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Misfit Musicals

Despite having the singing skills of a potato, I want nothing more than to live in the world of a musical. Imagine being at the DMV or something and being overcome with the need to sing about the wait. Then the bored workers join you for the chorus, completely nailing the complex choreography. Am I the only person who thinks that’d be totally awesome?  Even though I absolutely love musicals, I realize they exist in a weird world. You can suspend all your disbeliefs and musicals can still get really weird sometimes (did you know there’s a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera?). I scratched the strange surface and spotted these four in our collection.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
sgtpepI’m someone who holds The Beatles sacred, so I think I’m more critical of this movie than any other on this list. After catching the ear of a big-time Hollywood record producer, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band leave behind their small hometown of Heartland, USA (seriously), quickly becoming stars while experiencing the splendor and sleaze of the music industry. There’s also a plot to destroy their hometown thrown in because bad covers of Beatles songs can only last so long. I know that Across the Universe, another musical using Beatles songs has its detractors, but it looks like Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story and The Sound of Music combined in comparison. Did I mention this stars, among others, the BeeGees? Watching them strut around with more hair on their face than I have on my entire body while “singing” Beatles songs was certainly jarring and seeing George Burns talk-sing through a lethargic rendition of “Fixing a Hole” was cute and sad, like how seeing a turtle trudge through tar is cute, but also sad. The movie also features blasphemous covers by Alice Cooper before he was shilling Apple Watches and Aerosmith before Steven Tyler looked like a jack-o-lantern left outside two weeks after Halloween. If you’re a fan of musicals or a hardcore Beatles fan, I’d recommend checking it out just so you can say you experienced the insanity. If you value your mental facilities, watch literally other film on this list, like …

Streets of Fire
streetsAs this film opens a title card informs us that what we’re about to see takes place in “another time” and “another place…” Billed as a “rock & roll fable”, Streets of Fire opens with a motorcycle gang, led by Willem Dafoe, kidnapping a famous singer, played by Diane Lane. To rescure her, her agent, played by Rick Moranis contracts her ex-lover, played by Michael Pare (who?), a soldier-for-hire who happens to be passing through town.  The ragtag group hijacks a doo-wop group’s bus and eventually track the singer down. This is the movie that actually inspired my journey into the world of weird musicals and it’s objectively a terrible movie. The acting is wooden, the dialogue is stilted but I unapologetically love it. Everyone plays their parts so straight that it just makes it seem like a ridiculous fever dream of the Regan years. It looks like it takes place in the alternate 1985 from Back to the Future Part II and I’m pretty sure every major scene took place under a bridge or in a tunnel. Do you want to know how much of a relic this is from the 1980s? Dafoe—in only his fourth film role—gets billed after Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan, but before Bill Paxton. Not to mention that the songs sound like the lovechild of Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler. The only thing that could have made this movie more awesome would have been to have Dafoe sing a show-stopping ballad while riding a motorcycle. But I guess if 1984 was exposed to that the world would have probably imploded under the weight of this movie’s awesome terribleness.

Phantom of the Paradise
phantomThis and the next film are both from 1974 and they’re both a trip. What was happening in the early-1970s that inspired these kinds of films? Apparently director Brian De Palma was inspired to make this after hearing a muzak cover of “A Day in the Life”. This is essentially a rock opera remake of The Phantom of the Opera, with a little Faust and The Picture of Dorian Gray thrown in. A record producer (played by one-half of the team that wrote “Rainbow Connection”) is opening a club—The Paradise—and needs new music to accompany the opening. When he hears the music from an obscure composer, he steals it and frames the composer for drug dealing. In an attempt to avoid capture, the composer gets horribly disfigured. Later, he escapes prison and hides out in The Paradise, waiting for the perfect moment to exact revenge on the producer. Also, The Phantom’s lover is in danger, or something. I guess there’s a message in the movie about how the business and corporate side of things can destroy art, not unlike Sgt. Pepper, but Phantom of the Paradise is just so weird you might forget that there’s even a message to be had. When it was released, it flopped but has since gained a cult following.

