Music review: Paul McCartney

By , July 31, 2010

Ok, raise your hand if you went to the recent Paul McCartney concert. Now keep your hand up if you thought the tornado was gonna get you before security let you in.  Yep, that’s my hand you see in the air.  Definately an interesting beginning to the night, but Paul still managed to put on a great show – as if there was ever any doubt.  I hope I can rock as hard when I’m his age. 

Anyway, for those of you whole missed all the fun, just wanted to let you know that we’ve got a few albums from Sir Paul that you can listen to instead:





These are just a sampling of the Paul.  We also have several Beatles albums in our catalog. (Unfortunately, no Beatles songs are available on freegal, just FYI.) 

Now if you’re saying, “But Amanda, I don’t like to rock out,” that’s fine.  Paul also has a couple of classical albums as well.  Take a listen:





True Paul fans also know that he’s been playing around in a group called The Fireman, and here at NPL, we’ve even got one of their CDs for your listening pleasure:




By the by, I think this one might be available on freegal, but I haven’t downloaded it myself (yet.  Oy, so many downloads so little time!).

So for all of you who got to see the former Beatle, it was nice to spend an evening with you – severe weather and all.  And if you didn’t make it this time, you better get listening, so when he comes back (in 30 years), you’ll be ready…there might even be a quiz.
:) Amanda

Book review: From The Ground Up

By , July 30, 2010

From The Ground Up: the Story of a First Garden
by Amy Stewart

I recently came across this book and had no real intention in actually reading it but once I started glancing through it, I was hooked. It didn’t matter that the location of the garden was in California – gardens everywhere have the same enemies or challenges: weeds, animal life, too much or not enough sun, water, or good temperature.

For all of us who have looked at a bare spot of land and dreamed big only to realize the dream wouldn’t come to fruition for several years, this is the book for you. It had me thinking about all the ridiculous mistakes I made starting my garden – most embarrassing, but now so nice to know that I wasn’t alone.

- Betsy

Book review: The Vinland Sagas and more

By , July 26, 2010

The Vinland Sagas

The Norse colony in North America always fascinated me. Why not go right to the source? These documents were once thought legendary, then proved to be (at least partially) true by the archaeological record. Included in this collection of “Vinland Sagas” are the Book of the Icelanders and the Book of the Settlements, which chronicle of the colonization of Iceland; and the Greenlanders’ Saga and Eirik the Red’s Saga, which chronicle the colonization of Greenland and subsequent excursions to North America.

Written in 13th century, I was afraid these would be dry and boring, but boy was I wrong. They are full of personal details and fascinating anecdotes, only occasionally bleeding into the fantastical. There’s a lot killing and a lot ice. The texts are rich enough that we are transported into another world. A world that existed a millennium ago. We learn about what the Norse wore, ate, and worshiped. Most fascinating are the tensions between the traditional religion and Christianity. The conversion of Europe to Christianity happened so long ago, it is often just a line or two in a school book, but in these sagas we have records of what that conversion was like, the tensions it caused, and how communities dealt with said tension. Did I mention the killings and the ice?

Another surprise was that the Iceland sagas we’re often more interesting than the Greenland ones. In these we find majority of material about the pagan-Christian problem. Did you know there were people (not the Inuit) on Iceland before the Norse? Did you know Iceland had a parliamentary government centuries before other European countries? This is not to take anything away from the Greenland sagas. As is pointed out in the brief notes which accompany it, the Eirik the Red’s Saga is a masterpiece of European literature.

If you have a library card, Vinland Sagas is downloadable for free from Netlibrary with no DRM-restrictions. They are read by Norman Dietz and the inimitable George Guidall.

I can recommend two novelizations of the same material. The first, William Vollmann’s The Ice-Shirt, focuses on Eirik the Red’s daughter Freydis and her role in founding of the North American colony. This is the first of Vollmann’s Seven Dreams sequence which explores the European conquest of the North American continent. It includes ink drawings by the author and contemporary accounts of his travels through Greenland.

