Netflix Instant Picks: Jumanji, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Click

Jumanji (1995) / Family Adventure

Netflix Instant Picks Jumaji Robin Williams

Not only is this a fair adaptation of the book but after nine years it still holds up. Sure, the movie is predictable but it’s a family film at heart. The special affects also hold up when comparing to today’s visuals. They do a good job presenting the past and the future and making sure both are separate.

The story of Jumanji tells of a board game about the jungle that actually comes to life. You can actually be taken into the jungle. Lions can appear in your bedroom. You can turn into a monkey. The movie shows all these things very well without it coming off as too hokey. There are times things are forced and silly. Remember, family movie.

Besides, Kirsten Dunst is adorable.

Starring: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst
Runtime: 103 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: A game about the jungle that becomes real life.

Click (2006) / Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Click Adam Sandler

I remember watching this movie at the theater, in some mall in South Jersey. I was with some friends, two of whom might have been on a date. I don’t quite remember. The movie hadn’t sounded interesting to me but I went with the group anyway.

Turns out, when given the power to control your life with a remote, being able to pause and fast forward and rewind, not fun things happen. Click starts off with the basic use of the remote having Adam Sandler fast forward until he receives a promotion. He thinks he will get it within the next few months but it actually takes several years. Of course in that time he has missed part of his family’s lives.

Then it gets weird. And it’s not funny at any point. We’ve seen this story before… he sees how his selfish ways are ruining his family then he gets a chance at a do-over. Predictable and boring.

And that’s all I have to say on the topic of malls in south jersey.

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kate Beckinsale, Christopher Walken
Runtime: 107 min
Leslie Rating: 2/5
Summary: Being able to control life as though it’s a movie isn’t as great as it seems.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) / Foreign Action

Netflix Instant Picks Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

It took me a while to warm up to foreign martial arts films but now I can’t get enough of them. This is definitely in my top three for the choreography alone. It’s not just people fighting each other.

These are beautifully choreographed fighting scenes. Dances almost. It’s about skills not just strength. Really beautiful to watch.

Among the eye-catching action scenes is a very strong story. The plot revolves around Chow Yun-Fat attempting to avenge his master’s death. With a tasteful side of romance thrown in. This film is beautiful and should be seen by everyone.

Starring: Yun-Fat Chow
Runtime: 120 min
Leslie Rating: 5/5
Summary: Beautifully choreographed martial arts movie to supplement a story of romance.

Netflix Instant Picks: Gattaca, Taxi Driver, Men in Black II

Gattaca (1997) / Sci-Fi

Netflix Instant Gattaca

Gattaca, starring the talented combination of Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman, is in my top 5 list of best sci-fi movies.

A world where all babies are genetically engineered. No diseases. No imperfections. But some were born off the grid, In-Valids. Ethan Hawke’s character is one of these imperfects and is seen as weak by society.

The plot revolves around Ethan Hawke trying to assume the identity of someone who was genetically engineered. There are plenty of close-calls and suspense. Some parts are cringe-worthy as becoming someone else includes leg lengthening to match their height.

The take on genetic engineering is interesting and everyone plays their parts, perfectly.

Bonus: This is Jude Law’s first major movie role.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law
Runtime: 106 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: The lengths people go to for perfection.

Men In Black II (2002) / Sci-Fi Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Men in Black Sequel

Taking a good concept and keeping it going, Men in Black II, is really more of the same. This isn’t bad but don’t expect a whole different story or anything. Will Smith’s character is still strong. And the aliens are still silly.

Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
Runtime: 88 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Strong follow-up with more silly alien antics and Will Smith.

Taxi Driver (1976) / Classic Drama

Netflix Instant Picks Taxi Driver

Watching Taxi Driver for the first time in a New York City theater was strange experience. The movie’s atmosphere was perfectly gritty and creepy. De Niro’s character is perfectly delusional.

The movie is very New York. I would say it is one of the most quintessential New York movies. Everything about the feelings it portrays is accurate including characters, neighborhoods, and caricatures.

There are many memorable lines from the movie (you looking at me?) and a killer ending. For a movie from the 1970’s this definitely holds up and I can’t recommend it enough. .

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster
Runtime: 114 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: An intense look at someone becoming psychotic.

