Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Staff Picks for 2011

The librarians at the Glencoe Public Library have compiled a list of their favorite books from the last year. Read and enjoy!!

On Canaan’s Side. Barry, Sebastian
City of Thieves. David, Benioff
An Uncommon Reader. Bennett, Alan
The Lake. Yoshimoto, Banana
I am Half Sick of Shadows. Alan Bradley
Year of Wonders. Brooks, Geraldine
Caleb’s Crossing. Brooks, Geraldine
A Small Hotel. Butler, Robert
Once Upon a River. Campbell, Bonnie Jo.
The Grief of Others. Cohen, Leigh
Sarah’s Key. De Rosnay, Tatiana
Room. Donoghue, Emma
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. Durrow, Heidi
The Keep. Egan, Jennifer
When We Danced on Water. Fallenberg, Evan
You Know when the Men are Gone. Fallon, Shiobhan
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Foer, Jonathan Safran
Left Neglected. Genova, Lisa
Dead Souls. Gogol, Nikolai
The Cookbook Collector. Goodman, Allegra
When She Woke. Jordan, Hillary
The Typist. Knight, Michael
The Girl in the Green Raincoat. Lipman, Laura
The Oracle of Stamboul: A Novel. Lukas, Michael David
Sister. Lupton, Rosamund
From the Land of the Moon. Milena, Agus
1Q84 - Murakam, Haruki
Bound. Nelson, Antonya
Emily Alone. O’Nan, Stewart.
The Invisible Bridge. Orringer, Julie
The Buddha in the Attic. Otsuka, Julie
State of Wonder. Patchett, Anne
Trick of Light. Penny, Louise
The Leftovers. Perrota, Tom
Secret of the White Rose. Pintoff, Stephanie
Doc: A Novel. Russell, Mary Doria
The Story of a Beautiful Girl. Simon, Rachel
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Simonson, Helen
The Dog Who Came in From the Cold. Smith, Alexander McCall.
The Year We Left Home. Thompson, Jean
The Barbarian Nurseries. Tobar, hector
Rules of Civility. Towles, Amor
The Book of Joe. Tropper, Jonathan
Clara and Mr. Tiffany. Vreeland, Susan
Among others. Walton, Jo.
The Legacy. Webb, Katherine
The Lover. Wilson, Laura
The Uncoupling. Wolitzer, Meg

Endgame. Bio. Fisher
Unbroken. Bio. Zamperini
The Psychopath Test. 616.85 RON
Catherine the Great. Bio. Catherine II
The Tiger. 599.756 VAI
Genius of Place. Bio Olmsted
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. 944.361 MCC

The Night Circus

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is a magical first novel. The author's imagination is matched only by her ability to capture it on paper.

The book spans the years 1873-1936 and centers on the Cirque des Reves--a "Circus of Dreams" that opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. It travels via rail all over Europe, but appears without notice and disappears just as suddenly. The Cirque des Reves features trapeze artists, animal acts, fortune tellers, contortionists, and fantastic holograms. The acts are breathtaking and spectacular.

Yet the beauty of the circus is matched by the empathetic characters and the ingenious plot. The Cirque des Reves revolves around two figures, Celia and Marco, who are competitors in a game of skill and endurance. Each is trying to exceed the other in magical feats. The circus provides the venue for this. Celia's father and Marco's guardian have been training them in the art of magic since they were children, making them pawns in the power struggle of their elders. Echoes of Dickens resonate as we witness examples of childhood exploitation and physical and emotional abuse.

Still, the children grow into healthy adults, albeit lonely ones. It is not surprising that they are strongly attracted to one another from a young age, not knowing until much later that they are rivals. "Our instructors do not understand how it is," comments one of the characters. " To be bound to someone in such a way. They are too old, too out of touch with their emotions. They no longer remember what it is to live and breathe within the world. They think it simple to pit any two people against each other. It is never simple (p. 344)."

In many ways, the book is a 400 page fairy tale for adults. It uses romance as a binding thread, interweaving complicated characters and breath-taking performances.

