Who Writes Those TV Shows, Anyway?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to actually write a TV show? We have an excellent book on the subject at the library!

Just the Funny Parts by Nell Scovell talks about how the author went from college to a few years in New York and then began a career writing for television in Los Angeles. The highlight of her career (so far!) was being the showrunner (head writer and all around show boss) of Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

It’s not exactly an “anyone can do it” type of story. She went to college at Harvard and freely admits that the connections she made there had a lot to do with her success. I still found it fascinating to read about how writing for a television show actually works and to follow her personal journey, especially since she is a woman in a very male-dominated business.

She says the career of a television writer has four stages:

  1. Who is Nell Scovell?
  2. Get me Nell Scovell!
  3. Get me a younger, cheaper Nell Scovell!
  4. Who is Nell Scovell?

There’s some fun name-dropping in the book as well (she’s been close friends with magicians Penn and Teller since she was young).

The Month of Humor

As April is National Humor Month and glum has been the prevailing tilt to the world’s axis this past year, it seems to be a golden opportunity to highlight titles that might make you laugh or give you a lift. Reading has always been a conduit for joy for me, and this past year, the funnier the better. 

YA and Middle Schoolers

Don’t keep the celebration to yourself. Check out the library’s collection of joke books, and pick a favorite to tell your best pal (who’s 38, for instance) and child (who’s 8). My guess is they’ll both appreciate the laugh.

One of my favorite forms is clowning around, nonsense humor, wit and satire. I have long been a fan of P. G. Wodehouse, particularly the merry distraction that is Jeeves and my favorite knucklehead, Bertie. Because of these two, The Code of the Woosters is a joyous romp. I re-read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome whenever I’m especially blue. Bring on the silly!

More Fiction

Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series

Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Especially fun, as well, is You Suck, although most anything by Moore is an odd, fun, joy-ride of a read.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, first in the Thursday Next series. 

Mort by Terry Pratchett, one of the Discworld series

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, book one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Dark humor can be the outlet where we brighten ourselves and others up by pointing out the funny sides of adversities or shortcomings in order to laugh about them. While they can have a cheerless aspect, look for the buoyancy, as well.   

Twelve-year-old Flavia, “the world’s greatest adolescent British chemist/busybody/sleuth” (The Seattle Times), lives in a decaying mansion in 1950s England with two prickly older sisters and a distracted father. Part of the charm of a Flavia de Luce series is Flavia’s plucky take on the circumstances in front of her and then heading where that leads. Mix in her avid curiosity and author Alan Bradley’s sterling, darkly comic plot, and you have the recipe for smart and funny mysteries.

At the heart of the 10th installment, The Golden Tresses of the Dead: a Flavia de Luce novel, is a ghoulish question: “How had an embalmed finger found its way from the hand of a dead woman in a Surrey cemetery into the heart of a wedding cake?” While you can grab any one of the books and read it, if you start at the beginning with the wickedly brilliant first novel, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, you’ll follow Flavia’s bigger story as it slowly unfolds.

Bradley, who has few peers at combining fair-play clueing with humor and has fun mocking genre conventions, shows no sign of running out of ideas.(Publishers Weekly, starred review)

In The Question of the Missing Head by E.J. Copperman, Asperger’s sufferer Samuel Hoenig puts his syndrome traits to good use running a business called Questions Answered. With the help of his new colleague Janet Washburn, Hoenig uses his unique powers of deduction to investigate the disappearance of a preserved head from a cryonics institute and the murder of one of the facility’s scientists.

Told from Hoenig’s perspective, this cozy mystery series uses light-hearted humor to point out that the approach of the “normal” world can be confusing and, at times, downright silly. Intricately plotted, thoughtful and frequently humorous, these gentle stories showcase Samuel’s unique perspective as a help rather than hindrance to his sleuthing success.

Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is a funny, award-winning re-imagining of the Western novel.