Books to Read in March: Horns by Joe Hill plus Warren Ellis & Leo Babauta

I’ve started writing individual thoughts for each book I read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.

Top Pick: Horns by Joe Hill

Joe Hill's Horns

Joe Hill’s Horns

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

If you’re looking for books to read in March, start right here with Horns by Joe Hill. This is one of the more intriguing and well-balanced novels I’ve read in a while.

First there’s the plot. Main character Ig woke up after a long night of drinking with a hangover and horns on growing of his head. Yes, like devil horns. Along with the horns comes the ability to see into someone’s mind at just a touch. Along with other’s telling him their sins. Both things are more of a boon than a gift.

On top of this, is the real meat behind the story. About a year ago, Ig had been accused of raping & killing his girlfriend after they had a loud public break-up. He was never charged nor cleared. Using his new-found ability to see people’s memories at just a touch, he is able to go back in time and discover what happened that night.

Hill technique of writing different perspectives from different characters works very well. Some characters are left in the dust but that can’t be helped. Everyone in the book is terrible. Except Ig and his girlfriend I guess. I suppose we would all sound terrible if you only knew us by our sins.

The book doesn’t go too supernatural or too horror at all. It is curious and adventurous. You really start to feel for the main character which is a strange emotional conflict because at the same time he is turning into a devil. The ending was all that I hoped it to be. No letdown. No soft ending.

I haven’t read any other of his novels but am certainly looking forward to what Hill brings us in the future.

I recommend Horns if you like light supernatural or light mystery novels.

Author: Joe Hill
Genre: Supernatural
Rating: 4/5
Summary: One morning Ig woke up with a hangover and horns growing out of his head.

The Signal and The Noise by Nate Silver

Economics & Forecasting; Nate Silver's The Signal and The Noise"

Economics & Statistics; Nate Silver’s The Signal and The Noise”

As a web analyst and someone who likes numbers & spreadsheets, I thought this would be more interesting than it was. Silver stays to his argument pretty well, which is that forecasts should be flexible to various environmental changes (whether that’s biological or economical).

Unfortunately, his writing and multiple examples muddle this argument throughout the entire book. He is very long-winded and repetitive. For a book on numbers, there are far too many words.

His examples are good, following the recent economical recession, baseball, and the weather. The weather section was the most interesting for me, probably because it directly affects me most regularly. With that said, reading this did motivate me to watch Moneyball, which I recommend. In fact, I suggest watching that movie over reading this book – something I don’t do very often.

I recommend The Signal and The Noise if you like economics.

Author: Nate Silver
Genre: Economics
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Long-winded argument about flexible predictions using plenty of examples

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Detective Novel; Warren Ellis' Gun Machine

Detective Novel; Warren Ellis’ Gun Machine

Warren Ellis is known as a comic book writer and that is very clear in the novel Gun Machine. It is also clear that without the support of illustrations, Ellis cannot tell a complete story.

I absolutely loved this story right up until the end. Seriously, the last 5 pages were SO BAD that it completely ruined everything before that. Which is a shame because boy were the first parts good!

Ellis does a great job setting a scene and atmosphere. Since the story is set in NYC (kind of in this world, kind of not), there were definitely times that I felt creeped out reading this in my apartment alone. There is a real sense of fear, dread, and mystery built around the killer. Unfortunately, what starts out as brilliantly ominous turns into a joke by the end of the book.

I recommend Gun Machine, if you like comics, detective stories, and creepy atmosphere’s. With that said, be prepared for a shallow ending.

Author: Warren Ellis
Genre: Crime/Detective
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Crime novel set in nyc with very strong beginning and horribly weak ending

Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town by Kelly McMasters

Kelly McMasters' Welcome to Shirley

Kelly McMasters’ Welcome to Shirley

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

This part memoir-part environmentalism story works surprisingly well. This is the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tried to be. McMaster’s grew up in the Long Island town she writes about, providing the reader with a unique and emotional perspective of growing up in a town where the near-by national laboratory happens to have a leaky reactor. The juxtaposition between her warm childhood memories in the first part of the book, with the sudden change in tone when the community starts getting sick is a perfect balance.

The second part of the book involves more of her research and discussions on activism within the community. The first part is straight-forward memoir. I could complain that the research is a bit soft but it’s actually perfect for the type of story she is trying to tell. Being able to see the experience through the eyes of someone who lived through it and just as important as reading legal transcripts and government reports.