The Little Prince
princeSadly, this is not a Purple Rain prequel or some kind of Prince: Origins movie, may he rest in power. Based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and with music and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe—the songwriting team behind An American in Paris, Brigadoon and My Fair Lady—I imagine this movie is what being on all the drugs in the early 1970s was like. It opens with a pilot played by Richard Kiley making an emergency landing in the Sahara Desert. As he spares no expense trying to fix his plane, the titular Prince appears. The Little Prince has been on Earth for a while, after a perilous and low-tech journey through the solar system. He recounts his tales to the pilot, giving special attention to his encounters with the Fox (played by Gene Wilder, trying to out-Gene Wilder himself) and the Snake (played by Bob Fosse, who you may have never heard of, but we’ll come back to him in a minute). I’ve never read the original novella, but this movie is cute and creepy, like the movie version of a banded piglet squid. Seeing Wilder and Fosse dance and sing around this poor kid gives the film a really weird vibe. And speaking of weird, remember Fosse, the man who won eight Tony awards for choreography throughout his career? Okay, so maybe you’ve never heard of him, but his dance moves probably look more than a little familiar. Take a look:

Nothing is original and everything is a remake of a remake. While we’re on that subject, a gorgeous-looking computer-animated remake of The Little Prince was supposed to come out in March, but a week before its release date, Paramount dropped the film. The good news is that Netflix picked it up.

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“Netflix and chill?”
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Is your favorite musical a bit on the weird side? Let us know in the comments below.

–Ross

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April Recap

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

April saw another huge celebrity loss in Prince, which left all of us here at Eleventh Stack more than a little sad. On the happier side of thing, baseball season started, and Abbey highlighted some baseball-related resources. Sheila also helped us celebrate children author Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.

Kayla gave a big thumbs up to Kara Thomas’s The Darkest Corners and Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass. Kelly looked at the theme of displacement in Ranbir Singh Sidhu’s work, and Ross mused on cultural expectations in his review of Nookietown. Jess looked a few non-superhero comics, and Natalie enjoyed Jane Steele, a new adaptation of Jane Eyre.

In movie land, Ross explored the desolation of Sunset Edge and the iconic movie-related art of Drew Struzan. Tara reviewed Victoria, a film shot all in one take.

novelcureLeigh Anne plugged poet Martin Espada’s new collection Failed and Sharon Dolan’s Manual for Living. Suzy made us think about mistakes and how we handle them. Melissa considered a career change to bibliotherapist, and one of our volunteers wrote about her efforts advocating for the library. Brittany compared her childhood to those of refugee kids, and Adina highlighted some recent memoirs and autobiographies she’s enjoyed.

Of course we didn’t forget about food—Scott M. took us on a tour of local Greek food festivals and highlighted some of his favorite Greek cookbooks.

What’s your favorite book, movie, or album from April? Let us know in the comments.

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Punch a Higher Floor

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.


Around 2011 I was dating a girl who loved Prince. She often talked about how she’d been to a few of his concerts when she was younger. When we got back from the bars, she’d often put his albums on. We spent many nights dancing around her kitchen until the early hours of the morning, frightening her cats and annoying her downstairs neighbors as we sang along loudly and badly with Prince, particularly the Purple Rain soundtrack. It was during these sleepless hours that I was introduced to “Let’s Go Crazy.” That song will always be an anthemic battle cry for me.

Later I was looking up clips on YouTube and found the video below. Watch as Prince reaches heretofore unmatched levels of face-melting as he shreds his way through the solo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” proving unequivocally that Prince was a supremely talented performer. I know I’ll miss him.

-Ross


I would not be exaggerating if I said Prince was involved in two of the best nights of my life.

