Thursday, August 21, 2014

Staff Recommendation #32: The Phryne Fisher Series

Although I am a lifelong fan of mystery stories (with, as you'll recall, a particular love of Sherlock Holmes), I am quite picky when it comes to the type of mysteries I like to read. I insist, of course, on a cracking-good story -- but it's just as important to me that the characters be well-written and engaging. If I'm not interested in the characters, it won't matter how good a puzzle the plot may be.

So finding the Phryne Fisher series has been pretty terrific.

The books are set in the Roaring Twenties -- and, indeed, part of the pleasure of reading them is the amount of research of the period that author Kerry Greenwood has undertaken. Our heroine, Phyrne Fisher, is an aristocrat with an unusual past: she was born into poverty in Melbourne, Australia. Her father had a far-removed relative of nobility, but it wasn't until several of the gentlemen between her father and the title died off that Phyrne's father was able to inherit. Phryne now finds herself with an official title ("the Honourable Phyrne Fisher"), a vast fortune, and a life of opportunities available to her.

After spending some years in London, she returns to Australia at the request of one of her fellow aristocrats, who have hired her to track down their daughter and rescue her from her husband (who they believe may be poisoning her). The case is recounted in the first book in the series, Cocaine Blues, which contains not only a crackling good puzzle with lots of twists and turns, but also introduces the reader to Phryne and her new family. Because, as it turns out, a life in Australia suits Phryne after all.

Phyrne has been described by her author as a female take on James Bond; her skills range from solving mysteries to flying planes. She's poised and eminently stylish, and has a zeal for adventure that befits an unofficial P.I. But she is also possessed of an incredibly huge heart, and she quickly fills her large Australian house with a new family: Dot, her official maid and unofficial "Dr. Watson," who Phryne rescued from a life on the streets; and her two adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, who she rescues from orphaned poverty and slavery. She also has a romantic interest or three, although Phryne has no intention of settling down ...

It's precisely her mixture of independence and kindness, of stubbornness and compassion, that makes Phryne such a rich and engaging character. It also makes her quite a lot of fun to read about, making the Phryne Fisher series one that any mystery fan may want to take out for a spin.

She also has a tendency to drive too fast. Like, really too fast. Don't try this at home.


1. Cocaine Blues
2. Flying Too High
3. Murder on the Ballarat Train
4. Death at Victoria Dock
5. The Green Mill Murder
6. Blood and Circuses
7. Ruddy Gore 
8. Urn Burial
9. Raisins and Almonds
10. Death Before Wicket
11. Away with the Fairies
12. Murder in Montparnasse
13. The Castlemaine Murders
14. Queen of the Flowers
15. Death by Water
16. Murder in the Dark 
17. Murder on a Midsummer Night 
18. Dead Man's Chest
19. Unnatural Habits
20. Murder and Mendelssohn
A Question of Death [short story collection]

Television Series

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Series One [DVD]
Series One on Blu-ray

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Series Two [DVD]

"He sounds like he might bear more investigation," said Dot.

"Did he fancy her?" asked Ruth. "It might be a tale of forbidden love."

"I swear, Ruth, one day I am going to make a little bonfire of all the romance novels in the world," said Phryne without rancour. "Actually, it would have to be a very big bonfire. Perhaps I could rent a volcano and drop them in from the air. Honestly."

-- from Unnatural Habits

-- Post by Ms. B

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Friend Like Him

I don't think I ever before realized what a huge fan I am of Robin Williams. It shouldn't surprise me: I grew up on his movies, and he was the first actor I can ever remember being pleased to see onscreen. I knew I liked his comedy; what I didn't realize until this week was how much of an impact his art has really had on me. His comedy was as brilliant as it was full of hope, reminding us (or, at least, reminding me) what a powerful force laughter can be. Despite his own internal struggles, his presence made the world a bit more bright.

Williams's fans didn't know him (though, like all great comedians, he made you feel like you did). We'll miss him all the same. In honor of his humorous, heartwarming, and unforgettable career, we present a (highly subjective) list of five of his most memorable onscreen roles:

-- An Alien

For a lot of fans, he'll always be Mork. First premiering on ABC in 1978, Mork & Mindy was a four-season sitcom following the adventures of the alien Mork (from Ork), and his human pal Mindy.

An unlikely spin-off from Happy Days, the series was Williams's first major acting role and owed much of its success to Williams's improv abilities. (The writers eventually began leaving gaps in the script where Williams could start improvising.) It was wildly popular upon its debut, earning the number-three slot in the ratings only behind Laverne & Shirley and Three's Company.