I recommend Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town if you like memoirs, like Long Island area stories, like reading about the health impact of toxins released into the environment.

Author: Kelly McMasters
Genre: Memoir / Environmental
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Part memoir, part environmental essay on a town in Long Island with a nuclear reactor in their back yard.

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

Butcher's Crossing by John Williams

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams (not that John Williams) is a tricky one. The writing is great as to be expected. The plot is very western as it’s about buffalo hunting and exploring the wild west. It is West in the sense that the only female characters in the book are whores. And the novel focuses on four men. One man in particular reminds me of the gruff western characters in True Grit. Then another man is softer, fresh from an Ivy League school on the east coast wanting to explore the new wild country. This should be a coming-of-age tale but falls a bit short.

The middle section of the book is pretty dry and I almost gave up on it, thinking I already knew the ending. But Williams surprised me. The ending was not quite what I expected and actually pulled everything together very well. But first, you have to get through some pretty gruesome buffalo hunting scenes involving killing animals for hide (and leaving the rest of them to rot). Williams also goes into detail on the skinning process. It was a little bit graphic and I have no idea if it was accurate.

There is kind of a lesson told in the story but again falls short there too. After some thought, I’m really not sure what the story was supposed to tell. A lot of it was predictable and then nothing really happened afterward. This is the second Williams book I’ve read so I might wait some time before checking out another one.

I recommend Butcher’s Crossing if you’re interested in westerns, men’s men, and hunting.

Author: John Wiliams
Genre: Western
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Four men explore the western territory for Colorado to find a mythical valley of buffalo.

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

I love Zen Habits but really did not enjoy this book. Leo Babauta has a great personality, a good life story, and excellent writing style. Zen Habits is very easy to read and never comes off preachy. This book would have been better as a collection of his essays or even an autobiography type of story.

Unfortunately, it is straight-forward self-help which really leaves little explanation of how to do anything. Babauta can write too well to be using bullet points.

I recommend subscribing to Zen Habits for motivation and productivity. Skip the book.

Author: Leo Babauta
Genre: Productivity / Self-Help
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Typical self-help topics that are better written on the author’s blog.

Using New York City Libraries

The main branch of the New York Public Library

The main branch of the New York Public Library

New York City Libraries

There are three separate new york city library systems that run independently from each other. The New York Public Library (NYPL) serves Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island. The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) only serves Brooklyn and the Queens Library (QL) only serves Queens.

Combined, these three systems have 209 branches total with 63 million items in their collections.

Library cards at all of the library systems are free and you will need a separate card for each system. Check online for your local branch hours as they are pretty limited. Donate to your local branch! Maybe someday they’ll have Sunday hours!

NYPL: New York Public Library

The NYPL is the second largest public library in the US with 53 million items. Their collections span from books to maps to historical documents. Many of these items can only viewed in the building but you are welcome to schedule a viewing for free.

The main branch of NYPL, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, does not allow any books to be taken out of it. Go here for beautiful architecture and use a different branch to read and take out books.

NYPL consists of 77 neighborhood branches in the three boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island. This means you can get books from any of these branches transferred to your near-by branch. That is a near endless selection of books!

BPL: Brooklyn Public Library

If NYPL’s branches aren’t enough, you can also take out from the Brooklyn Public Library‘s 58 neighborhood branches.

You do not need to live in Brooklyn to get a library card from here. But you do need to hold residence or employment in NYC. BPL library card holders can get linked to NYPL and take out books using the same card. However, books must be returned to a branch within their system. And you cannot request books from out of a library system. BPL stays within BPL.

QL: Queens Library

If you still can’t find what you need, the Queens Library system has 62 neighborhood branches. You must get a separate QL card to take out from any of these branches. You cannot take out books from any other system using this card.

Putting Books on Hold

As an avid reader, I love exploring the numerous independent bookstores NYC has to offer. Unfortunately, this can quickly become an expensive habit. I didn’t right away think of going to the library because I thought my local branch might not have what I was looking for. Then I learned about putting books on hold. And my life was changed forever.

Since there are so many branches in all of the systems, your local branch may not have the specific book you’re looking for. No worries, just get yourself to an Internet device and go the library website.

