Saturday, October 8, 2011


A good friend of mine from college was visiting from California yesterday, and since we often share the things we've been reading or watching with each other, I found myself telling her all about Fables. At first she thought I was referring to actual fables as in Aesop's or Grimm Brothers, but when I explained that it's a graphic novel series, she was little more intrigued. When I finished my monologue about the greatness of Fables, she said,"I want to read these!" So I thought since I'd convinced one person to read them, maybe I should recommend them to others.

Several months ago, a couple of friends recommended that I start this graphic novel series, created by Bill Willingham, and it sounded interesting; fable and fairytale characters kicked out of their fairytale lands and exiled to New York City. I read the first one, and I liked it, but couldn't get myself to pick up volume two. One of those friends even let me borrow volumes two through four, but I still just couldn't get into it. However, a couple months after giving the borrowed comic books back to my friend, I was suddenly in the mood to continue reading them. Don't ask me why my brain works that way.

So I'm currently up to volume six now and completely addicted! Lunch time has turned into Fables time. I get so excited to go on my lunch break because I know the next chapter is waiting to be devoured! (Along with my lunch.) It's fascinating to see how all the characters from the different stories interact with one another when confined to Fabletown, the small corner of New York City they have built up for Fables only, away from the prying eyes of the Mundys (Mundane, non-magical humans.) I don't want to say too much about the characters or plot because there are so many surprises! I would hate to give anything away.

But, if you have a slightly darker sense of humor, like I do, or have any kind of interest in the original fairytale and fables, then I would recommend reading these somewhat darker and more twisted versions of the characters and stories. Fables will keep entertained for sure and keep you guessing about what will happen next!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Autumn Reading

Summer is beginning to wind down. The summer reading program at the library has been done since July, and I made a pretty good dent in my summer reading list for this year. I am waiting on one last book to come in-transit, but all in all I did pretty well. But I got to thinking... why does my list making have to stop? It really helped to have a list to follow. When I have a goal in mind, it keeps me reading. So... I'm making a new list for the fall. And since I read a lot of nonfiction this summer, I will indulge in some YA literature and graphic novels this fall.

Beginning with...

1. (The book I'm currently reading...) A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray (And I will most likely follow that up with the rest of the Gemma Doyle series.)

2. Fables (I've been meaning to read more of these for a long time. I'm currently reading Volume Two. It's a graphic novel series about characters from all kinds of fables and fairy tales who have been exiled to modern day New York City. I really like it so far... it just took me a while to get into it. But watching episode after episode of The Big Bang Theory tends to put you in the mood to read comic books.)

3. Going Bovine, another YA book by Libba Bray. Her books are really quirky, and this book in particular was nominated for an Abe Lincoln YA Book Award, so I thought I'd give it a shot since I'm enjoying the Gemma Doyle books so much.

4. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. This is not a YA book, but it's one of her science fiction books, and seems as though it would fit in with the Autumn Reading theme I've got going on so far.

5. One Day, by David Nicholls. This does not go along with the theme, but I saw the movie, and got the feeling the book would fill in a lot of the gaps. The movie was good, but I still felt some pieces had to be missing.

That's all I've got, so far. But there are probably 16 or more volumes of Fables, so that will take a while. (Not to mention, I'll be running book club this year, so that adds an extra book each month on top of my own personal lists.) But I hope you, too, have some good books lined up for this fall. Happy reading, everyone! :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Little Princes

Every adventurer at heart should read this book. Anyone who has felt even an ounce of compassion for "the least of these" (Matt. 25:40) should read this book. It is a wonderfully written account of a young man who begins a whirlwind, round-the-world trip by first volunteering at a children's home in Nepal. He starts out seeking adventure and ends up finding his true calling.