If you are a lover of fantasy, romance, or imaginative prose, this book is a must-read. It would also be enjoyed by the high school and college set, and by anyone who loved Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. Already, the movie rights have been sold.

Here's NPR's review.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Scenes from Village Life

Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz, translated by Nicholas de Lange is a beautifully written book. The use of language is exquisite. It has been translated from Hebrew by his long time translator and reviewers credit de Lange with a fine translation.

The book is a collection of short stories, set in the century old pioneer village of Tel Ilan. While each story focuses on a different character and resident of the village, many of the characters can be found in several of the stories.

One might expect a village and village life to be cozy and secure. Not so, in this book. As Claire Messud indicates in her New York Times review, "Each of the collection’s eight stories shows someone searching, either literally or metaphorically, and without success, for relief. " Further she says, "There is, in each story, a particular chord or strain; but taken together, these chords rise and reverberate, evoking an unease so strong it’s almost a taste in the mouth. "

Much of the beauty of the language and of the book is in the description of place and of person. Where each story is set and who the characters are who inhabit the stories is so clear that you can, indeed, sense it with the use of your senses - feel, see, and even taste.

Following are three brief quotes from the text. "The stranger was not quite a stranger." is the first line of the book. And the last line, in the final and most allegorical story, entitled "In a Faraway Place at Another Time"is "And that's all there is to it." One more quote from a story near the end called "Strangers", "And the distance from pity to love was like the distance from the moon reflected in a puddle to the moon itself." All three quotes are typical of the language and tone of the book, its sense of mystery, of unease, of lack of resolution, its tone of allegory and, at times, of the surreal.

The book may be read on many levels of understanding. It is not necessary to understand the references to other literature, to political situations, or to any other specifics of life in Israel in order to appreciate the book, although it may add to levels of understanding when reading this multi-layered work. Fundamentally, however, Scenes From Village Life can be read and understood as a very human set of stories and situations, primarily stories of loss and loneliness and disaffection, portrayals of an aspect of the human condition. Messud's review of the book is so fine, that this entry ends with the final quote from her review: “Scenes From Village Life is a brief collection, but its brevity is a testament to its force. You will not soon forget it."

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Friday, December 16, 2011

East of the Sun

Not necessarily an oldie but East of the Sun is a goodie. Originally published in 2009, Julia Gregson's novel tells the story of three women who travel to India in the late 1920's. Women (especially British women) were going to India in the 1920's to snag a husband from the crop of British men who were there as soldiers, diplomats and businessmen. The women were collectively referred to as the "fishing fleet."

The story opens with Viva Holloway being hired to chaperon 2 girls who are travelling to India. And one boy, Guy, who has been asked to leave his boarding school. One girl , Rose, is to marry a man in the British contingent of the Indian Army and her friend, Victoria, is accompanying her as her bridesmaid. Tor, as she is known is desperate to get married. Viva needs to get to India to pick up a trunk which is all she has left of her family. Her father, mother and sister all died when she was a child and she was sent back to England to live. She wants to retrieve the trunk and get some new insights to help her on her way to becoming an author.

The story continues through the voyage on the ship. The story takes off at this point. Tor becomes the life of the party and falls in love with the ship's doctor, Frank. Rose becomes more apprehensive as they get closer to India and her marriage and Viva has her hands full with Guy and her own demons. The story does not really go into the politics of India at the time. Gandhi was just emerging as a leader and the local population was starting to resent the British.

Gregson wrote a book dealing with the lives and loves of these three women. The setting may be India, which is of interest, but it's the characters and their choices that really make the story. Looking for love, finding it, losing it and then finding yourself is really what the story is about.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mr. Chartwell

Mr. Chartwell is Rebecca Hunt's first novel and it is an intriguing mix of historical fiction and psychological fiction, of charm and melancholy, of humor and sadness. Sir Winston Churchill called his depression a "black dog". Mr. Chartwell, a huge black dog able to walk on his hind legs, rents a room from Esther Hammerhans, a young library clerk in the House of Commons library.

As Mr. Chartwell comes to know Esther he becomes Black Pat to her. He converses with Esther about complex subjects in an entirely human way, but, he also shows many of the traits of a dog.