While subsequent seasons saw a decline (due, most likely, to a change in direction and an altered time slot), the show remains a staple in television pop culture. It also cemented Williams as a major comedic player, launching a Hollywood career that would last over three and a half decades.

- Request Mork & Mindy: The Complete First Season from the Catalog

-- A Doctor

It's often difficult to know exactly what category to put Williams's films into. Is Good Morning, Vietnam a comedy or a drama?  How about the cult classic The Fisher King?  Williams excelled at finding a balance between comedy and pathos in nearly all of his roles, seamlessly blending together humor and heart in the characters he portrayed.

Perhaps this can be best be seen in the 1998 film Patch Adams. Starring Williams in the title role, the movie was loosely based on the real-life story of Dr. Hunter "Patch" Adams. After spending some time in a mental hospital being treated for depression, Adams discovers that humor goes a long way towards helping his fellow patients. Upon release, he starts work towards a new career path, enrolling as the oldest first-year med student at the Medical College of Virginia -- with the goal of becoming a doctor who uses medicine and humor to heal his patients.

While perhaps leaning a bit too severely towards pathos in several scenes, the film nonetheless stays committed to a story about the importance of laughter in our lives.

- Request Patch Adams from the Catalog

-- A Cartoon

Robin Williams had a talent with voices. Despite lending his voice to several animated characters over the years, nowhere are his vocal talents more evident than in Disney's 1992 classic Aladdin.

Williams voiced the Genie, the wise-cracking, wish-granting inhabitant of the magic lamp discovered by the title character. The hilarious, memorable performance that Williams delivered is made all the more impressive by the fact that all but a handful of his lines were ad-libs.

His vocal talents allowed the Genie to be as skilled at improv and impersonations as the actor behind him. (Genie's celebrity impersonations throughout the film include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ed Sullivan, Groucho Marx, Robert De Niro,  Rodney Dangerfield, and Jack Nicholson.) The result was a character that, while animated, is unmistakably and undeniably Williams.

- Request Aladdin from the Catalog

-- A Pirate

Steven Spielberg's 1991 film Hook had its share of critics. A sequel of sorts to J.M. Barrie's classic tale of Peter Pan, Hook asks the question of what would happen if Peter Pan, the Boy Who Never Grew Up, did just that. Having left Neverland, the Lost Boys, and his childhood memories behind, "Peter Banning" is now a hard-hitting lawyer and married father of two kids -- just about as far from being Peter Pan as someone could ever be. At least until Captain Hook (played by the fantastic Dustin Hoffman) returns and kidnaps Peter's two children, Jack and Maggie. Now Peter has no choice but to return to a life he left behind -- although he's going to need a lot of help, and just a little bit of faith.

The movie received heavy criticism for being saccharine and too plot-heavy. Those who grew up with the film, however, remember it as a fun and fantastical adventure romp, with a Peter Pan who had a sense of humor even before he found his way back to Neverland. (His battle of wits with Lost Boy Rufio, which Williams ad-libbed much of, brings a smile to my face to this day.)

-- A Dad

Last September, CBS debuted The Crazy Ones, a single-camera comedy created by David E. Kelley (of The Practice and Ally McBeal fame). The show starred Williams as Simon Roberts, an advertising executive who oversaw his own ad agency. His business partner?  Sydney Williams, his daughter (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar).

Divorced and estranged from Sydney's mom, Simon did his best to be a part of Sydney's childhood but missed out on more than a few important moments. The show focused on Simon's efforts to strengthen his relationship with Sydney -- and Sydney's willingness to connect back. The show had a delightfully comedic supporting cast, but the story never lost its focus on Simon and his daughter, and their sometimes-crazy, sometimes-hilarious, but always-poignant relationship.

Click here for more about The Crazy Ones

Other Robin Williams performances from the Catalog (click to request)

-- Good Morning, Vietnam

-- Dead Poets Society

-- The Fisher King

-- Moscow on the Hudson

-- Mrs. Doubtfire

-- Awakenings

-- What Dreams May Come

-- Jumanji

-- Good Will Hunting

-- Robin Williams: Live on Broadway [stand-up]

-- Robin Williams: Weapons of Self Destruction [stand-up CD/DVD]

From actor Christopher Reeve's memoir, Still Me:

"As the day of the operation drew closer, it became more and more painful and frightening to contemplate. ... At an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent. He announced that he was my proctologist, and that he had to examine me immediately. ... it was Robin Williams. For the first time since the accident, I laughed. My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay."

