Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Julie's Journal : Podcasts

My husband finds it unbelievable that I do not usually listen to music in the car.  He loves music and can't imagine being without it, but I find that in our always connected world, those fifteen minutes each morning and evening are some of my only quiet time.  However, I have recently discovered podcasts.  I know that podcasts have been around for awhile, but I have just now really gotten into them.  I have occasionally been listening to an episode during my drive.  A podcast is similar to a radio talk show, but normally on a specific topic and available to download or stream so that it can be listened to at any time.  I've listed a few of the podcasts I've been enjoying below.  If you are aware of any interesting ones that I need to know about, please let me know.

The first podcast I discovered was, fittingly, "What Should I Read Next?"  Anne Bogel talks to bookish people about their lives and interests and then asks them to list three books they liked and one they did not.  After discussing the books and what the guest liked or didn't about them, Anne recommends at least three books that she thinks they will enjoy.  I have found several helpful suggestions in Anne's recommendations, both for myself personally and for additions to the library's collection.  Plus, I just really enjoy listening to people talk about books and all the things that they love about them.

Beautiful/Anonymous is an interesting podcast.  Chris Gethard takes one anonymous phone call and is willing to talk about whatever the caller wants to discuss.  The first one I listened to was quite intense.  In the episode entitled "The Whirlpool Galaxy"  an astrophysics researcher talks about the science of the universe and galaxies and then segue's into a discussion of a great tragedy in her life.  She illustrates quite baldly how cruel people can be to others, even in the midst of great pain.  Be aware that depending on who calls in, the language in the podcasts can be pretty rough.  I have skipped around some in order to find episodes without as much language.

Stuff You Missed in History Class is just what it sounds like.  Yesterday at lunch, I listened to the story of Cassie Chadwick (born Elizabeth Bigley).  Chadwick was a con-woman and made a fortune trading on a lie.  She claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie.  She forged a promissory note from Carnegie and then borrowed millions of dollars from several banks on his name.  Her scheme was particularly brilliant because of the social customs of the time. No one wanted to ask Carnegie if the story was true, so they took her at her word.  Eventually, of course, her lies were exposed and Cassie/Elizabeth died in prison.  The episodes include stories of individuals lost to history, unknown stories about famous individuals, and interesting events from history.

The Moth Radio Hour is a replay of stories told at live Moth events.  From The Moth's website:  "The Moth's mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of the human experience."  StoryCorps records interviews between friends and family members.  People get to tell their stories and ask questions of their loved ones that they have always wanted to ask.

Podcasts are available on just about every possible topic imaginable.  You can listen to sermons from your favorite preacher, laugh with your favorite comedian, and learn from great teachers on any subject that interests you.  Let me know what your favorites are!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Chance's Corner: Ready Player One Review

Full disclosure, I never finished Ernest Cline’s science fiction/fantasy novel Ready Player One, where a dying tech-guru, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), coordinates a Willy Wonka-esque gaming competition to see who will inherent his trillion dollar empire. I didn’t even make it to the second trial. Either I wasn’t in the mood to read it, or it was just a terrible book. Perhaps it was the medium, seeing as it’s not really all that enthralling to read about avatars Parzival and Art3mis re-enacting every scene from 1983’s WarGames in an attempt to win Halliday’s Easter Egg Hunt. But to actually see it on the screen, not WarGames, but a living, breathing virtual world (aptly-named The Oasis), now that’s truly something - especially when it's under the direction of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg really knows how to craft a blockbuster, Jaws is considered the original summer blockbuster, after all, and Ready Player One marks his return to that market after directing a string of modest successes. And all I have to say is… wow, welcome back (not that he ever really left).

I know this is going to sound like sacrilege, but Spielberg’s Ready Player One is one of those rare films that actually improves on its source material. It scraps the original three trials and creates its own thrilling set pieces, which includes a high-stakes race where iconic cars (The DeLorean! Bigfoot! The Batmobile! Mach 5!) have to outrun King Kong and the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, a game of survival that takes place inside an awe-inspiring recreation of an iconic horror film, and a climactic battle that involves nearly every pop culture character imaginable. Honestly, the numerous crossovers and references left me awestruck. It was like I was a kid again! Throughout the film, I was beaming from ear to ear, I was covered in goosebumps, and I actually shed some happy tears. I’m as sentimental as Spielberg, okay?

