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lucindaThe title of Lucinda Williams’ latest musical offering, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, accurately describes the region from which her voice comes to us.  Caught between melodiousness and growl, she imparts an incredibly grounded “otherworldly” quality to her lyrics.  And that electric guitar … well, it gives me the shivers.  In a good way, that is.  But then, well, I just love the electric guitar.

Suggested Use:  Been up driving all night?  Get some joe at the nearest Waffle House and keep on going with this album coming over your system.  I mean, Lucinda just turned 62 and she hasn’t gotten off the road yet.  Why should you?

simon-said1Book Review:  Simon Said by Sarah Shaber

An archaeological dig uncovers the body of a woman shot in the head  70 years ago and buried with care under the old kitchen of Bloodworth House.  Historian Simon Shaw is an expert on the history of the site and he identifies the victim as Anne Bloodworth, an heiress who disappeared in 1926.  Why would someone want her dead?  And why did they bury her with reverence?  When discovered, her arms were crossed demurely over her chest and she was neatly shrouded in a quilt.

Puzzling as those questions are, Professor Shaw has more immediate concerns.  Just as he’s pulling himself out of an emotional nosedive following his divorce, a colleague tries to discredit him.  Is the colleague also behind the recent attempts on Shaw’s life?  Attempts which are staged to appear like suicide?  Who else would have motive to want this popular, Pulitzer Prize-winning professor out of the way — permanently?

Simon Said is the first entry in the Simon Shaw series.  Described by his love interest as “small, bookish, and unambitious,” Shaw has a certain charm.  A 30-something unexpectedly finding himself single and quite uncertain about dating the second time around, Shaw’s personal situation is easy to relate to — as is his apparent caffeine addiction (do not read this book if you are trying to kick the soda habit).  I like the fact that he teaches where he feels at home rather than seeking a position at a more prestigious university.  I like that he surrounds himself with heirlooms from his family.  I like that he has a cat and for a first date, he took his love interest to a baseball game.  Yes, he has a certain charm.  :)

I also liked both mysteries, past and present.  My only quibbles would be that Shaber has a tendency to spell everything out and yet somehow allow our characters to miss the obvious.  While most of the story is told from Shaw’s viewpoint, we are given glimpses of other characters’ viewpoints as well, particularly regarding their feelings toward Shaw.  So, there’s not much excitement there, because we know that no one who counts believes he’s suicidal.  There were too many obvious clues that intelligent characters should not have missed — and, as good as Shaber’s characterization of Shaw was, some details seemed to suddenly emerge when needed.  Still, it’s a cozy read with a strong atmosphere of small-town life in the South and I will definitely give the next book in the series a go.  Looking forward to Snipe Hunt!

The librarians who purchase movies for the library try to stay tuned in to the latest and greatest in pop culture.  I began buying movies at the Georgetown branch when I moved to my new position this summer.  As such, I now consider it part of my job to watch awards shows. :)  This year’s Oscar ceremony was so fun to watch.  Stars abounded (of course!), the musical acts were great (Lady Gaga killed it!, “Glory” from Selma brought several to tears), and the speeches were also inspiring (Patricia Arquette and Graham Moore were my favorites).

Below is a list of this year’s Academy Award winners, with links to the library catalog.  Most of these movies, since they are considered entertainment, check out for three days.  Unfortunately, they may not be placed on hold to send to another branch to pickup, though you may return them to any ACPL location.  The good news is that lack of holds makes the turnaround time on 3-day movies much quicker.  Our 3-day movies can be renewed (in person, over the phone, or online) one time for an additional three days.

Some of these titles have not yet been released on DVD/Blu-Ray. We do have them on order, and they will appear in the library’s catalog listed as On Order or Available Soon closer to their release date.  The shorts and documentary winners are not yet available for us to purchase. If you want to see those, you’ll have to pay to stream them online through Amazon.

