May

May2016It’s May! Take a book outside and enjoy the glorious sights and smells of spring!

 

 

Sue – Circulation

truthaccordingtousThe Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows, Fiction Barrows

This captivating novel is narrated by 12-year-old Willa Romeyn and set during the summer of 1938 in a small West Virginia town when she learns the truth about her family and their past. Willa lives with her father Felix, her aunt Jottie, and her little sister Bird. Felix is a selfish man whose actions in the past and today have hurt his family, but Willa adores him and women can’t refuse his charm. Jottie is the rock of the family, keeping everything together and raising the girls. It is the Depression and the Romeyns have taken in a boarder working for the Federal Writers’ Project under the WPA, set up by the Roosevelt Administration to provide work during the Depression. The boarder, Layla, is a spoiled and sheltered senator’s daughter who has been cut off by her father and forced to work after refusing to marry the man he picked out for her. Layla’s arrival sets in motion a series of events that will rock the Romeyn family, revealing a long-kept secret from the past. Layla’s assignment is to write the history of the town. As she interviews residents, she hears various versions of the same events, and chooses to write a more colorful history than the staid town leaders are ready for. As the town’s history is revealed, so is the history of the Romeyn family revealed. We learn how subjective the truth can be, depending upon who is telling it. The pace of the book starts out slow, like the sweltering summer heat of West Virginia, but then picks up and becomes really engrossing as we learn more about the dark family secret that has torn apart the lives of Jottie and Felix. This book shines – the characters are so well-developed and we see Willa grow up before our eyes as she discovers some hard truths about her family.

fallenlandFallen Land by Taylor Brown, New Fiction Brown

Fallen Land is a powerful story of love and survival set in the American South during the Civil War. Fifteen-year-old Callum, an orphan originally from Ireland, falls in with a band of Confederate guerrillas in Virginia in the later years of the war. The men are brutal, and after trying to help a young woman named Ava they found living on her own from being assaulted by the men, Callum leaves the group and returns to the girl. But the leader of the group, a former colonel in the Confederacy, is killed by Union soldiers when confronting Callum, who stole the Colonel’s magnificent horse, Reiver, in his flight. Believing Callum to be the Colonel’s killer, the rest of the Colonel’s men and a vicious bounty hunter set off in search of Callum and Ava in order to collect a bounty on the head of the Colonel’s killer. Callum wants to reach the coast of Georgia, where distant relatives live, in the hope that they will take Ava and him in. As they travel, they are relentlessly pursued by the bounty hunter. Their path follows the wake of General Sherman’s march through Georgia and we see the utter destruction wrought by Union troops. The book helped me realize the full horror of Sherman’s march. I was appalled by the murder of family pets – so pointless, just cruelty – and the sheer brutality of the destruction of property and livestock. The writing is beautiful. Taylor uses descriptive language to great effect, describing the destruction of the land, but the beauty that is still there to be found. Callum and Ava are well-drawn characters. Callum fears what the war is making him while Ava is strong and sensible. Along their journey, the pair also meet a number of memorable characters. The novel is well-paced, the story line flowing smoothly and keeping the reader absorbed until the end.

summerbeforewarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, New Fiction Simonson

This beautifully written novel opens in the summer of 1914 in the small village of Rye, East Sussex, shortly after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The residents of the village are blissfully unaware of the major changes that are coming to their world and their way of life. The main characters are Beatrice, a young woman who has settled in the village to take on the job of Latin mistress for the local school (with some opposition due to her gender) and the Kent family: Agatha, her husband John, who is high up in the government and has more of an inkling of what is coming than most, and their two nephews, Hugh, a surgeon in training, very serious and respectable, and Daniel, a handsome and charming poet, who flaunts the rules of society. Society and respectability are everything in Rye and the local women can be vicious against those who don’t measure up to their standards of respectability. Beatrice is on the cusp of this society, being a woman who doesn’t intend to marry and wants to live a life of meaningful work (and rides a bicycle!), but with Agatha’s support, she fits in. Though Rye is respectable on the surface, there is much simmering under the surface, including a homosexual love affair, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and bigotry against local gypsies. We see how women were limited in their choices in that period of time and how easily they could be ostracized from society for actions that are commonplace today.

The novel is slow-paced and gentle, until the end, when the setting shifts from Rye to France, juxtaposing the charming pastoral life of Rye with the horrific violence of the front. Though a long book told at a slow pace, I truly cared about the characters and was invested in their fate. We see the horror and stupidity of war and the suffering of innocents caught up in it and the waste of promising lives, but also how suffering and loss can make people reach for what they truly want and find happiness.

onlyloveOnly Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington, New Fiction Tarkington

This is a wonderful novel about the relationship between two brothers and their family growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s in a small town in Virginia. The novel is narrated by Richard, nicknamed Rocky by his brother, as an older adult looking back on his life. Richard is seven years old when the novel opens and idolizes his older half-brother Paul, a teenager with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, a cool car, and a taste for rock n’ roll, especially Neil Young. Richard speaks with such an authentic voice you feel as if a friend is telling you a story while sitting on the patio drinking a beer. The book is funny, sad, nostalgic, tender – a lovely story of a family’s ups and downs over Richard’s childhood into his young adulthood. As he comes of age, he experiences abandonment, reconciliation, and first love, as well as darker moments. The characters are richly drawn and all flawed in their own way. We meet Richard’s father, called the Old Man, his mother, the Old Man’s second wife, much younger than him, Paul’s high school girlfriend Leigh, and other residents of the community, all of whom play a part in Richard’s growing up and his education about life. The book defies genre, as it is part Southern Gothic, part domestic fiction, and part mystery. It is very entertaining and well-written and, as the title says, it is ultimately about love between family members and how love can overcome life’s obstacles.

Theresa – Youth Services

ourendlessdaysOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, Fiction Fuller

In 1985, eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is taken from her London home by her survivalist father. After bringing her to a ramshackle hut in the wilderness, he tells her that the rest of the world, including her mother, has been destroyed. Nine long years pass with harsh winters and times of near starvation. Peggy eventually sees another person and realizes that her father is wrong.

It isn’t until Peggy returns to civilization and her mother that the author reveals how the human mind can play tricks on us. Under such circumstances, sanity may be lost, causing one to do unthinkable things.

The author, Claire Fuller, takes the reader back and forth in time. At points it may seem like the dreariness will never end, but the conclusion had me wanting to reread the book!

Hubbell – Circulation

14931493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles Mann, Nonfiction 909.4 Man

Writer Charles Mann’s 1493 is an engrossing account of world history in the post-Columbian era. The meeting of Europe and the Americas, as well as with the East, irrevocably altered the course of the natural world. Mann explains how global temperature increases were caused by the reforestation of North America following population decline from European illnesses. Or how the discovery of silver in South America opened up the Pacific and catapulted China’s economy. It is a fascinating and well-written book.

greatwarofourtimeThe Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From Al Qa’ida to ISIS by Michael J. Morell, Nonfiction 363.325 Mor

Written by former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, The Great War of Our Time is an insightful, first-hand account of America’s counter-terrorism world before and after 9/11. Morell was President Bush’s daily intelligence briefer and his 9/11 day-of account is emotional. What the book is really about, though, is Morell’s explanation of some CIA failures and also successes and that threats abroad continue.

Michelle – Administration

creedCreed starring Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan, New DVD Creed

I have been a huge Rocky fan since I was a kid; a true child of the 80’s, Rocky IV is my favorite. I had not been thrilled with any sequels after that, so I went into this newest addition to the Rocky franchise with excitement and trepidation. I was more than pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Creed. The story line is great and more heart-wrenching than I was expecting. Sylvester Stallone gave his best performance in years and Michael B. Jordan held his own as Adonis Creed. I think this movie is great for both us Rocky fans and the younger generation who may not be familiar with the franchise.

Dagmar – Circulation

irrationalmanIrrational Man starring Joaquin Phoenix, New DVD Irrational

In Woody Allen’s latest film, Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix beautifully plays a classic Allen figure: a renowned but disillusioned philosophical professor who takes a new job at fictional Bryalin College on the East Coast. When he arrives, he is preceded by the tales of his brilliant teaching, near-legendary passionate affairs, and global crusades. He is a mysterious man who is plagued by a bleak depression and doubts about his place in the world. Unknowingly, he creates a lot of commotion in the small provincial university town, starving for something new and exciting. He draws the not so subtle advances of Rita (Parker Posey), a lonely science professor looking to escape from a dreary marriage, and soon surrenders to Rita’s insistent seduction tactics. At the same time, he also enchants one of his brightest students, and daughter of his academic colleague, Jill (Emma Stone). While Jill has a doting and uncomplicated college boyfriend, she finds this professor and his exotic past thrilling, exciting, and irresistible. The professor tries to keep his blossoming friendship with Jill strictly platonic, but eventually, she becomes much more than just a friend. However, not even the stimulation of new friendship and romance can quite get the professor out of his depression, nor ease his feelings of futility concerning his teaching and writing. The turning point for the tormented professor comes when Jill and he eavesdrop on a conversation in a diner, listening to an unhappy turn that a complete stranger’s life has taken. The professor makes a resolution, which in turn gives him a purpose and enjoyment of his life once again. His “meaningful act” becomes the talk of the town, the subject of dinner-party chatter, campus gossip, and speculation from students and faculty. The film culminates in a surprising end with a nearly Hitchcockian twist. This “suspenseful mind-teaser” (Rolling Stone) is definitely a worthy edition to the work of Woody Allen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews

April

April2016

It’s April! April is National Poetry Month and April 10 through April 16 is National Library Week. So celebrate your local library and its contributions to your community and read a poem this month (or even write one)!

 

Melissa – Technical Services

littlelifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, New Fiction Yanagihara

Yanagihara has created something that is simultaneously beautiful and gut-wrenching. She depicts the lives of four men over their decades-long friendship. There’s not much new I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said by better literary critics. “How often is a novel so deeply disturbing that you find yourself weeping, and yet so revelatory about human kindness that you might also feel touched by grace?” (San Francisco Chronicle). “There are truths here that are almost too much to bear.” (LA Times). Truly, this is a book that will stay with me for years.

