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Fisher Adwell

Infamous Hollywood Feuds: Bette & Joan Edition

Growing up on a farm as a kid, and being about as outdoorsy as a Kardashian, I often turned to old black and white films to escape to a world I thought better suited my own eclectic personality. I fell in love with the romanticized version of Hollywood and idolized the glamorous femme fatales of Film Noir along with their charming and roguish leading men.

I credit much of my infatuation to the mystique that shrouded the lives of Hollywood stars, and as an adult, I’ve tried to learn more about the real people behind these beloved characters through devouring various memoirs, biographies, and documentaries. Oftentimes, as one might expect, public perception and tabloids that dominated a very controlled news cycle do not match what lies beneath the surface.

I think one of the greatest challenges for film biographers is to get to some sliver of the truth by pulling back the studio-controlled veneer and separating myth from reality.  This is a quality that very few achieve.

In preparation for Ryan Murphy’s new anthology series Feud: Bette & Joan on FX, I decided to visit Shaun Considine’s critically acclaimed work Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud to learn about the series of events that sparked Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s dramatic schism – and hopefully learn more about the real lives of these iconic starlets of the silver screen. Read More..

Better Than The Book? A Series of Unfortunate Events

Netflix has tapped into the way the world is feeling about 2017, releasing a television adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s beloved A Series of Unfortunate Events this month.

LPL’s resident Snicket fans Sarah and Fisher sat down to sort out their feelings about it— the good, the bad, and the extra unfortunate.

Netflix Poster

Fisher: When did you first start reading A Series of Unfortunate Events?  I’m also curious to learn more about what attracted you to the book series. 

Sarah: It was 2001. I took a Children’s Lit class at KU and we were lucky enough to speak with Lemony Snicket – AKA Daniel Handler – via speakerphone. Please remember, this was way before Skype! I wish I could go back and listen to that conversation again or at least find my notes from that time.  We read The Bad Beginning and I was immediately hooked. It was unlike any children’s book I had read before- so dark and creepy. Yet, hilarious!

Fisher: I agree!  I first read the books in Middle School around the time that The Wide Window came out.  This may sound ultra nerdy, but my friends and I had our own VFD club where we would write each other notes in Sebald Code and scan the local papers for signs of mysterious fires.  I’ve always had a darker sense of humor and liked that the series didn’t downplay the fact that sometimes awful things happen to the best of people.   

Sarah: I have always loved the macabre too. But these books were different. Darker. I mean, The Boxcar Children were orphans, but they were at least having fun adventures. There seems to be a lot of orphans in children’s literature. I guess it opens up the stories and lets kids be free to do anything imaginable.

Fisher: What were your initial impressions after finishing the show?  Did it make you happy as a book reader?

Sarah: Overall, yes. There were some changes made that, at first, I was unsure I would like, but I accepted as the episodes played out. Without getting into spoilers, there were characters who had more presence in the show than in the books. But their addition made sense, so I’m OK with it now. I’m sure Lemony Snicket will be happy to know I’m not mad about it.

Fisher: What’s interesting is that Lemony Snicket wrote most of the scripts for the show, so you know it’s canon.  Part of what made the Netflix series so much fun was that it got rid of the tedium of the early books by breaking up the repetitive plot points with new storylines.  I was genuinely surprised by some of the twists added to the story. 

Sarah: Absolutely! If I have any issue with the books (and I barely do) it’s that reading them in succession, out-loud, to my daughter, can get a little redundant – different day, different disguise. The pace and the changes in the Netflix series were refreshing. (And, no worries, there is an abundance of amazing disguises). There are also plenty of easter eggs in the show that you wouldn’t have picked up if you hadn’t read the books.

Fisher: Like Very Fresh Dill or Count Olaf mentioning the disappearance of his sugar bowl.  I like that it gives something new for fans who have read this series for the millionth time to watch instead of a scene-for-scene adaptation, which would have been a total snoozefest. 

Sarah:  Although, the books are darker, which I prefer.  There were times when I thought Neil Patrick Harris should have played Olaf a little more diabolically and a little less dumb. Don’t get me wrong, Olaf is dumb, but he’s more eviI than anything. The combination is flipped in the Netflix series.