Picture this: New Year’s Eve, 1991. I’m at an under-21 dance club called Club Nitro. I’m 14 years old and no doubt I was wearing what I considered “dress up” clothes: black bodysuit, jeans that were far too big for me and Doc Martens. I didn’t have big hair, but it was most certainly curled by the Caruso Molecular Steam Hairsetter. The song at midnight was “Diamonds and Pearls“.

One by one, my friends were asked to dance, until it was just me leaning against a wall. And then a boy that I had crushed on for months asked me to dance. I had assumed he was unaware of my existence. I got to dance to Prince on New Year’s Eve with my crush. He even kissed me at the end of the song.*

Beer Barge, 2014. The Commonwealth Press Beer Barge is an excellent way to celebrate Pittsburgh’s Craft Beer Week. Two hundred of your closest friends set sail on the Gateway Clipper for three hours of bands, craft beer and dancing. The final song on the 2014 barge was Purple Rain. It was an epic night. Look!

*Never spoke to me again.

-suzy


iwoulddie4uIt’s really hard for me to remember a time that I wasn’t singing Prince songs. His music was everything I wanted to be a part of – dancing, freedom of expression, being yourself, sexuality, fast cars and motorcycles, and on and on. He was an icon of my generation. Not just a rock star or superstar, but a certifiable icon (I run on at the mouth about the book which will convince you of that fact in this post from a couple of years ago. I STILL recommend this book on a regular basis.). Prince’s death has made me put him into a category that I certainly never wanted him to be in – artists I wanted to see perform live, but never got the chance to. It pains me that he’s now in that “box”. I always thought there’d be more time. But don’t you always think that?  Going crazy is going to be a little harder for me now.

-Melissa M.


One of my greatest parental accomplishments is providing my kids with a well-rounded musical education. Her One Direction fanaticism notwithstanding, my 14-year-old daughter proudly shares that she is the only person among her friends who can name all four Beatles. She’s heartbroken that Janet Jackson postponed her tour because, “It’s the closest I’ll ever get to The King of Pop himself.”  She’s not a child of the ‘80s, but an offspring of two of them, her knowledge of these artists acquired from us having their music on heavy rotation.

But whether it was the suggestiveness of his lyrics or something else, somehow I’d failed to introduce my girl to the power of Prince.

Until Thursday.

“He’s a good singer and all, but I don’t quite get why everyone is so sad about him dying,” she tells me.

purplerainDig if you will, then, the picture of us watching Purple Rain, its R-rating be damned. She’s laughing at the outfits, the Aqua-Netted hair.  I start speaking in fragments about how the ‘80s were such a confusing and sad decade — not only for me, but for all of us who were finding love and ourselves in an era of being scared to death that falling in love could kill us.  And then came Prince, singing and celebrating these feelings that were so powerful, so intoxicating and so dangerous enough to be slapped with a Parental Advisory sticker from Tipper Gore.

My nostalgia isn’t quite enough for my girl — she’s been down similar Memory Lanes of mine before — so I go for backup.  Like me, my high school friend Leah also is watching Purple Rain while trying to explain her sadness to her own daughter.

“I told her Prince was my generation’s Justin Bieber and One Direction and Taylor Swift and Jay Z and Beyoncé all rolled into one,” Leah says, via Facebook. “I think she understood that but what I didn’t say was Prince was also our coming of age, our first dances and first dates and first loves. He was the end of our childhood and the soundtrack of our youth and our young adulthood. I’m mourning Prince but I’m also remembering the way I felt back then and realizing that I won’t ever feel that way again, but when I’m watching and listening and singing, I can almost get there.”

The purple-tinged audience is waving their hands (“we had lighters back then, not cell phones,” I explain).  I turn the volume up louder, as one does in homage to Prince. The guitar soars through the TV, through the house, through our souls. And watching my girl, enraptured now, I begin to connect with something I’d long forgotten.

-Melissa F.



