Staff Choices

Posted by Sltader on 12/20/16
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" If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." - Dr. Martin Luther King

Jodi Picoult’s bold new book, Small Great Things, is my favorite book of 2016. We have a white author bringing to us a story depicting what racism looks like and trying to tell those of us who are not black, what it feels like. But anyone who has read  Jodi Picoult's books knows that she doesn't shy away from difficult to discuss topics.

Ruth Jefferson is a nurse in a New Haven hospital. She’s good at her job, well-liked, a devoted mother. Turk Bauer and his wife Brit are new parents, anxious, tired and full of love for their baby son. They also happen to be White Supremacists and Ruth happens to be Black. Because of skin color, Ruth is deemed unworthy of taking care of their son and they demand she is removed from their case. Instead of standing with their employee, the hospital acquiesces to the demand and Ruth is removed from the case. However, when a simple procedure turns tragic, Ruth is the only nurse in the room. As the Bauer baby goes into distress, Ruth's split-second hesitation results in accusations of both neglect and conspiracy, and Ruth finds herself on trial for murder. When middle-class, white public defender Kennedy McQuarrie takes Ruth’s case, she insists that race never be mentioned in the courtroom as a strategy for success. Both women are forced to tackle a lifetime’s worth of history, prejudice, insults and privilege in order to trust each other in the hopes of victory in court and redemption in life. The author tells this complex story through the alternating views of Ruth, Turk and Kennedy.
 
This book is not only well written, but insightful and compelling. It was easy to follow the alternating points of view and the characters were so well-developed. As usual I can tell how much research went into this book. Jodi Picoult never ceases to amaze me with how she can both entertain and teach me with her books.
 
This book was written at a racially-charged time where discussion is sorely needed.  It should be on everyone’s 2017 book club list. Although Small Great Things is tough to read at times, I think it's an important read and I highly recommend it.
 
Posted by lsears on 12/10/16
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A political revolution has displaced Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov from his seat of prominence. Because a published poem attributed to him was deemed as a call to action, the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs exiles him to the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. Previously residing there in a luxurious suite of rooms his living space is reduced to a mere 100 square feet  in the attic. He is to never leave the grounds of the Metropol. Little does he know that, in time, he may come to consider himself the luckiest man in Moscow.
 
Years pass and Alexander, former aristocrat, is now the head waiter in the hotel’s restaurant. He forms a tight group of trusted friends amid the hotel workers. Here is where his impeccable manners serve him well as the hotel still bustles with activity, foreign visitors, military and political figures, and an enemy amongst the staff. Unexpectedly, a six-year-old child comes into Alexander’s life. Sophia is a breath of fresh air with her youthful innocence and becomes his responsibility when her mother never returns. The hotel also becomes her community as she grows up there.

This novel is about the measure of a person under circumstances out of their control. How can you outwit an adversary or use their predictability to your advantage? Alexander finds himself in a desperate situation that requires a desperate response. The nuances of etiquette and language are used to great effect here. I found Amor Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow to be a very satisfying read, intelligently written, and filled with gentility and manners in an ugly world.
 
 

 

 
Posted by bweiner on 12/03/16
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In her 2016 novel Everfair, Nisi Shawl tackles a complex and seldom visited period in world history, the colonization of the Congo by King Leopold II of Belgium. The story of the massive slaughter and dehumanization of the Congolese was repressed for many years, and now Shawl brings it to life in a unique and spectacular way. She avoids bland academic interpretations and passive retrospectives and instead takes us on a journey through the Congo as she rewrites history with a fresh expression, using the steampunk genre as her vehicle.

As with all speculative fiction, you must immerse yourself in the “what if”, and the alternate reality she proposes. What if steam power were available much earlier in the Congo? Would this have given them the power to support and protect their people? Would it be possible to create a safe haven, and would this Utopia be enough to withstand the pressure and exploitation from challenging sources?

But it is in the telling of this story that Shawl really shines. There is no single perspective here; the characters telling the story are male, female, Europeans, Americans, Africans, and Asians, they are kings, servants, politicians, nurses and scientists, and this fascinating blend of voices contributes deeply to the rich tapestry of this tale.

Enough said. I have revealed more than I should.  Check this book out and go on a remarkable journey with a unique voice in speculative fiction.
Posted by Uncle Will on 11/23/16
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Watching the first season of Outsiders was sheer escapism. At the top of a mountain dwells a clan that has lived and survive there for over 200 years - no TV, no book learning, no internet, no Republican and Democratic parties.  What they do have is family, blood, tradition, and the will to live.
 