I’ll use NYPL for this example as that’s the system I frequently use. I recommend registering as soon as you get a card.

Search results & putting a book on hold on

Search results & putting a book on hold on

On their website, search for the book you want to read. At the search results, find the format you want it in. Many libraries offer e-book and audiobook versions, along with paper. Right on the search screen, it shows you which locations the book is available to take out and how many other folks are waiting for the book.

If you don’t mind the wait, click “Place A Hold.” Then select which branch you would like it sent to. Now, when a copy becomes available, it will be automatically transferred to your local branch!

Popular books have a long wait, but how can you complain about free?

Popular books have a long wait, but how can you complain about free?

Putting books on hold is fun! It’s like adding items to a shopping cart except your total is zero every time.

And with the free price tag, you do have to wait days/weeks/months sometimes for a popular or rare book. If you really want to read it so bad, no one is stopping you from buying it. Besides, I like when a book on hold suddenly becomes available to me. It’s like a little surprise birthday present!

NPYL will email you when any of the books on your hold list become available at your local branch. You will then have about two weeks to pick it up before it gets put back in circulation.

Books on hold are usually on shelves in the front of each branch with printed numbers on pieces of paper on each side. For NYPL, these are the last four numbers on your library card. BPL is different. Ask your librarian the first time if you need assistance.

You can continuously check your hold list (as I do) to see where you are on the wait list. The status will also change when a book you requested is in transit.

With my love for libraries exposed, I want to add that I do still buy books! If a book I read from the library was amazing, I will go buy it. If I want to keep a book for reference, I will go buy it. Using the library for books saves me money on books I would not want to buy. Books that I heard were good but I did not enjoy. There’s plenty of them out there.

Your local library is a great resource for a quiet place to study

Your local library is a great resource for a quiet place to study

Things Other Than Free Books

Since libraries are in desperate need of funding I wanted to highlight some other useful things libraries do other than loan out free books! All of the NYPL branches of free wi-fi. There are often tables and chairs for reading, studying, working. Some branches of tables and outlets to use as laptop workstations. These resources are all free. No coffee purchase required.

There are also classes, book groups, tax help, and more offered. Take a look at the bulletin board at your local branch to see all upcoming events.

Netflix Instant Picks: Say Anything, Heartbreakers, Leap of Faith

Say Anything (1989) / Teen Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Say Anything with John Cusack

One of the better 1980’s teen Cusack films about a guy, Lloyd Dobbler, who loves a girl, Diane Court. It’s that simple. He loves her more than anything. It’s not romantic as much as it’s a fact. This is what he does. He loves Diane. What is he going to do with his life? Love Diane.

“Say Anything” is a bit of a departure from the Molly Ringwald John Hughes teen movies from the 1980’s. It’s a little simpler and a little less hokey.

Starring: John Cusack
Runtime: 100 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: “What I really want to do with my life – what I want to do for a living – is I want to be with your daughter. I’m good at it.”

Heartbreakers (2001) / Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Heartbreakers with Jennifer Love Hewitt

1) Marry a rich man
2) Send in daughter to seduce new husband
3) Catch him in an affair with “another woman”
4) Divorce him and take all his $$

Sigourney Weaver and daughter Jennifer Love Hewitt have this plan down to a science. But what will happen when one of them actually falls for someone? Who knows! But I bet Jason Lee is going to find out.

Look, the plot is corny as hell but the movie knows what it is. Plus, the chemistry between the actor’s really helps to save things. All in all, Heartbreakers is better than it sounds, I promise.

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Lee, Gene Hackman
Runtime: 122 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Cheesy gold-digger plot but Hewitt and Lee’s interactions save the film

Leap of Faith (1992) / Satire Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Leap of Faith with Steve Martin Philip seymour hoffman on netflix

Here’s a small tip of the hat to Philip Seymour Hoffman in a lesser role.

For those of you who want to learn the art of manipulation, you only need to do two things: 1) Read “How to Win Friends & Influence People” and 2) Watch “Leap of Faith”

Steve Martin plays Jonas Nightingale, an evangelist preacher who puts on a big show and will happily take all your donations. The plot revolves around them getting stuck in downtrodden Rustwater, Kansas so they make the best of it and put on a big show. There’s some cheesy subplots where one of his crew falls in love with Liam Neeson in 3 days. Neeson, by the way, is the sherriff of this small town though there is no explanation of his background. Okay.

