Book review: American Wife

By , February 20, 2010

american wifeAmerican Wife
By Curtis Sitenfeld

4 stars

 

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to tackle my ever-increasing to-be-read list.  You know, that mountainous pile of books you check out, but never seem to get to before they have to go back to the library? So far I’ve been making decent progress and one of the books on my lengthy list was Curtis Sittenfeld’s third novel, American Wife.  I’ve wanted to read this one since it came out, way back in September of 2008.

The book is supposedly inspired by the life of former First Lady, Laura Bush.  But if I hadn’t known that fact going in, I probably wouldn’t have picked up on it.  The plot follows the life of Alice Lindgren (aka Mrs. Bush) as she grows up and meets blueblooded party guy Charlie Blackwell. Instead of Texas, we’ve moved north to the great state of Wisconsin – where cheese is cheese.

 It really is true what they say – the third time’s a charm because this is the third novel from Sittenfeld, and it’s my favorite. I couldn’t really get into her first release, Prep, and while I loved the first half of her second novel, The Man of My Dreams, I hated the back half. American Wife was good all the way through. I did have a couple spots in the middle where I started getting nervous – but that should be true for any good novel.  Some of the events were a little shocking, but I’ll leave those as mysterious teasers.  It would be interesting to know how many of the events mentioned really occurred and how many Sittenfeld created.

 I always have moments with this author where I feel like she’s in my head, and I’m sitting there thinking “I just had that same thought.”  I guess that means that I readily identify with her characters.  Sittenfeld graduated from the famed Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and I would classify her work as chick lit with a brain.  It’s not so much Joanie loves Chachi, as Joan magnanimously adores Charles. (If you’d like to hear more about the Iowa Writer’s Workshop or Curtis Sitenfeld, tune into this Popmatic Podcast.)

 Okay, so that’s one less book I have to find time to read in 2010.  Only 1,763, no 64, to go.  That doable, right? Right?

- Amanda

DVD review: The West Wing

By , February 13, 2010

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Top Ten Reasons to Revisit The West Wing

In honor of President’s Day, I thought we should take a moment and honor one of the best fictional shows about our government. So here now, my Top Ten Reasons to Revisit The West Wing.

10. The library has seven seasons and many of these discs are ready and waiting for you to check them out today!
9. Lisa Cuddy was a call-girl extraodinaire who dated Sam before moving to Princeton Plainsboro to corral Dr. House.
8. Toby and Sam and Will, oh my!
7. Agent Gibbs (pre-NCIS) shows up in season 2 as a Secret Service agent for CJ.
6. White House tours are free!!!  Oh wait, that’s the real West Wing…  
5. Dear Danny Concannon – congrats on the Pulitzer.  Good to see you grew out of that nerdy phase.
4. For seven seasons, Martin Sheen really thought he was president and I was ok with that.
3. Allison Janney and her 4 Emmy’s.  We love you, CJ, oh yes we do.  We love you, CJ, and will be true…ummm, sorry.  Little Bye Bye Birdie for you.  Sometimes it happens, what can I say?
2. Josh and Donna – will they, won’t they, will they, won’t they…wouldn’t you? 
Annnnnd…a drum roll please……..
1. This is some of the best writing for television, bar none.  Thanks Aaron Sorkin!

 I, myself, have only watched up through Season 4, so I’ve got three more to go. I heard a rumor that Kristen Chenoweth shows up (hello Galinda!) and so does Alan Alda.  Enough writing, I have to get back to watching…
 
- Amanda
We love you CJ, oh yes we do-oo.  We love you, CJ and will be…  (Yep, that’s gonna be stuck in my head for a while.  I guess I have no one to blame but myself…)

TV series review: Pushing Daisies

By , February 9, 2010

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Pushing Daisies
Series created by Bryan Fuller

The 2000 – 2010 decade in American Network Television was full of crime scene investigations, court dramas, and way too much reality TV.  There were a handful of shows who dared to eschew those tired formulas.  Pushing Daisies was one of those shows.  Alas, it was canceled after just two short seasons, but you can treasure every episode on DVD.

Created by Bryan Fuller (who first cut his writing teeth on Star Trek Voyager), Pushing Daisies is a charming fantastical mystery series with timeless appeal.  Watch this show with your kids or your grandparents and everyone will find entertainment value.   The cast is amazing, especially the lovely and talented Kristen Chenoweth, who often steals the show!  The writing is clever, and full of biting wit.  Perhaps best of all, the show is narrated by Jim Dale, voice of the Harry Potter audio books.  The story behind the show is this: owner of the Pie Hole dessert restaurant Ned possesses the unique talent of being able to bring the dead back to life merely by touching them. However, the person or other living thing may remain alive only for one minute, or someone else dies in their place. A second touch will render the person dead again, unable to be revived. Through his connections with private investigator Emerson Cod, Ned revives his childhood sweetheart Charlotte (nicknamed “Chuck”) who was strangled while on a vacation cruise.  Now that Chuck is alive again, Ned must never touch her, or she will be gone forever.  Emerson, Ned, and Chuck, aided by Pie-Hole waitress Olive Snook, solve a quirky and unique murder mystery during each episode, by briefly bringing back to life the murder victim to ask for clues.     As the series progresses, the characters own pasts are slowly revealed, adding more layers to the intrigue and drama.  So grab a slice of your favorite pie (Pecan or Derby pie for me!) and enter the world of Pushing Daisies.

