Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best Film You've Never Seen by Robert Elder

Looking for some interesting new out-of-the-box suggestions for movie viewing for the new year? You might want to give Robert K. Elder's The Best Film You've Never Seen a look. Elder's previous collection The Film That Changed My Life interviewed 30 directors about important films that influenced the way that they create movies. In this book, Elder interviews 35 directors - from veterans like Peter Bogdanovich and Arthur Hiller to cult filmmakers John Waters and Guy Maddin - about the films that they think people need to see, most of which were neglected by audiences or savaged by critics.

The interviews with the directors have a similar format. Elder asks the interviewee to describe the movie to someone who hasn't seen it, then discusses what they found interesting about it and how it might have affected their work. In a number of cases, such as with John Waters and the campy Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton vehicle Boom!, the director has become a champion of the film, which has led to public screenings. In other cases, such as with The Brothers Quay's choice of L'ange, it's pretty clear that the film's pleasures may not end up affecting most others in quite the same way.

Personally, I often enjoy a flawed film with some interesting elements over a boring "quality" film, and this often seems to apply to the films chosen here. In the case of Under the Volcano, Rian Johnson mainly champions Albert Finney's performance, while Frank Oz acknowledges that most people won't enjoy the bleak tone of Orson Welles's take on Kafka's The Trial. Some of the best surprises of the book are seeing films that you wouldn't expect to be chosen by that particular director. A Man For All Seasons is as far from Kevin Smith's oeuvre as one can imagine, but he has one of the most passionate defenses in the whole book.

We are lucky to live in an age where many films that might have been inaccessible for years are now being reissued in elaborate packages by Criterion or similar companies. Even more obscure films can now be found on YouTube in low quality ripped-from-VHS copies. Many of the films discussed in this book were seen by the directors on late night television or in theaters and largely existed in their memories. But anyone who reads this book should be able to at least be able to add a few selections to their Netflix queue. Who knows, perhaps the book will bring about the critical reevaluation of Killer Klowns from Outer Space?

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Friday, December 27, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Lula Landry has killed herself by jumping from the balcony of her tony London apartment. A celebrated fashion model, Lula (known as Cuckoo to her friends) is the biracial daughter of Lord and Lady Barstow. Lula has had issues her entire life. Ridiculously beautiful and spoiled she has taken up with her drug addict, actor wannabe boyfriend, again. She has myriad hanger-ons and no close friends.  Her mother is dying. So no one is really surprised that she killed herself. Or are they?

John Bristow, Lula's brother is convinced she was murdered. While the police have officially closed the case, he wants further investigation. He hires C.B. Strike, a man who has his own issues. Strike is a Afghan war vet who has returned to England carrying the baggage of guilt for a friend killed in action. Strike has lost part of one of his legs and this is a constant reminder that he is no longer the skilled military police/Special Branch investigator he once was. His PI agency is not doing well and he is regularly receiving death threats. Enter Robin Ellacot, a secretary sent by a temp agency to help out with the office work. Turns out she has a gift for the private investigation business.

Strike and Robin start off. While Strike uses his contacts, Robin uses the Internet and her charm to get information. And they find some surprises along the way.

I liked this book and I will admit to being a little wary of it after the Casual Vacancy. This book is nothing like that. The characters are interesting, each with his own background that helps the story along and defines them and their relationship. The storyline is interesting with enough twists (all wholly plausible) to make you want to keep reading. I was pleasantly surprised and recommend this book!

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Our Favorite Books of 2013!


Here it is! The list of favorite books from your favorite librarians! These are the books that we really enjoyed this year, though many of them were released in previous years. Please be sure to check out the "Staff Picks" display next to the reference desk where some of these books will be displayed. And don't forget to list your favorites in the comments!