"Comedy is acting out optimism."
-- Robin Williams

-- Post by Ms. B

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

August Library Reads

Here are a few of the picks from this month's Library Reads list. Enjoy!

Click here to see the full list.

One Kick: A Novel
by Chelsea Cain

“Kick Lannigan survived being kidnapped as a child. Now, at twenty-one, determined never to be a victim again, she has reinvented herself. Martial arts and weapons handling are just a few of the skills she has learned over the years. Kick catches the attention of John Bishop, a mystery man with access to unlimited funds, and together they go after a cabal of child pornographers. A read-in-one-sitting, edge-of-your-seat thriller.”

Elizabeth Kanouse, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ

Lucky Us: A Novel
by Amy Bloom

“Is a family the people you are born to, or the people who you find along the way? That’s what Bloom explores in this novel set in pre- and post-WWII Ohio, Los Angeles, New York and Germany. The story follows resourceful Eva, who was abandoned by her mother at an early age, and her sister Iris, an aspiring actress who tries to find love at a time when her kind of love must be secretive. Every character is beautifully drawn, warm, and believable.”

Kathryn Hassert, Henrietta Hankin Branch Library, Chester Springs, PA

Lock In
by John Scalzi

“There’s been a good run of fantasy and science fiction books this year. Joining the list of great fantastical reads is John Scalzi’s Lock In. Scalzi is best known for his military SF (especially the Old Man’s War series), so his latest is a change of pace. A blending of SF and police procedural that hits every note just right.”

Jane Jorgenson, Madison Public Library, Madison, WI

Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

“A horrible act of violence occurs at the Pirriwee Public School’s trivia night fundraiser for parents, but what happened and who was involved? The novel begins six months before that fateful evening and lets us in on the lives of single mother Jane, twice-married Madeline, and Celeste, who secretly suffers from domestic abuse. Big Little Lies is another page-turning read from Moriarty that had me gasping with surprise at the end.”

Lora Bruggeman, Indian Prairie Public Library, Darien, IL

The Story Hour: A Novel
by Thrity Umrigar

“Another beautifully written novel by Thrity Umrigar. A relationship develops between Maggie, a psychologist, and Lakshmi, a troubled Indian woman. As their stories develop, it is hard to figure out which woman does more to impact the other’s life. Highly recommended.”

Ellen Firer, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY

--Post by Tracy

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Staff Recommendation #32: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

by Robert Galbraith

Once again J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, takes a look at the world of celebrity in her latest Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm. This time she's out to expose the publishing industry, something she knows a thing or two about.

After the successful resolution of the murder of model Lula Landry, Cormoran Strike has almost more cases than he can handle. These cases are nothing like the high profile Landry case, but he's now able to pay off his debts and actually move into a real apartment instead of sleeping in his office. This also means that he's able to keep his new assistant Robin Ellacott despite her fiancé Matthew's misgivings. Matthew still hasn't quite forgiven her for not taking that higher paying human resources job. But Robin is intent on working with Strike no matter what either man in her life thinks.

While Strike is in the midst of dealing with yet another disgruntled spouse, in walks Leonora Quine. A somewhat frumpy looking, middle aged woman who needs help finding her missing husband. Despite her inability to pay him, Strike decides to help her. This is not the first time her husband Owen, a nominally famous author, has gone missing.

As Strike begins his search, he's discovering the seamy side of the publishing industry. The back stabbing, gamesmanship and ruined friendships. Owen Quine was desperate to be famous for his writing so he sets out to write a book betraying everyone he knows from his publisher, to his editor and even to his long-suffering wife. But did he go too far? Strike thinks that Quine might have when he discovers Quine's murdered body posed exactly as described as a body in his manuscript. Now Strike has to determine who knew about Quine's manuscript and when they knew about it.

With the help of his eager assistant Robin, Strike finds the killer in this great new addition to the series. As I wrote in my review of The Cuckoo's Calling, the first in the series, this mystery is once again above average, but nothing outstanding. What sets this series apart are the characters that Rowling has created. As with her Harry Potter series, I think that she is at her best when developing a world and its inhabitants over the long haul. And since it's just been announced that Rowling plans on writing even more books in this series than she did for Harry Potter, this should make all of her fans very happy!