In all seriousness, Spielberg’s knack for injecting childlike whimsy and sentimentality into his films is Ready Player One’s greatest attribute… as well as its weakness. My main problem is that I smelled the phony all over the ending, particularly when the central villain, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), smiled and was cleanly dispatched. Uh… okay? The tone never felt quite right after that, but it was the ending, so it didn’t last too long. Speaking of which, I was initially skeptical about the runtime of the film, 2 hours and 20 minutes, but those hours and minutes seemed to just fly right on by, seeing as Spielberg keeps Ready Player One pumping with action.

Unlike the novel, Ready Player One doesn’t tarry too long in the real world or in the quiet moments. Once we’re transported to the beautifully rendered world of The Oasis, we’re lost in it, which does limit certain character and plot developments. Like who are High Five? Well, I know who they are, but who are they? And supposedly there’s some great Rosebud in Halliday’s life, as it’s mentioned several times, but when the Rosebud is finally revealed, I wasn’t buying it. That part ties into the phony, and decidedly rushed, ending. Despite all that, Ready Player One still manages to be an overall fun and thrilling film that’s bursting with pure imagination.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Chance's Corner: Three Billboards + Lady Bird + The Shape of Water Reviews

As most of the Oscar winning and nominated films have filtered into the library this month, I've been checking them out to see what all the hubbub was about. Here I have selected three of the top contenders for Best Picture, which The Shape of Water ultimately won, and reviewed them. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is one of the most vile and morally bankrupt films I have ever seen. It tries to tackle every current hot-button issue, which is certainly why most of the awards shows loved it, but it does it in the worst way possible. It mostly operates in blunt absurdism, working with one of the worst scripts committed to screen that doesn’t reflect real human speech, thought or action. A lot of the script is just projected, rather than acted, e.g. the entirety of the “I hope I get [redacted] on the way!” scene. Sorry for the "[redacted]", but this film is full of foulness. Anyways, that scene doesn’t particularly make a great case for Mildred missing her daughter so much. I’m sure a quiet moment between them later would have better reflected their relationship, but it is never presented. A redemption arc is presented for Sam Rockwell’s abhorrently violent and racist deputy, though, and I’m sorry, but he is irredeemable. I’m kind of shocked he got an award for this? I mean, isn’t he the personification of what Hollywood is supposedly fighting against? I’m not saying they shouldn’t reward great acting, even if it’s against their message, but these actors were merely playing wild caricatures instead of characters in a film that has a highly disturbing ending message.

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig makes a stunning debut as a director, breathing life and vivacity into the modern (well, it's actually 2002) coming of age tale. It's an awkward tale, but in an endearing way. Stylistically, Gerwig presents Lady Bird's (Saoirse Ronan) last two semesters of catholic school through fragments, some funny, some heart-wrenching, but altogether wonderful. It feels incredibly true to life and like a daydream of memories. All around, Lady Bird is well-acted, but Laurie Metcalf is the real knockout here as Lady Bird's mother. She taps into every mother's hopes, fears and dreams for their children... and for themselves. I just can't stress how fantastic she is in this. Okay, I can - she should have won Best Supporting Actress.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water suffers from the same malady surrounding most of director/writer Guillermo del Toro's work - it's hollow and full of contrivances. The key problem is that Elisa's (Sally Hawkins) relationship with Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) is no tale as old as time. For the most part, it feels more like Elisa is feeding and taking in a stray animal, rather than courting a beau. That makes things really awkward when she suddenly strips and presents herself to Amphibian Man. Did he have any concept of what she was doing? It makes for an awkward watch, and while the ending is meant to be beautiful and touching, especially with that revelation seen a thousand miles away, I only felt indifference. I think their relationship would have been more endearing if it hadn't have turned so carnal.

