that she wanted to write a book where the female characters were real and complex. I think she succeeded brilliantly.

Set in Boston in 1919, with Prohibition looming on the horizon, Corrine and Ada are both hemopaths- they suffer an “affliction” that makes it possible for them to control peoples’ minds with art. They work for gangster Johnny Dervish in his club, The Cast Iron. After breaking Ada out of the notorious hemopath asylum, Haversham, both girls think they will be returning to the safety of their home at The Cast Iron. But, when several employees are shot and Johnny disappears, they will have to fight to find the truth behind everything that’s happened and make their lives safe once more.

This book was wonderful, engaging and with a richly built world. It was impossible for me not to love it. The friendship between Corinne and Ada was one I think all women can aspire to. The love between them as friends is what makes the entire story possible. I always find it refreshing to read a young adult novel where the romantic element is not the most important part of the entire plot. While there were romantic relationships in the book, they were far from the most significant.

All of the characters you meet are multifaceted and seem very real. Very few of them are exactly as they seem when you first meet them. I love it when I book keeps me guessing, and this certainly did. I found myself more that once nervous about whether or not Ada and Corrine could trust those around them. Anytime a book can draw me into the story so much that I’m feeling anxiety for them, I’d say it was quite well written.

I could not wait to finish the book and was sad when it ended. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about reading it. Iron Cast will be released in just a few days on October 11. I have pre-ordered my copy and my fingers are absolutely itching to get my hands on it.  I cannot recommend Iron Cast enough and I absolutely cannot wait to read more from this author!

Top 5 Halloween Reads (And Cocktail Suggestions)

It’s that time again!

Seriously guys, Halloween is my FAVORITE holiday. Hands down. Those of you who know me in real life already know this. I’ve been planning my Halloween costume since spring. I practically knock people out of my way to the get to the Halloween decorations as soon as they hit stores. There are certainly Halloween decorations I keep out all year. I have a tattoo with a haunted house and a graveyard. Halloween is life.

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So it should come as no shock that I have certain books that are particularly great for Halloween. Surprisingly, I don’t read that much horror. I like it, I just don’t pick it up all that often. So, my list is sort of light on actual horror titles. (There is always next year….)

World War Z (Max Brooks)

I’m not normally all that into zombie books or movies, but for this particular book (not movie, ugh) I make an exception. It is very well written and for me, the scary can be found in just how real some of the scenes are. It makes it seem like a zombie take over is totally possible (reality: it’s not terribly likely). All in all, a great book.

Cocktail: Zombie brain shots. Just kidding. Don’t drink that. Ew. Instead, try a Zombie. Sounds much tastier, and less like something you’d drink at a frat party on a dare.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Alvin Schwartz)

This was without a doubt the definitive scary story book series of my generation. The stories themselves are pretty creepy, but they are actually outshined by the absolutely horrifying Stephen Gammell illustrations. The books have been redone with a new illustrator, but you are doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t find a copy of this book with the original Gammell artwork. Here is a great article with a few of the nightmarish illustrations for you.  One of my all time favorites.

Cocktail: A Mind Eraser, to erase away those illustrations so you can sleep peacefully at night again.

A Discovery of Witches (Deborah Harkness)

This is the first book in The All Souls trilogy. It’s not scary at all, but considering it’s full of witches, vampires and daemons, I think it still fits the seasonal requirements. The series is a little bit paranormal, a little historical and a little romance. A great series to curl up with on a crisp fall night.

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Cocktail: A Vampire’s Kiss Martini. Appropriate, really, for any of your books with a dreamy vampire protagonist.

‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King)

This is a spectacularly scary book and really proves why Stephen King is such a master. If you like your vampires pure evil and blood sucking, this is a book for you. If you enjoy it, there are also a few short stories that revisit the town in King’s Night Shift. Never read Stephen King before? This is a great place to start!

Cocktail: A Vampire. Obviously. Not only does it sounds tasty, it would be a great, creepy addition to a Halloween get together.

Anything Edgar Allan Poe

People still read Edgar Allan Poe for a reason. He’s awesome. I’ve loved his dark poems and stories since I was a kid. The Raven, The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, just a few of the many Poe poems and stories that would be great to break out for the Halloween season.

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Cocktail: If sherry is your thing, how bout a nice Amontillado? If not, try a Raven or a Masque of the Red Death.