Meat Loaf and Philip Seymour Hoffman play as two members of the Nightingale crew. There’s a cute scene where Steve Martin is rocking out to “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. Otherwise, Meat Loaf plays organ the whole time while Hoffman flirts with teen moms.

This is a Steve Martin film in the sense it’s not quite the feel-good story it could be. And it works just fine that way.

Starring: Steve Martin, Liam Neeson, Meat Loaf, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Runtime: 107 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: A satirical look at con-men evangelists and small town hopes.

Netflix Instant Picks: Price of Gold, Spaghetti Westerns, Airplane!

30 for 30: The Price of Gold (2014) / Documentary

Netflix Instant Picks 30 for 30: the price of gold

I wrote more about this in my weekly updates.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 series is pretty great all around. I’ve seen a few others, most notably “Broke”, exploring how athletes lose their millions. “The Price of Gold” is just as interesting as we learn Harding’s side of the Tonya Harding v Nancy Kerrigan debacle that happened 20 years ago.

To this day, Harding is sticking to her story that she had no prior knowledge of the event. The editing comes off slightly skewed but without an obvious bias. Though there is a funny edit where she says “that wasn’t my handwriting” and a press interview clip says “we found Harding’s handwriting”.

Editing aside, we get to learn a lot about Tonya Harding. I knew nothing about her past but was aware of her “athleticism” in contrast to Kerrington’s “ice princess” quality. Harding’s tale is pretty tragic. She grew up in an abusive home, married an abusive husband, and poured her heart into skating. There may not be sympathy felt for her, but at least understanding. An understanding of her tragic need to win. The entire episode is sad for everyone involved.

In celebration of the Olympics, this look into one of the more famous Olympic scandals is definitely worth watching.

Starring: Tonya Harding
Runtime: 60 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: The infamous Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan scandal told from Harding’s point of view

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) / Western

Netflix Instant Picks The Good The Bad The Ugly

This is my absolute favorite movie. And I mean it. It’s #1 in my top ten. I wrote a paper on the soundtrack.

The “Man With No Name” trilogy was directed in Italy by Sergio Leone, hence them being coined ‘spaghetti westerns.’ The dialogue is terse with Ennio Morricone’s score filling each scene, providing all the emotion you need.

Clint Eastwood’s character, the man with no name, is played perfectly as an anti-hero. Despite the name, there are few ‘good’ guys in this movie. Eastwood certainly isn’t one of them. Yet you’ll end up rooting for him anyway.

Starring: Clint Eastwood
Runtime: 179 min
Leslie Rating: 5/5
Summary: Director Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone create a brilliant end to this trilogy

Airplane! (1980) / Satire Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Airplane!

Surely, you’ve already seen this. (Don’t call me Shirley). If you haven’t seen this movie, you should just so every few seconds you can go “oh! that’s where that joke came from.”

Starring: Robert Hayes, Leslie Nielsen
Runtime: 87 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Spoof comedy at it’s finest

January Books: Colum McCann, Bill Bryson, David B.

I’ve started writing individual thoughts for each book I read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.

Pick of the Month: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927 is like reading Wikipedia

Book of the Month: Soft Non-Fiction; Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

If you’re looking for interesting non-fiction books to read in February, start with this one. I have been calling this the “wikipedia book” because that’s how it felt reading it. I would start getting really interested in one story, then Bryson would go into another story that is related yet different. Fifty pages later I found myself learning about Mount Rushmore from what started with Babe Ruth.

This topic jostling isn’t a complaint thought. It is amazing how thoroughly Bryson is able to pack so much into this little book. Breaking down a year in this way is very fascinating. How many exciting American years could be written about in such detail? Probably many! But 1927 is a year that not too many of us think about and he ties everything together very well.

I appreciate that he never strayed from the year. He talked of factors building up to the Great Depression and actions that resulted in later wins, but Bryson stays on the path of 1927 even though it may have been tempting to talk of the topic in a later time.

The first half of the book is more coherent than the second half. There is a point where he just starts jamming facts & stories into the text for what seems like little purpose. And while his humor is usually on point, it feels very forced in this story. By the time I was a third way through, I was beginning to roll my eyes at some of his obvious witticisms and superfluous descriptions.

