Monday, December 22, 2014

If You Like Downton Abbey...



If you are a fan of Downton Abbey (like many of us librarians), you'll want to come to our Downton Abbey Tea on January 5, 2015 from 3-4 pm in the Banx Room (snow date is January 12, 2015). We will have tea, trivia, and more! We will be discussing the season five premiere and speculating about the upcoming season. Tea party attire or period costumes are optional. Thank you to the Friends of the Worcester Public Library for sponsoring this fantastic program! Free and open to the public.

If you are unable to wait until the next episode, here is a list of books and movies that may appeal to fans of Downton Abbey.You can get more of the gossip of life above and below stairs in 1920s England, discover the "Real Downton Abbey," learn proper etiquette, try your hand at tea time recipes, and more! All are available through the C/WMARS catalog. The covers of most of the books and movies are also available in our library's "If You Like Downton Abbey, You May Like..." Pinterest Board.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

December 2014 Staff Book Recommendations

December 20, 2014

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed 

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, details the author’s journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to walk herself back to “the woman [her] mother raised.” After her mother’s death, Strayed’s family drifts apart. At the age of twenty-six she is divorced, orphaned and overcoming a heroin addiction. The hike is a desperate attempt not to reinvent herself but to find her herself again. The book opens with a snap shot of Strayed in the middle of the hike resting barefoot near a ledge she watches in horror as one of her hiking boots topples over the edge. The absolute catastrophe of this is obvious: she is alone in the wilderness miles from civilization with only one boot. What next? 

There are two aspects of this story that Strayed excels in capturing. The first is the absolute shock of grieving for a parent at such a young age. Strayed describes feeling cheated and disbelieving when her mother dies before reaching the age of fifty. But she also touches on how grief can make us forget that our loved ones were not perfect. There is a moment while Strayed is walking the PCT when she realizes that she hasn’t cried once since starting. It’s the longest she’s gone since losing her mother. 

The second thing that Strayed perfectly depicts is the experience of hiking the PCT as a lone woman. While her male friends claim that she gets special treatment from strangers as a female, they are not aware of the constant threat of rape and violence that hangs over her with every step she takes. The most poignant illustration of this is the night that Strayed meets a pair of hunters in the woods. They enter her personal space, demand assistance with purifying their drinking water and then proceed to make lewd comments about her body. In this moment it is painfully obvious that the men could do anything they wanted to her. When she tries to move on and escape their presence one of the men becomes angry and claims that she should feel “complimented” by their attention. Rather than walk she runs as far as she can to get away from them. 

This memoir is compelling, heart wrenching and thought provoking. Strayed’s tone is alternately gritty and lyrical. She describes the realities of long distance hiking in unflinching detail while also using beautiful language to evoke the memory of her mother. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone who’s ever lost someone or felt as if they’d lost themselves. 

--Chelsea

December 16, 2015 

Broken Monsters 
By Lauren Beukes 

This literary thriller by accomplished author Lauren Beukes starts off weird, and gets weirder. Dedicated Detroit cop Gabriella Versado finds the body of a dead boy, dumped under an underpass, but she only finds part of him. His torso has been brutally severed and stitched onto the legs of a deer. She has very little to go on…consult taxidermists? Voodoo experts? Could it be gang related? While she investigates, we also follow the stories of others in Detroit: the detective’s teenage daughter; a hipster ‘journalist’, recently displaced from New York by heartbreak; a man called the “Homeless Hero” who works at the shelter and looks out for everyone around him. We hear from each of these characters every day as the tension builds. How will their lives intersect? The journalist, Jonno, gets an in to the Detroit art scene from an attractive female DJ, who shows him the secret world of graffiti around the city. He decides he is a video journalist and begins documenting everything he sees, eventually capturing footage that may greatly help the police. The detective's daughter and her best friend stumble into vigilantism as they convince an online pedophile to meet them in real life. Meanwhile, he body count grows. The characters daily lives fit together like a puzzle, which converges one night at a wild warehouse party/art installation where the serial killer is trying to showcase his morbid masterpiece. 

Broken Monsters is well-researched, and the characters ring true, from the detective to the “Homeless Hero.” The internet could be said to be another main character in this book, as we are given chat records, Youtube video play-by-plays, and even a Reddit AMA. As a reader who knows little about Detroit’s culture and only of its financial trouble, this was an illuminating read and piqued my interest in learning more. The grotesque nature of the crimes, especially the final scenes in the killer’s bizarre hideout nest in an abandoned factory, are very reminiscent of the TV show "True Detective".

--Kate

December 9, 2014 

Fireball: Carole Lombard and The Mystery of Flight 
By Robert Matzen 

This is an ebook downloadable from Overdrive on the Worcester Public Library website. Matzen's book explores the violent crash of Flight 3 into Mt. Potosi, Nevada on the night of January 16, 1942. Lombard, at the height of her immense popularity, died, along with twenty one other people, including her mother. 

