Thursday, May 28, 2015

5 Picks from the June Library Reads list

Here are a few of the June choices from librarians around the country. Click on title name to request a copy today!

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel
by Laura Dave

“Take your time and savor the family dynamics. Enjoy the romantic twists in this tale of a career-minded young woman circling back to her roots at a California winery. The appeal is broader than that of a romance since it delves into the complexities of various relationships — parent to parent, parents and children, even winery and owner. This is an excellent summer read!”

Joan Hipp, Florham Park Public Library, Florham Park, NJ

by Annie Barrows

“It is 1938 in a rural West Virginia town and a young woman arrives to write the town’s history. Layla doesn’t really know what to expect from the town, and the town doesn’t know what to make of her. This is the heart of the South, the soul of small towns, where everyone looks out for you and knows your history. Sweet story tailor-made for fans of Billie Letts, Fannie Flagg, Pat Conroy and Harper Lee.”

Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

by Erica Swyler

“A roller coaster of a read! This is the story of a librarian from a splintered family with a tragic past who is gifted a mysterious book that leads him to dive deep into his family’s history, all while his present life seems to be falling to pieces around him. If you loved Morgenstern’s The Night Circus or Kostova’s The Historian, this is a book for you.”

Amanda Monson, Bartow County Library System, Cartersville, GA

by Judy Blume

“The obvious ‘unlikely events’ of Judy Blume’s latest — the three plane crashes afflicting Elizabeth, NJ in one horrifying winter — set the framework for everyday unlikely events around love, family, friendship, relating all that can go so wrong, and so right, with all three. Readers will enjoy the period detail and relatable characters that feature in this hybrid domestic/disaster tale.”

Becky Bowen, Kenton County Public Library, Independence, KY

by Paul Doiron

“When two women go missing while hiking a difficult part of the Appalachian Trail, Maine game warden Mike Bowditch helps in trying to determine where the women were last seen. Mike then discovers there is no shortage of people whose behaviors make them suspicious. With a puzzle that keeps the reader guessing, and a main character that you can’t help but empathize with, The Precipice is another home run for Doiron.”

Lora Bruggeman, Indian Prairie Public Library, Darien, IL

--Post by Tracy

Thursday, April 30, 2015

5 picks from the May Library Reads list

Here are a few good reading recommendations from librarians across the country!

by Naomi Novik

“A young girl is unexpectedly uprooted from her family and becomes involved in a centuries-old battle with The Wood, a malevolent entity which destroys anyone it touches. Fast-paced, with magic, mystery and romance, Novik’s stand-alone novel is a fairy tale for adults.”

Lucy Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library, St. Peters, MO

by Kate Atkinson

“In A God in Ruins, we become reacquainted with Teddy Todd, the beloved little brother of Ursula from Atkinson’s last book. As with Life After Life, this novel skims back and forth in time, and we see the last half of the 20th century through Ted’s eyes and the eyes of his loved ones. At times funny and at others heartbreaking, Atkinson revels in the beauty and horror of life in all its messiness.”

Jennifer Dayton, Darien Library, Darien, CT

by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

“The Knockoff is a digital-age mash-up of old-school movies The Women and All About Eve, set in the Devil Wears Prada world of a high fashion magazine. I absolutely loved this fresh, charming, addictive and ultimately heroic story of 40-something cancer survivor Imogen’s quest to rescue and rebuild her career, despite the machinations of a younger tech-wiz rival.”

Janet Schneider, Bryant Library, Roslyn, NY

by Neal Stephenson

“Stephenson’s back in fine form with this hard science fiction masterpiece, combining the detail of Cryptonomicon with the fast-paced action of Reamde. Fans of Anathem will appreciate Stephenson’s speculation about the possibilities of human evolution. This book is a great follow-up for readers who enjoyed the science of Weir’s The Martian. I heartily recommend Seveneves to SF readers.”

