Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rowling's Latest Offering

The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is back! The author of the beloved Harry Potter series has written an adult novel that has nothing to do with magic.

Meet the residents of Pagford, a small English town that believes itself to be an ideal English village. The sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the Pagford Parish Council, throws Pagford in a tailspin. The Pagford Parish Council had been at war over "The Fields" - a housing estate located outside of town. The Fields, and who is responsible for it, is the controversial issue at hand. Old Pagford would like to pretend it doesn't exist, and hand off responsibility to the nearby town of Yarvil. Others in Pagford believe that The Fields and its residents deserved an equal chance in life, and why should Pagford help them?

Barry's death means there is a spot open on the council, and the opposing factions begin clamoring to have their candidate elected.

Under the idyllic surface of Pagford, the residents are motivated by their own agendas. The story is dedicated to delving into their thoughts and following the consequences of their actions, for better or for worse.

Cara's thoughts:
I still can't decide if I liked this or not. I never felt the urge to put it down, but many of the characters are unlikable and have few redeeming qualities.

To request this title, please click on the titles above. 

Review by Cara

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tantalizing Literary Debut

Tell The Wolves I’m Home 

by Carol Rifka Brunt
Review by Kathleen Richardson

I listened to the audio recording of this book which was flawlessly narrated by Amy Rubinate.   It is an engrossing love story about the coming of age of June Elbus.  June loves her Uncle Finn more than anyone else in the world because he truly understands her and helps her grow.  They go to Renaissance fairs together, listen to every recording of Mozart’s Requiem they can find, eat at the Cloisters in NYC, share tea from an ornate Russian teapot, and have exciting adventures in the city.  Usually it’s just the two of them unless it is a family birthday trip to a chic restaurant.  Both June and Finn are pure to the point of naivete.  Finn is her Godfather and best friend.  June’s parents are busy CPA’s and June’s older sister Greta is equally jealous of and repulsed by the relationship between June and Finn.  It is one of the more interesting triangles in the book.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is full of nostalgia but not of the best kind.  Ronald Reagan is President and AIDS doesn't yet have a name.  Finn, a world class painter of some renown has AIDS.  So does his partner Toby.  June’s mother is extremely jealous of Toby and refuses to let him have contact with her family.  And that is even before Mrs. Elbus realizes the gentlemen are terminally ill. She and Finn were extremely close as children and she kept Finn’s secret of being gay from the rest of her family.    When Finn dies the Elbus family keeps Toby from attending the memorial services but June spies him lurking nearby.  Toby and June inevitably begin a clandestine relationship to help them grieve Finn and they find in each other a worthy replacement for Finn.  They feel like old friends because Finn has told each one all about the other.  At first June is jealous of Toby, because of the things and times he shared with Finn that she wasn't a part of.  She discovers it was Toby who bought the special black and white cookies from the bakery before each of June’s visits and she finds that many possessions she thought were Finn’s were in fact Toby’s or were shared possessions.  June cares for Toby as he becomes more ill hiding her whereabouts from Greta.  Her parents are too busy with their accounting business to even notice June’s absences.  Unbeknownst to the other, Finn has put it in writing for each of them to care for the other.  He tells June poignantly that Toby has no one else and it seems to be true.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Kind of Thanksgiving

Visiting Tom
A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace
By Michael Perry

When we last heard from Michael Perry, he was settling into his new life as a husband, stepfather and amateur farmer. By the end of Coop (2009), Perry had finally finished the mobile chicken coop of the title, learned to outwit his resourceful pigs, and generally gotten a handle on the business of running a family farm. And then his wife gave birth to their first child.

Visiting Tom picks up two years later with Perry and his family growing ever closer to their octogenarian neighbors on the farm next door. Tom Hartwig is a character from Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon come to life, a crusty old farmer as eccentric as he is wise. He's the kind of self-taught handyman who won't just make a working replica of a 19th-century cannon, he'll build the oversize lathe needed to bore out the barrel as well. The focus of Perry's book is not Tom's eccentricities but rather the "roughneck grace" that has enabled him to weather indignities great and small with a kind of sly stoicism. Foremost among these is the interstate highway that sliced his farm in two nearly 50 years ago. Perry admires Tom's refusal either to give up or to give in to easy bitterness, and he strives throughout the book to live up to the example set by his outwardly unremarkable neighbor.

