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Staff Picks

Airbow by Maria Kalaniemi & Sven Ahlbäck []

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What is Finnish button accordion music, anyway? If you like Sharon Shannon, you’ll love Maria Kalaniemi.

She’s virtuosic, soulful and versatile. On this album she teams up with Swedish fiddler and scholar of folk music Sven Ahlbäck for a selection of traditional Scandinavian tunes and original compositions. They are both technically brilliant and have a wonderful synergy together. Johan Hedin joins them on nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle) and Swedish singer Susanne Rosenberg is featured on a few tunes. The music is spare, gorgeous, with a haunting energy that’s both ancient and contemporary. This is great listening for fans of Nordic or Celtic folk, fiddle tunes, or the undeservedly-maligned accordion.

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Being Mortal by Atul Gawande [, , ]

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As the title implies, this book is for everyone, everyone who is mortal. With the subject matter, one might expect a very depressing tome. Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and a staff writer for the New Yorker, is an amazing story-teller. In the end, there is hope for making the world, and the end of life, better. He frankly addresses the failings of a medical system that tries to fix everything, when that might not be the right choice. He takes us through the very personal lives, and deaths, of many people, including the very personal story of his own father, as well as sharing his research into how we got where we are. Yes, it is good to live in a world that no longer has poor houses, but in some cases, we haven’t done much better.

Reading this book will hopefully encourage you to start the difficult but important conversations with your relatives and loved ones. Do you want to spend the end of your life living with parakeets? Will you be happy if you can eat chocolate ice cream and watch football?

[This was also very good on audio, but might make you cry a little while you are driving…]

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The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson []

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Bill Bryson is at his sincerely sardonic best as he roams his adopted country in search of what he loves best: quaint villages, good hiking, exquisite views, mysterious ancient sites, and odd people to make fun of–including himself. It’s just as unputdownable as all his other travel memoirs.

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Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin []

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This is a love story. A love story about Pizza. This silly tale is sure to draw many ears…

A raccoon has to figure out how he can get his little paws on what he cherishes most in the world, but he is having a difficult time getting anywhere close to a cheesy, gooey pie. Good thing the narrator is on this furry buddy’s side. Don’t worry, the end of this story is a happy one.

My least favorite thing about this book is how hungry I get while reading it. Let’s just say, I relate a lot to the main character.

If you enjoyed Secret Pizza Party, try Dragons Love Tacos.

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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner []

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Eric Weiner is a grump with a mission — trying to discover the happiest places in the world, and what makes them that way. From the World Database of Happiness in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to the Gross National Happiness of Bhutan, from binge drinking and happiness in Iceland to binge drinking and unhappiness in Moldova, Weiner travels the world and discovers some of what makes different people happy, and the many paths one can take to get there.

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Ball of Fire by Howard Hawks []

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In this delightful romantic comedy Gary Cooper plays Bertram Potts, the youngest of eight professors who have lived together for years, devoting their time to the production of a new encyclopedia. When a trash collector asks the professors for help answering questions for a trivia contestd Bertram is baffled by the garbageman’s language and realizes his article on American on slang is badly out of date. In order to correct this he must leave his reference books behind in order to do some research in the field.

Bertram’s field research brings him in contact with Sugarpuss O’Shea, a witty and jocular nightclub performer portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck. Sugarpuss has no interest in helping Bertram with his research until her mob-boss boyfriend gets in trouble and she needs a place to hide from the police. What better place to hide than among these quiet and respectable professors?

Having taken refuge with the encyclopedists, Sugarpuss delights in teasing the stodgy Bertram and soon makes friends with the other professors (who, unlike Bertram, enjoy her company from the beginning). Bertram, however, worries that her presence will interfere with progress on the encyclopedia. “Now, when the Foundation launched our vessel”, he proclaims, “it very wisely followed an old rule of the sea, no women aboard. It chose a crew of single men with nothing to distract them from the course they were to sail.” Sugarpuss recognizes this as nonsense, but can’t risk a fight under the circumstances. Still, it is with evident sarcasm that she offers “to sit on her legs”.

Bertram almost redeems himself when he replies, “Make no mistake, I shall regret the absence of your keen mind”. However, he continues with, “unfortunately, it is inseparable from an extremely disturbing body.”, a statement which comes across as almost redeeming—Bertram wasn’t concerned for the sake of the other professors, but for himself. Fate will, however, keep Sugarpuss and the professor together, and despite flying wisecracks and bullets (remember the mob-boss boyfriend?) they soon grow to enjoy each other’s company.

Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss is refreshingly strong, independent, and easily the most complex character in the film. Gary Cooper’s Bertram is understated and reserved. Many of the characters come across as cartoonish, which is just what you want from the supporting characters in a screwball comedy. The dialogue is fast and witty and, of course, full of period slang, familiar and not.