Outside of the central relationship, the story pays no respect to logic or its supporting characters. Logic dictates that you can't flood your bathroom up to the ceiling by just putting a towel at the base of your door, but that's what happens here. And there's no warped boards or black mold afterwards! Such luck! As for the supporting characters, Elisa's friends are a diverse duo, one a person of color (Octavia Spencer) and the other a gay man (Richard Jenkins), but don't let that fool you into thinking this is progressive. Jenkins' character ends up with nothing - absolutely nothing. It's like he's only being punished for the sake of plot. I'm not going to help Elisa! *all hope is stripped away in one day* Okay, I'm going to help Elisa! Was del Toro feeling some Catholic guilt? It certainly feels that way.

I know I’m beating The Shape of Water up pretty badly here, but it does have its positive attributes. The gothic production design is phenomenal, it is a del Toro film, after all, but the film really shines through its performances. While Sally Hawkins is mostly silent (until she breaks out into a random song and dance number) due to Elisa being a mute, she's very expressive and a funny-looking beauty. Octavia Spencer is as sharp and sassy as ever. Richard Jenkins is good, but he deserved better. The real star, however, is Michael Shannon. I had to rewatch the mini-monologue he had in the bathroom because it awed me. The guy's got chutzpah... and dirty hands. Shannon really seems like a man that could snap at any moment.

In the end, I guess I can see why The Shape of Water won Best Picture, seeing as it's much more subdued and nuanced than the very angry Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but out of all the contenders I've seen, Lady Bird has soared the most.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Julie's Journal : What I've Been Reading

The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls is a good read if you're in the mood for something spooky.  I first discovered Simone St. James last year and read her book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare on Overdrive, our e-book service.

The Broken Girls revolves around Idlewild Hall, a school for troubled young women in Vermont, which is now in ruins.  In 1950 four roommates, Katie, Ce-Ce, Roberta, and Sonia, have found a kind of family in one another.  One weekend, Sonia leaves to visit some distant relatives and never returns.  The other three girls are convinced that she has been murdered, but cannot get any authorities to listen.

In 2014, Fiona is a journalist.  Her sister Deb was found murdered on the old sports grounds of Idlewild Hall twenty years before.  While Deb's boyfriend was tried and convicted of her murder, Fiona feels like there's more to the story.  When the hall is purchased and the new owner begins remodeling it, Fiona begins researching the old school in earnest.

Overarching both stories is a third and much older murder.  Mary Hand was killed when her parents shut her out of the house on a frigid night and she froze to death.  Mary never left her old home, though, and everyone who lived at Idlewild Hall or visits there now, will have an encounter with her.

I enjoyed this book.  Ms. St. James is very good at creating a foreboding, spooky atmosphere.  I like the two different time periods and the different points of view the story is told from.  I am going to try and find more of her books to read.

The Broken Girls is available to check out at FCL.

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

I have read some of Kristin Hannah's earlier books and enjoyed them.  I particularly remember The Nightingale and Winter Garden.

The Great Alone generated a lot of buzz when it was published in February.  Set in remote Alaska, it follows the Allbright family.  Father Ernt, mother Cora, and 13 year old Leni, are unprepared for the realities of an Alaskan winter when they arrive to live on land inherited from one of Ernt's Vietnam War buddies.  Their new neighbors rally around them to help them prepare to survive their first harsh winter.  However, their biggest problem isn't the Alaska cold, it is the darkness in Ernt's mind.  As the days get shorter and the weather worsens, Ernt turns more and more to drink to drown out his demons.  Unfortunately, drink makes Ernt mean, and he takes out his anger on Cora.  His new friendship with survivalist, Mad Earl, doesn't help.  Cora wants to believe in Ernt even as he gets meaner and meaner, which leaves Leni trying to survive not only the Alaskan winter, but the danger in her own home as well.

I thought The Great Alone was very well written.  I'm fascinated by stories about Alaska as visiting it is on my bucket list!  I enjoy remote places, but I think I would find the winter darkness very difficult.

The Great Alone is available to check out at FCL and on Overdrive.

Warcross, by Marie Lu

Warcross is a youth book and the first book in a new series by Marie Lu.  Lu is the author of the popular Legend series, which is very popular at FCL, but which I have never read.