Fisher: So true.  Like the later Harry Potter films, I think they will crank up the darkness as they move into the last few books while still retaining Snicket’s impeccable witticisms. 

Sarah: Did you like how it looked stylistically? What about some of the modern day references (like when Olaf says he bought his hour glass on Amazon)?

Fisher: I feel that those elements gave it a whimsical vibe – a la Pushing Daisies, which was the perfect route for them to take.  You can feel director Barry Sonnenfeld’s influence on the production design and cinematography.  I think they purposely went with an overly CGI, saturated environment, which effectively translates many of the book’s motifs and general style to the screen.               

Sarah: Well, they certainly went CGI on that baby’s face. Sorry, Sunny, but your face creeped me out and not in the right ways! However, I absolutely loved Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket. I can’t think of better casting than that. Perfection.

Fisher: I loved the opening scene where the Baudelaire orphans are on the beach and Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket is in a 50s style bathing romper narrating the story.  I died laughing!  He’s the MVP of the show, for sure.  I’m also obsessed that the person of indeterminate gender is so aware of current events in the world around them and has some of the best side rants.  It’s even more hilarious that Count Olaf doesn’t know what they are talking about half of the time.    

Sarah: Yes! Olaf even says at one point, “I don’t understand any of these words that you’re saying.”

Fisher: I know right!  It makes the tragedy of the Baudelaire orphans so much more tangible because this idiot manages to outwit all of the adults in the world even when the kids know exactly what he’s up to. 

Well, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m a massive fan of a good book adaptation, so there are a couple of things I try to keep in mind when evaluating whether or not it’s successful.  First, I like to see if the adaptation conveys the true essence of the source material.  Second, if they do make significant changes, the changes need to make sense in the transition from print to visual media.  Some of the best book adaptations like Game of Thrones understand how important these aspects are to fans.  Like, you can change some elements along the way, but you have to maintain the integrity of the original work.    Bad Beginning Cover 2

Sarah: Absolutely. Sometimes it can get tricky, though, when the author of the story also finds themselves in a screenwriting position. I think JK Rowling can struggle a bit because she wants to flush out the characters more and more and her audience is like, “But, maybe I didn’t need to know the genealogy of that wizard’s owl.” Stephen King is another one who comes to mind (and, for the record, I adore JK Rowling and Stephen King). But, remember when he made The Shining into a miniseries because he was unhappy with the Stanley Kubrick film? That didn’t go so well.

Fisher: Haha.  However, you know there are some Harry Potter fans who would totally read a 1,000 page tome on owl genealogy if JK Rowling wrote it.  It’s nice that Lemony Snicket can go back, revisit his earlier work, and in many ways improve it or answer lingering fan questions.  I think we all wondered how Count Olaf came into guardianship of the Baudelaire orphans, and this series answers stuff like that.  It makes me excited for future seasons because I felt that the books left us with so many cliffhangers that we may actually get some sense of closure – even if it is unfortunate.  Overall, do you feel Netflix succeeded in creating a series that is better than the books?     

Sarah: No, I think I still like the books more. What about you?

Fisher: As far as the earlier books go, I think that the show improved upon them by the addition of new material like we discussed before.  I do like the show better in that regard.  That being said, my opinion may change once they adapt some of my favorites in the series because I want them to play out just as I imagined.  As a final aside, why do you think this series is so important for people to read or watch today?

Sarah: Dealing with struggles in an obviously make-believe way can help kids confront their own problems in real life. Obviously the situations are exaggerated, but Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are great role models. I love that the kids are the most intelligent people in the stories. Children can recognize when they’re being minimized. That’s hard for adults to understand, but Lemony Snicket gets it.  Also, it’s just fantastic escapism. Everyone, regardless of age, can use more of that in their lives.

