A Cautionary Tale, Because Teens Need Advice, Too

It didn't sound like a novel I would like, but Panic by New York Times bestselling author Sharon Draper turned out to be gripping and powerful. Written for ages 14 and older, the novel centers on a close-knit dance troupe and bad decisions made by two young dancers -- with horrible, undeserved consequences.

When Diamond goes to the mall with a friend, she leaves, alone, with a stranger who promises to make her a film star. She is kidnapped and held captive
by the man, who makes porn. Meanwhile, the other dancer, Layla, clings crazily to her sexy boyfriend, Donovan, who abuses her physically and emotionally. The story seems alarmingly realistic; once begun, it is hard to put down. Four alternating narrators tell the tale, adding richness to character development and plot.

In an article on Shelf Awareness.com, Sharon Draper allows that her latest book is "a little edgier than anything I've written, but I think it could save a life. . . .We tell our six-year-olds not to talk to strangers, not to talk to a man with a nice dog. We don't tell our teens anything. They think they're smart enough and mature enough to tell the difference between a nice guy and a bad guy."

Wild Swan Theater: “Shipwrecked!”

Wild Swan Theater presents "Shipwrecked!" March 14-16 in Towsley Auditorium in the WCC Morris Lawrence Building. This original play, appropriate for kids in about grades 3-8, was written by accomplished local playwright Jeff Duncan. The story is a coming-of-age drama set during a fierce storm on Lake Huron in 1893. Twelve year-old Aaron Buchanan is sailing with his parents on their small schooner loaded with Christmas trees. Aaron's mettle is tested when a fierce gale hits "Shipwreck Alley," and he helps rescue his family. The play is based on historical accounts of the time and should give young people a good chance to learn some of the history, geography, music and maritime heritage of Michigan and the Great Lakes. For those families who may want to learn more about shipwrecks before going to the play, AADL has some great resources.

Teen Fiction: Boy21

Boy21 is a novel about basketball and so much more, encompassing male friendship, poverty, the Irish mob, grief, and love. I highly recommend this fast read by Matthew Quick, who became one of my favorite teen authors with his 2010 book Sorta Like a Rock Star.

Quick's latest novel, published in 2012, opens in ugly, tough Bellmont, Pennsylvania, where quiet, obedient Finley lives with his wheelchair-bound grandfather and widowed father. Finley -- whose childhood is a mystery until late in the book -- is flourishing as the only white kid on the high school basketball team. When the coach asks him to mentor a hot new -- and very mysterious -- player from California, Finley does, but suddenly luck and life seem to turn against him and toward the new guy. Nonetheless, Finley continues to support his friend, "Boy21," and their friendship grows, until Finley's girlfriend Erin is injured and Finley can't stand it anymore.

This book offers strong characters, action, dialogue, and -- hard to believe with all the bad luck going around -- a semi-happy, if old-fashioned ending. Particularly appealing to me were the threads of responsibility, loyalty and friendship among two extraordinary young men.

The Listen List 2013

Established in 2010 by the CODES section of Reference and User Services Association (RUSA, a division of the American Library Association), The Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration seeks to highlight outstanding audiobook titles that merit special attention by general adult listeners and the librarians who work with them. The Listen List Council selects these 2013 winners. They include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and plays.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. Narrated by Daniel Weyman.
In a gravelly yet gleeful voice, Weyman narrates this swashbuckling genre-blend of spies, gangsters, and a doomsday machine. The lavish and imaginative story of Joe Spork, a clockmaker out of his depth as he attempts to save the world, is brilliantly realized through Weyman’s attention to inflection, characterization and pacing.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Narrated by Simon Vance.
In this grim and gripping tale, masterfully told, Vance brings Tudor England to life.
Beautifully accented and paced, his pitch-perfect narration deftly navigates the large and diverse cast and the intricate plot machinations to create a stunning glimpse into a dangerous time when Henry VIII ruled and Thomas Cromwell served as his “fixer.”

The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell. Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.
The discovery of a blood-covered little girl wandering in Central Park draws police detective Kathleen Mallory into an investigation involving long hidden secrets of New York’s elite. Rosenblat’s warmly expressive voice embodies each character effortlessly while adroitly managing the pace of Mallory’s gritty and harrowing tenth case.

