It’s July! Celebrate summer and the July 4th holiday with your loved ones and enjoy the recommended titles below.
Sue – Circulation
The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst, Fiction Parkhurst
This engrossing novel deals with the journey of Paul after the death of his wife Lexy. Lexy fell out of the tree in their yard. The police ruled her death an accident, but Paul suspects it may have been suicide. As the novel progresses, we learn he has good reason to suspect suicide. As we visit Paul’s memories of their marriage, we see that Lexy had issues with anger and impulse control and could sink into deep depressions at times. The only witness to Lexy’s death was their dog, Lorelei, who belonged to Lexy before their marriage. Paul is a professor of linguistics and he comes up with the idea to teach Lexy to speak in order to find out what really happened that day. This idea alienates him from his co-workers, who think he has cracked. Some co-workers ridicule him, while others feel sorry for him and try to discourage him from this project. It is a ridiculous idea, of course – dogs do communicate with humans, but not by speaking English. But Paul is in a desperate state and this project keeps his mind occupied during those first several months of intense grief. His progress with Lorelei moves slowly, however, prompting Paul to get involved with a dangerous and sick group of people who intentionally mutilate and kill dogs in a quest to get them to speak in human language, thus endangering Lorelei. Paul’s relationship with Lorelei is touching – these are the two beings who loved Lexy the most and they are both grieving her loss. And now Lorelei is all Paul has left of Lexy. In the end, Lorelei does help him to learn the truth of the events of that day, but not by talking. The novel treats the issues of mental illness and suicide with sensitivity. We see the tragedy of mental illness and the toll it takes on the loved ones of those affected by it. Paul’s desperate search for meaning after such a loss is heart-breakingly sad, but redemptive in the end. After all Paul has had to go through to get to the point of acceptance, he is able to find peace and move forward with his life.
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, New Fiction Cleave
This novel begins the day England declares war against Germany and goes through the first few years of WWII, through the summer of 1942 after the Americans arrive in England. The main characters are Mary, Alistair, and Tom, three young people living in London when war is declared. Mary is only 18 and grabs at the chance to volunteer to get her out of finishing school. She is the daughter of a well-to-do family and is very naive as the book opens. She is envisioning being a spy and thinks it must be a joke when they send her to teach at a school. Much to her surprise, she finds that she enjoys teaching and becomes attached to the students she is assigned to teach once the majority of London’s children have been evacuated. Those left are the crippled, mentally handicapped, and a black boy from America named Zachary, with whom Mary develops a strong bond. When Mary is assigned to teach, she meets Tom, a school administrator who has not signed up because he believes passionately in teaching and feels he can serve best by staying behind. Tom’s roommate, Alistair, signs up the day war is declared. First he is sent to France, then Malta. As the war goes on, we see how each character changes as a result of their war experiences. Mary and Tom are caught in the Blitz where the horror of the war is brought home daily, while Alistair sees his men die brutally in battle and then faces starvation due to the Axis blockade of Malta. Mary is the central character and she undergoes quite a transformation, from spoiled, naive rich girl to a much deeper and caring person. We see class and racial prejudice in action and also understand how this began to change after the war. The novel has emotional depth to it and each character is well-drawn and believable.
All the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson, New Fiction Halverson
This is a beautiful story about family, love, healing from loss, and taking chances to make a better life for yourself. Twenty years after his parents and brother were killed in a plane crash in their home state of Alaska, Kache returns home for the first time since the crash to visit his ailing grandmother. He has never properly grieved the loss of his family or faced his guilt over their deaths, so his life has been meaningless the last 20 years – not really living, but just sleepwalking through each day. He believes that their home and land has been rented out these 20 years, but his Aunt Eleanor tearfully admits to him that she never had the courage to go back to the homestead, suffering her own guilt over the crash. Kache expects the house to be beyond repair after so many years, but he discovers a young Russian woman named Nadia living in the house. She has been there for the last 10 years, hiding away from her own past tragedy.
All these characters are stuck in time, not able to move forward from tragedy. When Kache and Nadia find each other, they help one another to face the past and be able to live fully again, while Eleanor also blossoms into herself and finds happiness. The story is absorbing and the Alaskan wilderness itself is a character in the book, its magnificent beauty as well as danger an integral part of the lives of the characters.