 Fireball scrutinizes, in alternating chapters, the life of Lombard and Hollywood, and the events leading up to and the aftermath of the terrible crash. The events in these alternating chapters leave one with a powerful sense of fate at work, a tragic fate that could have no other ending. Lombard was married to the legendary actor Clark Gable at the time of the crash and Lombard was barnstorming America to sell War Bonds when she refused to disembark the plane for servicemen who were a priority at the time. She had been barnstorming by rail. The irony in this is that at one point she nearly gave up her career due to an accident but tenaciously fought her way back through recovery. 

Matzen's book is very thorough in its details. To his credit, he tells the stories of all the victims even though the focus is on celebrities. He also analyzes the investigations into Flight 3 by government agencies and even sabotage theories. The book is a look at Hollywood, a country at war, soldiers, pilots, and the mystery of the tragedy. Readers should be braced for some graphic passages. However, when all is read, Matzen's book is an honest and very empathetic page turner of a famous actress's life in the golden age of film and her untimely death. This book is highly recommended for movie fans, aviation history buffs, and anyone interested in American social life in the 30's and 40's. 

--Bill

December 1, 2014 

Belzhar 
By Meg Wolitzer 

Take a group of troubled teens, a Vermont boarding school, and journals which when used pull the writer into a time warp where he can re-live and re-experience a part of his life, and you have an interesting concept for a novel. Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel Belzhar is taut story about a group of emotionally traumatized teens in a private Vermont therapeutic boarding camp named The Wooden Barn. 

The novel focuses on a female student Jam and her relationship with a British exchange student, Reeve, with whom she has fallen in love. The group is selected to participate in a prestigious class called Special Topics in English led by the reclusive and strict teacher Mrs. Quenell. She assigns a journal writing task to the group, and eventually, each student is pulled back into the netherworld of their respective trauma whenever they start writing in their journal. Wolitzer’s students and the specific traumas they must deal with to overcome the psychic paralysis in their lives give the story a strong sense of suspense and other worldliness as each student, under the mentoring of Mrs. Quenell, resurrects their former self in dealing with their past trauma. A sub-plot in this story features one student’s refusal to be released from her past and this drama leads to the climax of the novel. 

Wolitzer’s novel is entertaining, suspenseful, and deals with gaining emotional and psychological maturity in a context to which many young readers will be able to relate. Additionally, her ear for teen dialog, school social scenes, and relationships between teachers, parents, and siblings flow realistically and flesh out a novel which, in less talented hands, could have veered too far into the weird. 

--Bill

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide to Purchasing E-Readers


Creator/Cost
Main Features
Free Library
Digital Downloads
Kindle
BW/
Paperwhite
Amazon.com/
$69 - 219
E-ink screen with option to light up, touch screen or keyboard
*e-reader only*
Overdrive e-books (Kindle format only); must use computer to search library catalog; Available to borrow at the Welcome Desk
Kindle Fire
Amazon.com/
$79 - 379
Touch screen tablet with web browser & apps through Amazon
Overdrive e-books (Kindle format only), OneClick e-audiobooks, Hoopla movies, mp3s & e-audiobooks
Nook BW / Touch
Barnes & Noble/
$79 - 119
E-ink screen with backlight available, touch screen or keyboard
*e-reader only*
Overdrive e-books (EPUB format only); must use computer to search library catalog
Nook Color
Barnes & Noble/
$129 - 179
Touch screen tablet with web browser and apps
Overdrive e-books (EPUB format only), OneClick e-audiobooks, Hoopla movies,  mp3s & e-audiobooks
iPad Air 2/ iPad Mini 3
Apple/
$399 - 499
Touch screen tablet with web browser & apps through iTunes App Store
Overdrive e-books (Kindle or EPUB format), OneClick e-auidobooks, Freegal mp3s, Hoopla movies, mp3s & e-audiobooks
Android Tablet
Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Rakuten & more/ prices vary
Touch screen tablet with web browser & apps through Google Play store
Overdrive e-books (Kindle or EPUB format), OneClick e-auidobooks, Freegal mp3s, Hoopla movies, mp3s & e-audiobooks

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November 2014 Book Recommendations


November 18, 2014

Murder 101: A Decker/Lazarus Novel 
By Faye Kellerman &

Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot 
By Reed Farrel Coleman 

If you are a fan of Faye Kellerman and have followed Rina Lazarus and Peter Decker throughout the years, nothing I say is likely to stop you from reading Murder 101, the latest installment in the series. Nonetheless, I would recommend skipping this title. 

Why? In a word: bor-ing. Kellerman has moved Rina and Peter to a fictitious upstate NY hamlet from the mean streets of LA, which is a bummer. Part of the magic of the Decker/Lazarus team was the contrast of Peter’s gritty work requirements contrasted with Rina’s cozy domesticity. Further, the plot centers on the theft of Tiffany glass panels from a mausoleum. Yawn. A few murders ensue but rather than this picking up the pace, the author gets bogged down in minutiae about Russian art, etc. I don’t know about you but when I read a mystery novel, I’m just in it for the sheer entertainment of a whodunit. Brain candy, take me away. 