This book came to me as I was processing books at the library one day. (Ocassionally, if a book strikes my eye, I will stop labeling and covering long enough to read the jacket description.) I was drawn to the story because it seemed similiar to the time I spent volunteering with children in Thailand. However, as I began to actually read the book, I realized right away that Conor Grennan's story was going to be radically different from my own experience in a developing nation.

He did much more than just volunteer for three months: He rescued trafficked children, started his own children's home and non-profit organization, and reunited trafficked children with their families after years of seperation. And in the midst of telling his readers about all these incredible things he did in Nepal, he still manages to remain open and honest about his shortcomings. His humility and grace are truly inspiring!

And he never loses his sense of humor! This book will have you laughing out loud, when you are not gripped with suspense over what happens next. There were times when certain scenes got so intense, I felt like I was reading an adventure novel. I had to stop and remind myself that this story actually happened to a real person.

So I encourage everyone to read it! Even if you've never had the itch to travel around the world or volunteer in Southeast Asia, you'll walk away from this book inspired to do something good for others. (Even if that just means showing a little more kindness to the people you interact with on a daily basis. ) Read it... I guarentee you'll love it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Midnight in Paris

I saw this movie several weeks ago, but I've been pretty busy lately, so it's been a while since I've posted. But I wanted to recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it yet! It was directed by Woody Allen, and has a stellar cast: Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams... how could one go wrong? Right? I've been a big fan of Woody Allen's work since college, but Midnight in Paris--I can say without hesitation--is my favorite by far! It is full of humor and wit and a touch of magic. After the movie was over, I couldn't wipe the goofy smile off my face for almost the entire ride home. It is a wonderful film, and being filmed in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it is also wonderful to look it! And, of course, the soundtrack was also perfection, as most Woody Allen soundtracks are. Watching it made me want to go back to Paris and take it slower this time around... instead of racing from tourist attraction to tourist attraction. I want to take slow walks through the Parisian streets, and take in every detail. Midnight in Paris is definitely a movie for dreamers and hopeless romantics. Go see it! You won't regret it!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Reading Promise, by Alice Ozma

The first thing that struck me about this book was the author’s name: Alice Ozma. Why did that sound so familiar? It turns out her name comes from two female protagonists in two classic pieces of children’s literature: Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Princess Ozma from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. Right away, the author’s name alone makes this book incredibly interesting!

The Reading Promise tells the true story of a father and daughter who make a pact to read with each other for one hundred nights. After they meet their first goal, they decide to go for 1,000 nights. Eventually they decide to just keep going. They read every night—never missing a night—until the day Alice leaves for college.

This book had me laughing so hard I was in tears when Alice described her crippling and somewhat unusual fear of the ghost of JFK at the age of twelve. And it had me tearing up at the more touching moments between Alice and her father. (I don’t want to give away too much, so I’ll stop there.) But it also made me think of how lucky I was to grow up in a home where books were not only respected, but cherished. My brother and I had a mother who read to us before we went to bed at night. Books were given as gifts for birthdays and major holidays. Reading was never turned into a punishment, or forced upon us. It was always something we were taught to enjoy. (I have to take a moment right now to thank my mother for this. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be working in the library today.)

After working with public school kids and then later in the public library, I realized that the love of books and reading is not common in all households. That’s what I think makes The Reading Promise so incredible! It challenges the reader to get back to books, and to practice the art of reading out loud. So if you love books, or need some inspiration, read The Reading Promise. You’ll finish the book with a great excitement and enthusiasm for books, and you’ll want to make a reading promise of your own.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Somewhere, Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola

On a Saturday afternoon--not long after I started college--I was sitting alone in my dorm room watching The Virgin Suicides. It was my first Sofia Coppola film experience. I didn't realize it then, but that one quiet afternoon turned me into a Sofia Coppola fan for life.

A couple of years later, I saw the trailer for Lost in Translation--Sofia, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanson? How could this possibly disappoint?? And, of course, it didn't. It exceded my expectations and then some! I went to see that movie in theaters at least three times (if not more) because I not only wanted to see it again and again for myself, but I wanted all my friends to see it as well. I knew while purchasing the DVD on the day of it's release that Ms. Coppola had earned a permanant place in my heart.

