Monday, August 22, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

As the subtitle indicates, this collection does not represent the whole of Neil Gaiman's nonfiction work;  rather, it is a sampling of speeches, book introductions and essays that offers an entertaining glimpse of his experiences and his views.  Sitting down with it is a bit like having a series of brief conversations with the author, especially if you listen to his narration on the audiobook version, as I did.

The pieces range from personal memoirs and recollections of discovering and  coming to know other authors and artists to reflections on comic book history and literary genres.  Standouts include his famous "Make Good Art" speech, originally given as the 2012 commencement address for the University of the Arts, as well as his forward to Terry Pratchett's "A Slip of the Keyboard", and the title essay which recounts his surreal experiences attending the Oscars in 2010 (the movie version of his book Coraline had been nominated as Best Animated Feature).  In each piece Gaiman's witty, charming style and unique perspective shine through.  He carries the reader (or listener) along on waves of words, and each and every time, he brings the essay to shore, gently and poetically closing the piece with an utterly appropriate turn of phrase.

One note of caution:  the book is divided into sections by subject matter, which no doubt makes it accessible for the dabbling reader who wants to read one essay and then set the book aside for a while, but which also can make the work feel a bit repetitive over time for one who is reading straight through.  For that reason, I would recommend not reading it in order, but to browse and look for a piece that appeals to your mood at any given time.  Whether you are a Gaiman fan or not, I believe you will find something in this collection that suits.       -Barb

Reserve this book  in print, e-book format, and yes, as an audiobook on cd!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

For all the Downton Abbey fans out there who have been missing it, here is a book for you! Julian Fellowes, who created, wrote and produced that series, has just published a new novel, Belgravia. Though it is set in a different era, the themes will resonate as familiar.

The book opens with a dramatic event from the history of the Napoleonic Wars – the Duchess of Richmond’s famous 1815 ball in Brussels on the eve of the battle of Waterloo. It seemed that half the British aristocracy had made their way to Belgium to observe the run-up to the upcoming clash, as the British and Prussian militaries prepared to battle the French Army one more time. News of Napoleon’s advance reached Brussels during the ball, and Wellington and his officers dashed off to battle, some still in their dress uniforms and dancing shoes.

In Fellowes’s tale, one of those handsome young officers, Edmund Bellasis, had spent the heady days in Brussels flirting with Sophia Trenchard, the pretty daughter of the Army’s chief supplier. His death in the battle changes her world.

It’s now twenty-five years later. The new young Queen Victoria is on the throne, and the elite social world has been grudgingly forced to expand to include the newly wealthy. It’s here where the Trenchards now find themselves, living in exclusive Belgravia. Anne Trenchard, Sophia’s mother, finds herself invited to the fashionable afternoon teas, where she encounters the Countess of Brockenhurst, who treats her with polite contempt. Lady Brockenhurst is the mother of Edmund Bellasis, and is still paralyzed by the loss of her only child. But though these two women have little in common, there is one thing that brings their lives together.

The book is enjoyable and readable, and the historical context is well presented. Fellowes is, of course, a writer whose work has won several Emmys and an Oscar (for Gosford Park). He knows how to tell a good story. There is a bit of a feeling that the reader knows this story already. Fellowes relies on many of the tropes of historical romantic fiction in Belgravia. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a good read, but the novel isn’t treading any new territory.  -Dee Ann

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars is a YA book that kept popping up as a must read and now that I have read it I completely agree! I occasionally read YA books but often find that many of them are predictable but this one was different from anything else that I have ever read and it has left a lasting impact on me. I did read some negative reviews about the cliché portrayal of the wealthy New England family, but if you can overlook that one little negative aspect the rest of it is truly fantastic.

The story revolves around Cadence Sinclair Easton and her wealthy family. Every year her extended family spends the summer on their private island. Cadence and her cousins Johnny, Mirren and their friend Gat become very close over the many summers that they spend together. As kids often do they cause some mischief around the island and they end up with the nickname the “liars” but it’s all in good fun and they enjoy privileged and carefree lives. However during their “Summer 15” as they call it something changes, an accident happens leaving Cadence with severe headaches and memory loss. For 2 years she lives in a haze until she finally is allowed to return to the island where she begins to remember piece by piece what happened that summer. When everything falls into place a shocking twist is revealed. It seemingly comes out of nowhere, it pulls you in and then leaves you stunned.

I found just about everything in this book to be fantastic but I really enjoyed the feeling of being completely surprised by the twist it’s amazing and not at all predictable! - Cassie 

Reserve this title.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Making civics count: Civics education for a new generation - edited by David E. Campbell, Meira Levinson, & Frederick M. Hess

Here comes the election – folks moan that our governments no longer solve problems, that the political process is rotted by selfish interests, that voters only listen to media that support their own ignorant extremism, or that the withered hand of journalism offers only opinions rather than facts. What’s the answer?

Back in the earnest, white-bread 20th century, schools taught “civics” to help students take on their roles as citizens. That class was often conservative or intolerant, wrapped in the flag. Many kids respect repeating the Pledge mainly because it seems stable. But when instead, we help our youth to explore their rights and responsibilities, lead in solving social problems, and eventually participate in society as statespeople rather than as election-buyers, citizenship education is a solution.

“To do democracy, citizens must appreciate that it is messy,” say the editors. Effective tools in citizenship education now include service learning (community volunteering with an academic edge), modeling articulate discussion school-wide, student science and social research in support of adult policy challenges, and even digital media and crowd-sourced solutions such as simulations and issue-specific online games.

The authors insist that teachers keep the democratic process real in their classrooms, using Socratic questioning, collaborative lesson-building, Project Citizen (policy-based service learning), media literacy activities, and other strategies proven to work well in class. Our teachers must help kids live the hard virtues of developing successful strategies for positive social change, even among teams of competing interests, just as in adult life.

Just like I remember, teachers still work helping children grow into competent people caring for community. --Jon

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker

Bruno Courreges is the Chief of Police in the French village of Saint Denis by default. It’s a small town and he’s the only policeman there. He relishes his life there, in the lovely Dordogne region, surrounded by good friends, good food and a generally peaceful town.

When a fire breaks out at an agricultural research station, Bruno rushes to the scene to assist the firefighters. The fire turns out to be arson, and since the research station had been developing genetically modified grape vines, Bruno fears that this may have been a case of eco-terrorism, and has him looking closely at the fervent environmentalists who live in a nearby commune. This fire, though, is only the first incident in the area that surrounds the local winemaking industry.

Now Fernando, an American businessman from a prominent California winery, is in town looking to buy property, and raising eyebrows among the villagers. Max, an aspiring young winemaker from the commune is falling for Jacqueline, a flirty new arrival from Quebec, who also seems to be seeing Fernando as well. All three of them are behaving in ways to make themselves a topic for discussion in the village.  Events keep escalating, and now there are two suspicious deaths. It’s up to Bruno to figure out all the entanglements, past and present, that led to this end.

This book is the second of nine books (so far) in a series by Martin Walker featuring Bruno, Chief of Police. I picked up the first one after reading a very positive review, and with fond thoughts of a trip through the Dordogne region many years ago. I moved on to the second book because I was thoroughly charmed by Bruno and his knowledge of his community and human nature. This is a delightful mystery, more on the cozy side than a bloody thriller. The puzzle satisfies, as does another taste of the pleasures of the French countryside.   -Dee Ann

Monday, July 18, 2016

Game of Thrones (2011-Present, TV-M)

I know, I know--this is hardly a series that needs extra promotion!  But this blog is about the things that we love, and the things we want to recommend to our patrons.  For me, Game of Thrones fits this description perfectly, and the show's recent slew of  Emmy nominations have made it a timely subject.

The story is classic high fantasy, revolving, as you might guess, around the contested throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.  As the series opens, King Robert Baratheon arrives in the Northern keep of Winterfell to ask his best friend, Ned Stark, to join him in the capitol as his right hand man. Very soon, however, the King is dead, and the Kingdoms divide into factions of armies, each with a general who has a claim on the Iron Throne.   Meanwhile, across the ocean, another family begins its quest for the same seat, as the children of the Mad King whom Robert deposed make plans to build their own army by way of marriage;  the daughter, Danaerys, is sold to the chieftain of a clan of fierce warriors, but turns the situation to her advantage.  The third major plotline of the first season follows Ned's illegitimate son, Jon Snow as he joins the Night's Watch, a group of soldiers sworn to protect southern Westeros from the northern tribes or "wildlings".  The Watch presides over a massive ice wall that divides the lands.  Most of the Kingdoms, however, are ignorant of an even greater threat to their world than civil war which has begun to stir beyond the Wall.  As they say in the North, "Winter is Coming"--this is not merely a weather forecast.

Such is the plot and scaffolding that the series is built on, and it is a good one, compelling, twisty, but solid.  The greatest revelation of my initial viewing, however, is the compelling characters that move through these plots, along with the top-notch performances, cinematography, and writing that has kept me interested and entertained throughout its run. The cast has grown (and contracted!) with each successive season, and some of the characters have developed in surprising ways, like Jaime Lannister, the brother of King Robert's widow Cersei, who is initially presented as a villain but has uncovered a dormant sense of honor in more recent years.  More than anything else, this series understands how to hook viewers into wanting to know "what comes next" for its large group of kings, queens, soldiers, noblewomen, wildings, villains, scholars, and mystics.  -Barb

Reserve this series on dvd.

George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" book series, on which the show is based, is also available for checkout!

PLEASE NOTE:  You will want to take the rating for this series very seriously!  It does contain violence and adult language and subject matter.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Pirate King (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #11) by Laurie R. King

Summary: In England's budding silent-film industry, megalomaniac Randolph Fflytte is king. At the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate rumors of criminal activities. At Lisbon rehearsals for "Pirate King", based on Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance", thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses meet the real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, troubles escalate.

My review:  This volume of the series, for once, is one where Mary & Sherlock didn't end up half-dead and awaiting disaster at the end.  It was a frivolous adventure, sailing across the Mediterranean and ending up almost sold into slavery, but not quite. I enjoyed it quite a lot, and the general tone was much more cheerful than several of the others in the series.  It was also an interesting look into the world of silent films - the author did her homework as far as the technicalities were concerned.  The other characters were also entertaining - spoiled film stars, oddball producer, determined director and frayed-at-the-edges assistants.  Yet they mostly came together at the end to overcome their opponents and make it home safely. -Lynne