Sue – Circulation

deniselevertovThe Collected Poems of Denise Levertov by Denise Levertov, Nonfiction 811.54 Lev

Denise Levertov was an English-born award-winning poet. She was born in Essex in 1923 and passed away in 1997. She began writing at a young age, even getting a positive response from T.S. Eliot when she sent some of her poetry to him at age 12. She was first published at age 17. She worked as a nurse in London during WWII and moved to the U.S. in 1948 after marrying an American writer. Her poetry included a wide range of themes over her six-decade career. Early on, her themes included feminism and political and social activism, particularly in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when she spoke out against the Vietnam War and supported civil rights. In her later years, she became a Christian and she wrote spiritual and nature poems. I find her poetry to be an affirmation and celebration of life, even with all of its sorrows. Her writing is very lyrical and reads beautifully. Her poems, especially her later poems that focus on spirituality and the natural world, express deep emotions and reflect upon the meaning of our lives. These later poems are my personal favorites and include “Sojourns in the Parallel World,” “Beginners,” “Of Being,” and “A Gift.” “Sojourns in the Parallel World” speaks about how man has moved away from the natural world, but can find peace and wisdom in nature away from man-made anxieties. “Beginners” speaks of how far man has yet to go in order to find justice, mercy, harmony with nature, etc. “Of Being” and “A Gift” suggest that though life includes sadness and suffering, the joy of life makes up for the sadness and helping others is a way to increase our joy and make our lives more meaningful.

waitingformylifeWaiting for My Life: Poems by Linda Pastan, Nonfiction 811.54 Pas

Linda Pastan is an award-winning American poet who resides in Maryland. Her poems deal with our everyday lives and feature themes of domesticity, like parents, children, home, loss, grief, aging, and the unexpected joys and tragedies of life. She writes about ordinary moments of life and celebrates them for their deeper meaning. Her poetry tends to be concise, filled with vivid imagery and simple beauty.

I find her poems to be rich, getting beneath the surface of our ordinary lives to touch on deeper meanings, like love, death, and what defines us as people. A few of my favorite poems from this collection are “Dreams,” “What We Want,” and “The One-Way Mirror Back.” “Dreams” speaks of the meaning of our dreams, how what is most meaningful to us is what our subconscious mind turns to during sleep – how a lost loved one can return to us in our dreams, or a perfect day can be re-lived, or a bad day can have a different ending. Figurative language creates memorable images that add to the poignancy and strength of the poem. “What We Want” is a lyrical poem that explores our longing for something different – how we want things we don’t have or get things we thought we wanted to find that we don’t want them after all. The poem ends, though, with a celebration of the familiar and comfortable, reassuring us that what we do have is pretty good, even if we still feel that longing. “The One-Way Mirror Back” is a longer, reflective poem about the author’s childhood and the love of her parents, shown in so many ways over the years, and her appreciation now that she is older and can understand how blessed she was to have a happy and loving childhood.

alwaysareckoningAlways a Reckoning and Other Poems by Jimmy Carter, Nonfiction 811.54 Car

This is a book of poems written by former president Jimmy Carter. Many of the poems in the book are reminisces of his childhood growing up on a farm in rural Georgia. They speak of important people in the early years of his life and places that affected him. The poems also reflect on his adult life, including thoughts about his family, and his political life.

The poems about his childhood speak of the local farmers and townspeople, his work in the fields planting and tending the peanut crop, and show the divide in the South between black and white at the time.

Some of the poems are quite personal. He includes a poem about his difficult relationship with his father and their healing at his father’s death. He also writes of his mother, a nurse whose strength he greatly admired. Another poem is a tribute to the beloved dog of his childhood. The collection also includes a lovely poem to his wife of over 65 years, Rosalynn, speaking of his love for her when they first met to today when “her smile still makes the birds forget to sing.”

The political poems show us Carter’s deep compassion for people and his strong sense of righteousness and justice, which he never stopped working for, even after his presidency.

Mary – Youth Services

thedoorThe Door by Margaret Atwood, Nonfiction 811.54 Atw

Margaret Atwood’s poems are small, lyrical masterpieces. With minimalistic words and cadence, she can make epics from everyday experiences, such as gardening to watching a young girl sprint down a wooded path. This specific poetry collection includes a CD-Rom, where you can hear Atwood read the highlighted poems of this collection.

carol

Carol starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, and Sarah Paulson, New DVD Carol

Patricia Highsmith is usually heralded for her mystery novels, such as Strangers on a Train. But also within her writing canon is a tender, yet explosive story of two women falling in love in the 1950’s. Like the original book, Carol as a film adaptation is set in a pre-Stonewall era America, where being gay is not openly discussed within society, and it is also a prosecutable crime. This backdrop of social restraint, combined with contrasting 50’s glamour aesthetic, is the world director Todd Haynes carefully creates in this cinematographically elegant film. The story itself begins with the meeting of two women. Therese Belivet wants to be a photographer, but has taken up a job at a department store, in a toy section. Carol Aird, a recent divorcee, meets Therese at this department store when she is looking for a toy for her daughter. Their connection and attraction is immediate. With a highly nuanced, no-nonsense script by playwright and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, this film shines as it delves into the harsher realities of the human psyche and obsession. With unforgettable performances by Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, and Sarah Paulson, this film brings light to a world of women who lived in the 1950’s and were forced by an unforgiving society to make their own way, and search for joy, rooted at the centers of themselves.

Brigitte – Circulation

brooklyn99Brooklyn Nine-Nine starring Andy Samberg, New DVD Brooklyn, Seasons One and Two

If you feel like staying in on a rainy weekend this April, consider renting Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not your typical sitcom; it’s also not your typical cop show that relies on the gore of a more mainstream police show like Law and Order or Dexter. Watch as Detective Jake Peralta, played by Andy Samberg, tracks down bad guys with his coworkers Terry and Boyle while still being an unrepentant goofball. His best friend Gina, the office administrator, marches to the beat of her own drum while the stoic Captain Holt fires off one-liners faster than he can draw his gun. This show is a light-hearted look at a police precinct that will be sure to keep you laughing!

janethevirginJane the Virgin starring Gina Rodriguez, New DVD Jane, Season 1

Jane the Virgin is an adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela about a pregnant virgin and the antics that surround her pregnancy and family life. Jane is a smart and driven college student who is accidentally impregnated when she goes for a routine check-up. It sounds crazy – because it is, but what is crazier is how Jane reacts to this impossible situation – she decides to keep the baby. This comedy is sure to keep you on your toes and laughing the entire time. If you’ve never seen a telenovela before, this is a great introduction to a new genre for you!

Hubbell – Circulation

pathbetweenseasThe Path Between the Seas by David McCullough, Nonfiction 972.87 McC

One of McCullough’s first books, The Path Between the Seas tells the complete story of the greatest engineering feat of the 20th century, the construction of the Panama Canal. The canal took more than 40 years to complete from the first breaking of ground to the first ship to pass through it. This account explains the first attempt made by the French entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps, which ultimately failed and exposed deep corruption in the canal company and the French government. Then, the book takes us through the American takeover of the failed project, which ultimately changed the world forever.

underaloneUnder and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America’s Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang by William Queen, Nonfiction 921 Queen

William Queen is a retired ATF agent and Vietnam veteran who managed to infiltrate one of the most prominent outlaw motorcycle gangs in the country, California’s Mongols. Queen’s first person account of his time as a undercover ATF operative is gripping and real. Not only did he manage to gain full “patch” status within the club, he even rose to the ranks of treasurer and vice president of his major local chapter in California. If you liked Sons of Anarchy, you will like this first-hand account of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

fargoseason1Fargo, Season One starring Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, DVD Fargo, Season One

Fargo, the TV series, is a re-imagination of the classic 1995 film of the same name and has the same dark themes set against the peaceful background of the upper Midwest. Following a chance encounter and an awkward murder for hire, the story devolves into a dark humor tale of revenge and fatal misdirection. The series was critically acclaimed widely and stars Martin Freeman (of Sherlock) and Billy Bob Thornton.

Dagmar – Circulation

grownupThe Grownup by Gillian Flynn, New Fiction Flynn

The Grownup is a very witty new book by Gillian Flynn, the author of other popular books, such as Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects. If you like her clever fiction, thrillers, suspense, and ghost stories, this is your book to read. The book is so engaging that you may not be able to put it down (I was not able to), but the good news is that the book consists of only 62 pages, so you may be able to get through it quickly in one reading (I did). It is a story of an unnamed young woman, who is trying to survive by “various levels of mostly harmless fraud.” She works, among other things, as an intuitive psychic at Spiritual Palms. They call her Nerdy because she wears glasses, reads books, and eats yogurt for lunch. She is not really a nerd; she only aspires to be one. She is a high school dropout who reads constantly, but lacks formal education, so she is left with the feeling that she is smarter than people around her, but not as smart as “really smart people who went to universities, drank wine, and spoke Latin.” Her life is about to change one rainy April morning when Susan Burke walks in for an aura reading. The “psychic” makes her predictions based mostly by being a keen and shrewd observer of human behavior. Therefore, when she sees the beautiful Susan Burke, she diagnosis her as an unhappy woman eager for a change in her life. However, when the “psychic” visits the Victorian house that is the source of Susan’s unhappiness and grief, she realizes that she may start believing in the ghosts herself. Miles, Susan’s stepson, does all he can do to help to fuel this imagination. The story takes many unexpected twists and turns and the result is wickedly funny, clever, and humorous book to read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews

March

March2016coverIt’s March! Spring is just around the corner. In the meantime, enjoy the recommended titles below.

 

 

Sue – Circulation

goodnightmrwodehouseGood Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan, New Fiction Sullivan

This sweeping novel opens in 1900 and tells the life story of Nell Stillman and her family and friends living in the small town of Harvester, Minnesota. Nell is left reeling when her husband dies suddenly, leaving her with an infant son. Through the kindness of the Lundeen family, wealthy locals who own several businesses, Nell gets hired as a schoolteacher and so is able to support her son Hilly and hire a cousin, Elvira, to care for him while she teaches. Nell becomes great friends with the Lundeens and their son and daughter-in-law and becomes a mother figure to Elvira. Over the course of several decades (the novel closes in 1961), we see small town life through Nell’s eyes. Nell is a kind-hearted and resilient heroine who faces life’s ups and downs with grace. She suffers the loss of friends and her one great love, suffers slights due to malicious gossip, and sees her son return from WWI with a broken mind, but throughout her life, her friends are there for her and make her life whole and rewarding. The book is really a celebration of friendship, specifically life-long friendships and how they enrich our lives. It also celebrates the power of reading and how books can help us through rough times, take us to places we’d otherwise never know, and broaden our minds and hearts. In the book, Nell falls in love with the works of P.G. Wodehouse and turns to him to lift her spirits. As a huge fan of P.G. Wodehouse myself, it tickles me that Faith Sullivan has found a way to honor one of her favorite authors through her fiction.

brokenwheelThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, New Fiction Bivald

Amy and Sara are pen pals, bonded by their love of books. Amy lives in a small town in Iowa and Sara lives in Sweden. Sara comes for a planned two-month visit to find that Amy has passed away. So what is Sara to do? The rest of the townspeople insist that Sara remain and stay in Amy’s house. The town is very small and it was hit hard by the economic recession, so people are struggling, but everyone is welcoming to Sara, not letting her pay for anything and making her feel like she belongs. Sara decides to take Amy’s books (she had thousands of them) and use her closed shop to open a bookstore as a way to give back to the community by sharing Amy’s books with them. (Though Amy has already passed when the novel opens, we get to know her through her letters to Sara, interspersed throughout the book). Sara turns out to be a fabulous book seller – she can find just the right book for any person. The town and its residents slowly start to come back to life as they get involved with Sara and the bookstore. But what will happen when her visa expires? Ultimately, this is a book about community and belonging. Filled with memorable, quirky characters, a sweet love story, and numerous book references, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a warm and satisfying read. All the books mentioned in the novel are listed at the end, so it is also a great resource for finding books to read that you may have missed.

endeavourEndeavour starring Shaun Evans and Roger Allam, New DVD Endeavour, Series 1 and 2

Endeavour is a British detective series based on the Inspector Morse series that ran from 1987 to 2000 and starred the late John Thaw as Morse, a detective with the Oxford police. This series explores Morse as a young man just getting started in his detective career. Morse was famous for his curmudgeonly ways, his short temper, his love of beer, opera, and crossword puzzles, and his great skills as a detective. It is fun for fans of Inspector Morse to see the origins of the John Thaw Morse two decades earlier. Among other things, we see how his love of beer developed and get a glimpse of his famous red sports car. The show is set in Oxford in the mid-1960’s when Morse, played by Shaun Evans, joins the Oxford police as a detective constable after being promoted from a uniformed constable. The young Morse is solitary and reflective with a great mind, but not great social skills. Roger Allam co-stars as Morse’s boss, DI Fred Thursday, and his character is wonderful – a good and kind-hearted family man who sees Morse’s brilliance, supports his growth, and backs him against others in the force who resent Morse for his quick rise and superior brain. The two have a strong relationship and Allam’s performance is outstanding. Each episode solves a new case – the cases are normally quite complex and involved. The series has aired for three seasons and a fourth season has been ordered.