Which brings us to Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot, the latest in the Jesse Stone mysteries, a far more satisfying read, despite the fact that the author is dead. Well, Robert B. Parker is dead, but his ghost writer, so to speak, has picked up the pen right where Parker left off without sacrificing anything in tone, character development or plot. Jesse Stone, a detective transplanted from LA like Decker, faces a demon from his past when an old rival in both baseball and love comes back to town at the same time a local rich kid is kidnapped and his girlfriend murdered. Unlike Decker, Stone is a lone wolf still trying to figure out how to get along with others, despite his full roster of female companions. Although this story also plays out in a sleepy hamlet, discovering how all the pieces fit together engages the reader enough to make even the characters’ forays into Lowell intriguing. 

If you’re a mystery reader, Robert B. Parker, dead or alive, rarely disappoints, but stick to Faye Kellerman’s less recent work for page-turning fun. 

--Christina

November 10, 2014 

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
By Margaret Atwood 


Short stories. I know a lot of avid fiction readers scan right past short story collections on their way to novels. This would be a mistake, though, in the case of Margaret Atwood’s latest offering Stone Mattress. Every tale reveals Atwood at the height of her powers, seemingly effortlessly spinning yarns with confidence and self-assurance. You can almost sense cockiness amid the darkly humorous prose. After publishing over fifty novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, and non-fiction works, this writer knows what she’s doing. 

The first three stories of the nine feature the interior lives of different participants involved in a multi-faceted love triangle, at least fifty years after its painful unraveling. The conclusion of this drama is simple, sweet, and profound. While the rest of the stories all contain elements of the macabre, Atwood’s keen insights into human nature are just as present. “Lusus Naturae” was written for Michael Chabon’s project McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories; “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” provides a phantom-filled follow-up to Atwood’s 1994 novel The Robber Bride; “The Dead Hand Loves You” is a spooky tale about fate, and “The Freeze-Dried Groom” leaves you wondering where the next body will turn up. The title story, to me, was the most interesting, as it methodically outlines how to cover up a murder on a cruise ship in a truly engaging tale of well-deserved payback. “Torching the Dusties,” while disturbing in its premise of young radicals terrorizing nursing homes in a misguided effort to balance the environmental scales, is a fine finale. 

Short stories don’t get much press, but as writer Neil Gaiman says, “The short story is a very underrated art form.” If ever there was a reason to read short stories, Atwood gives you nine of them here. 

--Christina

November 3, 2014 

John Singer Sargent and His Muse: Painting Love and Loss
By Karen Corsano and Daniel Williman 

In the end, this is three stories: a love story, a war story, and an art story. The cast in this story are famous, in some cases, and wealthy, educated, and talented in most other cases. John Singer Sargent, the famous American painter, was raised in Europe, and constantly crisscrossed the European continent as did most of his extended family. Sargent made his mark early as a great painter. He often summered in the Swiss Alps and invited family members to join him and he would paint and use family members as models dressing them in Asian and Middle Eastern fashions which reflected Western artistic interest in those cultures in the early 20th century. 

His favorite model was his niece Rose-Marie, an educated, vivacious, and attractive young woman. She is the lead model in many of his famous watercolors from those vacations in paintings such as The Brook, Simplon Pass: Reading and The Pink Dress, which is reproduced on the cover of the book. Rose-Marie met and fell in love with Robert Michel, a young and rising historian, and the son of famous French art historian, Andre Michel, whom Sargent knew. The background of these families is explored in detail to demonstrate the idealism of the young couple as they united. The authors follow their lives and reactions to the war once it breaks out. Robert is activated and is an officer. He writes letters and entries in his journal which reflect incredible idealism, which did not seem to diminish even after he experiences the carnage of some of the war’s battles. We as readers know in advance what will ultimately happen. That does not, however, reduce the terribly tragic impact of his fate. Rose-Marie decides to serve as a nurse in a rehabilitation unit for blinded soldiers. We know what will happen to her, too. That tragic impact is not reduced either. 

The author’s chapter, “The Paris Gun”, reads almost like a technical bulletin in describing the weapon that the Krupp foundry created to fire long-range into Paris. It is harrowing to read knowing what its firing mission will do. As mentioned earlier, this is a war story and war stories are tragic. It is also a love story, and in this case, a very moving one. The apt subtitle, Painting Love and Loss, perfectly describes, in a poignant and profound way, the rest of the book, a story about art and how a work of art came to be painted. 

--Bill

Thursday, November 13, 2014

LearningExpress Library

Need to brush up your math, grammar or science skills? Eager to practice for the HiSET, SAT, GRE or LSAT exam? Preparing to become a U.S citizen? Need information about a career? Try LearningExpress Library! This online database provides a wide variety of career and educational resources that will help you build the necessary skills to achieve your goals. 

Here you will find practice tests, ebooks, interactive tools, strategies, advice and much much more, all designed by experts. 
Take a practice test, and review the results to see how you did. You can also create a personal portfolio page to review your progress. 

Check out the entire list of featured resources here: 
http://www.learningexpresshub.com/featured-resources

For convenience the database is broken into several centers depending on the topic of interest.