Book review: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

By , February 9, 2010

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Lost City Of Z A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon
By David Grann

I’m drawn to books like this – Shackleton’s Endurance, quests to find Hillary Scott’s remains on Mt. Everest, attempts to explain Amelia Earhart’s disappearance – which have a particular blend of mystery, time travel and research I find enjoyable and often compelling.
This one centers around acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann doing his utmost best to find original sources that will let him retrace the route into the Amazon that British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett took in his quest to find El Dorado or the city of “Z” as he called it.   Fawcett himself, along with his son Jack and Raleigh Rimell vanished in 1925 while searching for this lost city know for its signs of beauty, culture and advancement.
What is really very impressive is the extent of  effort made by Mr. Grann in creating this book.  He not only seemingly interviews every remaining relative or associate of PHF,  including getting original sources and diaries by visiting Fawcett’s granddaughter Joan in Wales, tracking down journals from his WWI Military unit, traveling to the offices of the Royal Geographic Society in London and to a map archive in Sao Paulo, Brazil – he ultimately goes into the Amazon region himself to check things out!

This immediately amps up the action after he starts out a little like Bill Bryson preparing for his Appalachian Trail attempt. Grann is totally immersed in finding the truth some 80 years later and his expedition experience is complete with deadly insects, piranhas (and other worse jungle menaces!),  still hostile Indian tribes and difficult terrain. His descriptions pull no punches as you feel him becoming more deeply obsessed with this research mission.

It should be noted that the author is an excellent storyteller and makes great use of many historical documents in presenting this fascinating biographical mystery adventure.
Deserving of its place on many best of the year lists – the bibliography alone is a treasure trove of historic resources related to all manner of archaeology and exploration, early British explorers, nomads, Indian tribes, early discoveries and more. He references sources from Fawcett’s prolific writer son Brian (Exploration Fawcett 1953) up through the very recent book 1491.
Well done!

Book review: The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

By , February 6, 2010

clp smallThe Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder
by Rebecca Wells
5 stars
I have to start by saying that I hate tear jerkers.  I don’t want to read something that is going to make me sad.  And yet in the middle of this book, I found myself bawling but still thinking “this is a great book.”  I’m sure I’m more shocked by this than you are.  Not to mention, this is one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while.

The story starts out in the 1960′s in La Luna, LA where we meet the Ponder family.  Calla Lily’s mother, or M’Dear as she called her, runs a beauty salon on the side porch of their house, where she dispenses love, wisdom, and healing.  Calla decides at a very young age that she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps. 

Calla is no stranger to heartache, but somehow she always manages to get through it, with the help of her family, friends, and the always present Moon Lady.  As she grows, she moves to New Orleans to go to beauty school (because who didn’t want to be a hairdresser in the Big Easy in the 70′s?), always planning to return home to her beloved La Luna.

I’m not really sure what I expected when I started this book.  I read The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood when it came out, and while I liked it, I didn’t think it was all that great.  I see reflections of the ya-yas in this one, but the story ends up being so much more complete. Without getting too spoilery on you, I thought the ending was going to take a more predictable path, and I was relieved when it veered away right at the end. 

Wells weaves a lush web full of relatable and lovable characters into an almost mythical setting, complete with fairy godmother in the Moon Lady who watches over Calla from above.  Life’s not always easy, but as Calla’s M’Dear used to say, “You can get through anything as long as you keep breathing.”  Just make sure you bring along some Kleenex.

- Amanda

Staff Picks for African American History Month

By , February 4, 2010

88347961African American History Month was the inspiration of Carter G. Woodson, a noted scholar and historian, who instituted Negro History Week in 1926. He chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial.

We asked library staff members: “If you could choose only one title to read/listen to/watch during February to mark African American History Month, what would it be?”

The results are in, and we are happy to share. The list includes all genres, formats, and age groups–all are available to check out from the library. See all of our book and movie picks for African American History Month.

And don’t forget to take a look at our extensive list of events – there’s something for everyone.

Popmatic Podcast February 2010

By , February 1, 2010

Our business is popular business: Amanda reviews American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld; since February is African American History Month we encourage everyone to pretend the wife in question is actually Michelle Obama. Crystal brings the real rock with seminal Detroit punk trio Death. Closing our goodness, Jeremy reveals why he is enamored with the bro-mance of I Love You, Man.

Check out items mentioned in this Podcast (Worldcat list)

Carl Weber, #1 New York Times Best-selling author
February, 11, 2010 at Nashville Public Library.

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