Visiting Tom is a kind of thanksgiving, a hymn to families born and families made. It is sure to appeal to readers of Perry's previous books, though it is not necessary to have read them to enjoy this one. Lake Wobegon fans, too, will be on familiar ground in Perry's quirky Wisconsin backwater. And if you grew up among folks who never used the front door because everyone knew to come in the side door and go straight to the kitchen, well, Visiting Tom will feel like going home.

Review by Don Beistle

To request the books mentioned above, click on the titles.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Defrosting a Feast

The Adventures of a Curious Man
By Mark Kurlansky

Though next week many Americans will be sitting down to a home-cooked meal, frozen food has long since become part of our way of life. Whether we're hungry for fish sticks, pizza, spinach, or waffles, we love the convenience of the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store. And though you may not know it, if you've ever popped a TV dinner into a microwave oven you owe a debt of gratitude to Clarence Birdseye. (There's a reason his name is on so many packages of frozen peas.)

Birdseye revolutionized the frozen food industry, and this book tells his story. Though it's light on biographical detail, the author ably puts his subject within historical context, illuminating the world at the time from the perspectives of science, government, economics, the food industry, and the spirit of invention.

Birdseye, argues the author, would be perplexed at our modern concerns about species depopulation and our emphasis on eating locally instead of shipping food around the world. The ability to eat a little bit of everything from everywhere was part of the reason Birdseye wanted to improve the food-freezing process in the first place! Of course, the world moves on, and it's good to know where we came from when we consider where we'd like to go.

If you'd like to read a book about how we eat from a different perspective, one that might have given Birdseye something to sink his teeth into, try The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.

Review by Danny Hanbery

To request the books mentioned above, click on the titles.

When a Blog Becomes a Book

When a blog becomes a book some very good things can happen. Someone who doesn’t have the patience to sit before a computer and scroll through pages of blog posts can actually get the opportunity to cuddle on the sofa, cup of tea in hand, and read an edited, easy to hold, well-formatted version of the blogger’s online antics in the form of a book. I once read a quote, “A book is a convenient package.” This continues to ring true. I found that reading Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was a much more enjoyable experience than scrolling through her blog. Well, perhaps sitting poolside at a resort hotel colored my perception.

Lawson is certifiably wacky. Her antics are hilarious. Her book includes the most outlandish tales from her childhood, adolescence, and marriage that include everything from sharing her childhood home with baby raccoons to exhuming her deceased pet’s body before the scavenging birds did. As I sat poolside enjoying this book, my poor spouse sat with a towel over his head trying to read an iPad for his poolside relaxation. I was laughing out loud as I enjoyed reading about Lawson’s purchase of a giant metal chicken. My husband was struggling to read an iPad on a brilliantly sunny day.

For my vacation reading I had also grabbed another silly little book, just for fun. I was enticed by the snarky allure of Allie Hagen’s Suri’s Burn Book: Well-Dressed Commentary from Hollywood's Little Sweetheart, a good-natured parody on the alleged musings of Suri Cruise. Only after I read the entire book, did I realize that it was spin-off of Hagen’s blog of the same title. So, when I chose to read just for the crazy fun of it, I coincidentally picked up two books that had begun as blogs. I enjoyed both of them quite a bit.

I have come to realize that there are lots of talented writers posting blogs. With today’s easy access to self-publishing and the publishing industry’s interest in taking advantage of the audiences that these amateur authors have engaged, I know that we can expect to see more blogs morph into full-fledged books. And, since books really do make a convenient package…and are easily read by the side of a pool, you may want to check them out. Then, when convenience isn’t the issue, or when you are sitting at your computer on your work lunch break, you might want to pop over to visit some blogs. There are lots of talented writers out there, perhaps with books in their futures. You can decide whether you want to spot the up and comers or wait for their books to hit the library shelves.

Review by Pat

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In Honor Of Those Who Have Served

The library has many, many books about our armed forces and their experiences in addition to military history. In honor of Veterans Day, here are two that have recently been published.

Those Who Have Borne the Battle 
by James Edward Wright 

Summary from our catalog:
At the heart of the story of America's wars are our "citizen soldiers"--those hometown heroes who fought and sacrificed from Bunker Hill at Charlestown to Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, and beyond, without expectation of recognition or recompense. Americans like to think that the service of its citizen volunteers is, and always has been, of momentous importance in our politics and society. But though this has made for good storytelling, the reality of America's relationship to its veterans is far more complex. In 'Those Who Have Borne the Battle', historian and marine veteran James Wright tells the story of the long, often troubled relationship between America and those who have defended her--from the Revolutionary War to today--shedding new light both on our history and on the issues our country and its armed forces face today.