Dagmar – Circulation

strangerheremyselfI’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson, Nonfiction 973.92 Bry

An Anglo-American author, Bill Bryson, who is known for his humorous books on travel (A Walk in the Woods, etc.) has a new book out, called The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, which is, of course, about his travels in England. The book is now available in our library. I have not read his new book yet, but I read and liked many others he has written. My personal favorite Bryson book is I Am a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away. Bryson once joked that there are three things in life which you can’t do: you can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you unless he is ready to see you, and you can’t go home again. Yet, after living in Britain for two decades, he moved back to the States in 1995 with his English wife and four children. He had left as a youth and was returning in his middle age. He settled in Hanover, New Hampshire, and found himself in charge of an old house in New England. There he started to discover that, at times, he was being mildly foolish and out of touch. He puzzled over ATM machines, automated gas pumps, and phones. Many good things about America for him were a bit of a novelty, such as the conveniences of daily life, the abundance of absolutely everything, the friendliness of waitresses, the wondrous, unfillable vastness of an American basement, the notion that ice is not a luxury item, and the notion that rooms can have more than one electrical outlet. He marveled at the fact that a letter from England addressed to “Mr. Bill Bryson, Author of A Walk in the Woods, Lives Somewhere in New Hampshire, America” was delivered to him just five days after it was mailed. He congratulated the U.S. Postal Service for this unassailable triumph. Bryson discovered that you indeed can go home again. The result is this extended, if often bemused, love letter to his homeland.

learningtodriveLearning to Drive starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, New DVD Learning

Learning to Drive is a delightful film about an unlikely friendship that develops between two people in New York from very different walks of life. Wendy is a successful book editor and critic who is in a lot of emotional turmoil because her husband has just left her. She has to make a lot of adjustments to her new life and one of them is that she has to learn how to drive if she wants to (among other things) visit her daughter in Vermont. She hires Darwan, a gentle Indian driving instructor, and a former college professor on the brink of an arranged marriage, to teach her how to drive. That, as it turns out, is not always an easy task. In the process, they learn valuable lessons about life, friendship, and relationships.

Theresa – Youth Services

deathatprioryDeath at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick, Nonfiction 364.152 Rud

When Florence Ricardo, a beautiful widow, married successful attorney Charles Bravo, she quickly found out what an awful man he really was. After taking ill one evening, Bravo died an agonizing death later determined to be caused by poisoning. Florence, of course, became a suspect, along with a cast of characters including her lover and her companion and housekeeper, as well as a disgruntled former employee. This case was the talk of the day. Being a true story, the author pieced together newspaper articles and court testimony. The case was never solved due to lack of evidence, but the author leads the reader to conclude that there is only one person who could have committed the crime. This book gives a true depiction of how women in this era had few rights, even when it came to matters over their own bodies. They had to secretly take it upon themselves to deal with their personal miseries in whatever ways possible.

This is a must-read if you enjoyed Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson and/or Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul by Karen Abbott.

Michelle – Administration

nflconfidentialNFL Confidential: True Confessions from the Gutter of Football by Johnny Anonymous, New Nonfiction 796.332 Ano

I was attracted to this book by its promise to show the reader what the NFL is really like behind the scenes. It doesn’t quite deliver on its promise – most of the “confidential” parts are pretty well-known. However, Johnny Anonymous provides an interesting look at a season in his career as a third-string player. The writing is quick, witty, and fun to read – just don’t expect any earth-shattering revelations!

Hubbell – Circulation

mrrobotMr. Robot starring Rami Malek, New DVD Mr. Robot, Season 1

Starring Rami Malek, Christian Slater, and others, Mr. Robot was one of the best shows of 2015. It tells the story of Elliot, who is a cyber-security analyst by day and an anonymous activist hacker by night. But he is troubled by inner demons, hallucinations, and social pressures. Mr. Robot is a gripping social commentary on greed and economic inequality.

forensicsForensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA, and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid, Nonfiction 363.25 McD

Author Val McDermid is an experienced crime fiction writer; this is her second non-fiction work. It takes a detailed look at the history of forensic science, including arson and insect and pathological forensics. The history is explained through real-life crime synopses, making for a thrilling and informative read.

17761776 by David McCullough, Nonfiction 973.3 McC

1776 is an incredibly well-researched history of the most formative year in the country’s history. The first year of combat in the War for Independence was a rough one for Washington and the Continental Army. McCullough’s work, which stands out from other Revolutionary War histories, concentrates on the military personalities and events during 1776. It is as inspiring as it is interesting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews

February

February2016It’s February! Let’s hope for an early spring and stay warm inside with a good book!

 

 

Sue – Circulation

goosecreekThe Most Famous Illegal Goose Creek Parade by Virginia Smith, New Fiction Smith

This is a charming book, the first title in a new series about Goose Creek, Kentucky, and its residents. The book centers around Al and Millie, a married couple with grown children. Al is near retirement and looks forward to peaceful days and some traveling. Millie, however, has other ideas and plays her husband of nearly 40 years just right to get her way. She wants to buy a dilapidated house in town and turn it into a bed and breakfast. Al is horrified by the idea and sees his retirement dreams going up in flames. Will he be able to put the kibosh on Millie’s plan or will he soon be a new business owner instead of a retiree? Meanwhile, the new veterinarian in town gets off on the wrong foot with one of the most outspoken residents of the town. Will she ever get a client or is she finished before she’s even begun? Then there is Norman, incensed that the mayor isn’t giving the job of painting the town’s water tower to his son, Little Norm, who did such a bad job the first time around that it needs to be repainted already. Norman launches an all-out campaign against the Town Council, dividing the residents into two sides. Funny and light with a warm heart, this is an enjoyable read and I look forward to more Goose Creek tales. The second book is called Renovating the Richardsons and it is being published on February 1, 2016.

thrushgreenAt Home in Thrush Green by Miss Read, Fiction Read

A title in the Thrush Green series by British author Miss Read that inspired Jan Karon’s Mitford series. This is a gentle read that follows the lives of a group of people living in a small village in the Cotswolds. The characters include Charles, the kind-hearted vicar, his gentle wife Dimity, Dimity’s brash best friend Ella, eccentric Dotty with her household of animals, Albert, the ill-tempered sexton, the maiden schoolteachers Miss Watson and Miss Fogerty, and others. The books are comforting and slow-paced and take you back to a simpler time and a simpler life. No violence, no bad language, no modern technology, just a group of people living out their lives in a small community. The series began in the 1950’s and continued until the 1990’s, but all the books in the series have an old-fashioned charm. This title chronicles a year of life in Thrush Green. New homes for elderly residents are being built in the village on the site of the former rectory that burned down the previous year. Some problems arise as the homes are built and once the residents move in, but in the end all is resolved and the village is peaceful once more. This is a sweet, charming series for those who enjoy gentle reads and reading about English country life and want an escape from the hectic and violent real world.

sitstayspeakSit! Stay! Speak! by Annie England Noblin, New Fiction Noblin

Addie inherits her late aunt’s house in the small town of Eunice, Arkansas, and moves there from Chicago. She plans on moving back to Chicago once she fixes up and sells the house, but is happy for a respite. Since losing her fiance in an accident two years ago, she doesn’t feel at home in Chicago anymore. But in Arkansas, Addie finds a whole new set of problems facing her. On her arrival in Eunice, Addie finds a pit bull terrier puppy who has been badly abused and left for dead. She adopts him and names him Felix. While nursing Felix back to health, Addie makes friends with the local vet tech and meets a man named Jasper, for whom she develops romantic feelings, but he sends her mixed signals. As Addie investigates what happened to Felix, she uncovers illegal activity going on in town and gets herself on the bad side of a dangerous man. It turns out life in Eunice isn’t so simple after all. Though it deals with serious issues, the book is a comfort read with charm, romance, and a happy ending for both Addie and Felix. The book also includes authentic Southern recipes, including hush puppies, cheese grits, and chocolate gravy.

Michelle – Administration

martian The Martian starring Matt Damon, New DVD Martian

Full disclosure – I did not read the book! However, this movie was even better than I anticipated. Matt Damon created a lovable character that the audience could really root for. He was very entertaining, even though he spent most of the movie without a co-star. The movie is able to maintain a high level of suspense throughout that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Ant-Man starring Paul Rudd, New DVD Ant-Man (Blu Ray)antman

Not being familiar with the character before watching the movie, I couldn’t imagine a movie about a man turning into an ant being a good watch. I gave it the benefit of the doubt since Marvel has yet to let me down and they did it again. It is a great, funny movie with a lot of action. I will never look at ants the same way!

Dagmar – Circulation

fourseasonsinromeFour Season in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr, Nonfiction 914.5 Doe

Many readers are probably familiar with the talented and successful author Anthony Doerr. For his writings, Doerr has won numerous prizes and awards, including the Rome Prize, one of the most prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which came with a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for a year. Doerr learned about the award on the day his wife Shauna and he came home from the hospital with their newborn twins. Doerr and his wife moved from Boise, Idaho, to Rome to spend a year at the American Academy when his twin boys, Henry and Owen, were only six months old. Doerr had planned to work on a new novel, which several years later became the highly acclaimed All the Light We Cannot See. In the process, however, he was enchanted by life in the Eternal City and wrote this delightful book as a result of his stay and experiences. He exquisitely describes his adventures in one of the most enchanting cities in the world – visits to piazzas and temples, and the vigil of a dying Pope John Paul II; but he also writes about the fun and frustration of living in a foreign country, about learning to negotiate everyday life in this “new” old world. He embraces these experiences, including the encounters with local grocers, bakers, and butchers of his neighborhood and makes them a part of his “Roman holiday.” This lovely, intimate book is a combination of a celebration of life in Rome, a fresh and wondrous look at new parenthood, and a fascinating look at creating the writer’s craft.