Reading anything special for Halloween? Leave a comment! My TBR list can always use a few more! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Why I Love Books

This post is a little bit different for me, which is why I’m posting it separately from the usual Friday book review. I feel like it’s time to get a little bit personal.

I really know very few people in my personal life that read. Not those who are often too busy to read as much as they would like, but those who actively dislike reading. They do not understand at all how I can spend the money I do on books and how I can want to spend so much time on them.

I find this painful. I don’t understand how they simply don’t read when books are like air to me: a necessity for my very existence. To simply not read is completely unfathomable for me.

I couldn’t say exactly what triggered this love of a lifetime for me. It’s possible that it was my mother forcing books on us while we were in the tub (a captive audience that couldn’t run away). I do know that at least a few of these books have made their way into my favorites, even now. Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner are the two I remember the most and are still just a complete comfort to me. She was the one who insisted I read Harry Potter when I dismissed it as a silly book for children. Whew. Was I wrong about that one.

I remember discovering my aunt’s old Nancy Drew books in the closet at my grandmother’s house. Today, I have a fairly impressive collection of Nancy Drew myself, including an almost complete set of the original 1930s books.

I’ve loved ghost stories since I was little. I sought out ghost story books at the library and in books stores. I was lucky to be a kid during the height of the Goosebumps craze. Now, I own a large, but my no means complete, R.L. Stine collection.

Exhibit A: Part of giant R.L. Stine collection. Behold it's glory.
Exhibit A: Giant R.L. Stine collection. Behold it’s glory.

 

Exhibit B: Well worn and much loved ghost stories from childhood.
Exhibit B: Well worn and much loved ghost stories from childhood. Yes, I know the shelf is dusty. Ain’t nobody got time for that. There are books to be read…

I recall devouring books on the Ancient Egyptians and mummies in third grade (another love I’ve had most of my life) and picking up adult novels by fourth grade or so. I always eagerly picked out a ridiculous number of books in the Scholastic book order pamphlets and at the book fairs. I was lucky to have parents who did not stifle my deep affection for books. I certainly wasn’t given all the books I wanted, but I can’t remember the reading ever being discouraged, and I was certainly indulged a fair amount.

I’m sure there was a time when I didn’t love to read, but I don’t remember it. I can’t even imagine it.

So basically, here is what I’m building to: I have anxiety. I have had it in varying degrees since I was a kid. I’ve been medicated for it, but I don’t like the side effects and these days I try to do without it as much as I can stand. If you’ve never had it, for one, lucky you, but for two, it’s very hard to explain. For me, it’s a tightness in my chest that won’t go away, I obsess over things completely out of my control, I don’t go places and do things because it’s nothing but constant worry. I can’t sleep because my brain won’t stop. My jaw hurts and I have headaches because I can’t stop clenching my teeth. And the worry. Just constant worrying over EVERYTHING in my life. When it’s at it’s worst, the anxiety owns me. I’m certain that it makes me very hard to live with.

But, when I read, I can make all of that seem peripheral for a little while. Reading makes it possible for me to be unmedicated and still function. It’s an escape. I can live in a different world and be someone else. When my reality gets bad I can read an entire series in no time at all.

I wish I could share that feeling with all the people I know who say they hate to read. When I read a really good book it is an unbelievably comforting, satisfying feeling.

It is probably a little dramatic to say that reading has saved my life, but I don’t know who I would be or what kind of shape I would be in mentally without it. Sometimes, just knowing I can read at the end of the day is the only thing that gets me through things. I have overflowing bookshelves and no space, and they are a HUGE pain to have to move, but I wouldn’t give up my collection for about anything. I’m very lucky to live with someone who doesn’t mind that I fill every available space with books (although I have been assured that should we ever move, I’m responsible for moving all of them, unassisted).

I’ve always wanted to be a writer myself. So far, I haven’t been able to make that happen. It may never happen for me, but I’ll keep trying. Someday, I would like to know that words that I have written have helped someone else in a situation similar to mine. In the meantime, this blog is the most fun I’ve ever had. It’s completely wonderful to be able to look at reading books as a job. I might never make any money doing this, but I can’t see myself stopping. I’ve had another blog before, but didn’t stick with it. It turned into work in the most pejorative sense. This blog I CANNOT WAIT to write each week. That’s job satisfaction I certainly cannot claim from my 9-5.