  • Adult Learning Center – Math, Grammar, Writing, Citizenship Exam 
  • Career Center – Occupation Exams, Entrance Exams, Information about careers 
  • College Center – Advanced Placement, TOEFL, PSAT, SAT 
  • High School Equivalency Center – Basic Skills, HiSET, GED 
  • College Preparation Center – College Placement Exams, Graduate School Exams, Reading, Math and Science Skills 
  • Recursos Para Hispanohablantes – Resources in Spanish 
  • School Center – Elementary, Middle and High school skills 


For more assistance, you can navigate through the helpful User Guides section. Instructional videos are available here, if you are interested in learning more about the database.



Access: Go to our homepage, click on Online Databases, then select Education, K-12 & Test Prep. Click on LearningExpress Library. Create your free account with a Worcester Public Library card and email address. It's as easy as that!

Monday, November 3, 2014

October 2014 Staff Book Recommendations


October 28, 2014
 

Consumed : A Novel
By David Cronenburg 


If you're a fan of director David Cronenberg’s horror films from the 1980s, you will not be disappointed by his debut novel. Never seen any of his movies? Here's a sampling: 1981's "Scanners" is about a new race of humans with telekenetic powers, reminiscent of X-Men; 1983's "Videodrome" follows the president of an underground TV station who discovers an international broadcast of snuff films with subliminal messaging that cause strong hallucinations and lead him to coin the phrase "long live the new flesh!"; 1986's "Dead Ringers" is about experimental twin gynecologists, both played by Jeremy Irons. Consumed delves into the most bizarre of human behaviors, including graphic depictions of auto-cannibalism and self inflicted amputations. This means that, like his movies, it is not for the faint of heart.

In addition to being a great gross-out horror novel, Consumed is a brilliant depiction of "the way we live now" in the Digital Age. The main characters, poly-amorous Naomi and Nathan, are journalists who spend their time Google/Youtube/Wikipedia'ing everything around them as they also record it with the best equipment money can buy. Their experience of this mediated reality is told in striking detail. Naomi is investigating a French man under investigation for the murder of his wife, a famous intellectual, and it leads her through a shadowy network to Tokyo, where he both seduces and confides in her. It turns out he has an acquaintance in common with Nathan's current investigation, of a decertified doctor in Budapest who practices an experimental form of mastectomy on movie stars. The couple keeps in close touch with each other as they follow these stories around the world. If you can stomach what these characters can, you will follow them with baited breath and you won't be able to put this book down. Recommended for fans of David Lynch, J.G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon and others who show us a secret world hidden in plain sight. 

--Katie

October 14, 2014

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife 
By Mary Roach 

Mary Roach once again tackles weird science with her trademark hilarity and attention to detail. In Spookwe encounter families brought together by reincarnation, scientists obsessed with measuring the physical dimensions of the soul, fraudulent mediums and much more. Roach explores the various ways that science has attempted to explain the afterlife throughout history. After reading this book you may have an alternate answer to that famous question, “Who you gonna call?” Perhaps a university researcher and author of peer-reviewed literature on paranormal phenomena.*

While the author is clearly a skeptic, her curiosity and open-mindedness prevent the book from feeling condescending towards its subject matter. Roach pokes fun at the paltry tricks employed by early mediums (including swallowing lengths of gauze for later regurgitation as “ectoplasm”), but at the same time she is genuinely interested in research on reincarnation and out of body experiences. Her book is a fascinating journey through historic scientific approaches to abstract concepts like the soul, ghosts and the afterlife. Whereas these days it is more common to think of something like the soul as existing outside the laws of science, at the turn of the century this was not the case. Scientists attempted to measure, capture, and observe the unknown in order to prove its existence. 

Roach’s anecdotal style entertains while her meticulous research provides substance and reliability. Like all of Roach’s books, Spook is divided into chapters which can stand alone, as each one deals with a different aspect of the larger subject. Though Roach doesn’t provide a cut-and-dried conclusion on the existence of paranormal phenomena, she does state that after a year of research she believes that not everything we experience in life can be explained by science. And, if you really want to push the subject, “The debunkers are probably right, but they’re no fun to visit a graveyard with. What the hell. I believe in ghosts.” 

*N.B. Actually, Dr. Venkman of Ghostbusters is a Ph. D. in “parapsychology and psychology” and has published work on the paranormal, though this writer doubts any of it was peer-reviewed. 

 --Chelsea


October 6, 2014

Adultery
 

By Paul Coelho

In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal  refers to the Brazilian-born Coelho as a “66-year-old writer, a self-styled spiritual guide who has sold more than 165 million books in some 80 languages”. He also handles his own publicity and maintains a very active and large social media presence with over 25.6 million fans on Facebook and nine million followers on Twitter. Mr. Coelho is a busy man. If you are curious about just how busy, you can read all about it at this link http://online.wsj.com/articles/paulo-coelho-digital-juggernaut-1408055080.
Adultery is a novel about a female journalist, Linda, married with two children, and her financier husband who are well off and live in Geneva, Switzerland. Coelho does a nice job of describing and creating Geneva's atmosphere. Linda is a respected journalist and is prone to philosophical bouts of introspection, especially about her marriage and her life. As part of her profession, she receives an assignment to interview a rising politician, Jacob, who was a former boyfriend of hers. This meeting, as one would guess, ignites old passions and sets of a chain of events between Linda, her spouse, and Jacob and his spouse, that pushes Linda onto a very dangerous marital ledge. I do not want to say much more…that might give something away in a story of quick turns and twists of plot. The story is a rather quick read with often very short chapters or sections. Coelho writes very lucidly and philosophically. Linda, and others, can be very annoying or liberating characters depending on how you interpret their motives. Interpretation, reader interpretation, is, in the end, what will determine the rise or fall of this novel. It is an interesting novel and one in which the reader cannot help but be judge and jury.
--Bill