By the way, Ball of FIre would later be remade as the musical A Song is Born starring Danny Kaye. The dialogue in the two films is in large parts identical, despite the different scenario and very different portrayals. Folks who have seen A Song is Born will be relieved to know that in Ball of Fire the dialogue actually makes sense!

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The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips []

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Marie Phillips, author of the delicious satire Gods Behaving Badly, now turns her gift for parody on the legends of King Arthur and his knights of Camelot. It’s a bit of Terry Pratchett meets Jane Austen meets The Princess Bride. The underdogs at Camelot are the heroes of this comic novel: Sir Humphrey of the Table of Less Valued Knights (the rectangular one in the draftiest corner, where they only get leftovers and watered-down wine) takes up a quest to find a damsel’s missing fiancé. Meanwhile in the neighboring kingdom, the freshly-minted and unwilling Queen Martha runs away from her destiny while another knight is tasked with bringing her back to the exceptionally unpleasant Prince-Consort-who-wants-to-be-King Edwin. Nobody is quite what they appear, except perhaps the elephant Jemima. Even the Lady of the Lake is a substitute, annoyed with having to hold on to the magic sword while the original Lady has run off with Merlin. Full of wit, surprises and off-the-wall characters, this contemporary re-visioning of medieval myths is a lot of fun.

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The Diviners by Libba Bray []

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An enchanting mystery that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end! A dark story of the supernatural set in 1920s New York City. Speakeasies, theater, jazz and plenty of twenties slang to keep you giggling.

The story follows a young woman named Evie O’Neill who possesses a power she just can’t explain. After Evie’s brother dies, she is sent to New York City to live with her uncle, a professor of the occult. A chilling murder takes place and Evie’s uncle is called in to help the police investigate the mysterious circumstances. Could Evie’s power help solve this disturbing mystery?

Bray’s characters will stay with you long after you finish reading. Stay tuned for the second book in this series, Lair of Dreams.

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You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey []

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This book will definitely spark a child’s curiosity about the world around them. Elin Kelsey explores topics of the universe and nature through simple and lighthearted text complimented by beautiful artwork. Soyeon Kim captivates her audience with magical three dimensional dioramas that jump off the page.
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Like this book? Try Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford

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Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung []

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Did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law E. W Hornung was also a successful author? Hornung’s hero, A. J. Raffles is a “debonair, witty and cricket-loving gentleman thief” too selfish to be a Robin Hood, but too noble to steal from those he feels can ill-afford it, and patriotic enough that he goes to war for his country and once, after making suitable precautions to avoid self-incrimination, he arranges for the spoils of a particularly splendid heist to be a gift to the queen.

Like those of Sherlock Holmes, the exploits of A. J. Raffles are told from the perspective of a devoted friend and accomplice. In place of Doctor Watson, Raffles has Harry Manders, more usually known, at least to his criminal friend, as Bunny. Bunny Manders is a struggling journalist and surprisingly innocent given his enthusiasm for his scofflaw friend. At the beginning of Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman, Bunny has recently been released from jail, and Raffles is presumed dead. Of course, we soon learn that they both have plenty more adventures ahead of them.

Hornung dedicated his first set of Raffles stories to his brother-in-law, and Doyle was suitably impressed, writing that “there are few finer examples of short-story writing in our language than these.” He did not however, approve Hornung’s choice of subject, however: “You must not make the criminal a hero.” Readers, however did not seem to mind: Raffles was the second most popular fictional character in the early twentieth century, second only to Sherlock Holmes.

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Hidden by Loïc Dauvillier []

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Memories of being hidden, and keeping those memories hidden… A grandmother tells a special story from her childhood in this touching graphic novel about being young during World War II.

Douina’s lives with her mother and father in Paris. Her life is relatively normal until she is made to wear a star on her jacket. Her father had told her it was a sheriff’s star but everyone begins to treat her differently. Soon her parents are taken away to work camps and Douina is left to be cared for by neighbors and kind strangers. As she settles into her new life and new name, Simone, she can’t help but miss her mother and father. Once the war has ended and it is safe again, she travels back home and begins the search for her parents.

This book offers children a glimpse into the past- what it was like to be young during WWII and how some children and families were affected by the Holocaust in France. Words by Loïc Dauvillier and art by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo

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Hearts Made Whole by Jody Hedlund []

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This book is part of Hedlund’s Beacon of Hope Series and is the Sequel to Love Unexpected.  Set in 1865 Michigan, Caroline Taylor has helped her father tend to a lighthouse and care for her younger siblings.  When her father dies unexpectedly, she is forced to give up the job and their home. Ryan Chambers, a wounded Civil War veteran with alcohol and drug addictions and no experience arrives as the new lighthouse keeper.  This is a story of faith, hope, healing and romance.

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