The second is the award winning Voyage of the Short Serpent by Bernard de Boucheron which imagines what the dwindling Norse colony on Greenland must have been like in the 14th century. You can read my original review here.

For those not book oriented there is Severed Ways, Tony Stone’s dreamy yet realistic portrayal of two Vikings stranded in Newfoundland. Even if your not interested in the Norse, this is one of the best, truly independent, American films I have seen in recent years.

None of these titles are for the squeamish.

- Bryan

Music review: The Prayer Cycle

By , July 24, 2010

Prayer CycleThe Prayer Cycle
Composed by Jonathan Elias
Performed by Alanis Morissette, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, and more

Need another reason why free downloads are fun?  You get to explore and hear music to which you might not otherwise be exposed.  I was puttering around in freegal the other day and came across this hidden gem.  It was listed in the classical genre, by Alanis Morissette (under A for Alanis, naturally) – so I was intrigued.  And for good reason. 

I had never heard of this work before, so I Googled it.  According to Wikipedia, The Prayer Cycle is a nine movement piece that was originally used in the ABC documentary, The Century.  Along with Morissette, it features other big pop names in more classical settings:

I. Mercy (Alanis Morisette)
II. Strength (Richard Bona)
III. Hope (Alanis with The American Boychoir)
IV. Compassion (the now-deceased Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan)
V. Grace (James Taylor)
VI. Innocence (Salif Keita)
VII. Forgiveness (Nusrat)
VIII. Benediction (Linda Ronstadt)
IX. Faith (Alanis and Nusrat)

The piece is sung in twelve languages, but the only bad thing about downloading it is that I cannot find a complete translation of the Elias-penned text anywhere.  Maybe that’s good though.  Maybe that means I just have to be more Zen about it and simply experience it for what it is without analyzing everything.  (That said, if you can find a complete version, please let me know.)

 Sometimes such an eclectic collection of artists can come across as cheesy or overly commercial. But this album is everything you want it to be – relaxing, poignant, hopeful, yet powerful and haunting, all at the same time.  It’s definately not something you put on to dance around the house to. And I probably wouldn’t recommend it for driving either…you might get too relaxed.  But it would be excellent for that quiet, introspective evening in.

Intrigued yet?  Well, don’t take my word for it.  Log on to freegal yourself (here’s how) and check it out.  If you don’t want to download all nine tracks, just listen to the 30 sec. samples to get an idea of what I’m talking about.  Since our new limit is 5 songs a week (still better than nothing, folks, let’s be honest), it will take you two weeks to get the whole thing.  But, it’s worth it.

Trust me.
:) Amanda

Music review: The Avett Brothers: Emotionalism

By , July 21, 2010

emotionalismThe Avett Brothers introduce Emotionalism

This 2007 disc was my introduction to this excellent band, featuring the brothers Seth and Scott Avett who play a multifaceted, often joyous, plain-spoken, freewheeling mix of Americana ballads, love songs (one of their specialties are the “Pretty Girl from ___” songs), folk, country, bluegrass and flat out rock.  Their harmonies are often spot on and you’ll have no trouble understanding the lyrics (almost unusual). Their  stellar banjo and guitar interplay is also quite impressive.
They may be tough to categorize but are very easy to enjoy!  I know there was quite a buzz among a few of my coworkers as they eagerly sought tickets for their upcoming shows at the Ryman. I can see why –  this would be a fun group to see live! No pretentions – just good songs played with enthusiasm and wit here.

I’d be remiss to not point out some  possible influences I hear (as I usually do when listening to anyone “new”). The pop bliss of The Reivers comes to mind (another great North Carolina band from the late ’80’s early ’90′s), The Delevantes, The Band and even John Prine a bit on “Salina”.  Their inclusion of a phone message from Gabriella (“Pretty Girl from Chile”) is great; reminds me of the Replacements. But this is a band that doesn’t seem derivative at all – just very talented and refreshing.
This CD is in heavy rotation in my car system (along with the likes of Marshall Crenshaw’s “What’s in the Bag?”) and is great for summer listening. Give them a whirl – if you like great pop-tinged folk songs you should like this one a lot.