This is the second Bryson book I have read, the first being “A Walk in the Woods”. I enjoyed Bryson talking about himself better. I thought his humor came through better that way. Trying to make witty jokes about history just didn’t come across as well. However, as a storyteller, learning about history from him is very fascinating and rarely boring. There were only a few rambling topics.

Lovers of history, light-non-fiction, and Bill Bryson will certainly enjoy “One Summer: America, 1927″.

Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Source: NYPL
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Wikipedia narrated by Bill Bryson

Transatlantic by Colum McCann

Colum McCann

Historical Fiction; Transatlantic by Colum McCann

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

There was something very interesting about reading Bill Bryson’s “One Summer” and Colum McCann’s “Transatlantic” in the same month. Coincidentally, both books start out exactly the same way. Both begin with the story of the first transatlantic flight. And both authors tell the story differently. And both use the story in different ways.

Bryson uses the story to segue into Lindbergh’s famous flight, a topic which takes up most of the book. McCann uses the story to subtly introduce main characters and begin the multi-generational storyline. His telling of the story was slightly exaggerated/modified given this is historical fiction and all.

Unfortunately, this opening was the only part of Transatlantic that I really enjoyed. It was a beautifully written introduction to the story and it was disappointing that these characters barely came back into the story. It was an exciting adventure and told in an exciting way. But this was not the continued tone of the book.

The book follows multiple-storylines and multiple-characters through generations. Just as in “Let the Great World Spin”, each character and event is loosely tied together. Characters & references show up pages later in the story. The historical fictional theme continues as well as famous leaders like Frederick Douglass is used as a main character for one section.

I wish I could put my finger on exactly why, but I didn’t like the story. However, I still enjoyed reading it because McCann’s writing is beautiful. The prose flows and never feels forced – although the plot does at times. Descriptions are on-spot and I was able to build the world he created. The story didn’t flow as well for me because of it being split up. I didn’t find the connections to be strong enough. Or sometimes not obvious enough.

Reading “Transatlantic” reminded me of two other similar stories, Philipp Meyer’s “The Son” and E. L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime”. The latter also being historical fiction including famous names in a less-coherent storyline. But very enjoyable and I recommend it over “Transatlantic.”

Author: Colum McCann
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: NYPL
Rating: 3/5
Summary: A multi-character story line spanning generations isn’t as interesting or seamless as it could be.

Incidents in the Night Vol 1: N by David B

Graphic Novel; Incidents in the Night Vol. 1: N by David B

Graphic Novel; Incidents in the Night Vol. 1: N by David B

This multi-volume graphic novel series from French illustrator David B. brings out some of my favorite aspects of his drawing and least favorite aspects of his storytelling.

This is a story involving David B as the main character on a hunt for a newspaper printed years ago that turns into a conspiracy as the newspaper creator, long-dead, comes back for revenge. But this isn’t a scary ghost tale, it is an adventure tale about bookstores, letters, and history.

The world David B creates is rich, imaginative, and dark. I enjoyed the darkness & depth of his drawings in “Epileptic”. I still enjoy them here.

The art makes the story come alive and allows you to explore this world of history & books. Though there are some parts of the storytelling where the drawings don’t further the story at all. This happens so often that I almost would prefer this to be a novel. I’m not sure if his writing is strong enough for it but this story seems better suited for it.

I will read the other volumes to finish up the storyline. Fans of David B will enjoy this. If you’re new to him, I suggest starting with his past graphic novels.

Author: David B
Genre: Graphic Novel
Source: Bought at Brooklyn Book Festival
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Beautiful dark art & world of books with story line that may or may not hold up in the rest of the series

Netflix Instant Picks: Penelope, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Thing Called Love

Penelope (2006) / Feel-Good

Netflix Instant Picks Penelope

I love Christina Ricci trying to be a real actress. It’s unfortunate that she played her perfect role as a child in both Addams Family movies.

Penelope is the familiar but cute story about judging a book by its cover. Christina does well. The movie is light-hearted. Geared toward kids. It’s nothing special but a good sweet movie.

Starring: Christina Ricci
Runtime: 89 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Light-hearted whimsy in a familiar tale

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) / Teen Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Rock 'n' Roll High School

Another student v. principal film except with the ramones!

Starring: Ramones
Runtime: 84 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Students want to have fun. Their high school principal doesn’t.