A gorgeous, wise, riveting work of, among other things, cowboy noir…Honestly, I can’t recall ever being this fond of a pair of psychopaths. (David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)

Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation by Adam Resnick. This Emmy-winning screenwriter, who started as an intern for the original Late Night starring David Letterman, makes his debut with this collection of personal tales ranging from childhood to being a dad. The book is full of tension between Resnick and everyone in his life, whether he’s on vacation at Disney World or finding a blade in his milkshake at a fast-food chain.

The writing is sharp and sharp-tongued, sometimes close to the line of mean-spirited—the book is not for readers who are easily offended…. A neurotic, unapologetic, hilarious collection. (Kirkus Reviews)

One of the best laugh-out-loud reads I have had in a long time.

Non-Fiction

The Corfu Trilogy: a naturalist and his family leave England to live on the Greek island of Corfu. These are the tales of the interactions they have there–with both humans and animal varieties.

Allie Brosh’s latest offering, Solutions and Other Problems, continues where Hyperbole and a Half, her first book, left off in 2014. Both are based on collections of personal stories and drawings, including funny tales from her childhood, the adventures of her ‘very bad pets,’ and the absurdity of modern life in a mix of text and intentionally crude illustrations. They are part graphic novel, part confessional, and overall delightful. The books come from collections of blog posts in the form of her very popular webcomic, Hyperbole and a Half. Brosh started Hyperbole in 2009.

“A quirky, humorous memoir/collection of illustrated essays.” (Kirkus Reviews)

 **************

“‘There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, “Do trousers matter?”’

‘The mood will pass, sir.’”

~  P. G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves

Women’s History Month Readfest Ideas

To kick off Women’s History Month, let’s journey through a list of women authors with stories featuring women or girls. These titles–fiction and nonfiction–feature stereotype-busting women characters facing, among other challenges, racism, war and writer’s block. Check them out at the library!

Dear Miss Kopp by Amy Stewart

The sixth installment of the smart, top-notch Kopp Sisters series follows the adventures of the Kopp Sisters as they head overseas to help in the World War I effort, each in her own personal inimitable adventure. They are separated for the first time, and the sisters write to each other with their news. This is a smart, light-hearted series based on the sisters’ true story. Early in the 20th century, Constance Kopp was named one of the first female deputies in the nation. The sisters lived what was considered at that time to be an unconventional life. The three lived alone on a farm in New Jersey, and despite Constance working as a deputy sheriff, it was frowned on to not have any males around to provide and protect. Occasionally the trio piled into the horse and buggy for a day to visit their brother and his wife, and I wonder if he will show up in the series, at some point. The seventh book, Miss Kopp Investigates, arrives on library shelves this year. 

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

A cast of characters make up the community of ‘Conjure Women,’ and Miss Rue, a healer and midwife like her mother, is its center. Because the story’s structure is deftly threaded forward, past and during, you can pluck from this absorbing read the connection of secrets and fallible humans, which plays out in different eras of the Civil War. Miss Rue cares for a community of freedmen, some closer to her than others. She has cared for many people in her life, including a strange kinship she has with a baby who had a difficult birth. When she is accused of witchcraft, she says she just “knows things.” While she is privy to secrets about the plantation owner’s daughter, she knows exposure of her own secrets is a very real possibility. 

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

Markham, a British adventurer, covers growing up in Kenya in the early 1900s and beyond. In 1936, Markham became the first woman to cross the Atlantic east-to-west solo, and the first person to make it from England to North America non-stop from east to west. In 2004, this memoir, first released in 1942, landed in the number eight spot out of 100 best adventure books by National Geographic. I gobbled up this aviation pioneer’s memoir like it was a gastronomic garden party. She may have had lauded careers as a bush pilot and a racehorse trainer; however, readers are fortunate that it is because she was also such a talented writer, her compelling adventure stories have endured.

Anybody Can Do Anything by Betty MacDonald

Betty MacDonald spent a good chunk of her younger and teen years in the Roosevelt District of Seattle. In her four primo memoirs, details from this madcap family portrait occasionally come bubbling out, and it’s crackling good fun to read. Descriptions of antics and arguments the close-knit family experience attest to their ability to think beyond bleakness. I suppose that’s why the buoyant Anybody Can Do Anything was a surprising delight to read. Betty and her sister, Mary, were job hunting in Seattle during the depression of the 1930s. From what I knew, I expected a glum read. It was not. The family was far from depressed, especially Mary. She saw the economic situation as a personal incentive. Mary’s fearless outlook triumphs and leads Betty into one zany job after another. A groove-restoring read.