Saturday, September 27, 2014

September 2014 Book Recommendations

September 29, 2014 

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage 
By Haruki Murakami 

The latest and much anticipated novel by Haruki Murakami (1Q84, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle) has hit the shelves, sold more than a million copies in Japan within its first week post-publication, and has been residing on The New York Times Bestsellers List for seven weeks and counting. I have personally fielded several requests for this popular title at the Welcome Desk. Does it live up to the hype? Well, in this librarian’s opinion, yes and no. 

Filed under YES, Murakami dreams up an engaging plot, seemingly without breaking a sweat. The titular Colorless Tsukuru is 36-year-old train station designer living alone in Tokyo. He suffered a devastating loss of friendship when his high school clique dismissed him with no explanation back in his early 20s. But, as life is wont to unfold, sixteen years later, he is forced to confront his grief and find some answers before he can move on to cultivate meaningful relationships anew. Readers will be intrigued by the mystery: Why did his friends shut him out so completely? This question alone kept me engaged. 

However, there exists much “telling” and not enough “showing” throughout the narrative. The author mentions many times that Tsukuru feels like he has no personality (hence the “colorless’ modifier), but never delivers evidence of that idea. I would argue that anyone who feels loss as deeply as this character is likely to be anything but boring. Further, it is the friends who rejected him so callously that are portrayed in a one-dimensional light, i.e., the “athlete”, the “brain”, the “artist”, and the “comedian”. Also, Sarah, the current girlfriend who issues him the ultimatum to deal with whatever is making him emotionally distant or else, comes across as calculating, aloof and in no way the type of person to either intuit a person’s dark past or inspire said person to wrestle with his demons for the privilege of loving her. 

In summary, the plot and prose will keep likely keep you flipping pages. Lingering questions, antiseptic characters and way too much detail about designing trains keep me from recommending this book wholeheartedly. But give it try! 

--Christina

September 22, 2014 

Nordic Art: The Modern Breakthrough 1860-1920
Edited by David Jackson 

The cover, a detail of Finland’s noted artist Askeli Gallen-Kallela’s 1901 painting Lake View, pulsing with colors of Finland and the Nordic regions, is a perfect choice to represent this catalog of the 2012-13 exhibit of the same name at the Groninger Museum in Munich. The title refers to a cultural movement, Modernism, which affected all areas of northern culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jackson’s opening essay about the movement is extraordinary in its breadth and depth as he explores its impact on Nordic art, French and Paris influences on Nordic painters, and the nationalistic sense many artists developed “…without degenerating into insular chauvinism or xenophobia.” The essays are heady, educational, analytical, informative, and exciting to read. The book is large format and the reproductions – and there are many - are beautiful and inspiring to view. 

The format of the book incorporates a timeline to put world events, the world art scene, Nordic events, and the Nordic art scene in a rich contextual environment that helps to make sense of the flow of the movement. There is also a biographical section for each artist represented in the book, with each painting reproduction and page number listed. When all is said and done, it is the paintings that “talk”: landscapes, portraits, scenes from life, and fantasies. If you do not know a great deal about Nordic art – as I did not – then this book is a rich, rich reward of discovery. Some names you may know of, such as Anders Zorn and Carl Larsson. But many may be new and open up possibilities.


--Bill

September 15, 2014 

Outlander
By Diana Gabaldon 

Diana Gabaldon’s classic time-traveling adventure defies categorization. While it’s billed as romance, it could also be called fantasy, sci-fi, or historical fiction. Outlander contains elements of all of these genres. The book follows Claire Randall (or Beauchamp) a World War II nurse who is transported back in time when she steps through a ring of standing stones in the Scottish Highlands. She falls 200 years into the past landing in 1744, where she confronts her husband’s villainous ancestor, Black Jack Randall, and connects with dashing highlander, Jamie Fraser. Claire uses her spotty memory of history to help her survive, while desperately clinging to the memory of her husband and trying to resist Jamie’s muscles and charm. 

So, a little corny—but great escapist literature. Since the Starz adaptation started airing last month a lot of people have hailed Outlander as a feminist version of Game of Thrones. While I don’t think we can compare Gabaldon’s series with Martin’s (they’re completely different things), I agree with the assertion that Claire is a feminist heroine. Claire is transported into a highly misogynistic time and society. Almost immediately after arriving she is assaulted and then kidnapped. Rape is a real and constant threat throughout her ordeal. Despite these trials she is intelligent, funny, and able to adapt. What I love about Claire is that she is a real strong female character (as opposed to the Strong Female Character) yet she’s allowed to be sensual and fall in love and have doubts and make mistakes, and that doesn’t compromise her as an independent and powerful person. 