Black Pat can be a charming companion for Esther, talking with her at length, sharing gin and tonic which he drinks from a large watering can, while she uses the more conventional glass. When Mr. Chartwell moves into Esther's room to let he retrieves his luggage, a box hidden in the bushes and his "possessions were fantastically odd: a clump of brown fur, one side crusted with blood; a rotting log; a hoof from a large deer...." At another time, when Esther and Black Pat are talking through the closed door to Esther's room, she asks him, "'Are you eating something?' 'I am not.' said Black Pat, filing his teeth on a sheep's pelvis he had rescued from a ditch." In one memorable scene, Black Pat prepares a barbecue surprise for Esther. You will have to read the book to learn of the surprise for yourself.

The black dog is not such a charming companion for Churchill, who is also a character in this novel. The story takes place over the six days leading up to and ending with Churchill's retirement from Parliament and from public life. Churchill struggles with his memories and with his depression, but he also writes a memorable farewell speech, with the help of Esther.

Additional interesting characters in the novel are Esther's friends, the married couple Beth and Big Oliver, Esther's new friend and possible love interest Mark Corkbowl, and the presence in the story of Esther's husband, Michael, who is no longer with her.

Rebecca Hunt succeeds on many levels in her first novel. In addition to an unusual dog as a main character, there are interconnected stories of love and of friendship - Churchill and Clementine, Esther and her colleagues at the library. There is much that is dark in this novel, but, it is also a story showing how humor, caring, and friendship can provide comfort and strength, even in the most difficult times.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

Flavia de Luce is back. This time it is near Christmas and her father, who is strapped for cash, has rented out the house as a setting for a movie. With all the costs of running the manse, it's either rent it out or possibly loose the house.

The actors and crew arrive along with a blizzard. As the weather worsens, the townspeople also arrive at Buckshaw for a benefit featuring the renowned actress Phyllis Wyvern. Phyllis will be doing readings from Romeo and Juliet. The show is a sellout, mostly because the locals want a glimpse of the famous actress. As fascinated with the actors as Flavia is, she is even more interested in whether Santa Claus is real. According to her sisters he is not, but how can Flavia be sure? She devises a plan using her copious chemistry skills.

Two days before Christmas, Flavia decides she needs to speak to Phyllis, but as she is creeping through the house and around the sleeping townspeople who are trapped because of the blizzard, Flavia realizes someone else is awake and it is not Phyllis. Phyllis is dead - murdered in her room, dressed up in a costume from another movie. Flavia is on the case.

The appeal of these books by Alan Bradley is Flavia. Precocious, 11 years old, Flavia is the youngest of the 3 de Luce sisters. Her mother died when she was very small, leaving her father in charge of the girls. Flavia, ever at the mercy of her 2 older sisters uses her interest in chemistry to her full advantage. In this story it's a device to trap Santa Claus so she can prove he is real. That same expertise also allows her to solve the murder. Flavia once again comes to the rescue, just in time.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Acceptable Loss

The latest in Anne Perry's William Monk series has Monk on the trail of the killer of a local low-life named Mickey Parfitt. Parfitt was involved in the child pornography and blackmail trades. In fact, this book picks up where Execution Dock leaves off.

The usual characters makes their appearances. Hester, married to William is working at her free medical clinic with the help of Margaret Ballinger, who has married Oliver Rathbone -lawyer extraordinaire. Rumors are swirling around that Margaret's father, Arthur, is the money and brains behind the porn industry taking place on private boats on the Thames.

Hester's newest financial backer is Rupert Cardew, a local rich boy with an unsavory reputation. Parfitt has been strangled with a cravat belonging to Cardew. Originally arrested for Parfitt's death, Cardew turns out to be more than he appears.

The book ends in the climatic trial scene with Rathbone once again defending the accused that Monk has secured the evidence against. Surprises come out at the trail that change everyone's lives. The story is vintage Perry. It's interesting in its time frame and although this book picks up where Execution Dock leaves off, Perry provides enough background that it stands on its own.

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