Book list: Fifty Shades of Grey Read-a-Likes

By , July 30, 2012

House of Holes
by Nicholson Baker
Though this book lacks an arrogant millionaire with an excessive, ah, belt collection, it makes up for it with literary inventiveness and sex positive glee. House of Holes is an invite only surreal retreat where visitors are sexually healed. Each chapter tells how different person found their way to the H of H and what they did once they got there. It can be addictive, both in the book and in real life. I had this book out for so long the library billed me for it. I had to do the walk of the shame – to the circulation desk.

The Story of O
by Pauline Réage
This is the ur-novel of the unexpected joys of submission genre. A talented young photographer learns she wants nothing more than to submit to someone else’s will and be proud of it to boot. Simultaneously better written and more hardcore than Fifty Shades of Grey, it won the Prix des Deux Magots when first published in France in 1954.

Delta of Venus
by Anais Nin
Keeping things French, Nin is best known for chronicling the bohemian milieu of 1930s Paris. How did she pay her bills during that rollicking time? She wrote erotica for a private patron. These stories have a very old world, 19th century feel. Though elegant, Delta of Venus is not staid. The spirit of the day seems to be if you are going to break one taboo why not break them all.

by Zane
Before real housewives of Nashville discovered you could download hot library books for free, Zane was the queen of long holds lists at NPL. Somewhat more guilt ridden than Fifty ShadesAddicted tells the story of a mom that gets lured into the world of, you guessed it, sex addiction. If she regrets her actions, she sure does seem to like telling her therapist (and readers) all about it.

Twilight series
by Stephenie Meyer
If you haven’t heard, Fifty Shades started out as Twilight fan fiction. While waiting on Fifty Shades you could pregame by reading the source material. Though definitely lacking in naughty bits, the tension between the characters can get you geared up for what is to come. If you are impatient and on team Jacob, you can jump right to the chase with Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf which my coworkers have described to me as “werewolf erotica.”

The Pilgrim’s Progress
by John Bunyan
To paraphrase Chris Rock after a Marilyn Manson performance at the MTV Music Awards: get your butts to church!



The Secretary
What if you just wanted to watch a movie?  The Secretary tells the now familiar inner-submissive-finds-perfect-dominant story with admirable amounts of heart and wit without totally crossing the line into Pornland. There is even an arrogant millionaire if that is an element you require for full narrative satisfaction. The real show is Maggie Gyllenhaal in her best role. By the end, we are rooting for her to get her man schmaltzy date movie style. The man in question is James Spader. If the movie has a flaw, it is that one flashback of Spader as the neurotic creeper in Sex, Lies, and Videotape kind of nixes the whole arrogant millionaire deal. Where’s Don Draper when you need him?

- Bryan

Book review: Yes, Chef

By , July 28, 2012

The Food Network has been my go-to ambient viewing channel. Do I sit there and drool over braised this and broiled that? Nope. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even eat much of the food that’s prepared. But it is interesting to watch the process.

Chef Samuelsson is a semi-recent addition to the chef line-up. He is a recurring judge on Chopped (Ted Allen’s cooking competition) and he also won Top Chef Masters. He’s not my favorite FAVORITE chef to watch (that would be you, Geoffrey Zakarian), but this new book definately bumped him up a few notches.

Marcus is truly a chef of the world. He was born in Ethopia and then adopted by Swedish parents at a very young age. He has travelled extensively and cooked with many different spice palates. His new restaurant in Harlem, The Red Rooster, combines his Swedish roots, his African heritage, and good old American Soul Food.

Yes, Chef tells the interesting and expansive story of Chef Samuelsson’s life. It is very well-written and reads like a novel. Marcus almost lost me with the birth of his daughter, but I kept reading and his honesty managed to pull me back in. It is not easy becoming a world-renowned chef, but the journey definitely makes for a good story.

Happy reading…
:) Amanda


DVD Review: John Adams

By , July 26, 2012

John Adams

Everything about the DVD John Adams was top notch.

Based on the book written by David McCullough, the movie originally aired on HBO as a seven-part mini-series in 2008. Paul Giamatti played the second President of the United States, John Adams. The mini-series offered a realistic portrayal of life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Giamatti’s award winning performance captures the brilliance of John Adams. The story introduces us to Adams when he was in his mid 30’s and ends with his death at age of 91. The story of his wife Abigail was equally depicted, showing her calm strength and resolve, as she raised five children largely by herself while Adams was away on political assignments.

 John Adams was nominated for 23 Emmy Awards and it is easy to see why. The mini-series was well cast, the makeup and costuming was outstanding, even the set design looked like something pulled from a famous painting.

 The story of John Adams is also the story of our nation’s early history. Watch the mini-series, read McCullough’s biography and when you are done you will still want to know more about John and Abigail Adams and their fascinating contemporaries.