Keith Hayes, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC

by Kent Haruf

“Beautiful, elegant and poignant, this novel is a distilled experience of Haruf’s writing. The story of how two elders attempt to poke at the loneliness and isolation that surrounds them will stick with me for a long time to come. I’m amazed at how Haruf says so much with such spare prose. He will be missed.”

Alison Kastner, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

--Post by Tracy

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

4 Book Club Recommendations

We have several different book discussion groups here at Monroeville Public Library. I've been the leader of one of those groups for quite a few years and have read a lot of different types of books. Some have been really good and some not so good. Here are four that my group has read over the last two years that were enjoyed by all.

This well researched book tells the true story of the thousands of women (and men) who worked at a top secret facility in Kentucky during World War Two. An entire town was created to house all of the people who were performing jobs that they had no idea how it was contributing to the war effort. Young women came from all over the United States not having any idea where they were going or how long they would be there. It wasn't until the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima that they realized what they had been apart of. Denise Kiernan introduces the reader to many different women doing many different types of jobs. This was a definite hit with our book group.

Harold Fry is a reserved, retired Englishman who has just found out that an old friend of his is dying. He decides to send her a letter, but on his walk to the post office he somehow ends up on a pilgrimage to visit this friend who is in a nursing home almost 500 hundred miles to the north. As he walks, Harold examines his marriage, his career and the mistakes he has made throughout his life. Along the way he becomes a bit of a cult figure with an entourage following him. We all found this to be a sweet and heart warming book.

The subtitle for this book really sets the stage for this fascinating story. David Grann, staff reporter for The New Yorker, follows in the footsteps of Percy Fawcett. Fawcett was a British explorer who disappeared in the Amazon in 1925. He was in search of El Dorado or, as he called it, The Lost City of Z. Many men have gone in search of El Dorado and to find out what happened to Fawcett's expedition but they either never returned themselves or didn't learn anything new. But what made this middle-aged city boy take on this adventure? Read the book for yourself to find out!

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

Like many of Louise Erdrich's books, this one tells a story of Native Americans in North Dakota struggling with their past and their present. This time the story is centered around the mystery of the murder of a family in 1911. A lynch mob is formed to find the killers. Three Indian men are hanged for the murder, while young Mooshum Milk is not. As the years pass the families of both groups, the hanged and the posse, develop complex relationships with one another. While there are parts of the book that feel like they don't quite belong, Erdrich weaves an intricate tale of how the actions of a few so long ago, affected so many. 

--Post by Tracy

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

5 picks from March Library Reads

Here are five of the picks from April's Library Reads. Enjoy!

by Sara Gruen

“Set in Loch Ness, right in the middle of WWII, a foolish group of rich Americans arrive in search of the famous monster. Narrator Maddie must make sense of the circumstances that have brought her to this wild locale. Only then can she discover the strength she needs to make her own decisions. Enjoy a delightfully intriguing cast of characters and the engaging style of storytelling that has made Gruen so popular.”

Paulette Brooks, Elm Grove Public Library, Elm Grove, WI

by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

“This delightful spin on the story of Prince William and Kate Middleton is the perfect beachy, weekend read for anyone who loves love stories with a healthy dose of humor. Here, Will and Kate are replaced by Nick and Bex–he’s the heir to the British throne, she’s the American who effortlessly steals his heart. Can they weather many obstacles to find their Happily Ever After? Part fairy tale, part cautionary tale, the novel is pure fun from start to finish.”

Donna Matturri, Pickerington Public Library, Pickerington, OH

by Brendan Duffy

“Eager to get out of the big city, Ben and Caroline Tierney purchase a large, old house upstate hoping to renovate it into a hotel. However, their house, called The Crofts, has a dark, mysterious past, and terrifying secrets begin to threaten the family. This wonderfully eerie and atmospheric debut novel is a great recommendation for fans of Bohjalian’s The Night Strangers and McMahon’s The Winter People.”

Sara Kennedy, Delaware County District Library, Delaware, OH

by Marisa de los Santos

“Taisy hasn’t seen her father since he dumped her family and started another one 17 years ago. An unexpected invitation to write his biography returns her to her hometown, and gives her a rare chance to knit together a broken web of relationships. Like all de los Santos’ books, The Precious One features smart, funny characters who form an unconventional family. It’s luminous and heartwarming, without an ounce of sap.”