American Veterans on War: Personal Stories from World War II to Afghanistan 
by Elise Forbes Tripp

Summary from our catalog:
The United States is embroiled in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- wars that seem as far from Americans understanding as the countries are distant from our shores. With 'American Veterans on War,' Elise Forbes Tripp brings our current wars and their predecessors home in the words of 55 veterans aged 20 to 90. The veterans raise questions about when wars are worth fighting, what missions can and can't be won, and the costs and benefits of US intervention, both around the world and domestically. Recent veterans tell wrenching stories of coping with hostile forces without uniforms, of not knowing who is friend or foe, and of the lasting traces of combat once they've returned home. 

Thank You Veterans For Your Service 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Centerville Branch Staff Picks

This month the staff at the Centerville Branch is offering up some of their favorite books for your consideration.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
By Jonathan Safran Foer

Why you should read it: Oskar Schell lost his father in 9/11, and in an effort to connect with him, Oskar decides to undertake an epic “scavenger hunt” across the city. Oskar's story is tied to that of his mute grandfather, whose path eventually intersects with Oskar's in a truly unforgettable way.

Let Me In
By John Ajvide Lindqvist

Why you should read it: If you like traditional vampire novels then you must read Let Me In. It is a well written vampire thriller which will have you reading through the night.

Caleb’s Crossing
By Geraldine Brooks

Why you should read it: This story, set in the 1600s in what is now Martha’s Vineyard, is narrated by Bethia Mayfield, a minister’s daughter and good friend of Caleb. Caleb crosses many cultural barriers to become the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.

Low Pressure
By Sandra Brown

Why you should read it: A woman tries to understand and bring closure to her feelings about the murder of her sister when she was a child.

A Walk in the Woods

Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail 
By Bill Bryson

Why you should read it: This delightful and comical book takes two middle age men on a journey of hiking the Appalachian Trail. They are not prepared physically, mentally or provisionally. The first part of the book is the beginning of their hike and the characters and events along the trail. The book finishes with a nice history of the AT.

Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong
By Paul Chaat Smith

Why you should read it: This book, by a curator of the National Museum of the American Indian, is a collection of essays on topics ranging from art, to identity, American Indian history beyond the nineteenth century, and the problems of flattering stereotypes. Funny and thoughtful it is a surprisingly fast read; it is an especially good follow-up for anyone who has enjoyed the works of author Sherman Alexi.

We'll be back next month with another library branch and another list of favorites. Until then, let us know in the comments if you have any books you recommend!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Must Love "Dog"

By Michelle Herman

"The dog, the dog, the dog—the dog had taken over her life. But this was not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps she had needed to have her life taken over."

So begins Michelle Herman's delightful little novel, Dog. A dog can provide the push to make us genuinely human, it argues, when we cannot or will not make the effort on our own. The protagonist is one J. T. (Jill) Rosen, 44, single, poet, former New Yorker now professor of creative writing somewhere in the snowy midwest. Picture Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's Elaine in Seinfeld, but twice as prickly and utterly devoid of her goofy good humor. Someone who doesn't realize her colleagues refer to her as "Her Royal Highness" and wonders why her students "so often found her funny" when she didn't mean to be.

Surfing the web late one night, after maybe one glass of red wine too many, she succumbs to a maternal pang and casually Googles "adoption." To her surprise, the search results point overwhelmingly to animal rescue organizations. Dismissing cats as "too stereotypical" for a single middle-aged woman, she lands on a dog rescue operation not far from where she lives. A sweet looking puppy with intelligent eyes moves her, and before the next day is through she has brought him home and named him "Phil."

The dog up-ends her cloistered and carefully calibrated existence. He forces her out of her house and out of her head. Before long she is talkinghowever uncomfortablywith neighbors, opening up to her students, making tentative overtures of friendship, and even thinking about the possibility of love and romance for the first time in ages.  

Dog could easily have been Hallmark-Hall-of-Fame saccharine but is instead honest and true to life. It struck a real chord with me, and it will with you, too, if you've ever found yourself swept off your feet by a dog more human than yourself.

Review by Don Beistle

Request this book by clicking the title or cover above.