The Egg and I, MacDonald’s best-known memoir, was also a successful movie. It was based on the four years she and her husband spent deep in the Olympic Peninsula raising chickens on their remote farm. Alas, the marriage ended. Could it have been that the farm had no running water or electricity, but plenty of endless work starting with the rooster’s crow at 4am, year after year? While she didn’t answer that question in the book, her take on the experiences make for a light-hearted, witty read. Readers bought one million copies in the year after it was published. It was then made into a popular 1947 movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. Betty’s neighbors down the road a bit from the poultry farm, Ma & Pa Kettle, had audiences guffawing so hard, they got their own movies. 

In another excellent read, The Plague and I, MacDonald writes about the nine months she had tuberculosis. It is very contagious. During that time, she stayed in a Seattle sanatorium waiting to be healthy again. 

More absorbing reads by women starring compelling women:

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. “Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile. This decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.” –Kirkus Reviews

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict. Check out Benedict’s other under-celebrated women in history. The Only Woman in the Room, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, and others.

How to Order the Universe by Maraia Josae Ferrada. A traveling salesman and his daughter traverse Chile.

Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

A Little Noir For Yar

Noir

As a diehard reader of detective pulp fiction and a connoisseur of comedy, I may have found religion in Noir by Christopher Moore. Not to be confused with the religion I found in Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

Lamb

If you’re a fan of Damon Runyon and his unique use of language, Noir might be just the ticket for you.

“He looked like one of those dried-up faces you carve out of an apple in third grade to teach you that time is cruel and we are all just going to shrivel up and die, so there’s no point in getting out of bed.”

Similes and metaphors run wild, like turkeys in search of a barber… Scratch that. Like the Portuguese armada during their defeat in 1588… Well, let’s just say that words are not restrained by the laws of gravity in Moore’s writing.

And speaking of gravity, classy ladies fill the pages of this prestigious tome.

“She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes — a size eight dame in a size six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it as they watched her wiggle in the door and take a seat at the end of the bar.”

Moore is one of the few contemporary authors who does a credible job of creating Runyonesque prose. Each page is teeming with hoodlums, graft, gats, lookers and betties all ensconced in a miasma of despair and alcohol then rolled in a fine powder of lust and sex.

“It was the kind of kiss that he wanted to wake up to and keep refreshing periodically until he got one long last one, salty with tears, in his casket.”

For my ears, the story is almost inconsequential. Down-on-his-luck guy works in San Francisco as a bartender, is indebted to a gangster, falls for a dame… space aliens ensue, etc. etc. You know the drill, your typical post-war comic sci-fi noir thriller. Moore dots the proverbial i’s with his copious wit, leaving ample opportunity to cross the t’s with abundant atmosphere. It may not be the ride of your life, but Noir is at bare minimum the attempted hitchhike of your youth.

Why, you might even want to read Noir in a book club with your friends, and then orchestrate a moment that echoes a line from the text where:

“…everyone looks up like rats caught in a spotlight eating the brains of a friend dead in a trap.”

Of course, you might choose not to eat your friends’ brains.

So, as pleasant breaks from reality go, Noir is an excellent choice. Perhaps you could even explore Moore’s other writings, all steeped in the same blend of hilarity and repartee, not to mention jocularity. Like a fine Earl Grey tea. Tee hee.

I Am Speechless!

Group1

Speechless is a clever sitcom driven by brilliant writing and acting. Amazingly, in 2019 it was ABC’s lowest rated show. Filled with a cast of characters viewers can truly care about, perhaps even want to hang out with, its failure leaves me utterly, wait for it, speechless.