Hubbell – Circulation

lingoLingo: Around Europe in 60 Languages by Gaston Dorren, New Nonfiction 306.44 Dor

Despite the extensive linguistic study of most European languages, many details still remain under the surface. Dorren’s book takes a fun look at some of the lesser known European tongues. Each quick chapter focuses on a specific language or language family. Not too dense, the book lays out European linguistic diversity in an accessible manner and ties in the important historical causes of linguistic change.

bigshortThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, Nonfiction 330.973 Lew

A hit movie in 2015, Michael Lewis’ The Big Short is the definitive insider’s look at the housing market crash that took place in the late 2000’s. It exposes just how few people it took to capsize the American economy. Lewis, a former investment banker himself, shows his unique insight into the greedy world of mortgage-backed securities trading.

boomerangBoomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis, Nonfiction 330.9 Lew

Written by the author of The Big Short and Blindside, Lewis’ book about global financial bubbles is hilarious and terrifying. He tells us why Italians and Greeks don’t pay their taxes and why everyday Icelandic fishermen became the country’s largest investing bloc. Then, after lambasting the international financial scene, Lewis brings the message home and shows us Americans are no better at preventing or forecasting these catastrophic events.

Mary – Youth Services

edwardgoreyEdward Gorey: His Book Cover Art & Design by Steven Heller, New Nonfiction 741.6 Hel

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Edward Gorey was an American illustrator. Best known for his gleefully macabre style, Gorey’s art embellished his own books, cartoons (the most famous being the opening sequence for the PBS Mystery! series), as well as hundreds of book covers for other writers. He illustrated covers which re-imagined the works of authors like Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James. (On the subject of Henry James, Gorey famously said “I hate him more than anyone else…” Yet, he proceeded to do multiple covers of his work.) Edward Gorey: His Book Cover Art & Design is a collection of Gorey’s cover art, chronicling lesser-known covers he illustrated for other writers. Edward Gorey remains a singularity in the art field. Eclectic in personality and artistic style, this collection is a testament to the sheer volume and quality of his work, the likes of which we will perhaps never see again.

mrholmesMr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, and Milo Parker, New DVD Mr. Holmes

Based on the Holmes pastiche novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, the film Mr. Holmes imagines the retirement years of the most famous fictional character of all times. Sherlock Holmes now lives in Sussex, with his housekeeper and her son. The narrative which follows is gorgeously shot, and has an intimate understanding of what it means to age, and the confusion and horror that accompanies irrevocable memory loss. Mr. Holmes, overall though, is a quiet film, but one that should not be overlooked. In the domestic scenes that take place in Sussex, all the way to Japan, this adaptation of Holmes gets right what most cannot: a look into the humanity of our favorite detective. Starring Ian McKellen, who, as always, is flawless.

madmaxMad Max: Fury Road starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult, New DVD Mad Max

Having declared myself as not liking action films, I recently had to revoke my membership in the Please-Not-Another-Blow-Them-Up-Action-Flick Club. Mad Max: Fury Road is to blame. The post-apocalyptic world George Miller creates on-screen is a believably selfish; a world on the brink of ecological crisis. With water as a scarce resource, and women being exploited for their bodies, the leading regime is on the verge of collapse. Two individuals who escaped the dictatorship, Furiosa and Max, lead a crusade to free women and slaves. What follows is indescribably heart-pumping, dizzying action. Mad Max: Fury Road may be a glimpse at our own post-apocalyptic future, but it is one still filled with hope. Redemption ultimately rests in the hands of women, and they are not going down without a fight.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews

January

January2016It’s January! Start the new year off with a good book!

 

 

 

 

Sue – Circulation

stellabainStella Bain by Anita Shreve, Fiction Shreve

Set during World War I, this book tells the story of a woman who wakes up in a field hospital in France in 1916 with no memory of who she is or how she got there. She is wearing a nurse’s uniform, but speaks with an American accent, although the U.S. has not yet entered the war. She thinks her name is Stella Bain and recalls that she can drive an ambulance, so once her physical injuries heal, she is sent to work as a nurse’s aide and ambulance driver. Eventually she makes her way to London where she hopes to find a clue to her identity. She is taken in by a man named Dr. Bridges and his wife, who find her sick and weak outside their door. Dr. Bridges is a cranial surgeon, but he also has an interest in psychiatry, so he agrees to treat her to see if she can recover her memories. I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, but it was a fascinating read to find out who Stella really is and how she ended up in that hospital in France and what happened to her going forward once she got to London and met Dr. Bridges. The book really holds your attention as bits and pieces of Stella’s life are revealed.

thinwomanThe Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell, Fiction Cannell

The first book in a mystery series about Ellie Simons. Ellie is an insecure, overweight interior designer whose family nags her about her weight and her status as a single woman. To impress her family, Ellie hires a date for a weekend family reunion at her uncle’s big estate, whom she then tells her family is her fiancee. The date, Ben, is attracted to Ellie, but doesn’t like how she is down on herself. Ellie thinks she has gotten away with her ruse until her uncle passes away. His will leaves his estate and all his money to both Ellie and Ben, but only if certain conditions are met by both over the next six months. If the conditions are not met, then the rest of the family, who were left nothing in the will, will divide the estate and money among themselves. Ellie and Ben move into the house and try to meet the will’s conditions. But then a series of vicious practical jokes occur and it becomes clear that a truly disturbed individual is behind the increasingly malicious pranks and trying to run off Ellie and Ben. This is a fun read with mystery, romance, adventure, and a twist at the end.

burnnoticeBurn Notice starring Jeffrey Donovan, DVD Burn Notice, Seasons 1-7

If you like car chases and explosions, this is the show for you! Nonstop action, plus endearing main characters, evil villains, and character development over the seasons too. The great Jeffrey Donovan stars, along with Gabrielle Anwar, the charming and funny Bruce Campbell, and Sharon Gless. Donovan plays Michael Westen, a CIA operative who gets “burned” – kicked out of the CIA with all his assets frozen. He was burned for crimes that he did not commit and the show focuses on his efforts to find the people who burned him and get back into the CIA. While pursuing this, he helps people in need who can’t get help from the usual sources, like the police. His cohorts are his ex-girlfriend Fiona, a former member of the IRA and current gun-runner and bounty hunter, and Sam, an ex-Navy SEAL now leading a relaxed life of lots of beer drinking and free-loading off his wealthy girlfriends. Forced by the CIA to stay in his hometown of Miami, Michael reconnects with his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in years after fleeing his abusive father. I love the characters – they all have great chemistry with each other and the show has a lot of humor and heart in it in addition to the action. The show aired for seven seasons and ended its run in 2013.

Dagmar – Circulation

gratitudediariesThe Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan, New Nonfiction 179.9 Kap

This is a perfect New Year’s resolution book – a definite must-read for those who would like to make a difference in their lives in the year(s) to come. It all starts on New Year’s Eve when journalist Janice Kaplan makes a resolution to look on the bright side of life and makes a promise to be grateful for whatever happens. It is partially an inspiring memoir in which the author shares some amusing personal experiences, but it is also brilliantly researched and backed with scientific research. Kaplan interviewed many scientists extensively – psychologists, academics, doctors, philosophers, and had meaningful conversations with her colleagues and friends to bring you along on the journey of appreciating what you have. Relying on the mass of evidence, she learned for herself and explains in the book how gratitude can transform every aspect of your everyday life, from marriage and friendship to health and fitness. With insightful writing and gentle humor, she will take you on a journey to start thinking positively and start living your best year ever. She explores her subjects in four parts, according to seasons. Winter is a season for marriage and family, spring is a season for money and career, summer is for gratitude and health (including Chapter 11 about losing weight on the amazing gratitude diet!), and finally, fall for coping, caring, and connection. At the end of the year, she realized that big changes can happen when the calendar flips – but only if you make them happen. By paying attention, thinking positively, and reframing experiences, she put herself in a different place that year and became the happier person she wanted to be. And so can you, if you embrace the message of this book and take it to your heart.

giveitupGive It Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less by Mary Carlomagno, Nonfiction 179.9 Car

This is another perfectly motivating book for a New Year’s resolution. The book chronicles the author’s life-changing experience and provides inspiration for anyone looking for a fresh start and a new outlook. It is about simplifying your life and celebrating what is truly important.

Mary Carlomagno was like many of us – a busy professional, accustomed to a frantic pace, stressed, constantly checking her messages, and shopping like there was no tomorrow. Her resolution came on January 1, when she woke up with a pounding headache and uttered those famous last words, “I am never drinking again.” And she meant it. At least for the month of January. Raised as a Catholic, she was accustomed to observe Lent by sacrificing something that was dear to her to honor her faith. Sacrifices made during Lent can be life-changing. So Mary recalled the experience of Lent and began to wonder if she could give up things that seemed so essential to her, like designer shoes and handbags, expensive coffee, and her ever-present cell phone. So for each month of the year, she picked a favorite thing and gave it up cold turkey. In February, she gave up shopping, in March elevators, in April newspapers, in May cell phones, which created huge confusion and nearly caused her boyfriend to reconsider their recent engagement. In June, she gave up eating out. Considering the high cost and super-sized portions that made her gain weight, Mary went back to the basics of home-cooked meals, where moderation was her mantra. This was beneficial to both her wallet and her waistline. She was not going to sever her relationship with finer cuisine, but wanted to break the food-on-the-go addiction, and in the process, she regained her interest and appreciation for a freshly-made home meal. In July, she went without television. While this may not seem like a revolutionary idea, the abstinence brought attention to the addiction of a daily habit; it allowed her to get a new life – nightly walks after dinner, followed by some quality reading. In August, she banned taxis, her main mode of transportation. Luckily, New York City is the most walking friendly city in the USA. In September, she gave up coffee and her obsession with Starbucks. This was hard, because, as she put it, coffee is the last politically correct vice accepted, even encouraged, in the workplace, where some rituals change, but the coffee break is eternal. October was for cursing, November for chocolate, which, according to her, was the cruelest of the months. December was for multi-tasking, which was designed to live in the moment. Her goal for the month was to enjoy the holiday season with a limited amount of stress. With the goal of the month achieved, she could raise a champagne glass, noting the passing of another year. That year had inspired her career change as well. She founded a company, Order, that specializes in clutter control, apartment and office space solutions, and life transitions.