Emika Chen is struggling to survive after the death of her father.  She takes small jobs, and works as a hacker/bounty hunter.  In this near-future world, the virtual reality game Warcross is an obsession with most people and Emika hunts for people who illegally bet on the game.  With rent due and no money in site, Emika takes a risk, and ends up accidentally hacking herself into the Warcross championships.  Terrified that she's going to be arrested, Emika is stunned when the creator of Warcross instead invites her to be his guest at his headquarters in Tokyo.  He offers to hire her as a spy within the game to find a security breach.  Emika quickly begins to thrive in the world of the game, but she also finds danger in her search for the person behind the security problems.  Emika learns that not all is as it seems at Warcross and that powerful people often have hidden motives.

I really enjoyed this book.  I thought the world building was wonderful.  The story deals well with questions of technology and its uses.  It shows the dangers of becoming totally dependent on technology and questions the motives of those who advocate for more and more technology in our lives.  I'm interested in where the series will go next.

Warcross is available for checkout at FCL and on Overdrive.

The Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

I remember hearing all the buzz about The Orphan Train when it was first released in 2012, but for whatever reason, I didn't get to it until recently.

Another story that encompasses two different women in two different times, The Orphan Train follows Molly and Vivian.  Molly is 17 and living in foster care.  After stealing a book from her school library, she is left with two choices - community service or juvenile detention.  She ends up working for Vivian, an elderly woman whose goal is supposedly to clean out her attic.  Molly finds though, that Vivian doesn't really want to get rid of anything, just to look through her things and reminisce.  Vivian was one of thousands of children who road an orphan train from New York City to the Mid-west looking for a new home and identity.  Molly and Vivian find that they have much in common - both consider themselves orphans although in truth each had one parent living who was not able to care for them.  Molly begins to try and help Vivian solve some of them mysteries of her past and Vivian helps Molly find a true home for the first time in her life.

I was more interested in Vivian's story than Molly's.  I have read about the orphan trains before, but this book was a less romanticized version.  It brought to life the difficulties the children faced, the uncertainty of being adopted - especially for older children, and the life long struggle with a feeling of not belonging.  I enjoyed the book and have checked out Ms. Kline's more recent book, A Piece of the World, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

The Orphan Train is available for checkout at FCL and on Overdrive.

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Another book that I missed when it was first published is Wonder.  It was made into a movie last year, and I finally read it after my mother recommended it to me.

Auggie was born with severe facial deformities.  He is entering public school for the first time as a fifth grader, and is frightened of the reception he will get from his classmates.  As his first few weeks pass, he finds that many of the kids avoid him and in fact are playing a game in which touching him is taboo.  He does make a few true friends, though.  The book switches viewpoints often, letting us see Auggie's life through the eyes of his classmates, his sister, and others.  I particularly enjoyed his sister's point of view.  She was struggling to navigate high school and wanted to be seen as normal, not as the girl with the brother with the messed up face.  She also struggled with the dynamics of her family where everything, by necessity, has revolved around Auggie for his whole life.  

This was an interesting book.  It wasn't just a typical book about bullying.  It let us see the struggles and reasons behind the choices that the people around Auggie made.  I thought the author did a wonderful job of capturing the voices of the different characters.  The fifth graders sounded like fifth graders, and the adults and teenagers sounded accurate as well.

Wonder is available for checkout at FCL and on Overdrive.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Tom’s Two Cents: “Unmasked” by Andrew Lloyd Webber

At the age of 70, British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has certainly lived more than one lifetime, perhaps several.  He is unquestionably the most financially successful musical composer of all time; two of his musical brainchildren, Cats and Phantom of the Opera, have been running somewhere for thirty years—yes, those two musicals have been on some stage somewhere for THIRTY years apiece!   The string of his successes, both in London and New York City, not to mention cities elsewhere, has been nothing short of phenomenal.  Yes, he has had his share of bloopers, but they seem almost incidental by comparison.  He was famous at the age of 23, with the unqualified success of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Despite all thus, I have never taken Webber very seriously as a composer.  Reared in the operetta tradition of Romberg, Friml, Jerome Kern and other such notables of the 30s, I barely realized at the time (1943) that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma was the beginning of a breakthrough in the American Musical!  (Actually, the first real breakthrough came much earlier, in 1927, with Jerome Kern’s Showboat.)   Webber’s early work at least seemed to me more in a modern pop tradition, or at least a mixture of old and new, despite the fact that he cites Richard Rodgers as one of his all-time idols.  To me the one exception has been Phantom, which is clearly a throwback to operetta at its most glamorous and romantic.