Gabaldon’s story is engrossing and thrilling, and her writing is lovely, if a little flowery. 

--Chelsea

September 8, 2014 

California 
By Edan Lepucki 

 If you enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy and/or conjecturing what post-apocalyptic existence in America would look like, consider reading Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California. Protagonists Frida and Cal, a Los Angeles couple who have escaped the looted, burned-out, pirate- patrolled metropolis, eschew what passes for community and head into the wilderness by themselves. Having fallen in love when Cal was enrolled at an elite avant-garde school for survivalists with Frida’s dangerously charismatic brother Micah as a roommate and best friend, the spouses believe they can endure loneliness, hunger, and extreme deprivation relying only on each other. And so they do, in an abandoned shack, largely relying on Cal’s farming and hunting skills. Until Frida becomes pregnant. 

Suddenly, their isolation seems less romantic than ominous. The rumor of other mavericks living in a secret, possibly violent community a few days’ hike away, brought to them by mysterious trader August, peaks their interest as the reality of bearing and raising a child becomes clearer. Although cautious Cal is reluctant to approach the well-guarded community, Frida’s adventurous spirit prevails and off they go. While some answers from their shared past are answered upon their arrival in this cloistered society, far more questions arise and their idyllic union threatens to become extinct. 

This novel starts off very strong. Told in a back-and-forth style, providing the reader pertinent background as the plot progresses, main story is set against a backdrop of world-changing events. According to Lepucki’s imagination, it’s the weather that’s ultimately going to do us in, i.e., an uber-blizzard that permanently takes out the Northeast. Although this reviewer felt the story’s latter half to be a bit tedious and predictable, many reviewers disagree. For sure, Lepucki is definitely an author to watch. 

--Christina


September 4, 2014

(Milan: Skira, 2012. ISBN 9788857213736) 

This is actually a catalog of an exhibition held at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Oct. 11, 2011-Jan. 8, 2012. There are multiple contributors to this book which includes essays by various scholars and is to an extent an attempt to contextualize what is known in Soviet art history not as an aesthetic movement but rather a reflection of totalitarianism. The book has beautiful reproductions of Russian art but most of the paintings discussed have political underpinnings and are analyzed with that theme in mind. It is dense writing, as this long quotation from the publisher foreshadows:

"Socialist Realism was and remains an exceptional phenomenon in twentieth century art. It bore the challenge of promoting realist figuration on a scale without parallel in the rest of the world, employing the talents of thousands of artists over decades and spreading over an immense and varied empire. By glorifying the social role of art, affirming the primary value of content as opposed to form and restoring the central role of traditional practices, socialist Realism was the declared opponent of the modern movement, and in fact represented the only completely alternative artistic system. Socialist Realism. Soviet painting 1920-1970 is the most exhaustive exhibition on Soviet realist painting ever shown outside Russia and follows the movement's development over fifty years through a selection of works from the country's leading museums. Created by the great Russian artists (Deineka, Malevic, Adlivankin, Laktionov, Plastov, Brodskij, Korzhev) the works present a multiplicity of questions, themes and formal approaches to art spanning from the last phases of the civil war to the beginnings of the Brezhnev era, stopping at the early 1970s when trends in official Soviet art took on varied and inconsistent directions such that the cultural supremacy of the socialist-realist current faded definitively. A non monolithic view emerges, in which the movement does not originate exclusively as the product of totalitarian control and political pressures but as an evolving organism that reflected internal issues and echoed the great historic events of the twentieth century."

The book provides an important and critical look at the impact of Russian policies on artists and the influences on artistic development. One very interesting interview is Zoya Katashinskaya’s of the artist Geli Korshev about his life as an art student before and during World War II. Best known for his mammoth work Scorched by the Fires of War, Korshev answers his interview questions in telling detail and humanity. The fact that art students were able to function at the level they did is amazing.  A separate essay on Scorched by the Fires of War by Michael Brown is another “must read” part of this fascinating book.


--Bill

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 2014 Staff Book Recommendations

August 25, 2014 

Elizabeth is Missing
By Emma Healey 


This poignant debut novel is equal parts whodunit and a meditation on memory. It is told from the perspective of an 82 year-old woman suffering from increasingly severe dementia. This narrator, Maud, is living on her own at the beginning of the novel, but a “carer” comes frequently to assist her. She relies on handwritten notes to remember things, but still constantly repeats herself to her daughter and makes cup after cup of tea without drinking it. Many of the things she repeats seem senseless at the time, such as asking where the best place to plant summer squash is, but reveal their startling origins in the end. 

The plot of the novel jumps back and forth in time from the present to Maud’s childhood in war-torn England, and to the disappearance of her older sister, Sukey. This tragic event defines her life in many ways, something she may not fully realize until 70 years later, when she finds herself still investigating. In the present, she is also concerned for an elderly friend, Elizabeth, who she hasn’t heard from in some time. She becomes relentless in her search for Elizabeth, despite her inability to always remember why she is looking for her, or who she is. She goes to her house several times, even sneaking inside once, and also finds out how to contact her son, who she suspects. In her parallel world of memories, she is still looking for her sister, trying to investigate from the disadvantage of childhood. She looks for clues everywhere she goes, collecting ticket stubs and pieces of broken shells in the dirt, and using her naiveté as a screen through which to interview everyone around. 