At the center of Speechless we find the DiMeo family. Maya (played by Minnie Driver) is a superstar special-needs mom who is constantly on the lookout for the perfect school environment for J.J., her 16-year-old son. J.J.’s cerebral palsy relegates him to an electric wheelchair and requires him to communicate by pointing a laser at a word/letter board. He is intelligent, happy and generally a typical 16-year-old.

At the start of Season 1 the family moves into a new house (something they do every year) and J.J. undertakes his first experience with mainstream high school. Really, all he wants is to experience the same things as most teens. Maya is, shall we say, rather intense in her efforts to get the best of everything for J.J. and most people are somewhat scared of her. But persistence produces results and J.J. soon has a full-time aide, Kenneth, who goes to classes with him, speaks for him and helps him with physical tasks. Kenneth and J.J. soon form a tight bond that is unique in the annals of sitcoms.

The household is rounded out by husband Jimmy, an airport baggage handler who doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of him; Ray, the middle child, a worrier and realist who just wants a girlfriend; and Ray’s younger sister, Dylan, a competitive runner who has little time for nonsense unless it involves pranking Ray. They make up a close-knit family and although the others feel neglected at times, everyone is focused on providing J.J. with whatever he needs.

Prom

One of the show’s main sources of tension is J.J.’s desire for independence versus Maya’s need to orchestrate his life. She has spent 16 years fighting for J.J., trying to make things easier for him. Now in high school he’s asking for opportunities to go to parties and school dances, play sled hockey and go to summer camp. Maya, understandably, has a hard time letting go. But Kenneth recognizes J.J.’s needs and desires and is an excellent advocate, which in turn leads to tension between Maya and Kenneth.

Hockey

Sibling subplots center around Ray’s quest for a girlfriend and Dylan’s insatiable need to win. Another recurring plot point is the family’s general messiness and lack of yard care. J.J. takes a lot of everyone’s energy and little is left for household chores. The DiMeos are fine with this, but neighbors do not always share their enthusiasm. Perhaps my favorite episode is “T-h-a Thanksgiving”. The family is supposed to visit Jimmy’s brother but don’t want to because, well, those relatives are horrible. The brother always humble-brags about his wealth and success; his wife cries at the drop of a hat; her mother performs weird semi-lap dances for J.J.; and their son says a single catch phrase each year and nothing else; So the DiMeos pretend that J.J. is sick and cancel the visit. However, the relatives decide to visit the DiMeos instead. As they continue to plan ways to avoid the unwanted gathering, Maya comes up with a brilliant idea, turning the relatives annoying habits into a game. Every time the wife cries Maya gets a point, when the brother brags Jimmy gets a point, and so on. This is a unique perspective on coping with difficult family interactions.

If you like sharp, clever writing, be sure to check out Speechless. It’s truly a superior and unusual show, well worth the price of admission. And please remember: no helmet, no hockey.

The Good Place

Finally, the ultimate philosophical questions surrounding life and death have been answered. In a sitcom. Called The Good Place.

SEason1

The premise is a little difficult to explain without getting into multiple spoilers, but here we go.

There is an afterlife! When people die they either go to the Good Place or the Bad Place, depending on how they behaved while alive. The show focuses on four people who die at roughly the same time and are thrust together in the Good Place in a neighborhood designed by an eternal (or nearly-eternal) being named Michael. Michael is sort of like a god in the neighborhood, able to help people, fix problems and create heavenly things such as frozen yogurt restaurants.

There is a “but”.

But Eleanor (the main character) realizes she doesn’t belong in the Good Place. She was, in fact, a horrible human being while alive. Thus, Eleanor assumes there’s been some sort of clerical error that saved her from eternal punishment. And, wanting to remain in the Good Place, she tries to cover up this mistake. To her credit, Eleanor does try to make up for previous behaviors by studying ethics with Chidi (a professor of ethics while alive), who is her soulmate in the Good Place. But it becomes apparent that covering up her past is not going to be easy.