Heather Bistyga, Anderson County Library, Anderson, SC

by Greg Iles

“Based on a real series of unsolved murders from the civil rights era in Louisiana, and the crusading journalist who uncovered the story, Iles’ novel shines a bright light of truth upon one of America’s darkest secrets. Iles’ compelling writing makes this complex tale of good versus evil a must-read for those who love thrillers, and those who want to learn a little bit of American history not normally taught in school.”

Ellen Jennings, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville, IL

--Post by Tracy

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

6 Reasons Why "Interstellar" Was the Best Film of 2014

March 31 marks the release of Interstellar on DVD and Blu-ray. Directed by Christopher Nolan, this sci-fi film is set in a future in which the earth is being gradually overtaken by the Blight, a mysterious ailment that is destroying the planet's crops one by one. Cooper, a NASA pilot turned farmer, is trying to balance a job in which he has little interest with raising his two children, Tom and Murph (short for Murphy).

When Murph unlocks a mysterious puzzle that sends her and her father stumbling into an undercover NASA base, Cooper suddenly finds himself hired to undertake a seemingly impossible mission: follow the cosmic breadcrumbs out into the far reaches of interstellar space -- and find a new planet for humanity to inhabit before Earth becomes a barren wasteland. Joining the crew of Dr. Brand (the NASA scientist overseeing the mission), Cooper will pilot the ship that will take them farther than any human being has ever been before -- even as Cooper fights to get back home to his family.

Released last year, the film was a smash hit. As a sci-fi buff, it was the 2014 movie I was most excited for -- so I was elated when Interstellar turned out to be the weird, wild, wonderful, and wholly unique ride I had hoped it would be.

Haven't seen it yet?  Here's six reasons why you should give it a go:

1.) You haven't seen space like this before

Nolan named 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of the films that served as his inspiration for Interstellar, and it's easy to see that influence in the awe-inspiring shots of space that the Endurance crew travel through.

But since the release of the Stanley Kubrick classic, there's been a plethora of films set in outer space, from Apollo 13 to Gravity. What makes Nolan's take unique?  First, there's consultant Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist whose expert advice and theories allowed the effects crews to offer a unique take on such typical sci-fi fare as wormholes and ice planets. Then there's Nolan's commitment to practical, physical effects over computerized effects whenever possible. Obviously, a sci-fi film like this one will demand the use of some CGI -- but with much of the action being made without the use of a computer, the film often has a more physical feel to it than similar genre offerings.

Best of all, for me, was the chance to see the film in IMAX. The larger-than-life screen packed an extra-powerful wallop, as sheer size helped bring to life the silent, lonely, terrifying, and beautiful emptiness of space. Never before has a film so effectively offered me a window into what a trip through outer space might really be like.

Speaking of:

2.) The alien worlds are actually alien

Being a Christopher Nolan fan girl, all it took were the words "Nolan" and "outer space" to pique my interest in Interstellar. But it wasn't until I caught the film's trailer that I realized I was in for something special. In the trailer, we're shown a scene in which the Endurance crew have landed on a watery world which is caught in the massive gravitational pull of a nearby black hole.

The crew looks out across the alien sea towards a mountain range in the distance:

Then the pilot, Cooper, gets a better look. And realizes it's not a mountain.

It's a wave.
Well, bummer.

Too often in science fiction, the alien worlds don't seem to be anything of the kind; they are, instead, thinly veiled versions of our own home planet. But Interstellar seemed to kick things up a notch, delivering alien worlds that feel alien in their features, geology, and weather.

This is made all the more ironic by the fact that Nolan was filming in real, natural, outdoor locations (with a bit of CGI thrown in later), but that only adds to the effect of bizarre worlds that are still very physical and real.