The characters of the town, their ways of coping with the war, and the town's extreme rationing lend a fascinating historical element to this already rich story. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in nontraditional mysteries or psychology. The texture of Maud’s confusing world is terrifying at times, as a possible eventuality for ourselves or our loved ones, but it also has a lyricism to it that reminds us of the magic of everyday routines. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to put this down. 

--Katie

August 12, 2014 

Inside of a Dog
By Alexandra Horowitz 

“Few celebrate a dog who jumps at people as they approach--but start with the premise that it is we who keep ourselves (and our faces) unbearably far away, and we can come to a mutual understanding.”

Ever since I adopted my dog, Zoe, back in March, I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time in the 636.7 section of our non-fiction stacks. For those uninitiated into the cloistered society of Dewey, that’s the dog book section. Zoe, like all dogs, is partly a mystery. What is she thinking behind those knowing eyes? Does she have thoughts like we do, or is her cognition more of a disarray of olfactory and visual impressions? Can Zoe sense my emotions? Anyone who’s lived with and loved dogs knows that they inspire devotion and fascination in their human companions. Although it’s impossible to learn the truth of a dog’s internal life straight from the source, Alexandra Horowitz gives us her best guess at what it’s like inside of a dog.

Horowitz begins by establishing her credentials. She’s an ethologist, a studier of animal behavior, specializing in canine cognition. More importantly she is a dog person. She peppers this edifying book with personal anecdotes of her beloved dog, Pumpernickel (“Pump”). These stories form the heart of the book. Once we’ve read about the mechanics of a dog’s nose, including the boggling vomeronasal organ (read mega-nose), we then read about the snuffling nose-nudges that Pump used to wake her sleepy human each morning. The book is packed with fascinating illuminations of the dog’s inner life and explains some common befuddling dog behaviors including why they kick and scratch the ground after urinating and what those playful downward-facing-dog poses are all about. Most notably, Horowitz gives readers a glimpse at the dog’s umwelt, “their subjective or ‘self-world.’”

The author also provides her best advice for dog owners: allow your dogs to be dogs. They don’t need to be washed everyday nor should they. Smell is the most important aspect of a dog’s sensory world and it makes up a huge part of their self-identity. They’re dogs…they’re going to bark and sniff butts and do all those doggy things that seem baffling to us (but hopefully not so baffling once you’ve read this book). This is a must read for all dog lovers.

--Chelsea

August 4, 2014 

Watercolor for the Serious Beginner 
By Mary Whyte 

Watercolor for the Serious Beginner is an excellent instructional introduction to this artistic medium. The author is an accomplished and well known painter, especially in South Carolina where she resides, working mostly in watercolor. Educated at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, she has published books of her paintings, instructional DVDs, and given numerous workshops. 

This particular book is concise and focused. The chapters are divided into materials, fundamentals, starting, still life, landscape, and figures and portraits. Each section gives pointers on techniques and examples of paintings employing those techniques – both her works and those of other painters. The book contains ample demonstrations which a student can follow. She is admittedly influenced by the work of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, two watercolorists certainly at the top of that game. The WPL has Whyte’s Working South : Paintings and Sketches in its own collection. This is an excellent mirror of her skills and philosophy as an artist. 

Whether a serious beginner or an experienced watercolorist this book will have something inspirational for you. The other artists she uses as examples might lead to new discoveries and as she points out, “To create a work of art that is refreshing, imaginative, original, and even surprising, you must reach from within. This is not always as easy as it may sound, since it requires you to know yourself well and identify what truly moves you.” 

--Bill

Monday, July 28, 2014

July 2014 Staff Book Recommendations

July 28, 2014 

All the Light We Cannot See 
By Anthony Doerr 

Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig are two children growing up during World War II whose lives will intersect in 1944 during the Allied bombing of Saint-Malo. Marie-Laure is a curious and dreamy blind girl whose childhood is spent exploring Paris’s Museum of Natural History where her father works as the head of security. Werner is gifted and inquisitive and lives with his sister, Jutta, in a German orphanage until he is selected to attend an elite government school where he is promised answers to his scientific questions, but also told that his mind is dangerous, independent and subversive. 

This novel is rich in symbolism and written in a lyrical, thoughtful tone. Doerr deals with heavy subjects and writes with great detail while remaining abstract about his character’s inner lives. Despite this, the novel is highly readable. Doerr calls his decision to break up the novel into short (two or three page) chapters a “gesture of friendliness” to the reader (http://www.powells.com/blog/interviews/anthony-doerr-the-powells-com-interview-by-jill/). The short chapters aren’t the only thing helping the reader to speed through this thick book. Doerr’s plot is thrilling. Jumping back and forth between 1944 and earlier years, Doerr keeps his audience anticipating the eventual merging of the timelines, when Werner and Marie-Laure will finally cross paths. I found myself at times clutching the book in desperation and at other times staring into space contemplating a poignant sentence. 