John Adams  Disc One

John Adams  Disc Two

John Adams  Disc Three






TV series review: Luther

By , July 24, 2012

The BBC series Luther starring Idris Elba may be the best crime show you haven’t seen.

Detective Chief Inspector John Luther is a brilliant and obsessive investigator  who’s easy to become emotionally unhinged. This leads to great trouble in both his personal and professional life.  In season one we find out his wife has left him, and he’s back from a suspension following the near death of a suspect.  Luther is not exactly what you’d call a dirty cop, but he does investigate and apprehend his suspects by bending the rules.  Luther’s unorthodox friendship with former suspect Alice Morgan is one of the most riveting match-ups in recent television history.  Idris Elba, whom you may know from the critically acclaimed series The Wire, won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Luther.  Although Elba is the main reason to watch this show, the supporting cast of comrades and enemies are all top notch actors.  Even when plot lines seem implausible, keep watching because you’ll want to see  how Luther will solve the case.  The library also owns season two of this series.

Book review: Mystery series suggestions

By , July 22, 2012

Between the best sellers, the book club titles and the magazines that fill your reading hours, it’s nice to have a mystery series to fall back on. The familiarity of characters, the quirky supporting cast, the exotic locales…nothing beats catching up with an old friend between the covers.

If you don’t already have a favorite sleuth or lawyer or noisy neighbor series, here are a few suggestions. A word of warning; do not under any circumstances try to convince a fellow reader that his or her favorite series writer is less than perfect. There is no going back once you criticize the reading habits of another.  That is a given. When you disagree on mystery preferences remember the person on the other end of the “discussion” may be well versed in the art of poison, trickery and or flat out murder.

Don’t worry about finding the first title in a series. Jump right in with whichever cover description suits you that day. You can go back and read the titles in order later. The return trips are meant for that. Some series don’t require you ever read them in order, some read better in order.

How to murder a millionaire
by Nancy Martin

Nancy Martin offers light reading in her Blackbird Sisters mystery series. Her characters are hoity-toity, dressed to the nines and ruthless.

Lincoln lawyer
by Michael Connelly

It is hard to imagine anyone else in the lead Lincoln Lawyer series once you have seen Matthew McConaughey in the movie version. Visuals aside, the Mickey Haller series is smart and hard to put down. Once you run out of Haller titles you can meet his half-brother, Harry Bosch. Some say the Bosch titles are the ones to beat. Blame author Michael Connelly for the sleepless nights in your near future.

Case histories : a novel by Kate AtkinsonCase histories
by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson pens charming a Scottish series featuring cop turned PI Jackson Brodie.

What came before he shot her by Elizabeth GeorgeWhat came before he shot her
by Elizabeth George

If you have a road trip coming up this is the perfect time to catch up with your favorite sleuth. The accompanying CD of whatever Inspector Linley/Barbara Havers title is available makes short work of any drive.  This Elizabeth George series “celebrates the Scotland Yard duo known as much for fighting crime as for locking horns with one another”.  The blueblood Linley and his working class partner Havers are mostly meticulous but often misled.

Still life by Louise PennyStill life
by Louise Penny

Another favorite mystery to listen to is the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny.

The best of both possible worlds is to have the CD in the car and a print copy of the book to take inside wherever you are staying. That way the perfect accent of the narrator stays fresh as you read.  Remember the narrator is a professional. That narrator was once a hopeful actor. The accent, the inflection, the building of suspense in their voice is their bread and butter. Enjoy, but remember to check the rear view mirror every so often. You may be followed.

- Laurie

Book review: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

By , July 20, 2012

Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

edited by Christine Lindberg

There’s no more surefire way to kill a party than to say, “Hey, you guys want to know about my favorite thesaurus?” If I say dictionary, we could have an interesting discussion about the essential functions of dictionaries and then settle in to the old “prescriptive v. descriptive” argument. Maybe we could talk about the oldest copies of the OED we’ve seen and how many volumes they had.  But a favorite thesaurus?  Really? Who even needs a thesaurus when a list of synonyms is just a right-click away.

A thesaurus is a tool; a means to the end of finding substitute words. But like many tools, a thesaurus wielded by an untrained hand becomes a danger. So what are we to do if we don’t want to chop off our fingers?

The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus goes beyond the rote list of synonyms and antonyms found in lesser thesauri. It’s a guide to language with usage guides by Bryan Garner (who has edited some of my other favorite word related reference books), word banks (for example, a list of different types of chairs: Adirondack, cane, captain’s), and word spectrums. The word spectrums take a word like beautiful and runs through the incremental differences in meaning of words between beautiful and ugly.

The best part of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus are the wonderful little essays by such dignitaries as Washington Post critic Michael Dirda, novelists Zadie Smith and David Foster Wallace, and musician Stephin Merritt, of The Magnetic Fields. Writing on love, Merritt states, “The rhymes with love are limited to above, dove, glove, of, and shove. Romance is much better; at least it rhymes with dance.” These essays and other features serve to make the user consider that there is more to word choice than substituting bigger or fancier sounding words. The OAWT suggests context and connotation better than the average thesaurus. And more than that, it’s just fun to read, a better endorsement than most thesauri deserve.

