Monday, November 16, 2015

Beautiful Life Lessons....

Image result for very good lives

Book Review:  Very Good Lives; the Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J. K. Rowling

J.K Rowling, the perennially popular author of the Harry Potter series, and also titles for adults shares her brand of wisdom about handling failure, and still living a very good life.   It is her address to the 2008 graduating class of Harvard University.  The benefits of failure and the power of imagination propel one forward and provide the resiliency necessary to handle both success and disappointment.  Imagination was instrumental in keeping her focused during periods of poverty.  “You will never truly know yourself or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity” she says.   “Life is not a checklist of acquisitions or achievement; your qualifications or curriculum vitae are not your life”. Very Good Lives, the Fringe Benefits of Failure Importance of Imaginations is a powerful and instructive reading experience.    

Review by Karen

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The search begins!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
By Maria Semple

Bee's mom has gone missing, and Bee's not going to stand for it. Told through e-mails, notes, video footage, and anything a private investigator might get her hands on, this is the story of the search for Bernadette Fox. Bernadette has made plenty of enemies since moving to Seattle, but her daughter, Bee, idolizes her. This precocious, brilliant 15-year old, is thoroughly devoted to her mom but she hasn't noticed some of her flaws. For instance, Bernadette's fervent desire to avoid contact with anyone outside their family. Or her intense fear of leaving the house, so much so that she hires a woman in India to take care of all of her affairs via the internet. When Bee gets a good report card and tries to cash in on her parents' promise to take her to Antarctica, Bernadette agrees. But through an unlikely and increasingly madcap series of events, planning for this trip brings the Fox family's world crashing down around them. And then, Bernadette is gone.

Though it may seem like Bernadette is the clear victim here, she's quite a polarizing figure. My sympathies veered wildly between the characters at times, and Bernadette's bitter view of the people around her is occasionally difficult to swallow. But Bee's optimistic attitude and the bizarre actions of some of Bernadette's rivals help the entire book come together as a story of a woman against the world. In the end, you really do wonder what happened to her. And you're rooting for Bee to find out.

This title is available as a book, an audiobook, and a downloadable audiobook. I listened to it, so if you've got a commute to work consider this a recommendation for you.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

History is BIG!

Book DVD Review:  Big History A& E Television Networks, History, Lions Gate Entertainment
Big History is a new way to understand the evolution of life including mankind and historical events through a linking of activities/happenings that have occurred in the Universe and on our planet. The interconnectedness of life is explored through a “history” of the superpower Salt, the Pocket time machine, H2O, Horsepower revolution, Gold Fever, Megastructures, Defeating Gravity, World of weapons, Brain boost, Mountain Machines the Sun, Silver Supernova, the Agrarian age, Black Death, voyages of Columbus, industrial revolution, prehistoric geology and global warming.  Also explored are current concerns such as population growth, global disparities, human evolution and a variety of empires including Mongol, Mayan and Aztecs civilizations. Each facet studied in the DVD series subtly links to all others creating a magical “Gestalt” about creation of life in all its forms.      
"Big History" represents a new kind of history, one that artfully interweaves historical knowledge and cutting-edge science. In an age of global warming, when the fate of the earth hangs in the balance, scientific advances permit us to see the universe as never before, grasping the timescales that allow us to understand the history of mankind in the context of its ecological impact on the planet.
I was enthralled by Big History because it makes many disciplines accessible to the lifelong learner. It is a very long series but well worth the effort as it provides a timeline that is more like a “web” underscoring how life itself is made up of many facets all interconnected. Please pick this one up because it will both challenge and engage you!
Review by Karen 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Who Are You Gonna Call?

Here are a two non fiction books to get you in the mood for Halloween.

"The dark-eyed woman first appeared in the 1970s, standing near a fireplace in a long black gown. She was sad and translucent, present and absent at once. Strange things began to happen in the Santa Fe hotel where she was seen. Gas fireplaces turned off and on without anyone touching a switch. Vases of flowers appeared in new locations. Glasses flew from shelves. And in one second-floor suite with a canopy bed and arched windows looking out to the mountains, guests reported alarming events: blankets ripped off while they slept, the room temperature plummeting, disembodied breathing, dancing balls of light. La Posada--"place of rest"--had been a grand Santa Fe home before it was converted to a hotel. The room with the canopy bed had belonged to Julia Schuster Staab, the wife of the home's original owner. She died in 1896, nearly a century before the hauntings were first reported. 

In American Ghost, Hannah Nordhaus traces the life, death, and unsettled afterlife of her great-great-grandmother Julia and her family, from Julia's childhood in Germany to her years in the American West with her Jewish merchant husband, to the spas and seance rooms of the late nineteenth century, to World War II and beyond. In her search to find and understand her troubled ancestor, Nordhaus travels across America and Europe, and unearths family diaries, photographs, and newspaper clippings; meets with historians, genealogists, psychics, and ghost hunters; and learns along the way some unexpected lessons about living. American Ghost is a touching journey of roots and memory, a story of pioneer women and immigrants, villains and visionaries, frontier fortitude and mental illness, imagination and lore. As she follows the strands of Julia's life, Nordhaus discovers a larger tale of how a true-life story becomes a ghost story--and how difficult it can be to separate history from myth."-- 

Summary provided by publisher.