Aciman, Andre.  Harvard Square
Aridjis, Chloe.  Asunder
Baker, Jo.  Longbourn
Begley, Louis.  Memories of a Marriage
Cambor, Kathleen.  In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden
Capus, Alex.  Leon and Louise
Davis, Kathryn.  Duplex
Downing, David.  Zoo Station
Exley, Frederick.  A Fan’s Notes
Fay, Kim. Map of Lost Memories
Gaimen, Neil. Ocean at the End of the Lane
Galbraith, Robert (JK Rowling). Cuckoo's Calling
Grisham, John.  The Litigators
Gurganus, Allan.  Local Souls
Hamid, Mohsin. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Hawley, Noah.  The Good Father
Kidd, Sue Monk.  The Secret Life of Bees
Kirk, David.  Child of Vengeance
Koch, Herman.  The Dinner
Kuhn, William.  Mrs. Queen Takes the Train
Labiner, Norah.  Let the Dark Flower Blossom
Lahiri, Jhumpa.   The Lowland
Logan, Michael.  Apocalypse Cow
Moyes, Jojo.  Me before You
Neuhaus, Kirk.  Snow White Must Die
O’Brien, Tim.  The Things They Carried
Reid, Taylor J.   Forever Interrupted
Roth, Veronica.  Divergent
Russell, Karen.  Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Rutherfurd, Edward.  New York
Saunders, George.  Tenth of December: Stories
Schine, Catherine.  Fin and Lady
Sendker, Jan-Philipp.   Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Shapiro, Barbara.  The Art Forger
Silver, Marisa.  Mary Coin
Simsion, Graeme.  The Rosie Project
Sloan, Robin.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help
Tartt, Donna.  The Goldfinch
Turow, Scott.  Identical
Vine, Barbara.  The Child’s Child
Walter, Jess.  Beautiful Ruins
Wecker, Helene.  The Golem and the Jinni
Winspear, Jacqueline.  Maisie Dobbs series
Wolitzer, Meg. The Interestings
Wrinkle, Margaret.  Wash
Yanaguhara, Hanya.  People in the Trees
Zambra, Alejandro.  Ways of Going Home

Alexander, Eben.  Proof of Heaven
Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life
Drummond, Ree.  Pioneer Woman Cooks
Drummond, Ree.  Pioneer Woman Cooks a Year of Holidays
Friedkin, William. The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir
Goodwin, Doris Kearns.  The Bully Pulpit
Guinn, Jeff. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson
Halpern, Sue.  A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home
Leininger, Bruce.  Soul Survivor
Madden, Thomas.  Venice: A New History
Martin, Brett. Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From the Sopranos and the Wire to Madmen and Breaking Bad
Merritt, Greg. Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal that Changed Hollywood
Murray, Liz.  Breaking Night
Olson, Lynne. Citizens of London
Sharp, Ken.  Nothing to Lose: The Making of KISS
Shavit, Ari.  My Promised Land
Shipton, Alyn.  Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter
Shorto, Russell.  Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City
Simmons, Sylvie. I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen
Sotomayor, Sonia. My Beloved World
Spitz, Bob. Dearie:  The Remarkable Life of Julia Child
Strayed, Cheryl.  Wild
Wasson, Sam. Fosse
Weir, Alison. Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World

Cooper, Elisha.  Homer
Kelly, David A. Miracle Mud
Marino, Gianna.  Too tall houses
Mahy, Margaret.  The Man from the land of Fandango
Stone, Tanya Lee.  Courage Has No Color

Friday, December 20, 2013

History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of all Time by Brad Meltzer

Brad Meltzer has written a book about what he considers to be the 10 greatest conspiracies of all time. Starting with whether John Wilkes Booth was actually killed in the barn on Garrett's farm or whether it was a setup, and ending with the Kennedy assassination. In between there is DB Cooper's hijacking, the Spear of Destiny and something called the Georgia Guidestones among others.

Each unsolved mystery is a separate chapter, complete with exhibits. These exhibits are contained in an envelope at the beginning of the chapter. While they are referred to in the text, each chapter is complete without looking at them. Although the 3 dimensional rendering of the Georgia Guidestones is really good!

This is not a typical non-fiction book, this one definitely reads like fiction - after all Meltzer is most known for his fiction. It is undeniably fun in a quirky sort of way. Conspiracy theorists will love this book as will most jr. high aged boys. I had a good time with this book and definitely recommend it!

