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Across the Pond Contenders

Across the Pond Contenders

posted by:
September 13, 2012 - 8:30am

Bring Up the BodiesThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FrySkiosWhat do Skios by Michael Frayn, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies have in common? Each has been included on the Long List of Great Britain’s highly coveted contemporary fiction award, the Man Booker Prize.

 

Taking place on the private Greek island of Skios, blonde Nikki Hook is the coolly capable public relations rep for the prestigious Fred Toppler foundation. She is preparing for the arrival of, and fantasizing about, much vaunted guest speaker Dr. Norman Wilfred. Nikki’s gal pal Georgie is heading to a secretive tryst at the other end of the island with dilettante playboy Oscar Fox. Lost luggage, mistaken identity, wrong rooms, taxi-driving brothers, and a language barrier all figure prominently in this farce, both comedic and satirical. Euphoksoliva, anyone?

 

Hobby-less Harold is recently retired. Seemingly estranged from his only son, on the very last nerve of his house-cleaning wife, and locked in desultory lawn care chats with his recently widowed neighbor, Harold needs a purpose. Purpose arrives via the mail in the guise of a brief letter from former co-worker Queenie Hennessy, who writes to let Harold know she is dying. Harold responds with a quick condolence note but instead decides that if he walks to see Queenie himself, she will survive. Marching along in yacht shoes and a neck tie, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has Mr. Fry walking five hundred miles through England as he develops both blisters and perspective in this charming yet poignant tale.

 

Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 winner of the Booker Prize, Wolf Hall, and again features Thomas Cromwell. Now a powerful minister to Henry VIII, Cromwell’s job is to clear out Anne Boleyn as Henry yearns to replace her with Jane Seymour. Written using present tense, the author offers a fresh view on Cromwell as a thoughtful reformer carrying out the wishes of the King. Mantel’s skill in writing fascinating and suspenseful historical fiction is on display here, drawing in the reader despite the foregone conclusion. Mantel plans a third book which will complete the Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

 

Lori

 
 

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About DNA (But Were Afraid to Ask)

The Violinist's ThumbOur genes can be likened to a story, and the gray, sticky paste of DNA is the language in which the story is written, according to Sam Kean, author of The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code. Kean relates the history and function of DNA and genes and their effect on collective and individual human development.

 

Watson, Crick, and Mendel are familiar names linked to DNA and gene theory but few people have heard of Thomas Hunt Morgan and his assistant, ladies’ man Calvin Bridges, or Catholic Sister Miriam Michael Stimson. Kean fleshes out years of tedious research undertaken by lesser-known scientists that paved the way for the award-winning discoveries. RNA, DNA palindromes, Y chromosomes, and mitochondria—all hard science terms that could prove overwhelming—are balanced by Kean with humor and relatable anecdotes. DNA injury and resiliency is illustrated by the case of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man unfortunate enough to be exposed to the bomb detonation in Hiroshima, who then travelled to Nagasaki in time to be blasted again.

 

The Violinist’s Thumb refers to virtuoso Niccolo Paganini, whose musical gifts were, in part, due to a genetic error inhibiting his body’s ability to produce collagen; his disease allowed him to stretch his hands to perform amazing violin feats.  Unfortunately it also contributed to his poor health and early demise. Kean explains how cat hoarding behavior can be linked to careless litter box cleaning, and cautions the reader to avoid eating a polar bear’s liver should you find yourself stranded at the North Pole. The book ends by raising thorny questions about cloning and the implications of analyzing a single person’s genome. Readers who enjoy popular science writing, such as Mary Roach’s Stiff, will find a winner in The Violinist’s Thumb.

Lori

 
 

Celebrate Roald Dahl Day

The BFGJoin in the celebration of the life and work of Roald Dahl, the renowned author whose books have delighted children and adults alike for over 50 years.

 

Roald Dahl Day takes place on September 13 every year, but this year is even more special because 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of The BFG. In this novel, an orphan named Sophie is taken from her bed by a giant who takes her to Giant Country. The giant doesn’t want to harm Sophie because, as he explains, he is the world’s only friendly giant. He is the BFG—the Big Friendly Giant. Unlike other giants who eat “human beans,” the BFG collects good dreams to give to children. Sophie and the BFG band together to save humans from the other giants.

 

To learn more about Dahl’s extraordinary life, try Michael Rosen’s new children’s biography Fantastic Mr. Dahl. This book tells the story of how a boy from a Wales grew up to write beloved children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda. Rosen, who declares himself Dahl’s biggest fan, tells Dahl’s extraordinary life story with affection and humor.

 

If you would like to celebrate Roald Dahl Day tomorrow, read your favorite Roald Dahl book, or try one of the fun activities here!

Beth

 
 

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Pass It On!Pass it On! by Marilyn Sadler recalls the classic children’s game known as 'Telephone' or 'Pass the Message'. Hilarity ensues when a message is misheard and passed from friend to friend with ridiculous results, and that’s just what happens when cow gets stuck in the fence. "Cow put a duck in a tent? Pass it on!" The silly combinations will have both children and adults chuckling as the animal friends continue to fracture the story.