Mary – Youth Services

hungermakesmeHunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein, New Nonfiction 921 Brownstein

Many of us have an idea of what it is like to be in a rock band. Carrie Brownstein tells it like it is. After all, she played a defining role in establishing the Northwest feminist punk scene, where she remains a lead singer and guitarist in the band Sleater-Kinney. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is a life told through music. It exposes the rock scene’s sexist inner workings, and most notably, the not-so-glamorous touring life of a rockstar. (Which includes—according to Brownstein—after-parties that are best skipped for time alone in your hotel room). The most unique part of Brownstein’s memoir, however, comes in the way she explores emotional “growing pains,” and how the tragedies of our early lives can seep into us, or transform us as we grow. Whether you have an interest in Pacific Northwest feminist punk, or you just read that and are thinking “What on earth is that?” Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is unequivocally one of the best memoirs of the year. Carrie Brownstein has presented parts of her personal life that she usually guards with utmost privacy, and what she exposes is an incredibly human portrait of what it means to grow and change in our modern world.

orlandoOrlando by Virginia Woolf, Fiction Woolf

Woof’s fiction is incredibly multi-textured, dense, and layered. One could spend a lifetime drawing something new out of her works, each time one is read. Orlando is no exception. Written as a literary love letter to Vita-Sackville West, the novel charts three hundred years, and it begins with exploring the life of an Elizabethan nobleman, named Orlando. Effortlessly, Woolf makes the years go by, until one day Orlando wakes up in the nineteenth century, and he wakes up as a woman. Now Orlando—Orlando, the woman—must come to terms with her loss of freedoms as now she lives in the early 1900’s, falls in and out of love, and struggles with accepting domesticity. Orlando is a mythical, unforgettable portrait of one human life, and will astound the modern reader that it was published in 1928. The diversity of human life is thrumming with wildness, and the character of Orlando is a testament to this unapologetic truth.

iworkatapubliclibraryI Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks collected by Gina Sheridan, Nonfiction 027.02 She

One comment I always get from people who know I work at a library is: “Oh, that must be such a nice, quiet job.” And it is. Well, the “nice” part is true, at least. As for “quiet,” we rarely have dull moments. If you are curious what it is like to be a public librarian, you will find no greater insight than I Work at a Public Library. Gina Sheridan has collected stories from real-life public librarians, and contained therein is the true range of horrors and rewards librarians reap on the daily. If you were ever staring at us behind our desks, wondering what it is like to be us, take a look at this book. Perhaps that fantasy of quitting your job and becoming a librarian wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you want to be a librarian after reading this book: Welcome to the force. You are truly one of us.

Hubbell – Circulation

wrightbrothersThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough, Nonfiction 920 Mcc or New CD 920 Mcc (audiobook)

Renowned author and historian David McCullough has written the definitive biography of the Wright brothers. Meticulously researched and organized, McCullough’s biography tells the story of the brothers’ entire lives. The work includes eye-opening details you may have never known about the brothers, their family, and their invention. McCullough reveals the early history of the Wrights and their upbringing, which uniquely qualified the bicycle shop owners for aviation experimentation. Further, McCullough details the brothers’ discovery and mastery of flight and also how they went about commercializing their invention.

81days81 Days Below Zero by Brian Murphy, New CD 940.54 Mur (audiobook)

This is the true telling of the story of Leon Crane, a WWII pilot who crashed into the Alaskan wilderness during a flight test. The rest of the crew were never seen again. Crane, through a combination of tenacity, luck, survival awareness, and the environment, endeavors to find any sign of life for rescue. His story is remarkable and Brian Murphy brings it to life with the inclusion of modern investigators who have searched for answers to the crash.

thomasjeffersonandpiratesThomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, New Nonfiction 973.47 Kil or New CD 973.47 Kil (audiobook)

America’s first war was not the War of 1812. It was against the Barbary nations of northern Africa. Under direction of the Ottoman Empire, these nations of Morocco, Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli harassed American vessels, took American prisoners, and plundered American ships in the Mediterranean. While other European powers agreed to pay ransoms for clear passage, President Thomas Jefferson refused. Written by Brian Kilmeade (George Washington’s Secret Six), this book reveals America’s first conflict, the crucial development of its fledgling navy, and its rise to respect on the world’s political stage.

Chris – Technical Services

immortalsantaThe Immortal Nicholas by Glenn Beck, New Fiction Beck

“Before he was father Christmas…he was simply a father.” An epic tale full of drama, history, legend, and heart that gives the legend of Santa a long-overdue Christ-centered mission.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews

It’s DecemberDec2015cover! Enjoy the holidays with your loved ones and check out the recommended titles below.

 

 

 

Sue – Circulation

onceagainitschristmasOnce Again It’s Christmas by Kenny Rogers, New CD 781.72 Rogers

This is a new Christmas album by Kenny Rogers. His last Christmas album was released in 1998. This CD includes classic Christmas carols including The Little Drummer Boy, Winter Wonderland, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas, as well as original songs and duets with Alison Krauss and Jennifer Nettles. My favorites of the original songs are Once Again It’s Christmas and The Light. I also enjoyed There’s A New Kid in Town and Back to Bethlehem, which have been covered by other artists as well. Once Again It’s Christmas is a nostalgic song about the joys of the Christmas season. It reminds me of the classic song Silver Bells. The Light is a lovely ballad exalting the virtues of the Christian faith. The song includes accompaniment by a choir and an orchestra. There’s a New Kid in Town is a beautiful, melodic song celebrating the birth of Jesus. Back to Bethlehem is about the troubles of the modern world and returning to the values of Christmas. The album has a soft and peaceful mood, with string instruments and piano featuring on most of the songs, and makes a strong addition to our Christmas collection.

homefiresHome Fires starring Samantha Bond and Francesca Annis, New DVD Home Fires

This is a PBS period drama about the British home front during World War II, set in a small community in rural Cheshire and following the lives of the members of the local Women’s Institute. It was inspired by the nonfiction book Jambusters by Julie Summers, a history of the Women’s Institute during the war and its contributions to the war effort. The series opens in August 1939 and goes through the Battle of Dunkirk in May 1940. The series has been renewed for a second season, which will open in the summer of 1940 during the Battle of Britain.

Over 300,000 women were members of the Women’s Institute during the war. They did their part for the war effort by growing and preserving food, knitting for the troops, organizing the evacuation of children and taking in evacuees, setting up canteens for the troops, and raising money for needed supplies.

I am fascinated by the history of the home front of England during WWII – how England stood alone against Hitler and how strong the people were to keep going in the face of years of war and all the suffering and loss. The Blitz, food shortages, rationing, the death of loved ones on the battlefield and at home, constant fear of bombings, and yet they not only endured, but maintained positive, can-do attitudes. It is remarkable what women accomplished on the home front despite all the hardships and the strength and resolve shown by them. Women did men’s work in the factories and fields, kept their families fed when there was no food, lost not only husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers, but also women and children to bombings and other wartime events, took in evacuees, gave up their homes or land or possessions to the war effort, and in the end, they did their part to defeat Hitler.

halfbrokehorsesHalf Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, Fiction Walls

This novel by the author of the acclaimed memoir The Glass Castle is a fictional account of the life of the author’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, written in her grandmother’s voice. Lily was a woman ahead of her time, strong and independent. Born in the early 1900s, she spent much of her life on ranches in the American West. By the age of six, she was working with her father breaking wild horses. She went on to become a teacher, working in rural one-room school houses, and a mother of two. In addition to her skills with horses and teaching, she also learned how to fly an airplane, all great accomplishments for a woman of that time. She was a tough and practical-minded woman with good common sense who did not suffer fools gladly. The book was entertaining as Lily had an adventuresome life. Besides her experiences on the ranch, which involved flash floods, harsh winters, and all the other troubles that come with livestock and living off the land, teaching, and raising her children, she raced horses, ran moonshine, lost her sister tragically, married a con man before finding happiness with her second husband, and survived both the Depression and WWII. She passed away when the author was eight years old and is fondly remembered by her family.

Theresa – Youth Services

heartshapedboxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, Fiction Hill

This is a ghost story about an aging rock star known for his strange and macabre collections. When he finds out that someone is selling a ghost, he has to have it. What he gets is a suit…the ghost’s suit, which comes in a heart-shaped box. What he doesn’t realize is that he was tricked into buying this ghost who has a reason to want him or anyone who helps him dead. It’s difficult to imagine that a ghost could cause bodily harm, but this one convinces his victims to harm themselves. Scary!

I enjoyed this as a perfect book to set the mood for Halloween. After reading it, I found out that the author, Joe Hill, is actually Joseph Hillstrom King, the son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King. He decided to use an abbreviated form of his given name in 1997, out of a desire to succeed based solely on his own merits rather than as the son of famous writers. After achieving a degree of independent success, Hill publicly confirmed his identity in 2007.

Dagmar – Circulation

hemingway

Hemingway & Gellhorn starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman, DVD Hemingway

Hemingway & Gellhorn is a 2012 HBO biopic film by director Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), starring Nicole Kidman as Hemingway’s third wife Martha Gellhorn and Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway. They are one of the most famous American literary couples. The film tells the story of their passionate love affair and tumultuous marriage; it depicts the conflicts between the career of a great literary master and that of his beautiful wife, a trailblazing war correspondent. The adventurous writers, who meet by chance in 1936 in a Key West bar, meet again in Spain and they go together through the Spanish Civil War and stay there until 1939. She becomes his muse for the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. In 1940, Hemingway divorces his second wife and marries Martha. Together they witness history and cover the great conflicts of their time, but the war they could not survive was their own. “We were good in war,” says Kidman as the renowned war correspondent Gellhorn. “When there was no war, we made our own.” In 1945, Martha Gellhorn asks Hemingway for a divorce. Kidman received a lot of well-deserved praise for her performance as Martha Gellhorn, especially for using her beauty – exceptional figure and old- fashioned movie star glamour – to full effect. Owen portrays well Hemingway’s charisma and his legendary temper. The film also features an all-star supporting cast and has a lot of extraordinary archival footage scenes. The only flaw the film has is its length – 155 minutes. But it may be a good film to watch on one of those long winter nights.

Hubbell – Circulation

sixthextinctionThe Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, New Nonfiction 576.84 Kol or New CD 576.84 Kol (audiobook)

Written by journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction examines the patterns of the phenomenon of mass extinction throughout natural history. The author, through the presentation of convincing scientific evidence, purports that we presently are in the sixth such massive die-off in Earth’s history. Kolbert keeps the tone light, however, and even entertaining with chapters like The Rhino Gets an Ultrasound and Dropping Acid. The first chronicles zoologists’ attempts at sustaining population of the near-extinct Asian Rhino while the the latter explains the process of ocean acidification and its dire consequences on marine biodiversity. By analyzing past examples of extinction periods throughout the geological ages, Kolbert (and scientists) suggest we have now entered a new period called the Anthropocene Epoch, in which humans have irreversibly changed the very nature of biology on the planet.