This novel will leave you haunted, which is appropriate considering that many of its characters are haunted themselves. Marie-Laure hears her father’s voice in her head advising her during moments of terror. Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel is obsessed with the legend of the fabulous gem he tracks throughout Europe, especially its supposed gift of longevity. Werner cannot escape the image and voice of his sister, Jutta, who becomes his belabored conscience while he is being indoctrinated at school. And then there is Marie’s uncle, Etienne, who suffers from PTSD after watching his brother die in his arms during the first World War. 

Moving, thrilling and fulfilling, this is a great summer reading pick. Read it if you like literary or historical fiction with the smallest dash of magical realism.

--Chelsea

July 21, 2014 

Lexicon 
By Max Barry 

The online comic strip xkcd.com once had a strip where a man tells his female companion to bring him a sandwich. The woman tells the man to get himself the sandwich. The man then says, “Sudo, get me a sandwich” and his companion immediately gets does so. We are to believe that “sudo” is a magic word; you only need to precede your demands with this word-of-power and everyone will obey you. 

The plot of Lexicon expands on this idea. We are not all susceptible to the same “magic” word or words but, by analyzing an individual’s psychology, a secret organization can classify a person by “segment”, and with that knowledge, take over his mind. And they do this by asking you five simple questions: 

 •Are you a dog person or a cat person? 
 •What’s your favorite color?
 •Close your eyes and pick a number from 1 to 100
 •Do you love your family? 
 •Why did you do it? 

But Wil seems to be immune to every segment’s power words. Nobody knows why that is so, but everyone is hunting him, and using deadly force. Emily, on the other hand, is just the sort of person this shadow organization wants to recruit into their stable of “poets”: highly persuasive young people who can be taught neuropsychology and linguistics, with the ultimate goal of using the poets to control the world. 

One thread of the story follows Wil and the other follows Emily. The reader knows that their lives and the action will converge at some point, and as the body count grows, the sense of anticipation and tension also grows, exponentially. The action is non-stop, the characterization is well-done, and the suspense is a killer. 

If you only read one book this year, Lexicon ought to be it. Not a perfect book - this reader has some issues with the ending - but nearly so!

--Melody

July 14, 2014 

The Last Kind Words Saloon 
By Larry McMurtry 

The climatic shooting incident at this book’s conclusion supposedly lasted 30 seconds, and it involved names that have since morphed into iconic Western lore. Fittingly, the author also shoots the reader right in the heart at the end of this novel and you, the reader, must decide if this is a good or a bad thing. 

The Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014) is another memorable story of America’s mythic West brought to life in empathetic, unheroic but very human terms. McMurtry again proves that he is the literary master of the Western fiction genre, and the astute choice of the jacket art, the painting “The Fall of the Cowboy” by Frederic Remington, the master of Western art, foreshadows the nostalgic sense that permeates the book. 

McMurtry’s West is one where even legends are basically and simply human beings. This novel is short, perhaps approaching a novella. The dialog is almost truncated but the characters are still sharply drawn. If there is anything in the novel dealing with aiming and hitting a target, McMurtry certainly has a good bead on the West. His women would be “victims” by today’s standards and the men would be “abusive”, but this is the wild, wild West and McMurtry boldly populates it with whores, gamblers, thieves, lawmen, rustlers, ranchers, bartenders, settlers, Indians, and life, death, and love. And weather and geography populate McMurtry’s world as effectively as his human characters. 

There is no need to write about plot and character, there is just the enjoyment of reading this wonderful novel. When McMurtry fires that last bullet you will have a chance to dodge it, but you won’t…just go back to the cover art and glance at Remington’s painting.

--Bill



July 2, 2014


The Vacationers
by Emma Straub

If you're looking for a new beach read this summer, look no further. Emma Straub's previous works, the short story collection Other People We Married  and novel Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, showed her to be a master of literary stylings, but this book is meant more for pure pleasure reading. She tells the tale of a middle- class New York family on vacation in Mallorca. The mother, Franny, is a food writer, and the father, Jim, a recently "retired" editor. (The truth of his retirement comes out to the family in stages). Joining them is their daughter, Sylvia, who will be leaving for Brown University at the end of the summer, and their older son, Bobby, who has moved to Miami and is dating Carmen, a personal trainer who does not curry much favor with the more pretentious members of the family. We also have Franny's oldest friend Charles and his husband Lawrence. Each of these characters has, as you may have guessed, inner turmoil of one kind of another. Sylvia has to figure out who she wants to become in the fall while embarrasedly lusting after her Spanish tutor; Bobby has to admit his financial problems to his family; Franny and Jim are not-so-obviously unhappy together, despite it being their 35 year anniversary. Each of them get a chance to tell part of summer's tale in their own unique voice, all of which Straub describes with startling accuracy. Their character arcs are believable but, at times, heart warming. We also get delicious details of the landscape and the food of Mallorca. This is a quick, easy read that will fit in nicely in between taking dip in the pool and  a turn at the grill.


--Katie