Webber’s book, “Unmasked,” is a very disarming memoir, strongly emphasizing his career over his life.  In fact, despite his three marriages and five children, his personal life seems to figure almost incidentally into the total scheme of things—Webber is obviously a driven perfectionist, whose successful collaborations with Tim Rice, Hal Prince, Cameron Mackintosh and other notables has come at a cost.  Not the least of his accomplishments had been the launching of the career of Sarah Brightman (now very much a star in her own right), whom he married, but subsequently divorced.  If you are a Webber fan, you should love this book, even though at times it goes into excruciating detail about the trials and tribulations of his productions.  As interesting as that was, it was more the personal stuff falling through the cracks that absorbed me as a reader.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Chance's Corner: Oscars Results 2017

Another year, another shocking Best Picture winner! Thankfully, it wasn't because Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope again. While I predicted that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would win Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards, the Academy must have decided it won enough awards at all the other award ceremonies, because they decided to choose The Shape of Water, instead. I wouldn't have been surprised if they chose Lady Bird, but The Shape of Water? Okay... I can't really judge Guillermo del Toro's fantasy film about a woman and a fish (excuse me, amphibian-humanoid) falling in love, because I haven't seen it, but I do think it's an interesting choice. Honestly, I actually thought Warren had goofed up again as a joke! But here we are, and the joke's still going. Oh well, congrats to The Shape of Water! As for the other categories, there were really no surprises, and my predictions were spot-on! I'm no soothsayer, though, hence the wrong Best Picture prediction, so don't ask me for any lottery numbers!

The Shape of Water will be available for check out at the Franklin County Library later this month. Other big Oscar winners, such as Coco, I, Tonya, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will soon be available, as well. Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049 and Darkest Hour are available now!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Julie's Journal: Our New 3D Printer

Back in the fall, we were blessed to receive a 3D printer through a grant.  Lisa went to a training on it and then, due to the busyness of the holidays and the beginning of a new year, learning to use it was pushed to the back burner.  A few weeks ago, though, we started learning how to use it and have been printing ever since.

We've printed toys:

A phone stand:

A puzzle:

A very cool measuring cup:

And a few other things:

Our last project was this impossible nut/bolt - also called the Machinist's Illusion:

The logistics of printing the nut/bolt completely stumped Lisa and I.  The nut and the bolt are two separate files and we just could not figure out how it worked.  Fortunately, Chance had a moment of brilliance and now we can print it perfectly every time!

There's definitely been a learning curve with this printer.  We've had our share of failed prints, as well as the successes. 

We will eventually make the printer available for use by the public and offer some classes.  We are currently working on policy for using the printer and learning to troubleshoot it.  I also have a little reading to do to continue to learn what the printer can do.

What should we print next?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Chance's Corner: Black Panther Review

Full disclosure, I'm no fan of the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe. I've seen Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers and only a part of Iron Man 3, and each of them managed to rub me the wrong way by feeling completely cheap and uncinematic. By uncinematic, I mean that they feature dull CGI and visuals - visuals you might catch on a TV show... in the '90s. So, Marvel drawing me in to see Black Panther is an impressive feat all by itself, and, as advertised, it is cinematic. Rich cinematography? What a concept! However, the CGI is still lacking in some spots.

Without a doubt, Black Panther is an event, showcasing a mostly black cast as heroes who are repping their homeland. I think it's wonderful that Hollywood is finally realizing that women and people of color can lead blockbuster films, and Black Panther is proving to be quite a blockbuster! Unfortunately, Black Panther is still trapped by the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the plot has more depth and character development than most Marvel films, it still doesn't break any new ground. In a world oversaturated with superhero movies, it's just another superhero movie. It doesn't help that the story feels like a mixture of The Lion King and James Bond - the fight in the casino is lifted straight from Skyfall, right down to the lighting. It's obvious that Black Panther desperately wants to be its own beast, and at times it does roar, but then the chains around its collar start to rattle.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Chance's Corner: Oscars Season 2017

2017's Oscar nominations dropped last week, and some, particularly actor James Franco, were left scratching their heads. Admittedly, I was also pretty shocked when Franco got snubbed for The Disaster Artist, seeing as I thought he was the man to beat, but I have since regrouped, and now I have my Oscar predictions ready to go!