3.) These archetypal characters are truly archetypes

The characters in Christopher Nolan stories are often thrown into extraordinary circumstances -- navigating the worlds of other people's dreams or fighting crime behind a rather unusual mask. But despite their otherworldly surroundings, the characters remain relatable Everymen, with recognizable and understandable motivations.

While the characters of Interstellar are searching for a way to build a future for humanity and save them from a dying planet, they are also motivated by more personal reasons. Cooper is looking to find a way back to his family. So, in her way, is Dr. Brand, the NASA scientist in charge of the expedition. Murph, Cooper's daughter, finds her own way of searching for the father who had to leave her behind to save her.

Woven into the vastness of space and time is a theme of the timelessness of family, making these characters and their archetypal motivations something relatable and familiar, no matter how weird or wild their surroundings.

4.) It keeps you guessing

In a world of sequels, prequels, and reboots, it's become the truly rare film that has a wholly original story to tell. Of the top-grossing films of 2014, Interstellar was the only movie in the top ten that was not a sequel or adaptation.

I spent the entirety of the film utterly unsure of where the story might be going. While it seemed reasonable to think that the good guys would triumph, I hadn't the foggiest idea of what they might do to get there, and how the hints and clues sprinkled throughout the film would lead to a solution. From ticking clocks to alien contact, the story was intriguing, unsettling, and, ultimately, full-circle. But never in a way I saw coming.

Which leads me to:

5.) It's "A Wrinkle in Time" for adults

Well, to be fair, Madeleine L'Engle's classic YA novel can be enjoyed by any reader of any age. But the fact remains that I couldn't help but be reminded of A Wrinkle in Time while watching the final act of Interstellar. The film ultimately ties together ideas of space, time, and the way in which love and family can transcend those realms -- which is more or less precisely what L'Engle did in her own sci-fi adventure over fifty years ago.

There's nothing overtly linking Nolan's space adventure to L'Engle's. But just as A Wrinkle in Time opened my nine-year-old mind to worlds I had never before considered -- while also telling a story about the unbreakable bonds of love and family -- so, too, did Interstellar achieve the same feat. It's a sci-fi adventure film, but it's also a tale that resonates on the most personal of levels -- making it the rare story that broadens the limits of imagination and tells an important truth, all at the same time.

6.) There's a snarky robot

I could watch this all day.

And then there's TARS -- the sarcastic, snarky, good-natured, and uniquely-designed robot, used by the Endurance crew to help them on their expedition.

Because what's a sci-fi story without a snarky robot?

Request "Interstellar" on DVD from the Catalog

Request "Interstellar" on Blu-ray from the Catalog

Request "The Science of Interstellar" by Kip Thorne from the Catalog

Request "Interstellar: Beyond Time and Space -- Inside Christopher Nolan's Sci-Fi Epic" by Mark Cotta Vaz from the Catalog

Request the Hans Zimmer soundtrack from the Catalog

-- Post by Ms. B 

Friday, March 27, 2015

4 Story Endings That Are Better Than The Story

With the final film in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy just out on DVD -- and the recent celebration of Tolkien Reading Day -- it got us thinking about story endings. Finding the perfect ending to a story can be a hard nut to crack, especially as many people would happily debate just what it is, exactly, that constitutes a "perfect ending" to their favorite shows and series.

Still, when a story wraps up on exactly the right note, it's a moment of satisfaction for the book-lover or film buff that has few equals. Read on to see four of our favorite, most powerful endings.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

-- Fight Club (the film)

"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate 
so we can buy stuff we don't need to impress people we don't like."

When Fight Club was first released, I went out of my way to avoid seeing it. A movie about a bunch of guys beating each other up didn't sound like my type of flick, to say the least. But then I was assigned the film as part of a college class syllabus, and I found myself stuck with watching Fight Club whether I wanted to or not.

There wasn't much to recommend it to my sensibilities, either, as I watched the Narrator (our unnamed main character) have his typical, materialistic, button-down life interrupted by Tyler Durden, a nihilistic anarchist who starts up underground "fight clubs" as a way to connect men back to real meanings in their lives. Of course, when you're convinced that there is no meaning, such a plan is bound to be twisted, and the Narrator is caught up in a plan of increasingly horrible and dangerous consequences.