The Ferrell family is led by the Bren’in. The current one, Lady Ray, is old and near-ready to pass the customary oak (symbol of power) staff on to her eldest son, Big Foster (actor David Morse). Big Foster would be a very poor choice for the next Bren’in – for more reasons than worth the time to list.
Time is the one thing running out for the clan. A powerful energy company wants to make billions mining the coal that lies under the top of the Farrell’s mountain. They will stop at nothing to evict the residents.

What I like most about this new series is the fact that up high on the Ferrell mountaintop, the males still garnish the illusion that they have the most power. Gillian Alexy stars as G'Winveer Farrell, the clan's healer. She is a quiet force that bears close watching. Ryan Hurst (Remember the Titans) who formally held the popular role of "Opie" on Sons of Anarchy, plays Li'l Foster Farrell, the troubled son of Big Foster. He's the shows' gentle giant. Perfect casting and the producers saved on his costume budget because his appearance mirrors his SOA wardrobe – complete down to the untaimed long beard and hair.

Don’t let the title mislead. There is an outsider amongst the insiders on Farrell Mountain. Asa Farrell, played by actor Joe Anderson, fled his family 10 years ago to see the world. He joined the Army and finally, after seeing the error of his ways, returned home, tail tucked, hat in hand, and is immediately tossed in a cage for 6 months to ponder his past and future plight. The tension builds when he learns that the love of his life, G'Winveer, is betrothed to Li'l Foster.

 
WGN has picked up the option for a 2nd season; so sit back and see which really rules: big business or true love.

 
Posted by Uncle Will on 11/23/16
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Watching the first season of Outsiders was sheer escapism. At the top of a mountain dwells a clan that has lived and survive there for over 200 years - no TV, no book learning, no internet, no Republican and Democratic parties.  What they do have is family, blood, tradition, and the will to live.
 
The Ferrell family is led by the Bren’in. The current one, Lady Ray, is old and near-ready to pass the customary oak (symbol of power) staff on to her eldest son, Big Foster (actor David Morse). Big Foster would be a very poor choice for the next Bren’in – for more reasons than worth the time to list.
Time is the one thing running out for the clan. A powerful energy company wants to make billions mining the coal that lies under the top of the Farrell’s mountain. They will stop at nothing to evict the residents.

What I like most about this new series is the fact that up high on the Ferrell mountaintop, the males still garnish the illusion that they have the most power. Gillian Alexy stars as G'Winveer Farrell, the clan's healer. She is a quiet force that bears close watching. Ryan Hurst (Remember the Titans) who formally held the popular role of "Opie" on Sons of Anarchy, plays Li'l Foster Farrell, the troubled son of Big Foster. He's the shows' gentle giant. Perfect casting and the producers saved on his costume budget because his appearance mirrors his SOA wardrobe – complete down to the untaimed long beard and hair.

Don’t let the title mislead. There is an outsider amongst the insiders on Farrell Mountain. Asa Farrell, played by actor Joe Anderson, fled his family 10 years ago to see the world. He joined the Army and finally, after seeing the error of his ways, returned home, tail tucked, hat in hand, and is immediately tossed in a cage for 6 months to ponder his past and future plight. The tension builds when he learns that the love of his life, G'Winveer, is betrothed to Li'l Foster.

 
WGN has picked up the options for a 2nd season so sit back and see if big business or true love rules out.

Posted by ahenkels on 11/07/16
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When I heard that the co-creator of Whole 30 wrote a new book, I was curious about it. Whole 30 to me screams “diet! Can’t do this!” and a book from someone who created this writing about freedom from food was too irresistible to pass up. Whole 30, in case you are unfamiliar, is a 30 day “reset” (to use the terms of the author) where you avoid grains, dairy, alcohol, beans and soy. There is a lot more details and it’s tough. I only lasted 10 days when I tried it a year ago.

This book, however, is so much more than Whole 30. In Food Freedom Forever, author Melissa Hartwig shares her own journey to freedom from dieting and how to have a healthy relationship with food. It all starts with a “reset”, where you restrict your food for a short term and then slowly reintroduce foods to see how your body reacts. Hartwig also goes into details on how to complete your “resets” and also gives reasons and advice for going through this process.