To request The Silkworm click here.

To request The Cuckoo's Calling click here.

--Post by Tracy

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Acorn Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

Last weekend was my family reunion. The weather didn't really cooperate, but it was still enjoyed by all. I come from a pretty big family. My Mom is one of ten kids and I have 35 first cousins. I've lost track of how many first cousins once removed I have! We live all around the country so we don't get to see each other all that often. It's actually kind of hard to catch up with everyone in just one day, but we do the best we can.

One of the things I enjoy the most is looking at the family tree that one of my cousins has made for us. We can trace our roots to Germany and Ireland and many more relatives spread around the United States.

I've always been fascinated with genealogy and will occasionally dabble in it. Mostly I just like looking up some of my ancestors on genealogy databases. Luckily, being a librarian, I have easy access to many genealogy tools including the popular  It is only available in the library, but you can search census, birth, marriage, and many other documents for free. It's a great tool!

If you are inspired to research your family tree here are a few resources for you to get started.

From the Catalog:

-- The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy by Kimberly Powell

-- The Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried-And-True Tactics for Tracing Elusive Ancestors by Marsha Hoffman Rising

-- Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America by Francois Weil

-- Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family's History and Heritage by Barbara Renick

-- Unpuzzling Your Past: The Best-Selling Basic Guide to Genealogy by Emily Anne Croom

From the Web:

-- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Department - This page provides information and access to a variety of databases and websites along with tips and advice. The librarians in the Pennsylvania Department are also available to do searches for you.

-- Ellis Island Records - Provides free searches of passengers who entered the United States through the Port of New York.

-- Jewish Gen - A helpful, free site devoted to help those with Jewish ancestry find family members.

-- FamilySearch - A free service of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch provides access to records that have been gathered for the last 100 years. They also have local centers with one located nearby in Plum.

--Post by Tracy

Monday, July 21, 2014

Have You Zine the News?

Pictured above is the front cover of the first-ever issue of "The Barcode Project," Monroeville Public Library's teen-created zine.

What is a zine?  It takes its name from the shortened form of "magazine," and it is, in essence, a mini-version of a magazine in itself. Zines feature collections of stories, poems, essays, and artwork by independent artists and authors, and are usually distributed (often for free) to the local community.

"The Barcode Project" was a labor of love from MPL's Teen Writing Group, featuring poetry, interviews, humorous essays, pictures and comic strips -- and short stories that ran the genre gamut, from historical fiction and adventure to sci-fi and parody. The first issue was published this spring and offered for free here at the library, allowing the teens' original work to be enjoyed across the community. (You can still stop in at the front desk to pick up your free copy!)

July 21st is International Zine Day (part of July's International Zine Month celebration). In honor of the occasion, read on to discover a little about the history and culture of zines.

And if you know any teens who would like to submit their work to The Barcode Project?  Tell them to drop by MPL's Owl Post to submit a story or ask a question about our next issue!

Denver Public Library's zine display

All About Zines:

-- Stolen Sharpie Revolution - More about International Zine Month.

-- The Zine Pavilion - A librarian-run page all about the world of zines.

-- Zines @ CLP - A great list of resources on zines, including some zine recommenations.

-- Brooklyn Zine Fest - The Brooklyn Historical Society held a "zine fest" this year. Read all about it!

-- The History of Zines (on ZineWiki) - Straight from zine fans themselves, read about the history of the zine.

-- Rookie Mag: How to Make a Zine - A do-it-yourself guide for making your own zine.

Volume 2 of "The Barcode Project," coming this fall to Monroeville Public Library

-- Post by Ms. B

Thursday, July 17, 2014

There and Back Again

July 19th is the 60th anniversary of the first publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. Part of the Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy, these outrageously popular books (and now films) are an undeniable cultural phenomenon in their own right.

But Tolkien's trilogy is responsible for something else, as well: the ushering in of the modern epic fantasy genre. Eager fans finished the Rings trilogy but weren't satisfied with a mere three books, allowing other authors to step in and tell their own tales of grand high fantasy -- many of which were, it has to be said, clear copycats of Tolkien's original.

But there are plenty of epic fantasy novels that, while wholly original, still owe a debt to Tolkien for kickstarting a modern-day interest in the fantasy genre that persists to this day. So in honor of the anniversary, read on for some recommendations of our own fantasy favorites:

-- Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

One of the (understandably) biggest complaints about trying an epic fantasy novel is that, generally speaking, you're kicking off a major reading commitment. Most fantasy novels aren't standalone stories; rather, they're the first book in a three or six or ten-part series, requiring you to devote some serious reading time to get through them.