That is, until the story's end, when we discover who Tyler Durden really is -- and what our Narrator can do to defeat him. With Tyler's message ultimately rejected and destroyed, our Narrator is free to live a new life with his gal-pal Marla -- "new life" being rather more literal than normal. Tyler's true identity was a sucker-punch of an ending that I never saw coming, and it gave me an appreciation for a film I thought I'd never even watch.

Request Fight Club from the Catalog

-- Star Trek: The Next Generation (the series)

"That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and 
studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence."

The last two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation rarely reached the heights of excellent storytelling as seen in earlier episodes. But then came "All Good Things …," the two-parter series finale, in which Captain Picard is ordered to take the Enterprise to investigate an unusual spacial anomaly. Unfortunately, his orders are complicated when he abruptly finds himself time-jumping six years into the past (when the Enterprise was just about to undertake its first voyage) -- and some 25 years in the future, when he's retired and his crew has gone their separate ways. Splintered between three timelines, things look even worse for Picard with the return of Q, an all-powerful alien adversary who delights in picking on Picard whenever possible.

But this time, Q's motives seem to be about more than making things entertainingly difficult. In fact, Q is insisting that Picard is on the verge of making a decision that will wipe out all of humanity -- leaving Picard struggling to solve the puzzle across three different timelines before it's too late. What makes this episode so incredible, for me, is that the solution is unlocked for Picard in the same instant it's unlocked for the audience -- and it's a mind-blowing answer that could only work within the limitless bounds of the sci-fi genre.

It's worth mentioning that I'm not entirely alone in my assessment as to the power of this story. The two-parter earned the 1995 Hugo Award (given annually for the best science fiction and fantasy works and achievements of the previous year) for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Request Season 7 of Star Trek: The Next Generation from the Catalog

-- The Graduate (the film)

"One word: plastics."
"How exactly do you mean 'plastics,' sir?"

"Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"  It's the most famous line of the classic 1967 film, but The Graduate is about so much more than a recent college grad falling under the spell of an older woman. Benjamin Braddock has spent the last four years slaving away to earn his college degree, but now that he's got it, he's at a loss to find his next step. Utterly confused as to what he ought to try next or what he wants to do with his life, he drifts without purpose -- ultimately finding himself in the arms of Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's law partner.

As Benjamin continues to drift listlessly, his parents pressure him to ask out Elaine, the Robinsons' daughter. Ben does what he can to get out of it, but eventually finds himself all but forced to take Elaine out for the evening. Initially determined to be as terrible to her as possible (and, therefore, end any chances of a second date), Ben slowly begins to realize he actually likes her. Here, at last, is a person with whom he can be wholly himself.

Elaine feels the same -- at least until she finds out that Ben has been romantically involved with her own mother. Horrified, Elaine dumps Ben immediately, leaving Ben determined to reunite with Elaine -- a future with her being the only future he can see for himself.

The last third of the movie strikes many fans as romantic (or stalker-lite, depending on your perspective), as Ben tracks down Elaine before he loses her forever. But while the film has a nominally happy ending, the last shot suggests that these new adults are still as uncertain about their future as ever -- which is precisely the feeling that most new graduates can relate to best.

Request The Graduate from the Catalog

-- Secret Window, Secret Garden (the book)

"You know, the only thing that matters is the ending. 
It's the most important part of the story, the ending."

When writer Mort Rainey retreats to his summer home on Tashmore Lake, he's just trying to get a little peace of mind (and some fresh writing inspiration) in the aftermath of a messy divorce. So when John Shooter shows up on Mort's doorstep and accuses him of plagiarizing one of Shooter's stories, Mort finds himself with one too many problems to handle.

At least the fix to Shooter's accusation seems easy enough. All Mort has to do is prove he committed no such plagiarism. But when Shooter's insanity starts escalating, the stakes grow increasingly personal -- and Mort suddenly discovers there's no easy way out after all. Especially when Mort discovers that Shooter is not at all who he claimed to be.