Brigitte – Circulation

natlampoonxmasNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase, DVD National Lampoon’s

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a Christmas classic that the whole family is sure to love. If you are feeling nostalgic this holiday season, check out this comedy starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, a man just trying to make the holidays fun for his family, often with hilariously disastrous results. Yule love it!

Jacob – Circulation

DeadwakeDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, Nonfiction 940.4514 Lar

The Lusitania was a luxury cruise liner headed from New York to Liverpool. Tragically, the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland and sank on May 7, 1915. Through meticulous research and historical documents, Erik Larson intertwines the stories of the ship and the submarine, while telling the story of this historic turning point in WWI. If you are a fan of Larson’s previous works, you will definitely enjoy this one as well.

Leave a comment

December 1, 2015 · 2:47 am

November

It’snovember2015coverphoto November. Let us all be thankful for our loved ones and enjoy the holiday season with the recommended titles below.

 

Dagmar – Circulation

voraciousVoracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti, New Nonfiction 028.9 Nic

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books is a delicious culinary journey with things that many of us love the most in life: books and food. The author, Cara Nicoletti, is a butcher, a former pastry chef, and author of the literary recipe blog Yummy Books. Her journey started in her junior year in college, when she, originally from Boston, was fed up, lonely, and exhausted in New York, and ready to leave the city. Her college friend Emily changed everything: convinced her to stay in New York, and years later to create a blog, which led to this book. Four years ago, the author, along with her friend Emily and her husband Ante, started a book club. Every time they finished a book, they would go to Cara’s apartment where they would  discuss a book and Cara would make them a meal from the book so they could eat while discussing. These book club dinners would eventually turn into a literary supper club, which then turned into Yummy Books, which was the starting point of this book. This is a very interesting new take on discussing books – book club readers take notice – the author may be onto something here and it may be just a recipe for success of reading and dining with friends.

cloudsofsilsmariaClouds of Sils Maria starring Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, New DVD Clouds

Many of us have followed Juliette Binoche and her films during her prolific career. From her first major international hit nearly 30 years ago, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” we saw her in films such as “The English Patient,” for which she won an Academy Award, and “Chocolat” with Johnny Depp, through which she won the hearts of many. Last month, the blog reviewed her recent film “Certified Copy.” This month, her fans will be delighted to see her latest film, Clouds of Sils Maria. In this film, she delivers another career-defining performance. Along with Kristen Stewart, she creates a seductive and mesmerizing masterpiece. Binoche plays renowned actress Maria Enders, who is cast opposite a young Hollywood starlet with a flair for scandal. Aging Binoche must face and come to terms with what it means to be an actress in a youth-obsessed industry. She prepares for the most challenging role of her life with her assistant (Stewart). During the process, tension rises and there may be a hint of another underlying problem for both of them. For her acclaimed performance, Stewart became the first American to win the coveted Cesar Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Sue – Circulation

skyeLetters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole, Fiction Brockmole

This is an engaging love story told completely in letters that spans more than two decades, from the first world war to the second. It opens in 1912 with a fan letter from David in Illinois to Elspeth, a published poet, in the Isle of Skye in Scotland. As Elspeth and David correspond via letter, they slowly fall in love. However, Elspeth is a married woman. When the war begins, David volunteers to be an ambulance driver and goes off to France. The book then jumps forward in time to 1940 and we follow the letters of Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, to her love who is serving in the war. Something happened back in the first world war that tore Elspeth’s family apart, but Margaret knows nothing of her mother’s past or her own father. As Margaret investigates her family’s past, we learn more about the events of 20 years ago and the story comes full circle. Though it is set in wartime, the book focuses more on romance and less on war. The characters and their emotions felt real to me and the story was absorbing and satisfying without being too predictable.

ettaandottoEtta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, Fiction Hooper

This book tells the life stories of Etta and Otto, a married couple now in their 80s who live on a farm in rural Saskatchewan. The story opens with Etta leaving on a journey all the way across Canada to the sea in Halifax. She intends to walk this great distance by herself. It is something she feels she needs to do, connected to an event in her childhood. Otto understands and lets her go. Otto’s best friend and neighbor, Russell, at one time in love with Etta himself, is not so understanding and sets off after Etta. The book goes back and forth in time, telling each character’s story from their childhood to Otto’s service in the war as a young man and his return to the present day. While Etta walks, she picks up an animal companion she names James, giving us the four characters of the title.

The book has a dream-like quality to it – you are not sure if some of the events really happened or if it was just in the character’s mind. The various events that affect the characters’ lives and how their lives play out over the years makes for compelling reading. The book is beautifully written – a moving story of friendship and loyalty, lives not without hardship, but with family and friends always there when needed to share the joy and the burdens.

hinterlandHinterland starring Richard Harrington and Mali Harries, DVD Hinterland, Series 1

This is a detective drama that follows DCI Tom Mathias and his team as they investigate crimes in a remote coastal area of Wales. Mathias is a brooding, serious man with an unhappy past that has sent him from London to Wales for a fresh start. The show is gritty, dark, and intense with beautiful cinematography showing the barren Welsh landscape. The show is filmed in both Welsh and English, with the Welsh language version broadcast in Wales and the English version broadcast in England. The second season of the show is airing this fall in Wales and a third season has been ordered.

Chris – Technical Services

vintagechicagoDiscovering Vintage Chicago: A Guide to the City’s Timeless Shops, Bars, Delis & More by Amy Bizzarri, New Nonfiction 917.73 Biz

A must-read for Chicago history lovers. A guide to the many unique and historic places around the city; great for planning your own walking tour. Appendix’s by category, by neighborhood, and year of origin.

 

bidbadbillmurrayThe Big Bad Book of Bill Murray: A Critical Appreciation of the World’s Finest Actor by Robert Schnakenberg, Nonfiction 791.43 Sch

An A-to-Z compilation of everything Bill; quotes, filmography, photos, & “Tales from Murrayland.” If you love Bill’s work, you will like this. Not to be read from cover to cover, but to be enjoyed in bits and pieces.

Melissa – Technical Services

hautingofhillhouseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Fiction Jackson

For those unfamiliar with the plot of this classic, a group of people gather together in a house with a dark reputation with the goal of experiencing some of the paranormal events held in legend. Jackson does two impressive things with this book: the characters are so rich, which isn’t always the focus of a horror novel. Typically, in a horror novel, much of the emphasis goes towards the atmosphere. And yet, the atmosphere that Jackson creates is superb. The characters get on well with each other, enjoying each other’s company and witty exchanges. It’s only at night that the fear sets in. Thus, readers are removed from the tension of the horror, and laughing, only to be thrown back in again. This makes it all the more terrifying, because every instance of fear follows a period where the characters (and reader) were relaxed and calm. The horror/comedy coupling echoes the madness felt by the narrator, as she slowly loses her sanity as she stays in Hill House.

Pat – Circulation

jinxThe Jinx: The Life and Death of Robert Durst produced by Marc Smerling and Andrew JareckiNew DVD 364.15 Jinx

This is a six-hour documentary broken into six installments. They follow the life story of Robert Durst, a reclusive real estate icon, including his childhood, the murder of his first wife Kathleen, the murder of his close friend Susan Berman, and the murder and dismemberment of his neighbor Morris Black. Robert Durst is in jail today, pending trial, because of the Jinx. His entire story is so bizarre, yet true, each detail more incredible than the last.

Mary – Youth Services

whybehappyWhy Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, Nonfiction 921 Winterson

Jeanette Winterson is a prominent, lyrical writer of many well-known books such as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, The Passion, and Written on the Body. Her works often deal with the subversive spirit, or how one can survive in a society ready to strip one’s individual differences. Like her works, Winterson’s memoir is not the typical life story. Often blanketed by her vast knowledge of literature and history, Winterson reveals what her life was like growing up in northern England. The memoir’s focal point is the time Winterson lived as the adopted daughter of strictly-religious, Pentecostal parents. Never knowing when the four horsemen of the apocalypse and Jesus would take her, Winterson’s childhood story is sometimes darkly humorous, sometimes distressing in its portrait of what it is like to mold individual identity; what it means to be both a member of a biological and a created family. This work, among many other things, is a love letter to literature and survivors of childhood trauma. It also serves as a testament to resilience and individuality – a sigh of relief: Thank goodness I am not “normal!”

sleeperandspindleThe Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell, New YA Fiction Gaiman

I have eagerly been awaiting this book’s American release. The long wait is now over, and I can call off the small boat that would have smuggled me into England. The Sleeper and the Spindle is Neil Gaiman’s retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, with lavish, dark illustrations by Chris Riddell. I often find it is hard to breathe new life into certain tales, but Gaiman takes an angle on the beloved story that is interesting and thought-provoking. Combined with the stunning artwork by Chris Riddel, The Sleeper and the Spindle exists as both a beautiful art object and a fresh portrayal of a classic fairy tale.

2 Comments

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews

October

Oct2015coverphotoIt’s October! Enjoy the cooler weather with bonfires and cider and check out the recommended titles below.

 

 

Stephanie – Youth Services

codenameverityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, YA Fiction Wein (Abe 2015) or YA CD Wein (audiobook)

This 2015 Abraham Lincoln Award Winner is the riveting story of a British spy during World War II who has been caught by Germany. She is prepared to do anything she can to stay alive and avoid being killed by Kerosene. As a spy herself, she knows what Britain does to spies, so she knows what she is in for. This story is more than just staying alive. It is about freedom, triumph, and the story of who she is. Code Name Verity will leave you wondering what is to come and how she can escape her captors…or if.

Dagmar – Circulation

picnicinprovencePicnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard, New Nonfiction 921 Bard

This very delightful book is a sequel to Elizabeth Bard’s first book, Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes. In this equally delicious writing, we follow the New York-born journalist and expectant mother, now married to her French husband, to her new adventure: moving to Provence. Pregnant Elizabeth and her husband take a vacation in the French countryside before the baby arrives and they fall in love with it to the point of no return. They only return to Paris to sell their apartment and move to Provence to start their life anew. With elegance, wit, and humor, Elizabeth comments on her new family life in the French countryside, on her friends and in-laws, on visits of her American family, and on the cultural differences between her upbringing in New York and those of the Frenchmen. This book is not only a good read for the Francophiles among us, but also for those who enjoy pleasant reading full of humor, joy, and delicious recipes. A must read for those who either traveled to Provence, would like to travel there, or simply just enjoy reading about it. Comparable to similar writings by Peter Mayle (on the subject of a life in Provence) with a female twist.

certifiedcopyCertified Copy starring Juliette Binoche, DVD Certified Copy

Certified Copy is a marvelous, mind-blowing movie by the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. The story of a meeting between one man and one woman in a small Italian village in Southern Tuscany at first appears to be a simple one. The man is a British author who has just finished giving a lecture at a conference. The woman, from France, owns an art gallery. This is a common story that could happen to anyone, anywhere.