2015 Oscar Winners

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In honor of Black History Month, I selected two books by African-American authors to read during the month of February: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler and Jubilee by Margaret Walker.

parableofthesowerFrom the mid-1970s until her death in 2006, the award-winning Octavia Butler stood out as an African-American woman in a genre nominated by white males. Her science fiction unapologetically addresses issues of race, class, gender, and religion. Parable of the Sower is the first book in an unfinished trilogy. (Butler died while writing the third book.)

Parable’s protagonist is teenaged Lauren, who lives in a futuristic Los Angeles in which the government has all but collapsed. The walls of her gated community and the leadership of her pastor/professor father serve as her only protection against the lawless, violent society in which she and her family live. Adding further difficulties to her already challenging reality, Lauren suffers from a condition that allows her to experience the physical pain of those around her. In the midst of her struggle to survive (spoiler alert: that struggle will greatly intensify when Lauren’s community is overrun and she and two other survivors hit the road in an attempt to find somewhere safer to live), Lauren is waxing poetic about religion. She has dismissed her Baptist father’s God, and instead believes that “God is change” and is determined to found a new religion called Earthseed.

Butler’s world-building (always a challenge in sci-fi) is solid and her characters are interesting and engaging. I was less interested in Lauren’s budding religion and more interested in what was necessary to survive the endless string of tragedies that are commonplace in Lauren’s world. Parable of the Sower held my attention, and I continually wanted to know what would happen next, but the final third of the book was a bit of a let-down for me, as I felt it mostly served to set up the sequel, rather than telling its own story. Nevertheless, I would recommend Parable of the Sower to fans of dystopian sci-fi.

jubileeJubilee, by Margaret Walker, was published in 1966 and was atypical for its time, as it tells the story of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the eyes of an African-American woman. Walker, who started Jubilee as part of her dissertation while earning her doctorate at the University of Iowa, based Jubilee on the true story of her great-grandmother, a slave who was fathered by her owner. I admit to currently being only about 300 pages into the 500 page book, but have every intention of finishing it. While I am still unable to critique the book as a whole, I admire Walker’s ability to create realistic characters with both strengths and weaknesses. In a novel about slavery, it’s easy to demonize some characters and canonize others into saints, or paint characters with a broad brush based on what “category” they belong to (black or white, slave or free, Southerner or Northerner) but Walker’s characters are multi-faceted, flawed, and sympathetic, rendering them believable. While the subject matter is tough and the book is lengthy, it’s written at a level accessible to teenagers, making this an “easy” read and one I would recommend.

What about you? What have you been reading for Black History Month? I’d love to hear!

Today I want to bring you the first of what I hope to be many flurbs, short blurbs about films that I feel are worth mentioning, but haven’t put together a whole theme to present them.  Why now?  Because I need to recommend John Wick as quickly as possible!

johnwick

© 2014 – Lionsgate

Keanu Reeves is not an actor known for his emotional depth, but when that emotion is smoldering rage, he does a damn good job.  John Wick is, on its surface, a very simple revenge tale of an ex-assassin taking action against the Russian mob who has wronged him.  That could describe the myriad direct-to-DVD action flicks that grace the shelf featuring either a washed-up ’80s action star or professional wrestler, but what really makes this work is the ruthless efficiency of its stylish action scenes, mirroring the attitude of its protagonist.

It’s not just the impact of the violence that makes this movie work, however, it’s the world-building.  There is an underground currency for those working as assassins, large gold coins that change hands as jobs are completed, bodies are disposed of, and amenities are enjoyed at the Continental. (Imagine a nightclub/hotel run by a neutral organization that caters to these men and women as they accomplish their dastardly deeds.)  The film hints at what this seedy underworld is like: the cops turning a blind eye, other operatives trying to collect bounties, only giving glimpses of the full picture.  Throughout the film, everyone knows who John Wick is, and while I’m always a bit skeptical when a film nudges us with the idea that their unestablished character is in fact legendary, he certainly earns it once you see him in action.  John Wick is a force of nature who blows through scores of Russian thugs without remorse.  If you are at all squeamish about gun violence (or any type of violence) this film is not for you.