Other characters include another pair of soulmates, Tahani, a rich socialite while alive, and Jianyu, a silent Taiwanese monk, who live in a fantastic mansion next to Eleanor and Chidi’s tiny, clown-themed house. And let us not forget Janet, a sort of supercomputer in human form, who knows literally everything and is able to fill all the desires of the neighborhood’s inhabitants (such as providing frozen yogurt).

Cast2

This is the premise, more or less, at the beginning of the first season. But it’s important to remember one thing about The Good Place: Nothing is what it seems to be. In fact, viewers’ expectations are constantly turned upside down over teakettle. By the end of season 1, the above description is highly inaccurate and the show reboots, so to speak, in an entirely different direction. And this is one of the strengths of the show, its willingness to explore entirely new circumstances, essentially trashing everything that has already occurred. In a way, this aspect of The Good Place is similar to the premise of Groundhog Day, with characters reliving the same or similar situations with different outcomes. This device provides a level of freshness that is seldom found on television.

SEason2              SEason3

Later seasons are impossible to describe without giving away the many twists that make The Good Place such a refreshing show. Suffice to say, a variety of permutations of the original plot find their way into the afterlife, creating much humor along the way.

The fourth and final season of the show is currently airing on network TV, meaning there will only be 50 or so episodes of the show in total. Higher quality often means fewer episodes, which means viewers will have to find other innovative programming. So take advantage of this excellent program while you can. The writing, acting, plot twists and explanations of the afterlife are superlative. As a young British prime minister once said, “Hey, that’s my donut!”

Unhappy Comedies

I’ve noticed a recent trend in sitcoms. Perhaps it’s nothing new, but an extra twist of lime has been added to the mix, metaphorically speaking. Here’s the 411 on the down low: Most of the characters in these comedies are not likable and the overall feeling generated by the shows is discomfort. Please, come with me to THE LAND OF UNHAPPY COMEDIES.

baskets

Our first stop is Bakersfield, CA. After flunking out of a prestigious French clown college, Chip Baskets is determined to fulfill his clowning dream. So, Baskets moves in with his less-than-supportive mother (played somewhat disturbingly by Louie Anderson) and takes a job as a rodeo clown. Chip’s only friend is Martha, an insurance agent who tolerates the poor treatment he heaps on her liberally. His twin brother Dale (mom’s favorite) is another source of irritation in Chip’s demoralizing life. And it’s a comedy! Don’t get me wrong, Baskets is a crazy good television program. It’s just not a happy viewing experience. Did I mention that it’s a comedy?

GettingOn

Moving approximately 135 miles to Long Beach, CA, we come to the Mount Palms Memorial Hospital where the dysfunctional denizens of Getting On help people who are ready to move on to their final reward. Meet head nurse Dawn Forchette, a woman who freely mixes her love life and job, failing miserably at both; nurse Didi Ortley, a compassionate and humane caregiver; Dr. Jenna James, who cares about nothing but her research, often at the patients’ cost; and supervising nurse Patsy De La Serda, a sexually ambiguous emotional wreck who puts a face on unhappiness. What better premise for a comedy? These characters frequently act with disregard for those around them, driven only by their own needs and desires. In Didi we have a reasonable person that most of us can relate to but the others are all toxic. The result is an uncomfortable but hilarious viewing experience.

LastMan

Our journey concludes in Tuscon and other ports of call. Humanity has been wiped out by a virus and Phil Miller is The Last Man On Earth. He travels the North American continent for two years looking for others but finds no one. As he sits in Tuscon contemplating ending it all, other survivors begin to arrive and we soon find out that Phil (who goes by his middle name, Tandy) is a real jerk with few redeeming qualities. After finding out that Carol will not have sex with him unless they get married, he (wait for it) marries her. But the bonds of wedlock do not keep him from flagrantly lusting after Melissa, who gradually falls in love with Todd, a shy and husky man who Tandy tries to kill in order to be with Melissa. Did I mention that it’s a comedy? The format of the show makes it simple for adventures to occur, with other survivors occasionally finding the group, some with evil intent, others not. As the show progresses, the group moves hither and yon, allowing for more variety in the storylines. No question, this is a great show, but the overall vibe is one of discomfort and shuddering. And it’s a comedy!