We see the star Juliette Binoche and the handsome co-star William Shimell (a famous British opera singer in his film debut) meet at the lecture. The second day, they take a trip to the Italian countryside. The atmosphere of the Italian countryside and the colors of the buildings, of the sky, and the Tuscany village paint a vivid picture and help to shape the emotional structure of the film. They first talk about his book and about art, about the philosophy of the copy and the original. Later their discussion turns to love, marriage, and commitment, until we figure out that they may be a long-married couple having a difficult reunion. Intriguing and sensual, this film with English, Italian, and French dialog (with English subtitles) is definitely worth seeing.

Sue – Circulation

mrssinclairMrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters, New Fiction Walters

This engaging novel tells the story of two women: Dorothea, now almost 110 years old and living in a nursing home, and her granddaughter, Roberta. Roberta works in a used bookstore and is fascinated by books. A favorite hobby of hers is collecting old letters, postcards, photos, etc. that she finds in used books. One day, her father brings her an old suitcase belonging to her grandmother. Roberta finds a letter from the 1940s in the suitcase written by her grandfather to her grandmother that casts doubt on her beliefs about her family heritage. Roberta starts looking into her grandmother’s past to unravel the mystery. The book then goes back into the past and tells us Dorothea’s story. We learn about her childhood, her marriage, and her life during World War II. Though the story is told in alternating chapters, telling Dorothea’s story in the past and Roberta’s story in the present, the book belongs to Dorothea. Her character is the compelling one. Hers is a bittersweet story, with a broken relationship with her mother, an unhappy marriage, heartbreaking miscarriages, which leave her bereft of her great dream of being a mother, and a thwarted love affair with a pilot during the war while her husband is away. The book is really a story about maternal love rather than the love between a man and a woman and how Dorothea makes a satisfying life for herself in spite of the hardships she faced.

placetocall homeA Place to Call Home starring Marta Dusseldorp, New DVD Place, Seasons 1 and 2

This is a compelling Australian drama series set in the early 1950s. It revolves around nurse Sarah Adams and the members of the Bligh family. Sarah has returned to Australia after 20 years of living in Europe. She takes a job at the local hospital after meeting George Bligh on the ship over and being recommended by him. George is a wealthy businessman whose family is ruled by the iron fist of his mother, Elizabeth. George is widowed with a son, James, newly married, and a daughter, Anna. Sarah suffered deprivation and loss during the war, but she fiercely guards her privacy, which causes local gossip. She and George are drawn to each other, but an incident on the ship has led to great animosity towards Sarah on the part of George’s mother. Plus George is a wealthy landowner and Sarah works for a living in a time when class and social standing still matter. And Sarah has converted to Judaism, while George is Anglican. Can Sarah and George develop a relationship under such circumstances? Meanwhile, James and Anna are dealing with issues of their own while Elizabeth connives to control all their lives. The show has strong characters faced with difficult life challenges. I found myself drawn into their lives and caring about them. The Australian scenery is beautiful and I love the period costumes, especially the dresses worn by the ladies, as well as the soundtrack with golden oldies from the 40s and 50s. Season 3 will air this fall in Australia and a season four has been ordered.

soldiersgroveThe Mysteries of Soldiers Grove by Paul Zimmer, New Fiction Zimmer

This is a tender story of two elderly people finding love with each other. Cyril, the only child of alcoholics, found escape from his unhappy life through reading. He found he especially enjoyed reading biographies and autobiographies and has a wide store of “lives” in his memory that he enjoys sharing with people, but most people find him odd and don’t get it when he tries to tell them about the lives he’s read about over the years. Solitary all his life, he’s never had a relationship with a woman and is shy and awkward, but kind-hearted. Louise is an elegant and cultured lady, originally from France. Now a widow, she fell in love with an American soldier during WWII and came back with him to his farm in rural Wisconsin. Her life with him was not what she expected it to be, but was still happy. Nearing 80, both of them now live in a retirement home, which is how they meet. Louise moves in while Cyril is in the hospital, recovering from serious injuries suffered after being dumped in a blizzard by an armed man who tried to rob him. Though very different, Cyril and Louise connect immediately and deeply. As their relationship grows, they begin sneaking out of the facility to have adventures, starting small and working up to bolder doings and eventually finding themselves in a dangerous situation. Being with each other and having these experiences brings joy and fulfillment to lives that might otherwise be sad and dreary as they near the end of their days. The book is beautifully narrated by Cyril and Louise in alternating chapters. This is a sweet and sensitive novel about growing old with dignity and not giving up on life, but finding joy until the end, despite physical frailties and the indignities that come with advanced age. The author, Zimmer, is in his 80s himself and is renowned for his poetry.

Hubbell – Circulation

leagueofdenialLeague of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada, New Nonfiction 617.1027 Fai

Written by Pulitzer-winning and bestselling brothers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, League of Denial is a scathing summary of the NFL’s cover-up of its so-called ‘concussion problem.’ The book proves that for decades, the NFL denied publicly that concussions and head trauma led to disastrous long-term health problems while possessing information which blatantly contradicted their public statements. It is another damning allegation against a league in turmoil during its most profitable period in history. It is a must-read for any football fan as it calls into question whether the sport itself and the way it is played today is even compatible with maintaining long-term normal brain function. It also forces us to reevaluate whether the sport should be played by young people at all. The book was first published in 2013 and has since formed the basis for a PBS documentary of the same name. Its accusations and research have played a role in the NFL’s recent acceptance of the dangers of the game and its change in concussion treatment protocol.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews

September

September2015coverIt’s September! Savor the glorious weather while it lasts and enjoy the recommended titles below.

 

 

Sue – Circulation

 calvaryCalvary starring Brendan Gleeson, New DVD Calvary

Brendan Gleeson shines in this powerful story that explores the effects of trauma on innocent lives. The movie opens with Father James, a kind-hearted and sensible Catholic priest in a small Irish village, in the confessional box. A parishioner tells the father that he was raped by a priest when he was a child and that he is going to murder the father in a week’s time as retribution. The movie then follows Father James through the remaining week, leading up to the stunning finale. We meet the colorful and troubled residents of the village and see what a good man Father James is and that his influence does truly help people.

Though dealing with a dark topic and the serious themes of forgiveness and redemption, the movie has a lot of humor and warmth in it and does a fine job of showing us life in all its aspects – parts of it are very funny, parts are heart-breakingly sad, and parts are horrifically violent. I found it deeply moving and thought it was one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time with a magnificent performance by Gleeson.

shadowsoverparadiseShadows Over Paradise by Isabel Wolff, New Fiction Wolff

This novel tells the story of two very different women – both of whom suffered a similar traumatic loss in their childhoods that have shaped their adult lives. Jenni is a London-based writer in her 30s who specializes in writing memoirs for others. She is reserved and does not like to draw attention to herself. Living with her boyfriend, their relationship is facing difficulties. Klara is a farmer of Dutch origin living in Cornwall whose family was interred by the Japanese on the Pacific island of Java during World War II. As her 80th birthday approaches, she decides to record the memories of her life and hires Jenni to write them for her. This is how the two women are brought together. Klara’s family moved from the Netherlands to Java in the Dutch East Indies to work on a rubber plantation when she was a child. At that time, the now independent country of Indonesia was under Dutch colonial rule. When the Japanese invaded, they interred all the Dutch colonials living there as the Netherlands had declared war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Though the book is fiction, the author researched the history of the Japanese occupation and the internment camps and spoke to survivors, so the book is historically accurate in its depiction of life on Java during the war. As Klara shares painful memories from her war years, Jenni gradually releases her long- hidden anguish over a childhood trauma. The book was very emotional and moving, dealing with such gut-wrenching issues as war atrocities and the untimely death of loved ones and the guilt over such losses. I have read much about the German concentration camps and the horror and suffering inflicted on people in those camps, but I was not as familiar with the Japanese internment camps for the Dutch/European residents of the Dutch East Indies. The book was a compelling read while also educating the reader about an important event in world history that has not been documented as well as the camps in the West.

littleparisbookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, New Fiction George

This book celebrates life following loss. Its characters suffer loss, but also experience healing and find hope for the future and a renewed sense of purpose to their lives. The story opens with fifty-something Jean, a Parisian bookseller whose bookstore is situated on a barge moored on the banks of the Seine River. Jean doesn’t just sell books, though. He fancies himself a literary psychologist – matching the right book to the right person. He even refuses to sell a book to a person when he thinks it is the wrong book to address that person’s need. Jean lost his love 20 years ago, but has not allowed himself to mourn, so he has been stuck all this time, just existing, not really living, unwilling to take any chances. This inertia gets shaken from him when he reads a letter from his lost love he’s left unopened for 20 years and he sets out on his barge to her hometown. The book then follows his travels along the river, picking up first one, then more passengers on his journey into the heart of southern France. As Jean’s journey continues and he begins to heal from his loss, his life opens up to him and he is able to find joy in living again. Reading the book is a pleasure, with lush descriptions of the southern French countryside and Provencal food and wine. The book is full of life and healing, with romance, literature, magnificent landscapes, loyal friends, wise advise, and good food and drink. As a charming addition to the book, it also includes some authentic French recipes and a list of titles recommended by Jean and the ailments they will help cure.

Chris – Technical Services

ashes underwaterAshes Under Water: the SS Eastland and the Shipwreck That Shook America by Michael McCarthy, New Nonfiction 977.311 McC

July 24, 1915, the overturning of an excursion steamer on the Chicago River near Clark Street is a story of a horrible tragedy that killed 844 men, women, and children. Twenty-two whole families were wiped out and who was to blame? A true tale of Chicago politics, the Great Lakes shipping industry, a possible cover-up, and a courtroom drama with attorney Clarence Darrow.

liartemptressLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott, Nonfiction 973.785 Abb

A true story of four women, two pro-Confederacy and two pro-Union, all determined and willing to risk liberty and life for their cause.

 

Melissa – Technical Services

hotzoneThe Hot Zone by Richard Preston, Nonfiction 614.57 Pre

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. The term “hot zone” (in the biology field) means an area that is rampant with a virus. This book delves into the history of ebola outbreaks in Africa in the 80s and 90s, as well as its spread to the United States. Readers learn about how ebola is studied in laboratories, how it manifests itself in victims, the location of the first outbreak, how the virus migrated across continents, and what the four known strands do to the unfortunate people who catch them. The book reads like a thriller. Each new “character” that is introduced plays a key role in the research regarding ebola, and yet readers can’t help but wonder which researchers will die at the hands of the virus. At the close of the book, readers are left in awe of the world we inhabit. Despite all the technological and medical advances, there are still the most basic life forms yet undiscovered that can devastate the human race.