Here are my predictions:

Best Picture:

The Best Picture category is stuffed with strong contenders this year, but I've managed to narrow my prediction down to just two films: Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Each one of them took home a Golden Globe, Lady Bird for Best Picture - Musical or Comedy and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for Best Picture - Drama, but if my Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor predictions prove to be right, I think Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will be the overall winner.

Winner Prediction: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor:

James Franco was an easy pick for this category, but since he's out, my pick got even easier! Gary Oldman swept up a Golden Globe (Best Actor - Drama) and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for his transformative portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, and unless something goes
haywire, he's sure to get an Oscar, too.

Winner Prediction: Gary Oldman

Best Actress:

There's really no surprise here. Francis McDormand has snatched the Golden Globe (Best Actress - Drama) and SAG award away from her contenders with ease, and even though Meryl Streep is still clinging on to hope, there really is no contest.

Winner Prediction: Francis McDormand

Best Supporting Actor:

No surprises here, either. Sam Rockwell is the man to beat, and thanks to his Golden Globe and SAG award win, he seems pretty unbeatable.

Winner Prediction: Sam Rockwell

Best Supporting Actress:

Surprise! Oh wait, there's no surprise here, either. Allison Janney's comedic take on Tonya Harding's allegedly abusive mother in I, Tonya has already secured her a Golden Globe and a SAG award, and it will soon garner her an Oscar. I'm rooting for Laurie Metcalf, though, for Lady Bird.

Winner Prediction: Allison Janney

Best Director:

Now this is where things get a little complicated. Unlike the Golden Globes, the Academy nominated Greta Gerwig for her directorial debut, Lady Bird, which has been universally praised, and has been touted as the best-rated film in history on the aggregate film review site Rotten Tomatoes. At the Golden Globes, Guillermo del Toro waltzed away with the award with ease for The Shape of Water, but now that Gerwig is officially in the running, I think his chances of winning have narrowed. However, in the end, I think del Toro will end up walking away with the award.

Winner Prediction: Guillermo del Toro

Best Animated Film:

Disney/Pixar's Coco seems like a winner (it won a Golden Globe), but the totally unique Loving Vincent might just overtake it. Might.

Winner Prediction: Coco

So, will I be right? Or will I be totally wrong? We won't know until March 4th!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

What's Popular at Franklin County Library?

What are your fellow Franklin County Library patrons enjoying right now?  Following are
the five most popular items in their category for the last two months.

Best Sellers:

Year One, by Nora Roberts
Typhoon Fury, by Clive Cussler
The People vs. Alex Cross, by James Patterson
The Story of Arthur Truluv, by Elizabeth Berg
The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

The Vault:

Prodigy, by Marie Lu
The Knowing, by Sharon Cameron
The Heir, by Kiera Cass
Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford
An Enchantment of Ravens, by Margaret Rogerson


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
The Secret Scripture
Despicable Me 3
The Mummy


Tasty Latest and Greatest, by Tasty
Stories of Saltillo, by Thomas J. Minter
The Pioneer Woman Cooks:  Come and Get It!, by Ree Drummond
The Pioneer Woman Cooks:  Recipes from an Accidental Ranch Wife, by Ree Drummond
Lost to Time: Unforgettable Stories that History Forgot, by Martin Sandler

Inspirational Fiction:

The Wedding Shop, by Rachel Hauck
Waves of Mercy, by Lynn Austin
War Room, by Chris Fabry
Second Touch, by Bodie and Brock Thoene
A Reluctant Bride, by Kathleen Fuller

Paperback Fiction:

The Lost Husband, by Katherine Center
Savage Run, by C.J. Box
Wyoming Brave, by Diana Palmer
The Woods, by Harlan Coben
Whiter Than Snow, by Sandra Dallas

Friday, January 19, 2018

Julie's Journal : The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists has been generating a lot of buzz in the literary world.  It was featured on the front cover of this month's BookPage and reviews call it "wise" and "luminous" and a "sweeping family saga."  The premise is intriguing.  The scene is New York City, 1969.  Four siblings, ages 13 and under, visit a psychic who claims to be able to see the dates of death of her visitors.  The book promises to examine how the knowledge of their death date affects the lives of all the children.

