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Librarians

Jennifer Lawrence Takes on Southern Gothic

SerenaFew audiences can think of The Hunger Games without picturing Jennifer Lawrence, the talented young actress who portrays Katniss Everdeen and who also earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2010 film version of Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone.  So what’s next for the famous “girl on fire?”  According to Entertainment Weekly, Lawrence will soon be starring in yet another page-to-screen adaptation, this time as the title character in Ron Rash’s 2008 thriller, Serena

 

Set in Depression-era North Carolina, Rash’s story introduces us to newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton as they stake their claim to a lumber empire deep in the Appalachian Mountains.  The two rule over their territory like feudal lords and Serena quickly proves herself to be a survivor in the harsh wilderness, an equal to any of the men.  But after Serena learns she cannot bear children, she unleashes a murderous plot against George’s illegitimate son to secure her power and plunges into madness rivaling that of Lady Macbeth.  Hauntingly written, this is a gothic tale of greed and corruption driven by an unforgettable female character.  Jennifer Lawrence is definitely no stranger to visceral leading roles, but Serena promises to be a dark and exciting departure from the good-hearted protagonists the actress usually plays.    

  

Serena was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and is a highly recommended pick for fans of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Frazier.  While the film adaptation (co-starring Bradley Cooper) doesn’t hit theaters until 2013, you can check out your copy of Serena today!    

Alex

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Mysticism, Opium, and Titanic

The House of Velvet and GlassHave you ever wondered what it must have been like to stroll through the elaborately appointed rooms of the Titanic on its maiden voyage, or dine alongside extravagantly dressed women and some of the wealthiest people in the world? Did you ever consider what Old Shanghai may have been like for a crew of sailors after months at sea, or speculate about one of its infamous opium dens?  What about envisioning how it must have felt to be alive during the early days of the twentieth century in affluent Boston, where social standards defined every aspect of your life?  The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe is a masterfully woven tale that encompasses all of these settings and more. 

 

The story is set in the years preceding World War I and revolves around lives of the Allston family.  The mother and youngest daughter have perished on Titanic’s ill-fated crossing 3 years previous, and the eldest daughter Sibyl continues to struggle with their loss.  Her mother’s death has forced her into the role of family caretaker.  She and her father are residing in the family’s brownstone in Boston’s wealthy  Back Bay region when her younger brother abruptly returns home from school under mysterious circumstances.  Sibyl has taken to attending séances hoping to contact her Mother, seeking both comfort and advice regarding her brother.

 

This story moves between different time periods, telling the back story of Mr. Allston when he was a young sailor and the account of the Titanic passengers.  Howe effectively weaves all of these plots into a complete, cohesive, and interesting story. Her thorough descriptions and authentic flare make each scene come to life.  No details are spared in this enchanting historical novel that will capture your imagination and your heart.

Jeanne

 
 

Fiction Award Nominees

Fiction Award Nominees

posted by:
May 21, 2012 - 5:01am

Lost Memory of SkinThe Forgotten WaltzSwamplandia!The nominees for the inaugural Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction were recently announced.  This award recognizes books written for adults that were published in the U.S. in the previous year.   The three finalists deal with varied and unique topics, but each has a strong emotional current running throughout.

 

In Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks turns a magnifying glass toward the outcasts of society.  A “community” of convicted sex offenders has sprung up on a causeway at the edge of the city limits in South Florida.  These men are caught in the grey area of the legal system; they cannot reside within 2500 feet of any gathering place for children but they must live within the city according to the conditions of their parole.  Never one to shy away from the morally complex, Banks presents these men sympathetically and challenges the reader to reexamine his/her own moral code.  Lost Memory of Skin was a 2012 Pen/Faulkner Award finalist. 

 

Sparsely written and often surprising, The Forgotten Waltz is a novel set in Ireland that deals with the emotional taboo of extramarital affairs.  A chance meeting leads Gina and Sean into a passionate affair that takes years to arrive at a crescendo. Booker Prize winner Anne Enright takes an unapologetic look at love, marriage, infidelity and secrets.  Enright’s writing is non-linear and poetic.  Musical metaphors abound in the witty dance that is The Forgotten Waltz, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize.

 

Swamplandia! by debut author Karen Russell is the story of Ava Bigtree, a thirteen-year-old alligator wrestler at her family’s animal park in the Florida Everglades.  The struggle to save the park after the death of her mother rests squarely on Ava’s shoulders, as the other members of the family withdraw to battle their own personal demons.  Whimsical, beautiful language anchors this magical tale to a place somewhere between imagination and reality.  Swamplandia! was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Sam

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An Amusing State of Cluelessness

An Amusing State of Cluelessness

posted by:
May 19, 2012 - 10:42am

A Surrey State of AffairsShe has a daughter on a reality show called Dungeon.  Her Lithuanian maid just does not understand what it means to properly look after a house.  And for some reason, her match- making skills amongst her fellow church bell ringers do not seem to be working. 