The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell. Narrated by Nicholas Tecosky. (on order)
Welcome to the world of Shug Akins, a thirteen-year-old loner coming of age in the Ozarks. Tecosky skillfully demonstrates that the vernacular of this country noir novel is at its lyrical best when spoken aloud. In a youthful detached voice, he authentically captures the violence, poverty, and heartbreaking bleakness of Shug’s life.

The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig. Narrated by Kate Reading.
In this lively ninth Pink Carnation romp, Eloise and Colin are beset by a film crew, while in the 19th century, agent Augustus Whittlesby, infamously bad poet, investigates rumors of Napoleon’s plotting and encounters love. Reading’s companionable, husky voice reveals all the humor in the rich banter and bad verse, as well as the passion.

Heft by Liz Moore. Narrated by Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka. (on order)
This magnificent dual narration illuminates a poignant story of the isolation, family relationships, and new beginnings of two lost souls on a collision course. Szarabajka’s richly sonorous voice captures morbidly obese Arthur’s physical and emotional weight while Heyborne’s quietly expressive voice exposes the desperation of the teenaged Kel.

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz. Narrated by Derek Jacobi. (on order)
In a refined, resonant, and delightfully self-aware voice, Jacobi re-creates the world of Sherlock Holmes. His pacing is lovely – leisurely, inviting, and seductive – while his accents are grand and fit the characters perfectly. In this authorized addition to the canon, Holmes investigates a conspiracy linking criminals to the highest levels of government.

The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith. Narrated by Ari Fliakos. (on order)
Fliakos’ unflinching depiction of Geiger, an expert in the art of “information retrieval” (aka torture), intensifies this absorbing and disturbing thriller. He sets the mood from the opening line, offering a tormented, affectless but surprisingly sympathetic hero. His skill in creating tone, character and pace enhances the haunting quality of Geiger’s world.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Narrated by Alan Cumming.
Cumming makes “The Scottish Play” an electric event, allowing modern audiences a chance to experience it with the same excitement, horror and wonder Shakespeare’s contemporary audiences surely felt. From stage directions delivered in furtive whispers to the cackle of the witches and the grim resolution of Lady Macbeth, Cumming astounds.

Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe. Narrated by Dion Graham.
With his raspy, whispery voice Dion Graham inhabits musical genius Miles Davis in this tell-all autobiography that flows like a jazz riff. While setting the record straight about Davis’s career, lovers, addiction and racial issues, Graham channels Davis’s voice and cadence so completely that listeners will believe they’re hearing the master himself.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Narrated by Ari Fliakos. (on order)
Affectionate and playful, Ari Fliakos’ narration is addictive as he expertly voices full-bodied characters, savoring their eccentricities, in this imaginative work of “geek-lit.” His optimistic wonder and understanding of the subtext bring tension to even the minutiae of this grand quest by a motley crew of book lovers hoping to crack the code of immortality.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Narrated by David Timson. (on order)
Timson’s irrepressible performance of this rollicking romp through 1830s England in Dickens’s first novel invites listeners along as Pickwick and his crew ramble through the countryside. With broad satire and clever irony, Timson proves a delightful guide through slapdash adventures and a host of eccentric characters.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Narrated by Simon Prebble. (on order)
Prebble’s performance is like listening to a full cast production so great is his skill in crafting characters. Navigating memories of both “upstairs” and “downstairs,” dutiful butler Stevens revisits past pains and triumphs. Prebble creates a poignant reflection of a life given to service seen through the eyes of a man finally questioning his purpose.

YPT: "Fiddler on the Roof"

Young Peoples Theater is staging Fiddler on the Roof Jan. 10-13 at U-M Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. The show is based on the book by Joseph Stein with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Block. Ticket information is here

Being Flynn, on DVD

In Being Flynn, Robert DeNiro and Paul Dano wonderfully portray Jonathan and Nick Flynn, father and son, both writers. Nick hasn’t seen his father in 18 years, then he calls one day seeking help. Nick is resistant, but intrigued and follows through. He finds that his father is still a difficult person to know, for many reasons. In his 20s, Nick is in a transitional phase of his life and finds work in a local homeless shelter. All is going well with his new job and new friends… until Jonathan walks into the shelter one night looking for a bed. Nick battles addiction, a failing new relationship, and trying to have a relationship with his stubborn con-man of a father who creates tension in his workplace. Behind it all, the two share the talent of writing.