I enjoy all of these shows, but they leave me feeling a little bit dirty, a little disillusioned with humankind. Still, if you want to see superior writing, most excellent acting and clever plot twists, you could do worse than these unhappy comedies. Come on down to Everett Public Library and take one for a test drive. Mileage may vary.

30 Minutes Every Day…

Document (1)Summer is one of the busiest – and most exciting – times of year at our library. In Youth Services, we spend a lot of time focusing on our Summer Reading program. The basics are simple – we want youths to retain their reading skills while school is out, and research has found that reading for 30 minutes every day is the sweet spot. For this reason, we set a goal of reading for 24 hours by the end of the summer, and offer prizes for those who participate.

Have any questions about our reading program? We’ve got the answers!

Who can participate?

Our Youth Summer Reading Program is for anyone going into 12th grade or under. We also have a yearlong reading challenge for adults that you can learn about here.

What counts as “reading?”

We really like to emphasize that any form of reading counts including, but not limited to, reading on your own, stories read aloud by someone else, reading to younger siblings, listening to audiobooks, and, of course, reading graphic novels and comics. Because our program begins at birth, we also encourage parents to count time that infants and toddlers spend interacting with books, whether they are paging through them or just seeing what they taste like!

How does the program work?

We have reading logs for children and teens which can be picked up any time at our library. Readers can color in one star in the log for each half-hour of reading they do. Beginning July 1, participants can bring their logs back to the library and win prizes. Prizes are awarded at 12 hours and 24 hours, and will be available until August 31 (or until we run out).

At 12 hours, our readers get a color-changing pencil and their choice of a ticket to the Imagine Children’s Museum or a Seattle Storm basketball game in Everett. At 24 hours, they get a free book and entry in a grand-prize raffle. And if they finish by August 16, they are invited to our summer reading party which always includes exciting VIPs!

I like prizes! How do I sign up?

To sign up, just pick up a reading log at our Youth Services reference desk!

Every spring, our Youth Services Librarians visit Elementary and Middle Schools throughout Everett, promoting this program and getting students excited about the books they can read this summer. My visits center mostly on middle schools, where I see groups of sixth and seventh graders. These trips are exhilarating and exhausting, and are always one of the highlights of my year. Here are a few of the books I brought that students seemed especially eager to read:

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away by Ronald L. Smith

Simon has always been obsessed with aliens, but now it seems that they are obsessed with him. Simon mostly keeps to himself – his dad is in the air force, so his family moves a lot, and he has trouble fitting in and making friends. To ward off loneliness, he lets his imagination run wild researching UFO sightings, convinced that many of them are real and determined to find a pattern in these alien encounters.

Then one dark night on a family camping trip, Simon is attacked. Although it seems that he was simply clawed by an owl, Simon knows better. This was alien work. And the gouge in his stomach isn’t a scratch from an owl, it’s proof of an alien implant. When Simon tells his parents what happened, they are beyond skeptical and take him to a psychiatrist, who in turn prescribes him some medication. But none of this helps Simon with his problems. As Simon falls deeper and deeper into his obsession, it remains unclear whether these events are actually happening or if Simon is losing his sanity. If you want to know which is the case, you’ll have to read it!

Lizzy Legend by Matthew Ross Smith

For 13-year old Lizzy, basketball IS life. She practices every free moment, obsessing over every part of her game and analyzing the greats. Someday she hopes to be a legend herself, but right now her goal is to make the boys team at her school. She manages to make the team and become the star player, but she also has some things weighing her down. She lives with her dad, who has trouble keeping a job, and debt collectors are always breathing down their necks.

Then one day she gets a strange call. It sounds like the kind of robo-call that promises a free vacation or new iPhone but winds up a total scam, except this call tells Lizzie that she is pre-selected for one free wish. She says the first things that comes to mind, then hangs up the phone and forgets the call. But something strange has happened. Lizzie soon realizes that her wish has come true and she can make any shot she shoots. Pretty quickly a viral video leads to a tryout for a professional team, and before she knows it, Lizzie finds herself on the court playing for a pro team against full-grown men, with her power on the fritz. There’s a big game on the line and her new team is counting on her, so Lizzy needs to find a way to beat the best.

