Thursday, April 28, 2016

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

In August, 2010, the world's attention focused on 33 miners, trapped 1/2 mile underground when the San Jose mine in central Chile collapsed, burying them.  Deep Down Dark is the unforgettable story of the unfortunate men, their families, and the risky, experimental rescue operation that saved them. For 17 days no one knew if the men were still alive. 

During the 69 days of the miners' ordeal, they agreed that if they were ever freed, they would tell their story only as a group.  Author Hector Tobar obtained exclusive access to that group for this book.  He includes little-known information about how the miners rationed meager food supplies, how power struggles and arguments broke out among the men, and how they coped with fear, hunger, absolute darkness, and the prospect of almost certain death.

After an international team of experts executed their extraordinary rescue, many of the miners experienced symptoms of PTSD and struggled to adjust to normal life again as they enjoyed temporary celebrity.  When most of the money they were promised did not materialize, a few made the incomprehensible decision to return to underground mining to make a living.  Incredibly, the owners of the San Jose mine were never found guilty of safety violations that everyone knew existed well before the accident.

Filled with suspense and fascinating detail, Deep Down Dark is a powerful story of endurance and survival.  At the last page, I still wanted to read more.  -MS

Check our catalog to reserve this book in one of several formats.


Monday, April 25, 2016

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

This is the grandpa of all our spy stories and flicks and video games. Richard Hannay, bored and knowing few people in London, one night hosts a little man who claims to be a spy on the run. Within ten pages, Hannay finds his guest murdered. He flees from the tricksy foreign agents and the “clumsy police” who pursue him closely across the barren moors of the Highlands. On the run from both sides, Hannay remains a model suspense hero, with a Macgyver-like resourcefulness and a stiff upper lip. John Buchan’s short novel was published as a serial one hundred years ago this year. Hannay in his allegiance to his nation predates Bond and Bourne by almost a century; this short book was popular in the World War I trenches.
The novella has an intensely male yet elegant tone. Women barely appear. The book reminds us that being chased by unknown haters and barely escaping, a boy’s childhood nightmare, is one of the great tropes of suspense fiction. Alfred Hitchcock made a great 1935 film of The Thirty-Nine Steps, which itself was spoofed in a spot-on off-Broadway parody. –JSK

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Angela’s Ashes is a memoir written by Frank McCourt about his impoverished childhood in New York and Ireland. This was a story that was both tragic and beautiful, the circumstances and surroundings that McCourt grew up in were tragic but the way he told the story was beautifully done. What I enjoyed most about this memoir was that McCourt was able to convey his emotions and feelings as he had felt them as a child. His style was very matter of fact, he told it exactly how it was and exactly how he remembered reacting to the things that happened to him. I think that this style of storytelling was so fantastic because it showed how vulnerable McCourt was as a child but also conveyed to the reader an inner strength that many adults will probably never achieve.

This is the type of book that makes you stop and think about what it means to struggle through life, what it means to have nothing and the amazing things that the human spirit can endure. I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in reading an honest account of what it is like to grow up surrounded by poverty and how with perseverance it is possible to not only rise above it but thrive. - CB

Friday, April 15, 2016

Snowpiercer (2013, R)

This dystopian sci-fi movie has been on my "must watch" list for some time, and I finally was able to sit down and see it last week. Thanks to its imaginative visual style, compelling setting, and satirical view of class relationships, it did not disappoint.

A misguided attempt to reverse the effects of global warming has resulted in a frozen Earth devoid of life except for a group of survivors aboard the Snowpiercer. This train, designed as a self-sustaining biosystem, has been hurtling along a globe-spanning track for 17 years at the beginning of the story. We are introduced to this micro world in the rear compartments, the home of Curtis (Chris Evans), a reluctant leader who is about to lead a revolt against the engineer/designer of the train and its society.  The plot follows the rebels on their fight "to the front", revealing both the workings of the train and its corrupt social system.  As they move forward, their surroundings grow ever more surreal, until finally the "truth" is revealed. 