After the prophecy, we get each sibling's story individually.  Simon, the youngest, has been told a very early death date.  Because of this, he leaves his family at 16 to go to San Francisco and immerse himself in the gay culture of the early 80's.  Klara goes to San Francisco with Simon and becomes the illusionist she always wanted to be.  She becomes more successful when she meets her husband/partner and he begins helping her recreate elaborate illusions her grandmother performed.  However, she can't escape her own demons.  Daniel becomes a military doctor, but becomes obsessed with the fortune teller who foretold their deaths and his pursuit of her leads to tragedy.  Varya, who is told that she will live to be 88, becomes a scientist and researcher.  She uses animals to test theories about longevity.   

I was intrigued by the premise of The Immortalists, but very disappointed in the actual book.  Questions are raised about whether or not the death dates are set in stone or whether the knowledge of the dates leads the children to make decisions that lead them to die on those particular days.  This was the idea that drew me to the book, but it seemed to be an afterthought with the author.  There is no conclusion drawn about if their lives would have been different or better had they not known their death dates.  Also, the siblings' stories are all very dark.  There was nothing hopeful about this book.  None of them lived pleasant, enjoyable lives.  Even towards the end, in Varya's story, we only get a small glimmer of hope, but it is not enough to offset the darkness of the book.  I was turned off by the graphic sexual scenes in this book as well.  I nearly walked away from it during Simon's story due to the unnecessarily graphic scenes.  It gets better after that, but there are still jarring sexual moments in the book that do not serve any purpose.  I wonder why modern writers believe that they have to saturate their books in sexuality to be taken seriously. 

All in all, I did not enjoy The Immortalists, and I cannot recommend it. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tom's Two Cents : The Crown

Conceived and written by Peter Morgan Seasons 1 and 2, Netflix Television

For those of you who might not know (who would that be?), the Netflix television production of “The Crown” began its second season on December 8, and the entire season of ten episodes is now available, along with the first season, the two covering roughly the first two decades of the reign of Britain’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.  The projected six seasons will present the years of the longest reigning monarch in British history.  The Queen is now in her nineties, and Prince Phillip is 97.  This season concentrates heavily on their complicated and at times unraveling relationship, as it almost falls apart in Episode One and somehow reassembles itself with the birth of their youngest child, Edward, in 1964, in Episode Ten.

How do the two seasons compare?  In my opinion, Season One was almost flawless in its conception, writing, acting, directing and production values.  If Season Two is less so, there are explanations for it.  The main problem, it seems to me, is trying to fill the huge gap left by the death of Prime Minister Churchill, a historical figure certainly bigger than life, and as portrayed by actor John Lithgow, enormously bigger.  If Churchill and the aftermath of World War II do not dominate the first season, they deeply enrich it, as does the dynamic between the Prime Minister and his young and not fully mature Queen.  The prime ministers of Season Two, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, though well played, are insipid, spineless characters, compared to Churchill.  Perhaps because of this, we do see Elizabeth growing in security and strength during Season Two, as she wrestles with her role in international politics, despite her limited authority.

This Season focuses heavily on marital relations and the very sticky subject of adultery: in a sort of brilliant present/forward/backward display of the long term disastrous effects of infidelity and divorce upon the marital relationship, the Season treats not only Elizabeth and Phillip’s problems, but his Secretary’s, Princess Margaret’s forthcoming ones with the fast- living photographer, Antony Armstrong-Jones, and a backward look at the long-term ramifications of the Duke of Windsor’s marriage to a divorced woman.  Even the Jack/Jackie Kennedy relationship absorbs one episode, though, in my opinion, not very successfully.