Beast Rider by María Elena Fontanot de Rhoads and Tony Johnston

The beast is a massive, fast moving network of trains that snake through Mexico toward its border with the United States. It is a treacherous ride, on a route with many people who could leave you dead – deceitful criminals, violent gangs, and corrupt police. Manuel is a 12-year-old living in the Oaxaca region of Mexico who dreams of joining his brother Toño in Los Angeles. But to do so, he will need to ride the beast.

This book follows his three-year journey, with its many hungry nights, threats, near deaths, and cruel beatings. Manuel also meets many kind and caring people who help him along the way. As he slowly gets closer to LA, Manuel begins to wonder if he will survive to make it there and if he will ever be able to forget the terrible things that have happened along the way. This book is, at times, a thrilling adventure and a heartbreaking story of sacrifice. But it is also an account of the perilous journey that many people endure to seek a better life and it also explores the reasons why people take such giant risks, and the stories that they bring with them.

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Danny lives in the Pacific Northwest in New Port City. In her world, superheroes and supervillains roam the skies, waging epic battles between good and evil. It might sound cool, but for ordinary people like Danny it is just plain dangerous. So when she witnesses a battle up close, she tries to stay out of the way until the great hero Dreadnought crashes down next to her, mortally wounded. As he dies in her arms, Danny is both terrified and annoyed – because even a dying superhero manages to misgender her. Danny presents as male, but is actually a trans woman.

As Dreadnought dies, something unbelievable happens. His powers transfer to Danny, not just giving her super strength and the ability to fly, but also transforming her body into what it is meant to be, that of a young woman. Needless to say, this is a lot for Danny. For one thing, she wasn’t ready to come out to the world and now her true identity is impossible to hide. She also must figure out how to fit in with the Legion of superheroes and hunt down the evil cyborg, Utopia, who killed Dreadnought and is a massive threat to humanity. So Danny joins with another hero and must learn to navigate life with her new body and her responsibilities as a superhero in time to stop the evil Utopia before it is too late.

XL by Scott Brown

Will is disastrously short. I don’t mean just a bit short for his age – at 16, he is just 4’11.”  This is beyond an embarrassing height. It makes him miserable and he has tried every crazy trick, miracle cream, and superstition to try to grow taller. Nothing has worked. Luckily, he has his best friends by his side, his stepbrother Drew and Monica, a book-obsessed surfer, who Will secretly loves.

Then two things happen that throw Will’s life into chaos. First, he catches Drew kissing Monica. Not only does this break Will’s heart, it also sends their little group into chaos. And then, Will starts growing. And growing. And growing. At first this is great- he can reach the pedals in his car, he grab things off top shelves. Then he gets taller – even better! He can look DOWN on his classmates. He can dunk. Then he gets taller. His body hurts, he is always hungry, and people start treating him like maybe there is something wrong with him. And to make things worse, it seems that the taller he gets, the harder it is to stay friends with Drew and Monica. Without them, Will doesn’t have anyone to hold him back as he grows into a bigger and bigger jerk. What’s a 7-foot tall ego monster to do?

Versailles of the Dead by Kumiko Suekane

Marie Antoinette is on her way from her native Austria to France, where she will marry the future king, securing peace between their countries. In real life Marie is beheaded during the French Revolution, but not in this book! Zombies devour her instead. The only survivor of the attack is Marie’s twin brother, Albert. Albert continues to Versailles, hoping to take refuge with the court. When he gets there, the King, who is trying to fight off the zombie invasion and can’t afford a war with Austria, decides that Albert will disguise himself as Marie and marry the Dauphin (prince). Now Albert has a lot on his plate. He must trick the people into believing he is Marie, including many who are suspicious of him, wondering how he alone managed to survive the zombie attack. He also has to survive a court filled with deadly intrigue and deadlier romance, and fight a few zombies along the way.  This is a terrifically fun and ghoulish new manga series!