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pure Joy: The Dogs We Love by Danielle Steel

Worn out from holiday cooking and shopping? Love dogs? Here is a charming, short memoir from prolific Danielle Steel. In it, she talks about herself and her children (all nine) and the dogs that were beloved companions to them all. Central to her book is Minnie (Mouse), the teacup Chihuahua with whom she fell in love.

Pure Joy is a charming book with many photos of her adoring and adorable canines. If you are a fan of Danielle Steel, or just a dog lover, you are sure to enjoy this quick read.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

This book has steadily gained in popularity at our library, and I’ve just ordered more copies to keep up with demand. A great read, and I suspect catching on with book discussion groups.

It is a beautifully written piece of fiction, based on a true story. Real life photographer Dorothea Lange was commissioned by the U.S. government to take photographs of migrant workers during The Great Depression. The photos and their captions were used to educate the public and legislators about the real conditions people suffered through during The Great Depression, in the hope of bringing awareness and much needed funding to better the living conditions of the poor.

Lange’s iconic photo of Florence Owen Thompson, a destitute migrant worker with two of her seven children, brought Lange her greatest acclaim. Thompson, seeing her image in newspapers and magazines, contacted Lange and asked that she be recompensed.

Author Marisa Silver does an outstanding job of telling the story of the photographer, renamed Vera Dare in this book, as she struggles with the challenges of her own life, while working to earn a living under difficult circumstances. Silver’s portrayal of Mary Coin (based on Florence Thompson) brings to life the poverty and stark conditions of the migrant worker. The story of Mary and her family, and her determination is remarkable.

Marisa Silver’s writing is descriptive, immediate, and evocative, reminding me of some of my favorite books: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, My Antonia by Willa Cather and Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Local Souls by Allan Gurganus

Richard Ford, in his 2004 introduction to Barry Hannah's short story collection Airships, noted that literary greatness is achieved when a writer can combine "a fresh sentence-level flair and a rigorous focus on the story at hand." Yet he names only a few writers who have achieved it: William Faulkner, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Barry Hannah. ("Talk of the Townies" by Jamie Quatro, The New York Times Book Review, October 11, 2013).

To Quatro, there are serious omissions on that list - not least of which is the name Allan Gurganus. Gurganus is best known for his tome, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, published in 1989 at 700+ pages. It was a New York Times bestseller for eight months and was made into a two-part mini series. This book was followed by another novel, Plays Well With Others, a short story collection White People; and a collection of four novellas, The Practical Heart. (The New York Times Book Review, op. cit.)

Local Souls, Gurganus' fifth book, rivals some of the best work of Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, and Eudora Welty. Like these fine writers of Southern Gothic, Local Souls explores the loneliness inherent in social isolation and employs shocking situations such as death by beheading, incest, and sex with a grieving minor. And this is only in the first novella! Yet what is unique about Gurganus' writing is the synchronicity of  humor and pain as well as what Jamie Quatro calls the "sentence-level pyrotechnics and capacious inventions of plot."

In the first novella, "Fear Not," the narrator is suspiciously similar to Gurganus himself.  After having spent seven years writing and researching his Civil War novel, the narrator is "between books.". While attending his teenage godson's performance in Sweeney Todd, he observes the ambiance of his surroundings. "This toasty auditorium smells of industrial floor wax. Student adolescence keeps walls infused with a sebaceous sweetness akin to curry." (p. 15)

Although the crowd is comprised of "the same dutiful adults" who appear year after year, the narrator is struck by a glamorous couple who take their seats next to him. His best friend, Jenna, now seated, writes him a telling note: NOTICE PAIR. SAVE HUNCHES. STORY AFTER. GOOD.

What follows is a story that is as heartfelt as it is shocking - a story that pushes all boundaries, and yet, never loses compassion for the characters involved.