The Thing Called Love (1993) / Drama

Netflix Instant Picks Thing Called Love

The Thing Called Love isn’t noteworthy because it’s a great film or original story. It’s noteworthy because this was River Phoenix‘s last acting role. He over dosed at the age of 23.

With that said, the movie does stand on its own. It surprisingly holds your interest even though the story itself is rather predictable. Despite being on his last legs, Phoenix performs well (though not at his top). And female lead’s charisma really keeps things solid.

But at the end of the day it’s a movie about a girl moving to nashville and trying to make it big as an aspiring singer/songwriter.

Starring: River Phoenix, Samantha Mathis, Sandra Bullock,
Runtime: 116 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: An aspiring singer/song-writer moves to Nashville to live her dreams.

Read More Books by Keeping A List

Read more books by keeping track of what you've read with this spreadsheet

Read more books by keeping track of what you’ve read with this spreadsheet

Trying to read more books this year? Keep yourself motivated by tracking this. When you open the spreadsheet to add the book you’re reading, seeing what you’ve already read can help encourage you to make the time to read more books. I have written about other strategies to help make reading a daily habit.

Book Tracking Spreadsheet

View Book Tracker in Google Docs | Download Book Tracker in Excel

Keeping track of what you’ve read throughout the year will encourage you to read more books. If you have trouble finding time to read, seeing this list provides a reminder of the previous books you’ve read and enjoyed. It also serves as a reminder to keep reading!

The spreadsheet is pretty simple to use. You can always use a notebook & pen if you’re not a fan of digital tracking. There is one tab per year. It can be fun to go through previous years to see what you’ve read. This is also very useful when friends ask you for recommendations. There is also a tab for “half-read” books. These are books that I just couldn’t get into even after 100 pages. I like to remember these just incase I want to go back and try them again later in life.

The last tab is for suggestions. I do not consider this a list of books to read. I do not have a list of books to read. I never want to think of reading as a chore or a task to check off a list. However, I am always looking for things to read. So if I come across a list of top books for the month, I’ll jot some down as a suggestion. Then, when I need another book to read, I browse the new york public library online catalog for one of the titles to put on hold. This can also help you to read more books because you won’t find yourself with downtime while looking for something else to read.

It’s easy to get into the habit of updating the spreadsheet. As soon as you start a book, write it down. If you try to do this after reading several books, you may not be able to remember each of them. Then when you’re finished with a book, go back to the sheet and input your rating (1 out of 5) and the day you finished it. Feel free to customize this sheet with whatever information you prefer. Yes, sites like Goodreads (owned by Amazon) can track this for you but I like controlling my own data.

Netflix Instant Picks: American Psycho, Thelma & Louise, Ninth Gate

American Pyscho (2000) / Black Comedy

Netflix Instant Movies American Pyscho

This is that rare occasion where the movie is better than the book. I shouldn’t say better. But this story fits better in movie form than text. The book is much more graphic than the film. And not in a good way. I don’t need to read multiple murder + rape scenes. The satire of it comes through perfectly in the film even though there’s less time to work with.

Christian Bale plays a perfect Patrick Bateman. Bateman lives on the upper west side of NYC, spends his time with vapid rich socialites, and kills hookers in his spare time. He also returns videotapes.

Starring: Christian Bale, Chloë Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon
Runtime: 103 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: Dark satire about a rich homicidal sociopath in nyc.

The Ninth Gate (1999) / Supernatural

Netflix Instant Movies The Ninth Gate

This is a known bad movie that I still enjoy. Yes, this is a movie about Satan and Hell and books. It’s silly. There’s worse.

Starring: Johnny Depp
Runtime: 133 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Johnny Depp finds Hell

Thelma & Louise (1991) / Drama

Netflix Instant Movies Thelma & Louise

This movie is one of the few that has an unhappy ending. Well, depending on who you ask.

A fun joy ride between who women who are sick of the men in their life takes a turn for the worst when they accidentally kill someone. And their money is stolen.

But they have their convertible and life isn’t getting them down. Thelma and Louise, as characters, are riveting and charming and crude all at the same time.

Bonus: Young Brad Pitt appearance

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Brad Pitt
Runtime: 129 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: A spontaneous joy ride turns into an eternal new life for Thelma & Louise.