While the visual effects throughout are stunning, the movie's biggest strength lies in its characters and performances, including Evans' tortured hero and other members of his group played by Octavia Spenser,  Jamie Bell, and John Hurt.  Tilda Swinton's frog faced, hypocritical politician may ultimately prove the most memorable of all;  the actress almost steals the show with another unique and, in this case, grotesque characterization.  All of these people and their opposing motives kept me intrigued while the destroyed world, so reminiscent of classic sci-fi stories like Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, came close to breaking my movie-goer's heart.  I highly recommend this to fans of dystopian fiction and to lovers of thoughtful action flicks.     -BR

Reserve this movie.

Friday, April 8, 2016

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Goodreads summary (condensed):  "Bill Bryson transports readers on a journey back to one amazing season in American life: the summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop. Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days, the American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, Calvin Coolidge spent a relaxing three-months on vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption.

All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order."

My review:  This is a lovely book. The Prologue starts in April, 1927, the month my father was born, and ends in September of that year, when he was 5 months old. The Epilogue closes the circle for the major characters in each chapter, with what happened to them later in life. Bryson does a wonderful job of narrating the major events for each month from May to September, and tying in the smaller events as well. Each month has a theme that ties those chapters together - for May, it is Charles Lindbergh. June is dominated by Babe Ruth, July by President Calvin Coolidge, August by the nation's earlier terrorists, the anarchists, and September brings everything together at the end of the summer with the World Series. You learn the history of aviation, baseball, radio, television, movies, cars, Prohibition, boxing, and many other bits and pieces throughout the book, and it is a joy to read. I have a picture in my head now, of my grandmother listening to the World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees (she was a Pirates fan) on the radio, while holding her infant son and keeping an eye on her toddler daughter, my father and aunt respectively.  Bryson brought this to life for me. -LP

Monday, April 4, 2016

Did You Fall in Love? Part II.

As promised, we have more of your Blind Date Ratings:

  • The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie.  "Full of life and sorrow and wandering and dreams and sex.  The characters are realistic, not idealized."  Rating: 3.  Recommend? "No."
  • One Hundred and One Classic Love Poems.  "Lovely poems by great poets."  Rating:  3.  Recommend?  "Yes."  Comment?  "Loved sharing the poems with a poetry group."
  • Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen.  "A serious study of leadership and heroism lightened up by humor."  Rating: 3.  Recommend? "Yes."
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  "Fun, time-traveling experience with cool pets, and lots of cool adventures into other books."  Rating: 4.  Recommend?  "Yes."
  • The Wild Women by Paula Wall.  "It started out with a bang and pretty intense but then it started to get all twisted and boring.  Not making me want to finish it.  I tried hard to finish it and I can't, but if you like a date that's a bit bizarre this is your book."  Rating:  2.  Recommend? "No."  
  • Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn.  "Lord of the Rings set in a medieval fantasy Japanese background.  I immediately checked out the other books of the saga."  Rating: 5.  Recommend?  "Yes."  Comment? "I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it to anyone who likes epic fantasy."
  • Bailey's Cafe by Gloria Naylor.  "Would never have picked it."  Rating: 4.  Recommend?  "Yes."
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  "A fascinating backstory to Jane Eyre that portrays the first Mrs. Rochester with heartrending empathy."  Rating:  4.  Recommend? "Yes."  Comment?  "I enjoyed this so much! It was a delightful way to find an interesting book I had not heard of." 
  • Bound by Grass by Ruth McLaughlin.  "An interesting account of homesteading in eastern Montana.  Many of the accounts I remember hearing from my family from N.D."  Rating:  4.  Recommend? "Yes." 
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.  "Collection of essays about people and place--I had a hard time focusing on her voice with so many!  I'd read a few but not a whole book."  Rating: 2.  Recommend?  "No." 
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale.  "The story moved at a great pace. Though the storyline wasn't typical for me it was a fun read!"  Rating:  3.  Recommend?  "No."
  • The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan.  "Intriguing, full of surprises and wisdom.  Contemplative thoughts that linger."  Rating:  4.  Recommend?  "Yes."  Comment?  "What a fun idea.  I wish I saw this sooner than I did.  Thank you for inspiring me to read something new."
We'd like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who took a chance on a book in February!  We have had a lot of fun with this program as well, and the feedback has been wonderful.  If you are interested in any of the books reviewed this year, please check The Billings Public Library Catalog or stop in at one of the Library Help Desks.  See you in a year?  -BR

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Did You Fall in Love? Our readers rate their Blind Date Books!

We are so pleased by the response to February's "Fall in Love with a Book" displays!  And from the ratings we received, it sounds as though you had as much fun with trying out our wrapped mystery books as we had coming up with the clues for you to ponder.  Some of our patrons even won gift cards, a trip to the movies, or (in the Teens' drawing) a poster signed by Neil Gaiman!  We hope the winners are enjoying their treats;  even if you didn't win, we hope you were entertained by your book dates.

We received too many ratings slips to be able to share all of them here, so I've selected a random collection of reviews, both positive and negative, from those of you who took part.  The ratings slips asked readers for the book title & author, a brief review, a rating from 1 to 5 (1 = Total Dud, 2 = Not My Type, 3 = Good Vibes, 4 = Definite Sparks, 5 = Soulmate), and whether the book would be recommended to a friend. Some added another comment at the end of the slip.  In no special order, here are some of your ratings:

  • Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo.  "Zombies, Girls, Guns, Kickass...What's not to like?"  Rating: 4.  Recommend? "Yes."  Comment?  "This should be an ongoing feature, not just for February."  (Thank you for that!  We do want to keep it an annual special event, I think.  -BR)
  • Family Life by Akhil Sharma.  "I was warned of his dark humor, but I thought I could handle it.  Too sad, too dark."  Rating: 2.  Recommend?  "Yes-Good to read variety, not just feel good stuff."  Comment?  "Should come with complimentary coffee!" (Good suggestion!  -BR)
  • The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson.  " A young man living in N. Korea--He lived 3 different lives--culture and living in N. Korea--Sad!"  Rating: 4.  Recommend? "Yes." Comment?  If all this is true about N. Korea, I feel sorry for people living there." 
  • Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.  "In some parts it was cataclysmic, some parts way out there.  I enjoy some of the stories--some of the endings of the stories were rather bland."  Rating: 2.  Recommend? "Depends on the person."  Comment?  "Being this book was printed in 1998, I would probably check out another book by the author to see what else he writes and give him a fair chance of my opinion."  (Please do!  We can give you some recommendations.  -BR) 
  • The Passion of Alice by Stephanie Grant.  "Intriguing book.  Loved the depth of character development through reflection and inner turmoil.  Loved the characters and the wry humor and dialogue."  Rating: 3.  Recommend?  "Yes."
  • Russ Poldark by Winston Graham.  "The book was romantic and complicated, and I read through the book the best that I can.  I don't give anything away.  You just have to read it yourself!"  Rating:  5.  Recommend? "Yes." 
  • Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher.  "Tells a brief story of Carrie's life:  her life growing up with famous parents, her struggle with substance abuse.  She made it witty and fun, though."  Rating: 3.  Recommend? "Yes."  
  • The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell.  "The author rambled and roamed through this short novel.  I couldn't get into his story or the many extraneous characters."  Rating: 2.  Recommend? "No." 
  • Solomon's Oak by Jo-Ann Mapson.  "Compassionate.  Hope.  Do-overs."  Rating:  5.  Recommend?  "Yes!!" Comment?  "A window to my soul."
  • Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn.  "I started out thinking this is odd, but when I gave it a chance it did impress!"  Rating: 4.  Recommend: "Yes." Comment? "I did it twice--One dud, one great!"  (Not a bad average overall.  -BR)
  • If You Ask Me by Betty White.  "My date?  Steaming latte, quiet room with my book." Rating:  4.  Recommend?  "Yes."
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  "Good start.  But then got dull quickly.  Protagonist way too naive & shy.  Husband way too indifferent.  Decent storyline finally emerges, but is too late and too extreme."  Rating: 2.  Recommend?  "No."  Comment?  "Great way for me to get out of my book rut, to try reading something different." 
  • A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby.  "Funny book with a very different perspective.  The Long Way Down is forward--moving on with your life and finding what makes it bearable."  Rating: 3.  Recommend?  "Yes."  Comment?  "I didn't know England changed their time twice a year just like we do--thought it was just us." 
Come back next week for more of your reviews!    -BR