When I found out this past Thursday that Prince died I was stunned. It’s still weird for me to talk about him in the past tense. This may be odd to say, but I’ve heard a lot of people these past couple of days say the same thing: I never imagined him dying. I thought that he would be 90 years old still doing concerts singing “Purple Rain.” It’s sad, crazy and strange to think of a world without him, but alas we have to.

His passing didn’t just affect me. It affected my family because my mom is a huge fan of his and she got me into him. She’s loved him since he first came out and she had a poster on her wall of him with a big Afro from Right On! magazine. When my aunt & uncle first met each other, they broke the ice by talking about their common love of Prince. This is a monumental loss. I’ll end this by naming my top three favorite songs of his: “When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones” and “Adore.”

-Kayla


The summer of 1984, I was home from my freshman year of college. In school, I had been a DJ heavily into prog rock, and worked at the music library where I was introduced to classical and world music. My boyfriend was a guitarist in a hardcore punk rock band that frequently played at CBGB’s and the like. I also happen to be very light-skinned, and my boyfriend, very dark-skinned. This was still fairly rare in the mid-80s, even in New York. We would turn heads walking down the street. Light- and dark-skinned people alike would give us the hairy eyeball.

Our whole group of friends were quite snobbish when it came to pop music. We collectively derided the MTV phenomenon, and all of pop culture as a rule. When Purple Rain came out, my boyfriend and I wanted to see it, but we didn’t want any of our friends to know. We snuck away, even coming up with a cover story of what we were doing instead. It was the first time either of us saw mixed-race couples depicted anywhere. The aspect of one’s race was a non-issue. We were also completely mesmerized by Prince himself. We laughed at ourselves for liking the movie so much. We went to see it again the next day.

-Joelle


In the Spring of 1986 Prince’s “Kiss” was released. At the time, my family didn’t have cable TV, and the whole music video generation was quickly passing me by. But, you know who DID have cable, and MTV? My Grandpap. We would go out to his place on the weekends, visit with him and help him with stuff around the house. Right after that song came out we were over there. I had heard it on the radio, but lacking MTV, had never seen the video. For whatever reason, I was the only one in the living room, as everyone else was in the kitchen, or out in the yard. I turned on MTV and watched some videos. That’s when I saw the video for “Kiss.”

As a 10-year-old boy, growing up in a white, working class, Catholic home, this video opened my eyes in some remarkable ways. I remember thinking “OK…so HE’s wearing high heels … and SHE’s playing the guitar … that’s not … what I expected.” I feel like seeing Wendy Melvoin playing the guitar did a number on me. It let me in on a whole new world of what was possible, and opened up doors of who could do what.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I loved it. Billy Bragg and Morrissey (two of my musical heroes) have talked eloquently about how seeing Bowie at an impressionable age really impacted them. I feel that this song and video did something similar for me. The stripped-down funk sounds, vocals still loud and screamy enough to anger a parent, and the gender bending clothes and sexualized dancing was pretty intense, and it hooked me.

The impact of Prince’s music was felt far and wide, not least by me in a fantastic way that I’m fairly certain I never could have expected.

Rest in Power.

-Eric


How did Prince affect your life? Share your memories and tributes in the comments, and put one of his albums or movies on reserve.

-Team Eleventh Stack

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Victoria: A One Shot Film

Victoria_film

Victoria ponders her fate. Image from andsoitbeginsfilms.com. Click through for source.

We open on a young woman, possibly alone, dancing in a nightclub with strobe lights ominously flashing around her. On the way out of the club she runs into four cheeky German men. The men talk and goof around with our female protagonist, and then ask her to come hang out with them, to which she concedes. This happens in about the first 10 minutes of the movie, but everything that happens afterward is a direct consequence of that one impulsive late night decision.

At this point in the film we learn that the titular character, Victoria, is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t very good, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends, and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30 am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans.

victoria1-352x480While the plot may sound like your standard issue crime drama — with an innocent finding herself in the wrong place/time with the wrong people — Victoria turns out to be something a little different. This is largely due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed, with everything we see on screen being captured in a single shot. That’s right, no cuts. Films such as Birdman and Rope are lauded for being shot in long takes that are then cut together to feel like everything is happening in one take, but very few movies are actually shot using one long take (a couple that come to mind are Russian Ark and Timecode).

In interviews the director has talked about his process, and the challenges of filming a 2-hour-plus movie (it clocks in at 138 minutes) in over 20 different locations throughout the city of Berlin; because there are no cuts, and no edits, the director and actors must have constantly felt like they were walking on a tightrope, just hoping that some random person on the streets of Berlin didn’t mess up a scene. In the end, Victoria was filmed three times (after much rehearsing) and then the best take was chosen as the eventual film. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, I think it really works to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the story line, as Victoria is drawn into more and more dangerous situations.

Still, even with the tense story line, my favorite thing about this movie has to be the performances — especially the astounding lead performance from relative newcomer Laia Costa. She won the Best Actress award at last year’s German Film Awards, and boy did she earn it. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her performance.

If you’re a fan of foreign or independent cinema, you should absolutely see this movie. Or, even if you’re not and you just want to experience something a little different, I recommend giving Victoria a try.

What about you, dear readers? Have you watched anything good recently? What do you recommend?

Happy viewing,

Tara

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“I Paint So That I Don’t Have to Talk”: The Art of Drew Struzan

Back in December when we were reflecting on all the Star Wars-related materials the Library has, I briefly touched on the majestic music of John Williams. Today I want to talk about another artist who was first introduced to me via Star Wars–Drew Struzan.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, what about names like Indiana Jones, John Rambo or Harry Potter? Now there’s probably so much bell-ringing in your ears you should make an appointment with an audiologist. You might not recognize Drew Struzan’s name, but you’ve certainly seen his work, whether it’s in the form of an album cover, a book jacket or one of his over-150 movie posters.

Some of his most famous movie posters are collected in Drew Struzan: Oeuvre and The Art of Drew Struzan. From Hook to Hellboy, The Thing to The Walking Dead, Blade Runner to Batkid Begins, Struzan’s work is instantly recognizable and unquestionably beautiful. The books also include some of his studio work, like portraits of his grandchildren and his own interpretation of Baba Yaga. I’m someone who can barely draw stick figures, so I admire an artist like Struzan—his drawings and paintings almost look like photographs.

For more on Struzan beyond the art, I highly recommend the 2013 documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster. It reveals a placid, taciturn family man, like the sweet grandfather everyone wants. While the details of his early life are fascinating, hearing him talk about his work is the most interesting aspect of the documentary. Regarding movie posters, he says how important it is for a poster to not only sell the movie’s premise but also evoke the feeling or emotion of the movie. In a world where most movie posters consist of awful photoshopped giant heads, Struzan’s work has a classiness to it that harkens back to a golden age of cinema, when the multiplex was a portal to another world of imagination and wonder. Often imitated, but seldom replicated, you can look at a movie poster by Struzan and know exactly what kind of movie you’re going to see.

If you’re a fan of Steven Spielberg or Star Wars (read: everyone), or if you just like good art, you should check him out.

–Ross

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Abandoned Life at Sunset Edge

Sunset Edge is a long-abandoned trailer park somewhere in rural North Carolina. Two stories intersect here when a group of four skateboarding teens explore the remains while another lonesome teen wanders around discovering the grizzly secrets of the park’s past.

With Sunset Edge, director/writer/producer Daniel Peddle, author of Snow Day and the rest of the Four Seasons children’s series and the discoverer of Jennifer Lawrence, has succeeded in crafting a great looking nonlinear film that combines two of my favorite things, one of which is urban exploration. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to point out that the Library has some great books with fantastic pictures documenting these kinds of abandoned places, specifically Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences. It’s got a section dedicated to the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin.

sunsetedge

© The Secret Gallery Inc. / Cavu Pictures
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Besides urban exploring, I love original movies (I’ve mentioned that before). Sunset Edge is no different.  When was the last time you saw a sexless, drugless, alcohol-less teen horror movie? But calling Sunset Edge a horror movie is too limiting a description. It’s a Southern Gothic thriller. A coming-of-age mystery. From the first scene of an old woman in wraithlike raiments to the final scene that makes you reconsider everything that came before it, Sunset Edge is a film that requires your attention. Granted, it’s not densely plotted, the dialogue is sparse and that last scene could be interpreted as a cheap cheat, but if you prefer slow-builds to jump-scares, then you’ll probably enjoy it. If it had even less plotting and dialogue, I’d say it was like a discount Terrence Malick film; the camera listlessly lingers on the beautiful North Carolinian landscapes in a dreamy, relaxed way.

While there may be no ginormous payoff for the 87 minutes the audience spends in Sunset Edge, I’ve been thinking about all the things that Peddle—who’d only directed two documentaries prior to this—was possibly trying to say with this film. The teens are filled with potential but, being disaffected youths, they haven’t realized it yet. Sunset Edge was once filled with similar potential that was never realized. They’re as alone and abandoned as the park in which they hang out, products of a throwaway culture exploring a culture that has literally been thrown away.  The trailers are empty, save for discarded detritus, and in a lot of ways so are the teens. One of them even waxes poetically (read: nihilistically) about how meaningless life is. That’s an accurate depiction of what teens do, right?  I exiled myself to my room in my teen years after the batteries in my Giga Pet died.

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#NeverForget
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Sometimes, we at Eleventh Stack highlight what’s popular—the book everyone is reading, the album everyone is streaming, the television show everyone is watching, but every so often, we get a chance to highlight a few hidden gems. Sunset Edge is truly an obscure find. How obscure is this film? When I checked it out, only seven people had previously borrowed it. On IMDb, it doesn’t even come up as an auto-complete option when you start typing it into the site’s search bar. When you eventually find it, it says only 40 users have rated the movie. IMDb is a site that allegedly has 65 million registered users. Do you realize how low 40 out of 65 million is? I put the equation into Google and the answer I got was:  “Error 404: Friends not found :(“. At the time of writing this, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. Yes, the movie only came out last year, but Sunset Edge is about as far off the radar as it gets.

I can only hope that I’ve put it on yours.

Are you one of the 47 people who’ve seen Sunset Edge? Do you like urban exploration? Let me know in the comments below.

—Ross

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March Recap

March contains some great celebrations: It’s Women’s History Month, there’s St. Patrick’s Day and International Women’s Day, March Madness, spring flowers start blooming and, of course, all the great posts we put up here on Eleventh Stack!

Cover of All About Love by bell hooksFor Women’s History Month, Natalie looked at women in the workplace and guest blogger Adina wrote about Emma Watson’s feminist book club Our Shared Shelf.

Ginny highlighted the many wonderful volunteers and organizations that were nominated for our Community Advocate and Outstanding Partner Award and shared resources that helped her become a better mentor. Guest blogger Ian shared his experiences running and how you can help raise money for the Library with the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon.

Amy E. reviewed The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher, and explored America’s flirtations with spiritualism in the 1920s, while Scott M. explored popular philosophy and Suzy shared some silly picture books.

We didn’t write about basketball at all, but Abbey covered The Tournament of Books, and Jess continued her reading challenge with the third title in the Red Rising trilogy.

bookcoverOn the literary front, Leigh Anne wrote about accomplished female poet C.D. Wright, Kayla questioned Tessa Hadley’s The Past and enjoyed The Girl in the Red Coat. Melissa remembered the late novelist Pat Conroy.

Ross really appreciated actress Brie Larson in her many roles, and looked at Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and geeked out over Batman v. Superman. Joelle gave props to character actors, Whitney recommended the television show Outlander, and Tara explored the world of foreign TV.

Megan shared her love for cooking, and Ginny updated us on her 50 cakes project.

Happy Spring!

-Team Eleventh Stack

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