The summer Marie Antoinette came out in the theaters just happened to be the same year I had gone to France and saw the Palace of Versailles up close and personal. The movie Marie Antoinette was different from Sofia's first two films, and some of my friends were not as impressed with it. But I have always loved it! Whenever I watch it, I always think of my trip to France.

This post, however, is not about her previous films, but about her most recent release Somewhere. I was unable to see this movie in the theater which greatly disappointed me. But I recently purchased the DVD because I have enough faith in Sofia Coppola to pay full price for one of her movies without a preview.

Somewhere is about an actor in Los Angeles living a rock-staresque lifestyle; inviting poll dancers to his hotel room for private shows, racing around in his flashy sports car, and coming home to wild parties that he didn't seem to plan or anticipate. But when he unexpectedly has to look after his eleven year old daughter for an extended period of time, he begins to reexamine some of his life choices.

This film moves more slowly than her other films, but if you're patient, it's well worth the wait! It's beautiful how the story unfolds. We get a small glimpse into the everyday lives of these characters, and witness a gradual change for the better. It's a wonderful story of redemption, and those are always my favorite kind!

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Jane Austen Education

Ah, Jane Austen. Of course my first pick for summer reading would be about my favorite author of all time… Ms. Austen. After reading the first chapter of A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz, my first thought was: A man who loves Austen… be still my beating heart! As I kept reading, however, my thoughts became much more reflective because the book became increasingly challenging. I love the subtitle: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love Friendship and the Things that Really Matter. Because that is exactly what Jane Austen teaches in her novels: the things that really matter.

Each chapter of A Jane Austen Education teaches an important life lesson from what it means to be a good friend, to really listening to the people around you and allowing them to tell their stories. The author shares Austen’s belief that it is our duty in life to be kind and useful to the people around us, even when we don’t feel they deserve it. He also came around to Austen’s ideas about love. Love does not hit us suddenly or feel like falling. It comes on gradually and more closely resembles growth. I happen to agree with that notion whole heartedly.

My favorite chapter in the book was the chapter on friendship which also happened to be the chapter on Persuasion, my favorite Austen novel. (Maybe my favorite book, period.) I have always loved Anne Elliot, and looked up to her as someone who should be emulated, as much as humanly possible. She always put others before herself, even when that meant being torn away from the man she loved because her family disapproved.

But even though I love Persuasion and Anne and Captain Wentworth, the reason I loved this chapter so much was not because Deresiewicz seemed to share all my opinions about my favorite novel. It was the story he shared about his life I found most appealing. During this chapter of the book, the author was remembering a time in his life when he felt displaced. I think many people in their late twenties/early thirties are familiar with this feeling. We have finished college--the core groups of friends we spent so much time with and took for granted have dispersed to other parts of the country (or world) to start careers or families or other kinds of adventures. Deresiewicz gives an account of his own life: living alone in an apartment, a little gray cat being his only constant companion.

This seemed to parallel my own life not more than a couple of years ago, except I didn’t even have a cat to keep me company. I was in desperate need of a community. I eventually found it in a good church and also in a young couple from the library I work at. I made friends in the community in which I live. But the chapter reminded me how important it is not to take your true friends for granted because life can change in an instant.

He ended the chapter with a description of the friends he had to find after his period of solitude and loneliness: “There were about eight of us sitting around the kitchen table that night, smacking our lips over some dessert she had made. The candles were burning low, her cats were nosing their way among our legs, someone had just cracked a joke. I leaned back, I looked around, and I thought, Yes, I’ve found my family.” I knew exactly what he meant because it is exactly how I feel every time I sit in church, and it’s exactly the feeling I experience when I visit the house of the couple from the library I mentioned earlier, and it’s exactly what I felt when my good friend raced to my house in the middle of the night after learning the bad news I’d just received.