Brigitte – Circulation

melancholiaMelancholia starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, DVD Melancholia

Melancholia tells the story of Justine and Claire, two very different women faced with the end of life on Earth. While their personal relationships blossom and fail, a meteor races through space, ready to destroy the world. Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, is a smart but generally anxious woman who is constantly at odds with her sister Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Claire has her life together, but with the impending doom of Earth her life falls apart. This movie is visually stunning and sure to leave you breathless.

modernromanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari, New Nonfiction 306.7 Ans

Modern Romance by comedian Aziz Ansari explores dating in the modern age. Known for his stand-up comedy as well as his breakout role as Tom Haverford on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, Ansari questions how modern technology is impacting the dating lives of the single people of 2015. Funny and sweet, this book is a healthy mix of facts, advice, and comedy.

Hubbell – Circulation

citizenfourCitizenfour produced and directed by Laura Poitras, New DVD 327.127 Citizenfour

Citizenfour, winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary, chronicles the story of ex-CIA whistleblower Ed Snowden. While working as an analyst for the CIA in 2013, Snowden leaked a trove of documents detailing the NSA’s warrantless collection of Americans’ phone calls, emails, and other communications. This documentary follows Snowden from his first meetings in Hong Kong with the journalists who broke the story, Glenn Greenwald and the film’s director Laura Poitras, to his eventual asylum in Russia. After several secret clandestine meetings, Greenwald wrote the first of many revelatory articles and Snowden became the target of an international manhunt. This first-hand account of Snowden’s decision to reveal the government’s controversial spying program is simultaneously riveting, emotional, and thought-provoking.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews

August

augdogdays2015possible The dog days of summer have arrived! Enjoy languid days reading and watching the recommended titles below.

 

 

Mary – Youth Services

gosetawatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, New Fiction Lee

Go Set a Watchman begins when Scout (now called “Jean Louise”) returns from college in New York, to visit her aging father in her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama. All seems to be, at first, as it always had been. A childhood friend, named Henry becomes a determined romantic pursuer; Jean Louise’s Aunt Alexandra oversees that Jean Louise is getting in touch with young girls who never left town for college. Maycomb itself is enclosed in in a quiet standstill, and this childhood stomping ground still holds Jean Louise’s past like a time-capsule. But this mirage is broken, and it is broken fairly quickly as Jean Louise discovers that many individuals within her town – most notably her father, lawyer Atticus Finch – harbor terrifying ideals on race, and what constitutes an ideal American South.

The first thing one needs to know about this book is that it is not To Kill a Mockingbird, this is a very different story. In fact, Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. After reading this book, I firmly believe Lee wrote it, and it appears to be largely unedited. I also believe that this work was published with her consent. If you are looking for a nod to Mockingbird, however, there is a reference within Go Set a Watchman to the events of that famous trial, with one major plot point changed. It seems like whatever happened to have Mockingbird published before Watchman rests largely with the fact that publishers wanted an earlier version of the famous social-justice lawyer, Atticus Finch. Simply put: they wanted a hero.

In many ways, this work opens a Pandora’s box filled with many of our country’s deep-set problems. Not one character within this story exhibits a healthy perspective on race, an issue which the work is largely concerned with. Even Jean Louise, who can be considered the best of the lot, has a view of race which is problematic, at best. And yes, this will make many people uncomfortable. But because of this, I would argue that Go Set a Watchman is the story that we need for our modern age. This book challenges one to see that even if you believe you have healthy perspectives on race, on sexist attitudes, on religion and bigotry, you better look closer.

But as Atticus’ brother, Dr. Finch, points out, it is time and time again that history will repeat itself. Wars are fought. Lives end. And still, we attach ourselves to heroes. To this, Dr. Finch poses the most interesting question of the novel: When we see our hero’s true face, why is it then we turn away?

stillaliceStill Alice starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, and Kristen Stewart, New DVD Still Alice

Dr. Alice Howard is a celebrated linguist and professor at Columbia University. Only in her fifties, Alice begins to think that something is terribly wrong when small instances of forgetfulness progress to her inability to remember important events and people. Thinking she has a brain tumor, she sets out to find a neurologist, only to find out that she has a rare diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. There are few works which cover the pure confusion and rage at the loss of personal identity to Alzheimer’s disease. An uncomfortable topic for many to openly discuss, individuals with Alzheimer’s are often at odds with their diminishing sense of identity, and the loss of their ability to convey their experiences to others. Julianne Moore gives what was an Oscar-winning performance of Dr. Alice, and it was well-deserved. She brings an astounding performance to this film which challenges the boundaries of what we think is identity, what it means to be alive, and what it means to lose and love. Astounding film that all should see.

Chris – Technical Services

zookeeperswifeThe Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman, CD 940.53 Ack (audiobook) or Nonfiction 940.53 Ack (book)

Drawing on Antonina’s Zabinski’s diary and other historical sources, naturalist Diane Ackerman re-creates life at the Warsaw Zoo before, during, and after WWII. A not particularly brave person, she finds herself responsible for her own extended family, the zoo animals, resistance activists, and the refuge Jews, many smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto. A Polish Christian, she, her husband Jan, and young son believe it is their duty to help all, both animal and human, to survive the Nazi terror. Ackerman, the author of the bestselling A Natural History of the Senses, examines the role of nature in both kindness and savagery, and explores the disturbing obsession at the core of Nazism.

Sue – Circulation

holycowHoly Cow by David Duchovny, New Fiction Duchovny

David Duchovny (yes, that David Duchovny, who has a Master’s degree in Literature from Yale in addition to his acting skills) has written a funny and impactful novel. Holy Cow tells the story of Elsie, a cow on a family farm in upstate New York who discovers that she and the other animals on the farm are destined for slaughter. Upon learning this horrifying news, she decides to run away to India, a country where cows are not eaten, but revered. As she makes her plan to escape, she is joined by a pig named Jerry who wants to go to Israel (no pork in the diet) and a turkey named Tom who wants to go to Turkey (where hopefully he will be respected in a country named after him and not eaten for Thanksgiving.) The three animals’ zany adventures around the world are recounted by Elsie with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor, including puns and pop culture references, as well as little nuggets of wisdom. The book is written to be humorous and quirky, but the points Duchovny makes about the horror of factory farms and mankind’s role in the destruction of the environment are valid and worthy.

longmire

Longmire starring Robert Taylor, DVD Longmire, Season 1-3

This series stars Australian actor Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire, an old-fashioned county sheriff in Wyoming. Walt recently lost his wife and is returning to work. Walt is a very honorable man, hard-working and trustworthy and deeply caring and loyal. Through the first three seasons of the series, his wife’s death and its effect on Walt and his daughter Cady is explored. His wife was suffering from cancer, but dark circumstances surrounding her death are revealed as the series goes on. Walt is running for re-election and his deputy, Branch, is running against him, financed by his rich and unscrupulous father. Unbeknownst to Longmire, his daughter is also romantically involved with Branch. The show co-stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Longmire’s best friend Henry, part Cheyenne and proprietor of the local tavern, and Katee Sackhoff as Walt’s trusted deputy Vic, a transplant from Philadelphia with a storied past. Walt’s jurisdiction runs up against a Cheyenne Indian reservation and he sometimes clashes with the chief of the tribal police. The show stands out from standard crime dramas because of the rural setting, which includes cowboys, Native Americans, cattle, and wide open spaces. It is also slower-paced than most detective shows, befitting its Wyoming setting where life moves at a different pace than big cities. I enjoy the show because of the richly developed characters and intriguing mysteries. It is an intelligent, well-made series with an outstanding cast. Unfortunately, A&E cancelled Longmire after Season 3, but it was picked up by Netflix for a fourth season, which is scheduled to air this fall.

grandmotheraskedmeMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, New Fiction Backman

The second novel from the author of A Man Called Ove. Seven-year old Elsa is different and gets cruelly picked on at her school. Her eccentric grandmother is 77 and Elsa’s best and only friend and stalwart defender. Every night, Elsa and her grandmother journey to a magical place called the Land of Almost Awake – a fairy tale world created by Granny that consists of a number of different kingdoms, all with their own purpose and heroes. In this magical world where being different is celebrated, Elsa feels safe and happy. When her grandmother dies after taking ill, Elsa sets out to deliver a series of letters her grandmother left behind for various people from her life, most of whom are residents of the apartment building owned by Granny where Elsa lives. As Elsa proceeds through each delivery, she learns much about her grandmother’s life before she was born and about the lives of the people around whom she has grown up without really knowing or understanding. She realizes that the stories she has heard her whole life in the Land of Almost Awake are actually pieces of the truth of Granny’s amazing life. This book is a bit complex, with the fantasy world of the Land of Almost Awake colliding with the real world, but it all comes together in the end. I didn’t enjoy it as much as A Man Called Ove, which was wonderful and one of the best new books I’ve read in years, but it is a worthy read, more serious-minded and sadder than Ove, but with a hopeful ending.

Brigitte – Circulation

wolfinwhitevanWolf in a White Van by John Darnielle, New Fiction Darnielle

Wolf in a White Van is the first novel by musician John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. It tells the story of Sean Phillips, a young man with a severe facial disfigurement who is attempting to grapple with the humdrum of every day life as a disabled person. This novel has been described as a deep meditation on escapism, especially through the means of role-playing games. It’s definitely a must-read for the summer if you are looking for something a little heavier.

softskinThe Soft Skin starring Jean Desailly and Francoise Dorleac , New DVD Soft Skin

The Soft Skin is the latest of Francois Truffaut’s films to receive acclaim. This movie follows Jean Desailly, a bored literary scholar, married to his wife but wanting more. He is charmed by Nicole, a flight attendant, and soon they begin an affair. As their relationship grows, the film becomes more frantic. As Jean’s life begins to fall apart, so does the world around him. The ending of this fast paced French film will leave you breathless.

 

Michelle – Administration

exmachinaEx Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, New DVD Ex Machina

This movie took a very interesting look at the creation and use of Artificial Intelligence and the place for AI in the world. It was beautifully acted and kept my full attention until the end. It also gave me something to think about long after the movie was over.

 

chappieChappie starring Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver, New DVD Chappie

This movie also delved into the world of AI and what it means to be human. Chappie was completely unexpected. I’d seen the advertising far too many times and I don’t think it captured what this movie is truly about. I cared more about the AI in this movie than I did most of the human characters. As a bonus, it is fun to watch Hugh Jackman play the villain!

 

Hubbell – Circulation

wildtalesWild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) starrring Ricardo Darin and Oscar Martinez, New DVD Wild Tales

A 2014 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Wild Tales is a collection of six distinct vignettes set in modern day Argentina showing everyday people thrown into emotionally charged situations. Produced by Academy Award-winning director Pedro Almodóvar, Wild Tales plunges the viewer into life-or-death situations and presents moral dilemmas where good intentions are not what they seem. You will find yourself unclear about whom to support as the characters take justice into their own hands. The movie’s stories include an episode of lethal road rage following a casual insult, a man’s crazed revenge on a towing company, a family’s plan to do whatever it takes to protect their son from a long prison sentence, and a bride’s maniacal wedding night retaliation on her cheating fiance. Wild Tales is simultaneously hilarious, violent, shocking, and humanizing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, Music, and Movie Reviews