To those who write: what you’re doing matters so much. I would not be the person I am without you. Or my mom… who forced me to listen to all those books when I didn’t want to appreciate them. I certainly appreciate it now. And most profound thanks to a lifetime of patient and helpful librarians, and family and friends who understand when I say I want books, I really mean it.

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More books. Because: books.

My Top 5 Summer Reads (And Cocktail Suggestions)

So now that summer is officially upon us, some of you may be wondering, “Sara, what books do you recommend for summer reading? And what libations should I enjoy while reading these books?”

Or maybe not.

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At any rate, I can certainly make a few suggestions, whether you really wanted to know the answer to that question or not.

 

 

1.The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)

Engrossing, complex and more than a little dark, this book makes for an absorbing read, one that certainly might make you long for a little sunshine to chase away the shadows. It has plenty of two of my favorites: history and vampires. Everyone likes vampires.

Drink suggestion: Red wine. Obviously.

rotwein flasche mit glas / red wine bottle and glass

2.  The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (Lauren Willig)

A fun combination of chick-lit and historical romance, this is the first book in a great series if you are looking for something that might be described as a “romp”. Flowery named spies in Napoleonic France? Yes, please. The Pink Carnation is just the first book in a series that is just absolute fun. Although, I have discovered since finishing this series that that description is apt for all of Lauren Willig’s books. You can’t lose.

Drink suggestion: Lemonade. Just kidding. Try a Lavender Lemon Drop. A much more fun version of the lemonade Amy insists on (sort of) with a flowery twist to tie into the books.

3. The Diviners (Libba Bray)

Set in 1920s New York with a paranormal angle, this was one of those books I just couldn’t put down. This book felt like what I wanted the 1920s to be like. Add in a cast of fascinating paranormal characters and it was just about perfect.

Drink suggestion: A Sapphire 75. This drink has gin (which just feels right for a book set during Prohibition) and Prosecco, for a little sparkle I feel is perfect for Evie’s bubbly personality.

4. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)

If its drama you’re looking for, forget crappy reality TV and grab this oldie-but-goodie. It tells the story of the Cleary family, in particular their daughter Meggie, over the course of years. Mostly set on a sheep station in Australia it has all the drama you could ask for: mean spirited plots, forbidden love, dramatic deaths! There is even a great 80s miniseries if you need more.

Drink suggestion: A Wildfire martini. Not only is this a drink with a fair amount of its own drama, but there is wildfire in the books. It had tragic results, so perhaps a nice martini might help.

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5. Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)

I know what you’re thinking: another YA series? Yes. Another. I may be in my thirties now, but many of the best books being written these days are for young adults and I’m still happy to pretend that I am one. Anyway, this whole series was one I really enjoyed reading. It was dark, Southern and full of magic. There is also a spin off series, Dangerous Creatures, if you enjoy this one. However, I can’t really recommend the movie. It was pretty awful. Although, it does have Alden Ehrenreich (a.k.a. the new Han Solo), who is pretty dreamy.

Drink suggestion: The Charleston Bog. Summery and Southern, a perfect drink to help lighten up the darker moments in the book.

This list is really just scratching the surface. What are your favorite summer books (or drinks, for that matter)? Let me know in the comments!

Throwback Thursday: Rimwalkers (Vicki Grove)

Welcome to Throwback Thursday!  This is a new thing I’m trying out where I’ll take another quick look at books I loved as a kid.  Of course, I realize that at this point anything I do here is new.  We’ll call it a tryout.

Anyway, today I’ll be taking another look back at Rimwalkers.

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Tory and her younger sister Sara are off to their grandparents farm for the summer, along with their cousin Elijah.  Shy Tory is looking forward to a summer with her projects and time with her cousin, while outgoing Sara is distraught at a summer away from her adoring friends.  Upon arrival, they are both surprised to find their rebellious cousin Oren, also joining them for the summer.

Tory, Elijah and Oren develop a close bond, while surprisingly Sara drifts away.  For them the summer will hold adventure, a ghostly mystery and ultimately, a terrible tragedy.

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To me this book has always just felt like a drowsy, golden, childhood summer to me.  It reminds me of visits from out of town cousins at my grandparents as a kid.  We never had real ghosts, be we sure wished to see them in the old, empty mill across this street.

I absolutely love it.  For me, this book has held up surprisingly well.  I can still pick it up on a hot summer day for a quick read and enjoy it just as much as ever.  I definitely suggest this for kids looking for something to read as well as any adults looking to recapture some childhood nostalgia.