As William Deresiewicz put it, “Your friends are the family you choose.” I think I’ve chosen pretty well, and I never want to take them--or anyone else I care about--for granted.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer Reading

I'm straying from my usual format for this post because I recently read the Summer Books section of the Chicago Tribune, and it inspired me to make a summer reading list for myself. So I've decided to post my summer reading list as a way of keeping me accountable to it. (If I post it for all the world wide web to see, I may be more inclined to stick to it.) Plus, I always like to hear about what other people are reading or plan to read, so I thought I might return the favor and share a little.

Here goes:
1. A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter, by William Deresiewicz
2. The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, by Alice Azma
3. The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School, by Alexandra Robbins
4. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas
5. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, by Erik Larson
6. Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See
7. You Shall Know Our Velocity, by Dave Eggers

8. Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I don't know if I will read them in that particular order. I might mix the fiction in with the non to break things up a little. I actually surprised myself when I was finished with this list because there is an awful lot of nonfiction on it. I've never been much of a nonfiction reader. I usually tend to stick with novels, but it seems as though this year has produced a lot of nonfiction books on topics I'm very interested in. It should be an interesting and educational summer and I can't wait to get started!

(If you have the time, let me know what you plan to read this summer!)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Any Human Heart

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am a huge fan of Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. I'm especially impressed with the work they've been turning out in the last 5-10 years. I recently had the opportunity to watch the Masterpiece adaptation of Any Human Heart, by William Boyd.

Any Human Heart is the story of the 20th Century told through the eyes of Logan Mountstuart. The story begins with Logan as a young man at Oxford in the 1930s. You discover early on that the character of Logan Mountstuart has more than his share of flaws, but you find yourself on his side despite his shortcomings.

Logan is a novelist struggling to find his next great book, but finds himself living a rather full life instead working on his novel. It isn't until the end of his life when he sorts through his many journals that he discovers he'd been recording his masterpiece all along.

Any Human Heart turns out to be a beautiful story about growing up, growing old, and the adventures and heartaches we face along the way.

The cast of this mini-series is phenomenal. I truly believe the British have cornered the market on bringing books to life. And it all begins with their actors. Sam Claflin, Matthew MacFadyen and Jim Broadbent did such an excellent job portraying young, middle aged and elderly Logan Mountstuart that the transition between actors was so smooth it was hardly noticable.

And being a huge fan of Matthew MacFadyen's, I always have to give a little extra praise for his performances. I haven't seen him in any role that wasn't wonderfully performed. He is indeed one of the greatest actors of his generation. I have and will continue to follow his career as long as he continues to act.

I also love that Masterpiece Theatre is moving forward in film technology. This was not only well acted and eloquently adapted to a screenplay, it was also very beautifully filmed and visually interesting. I loved everything about this film adaptation - the acting, the costumes, and the excellent cinematography.

But I will warn you - there are some pretty scandelous sex scenes for a Masterpiece Drama, so don't watch it with the kiddies. They are, however, an important part of the unveiling of Logan's character. He is a man with an addictive personality, and one of his addictions just so happens to be sex. It's an important flaw that shapes his life and teaches him a lot, in the end.

We all learn the greatest lessons in life from our mistakes and weaknesses, and I think that's what makes this particular story so relatable. So that's why this is my next recommendation: Any Human Heart, the Masterpiece adaptation of William Boyd's novel of the same title.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Water for Elephants

When I first saw the book Water for Elephants was being turned into a movie, I got pretty excited. That is until I saw who was cast in the lead male role. (It's been difficult for me to forgive R-Pats since he forever ruined the role of Edward Cullen in the Twilight movies.) As I was on my way to see this movie, I was half hopeful and half skeptical. It turns out I was pleasantly surprised! I really enjoyed this movie! And since I hadn't read the book in more than two years, I didn't have any of those that's-not-how-it-was-in-the-book moments. I thought it stayed pretty true to the spirit of the original story, and it was beautifully filmed. The costumes and the soundtrack were also pretty amazing. And Robert Pattinson redeemed himself. (I am now convinced that it's the Twilight movie franchise that is terrible and I shouldn't judge the actors too harshly.) All in all, it was a wonderful film-going experience for me. It made me want to run off with the circus myself.