Dagmar – Circulation
Summer can be a season in which food is greatly celebrated and enjoyed. We associate summers with family get-togethers, with grilling and barbecue garden parties, festive picnics, etc. Food and fun is the theme of the season and that is why I decided to write about food for the month of July. I believe that many readers are familiar with the name Ruth Reichl, a famous chef food and restaurant critic and a gifted food writer. Her books make a perfect summer reading for both their engaging, very personal writing style, and, of course, for her delicious recipes. “Reading Ruth Reichl on food is almost as good as eating it,” wrote the Washington Post Book World. “While all good food writers are humorous…few are so riotously effortlessly entertaining as Ruth Reichl,” commented the New York Times Book Review.
Her first book, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, is a delicious memoir of her apprentice years. Her photo on the cover dated 1955 indeed proves that Reichl was cooking at a very young age – seven years old. Early on, she had discovered that “food could be a way of making sense of the world.” From there, we follow her culinary experience all the way to the organic food revolution in Berkeley, California, in the 1970’s.
Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table is the sequel to it and picks up where the first one left off – living in a commune in California with her first husband, Doug. But things are changing fast and Ruth is about to become a restaurant critic and soon she cooks and dines with some word-famous chefs. She becomes one of the best food critics and her pursuit of good food to write about takes her to exotic places all over the world. She shares her experiences, both personal and professional, along with the delicious recipes, with her readers. Even when she writes about some of her personal difficulties, throughout it all, she is funny and entertaining. Just like in her first book, she is able to combine her humorous food writing and her memoirs into an art form.
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secrets Life of a Critic in Disguise is the third of Reichl’s memoirs. This time, she is at the top of her stellar career as a restaurant critic at the New York Times, the food editor and restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times, and editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. She is the most important and feared restaurant critic in the country, and her image with her signature black hair is known to every restaurant it town. She is offered special bonuses and cash bonuses for advance notices of her visits and gets royals treatment whether she likes it or not. However, Reichl is aware that in order to be a good and impartial food critic, you have to be anonymous. And voila, an idea of a critic in disguise is born and Reichl begins her “adventure in deception.” She gets a blonde wig and an acting coach and scouts restaurants as Molly Hollis, a retired school teacher from Michigan (in addition being Ruth Reichl) and then she writes reviews with a comparison about her double experiences. Soon the restaurateur’s learn to watch for Molly, so Reichl buys another wig and another persona is designed. She goes on creating several characters and enjoys switching between them. In her undercover roles, she is not only having fun, but also pokes holes in the pretension of food critics, and reveals both the artifice and excellence existing in the Epicurean world. She also reflects about how our appearance influences the ways we act and are perceived in this world. And, of course, she includes her favorite recipes and review.
Chris – Circulation
Absolution by Muse, CD 781.66 Muse
Muse is one of the biggest acts right now in modern alternative rock. This trio has produced seven full-length albums, Absolution being the third. Formed in the U.K., this is the piece that broke them into the U.S. alternative scene. Muse expertly blend alternative rock with progressive, punk, electronic, and orchestral elements. Common themes on Muse albums tend to be love, loss, longing, space, and government conspiracies, and Absolution is no exception. Ranging from mellow piano and soft string arrangements to brash, distortion-heavy guitar works, Absolution excels in variety while still maintaining a cohesiveness with its signature Muse style. Singer Matt Bellamy’s distinctive falsetto brings an extra level of emotion to the songs it is featured in, like “Sing for Absolution,” “Stockholm Syndrome,” and “Ruled by Secrecy.” Matt shows off his piano chops in “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” bassist Chris Wolstenholme proves his bass mastery on “Hysteria,” and drummer Dom Howard perfectly matches the tempo and emotion of every track. This is my personal favorite album, and the one I would suggest to someone looking to check out Muse.
Michelle – Administration
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi starring John Krasinski, New DVD 13 Hours
This is the true story of the six ex-military operators working as security for the CIA in Benghazi during the terrorist attack in 2012. I was blown away by the story and the heroism shown by these six men who went so far beyond to protect both the CIA operatives and the U.S. diplomatic compound. The politics behind and around the attack do not play a part in this movie. Knowing that this is a true account of events made some scenes difficult to watch, but gave the entire movie such gravitas. Star John Krasinski brought such emotion and depth to his role. The movie, directed by Michael Bay, also stars James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, and Dominic Fumusa.