Fisher: I also think that this series helps bring a new perspective to situations.  I got into A Series of Unfortunate Events when my life was in a bit of an upheaval.  In a way, it was therapeutic to read about the perseverance of the Baudelaire orphans.  No matter what terrible circumstances life threw at them, they were able to keep moving forward because they had each other for support.  And, if you can think to yourself: at least there isn’t a murderous count who will stop at nothing to steal your enormous fortune, it helps you stay positive even when the world appears to be a bleak, dire, and oppressive place.

-Sarah Matthews and Fisher Adwell are public services assistants at Lawrence Public Library.

The Best Books from the Worst Year

Let’s be honest, 2016 has been kind of a hot mess. Between so many celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Prince, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Elie Wiesel… holy cow, SO MANY) and some, uh, general upheaval, most people are ready to write this one off as a loss.

But! As much as we’d like to say goodbye and good riddance to the year as a whole, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the very good things that came from 2016; this year has offered readers a wealth of fabulous new books. Debut authors and big-hitters alike have released incredible works in 2016, and the staff of LPL would like to share a few of our favorites. If you’re looking for great gifts for bibliophiles in your life, try one of these librarian-approved reads: Read More..

Queer Adventures in Romance

Every year, I try to challenge myself to diversify my reading.  Whether it’s exploring a new genre or delving into books written by authors of color, part of what I love most about reading is seeing the world from a new perspective or gaining a greater understanding of the beautiful lives of others.

This fall, I became obsessed with LGBTQ+ Romance novels, a genre I tend to avoid because I find it to be riddled with stereotypes.  Imagine my surprise when I picked up Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk, which proved to be so much more than the generic romances I’ve become accustomed to perusing at the grocery store check-out aisle.   Read More..

Peculiar Reading

I first encountered Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children after I started working at Lawrence Public Library over three years ago.  While shelving, I would often see the creepy, antique cover leering out from the stacks, which continued to intrigue me for some time.

Eventually, I had to know what the book was about (since I am totally guilty of judging a book by its cover) and brought it home to read during a brisk autumn evening. From its opening pages, I knew that it was a match made in book heaven, and Miss Peregrine soon became one of my YA favorites. Read More..

Reaching A Supernatural Crossroads

I first discovered Charlaine Harris’ acclaimed Southern Vampire Mysteries (aka the Sookie Stackhouse series) while in college.  At the time, I worked two jobs while finishing my bachelor’s degree, and I needed a vacation from the dense, academic drivel that consumed my evenings.

Following a recommendation from my mom, who is an avid mystery reader, I became immediately enraptured by Sookie’s paranormal world.  It served as the perfect escape from my never ending to-do lists, beckoning deadlines and helped me fall in love with recreational reading all over again. I not only devoured each of the books published at that point, but I also started my long-term relationship with the Urban Fantasy genre. Read More..

Beach Reads 2016 Edition

Summer is fast approaching, which means it’s time to travel to new places and embark on a wondrous adventure (even if it’s only in your living room, curled up with a cool drink and a great book).  We’ve put together a list of some more eclectic beach reads to help you get a jumpstart on your Summer Reading goals.

So leave your highbrow, literary nonsense at the door and enjoy some of the best new releases in genre fiction – with a bonus memoir thrown in for good measure.


Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

Equal parts Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and Geek Love, Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet tells the story of Kitty, a young girl whose mother mysteriously vanishes during their trip to Coney Island in 1904.  Finding herself alone, Kitty stumbles upon Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet – a side show of human oddities who agree to help her locate her missing mother.  It has plenty of humor, intrigue, and an eccentric, Lovecraftian creepiness that lingers underneath this fascinating world.  H.P. Wood has crafted an amazing ensemble cast, so if character driven stories are your jam, this one is a must read.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Set in a hidden library connected to multiple parallel universes, The Invisible Library follows Irene, an immortal librarian sent on a quest to Victorian England to retrieve a rare manuscript while accompanied by her trainee Kai.  However, this isn’t your typical England, as there are all sorts of supernatural creatures and mechanical anachronisms.  The Invisible Library is a page turner that effortlessly blends elements of Doctor Who and Ghostbusters into an imaginative adventure that will make you wish you could join the hallowed ranks of the librarians.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

It all started with Draco Incendia Trychophyton: a plague that causes gold and black markings on the skin and develops into a fatal conflagration that sets the world’s populous ablaze.  And, there is no cure.  Here enters our Mary Poppins-esque heroine Harper Grayson, a school nurse who finds out she is both infected and pregnant.  Now, Harper just needs to survive until she can give birth to her child – hopefully infection free.  Both heart wrenching and intense, Joe Hill’s latest work provides an innovative portrait of the future with plenty of captivating, horror-infused weirdness.

