Book review: The Woman in Black

By , December 28, 2011

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story
by Susan Hill

This delivers exactly as promised–a chilling ghost story in the Victorian Gothic style, with excellent atmosphere and a great narrator. It reminded me a lot of  Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, although this is novella-length. I’m looking forward to the movie, which is coming out in February 2012 with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role.  The author, Susan Hill, also wrote a delightful book for bibliophiles called Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home.

Book review: Chicks with Guns

By , December 26, 2011

Chicks with Guns
by Lindsay McCrum

Despite the fun title, this is actually a serious book of photographic portraiture. McCrum features women and their favorite firearms accompanied by interviews about their relationship with weapons. Some examples are quite inspirational and open up new avenues to think about gun ownership. Here’s an example from Stacie, a competitive shootist::

Shooting has given me amazing opportunities both personally and professionally. Not only do I enjoy shooting, but I even enjoy watching novice shooters experience the sport. Through my travels, I have grown my extended shooting family and friends, and even expanded my linguistic abilities and fondness for many different kinds of cuisine…. I’ve learned both how to lose and how to cherish a win. A combination of practice and discipline in mind and body has helped me achieve my goals…. The simple fact is, I shoot for myself; it has nothing to do with anyone else. When you shoot for yourself and just enjoy it, then everything comes together.

Other of the subjects’ pathologies are laughably obvious, but this salt and pepper mix of empowerment and absurdity gives the book its flavor. Is that mean of me to say? I know I love this book. Some interesting patterns emerge. Upper class women from Connecticut prefer Beretta 20-guage over-and-unders.

Chicks with Guns is great companion piece to Neal Stephenson’s spy-thriller epic Reamde, an adventure that has a lot of chicks with guns who know how to use them. Or, for the more literary taste, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River, wherein lead character Margo Crane turns on, tunes in, and drops out Annie Oakley style.

- Bryan

Best of 2011: Memoirs

By , December 21, 2011

I was a bit obsessed with memoirs this year.  Here are my top six:

Chinaberry Sidewalks
by Rodney Crowell

Try this if you like Rick Bragg‘s work–no prior knowledge of Rodney Crowell required.

 

Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses
by Claire Dederer

I could not resist this book’s charm. I thought it was funny and insightful and touching and smart.

 

This Boy’s Life with the movie The Fighter.

 

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness
by Alexandra Fuller

Another evocative account of life in Africa from the author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.

 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

 

 

Fiction Ruined My Family
by Jeanne Darst

Darst’s memoir describes how alcoholism and her father’s tortured pursuit of “the writer’s life” impacted her family.  The result is honest, surprisingly funny, and never bitter.  For fans of Dead End Gene Pool.

-Beth

Book review: And the Pursuit of Happiness

By , December 15, 2011

And the Pursuit of Happiness
by Maira Kalman
 

     I first discovered Maira Kalman in 2007 when I was wandering around the art section at the bookstore. Her book The Principles of Uncertainty was faced out and I was drawn to the cover illustration of a man in a black suit tipping precariously forward. I loved the concept of the book “a year in the life,” it featured bold colors, handwriting instead of a traditional type font and fabulous illustrations. It was like a picture book, but for adults, unlike anything I had ever seen before.

     Maira Kalman is like the fun, funky, aunt we all wished we had. Her books don’t disappoint, they are clever, original and her Matisse like illustrations are wonderful. In her latest work And the Pursuit of Happiness Kalman documents her year long journey traveling around the United States. Each month of her adventure reflects a different historical theme. Beginning with the thrill of being in the crowd in Washington, DC for Obama’s inauguration to her love affair with all things Abraham Lincoln you’ll wish you were able to travel with her to see Jefferson’s Monticello, tour the Supreme Court and celebrate the genius of Benjamin Franklin. Everything is fun and fresh with Maira Kalman, and you’ll soon be wondering why you haven’t made your own pilgrimage to our nation’s best historical places.

     Don’t miss Kalman’s other works that are available in the library. She has written and illustrated over a dozen children’s picture books and was the illustrator of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.

- Karen

Best of 2011: Fiction

By , December 14, 2011

This is my favorite time of the year, when all of the year-end “best of” lists come out.  Here are my five picks for the best fiction titles published in 2011:

The Cat’s Table
by Michael Ondaatje

Parentless children having seafaring adventures? Yes, please.  Also try Ondaatje’s memoir Running in the Family.

 

Nightwoods
by Charles Frazier

Try this if you like Night of the Hunter, the North Carolina mountains, or Dan Chaon.

 

In Zanesville
by Jo Ann Beard

A 1970’s childhood, perfectly rendered.

 

What Alice Forgot
by Liane Moriarty

This literary chick lit, reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life, is addictive and thought-provoking.

 

Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles

The life of a single girl in New York City in the 1930’s.

 

-Beth

Book review: Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World At War, 1941

By , December 12, 2011

Pearl Harbor ChristmasPearl Harbor Christmas: A World At War, 1941
by Stanley Weintraub

Christmas 1941 found the whole world immersed in war and the United States still stunned by the shock of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stanley Weintraub’s Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World At War, December 1941, describes this single month, a sliver of time, as we prepared to fight a long, costly war that defined a century and continues to shape our world. It makes a nice vacation read and includes well known and not so well known stories about that time.