The acting of the first two seasons, especially that of Clare Foy as Elizabeth, Matt Smith as Phillip, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, and the aforementioned John Lithgow in Season One, has been uniformly superb, and we look forward with some trepidation to an entire change of cast next season.  Why the creator, Peter Morgan, chose to go with different actors and actresses instead of using makeup to age them, especially in this genius age of makeup, remains, at this point, a mystery.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Julie's Journal : My Life in Books

I copied this idea from another blog - @RoofBeamReader.  The goal is to answer the prompts with books you read this year.  These aren't necessarily my favorite reads of the year, just the ones that I could make fit.

In high school I was: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling)

People might by surprised (by): What She Knew (Gilly MacMillan)

I will never be: The Duchess (Danielle Steel)

My fantasy job is: The Paper Magician (Charlie N. Holmberg)

At the end of a long day I need: Roses (Leila Meacham)

I hate it when: And Then You’re Dead (Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty)

Wish I had: The Rose Garden (Susanna Kearsley)

My family reunions are: Pandemonium (Lauren Oliver)

At a party you’d find me with: Only the Lucky (Linda Castillo)

I’ve never been to (an): Island of Glass (Nora Roberts)

A happy day includes: God’s Gift (Dee Henderson)

Motto I live by: Get Well Soon (Jennifer Wright)

On my bucket list is: The Book Jumper (Mechthild Glaser)

In my next life, I want to have: The Never Ending Story (Michael Ende)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Coding/Robotics - Ozobots

We finished up our very first coding class yesterday!  Every Wednesday this fall our class has met and learned how to program Ozobots.
The tiny robots lend themselves well to learning to code, using a block style of coding.  We've been remiss at taking pictures because our classes went so fast.  There was just so much to learn!  

We had our end of class party yesterday.  The Friends of the Library rewarded the class with Ozobots of their very own!

The kids were thrilled, of course, and wanted to know what was coming next.  Well....  we're going to be learning to create computer games using Scratch!

Scratch is a free programming language from MIT and is perfect for furthering our coding education.  We will be working on getting together projects for the class from now until January 24th, when classes start again. 

Our plan for the spring is to have two classes.  Jason Baxter, Julie's husband and a fifth grade teacher, will be teaching the Ozobots class.  It is open to any student over 8 years old with an interest in coding.  Please sign up soon as spaces are limited.

Julie will be teaching the Scratch class, which also has a few spots available to students over 8 who have a little bit of prior coding experience.  Spaces are very limited in this class as well, so be sure to sign up soon.  

We hope that Mr. and Mrs. Dunn will again be available to help.  Both classes will be on Wednesday afternoons at 4:00 and last about 45 minutes.  Classes begin January 24th!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Tom's Two Cents: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

The publication of a new and substantive biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson has coincided with the sale at Christie's Auction House this week of the only Leonardo still in a private collection for $450 million--yes, that's $450 million--the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction.  The painting is "Salvator Mundi," (Fig. 83 in the book), a painting of Christ as Savior of the World.  Its authenticity has been questioned by some experts, but the fact is that, as far as we know, there are only fifteen known Leonardo paintings in the world and this is the only one not in a museum.  So it's not so much a question of Leonardo being the greatest painter of all time as it is the rarity of his artistic work.  Leonardo was a universal genius, so far ahead of his time that painting was, for him, almost an incidental skill.

Isaacson's biography, therefore, concentrates not just on Leonardo's art, but on the complexity of his mind and the fields of endeavor that he explored, especially in science and anatomy. In fact, in virtually all his biographies (he is a professor of history at Tulane University) Isaacson's principal area of interest is the nature of genius--hence his books on such widely diverse men as Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Steve Jobs.  Although his subject matter is heavy, Isaacson's approach to his subject is essentially light--a kind of populist biography, if you will.  I'm not suggesting that it reads like a novel, yet it certainly is true that Leonardo's life and times were anything but dull, and so Isaacson presents them.

This is one heavy book, and I mean that quite literally.  At 524 pages with high quality paper and superb illustrations, it will not rest comfortably in your lap or be held in your hands--so look for something stable to rest it on.  There are 33 chapters, many complete in themselves, and even if you choose not to read the text, flip through the book and look at the illustrations.  They are indeed a wonder.  Not for everybody, but surely not for those only interested in art, either!