Dr. Strange by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo

Kansas City writer Jason Aaron brings Doctor Strange to new, reality bending heights in this contemporary Marvel series.  The unknown Empirikul are set on purifying magic from every dimension, and it’s up to Dr. Strange, as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, to protect the planet and save magic itself.  Artist Chris Bachalo has done a spectacular job of visual worldbuilding with bold color selections and a meticulous attention to detail.  Be sure to give this a read before the upcoming Doctor Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch premieres this November.



Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Best-selling author Mary Kubica does it again in this fast-paced and twisted psychological thriller that will delight fans of both Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.  When Quinn’s friend and roommate Esther goes missing in downtown Chicago, she finds a mysterious letter in Esther’s personal possessions, which makes Quinn question everything she knew about her friend.  Meanwhile, a young man in a small Michigan harbor town is drawn to a beautiful and mysterious woman new to town, who isn’t all that she seems.  This book is a suspenseful thrill ride perfect for a summer afternoon!

In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Widely known for her roles as Maritza Ramos on Orange is the New Black and Lina on Jane the Virgin, actress and activist Diane Guerrero has channeled her talent towards writing in this emotional and personal memoir of her experiences as the child of undocumented immigrants.  Guerrero’s biggest fear became a reality at the young age of fourteen, when her parents were deported while she was in school.  Guerrero’s own struggles bring to light the stories of countless children born in the US to undocumented immigrants and fosters a sense of humanity with the issues surrounding immigration.  It is a truly memorable read.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

When new girl Amanda Hardy meets Grant, Amanda can’t help but like him as they spend more and more time together.  However, as much as she wants to open up to him, Amanda is afraid to share all of her secrets—like how at her former school, she was known as Andrew.  If I Was Your Girl is a contemporary young adult novel about being true to yourself and finding acceptance, with a love story anyone can root for.  This book is particularly inclusive because not only is the main character a trans* woman, as well as the author, and the cover model!

A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal

A Front Page Affair is the first book in a brand new mystery series about a young journalist named Capability “Kitty” Weeks.  Set in 1915 New York just after the sinking of the Lusitania, Kitty would love nothing more than to report on stories other than fashion and society gossip.  However, her roles as a female journalist are limited…That is, until a man is murdered at a high society picnic on her beat! Determined to show what type of reporting she can really do, Kitty is thrown into a wartime conspiracy that threatens the stability of her country as well as her own privileged life.

-Fisher Adwell and Kimberly Lopez are Public Services Assistants at Lawrence Public Library

Reading In Westeros

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a major obsession with Game of Thrones.  It means that when April comes around, I can’t stop speculating on what will happen in the new season along with beginning my annual reread of the epic 5,216 page series.

While I’m in a Game of Thrones induced frenzy, I often find myself pondering the following scenario: if characters from the show were to waltz into Lawrence Public Library today, what books would I suggest they read?  Although the following list is not exhaustive, or else we would be here until George R. R. Martin finally finishes The Winds of Winter, here are some Game of Thrones character book pairings featuring some of your favorite fictional personalities.

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New Month, New Genre with Gaslamp Fantasy

Gaslamp Fantasy was first coined by Kaja Foglio to describe her graphic novel series Girl Genius.  The term evolved as a response to the Steampunk movement to distinguish titles that share some of the same literary elements, but lack a focus on scientific technology and mechanization.  Read More..

The Hateful Eight and the Books You’ll Love

Influenced by The Thing, Clue, and Sergio Corbucci’s nihilistic spaghetti western The Great Silence, Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight takes place in post-Civil War Wyoming where eight sadistic strangers seek shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery during a whiteout blizzard. Read More..