DVD review: Project Nim

By , July 16, 2012

This is a doc about a chimp scientists tried to teach sign language, or I should say a doc about scientists who tried to teach a chimp sign language. My blog comrade Beth gave it a one line mention in a round up of the best movies she assumed we hadn’t seen in 2011. She was right. I hadn’t seen Project Nim. Upon viewing it, I found it so compelling I wanted to give it another shout out. Beth was also correct that what sticks with you are the humans, not the titular chimpanzee. Spoiler alert – Nim does not learn sign language. Sort of. It’s complicated. I’m not sure if that particular issue is ever resolved. What is examined in great detail are the personal relationships and market forces that fog the supposedly objective  worlds of social science and medical research. The psychology of those who dedicate themselves to animals is inadvertently revealed. Is there a difference between those who study animals and those who love animals? A DVD is a different experience than a theatrical film. We get the weighted boon of extra scenes and featurettes. A discerning viewer can see the documentarian’s strokes painting the heroes and villains. Much like scientific research presented in the film, it is hardly an unbiased endeavour.

- Bryan

Book review: Capital by John Lanchester

By , July 15, 2012

Capital by John LanchesterCapital
by John Lanchester

Last year we saw an influx of nineteen seventies coming of age novels crowd the bookshelves. This year we are beginning to make room for literary accounts of events leading up to of the economic downfall of 2008. We are just now far enough removed from the financial fall to take a glance back.

If the crash hit a little too close to home, how about a peek from across the pond? Treat yourself to a world class  account of the lives of regular folk dealing with the collapse in Capital: a novel.

John Lanchester tells the interconnected tale of the residents of Pepys Road as the foundation of their lives start to crumble.  Banker, immigrant grocer, street artist and his granny are all represented in this great big novel.

The ripple effect of the economic decisions made at the top are in evidence in the (dare I say, rich) well crafted words of this author who won the 1996 Whitbread Book Award  in the First Novel category for his work, The Debt to Pleasure. For those looking for a character driven book this summer, this is your ticket to Londontown.

The recommended soundtrack? The Spice Girls Greatest Hits, Muse, with Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black always waiting on cue.

Closer to home, Not working: people talk about losing a job and finding their way in today’s changing economy, by journalist DW Gibson has just been published. This non-fiction account of the stories behind the unemployment numbers “that little number you see on column A, row seven is an actual person…” and has just been released as a documentary.

- Laurie

Book review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

By , July 14, 2012

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
By Muriel Barbery

I like books that sneak up on you. Books that you think you’re going to have to slog through, but suddenly you turn the page and you’re all done!

That’s what this book was for me. I’d heard good things and bad things about it, but I thought it was worth a shot. It might be worth two.

The premise: a middle-aged woman and young girl ponder life in Paris. One works in the upscale apartment complex and one lives there. One enjoys solitude while one considers suicide. It sounds depressing, I know, but inexplicably there seems to be a big heart hidden under all the philosophy. It is a very French novel that luckily doesn’t lose much, if anything, in translation.

 I also loved how the story lines found their way together. Maybe it’s because I spend a lot of time in my own head, but I seemed to connect with both of the main characters.

I told my mom when I finished it, that I really loved this book, but I don’t personally know anyone to recommend it to. Maybe you can be that someone?

Fun side fact: I am currently two for two on books that use the word abnegation. Not only do I know what it means (thanks Veronica Roth!), but it seems to make the story better for some reason. Who knew?

Bonne lecture! (Happy reading!)…
:) Amanda

Book Review: Gold

By , July 13, 2012


By Chris Cleave

This is a story of love, of obsession, of ferocious competition, and two women who will do whatever it takes to win – at life and at the Olympics.

Gold is the story of Kate, Zoe, and Jack – three gold medalists whose entire lives revolve around the intense training involved in getting to the Olympics. Kate and Jack have a daughter, Sophie, who has leukemia.

I am amazed at the depth of emotion and thought Chris Cleave puts into his characters. Following the ups and downs of these three characters is an emotional ride that makes some parts of the novel difficult to read. Zoe’s obsession with winning is so destructive, both to herself and to Kate, that it is easy to hate her early on in the novel. Sophie’s struggles with being ill, dealing with her parents’ reactions to her illness, as well as her love of Star Wars, make her the central character of the novel. Everything – the cycling careers, parenting, training – revolves around the birth and life of Sophie.

Chris Cleave weaves an intricate story around winning and love. These ideas are expressed in more than just competitive cycling and parenting.

Hear Chris Cleave discuss his latest novel on July 24th, at the library: Salon@615 with Chris Cleave

Pleasant Reading -


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