The next novella, "Saints Have Mothers," has the reader questioning just who is the "saint." In it, we are introduced to our first-person narrator, Jean Mulray - a woman who has forsaken becoming a poet to fully devoting her energies to her family. The result: her husband leaves her for another woman and her "saintly" daughter becomes increasingly insufferable. Gurganus paints a portrait of Caitlin Mulray as a self-righteous philanthopist more concerned with children in Africa than the well-being of her mother. Ultimately, there is a shocking turn of events that this reviewer does not wish to reveal.

But the piece de resistance is the final novella, "Decoy."  Like the other novellas in the collection, the story takes place in Falls, North Carolina. Marion Roper has been designated "Doc" since his boyhood. He has always been the shining star, the person most likely to succeed.  After medical school, he returns to Falls to care for its denizens.  Among them is Bill Mabry. Suffering from a disorder that affects his heart, Dr. Roper promises to keep Mabry alive for as long as he can.  Mabry has a first appointment with Doc every Monday - an appointment that cements his love and admiration for the doctor.  But the love is one-sided; Marion Roper is a god in the town, and gods are unknowable.

When Roper retires at age 70, he creates another career for himself--that of an artist.  He becomes renown as a carver of duck decoys and his creations become collectors' items. Bill longs to own one of these decoys, and in an act of hubris and callousness, Doc refuses to sell to his longtime patient.

But what happens in Gurganus' world when objects take on more value than humans? When latent homosexual yearnings go unrecognized and feared?  What happens to the Falls residents, including  Marion Roper, when a flood of biblical proportions levels the town and destroys his prize possessions? As Mabry observes:

You reach an age when you open your morning newspapers not to Sports, the Funnies, but Obits. At our age, Jan and I knew dozens who had "preceded us," as morticians must say.  Such acquaintances become your own silent majority of friends. But it wasn't that. That in itself is strangely not so tough on people of our given vintage. It's not the lost; it the lingerers that slay you. You don't usually have to see the deceased up and out walking. (p. 323)

"Decoy" is a spell-binding novella that explores the limits of friendship and the loneliness engendered by being "different." It looks at class, male friendship, loss, and ultimately, the indignities and isolation of old age.

Taken as a whole, Local Souls is a tour de force that is impossible to put down.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Difficult Men, by Brett Martin

Difficult Men is not a handbook about how to deal with unreliable boyfriends, horrible bosses, or Anthony Wiener. Instead, journalist Brett Martin's book is a smart, immensely entertaining study of the difficult male characters that inhabit the worlds of many of the best television dramas of the last two decades, and the difficult men who created those programs. The former group includes the Jersey mobsters of The Sopranos; the drug dealers and compromised police of The Wire; the meth producers and sellers of Breaking Bad; the corrupt cops of The Shield; the lying, cheating (but oh so good lookin') ad executives of Mad Men; and the serial killer known as Dexter. Among the later group are The Sopranos' David Chase; The Wire's David Simon; and Matthew Weiner, who wrote for The Sopranos before creating Don Draper and company.

You do not have to have seen any of these shows to enjoy this book (but it helps). Stories about the prickly personalities and how they often clashed with their staff and network honchos in the service of these groundbreaking shows make Difficult Men such an easy read. Take the relationship between David Chase and young writer and Harvard graduate Todd Kessler. Kessler threw himself into The Sopranos, bonding with Chase and often going to dinner with him and his family. He and Chase even co-wrote the episode "Funhouse" in which Tony Soprano’s long fever dream results in his subconscious revealing that one of his deputies is a traitor. “Funhouse” won the pair an Emmy nomination. Martin writes that after the nomination was announced, "Kessler spent the next ten minutes fielding congratulatory phone calls. Then came a call from Chase's assistant, saying that Chase wanted to see him in the office. When Kessler arrived, still buzzing from the news, Chase closed the door and sat down. 'I guess the timing isn't great,' he said, 'but I think I need to end this relationship. . . I think you've lost the voice of the show.'" Kessler went on to write the pilot for a new series of his own called Damages that "revolved around a terrible boss--brilliant but manipulative, vain, imperious, unpredictable."