 

So begins A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford.  Constance Harding has lived a perfect sort of sheltered existence as a British housewife in Surrey, but lately modern-day life has not cooperated with her. She is forced to start a blog (suggested by her thoughtful son as an alternative to sharing everything with only him) and give daily updates to the World Wide Web about life as she sees it. 

 

Get ready to relive 2008 day by day!  Constance is a faithful blogger, even when her beloved parrot almost flies away.  She struggles to find the perfect conservative woman for her son, puzzles about why her daughter wasn’t excited about her 19th birthday party (who wouldn’t like a magician or fairy cakes?) and continuously thinks up reasons for her husband’s erratic behavior.  Her interpretation of life and events stays humorous and fresh, and it is all part of the charm of this clueless fifty-something narrator who is about to experience one big dose of reality from the modern world.

 

This amusing book is perfect for a light weekend or vacation read.  It’s entertaining and straightforward.  Fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Winifred Watson will love this delightful story.  

Melanie

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A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope

posted by:
May 18, 2012 - 5:01am

The Testament of Jessie LambBiological terrorism, precarious scientific boundaries, and the personal cost of saving the human race intersect in Jane Rogers' heartfelt dystopian novel, The Testament of Jessie Lamb.  Set in Manchester, England somewhere in the near future, Maternal Death Syndrome is a reality; the ubiquitous rogue virus is killing pregnant women around the world.

 

Trying to be a normal teenager in these times is impossible for 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, whose  "testament" or diary opens the story.  Idealistic, determined and enlightened by her scientist father, Jessie wants only to live on the planet in a less greedy, destructive way.  She and her activist friends ponder whether the virus is really payoff for human-engendered ills, like global warming and the oil shortage.  When she learns from her father that a new vaccine enables young women (called "sleeping beauties") to give birth to healthy children she decides to volunteer. Unfortunately for Jessie, it also means entering into a coma and never waking up, something her father will not allow.

 

Rogers' writing, evocative and straight forward, raises the specters of medical research, self-sacrifice and the fine line between being delusional, a naive martyr, or courageous heroine.  Alternating between her journal entries and events leading up to her decision, Jessie's voice is authentic and poignant. Rogers take the time to develop complicated characters in Jessie and her father.

Long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Rogers' first foray into science fiction recently earned her the UK's Arthur C. Clarke award.  Like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Rogers' work is a compelling read for literary dystopia fans.  Teen fiction readers will also find plenty to like here.

Cynthia

 
 

The Pioneer Woman Does It All

Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My FrontierCharlie the Ranch DogBlack Heels to Tractor Wheels

Ree Drummond is a successful blogger, Food Network star, and author.  Her down-home comfort foods have really struck a chord with readers and cooks from all walks of life. Drummond’s success began with her blog The Pioneer Woman, which has a legion of followers, receiving 24 million hits monthly.  The blog covers her family life on an Oklahoma cattle ranch, her efforts to homeschool her children, and of course, cooking.  The recipes are delicious and easy to follow, and readers love that Drummond illustrates them with step-by-step photos.

 

It seemed like a natural transition for Drummond to publish cookbooks.  Her most recent, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, is filled with tasty recipes color photos, and Drummond’s anecdotes and comments.  You’ll want to try the recipes for yourself when you see her homemade glazed doughnuts, cowgirl quiche, and “Knock You Naked” brownies!  The book quickly became a bestseller, and there are now more than 480,000 copies in print.

Drummond recently started filming the second season of her Food Network show “The Pioneer Woman”.  Like her blog, the show features her life on the ranch, her family, and her favorite recipes.  Viewers will also be interested to know that she has published a picture book called Charlie the Ranch Dog that features her family’s beloved basset hound.

 

It’s not all about the recipes, though.  To learn more about Drummond’s life, try her memoir Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story, which tells the story of how she met her husband Ladd Drummond who she affectionately calls Marlboro Man in the book and her blog.  Ree originally planned to go on to law school, but everything changed when she met Ladd.  She shocked her family by marrying him and moving to the ranch. The rest, as they say, is history.

Beth

 
 

Baseball's Odd Couple

Driving Mr. YogiFor Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry spring training is a renewal of their friendship. Every spring former Yankees’ pitching superstar Guidry drives to the Tampa airport and picks up former Yankees’ catcher and Hall of Famer Berra. The two go the ballpark, watch games, eat dinner together, and trade stories.  Every day for the next month follows the same pattern. Driving Mr. Yogi is the story of the bond between two men who on the surface appear to share only baseball in common.   The catcher from a poor Italian neighborhood in St. Louis and the pitcher from Cajun swamp country were born a quarter of a century apart, and yet today Guidry calls Berra his best friend.  New York Times reporter Harvey Araton first shared this story last year in an article in the paper and expands on it in this humorous and thoughtful narrative. 