 

The whimsical illustrations by Michael Slack make this story all the more fun. Brightly colored characters and scenes have a real retro look, with a Miró meets Fractured Fairy Tale feel. The clever story and artwork make this a book to look at again and again, and might inspire you to start a game of pass it on yourself!

Andrea

 
 

The Final Season

PaternoJoe Paterno long identified with Virgil’s reluctant Trojan hero Aeneas, who eschewed individual glory on his way to founding Rome. Aeneas fulfilled his destiny in a way that the late Penn State coach admired. Aeneas, like Paterno, was a team player.  In his new biography, Paterno, author Joe Posnanski paints a complicated picture of the consummate team player and his rise and fall as a coaching legend.

 

Posnanski cleverly organized Paterno’s story into five operatic acts, beginning with his success-driven upbringing in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and concluding with the tragic repercussions of the 2011 Penn State sexual abuse scandal.  By the end, and in a span of about three months, the winningest coach in college history had been consumed by scandal, cancer, and ultimately death.

 

Excellence and success meant different things to Joe Paterno. Examples of both are in plentiful supply in Posnanski’s book. There are anecdotes and testimonials but also contradictions. A former writer for Sports Illustrated, Posnanski visualized a different book when he was granted full access to Paterno last year. Then the Jerry Sandusky case erupted.   A chapter entitled “Sandusky” explores the emotional armor of these powerful men.  Apparently there was no love lost between the two. There are some interesting sidebars about Paterno’s impressions of the second most popular coach in Happy Valley.  

 

Although the author’s tone is generally sympathetic, it is still a white-hot topic as to why Paterno, a lifelong rule follower who valued his young men, did not step up for those most vulnerable. "One of Paterno's great strengths, and perhaps one of his great flaws was his fierce loyalty and absolute trust in the people closest to him," according to Posnanski. That observation remains the crux in evaluating the aggregate of a remarkable 46-year career that reached the pinnacle of heights before plunging to the depths of misery.

Cynthia

 
 

Hollywood Dreams

Hollywood Dreams

posted by:
September 11, 2012 - 8:30am

The Next Best ThingLike the heroine of her new novel The Next Best Thing, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner thought that it was a dream come true when she was approached to co-create a sitcom featuring a plus-sized heroine trying to break into show business. Although State of Georgia was short-lived, Weiner used her experiences in the television industry to create her new novel.

 

Readers first met Ruth Saunders in the short story “Swim” in Weiner’s The Guy Not Taken: Stories. After losing her parents in an accident that permanently scarred her, Ruth was raised by her grandmother. During her recovery from her injuries, Ruth and her grandmother found comfort in their favorite TV shows, like The Golden Girls. After she finished college, Ruth and her grandmother moved to Hollywood to chase Ruth’s dream of writing television shows. Now, Ruth has worked her way from glorified gofer to the creator of her first TV show, The Next Best Thing, a sitcom based loosely on her own life.

 

Ruth struggles with the process of shooting the pilot and first season of her show. As the show evolves, she watches her heartwarming comedy about an average girl breaking in to the restaurant business with the love and support of her grandmother change into another show entirely. Cady, the famous actress that the network forced Ruth to hire to play the plus-sized heroine, suddenly diets her way to a size 0. Network politics force her to fire actors that she thinks are right for the show, and the character based on her grandmother is rewritten as an oversexed cougar. Is this really the career she has always dreamed of? Weiner’s Hollywood-insider perspective and warm humor make readers cheer for Ruth’s chance to have it all.

 

Weiner is known for connecting with her readers via social media.  Fans can follow her on Twitter (@JenniferWeiner), where she live-tweets reality TV shows like The Bachelor and shares her favorite new books with her readers.

 

Beth

 
 

Swan Song

Swan Song

posted by:
September 10, 2012 - 8:45am

The Ugly DuchessTheodora Saxby is The Ugly Duchess in Eloisa James’ fourth Regency fairy tale inspired by Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. All her life she’s been told that her looks are less than impressive, and she knows that her only chance at marriage will be to snag a fortune hunter. When she sets her sights on Geoffrey Trevelyan, she enlists the help of her best friend, James Ryburn, the Earl of Islay. She wants James to pretend to court her so Geoffrey will be forced to propose. But the close contact creates sparks between these two friends and when it is James who asks for her hand, Theo follows her heart.  

 

But a fairy tale wouldn’t be complete without a villain, and in this story it’s James’ father, the Duke of Ashbrook. The Duke had amassed gambling debts which threatened the future of the estate and he forced his son to marry Theo for her money. Basking in the glow of newlywed happiness, Theo overhears James and his father arguing and quickly realizes that is was her money that led James down the aisle. Theo banishes James from their home and demands that he leave England. She then reinvents herself and becomes a glittering society swan. For seven years, Theo lives independently and in-demand without any idea of the whereabouts of her husband. When James finally returns, he is changed physically (he’s got a tattoo!) and emotionally, but remains steadfast in his desire to reclaim his beautiful wife who he always saw as a swan.