Want more? How did Matthew Weiner, who could "be funny and charming, colleagues said, but also childishly underhanded (and) at times . . . a classic bully" survive working for Chase and then go on to create Mad Men? First of all, he was a brilliant writer, but he was also thick-skinned and thrived on the competitive atmosphere of the writers' room. Martin quotes Weiner as saying, "I think that part of my success climbing the hierarchy of the writers' room was that I knew that when the boss came in, no matter what mood he was in, I was not going to take it personally. I'd be like, ‘You don't like that? Okay. Well, I've got something else. No? I've got something else. Did you actually say F you to me? Okay. Well you don't mean it.’" Weiner had no problems dealing with the boss, nor, when the time came, to being the boss on Mad Men. Once told that when working with writers, ego suppression could be an unhealthy, Weiner replied, “Well, I’m very healthy.”

David Simon, too, battled famously with his writers, perhaps especially with Ed Burns, his co-showrunner on The Wire. However, Martin writes, the arguments were what Simon, "the lifelong believer in the positive powers of argument, wanted.” In the book, Simon is quoted as saying, “I never liked fighting with Ed because it was tiring and slowed the process down, but I never had a fight with him that, in the end, didn't make the show better."

Along with providing a history of HBO shows and other cable successes, Difficult Men is a sort of text book on how to get along in Hollywood. It also provides plenty of back stories on individual episodes of shows, as well as on how key actors were hired and how they interacted with other actors and with writers. For example, actor Michael Chiklis really wanted the lead role in The Shield. However all the writers could think was, “The fat guy from The Commish is NOT our (lead) guy,” said FX programming head Peter Liguori. But Chiklis was persistent, and an audition was arranged. Martin writes, “On his way in (to the audition room), Liguori passed a bald, buff guy in a skintight black T-shirt.” ‘Where’s Chiklis?’ he asked the room. ‘You just passed him,’ was the answer. The actor came in, gnawing on a mouthful of Nicorette, and proceeded to blow the room away.”

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Stoker's Manuscript by Royce Prouty

Joseph Barkeley is from Chicago, brought here as a child after being orphaned in Romania. He deals in rare books and manuscripts and does some authentication work on the side.  He receives a call from Arthur Ardelean who asks Joseph to authenticate and purchase the original draft, including notes, of Bram Stokers's novel Dracula. The work is arranged through an intermediary as the purchaser wants total anonymity.

But just who is really employing him? With an offer of money too good to turn down, Barkeley travels to Romania. The buyer is to donate the manuscript and notes to the museum in Dracula's castle in Romania. Before leaving, Barkeley is given a "special gift" from the buyer so the buyer will recognize him. The gift? An ornate silver cross with a red gemstone. Before leaving, Barkely contacts Mara Sadov, another book collector. She is an expert on vampires and tell Barkeley that to do this is to invite the undead into his life.  She then tells him what he will need to know in order to survive. Joseph's brother, Bernhardt, a catholic priest tells Joseph not to go.

Barkeley examines the documents, authenticates them and completes the purchase. The book was published in 1897, The notes date from 1890 and indicate the current published book was not the first edition. The first one had an epilogue and had a different ending. All the first printings were destroyed in a warehouse fire shortly after being printed. In Romania Barkeley is met by Lucian Blaga. Lucian is to help Joseph deal with the  "master", the man who actually bought the documents. Strange things happen to Joseph while there: he gets attacked by what he is sure is a dog until it runs away on 2 feet, people have red eyes and someone is talking to him telepathically.

The master tells Joseph that in order to complete the transaction he needs to find a grave that is mentioned in the original manuscript. When Joseph leads him to the wrong site, he tells Joseph that both he and his brother "owe him." Joseph then realizes why his father murdered his mother and burned her body before killing himself.

Joseph's financial deal now turns into a deal to save his life. His remaining time in Romania is spent just trying to placate the master and live long enough to get home.

The author, Royce Prouty, is a first time author and he did well with this book. Fast paced, the book moves through the dawning awareness of his past and precarious future that Joseph now realizes is his reality.

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