 

It all began in 1999, when Berra was reunited with the Yankees following a 14 year self-exile that began when he was fired by George Steinbrenner.  The rift between the two men led Berra to cut all ties with the Bronx Bombers. The Boss finally offered an apology and Berra went back to spring training where Guidry befriended him. Berra had been a clubhouse mentor during Guidry’s playing days and Ron knew the young players would benefit from Berra’s impressive knowledge of the game and its history. Sure enough, Berra’s casual batting tip changed Nick Swisher's season, and the new ballplayers savored the anecdotes about famous old-timers such as Ted Williams and Don Larsen.    

This is a story of baseball and the rituals of spring training, but it is also a funny and affectionate story of friendship that transcends generations. And yes, it is the Yankees, but even the most ardent Orioles fan will appreciate this engaging story of two likeable sportsmen!

Maureen

 
 

Horten Finds a Clue

Horten Finds a Clue

posted by:
May 16, 2012 - 1:11am

Horten's Miraculous MechanismsSummer is off to a doleful start for 10-year old Stuart Horten. Stuart is the pint-sized son of exceptionally tall, exceptionally brilliant parents (his mother is a doctor and his father is a crossword puzzle constructionist). Clever as they may be, Stuart’s parents aren’t always the most sensible sort of people. This can surely be the only explanation for why they’ve chosen to uproot young Stuart just at the start of summer vacation, to move to nobody-knows-where Beeton. With the start of the school year and any reasonable opportunity of meeting kids his own age a far removed prospect, Stuart prepares to settle in for a very long, exceptionally dull summer.

 

Beeton does have one claim to familial fame and Stuart’s interest. It was here that his great-uncle Tony developed a dazzling career in magic, before mysteriously disappearing fifty years ago. However, those magical days are long gone; the mystery of Uncle Tony’s disappearance unsolved and mostly forgotten. Until this summer, that is.

 

Stuart resigns himself to exile in Beeton. However, he wasn't prepared for the meddling triplet girls next door, or the seriously spooky encounter with an out-of-order telephone booth. With one mystifying phone call, Stuart is set on a path of puzzles and clues, designed by his great-uncle Tony to lead the “right sort of boy” to an altogether splendid secret workshop filled with marvelous – perhaps even miraculous – mechanisms. With clues afoot, newfound friends at his back, and even a hint of danger in the air, Stuart’s summer is swiftly turning into the adventure of a lifetime.

 

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms is perfect for children ages 9-12 and in particular for children who enjoy elements of mystery and puzzles in stories. Parents will also appreciate the expansive introduction to vocabulary provided by the dialogue of Stuart’s crossword clue-dropping father. Additional recommendations for those who have enjoyed this story include The 39 Clues series (various authors) as well as the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Meghan

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The Bee's Knees

UnBEElievablesThe Honeybee ManBackyard beekeeping continues to rise in popularity and two recent children’s titles spotlight these buzzy critters and their importance to our world.  In UnBEElievables by Douglas Florian, this award-winning poet of the natural world offers 14 lively poems.  The subjects of his verses range from bee anatomy, to the different types of bees, to the collapse of bee colonies in recent years.  He uses his trademark wordplay and puns, but also manages to sneak some information into the poems as well.  A paragraph offering further explanation follows each verse and the illustrations bring the words to life. Working in gouache, colored pencils, and collage on paper bags, Florian captures the essence of the world of bees. This is a fun and visually appealing book that comes complete with a BEEbliography.

     

In her children’s debut, Lela Nargi shares the story of Fred from Brooklyn in The Honeybee Man. Every morning, Fred climbs to his rooftop and greets his beloved bees, “Good morning, my bees, my darlings!" His honeybees travel across Brooklyn searching for flowers all day and return with nectar to store in their wax rooms.  At the right time, Fred makes honey which the entire neighborhood enjoys. This beautifully written story accompanied by Kyrsten Brooker's collage-style illustrations offers an inside look at the life of a sweet beekeeper and the honey-making process.  An afterword of "amazing facts" explains more about apiarists, bees' life cycles, and more.  Even the endpapers provide a learning opportunity with labeled diagrams of bees and beekeeping materials. This is an unusual glimpse of beekeeping in an urban setting inspired by two neighbors in Nargi’s New York community.  

Maureen

 
 

Jean Craighead George, 1919-2012

Julie of the WolvesMy Side of the MountainPopular children's book author Jean Craighead George has died at the age of 92. A long-time resident of the Washington DC area, she was best known for her naturalistic writing for children. George won the Newbery Medal in 1972 for the Julie of the Wolves, and was also well-known for My Side of the Mountain, among countless other works.

Todd