Funny Stuff on the Box

I am a person who thrives on comedy. When choosing movies, television shows or books I always gravitate towards humor. And now that Seinfeld is rumored to be cancelled (pause for laughter), I’m always on the lookout for new sitcoms. What with cable and streaming services, the new offerings are more numerous than ever before. Here are a few newish shows that I have come to treasure.

Group 1

Fresh off the Boat is the story of a Taiwanese family that moves from Washington D.C. to Orlando so the father can open a cowboy-themed steakhouse. As so many Taiwanese dads do in Florida. The family consists of parents, three boys, and grandma. In addition to typical sitcom plotlines the Huangs are faced with culture shock while attempting to mix seamlessly with the Orlando way of life. What makes this show stand out is the superior acting of all parties and the clever writing. The “sit” part of the sitcom is pretty typical, but the “com” is a cut above the rest.

Group2

But perhaps you’re the kind of person who’s looking for proof of alien abductions in your television comedies. Fear not! People of Earth is just the ticket for you. The cast includes a group of abductees trying to make sense of what’s happened to them, a reporter trying to write a story on the group, and three aliens of different species (one of whom is named Jeff) trying to conquer earth. Ozzie, the journalist, is not a believer but the more he investigates the more it appears that the group’s claims are true. He even begins to suspect that he himself is an abductee. Meanwhile, the aliens halfheartedly attempt their conquest. One of the freshest and funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time, but be aware that TBS quite suddenly pulled the plug on it, leaving a cliffhanger that will never be resolved.

AngieT

Finally we find Angie Tribeca, a police comedy strongly reminiscent of Police Squad!. The show’s focus is the LAPD’s infamous Really Heinous Crimes Unit. Sight gags, one liners and general silliness prevail whilst the officers attempt to solve cases. If you enjoy this exchange from Airplane! then you’re dead-certain to love Angie Tribeca.

Rumack: You’d better tell the Captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

These are just a few of the truly superior comedies available for your viewing pleasure at Everett Public Library. So get out your banana peel, couch and VHS player and settle in for a long, funny Spring.

Bill Murray Stories

Everyone has a story about Bill Murray, whether it be something he did in a movie, on a talk show or during his run on Saturday Night Live. My Bill Murray story might be his appearance on the first episode of Late Night with David Letterman in 1982. It was a rather crazy bit of television and I later found out that Bill and Dave were both drunk at the show’s taping. Or perhaps it would be the many ways in which his dialogue from movies has permeated my life.

Caddyshack
caddyshack
“So we finish 18 and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ … So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

This completely improvised speech came from the lips of Carl Spackler (Murray) in Caddyshack regarding the time he caddied for the dalai lama. Now I frequently think to myself, “I’ve that going for me.” Which is nice.

Stories

But not everyone has a story about how Bill came to their birthday party and sang or served them a drink in their local bar. And this is precisely what the movie The Bill Murray Stories is about. Apparently, many people tell of encounters they’ve had with Bill Murray. It’s even become an internet thing to post these tales. Tommy Avallone, the film’s director, sets out to determine if these stories are true or simply urban legend. And as Bill Murray is notoriously difficult to contact (he has an 800 number that goes directly to an answering machine and he seldom returns calls) Avallone does this without going to the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Stripes
Stripes
Oh, it’s not the speed really so much, I just wish I hadn’t
drunk all that
cough syrup this morning.

So Avallone begins tracking down people who claim to have had serendipitous encounters with Mr. Murray. Stories range from Bill washing dishes at a house party to Bill playing kickball with strangers in the park. In each case, the stories’ purveyors are able to provide photographic proof of the incidents. More than just legend, it appears that the Bill Murray stories are true!

Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters
“Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”

This wonderful movie continues on to dissect Murray’s philosophy, his way of life. As this aspect of the story is somewhat mysterious and surprising, I’ll leave you to explore it on your own. And I highly recommend that you immediately check this film out so that you too can be in the know.

Prolific actor, funny guy, bringer of joy, he is… Bill Murray.