Friday, March 16, 2018

Coco (2017, PG)

Like many of you, I hope, I'm a sucker for all things Pixar, and have been since Toy Story came around.  Since the 1995 release of that ground-breaking movie, I became a parent, which means I have seen a LOT of animation over the years.  Pixar is one of the few studios which consistently brightened my days with its ability to create a blend of memorable characters, humor, heartfelt emotion and beautifully imagined settings. The movies in their filmography often evoke a sense of nostalgia and classic movie storytelling, making them satisfying on multiple levels for a broad range of people.  The kids might remember the jokes; the parents can relate to the underlying themes.

I got to see their latest just last weekend, the Oscar-winning Coco, and I can now happily recommend it to you.  It is the story of Miguel, a boy in Mexico and part of a family of shoemakers, who yearns to be a musician like his hero, a legendary singer named Ernesto de la Cruz.  The only problem is that his great-great-grandmother, heartbroken after her musician husband left her and their little daughter to pursue his career and never returned, forbade music in her household.  His own grandmother has continued her grandmother's policy, but Miguel defies the ban, teaching himself to play with a shabby guitar and videos of Ernesto.  At the opening of the movie he decides to take part in his town's Dia de los Muertos talent competition in spite of his grandmothers' wishes.  When he finds himself without a guitar, he decides to "borrow" the one enshrined in Ernesto's tomb.  This act sets him on a mystical journey through the Land of the Dead, where he meets family members, fantastic beasts, a likeable rogue named Hector, and yes, Ernesto.  I don't want to spoil anything further, but be assured that all of these plot elements come together in a very satisfying way.

Even beyond the its themes of family and the power of music, the film is visually stunning, especially once Miguel crosses over to the brightly colored Land of the Dead.  Coco makes brilliant use of the traditions surrounding the Mexican holiday, when a family's ancestors are believed to be able to walk with their living descendants.  The dead are honored with offerings of food, flowers and other items to welcome them to the festivities.  I knew a little bit about El Dia de los Muertos, but my understanding and appreciation for it deepened while watching.  Combine this with beautiful music, humor, and a few moments guaranteed to bring on a tear or two, and you can't go wrong!  -Barb

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium by Walter S. Judd, Graham A. Judd

Goodreads summary modified: Few settings in literature are as widely known or celebrated as J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, and in laying out this continent, Tolkien paid special attention to its plant life.  In total, over 160 plants are explicitly mentioned and described as a part of Middle-Earth. Nearly all of these plants are real species, and many of the fictional plants are based on scientifically grounded botanic principles. Botanist Walter Judd gives a detailed species account of every plant found in Tolkien's universe, complete with the etymology of the plant's name, a discussion of its significance within Tolkien's work, a description of the plant's distribution and ecology, and an original hand-drawn illustration by artist Graham Judd in the style of a woodcut print.

My review: Fabulous book! The author starts with a refresher course in basic botany, then does a plant-by-plant description of all the plants that are mentioned by Tolkien in the Hobbit, LOTR*, and the Silmarillion.  Author Judd is specific about not including all the volumes of HoME* and other writings, but he does mention some plants that occur in writings other than those primaries.

This is a botanical book - with botanical descriptions of the plants.  The citations from Tolkien's work highlight where the plants were mentioned, and the author also includes where the plants grow in our world, and their uses and the etymology of their botanical names.  For plants that Tolkien made up (like mallorn, elanor), or wasn't too specific about (like nessamalda), Judd provides a best-guess correspondence to plant families of the real world.

Closing chapters include groups of plants - the plants of Ithilien, food plants, and hobbit names based on plants.  If you are a gardener, or a botanical enthusiast of some sort, and a Tolkien fan, you will enjoy this book a lot.  I certainly did.  --Lynne

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*LOTR=Lord of the Rings
*HoME=History of Middle Earth, a 12 volume set detailing Tolkien's world and its history, compiled by the author's son, Christopher. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Build Your Running Body by Pete Magill, Thomas Schwartz and Melissa Breyer

Build Your Running Body by Pete Magill, Thomas Schwartz and Melissa Breyer offers a comprehensive guide to runners of all levels and abilities. This book is jam-packed with information on many running topics. It also includes numerous black and white photographs illustrating different types of core exercises, stretches along with foam rolling techniques which ease muscle soreness and help aid in recovery.

In addition, Build Your Running Body includes an entire section of sample
race-training schedules. Distances include 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathons. The sample race-training schedules are geared toward both competitive and non-competitive runners. The authors give readers choices of training periods over twelve, eight or six weeks.

Along with photographs and sample race-training schedules, this running guide includes detailed tables that address a number of different topics including: the recommended number of days between hard workouts based on age, a per mile pace table (which gives finish times for 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon distances) and energy and nutrition breakdowns for fueling. The pacing chart is especially useful for those runners with a time goal in mind for specific races. For example, a runner who wants to finish a half marathon in one hour, forty-nine minutes will need to average an 8:20 minute per mile pace.

Overall, the authors of Build Your Running Body have compiled the ultimate running guide with many pages of well-researched information that is broken down into logical components. The charts and photographs provide readers with easy visual access to important topics. This title is an indispensable guide for any runner’s book shelf. –Jennifer

Monday, February 26, 2018

I'm Still Here by Clelie Avit

Most people (myself included) can attest that at least once at some point in their lives, they’ve fallen in love with someone they couldn’t have. The agony of being so close to them, yet so far at the same time is excruciating. I hope you’ll pardon my usage of an overworked cliché, but I have valid reasoning for doing so, I assure you. In Clélie Avit’s debut novel, I’m Still Here, we see just how unconventional, unexpected, miraculous, and transcendental love can be. More importantly, we see this cliché questioned and exposed in an innovative light. 

Immediately, we are introduced with the first of the novel’s two protagonists, Elsa. Critically injured in a climbing accident, Elsa has been in a coma for the past five months with a fragile thread of a chance to wake up. Seeing their daughter/sister so seemingly deteriorated and vegetated beyond hope, her family is on the verge of giving up and pulling the plug. 

Enter Thibault, our second protagonist. He is haunted by the mistakes of his brother and the memories of his past relationship with his train wreck ex-girlfriend. Every week, he drives his mother to the hospital to visit his brother. The bitter hatred Thibault harbors towards his brother and the mistake that put him there prevents him from joining the actual visit. Instead, he wanders the corridors aimlessly until one day, he happens to wander into Elsa’s room. Grateful to have a place to be “alone,” he settles in to wait for his mother. Before too long, Thibault begins to rant and unload his burdens to Elsa, feeling refreshed to be talking to an unbiased individual, even though she is unable to respond, let alone hear him…or can she…?

Nobody, not even the doctors or their high-tech monitors, knows that Elsa has regained just enough consciousness to hear the things within her surroundings. As time progresses, she starts to fall in love with Thibault and looks forward to his weekly visits. Thibault starts to fall in love with Elsa as he gets to know her through her family and friends, who have come to accept and appreciate this new presence in Elsa’s life, albeit in the most unusual of ways. 

One day, Thibault comes to realize that Elsa can, in fact, hear him. Does she share his affections? He understands the unlikelihood of Elsa’s awakening, but he hopes that with love, she will harness every ounce of strength she has and defy the narrow odds. Does it work? Spoilers. You’ll just have to read the book and find out. 

This beautiful novel, translated to English from its original French, presents a contemporary twist on the classic fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty. Avit’s flawless prose and dialogue, as well has her masterful utilization of alternating points-of-view exceeds all of the typical expectations I would have for a debut novel. It was a riveting read to the very end, pushing all sorts of boundaries on all sorts of levels. I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a sucker for tender romance and a connoisseur of all things avant-garde like I am, this book will bolt to the top of your list of favorites.   -Lena

Pick Up a Good Book: Your turn, part 3!

Here are a couple of Blind Dates that went very well:

My Losing Season by Pat Conroy: "I was amazed to connect this deeply with a book I let my kids just grab. As a former college basketball player, I felt this book as much as I read it. It made me want to set down and record my own stories, if only for myself, and helped put language to my now almost buried experiences." This patron would recommend this book, especially to former athletes, and gave it 5 stars. Check out this title in our catalog!

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka: "Read this book before. Great perspective of the American Japanese experience after Pearl Harbor." Another match with definite sparks! Will you enjoy this book, too?

You still have time to try to make your own match with one of the wrapped books on our Blind Date with a Book display in the Popular Materials Room. The books will be available until February 28th, and we will accept Rate your Date entries until March 15th.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Women Who Flew for Hitler: A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry by Clare Mulley

I’ve been reading a good deal about World War II recently, in both fiction and nonfiction. That’s why this book caught my eye while browsing through the books on MontanaLibrary2Go, the collaborative site where Montana libraries pool funds together to make e-books and downloadable audiobooks available for borrowers.

This is a dual biography profiling the two most famous women pilots of Germany during the war. Both were talented and courageous pilots, who dealt well facing the prejudices from male colleagues. Hanna Reitsch is an Aryan through and through, a true believer in the Nazi ideals. Melitta von Stauffenberg, grew up in an aristocratic Prussian household, loyal to her country, if less enamored with the Nazis. They both grew up as unusual young women who were wildly fascinated for the sport of gliding, a rage in Germany between the wars, and all that was permitted for aircraft there in the terms of the treaty ending World War I. Both were awarded the Iron Cross for their service to Nazi Germany.

Melitta attended boarding school in the mountains, where she learned to glide. Hanna grew up in those same mountains some years later, and followed in Melitta’s footsteps. Their shared passion for flying was about all they had in common. Hanna went on to represent Germany in gliding competitions around the world, enjoying her fame and glory as a woman flier. The quieter Melitta was more interested in the challenges of flight, and went on to university to study aeronautical engineering. As the Nazis took over running the nation and built up the Luftwaffe, Hanna and Melitta both became test pilots. Hanna was a bit of a thrill-seeker, willing to jump in anything with wings. Melitta was designing equipment for dive bombers, and made one after another hair-raising and dangerous dives, testing her latest innovations.

As the war progressed, Hanna became even more fervent in her beliefs, desperately trying to save Hitler before the Allies arrived. Melitta had been very cautious about her work and the Nazis, as her paternal grandmother had been Jewish and she was just as desperate to keep her parents from being taken away. Her status as a test pilot was all that protected them, and she was well aware of it. Even so, her aristocratic husband’s family were increasingly disenchanted with Hitler’s regime, and Melitta came to support her brother-in-law Count von Stauffenberg, who eventually devised the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler.

Author Mulley does an excellent job at outlining the women’s seemingly parallel lives, their very different personalities, their actual dislike of one another, and very different viewpoints of what loyalty to Germany called for them to do. The book is very readable, and moves quickly through the highs and lows of the women’s lives in wartime Nazi Germany.

The Women Who Flew for Hitler is an e-book from MontanaLibrary2Go, available in EPUB and Kindle formats, as well as for use on the Libby app. -DeeAnn

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Carry Home by Gary Ferguson

The Carry Home is nature writer Gary Ferguson's personal journey of love, tragic loss and recovery, and the extraordinary healing power of the wilderness.  Following the death of his wife in a 2005 canoeing accident, he treks to five remote places they had loved in Canada and the American West to scatter her ashes.  These trips, which include parts of Yellowstone Park and the Beartooth Mountains, are celebrations of her life and also his private odysseys through the grief stages.

Along the way, still feeling sadness and anger, the author comes to accept that all living things eventually die, nothing lasts forever, and that the natural world is simply unpredictable.  He realizes that nature has no agenda and no one is to blame for life's inevitable losses.  His reflections contain nuggets of wisdom on almost every page, along with descriptions of the magnificent beauty he and his colleagues encounter in the backcountry.

Ferguson and his wife had devoted 25 years prior to her death to living outdoors, teaching, writing, and advocating for preservation of wildlife and its habitat.  They were genuine in that they lived their beliefs and drew their strength and zest for life from the natural beauty in rugged, wild places most of us will never see.

The author of more than 20 books, Ferguson travels frequently, teaching and lecturing on the natural wonders around us.  Well worth reading, The Carry Home is One Book Billings' selection for March.  ~ Margie 

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