Book review: Born to Run

By , July 19, 2010

Born to Run: a Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen
by Christopher McDougall

You don’t run. You hate sports. You should read this book anyway. Not focusing on running celebrities or ego-maniac endurance athletes, McDougall profiles the Tarahumara tribe of northern Mexico. With a cultural tradition of ultra-distance running (i.e. 50-100+ miles), the Tarahumara are some of the best runners in the world and seem to do so simply for the joy of it. He compares the Tarahumara with a handful of American ultrarunners who have a similar approach, and, you guessed it, are some of the best in world. People who choose to run 50-100+ miles are kind of nuts. Born to Run is a kaleidescope of lovable whack jobs (in this it shares some resemblance to John Waters’ recent Role Models).  We meet Zen kickboxers, self-declared Victorian sports experts, and sex cultists. One such turned-on-tuned-in-dropped-out runner, “Caballo Blanco” dreams of organizing a race between the Tarahumara and like-mined Americans. The story of the race is as inspiring as best sports tales without devolving into the pity fest cliches that ruin so many other true life sports stories.

A significant portion of Born to Run is a lot of science about human physiology and nutrition. McDougall aims to prove we are literally born to run. Many of the ideas are controversial within running circles. McDougall makes a good argument but definitely presents only one side of the evidence. I’m neutral towards the science. Much of the nutritional evidence is backed up in Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald, though said book is coming from a diametrically opposed philosophical direction. I don’t know if we were born to run. I’m not an evolutionary biologist. Isn’t it obvious though our lifestyle and food choices have sky-rocketed rates of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease? As was pointed out in the 1970s when running exploded with popularity, running helps prevent the aforementioned diseases. An uninterested reader could skip these passages and stick to the dramatic narrative about the race and larger-than-life racers.

As someone who has ran until I hallucinated and loved it, I loved this book. An ode to the joy of running, this book will not only inspire you to run more and have more fun doing it, but motivate you to get off your tukhus and accomplish other goals you thought were impossible.

- Bryan

Legends of Film: Peter Hyams

By , July 14, 2010

Bill and Clint bring us an interview with Peter Hyams, the writer and director of Outland, The Star Chamber, Capricorn One and 2010.

Not Your Typical Summer Songs

By , July 13, 2010

Summer LovinWe’re in the midst of summer now, and for me that means sitting in the shade while reading a great novel, enjoying the amazing taste of homegrown tomatoes, and listening to summer-worthy pop music.  For your listening pleasure I present my top five songs to inspire your travels, cool down your hot summer nights, and create timeless summer memories…

Ramble On is the best tune to start off any road trip, even though the lyrics speak of Autumn.  Buckle your seat belt, and obey all speed limits.   “The time is come to be gone.”

My high school BFF Amy and I used to ride in my old Oldsmobile, windows down since it had no AC, and sing along to my cassette tape of Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again.   “I’m taking a ride with my best friend…”

Heroes may be Bowie’s best song ever.  Guaranteed to generate inspiration and motivation even during the hottest day in August. “We can be heroes just for one day.”  (A version of Heroes from Bowie’s Reality Tour can be downloaded at freegal!)

Any Bob Marley song is worthy of a summer mix, but my favorite is Redemption Song.  “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.  None but ourselves can free our mind.”  What a lovely reminder to let go of your burdens.

For those that want to stir up a little summer romance, Jeff Buckley’s Lover You Should Have Come Over is sure to melt anyone’s heart, and ice-cream!  “So I’ll wait for you…and I’ll burn.  Will I ever see your sweet return?” (A live version of Lover You Should Have Come Over, included on the compilation Grace Around the World, can be downloaded at freegal!)