I’d love to wax lyrical about this movie, but it can be summed up as such: John Wick is a cool movie and it makes you feel cool.  It’s not a deep or particularly meaningful film, but it provides pure entertainment in a slick way that shows that well-worn action tropes are still so satisfying when done well.  It has enough visual flare to keep the cinematography interesting, and while it doesn’t quite grace the level of the nihilistic ultra-violence of Nicolas Winding Refn or the choreographic brilliance of Gareth Evans, it surpasses many recent action flicks in terms of fight scenes that deliver a visceral punch.  If the latter day flicks of your ’80s action heroes haven’t been doing it lately, give this one a try.

Notable roles: You’ll have a hard time deciding if Alfie Allen reeks of a more petulant disposition as Iosef Tarasov or as Theon Greyjoy in Game of ThronesMichael Nyqvist oscillates between grave and eccentric as Viggo Tarasov, the Russian businessman whose empire was built on a history of utilizing John Wick’s particular skills.  Fans of the Swedish film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy will recognize Nyqvist from his role as Mikael Blomkvist, the protagonist alongside hacker Lisbeth Salander.


What did you think of John Wick?  Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to share if you enjoyed reading!

The Ruin of a Rogue by Miranda Neville and The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn

Recently I read two books in a row which had similar themes. In each book we have a deceptive hero who is desperate to trick our heroine into marriage. Authors, pull up a chair. Let’s think about timing. It is the timing of the, “I know what you are up to, you cad!” moment — the moment the heroine discovers the hero’s chicanery that makes alllll the difference between those two books. Because of the timing/placement of the “OMG” moment I liked one book a lot and was very irritated with the other.

Let’s start with Miranda Neville‘s The Ruin of a Rogue. Somehow I missed this book when it was first published in 2013. I don’t know how I did, but I did. Anyway, Marcus, our hero, is a con artist in need of neville money. Of course, you know that means he must find himself a rich heiress, because that’s what heroes do in Romanceland. Enter Anne Brotherton, a kind, smart, plain heroine. He has studied her, he knows what she likes, he knows her hobbies, she is an expert on antiquities, so he studies them in order to talk to her. He even hires someone to nearly run her down with a cart in order to jump out and save her; then he can appear heroic in her eyes. Everything he does is to con her into marriage. He is a Sneaky-Pete.

However, Anne is no dummy. She’s heard the rumors and she’s been warned away from him by her friends. Her big problem — she finds him attractive and starts to fall for him. Then she overhears a conversation between him and one of his friends, and she is the subject of that conversation. So, she’s on to his games — she decides to take revenge. Her revenge is rather funny. She becomes a snot, has him take her Continue Reading »

Merry generation gap!

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image via Syndetics

The 15-Minute Pulitzer In 1950 Conrad Richter finished the third book in his Awakening Land trilogy, The Town, and in 1951 it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  (If you happen to remember, The Trees, the first book in Richter’s trilogy, was considered for the Pulitzer in 1941.)  Richter was probably like, “About time.” In The Town, the story is told from two different characters’ points of view, that of Sayward, the young woman from The Trees, now older and a mother of nine children, and that of her youngest son, Chancey.  Two very different ways of looking at life are portrayed throughout the book by these two characters and both are sympathetic to a degree.  The tension created is rather delightful, though perhaps the end is a bit too sure of itself to be really effective at the nuance it had been building up to. Progress is never easy, it seems, even once it’s established.  Sayward frets that the next generation now has it too easy compared to when she was younger and that they will not have the strength to face the bad times.  For Chancey, progress and easier times can’t come fast enough.  For me, they’re both focusing on the “what” of living too much instead of the “how.”  (And I’d better stop there before I begin paraphrasing Stanley Hauerwas badly/inaccurately.)  Anyway, I do feel that Sayward gets some things right and that she also gets some things wrong.  The same goes for Chancey, whose misunderstandings of the previous generation supply so much of the driving force of this novel.  Frustrating, divisive, and ever present, the generation gap at least keeps things interesting.  If one reflects on the just-passed holiday season and the family gatherings and topics of discussion I think one can probably not help but agree that “interesting” is the just about the perfect word for that as well.  Especially if one can say it without too much of a smirk.

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