I discovered this story on audiobook, and listened to the rip-roaring, nail-biting ending while driving home alone at night in the middle of a deserted country road. Rarely have I had a more terrifying -- or pleasing -- horror story experience. Don't miss it!

Request Secret Window, Secret Garden from the Catalog

-- Post by Ms. B 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

5 Favorite Moments on Downton Abbey

Once again it's that sad time of year where one season of Downton Abbey has finished and now we must wait nine more months to see the next season of Downton Abbey. And to top it off, there are rumors that season six may mark the end of this wonderful show. I know that it must come to an end one day, but I sure hope it's still a few years away.

While there are always lots of simultaneous story lines in Downton Abbey, here are a few of my favorite moments.

But beware, there are SPOILERS ahead!

1) Don't go Tom!

Tom Branson has come along way since his days as the chauffeur for the Crawley family. He is now a valuable member of the family whose opinion is often sought by Lord Grantham. Who would have thought that just a few seasons ago? Tom's late wife, Sybil, was always my favorite character on the show and when they killed her off during childbirth, I was crushed. Now that Tom is a single father he is trying to determine the best future for him and his daughter. Will that mean moving to America? I for one, sure hope he doesn't leave. After his brief romance with Miss Bunting, a local school teacher, some of the socialist firebrand that we saw in the first season was back. It was good to see that side of him again. I'd hate to see him go now.

2 ) Lady Edith's secret revealed

As usual, there weren't too many episodes where I did not utter the phrase "poor Edith" while watching Downton Abbey. In season five we are sure that Edith will finally have some happiness to only have her love, Michael Gregson, disappear in pre-world war II Germany. And to top it off, she discovers that she is pregnant. While she still struggles with feeling like the outcast in her family, she now realizes that she has something to fight for - her daughter Marigold. This being 1920s England, she can't acknowledge the child as her own, but now most of her family knows the secret and her daughter will now be a part of her life. And with the death of Michael, she has inherited his publishing business, which will make her an even more independent woman. So maybe next season I won't have to utter "poor Edith" anymore!

3) Lady Violet's scandalous past

Who would have thought that the Dowager Countess would have such a scandalous past? The discovery that she almost left her husband, the current Lord Grantham's father, for a married Russian prince when her children were very young was quite a surprise. Lady Violet is such a stickler for propriety, that her affair of the heart came out of left field for me. However, I did find it refreshing to see her as more than just the sour old granny with her wicked one-liners. This season we also got to see Violet's fear of losing Isobel Crawley as a companion and friend, when Isobel contemplates accepting Lord Merton's marriage proposal. After their many years of clashing ideas, it was nice to see that there is genuine affection between the two.

4) Daisy's continuing education

We've slowly seen cook's assistant Daisy, grow and mature over the years, but this year really put her on a path of personal growth. Daisy always showed a capacity for learning and for questioning the way things worked, but after meeting Miss Bunting she sees that with education her future can be whatever she makes of it. She doesn't have to work in the kitchen the rest of her life. Daisy has always been the voice of reason and now that she is learning more about the world, she is learning even more about herself. I can't wait to see where this takes her!

5) Mr. Carson's marriage proposal!

After last season ending with Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes holding hands while navigating the waves at the seaside I was hoping for a romantic storyline for these two great characters. But as season five progressed I wasn't so sure if anything would transpire. I should have known better. This is Mr. Carson we are talking about here! Everything has to happen in a proper time and place for him. I should have also seen it coming when Carson suggested to Mrs. Hughes that they look into buying a small house that they could run as a bed and breakfast when they retire, but I admit, that kind of slipped by me. When Mrs. Hughes admits that she has no money to invest because of taking care of her invalid sister, Mr. Carson shows his true colors by admitting that he bought a house in both of their names admitting his feelings for her in this gesture. I think they are a sweet couple and it's lovely to see people of a "certain age" still getting to experience love and romance.

Season six can not come fast enough for me!

--Post by Tracy