So be safe and have fun the rest of your summer.  If you’re looking for more ideas for entertainment,  my colleagues and I have  put together a display of movie alternatives to the summer blockbusters.  Stop by the Main Library and check out our suggestions!


Book review: Dead in the Family

By , July 10, 2010

SookieDead in the Family
By Charlaine Harris

I don’t know why everyone told me this was not a good book.  I almost didn’t read it because I didn’t want to waste my time.  And while this isn’t my mostest favoritest series by my mostest favoritest authors (for those, see my PNRUFy list), I’m still glad I picked it up.

SPOILER ALERT – If you’d like to remain blissfully unaware of any events in the book, please stop reading now, go check it out, peruse it, and then come back.  We’ll still be here.  For the rest of us who’ve read the thing or for those of you who like to read the back page first (gasp!), soldier on…

This is the tenth book in Harris’s popular Southern Vampire series, and I must admit that the last couple haven’t really floated my train (yes, I know that train’s don’t float, as a rule, but imagine how good something would be to make that happen!).  I’m not really sure why I’m not in love with Sookie and her world, but the books usually just leave me flat.

This one, however, I thought was better.  There wasn’t one big plot device that Sookie and pals had to overcome.  It was more of a regrouping after the last couple of death-defying endings.  I enjoyed seeing the characters go about their everyday lives for a change.  After all, you don’t have to have an apocalypse in every book, right?

It was good for Bill to get some page time – even if it wasn’t under better circumstances.  I have to say, True Blood has redeemed Bill a little bit in my eyes, but I am still an Eric girl at heart.  Which means, I’m very glad Sookie and Eric got to spend a good chunk of time together.  They still have a few issues to work through, but I am keeping my fingers crossed for those two crazy kids.

Ok, fellow PNRUFy freaks, here’s my call on this one.  Not the best book you’ll ever read, but definitely worth the couple of hours it will take you to get through it.  When you’ve finished, treat yourself by checking out a few episodes of True Blood (We just got in season two! Woohoo!). 

Happy Sookiefying (Sookiesizing?)
:) Amanda

TV review: NCIS

By , July 3, 2010

NCISNCIS: The Complete Series (up ’til now…)

I love my mother.  She is, in my humble opinion, the best mother in the world – except that sometimes, she watches weird things on TV.  For the longest while, my mom loved to watch Law & Order.  She even mastered the esteemed Da Duh sound effect and would use it in every day conversation.  Then one day I noticed she was watching a new show.  A show that she said was better than Law & Order.  Well Da. Duh.

So what show toppled L&O from its mighty perch?  Why NCIS, of course.  My Mom and Dad now know these shows so well that they can watch the first segment – before the credits – and tell you how it ends.  In their fervor, somehow they managed to addict me to the show as well, and NCIS (pronouned NIN-sis) is a part of my every day life.

Thankfully, NPL has the first six seasons on DVD.  When I first started watching on TV (on USA), I didn’t watch from the beginning, so I was very confused about how things came to be (it doesn’t help that I can be kind of OCD about reading/watching things in order).  Once I went back and got a more complete history of events, I enjoyed the episodes even more.

Who doesn’t like watching Abby outsmart McGee?  I thought Mark Harmon was the bees knees when he was on Chicago Hope, but his Leroy Jethro Gibbs is my favorite of his characters.  Also…I must admit, I have a teeny, tiny, almost miniscule really, crush on Tony.  But I’m smart enough to know that he’d totally break my heart, plus I like him and Ziva together, so I must find a way to soldier on without him (seriously, though, Tony, call me…).

NCIS is the number one show on TV for good reason.  Good writing, good actors, good fun.  Maybe my mom’s taste in TV isn’t quite as bad as I thought.

Oh wait, no.  She used to like Quantum Leap.*
:) Amanda

* Ok, I apologize to folks out there who actually liked Quantum Leap.  However, I’m still undecided if I’m apologizing because I don’t want to hurt your feelings or just because I feel sorry for you…

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