Step into the mysterious world of haunted plantations, where you'll meet the restless spirits of soldiers, slaves, and owners who roam the antiquated halls. Presenting majestic homes from seven southern states, this remarkable guide contains dramatic history and true stories from the days before and during the Civil War. Join paranormal expert Richard Southall on an awe-inspiring journey through each plantation, exploring grand houses and their ghastly ghouls. 'Haunted Plantations of the South' presents fascinating research, in-depth interviews with ghost hunters, and unforgettable encounters full of paranormal activity and evidence. Discover the phantom casket of the Sweetwater Plantation, the Man in Black who haunts Bellamy Mansion, and many more compelling ghost stories along the way."-

Summary provided by publisher 

Friday, October 9, 2015


Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This fantasy novel is reminiscent of a cross between a dark version of Beauty and the Beast  and the Harry Potter series.  Agnieszka, our heroine, is plucked from obscurity and thrown into confusion, loneliness and chaos before discovering how to use her magic.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”  As the story starts, the reader learns they are waiting for a reaping. Every ten years, the Dragon takes a seventeen-year-old girl off to his tower for a decade of servitude.  The girls are released after their time in the Tower but they are always subtly changed from the simple girls they once were. The Dragon is what they call the local wizard who protects their valley. The valley is a lovely and green place, but all there are endangered by the rapidly encroaching Woods, a malevolent forest which literally eats people to sustain itself. The people of the valley have become resigned to the reaping as the only way to protect their homes and families.

The whole village of Dvernik has always known that when their turn comes, the Dragon will choose the beautiful and fearless Kasia. Instead, he chooses her best friend, Agnieszka, which confuses and dismays everyone. Agnieszka is clumsy and plain. She can’t cook, can’t stay clean for even five minutes, and is notoriously casual about following directions. What possible use can she be to the Dragon?  What will happen to her now? What will happen to the people of the valley?

Educating herself by reading the books she finds in the Dragon’s library, Agnieszka realizes that she has a strong and intuitive magic of her own.  The plot unwinds slowly but steadily as she learns more of magic, and the Dragon, and the world beyond her small valley.

This book has an original setting and characters that are charming, flawed, and thoroughly likeable. Agnieszka has an inherent kindness and a resilient spirit.  Her loyalty to her friends, her family and her home make her an admirable character.  The Dragon is, like the Beast, both more and less than what the village gossips say.  The plot builds slowly but steadily and there is real momentum and horror in the last third of the story. The resolution is satisfying and just open-ended enough to leave the reader wanting more.

For teens and adults who are secretly hoping for an acceptance letter to Hogwarts.

Review by Amy

Monday, October 5, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Book Review:  Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is a thought provoking portrait of a time that is important to remember because  the events it portrays underscore longstanding but not always easily recognized influences on American Ideology. Jean Louise, aka "Scout" Finch has come back to Maycomb Alabama to visit her father Atticus, her former best friend/beau Henry and other citizens of the town. Initially content with poignant reminisces of her childhood with Henry about times shared with her deceased brother Jem, she begins to see a culture that has not changed since the jury trial in which her father, Atticus served as the defense attorney decades ago. Disappointed with what she believes is Atticus's betrayal of his values at a council hall meeting and after a searing argument with him she is catapulted into adulthood by her wise uncle. Uncle Jack assists Jean Louise in setting her own interior "watchman" or conscience. This book starts out slowly but builds to a powerful conclusion from Part VII onward. Part VII exquisitely portrays Scout's difficult coming of age during a time when right and wrong blur with the passage of years. A book for our times, the fact that it was published now is very important. It is worth exploration by readers who look for ways to face truths that can be obscurred by what seems to be virtue during dark times.      

Review by Karen

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert by Marc-Antoine Mathieu

This graphic novel takes us gently down a “rabbit hole” into the museum’s endless subbasements. Which museum?  The answer is a taste of things to come.  Although called by many names, “they say that these names are nothing but anagrams of the museum’s real name, which has been forgotten.” 
Archivist Edeus Volmer and his assistant Leonard arrive on a stormy night to begin an inventory of the sub-basements.  The novel’s panels proceed with beautiful pools and avenues of pale light set within umber shadows that often recede with a cinematic sense of distance in space.  Months, and longer, pass as the archivists travel the basements. In some, a curator entertains us with wit on art and memory. Others provoke us with insights on originality, and creativity.  In the “restoration workshop” experts view their work with small headlamps because, “for restorers light is the enemy of color”, and “darkness preserves colors”.  In the “department of copies” the curator regrets that the practice of copying the masters isn’t fashionable.  “Copying isn’t original any longer.”   In the “department of archives” we watch Volmer and Leonard fly on a rolling book ladder, their coats flapping like superheroes’ capes through the upper stories of a city of archives. 

Finally, Leonard comes to tell Volmer that this “limitless universe” suggests that an inaccessible “essential” exists.  Being inaccessible, limitless paths to travel are all the more important.  I was entertained and captivated by every path.

Review by Ken