The film is an interesting portrait of the complicated relationship and bond that can exist between parent and child. Not a light story, but this limited release film is a worthy viewing. It is based on author Nick Flynn’s award-winning memoir, also available at AADL.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on DVD

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows seven retirees who decide to chance their retirement to spending time in a less expensive resort community in India. They arrive expecting lavish amenities, but find that the Marigold Hotel is not quite up to par, and the young, energetic owner does what he can to keep his first guests happy and at the hotel. Many of the guests make the most of it and try to enjoy the life in India, while others yearn to get back home.

The film features an all-star British cast of actors, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, as the adventurous group whose lives are forever changed after their visit to India. It's full of laughter, warmth, and touching moments as the characters evolve and grow into new lives. While the film’s goal is to entertain, not necessarily to inspire or awe, it does go to show that life can begin at any age. To quote the young hotel owner, “Everything will be all right in the end and if it's not all right, then it's not yet the end.”

Tiny Furniture on DVD

Lena Dunham is the director, writer and star of Tiny Furniture, an independent dramatic feature film released by The Criterion Collection. The film centers around Aura, who has recently graduated from college and returns home to New York to her mother’s house and now has the task of figuring out her life. She struggles with employment, and with her relationships with love interests, as well as her friends and family.

As is the trend of recent low-budget indie films, it is dialog heavy and features a young protagonist finding her way. Aura is deep in the dilemma of being young and aimless, but is also at the point where she knows responsibility should be taken; she just doesn’t know which direction to turn. The film also subtly focuses around her relationship with her mother, who is a grounded and successful artist. Interestingly, Aura’s mother and sister in the film are portrayed by Dunham’s real-life mother and sister, so there’s extra chemistry among the actors.

In addition to sharp dialog, Dunham also blesses viewers with great composition and visually appealing images on the screen. It’s a charming little film, and even though the subject matter is slow and heavy, it’s filled with witty dialog that keeps you amused, and it has a touching ending. As a bonus, The Criterion Collection DVD release also features Dunham’s first feature film, "Creative Nonfiction," and four of her short films.

Talking Books Narrator Roy Avers

Listen to a fascinating interview with acclaimed talking books narrator Roy Avers at 8pm, Wed. Sept. 26, on Books and Beyond. Avers, 63, has made his living as a businessman, sings bass in the Louisville Opera, and he has also narrated more than 300 books of many genres for the National Library Service. I know one Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled patron who will listen only to books narrated by Roy! As long as she hears his voice, no matter what the book is about, it will be greatly enjoyed. So tune in to learn what makes Roy Avers so unique. Just visit the Books and Beyond Room and enter your first and last names on the sign-in screen, or contact Marcia Moses at 734-495-1496, mgmoses@comcast.net.

We Bought A Zoo, on DVD

A comedy-drama, We Bought A Zoo is a true story based on Benjamin Mee’s 2008 memoir of the same name. In the film, Matt Damon portrays Mee, who has recently lost his wife, and is struggling with moving on, as well as helping his two children cope with the loss of their mother. Set in Southern California, the adventurous Mee decides the family is in need of a change and buys a house in the country that also happens to be a no-longer-running zoo. A stipulation of buying the house is getting the zoo back up and running, which means Mee has to learn how to run a zoo and care for animals, which leaves for some definite animal-human hijinx as he learns the tricks of the trade.

Mee’s young daughter is more than thrilled at living at a zoo, but his teenage son is not. Mee works them through it and also deals with the zoo’s staff that comes along with the property, including the head zoo keeper played by head-turner Scarlett Johansson. While adjusting to all the changes, everyone’s goal is to get the zoo back in order and ready for inspection in order to open for the summer season.

It’s a feel good film, and a great one for the family. It definitely pulled at my heart strings. One thing I took away from the film is Mee’s idea of 20 seconds of insane courage. If you give yourself just 20 seconds to be courageous, think of what you could do. I mean, why not?

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