 

Eloisa James has created another enchanting fairy tale love story with two passionate characters, a touch of wit, and a happily ever after. Lucky local fans can meet Eloisa in person at Nora Roberts’ Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro, where she’ll be signing with Nora and several other authors on September 15th from noon until two o'clock. 

 

Maureen

 
 

A Platypus and a Wombat Walk Into a Bar...

A Platypus and a Wombat Walk Into a Bar...

posted by:
September 7, 2012 - 8:45am

Albert of Adelaide“Albert had come to the conclusion that the key to survival in Old Australia was in picking a criminal element you liked and sticking with it.”

 

Albert of Adelaide is tired of his life. He is bored by his daily routine, the same meals over and over, the same neighbors arguing and complaining, the same people gawking at him day in and day out. He longs for freedom and adventure, to experience life as it was meant to be lived. He gets his chance when an inattentive staffer fails to lock his cage and Albert the platypus breaks out of the Adelaide Zoo, beginning his journey toward self-discovery.

 

Following tales and legends, Albert begins his search for “Old Australia,” a place where animals rule themselves and humans do not interfere. Along the way, he makes friends as well as enemies. Even among the animals Albert is a curiosity, which proves to be both an advantage and disadvantage for him. Curiosity soon turns to fear, and Albert must learn the difficult lesson that not everyone nice is inherently good and not every criminal is inherently bad.

 

Debut novelist Howard Anderson has created a thought-provoking and entertaining story. Comparisons to Watership Down or even Animal Farm are inevitable, but Albert is much more reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild West language and shoot ‘em up simplicity of Old Australia draws the reader in, with many laugh-out-loud moments to enjoy. The supporting characters are a literal hoot, namely the pyromaniac wombat and a pair of drunken bandicoots. Albert of Adelaide is recommended for fans of westerns, animal stories, or anyone who likes a good laugh.

 

Sam

categories:

 
 

Glitter and Blood

Glitter and Blood

posted by:
September 7, 2012 - 8:00am

Dare MeWho knew that the world of high school cheerleading could be so fascinating?  Dare Me by Megan Abbott is a chilling tale that needs to be read in one sitting. Abby Hanlon is lieutenant to cheerleading captain Beth Cassidy. The two women are used to the status quo, the hierarchy of high school. Things change as their coach leaves and is replaced by Colette French, a young coach who begins to push the girls to their limits, turning them into champions. She gathers the young women into a cohesive unit, urging them to work together to go farther and fly higher. Colette presents herself as a mentor and a friend to the girls. She invites them to her house, often neglecting her husband and daughter. She supplies them with alcohol and berates them about weight issues. Colette sees no need for a team captain, which doesn’t sit well with Beth, who is used to being top dog. Beth becomes sullen and resentful, and Abby seems caught in the middle. Then an apparent suicide rocks the town, threatening to reveal squad secrets. A power struggle ensues that threatens to tear apart the squad, and the reader wonders who will survive the fallout.

 

Though the setting of Dare Me is high school, the intense theme makes it a book for older teens and adults. Abbott captures the cheerleading world perfectly. She describes the moves and tricks, the training, the blood, sweat and tears. She explores what happens when you are no longer accepted by the group, and the darkness and desperation of the human heart. Dare Me is a journey that is not easy, but once begun will need to be read to its intense conclusion.

Doug

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Reciprocal Awareness

Reciprocal Awareness

posted by:
September 6, 2012 - 7:05am

Gifts of the CrowSeattle wildlife scientist John Marzluff partners with illustrator-naturalist Tony Angell to create Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans. While absorbing and fascinating, this is not the usual natural history of another species that shares our environment. Instead, the authors take an approach that delves deep into the neurological similarities between crows and humans, and look at numerous studies of the birds’ behavior that show how our noisy neighbors have adapted to our lives.

 

These birds share many characteristics of humans. In a chapter that discusses the emotional lives of crows and ravens, anecdotes describe these birds’ approaches to injured comrades, and particularly their grieving rituals. While crows often eat the dead of other species, they rarely if ever even touch their own, but instead come close and linger in a sort of respect-paying process. Also considered in great detail is the way that crows approach play. Scientists consider species that have incorporated play into their lives as highly advanced. The “social brain network” of these evolved mammals and birds is shown to be complex, and indicates multifaceted consideration of decision and realization. Crows have been observed playing “ring-around-the-rosy” with themselves and with unwitting humans who suddenly realize they too are part of the bird’s game.

 

Humans and crows have been watching each other for generations: cultures that laud crows as our forebears are plentiful worldwide, from India, to the American Southwest, and most famously the Canadian Pacific coast.  While we have learned much about crows and their relatives through scientific and neurological study, there is still much more to understand. Our mutual ecologies and simultaneous evolution will continue to shape both our species moving forward.

Todd