Warbreaker is that rarest of epic fantasy animals: a standalone novel. There's no sequel, no prequel, no "companion volume" -- just one complete story, told in a single book.

And it's quite a story. Foregoing the usual epic-fantasy traps of long quests for magical talismans, Warbreaker instead revolves around two sisters with an unusual magical power. Though eldest sister Vivenna is the one who originally finds herself betrothed to the God King, it's her flighty and impetuous younger sibling who ends up fulfilling the arrangement. Determined to save her sister, Vivenna promptly follows after her into the city -- only to find herself enmeshed in a world of thieves, immortals, and a god who doesn't believe in his own religion.

The book's twist-filled plot, original magic system, and rich character development make Warbreaker one of my very favorites.

Brandon Sanderson in the Catalog:

-- Warbreaker

Mistborn Trilogy
-- The Final Empire
-- The Well of Ascension
-- The Hero of Ages

Stormlight Archive
-- The Way of Kings
-- Words of Radiance

-- Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

As a big fan of pirate tales, I'm always on the lookout for fantasy reads that have a few nautical elements to them. In my experience, however, fantasy books with ships and sailors are few and far between.

So I was delighted when I stumbled across Ship of Magic. The first book in a trilogy, it gives you everything you could ask for in a nautical fantasy: ships, sailors, sea serpents, and even a handful of the requisite pirates.

Merchant's daughter Althea Vestrit is determined to do whatever it takes to rescue her father's ship from her ruthless brother-in-law. Young priest-in-training, Wintrow, just wants to find his way back home. And Captain Kennit, the would-be Pirate King, is (like all good pirates) on the lookout for ways to seize as much power as possible. And on an ocean where ship's figureheads are sometimes known to spring to life, nothing will be as simple as it seems.

Robin Hobb in the Catalog:

The Liveship Traders
-- Ship of Magic
-- Mad Ship
-- Ship of Destiny

Farseer Trilogy
-- Assassin's Apprentice 
-- Royal Assassin
-- Assassin's Quest

Tawny Man Trilogy
-- Fool's Errand
-- The Golden Fool
-- Fool's Fate 

-- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

He's been an innkeeper, swordfighter, magician, thief, musician ... and assassin. Our hero, Kvothe, is already a legend -- but the Chronicler who is determined to write down the true story of his exploits quickly finds himself peeling back the layers to find the man behind the myth.

The Name of the Wind kicks off with Kvothe's early days. ("I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in," as he blithely explains.) As the story unfolds for the Chronicler, so too does the truth behind Kvothe's life come into sharp relief. With another uniquely-written system of magic, and plenty of complex characters, this series has quickly become a go-to favorite for many fantasy fans.

Patrick Rothfuss in the Catalog:

Kingkiller Chronicle
-- The Name of the Wind
-- The Wise Man's Fear

-- Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

There is a curse. They say:
"May you live in interesting times."

The Discworld series started life as a parody of epic fantasy and went on to become, in the course of forty installments, something else entirely. (Don't be scared off by the quantity; each volume is written as a standalone story.) While the intensely wry (and altogether delightful) humor has always remained a constant, the Discworld series has become a complex fantasy universe in its own right, with as delightful a cast of characters as one could ever ask for.

This particular offering stars my favorite character of the series -- Rincewind the wizard, who is so inept that he only knows one spell (and it's not a very useful one). He's also an outrageous coward, although given the number of times someone or something seems hell-bent on killing him, it's rather hard to blame him.

When the Unseen University receives a request for a "Great Wizzard" to be sent to the Counterweight Continent, the faculty decides Rincewind is the only man for the job. What follows is a whirlwind adventure that sees Rincewind running into the likes of  Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde of Warriors (everyone's a bit older now), a villainous Grand Vizier, a well-meaning army -- and Rincewind's old traveling companion, Twoflower. It's exactly the kind of "interesting" adventure that Rincewind so dreads -- and that makes for such delightful, hilarious, and surprisingly poignant reading.

Terry Pratchett in the Catalog:

-- Interesting Times
-- The Colour of Magic
-- Mort
-- Wyrd Sisters
-- Maskerade
-- Guards! Guards!
-- Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman)

"Luck is my middle name. Mind you, my first name is Bad."
-- Rincewind the Wizard

-- Post by Ms. B