On December 13th Winston Churchill boarded the Duke of York, beginning a treacherous journey across the Atlantic, reaching Washington on the night of December 22. He sat down to a simple late night supper with President Roosevelt who made a toast to “our common cause.” In the days that followed many the great figures of that war, men who would become household names, met day and night to create the glimmer of a plan to defeat the Axis powers. At the very same time, in other parts of the world, the allies faced defeat, losing the Philippines, Malaysia and points across the Pacific to the Japanese. Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese on Christmas Day, the same day Admiral Chester A Nimitz arrived at Pearl Harbor to assume command of the Pacific Fleet.

The day after Christmas an armored car pulled up to the loading dock at the Library of Congress to deliver the precious documents of the founding of our country, carefully packed, to a train that would take them to Ft. Knox for safekeeping. On New Year’s Eve a ship carrying soldiers wounded at Pearl Harbor sailed into San Francisco. The next day The Joint Declaration of War Aims was signed by 26 nations at the White House. The world was at war.

In this short, 200 page book, Weintraub sets the stage for this defining era in history.

Book list: Night Circus Read-a-Likes

By , December 12, 2011

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus has become a run away hit. If you loved it, or are looking for something else to read while floating to the top of that holds list, you might want to check out these fantastical love stories:

Nights at the Circus
by Angela Carter
A dazzling tale about a half-swan aerialiste and the American journalist who travels around the world to love her.

 

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
by Susanna Clarke
This alternative history novel about warring magicians in 19th century England was the Night Circus of 2004. It may be missing some of the romantic elements, but its Englishyness is crack for Anglophiles.

 

Geek Love
by Katherine Dunn
Love and family presented in the freakiest of freak modes, à la Tod Browning.

 

 

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
by Haruki Murakami
Though not dealing with circuses explicitly, it does take place in a dream world filled with unicorn skulls and the love of the protagonists has far more riding on it than just romance.

 

Under the Poppy
by Kathe Koja
Koja’s prose are always luscious, but she one-ups herself with this complex narrative of puppeteers in 1870s Brussels.

 

- Bryan

CD Book Review: Explosive Eighteen

By , December 10, 2011

Explosive Eighteen
By Janet Evanovich (Read by Lorelai King)

Raise your hand if you want more Ranger in your life? (Yep, that’s my hand in the air.) Now raise your hand if you want more Morelli? Stephanie? Lulu?

Well I have good news for you. The latest installment of the Stephanie Plum series is out and all of your favorite characters are back for more fun and games – and explosions! Say it with me…oooooooo.  Ahhhhhhh. I listened to the audio book, which was delightful, but we also have the book book if you are so inclined.

Ok, I have to admit something. When I first started this series, I liked CJ Critt as a reader and didn’t care for Lorelai King. But now that Lorelai has read the last 15 or so books, I guess I’ve gotten used to her characterizations. So my apologies for giving her a hard time at first. Apparently I just needed to get used to the new reader.

This one was a little short for me, but the story was still solid. Hopefully the next one will have more substance. I did laugh out loud at the Razzle Dazzle storyline, but if I tell you more I’ll ruin it for you. He’s a character I wish would show up again…

Happy reading (or listening),

:) Amanda

 

Book review: I am Half Sick of Shadows

By , December 8, 2011

I am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan BradleyI Am Half Sick of Shadows
by Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley’s fourth mystery finds 12-year-old, motherless, nosy chemistry genius Flavia de Luce, stuck at home during the Christmas season in bleak post war England. Her older sisters Feely and Daffy continue to torment her and she spends her time sequestered in her chemistry lab concocting a sticky trap for Father Christmas among the chimney pots of Buckshaw, the decaying family manor.

To bring in badly needed income, Flavia’s father contracts with a film company to make a movie at Buckshaw. The whole village of Bishop’s Lacey is atwitter at the arrival of glamorous Phyllis Wyvern and her co–star Desmond Duncan. They agree to give a Christmas Eve performance of scenes from Romeo and Juliet to benefit the roof fund of the local church. On the night of the performance, village guests and the entire film crew end up snowed in at Buckshaw.

While all are peacefully slumbering among the many nooks and crannies of the big old house, Flavia discovers Phyllis Wyvern dead in her room, oddly dressed with a length of film tied gaily around her neck. Of course precocious Flavia can’t follow orders to stay away from the murder scene and proceeds with her own investigation. Danger ensues.

Who killed the movie star is not as important as 12 year old Flavia’s maturing relationship with her sisters and a growing realization that she is very much like the mother she never knew. A bit of accidental luck brings hope that things will be looking up for the De Luce’s of Buckshaw in the New Year and that Flavia has many more mysteries to solve in the future.

Gift Idea: Nothing Daunted

By , December 7, 2011

Nothing Daunted:  The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West
by Dorothy Wickenden

Looking for a gift for your mother or grandmother?  Look no further.  This true story about two girls who venture out to rural Colorado in 1916 to teach school reminded me a lot of the joy I got out of reading Catherine Marshall’s Christy back in high school.  I would also recommend it for fans of Maud Hart Lovelace.  My grandmother’s copy is already wrapped and ready to go.

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