It’s definitely an interesting read if you enjoy reading about foods and how to have better habits around food. It’s a great read if you are going through a diet for whatever reason and want some advice on how to talk to people and deal with stressful situations around food. 
Food, Health
Posted by lsears on 11/03/16
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Two half-sisters who never had the chance to meet led very different lives. Effia married a British man and Esi is sold into slavery. The story begins in British-colonized Ghana in the 1750’s and then follows these two women’s children’s lives into contemporary time, each chapter moving forward in the voice of the next generation.

Despite the seriousness of the subject it is beautifully written; it is about weakness and strength, freedom and human rights. Sometimes the story unfolds in a way that simply reports the facts, and I found this unpretentious manner of storytelling to be even more impactful. Parts are raw, undiluted, heartbreaking, troubling and made me uncomfortable but this is exactly why this is a book that should be read. Author Yaa Gyasi carefully researched history for this novel. The Cape Coast Castle referenced in Homegoing still stands today, now as a museum.

I listened to Homegoing on audiobook, the narrator’s authentic accent and pronunciation adds depth to the story.
Posted by Sltader on 10/29/16
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A very easy and delicious cookbook for the busy individual!
 
This is a great slow cooker book. There are 3 'at-a-glance' icons that certainly help meal planning, especially for busy moms! 1. Ready in 4 hours’ meals 2. Five ingredient meals (not including water, salt, pepper and oils) - and lastly 3. Express prep - only take 10 minutes of prep time meals!

There are recipes from effortless appetizers and beverages, to swift sweets. Also, there are directions for no fuss salads and sides, along with a section of quick breads.

Gazing through this cookbook I can see our family grazing on some of their delicious recipes throughout the year – Pepperoni Pizza Soup, Cranberry Mustard Pork Loin, Spicy Hash Brown Supper, Eye-Opening Burritos, Cheesy Tater Tot Dinner, Elvis’ pudding cake, and even Chimichurri Monkey Bread.

Unfortunately, not every recipe has a pictures but most do so that is reassuring when looking at what you created. If you can overlook some typos and you are not a gourmet chef, this cookbook is perfect for meal planning. This ready reference would mostly be appreciated by the busy mom or dad for a quick, tasty meal. Bon Appétit!
 
Cookbooks
Posted by bweiner on 10/21/16
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This Census-Taker, by British author China Miéville, will confound you with more questions than answers in this surreal narrative, with its strange imagination and moody quality. Miéville creates a space that erupts and burns with originality.

This small, thought provoking tale takes us on a journey with a boy who thinks he witnesses a murder, but is unable to trust his own memory. This story appears to be a fairy tale, yet it defies the usual conventions of that genre. Miéville keenly lets the story unfold through the unique vantage point of the child. His sparse revelations cautiously satisfy, while leaving us unsettled and unsure.

Captivating, challenging, this is Miéville at his finest. If you are willing to send your imagination to new heights, to indulge in beautifully constructed language and navigate a world of complex, peculiar characters, this is the story for you.
fantasy
Posted by Uncle Will on 10/20/16
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The Dark Valley is precisely what the title says. This dark Danish film, Das finstere Tal (original title), is shot in Val Senales, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy. It features a rising young star, Sam Riley, as the brooding, deeply conflicted, stranger who arrives totally unwanted to a remote valley at the foot of the Alps. When asked what his business is (before rudely being told to turn his horse around and ride back the way he came) he says that he's a photographer.

The answer is problematic on many levels. The valley is a closed community that is ruled by a land-baron and his many sons. Male strangers are always turned away. Since no one knows what a photograph is, the novelty is the new visitor's free pass. Winter is coming and once it sets in, the mountain pass will become closed by the snow. The stranger, Greider, in need of lodging, is forced upon a mother and her soon-to-wed daughter.

 
This film's powerful in its lack of color. All the scenes are dark and dreary which helps create the feeling that the valley village is encompassed and even consumed by evil. The plot is a mystery that isn't hard to figure out; however, the film's an ode to the gritty, tight Westerns of the '60's and '70's - a period in films where the hero is a loner, fighting incredible odds, non-supported by the suppressed citizens, but is willing to die for his cause. 
 
This film is a psychological study of man-the-manipulator. It is not for everyone’s taste, but it worth a watch.
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04/27/2011
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