So that's my recommendation for the day: Water for Elephants, the movie. It opened in theaters recently, so you still have a chance to catch it. And if you haven't read the book, you should read that, too! It's a riveting story about the circus in the 1930s. And there is a little bit of something for everyone: suspense, drama, romance... it even makes you laugh out loud at times. I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lark Rise to Candleford

If you're reading this blog, something you should know about me before you commit yourself is that I love the BBC. So many of my recommendations may be BBC related or some other kind of British drama or comedy. Today, I want to talk about the book Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson, and the TV series that is based on the book.

The Book

The book was originally written as three short novels called Lark Rise, Over to Candleford and Candleford Green. Later it was compiled into one volume. This is a book that I would recommend reading slowly. It is beautifully written, and you'll want to take in each word. It's a book about a different time when people moved at a slower pace and didn't let the clock rule their lives. So I would recommend picking it up and taking it one story at a time. Read it outside in a park or under a tree. Take a quiet moment to let each story take you back to a simpler place and time.

The TV Show

The TV Show, on the other hand, I did not take at a slow pace. I could not stop watching this show. It had me hooked from the very beginning. It does not follow the book exactly, but it definitely captures the spirit. I just fell in love with each character from Thomas Brown, the cowardly postman, to Dorcas Lane the meddling postmistress.

The story on the television show revolves around the Candleford Post Office, run by Dorcas Lane. The Post Office draws in both the wealthier townspeople of Candleford, and the poorer hamlet dwellers of Lark Rise. The show is filled with colorful characters, and wonderful costumes & set design. The word that keeps coming to mind when I tell my patrons or friends about the show is lovely. It's a lovely show that makes you feel good about life and good about being human.

So that's my latest recommendation: Lark Rise to Candleford - the book and TV show.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Patron Recommends...

Because I work at a small public library, I have the opportunity to get to know some of my patrons really well. One of the best things about my job is talking with patrons about what they are reading, or TV show and movies they are watching. The other day, I was engaged in a conversation with one of my favorite patrons, Mollie, who just happens to share my appreciation for Jane Austen, BBC Drama, and Masterpiece Theatre.

So I was telling her all about Lark Rise to Candleford, a BBC TV show that I've recently been devouring episode by episode every evening. Finally she stopped me and said, "You should write a blog." Later on, our conversation came to mind again, and I thought, why not? It could be kind of fun. Mollie might be the only person who ever reads it, but I'm okay with that.

The Long Surrender
I'm not, however, going to write about books, movies, or TV in this entry. Since I just went to a spectacular concert last weekend, I'd rather write about the new Over the Rhine record The Long Surrender. First of all, I have to say WOW! They are AMAZING live! If you ever get a chance to see them in concert, I'd highly recommend it!

In anticipation of the show, I listened to almost nothing but The Long Surrender in the two weeks leading up to it. It is, in my opinion, their best album to date. (Of course, I think that about all their albums when they first come out because they just keep getting better!) This new record uses the best parts of country, jazz and blues in a perfect combination. They've created incredibly soulful, beautiful songs that make you want to turn up the volume and sing along at the top of your lungs. I adore everything about every song on this record.

The friends I went to the concert with were teasing me because at the beginning of every song they played, I'd say, "Oh! I love this song!" "We know. You don't have to say it every time," was their response. But there is something about their music that moves me, and I just couldn't help getting excited. So that's my recommendation for today: Over the Rhine's The Long Surrender. Check out their website, when you get a chance: