Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Best Books of 2015: Around the Internet

As we approach the end of 2015, it's worth looking back on some of the great books published this year -- and there were a lot of them.

Many of my favorite websites have put together lists of Best of 2015 books, including the following, all of which are worth taking a look at:

Powell's Bookstore Book Blog has lists covering several genres of books, including: 
Fiction - The Book of Speculation and The Buried Giant are ones I'm especially looking forward to reading.
Non-Fic - I really want to read The Oregon Trail
YA - Six of Crows looks great

Publisher's Weekly - Delicious Foods looks very interesting 

Goodreads' Best of 2015 list (which was voted on by its members) is also divided into many genres. One winner was decided in each category, but all the nominees are worth checking out. Why Not Me and Trigger Warning top my list of 'want to read.' 

NPR's Book Concierge has probably the most books of any list here, and covers all genres. They have My Kitchen Year, which I'm reading now, and many books I want to read, including The Witches, Seveneves, Uprooted, Undermajordomo Minor, and Slade House

Amazon's Editors Picks, which includes H is for Hawk and Purity on my to-read list.

Book Riot's list includes The Library at Mount Char, Nimona, and Archivist Wasp among those I want to read. 

It's clear from all these lists that I have a lot of reading to do! (Though I already knew that.)

Check these lists out and see what appeals to you, and come back soon for a round-up of 2015 favorites from staff here at the Duxbury Free Library.

Happy holidays! Keep reading, Beth

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl (2013) is a great book for any introvert - or anyone who wants to understand introverts. Cath is a college freshman dealing with her much more outgoing twin sister, bi-polar dad, absent mom, standoffish roommate, roommate’s flirty boyfriend, and writing partner with questionable motives. The way Rowell writes all these characters is wonderful; she has a way with personalities and dialogue that made this book very hard to put down.

The thread through the whole book is the fantasy fanfiction Cath is writing, which weaves throughout the ‘real’ life of the story and is what connects or separates Cath from most of the people in her life, including her sister and her writing professor. There are tantalizing glimpses of both the story Cath is writing and the books her characters are based on, which adds an interesting dimension to the story.

Rowell is really great at capturing the feeling of being young and dealing with the strange transition in college between childhood and adulthood, and I really found myself empathizing with Cath very closely. A large part of this was the way in which Cath struggles as an introvert to adapt to the new environment of college, being surrounded by strangers and new expectations of how to 'be cool' and fit in.

The ending was fairly open-ended, but in a way that made sense. Most of the main storylines were pretty well wrapped up, and nothing was left hanging so much as while the story of Cath's freshman year was ending, life was continuing for each character and that’s okay. This was a really great book that I’ve recommended to everyone since I finished. My favorite non-fantasy young adult book so far (sorry John Green; I love you but I just found myself connecting with a female lead character more).
“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can't Google.)” (page 15)
Keep reading! Beth

Friday, December 11, 2015

Roundtable Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

In which several members of our staff who have all read the same book offer their differing thoughts and opinions. Today: a technological thriller and commentary on modern society by Dave Eggers, called The Circle (2013). Please note, there WILL be spoilers as we discuss all aspects of this book, including the ending!

For my original review of both this book and The Martian, check out this post of the blog.

CAROL J.: Creepy, authentic look at how capitalistic, technologically-driven corporations envision and expect the world to be. But can complete allegiance to one company, 24-7, and total worldwide data transparency be good for humanity?

ROSE: For me, The Circle by Dave Eggers follows in the footsteps of other dystopian novels like Huxley’s Brave New World, where different aspects of the present-day society are exaggerated and expanded into something disquieting. Mae Holland, a sweet young woman, is hired by a revered mega-Internet company, The Circle (which has some resemblances to Google, Facebook and Apple). Mae’s employers introduce her to the high expectations of The Circle: the 24/7 social interaction whirl of the employees, and the competitive video-game aspects of the work itself, which involves responding to customer emails rapidly and skillfully for hours, in order to amass a high rating.

The Circle is not great literature. The writing is on the level of a summer beach read: characters are not deep, and the story’s ending is rushed. But I would recommend it, since it held my interest, and the story moves along steadily. I cared about the main character, and was interested in her evolution. A number of the concepts (companies where employees can live 24/7, a constant barrage of social media, use of computers to measure work output) already exist at today’s corporations. We’re all aware of camera surveillance and drones; it’s a small step to imagining their presence everywhere.

But what I liked best about the story – and what stays with me – is the depiction of the relentless, privacy-smashing communal life that has an incredibly seductive pull: being part of the approving crowd, being watched over, protected and secure. I think The Circle would make a fine book for discussion, with concepts everyone in the 21st century can relate to.

ELLEN: In the spirit of 1984, The Jungle, and the latest craze for dystopian future novels, Dave Eggers has written a book that challenges the orthodoxy of increased public exposure of our personal lives on the Internet through gadgets and constant postings on bulletin boards and news feeds.

As a novel I found it a bit heavy-handed and I didn't find the central character, Mae Holland, all that believable, but I laughed mightily at the obvious representations of Facebook, Instagram, personal blogs, and YouTube. Companies like Google, whose products mesh so seamlessly into a web of interdependency, started out to claim the simplistic mantra, "Don't be evil" (their page outlining their philosophy).

At the same time, the digital storage of the world's data – including all literature, demographic information, and government documents – begs the question, "who controls the databank, who gets ready access, who controls speed of downloads, who holds the keys?" Something that starts out as a way for everyone to hold the power inevitably can morph into a power grab. Recent revelations on working conditions at Amazon, controversial as the sourcing is, raises the relevant question, "Can you succeed at a corporation and ever be offline and not at work?"

As the Young Adult Librarian, I love asking my teen group about privacy and the Internet. They have grown up with a digital presence in their lives. What is compelling is how much they find freedom and solace in what they see as the anonymity of creating an online identity. They find community and validation from others here and learn to create a voice in a group of fellow gamers, fan fiction writers, artists, and bloggers. They seem well aware of the pitfalls and know the safety issues but don't let that stop them from exploring and posting fearlessly.

On a tangential note, David and I have talked about the need for a variety of digital curation web services similar to Maria Popova's Brain Pickings, and that libraries should consider this kind of extremely intense compilation work around issues and topics one of the new tasks for libraries to tackle. It will be the key, from my perspective, to maintaining a variety of hosts and voices.

Privacy is really a very modern value. In ancient times people lived in shoulder-to-shoulder contact with others for safety’s sake. How we balance our desire to live private lives against our natural compulsion for convenience and safety is a fascinating tension that Eggers' book broaches in an entertaining and ominous way.

JESS: When I read the synopsis of this book I thought to myself, "I'm never going to finish this. It doesn't sound suspenseful at all." The book is like a slow burn, it does take time to build but by then end I couldn't believe a book about a social media company had me on the edge of my seat.

This book made me feel uncomfortable and reflective, much like the scenes in Fahrenheit 451 when the main character's wife dives deeper and deeper into her hologram TV. It is a book that has stayed with me long after I finished. I didn't like the main character Mae and that's the whole point. There are two particular scenes that stand out in my head. One is a customer service job interaction between Mae and a businessman where the number of emails she gets asking her to rate his company and recommend his daughter for a job was excruciating painful. I was visibly stressed listening to this. Why does she put up with this? She has the power to make or break his business with a few sentences.

Another harrowing scene is when she is scolded by human resources for not "posting" about going kayaking – her one soulful, peaceful interaction with nature, ‘How could she not think to invite others who like to kayak?’ Even going so far as berating her for selfishly not videoing it for people who cannot kayak due to their own health issues. This company becomes more like a cult throughout the book but just when the reader starts to question it, something positive about the resource sharing happens, and it makes you rethink your feelings about the company.

The book's final climax ended abruptly but I think that's the point of the whole book. The loss of privacy in our era has left us highly informed but at what cost? How has it changed us as people? Are we stretched so thin that our human interactions are left on the surface? Food for thought the next time you think about posting on Facebook.

BETH:  This book was great, but very disturbing. It almost felt like a prequel to any science fiction story – how we allow a slow spreading of technology into our lives until it eventually takes over completely. The scariest thing is that our present-day society, with everyone so deeply tied into and dependent on their phones, tablets, and computers is really not very far at all from the society in this book.

Though, as others have mentioned, the main character Mae was not entirely likeable, still you could see how she ended up getting in as deep as she did. Each step she took – every time she said yes to her supervisor’s requests – was understandable as an isolated incident. But for the reader, the book becomes more and more tense as you wonder where Mae's line will be; when she'll realize that broadcasting her entire life, with the only break being a minute of muted silence when she uses the restroom, is crazy.

When she persists even when she has to meet her best friend in the bathroom to have any semblance of private conversation, I was flabbergasted. When she literally drives someone to suicide and her parents underground and STILL continues to drink The Circle's Kool-Aid about wanting to be seen and known by everyone, and everyone having a right to see and know you, I was angry and frankly pretty sad. And when the book ended without any reasonable resolution, I really saw this as the beginning of the end of civilization in that society. And then I went outside.

Emma Watson and Tom Hanks are starring in the film adaptation of The Circle, which is currently set to come out sometime in 2016. It will be very interesting to see how they adapt the book to a movie, especially the later half of the story, which is told almost exclusively from a first-person perspective of Mae's camera.

Overall, I think all of us really enjoyed this book, though the feelings it elicited while reading were absolutely not always pleasant. It really made us all think and talk about the story and how it applies to our own lives, which after all is just about the best a book can do.

Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Having read Tina Fey's Bossypants and Aisha Tyler's Self-Inflicted Wounds within the past year (both great books), I thought Amy Poehler's Yes Please (2014) would be a similar collection of funny anecdotes and stories of embarrassing experiences, with some occasional behind-the-scenes 'shop talk' of the comedy and acting industries.

Though Yes Please had all of these, it was in very different proportions to the other comedy memoirs I've read recently, and was much heavier on the memoir and advice / words-of-wisdom, and lighter on the comedy and humor than I expected. It was much less of funny story after funny story and more sincere that I had assumed it would be. Amy was (or at least seemed to be) as honest about the lows as she was about the highs of her life.

This isn't a criticism; the book was definitely interesting, and I certainly feel like I know Amy better, even if I didn't bust my gut laughing regularly while reading. There was certainly still plenty of humor (heavy on the self-deprecating humor) and some great insider information, much more so than Tina's or Aisha's books. I really enjoyed reading about how things were run at SNL and her sitcom, and her experiences as a woman in what is definitely still a male-dominated industry were illuminating.

A really great read that I would recommend.
"Creativity is connected to your passion, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love. That small voice that tells you, 'I like this. Do this again. You are good at it. Keep going.' That is the juicy stuff that lubricates our lives and helps us feel less alone in the world." (page 222)
Keep reading! Beth

Friday, November 27, 2015

Star Wars!

Suzanne, Michael, and I are back in a new episode of the Diffle Presents podcast, this time all about Star Wars! In anticipation of Episode VII: The Force Awakens coming out December 18, we chat all about our experiences with Star Wars growing up, and what we think about the new movie coming out on December 18. Listen to the episode on the Diffle Presents website here.

If you too are excited about the new movie coming out, be sure to join us for the original trilogy marathon event we're holding at Duxbury Free Library on Friday, December 11. Come watch all Episodes IV-VI on our big projection screen, bring your own snacks, and enjoy the movies with other Star Wars fans - the way they were meant to be enjoyed! The marathon will run from 3:00-9:00 pm in the Merry Room. No registration required; come anytime.

And while you're waiting for the new movie to come out, check out all the DVDs and books we have in every department at Duxbury Free Library, including books in our Adult Fiction collection set in the Star Wars universe:

Lords of the Sith by Paul Kemp
Fate of the Jedi: Ascension by Christie Golden
Kenobi by John Jackson Miller
Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

And the trilogy by Timothy Zahn (which is on NPR's list of 100 best SF/Fantasy books)
1. Heir to the Empire
2. Dark Force Rising
3. The Last Command

Keep reading, and May the Force be with you! Beth

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Letters to Zell: Fairytales Modernized

Letters to Zell (2015) by Camille Griep was an interesting adaptation of classic fairy tale characters, with a modern-day twist. Told in the form of letters from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White to their friend Rapunzel (the Zell in the title), who has recently moved to a different part of the fairy tale kingdom, this was definitely a fairy tale for an adult audience.

I really like stories that go beyond the ‘happily ever afters’ and this one certainly did that, at the same time taking characters that we all know mostly as an idea and fleshing them out with quirks and flaws of their own. These versions of the fairy tale characters seemed especially flawed as a matter of fact, which made the book more interesting. Also interesting was the way in which the characters moved between the fairy tale world and our 'real' world, and how they navigated the extremely foreign territory of present-day Los Angeles, CA.

The format was very welcome; each letter was only a couple pages, so the book was easy to dip in and out of when I could. This made it very simple to fit reading into whatever little chunks of time I had.

The ending of the book had a rather a tense buildup, and maybe not quite as much pay-off as I would have liked; in fact, I couldn’t tell if it was possibly setting up for a sequel, which could make sense. Luckily, it didn't end on what I would consider any kind of cliff-hanger (hate those), just a sense that lacked finality. Overall, a great new twist to some old characters and ideas.

Keep reading! Beth
"At the end of our lives we're made up of those bits and pieces of the people who came into our lives." (page 293)

Monday, November 16, 2015

John Green, Pt. 1: The early works

In addition to Neil Gaiman, the other author of whom I have long been a fan without having read much (or any) of his books is John Green. I am a devoted fan of the many educational YouTube channels John and his brother Hank produce, including VlogBrothers, Crash Course, SciShow, and Mental Floss, and the podcast they do together, Dear Hank and John (all are wonderful and interesting). Both Green brothers are intelligent, funny, and kind, and I admire them both. About time, then, that I explored the many books that brought John Green to attention in the first place, starting with some of his earlier works.

Looking for Alaska (2005)

Unfortunately I do have to start by saying that at first I was not especially taken with this book, filled as it was with either awkward, whiny teenagers or rebellious, irresponsible teenagers. I just didn’t connect with the characters at first, which I think is more of a function of the genre than the author. Contemporary Young Adult novels are not normally my genre of choice; what YA books I read are all fantasy-based. So I wonder how much of my initial reluctance was simply the lack of magic and mythology I'm used to in YA books.

Regardless, once I got to know the characters more, and especially their back stories, I liked them much more. The way the story dealt with death in the later part was very moving and – I think – pretty accurate. Of course everyone deals with death differently, so I’m not sure it would have been possible to have been inaccurate per se, but regardless it felt very real and personal to me and helped me connect with the way the characters were feeling. And there were some very nice life lessons in the end.
"We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken... We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations... [T]hat part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail." (page 220-1)

An Abundance of Katherines (2006)

I did enjoy this book more than Alaska from the start. Though there was still a bit more teen angst than I’m accustomed to in the stories I choose to read, I liked all the main characters in this story much more quickly. Though I’m not sure what it says about my deeper foray into YA literature that maybe the character I liked the best was the adult (maybe that’s a sign that I’m getting to old to read YA – to which I say, no such thing! I still read children’s books too).

One major plot thread – taking down oral histories of members in a specific community – was something I found very intriguing, and I really appreciated that the characters were working toward something interesting and concrete. This connection with the community, especially with outsiders (as the two main characters were), I thought elevated the book beyond just 'YA' to a story that is relatable to all ages (though I don't really think most YA books should be read just by teenagers; I know many adults who read them).
"I don't think you can ever fill the empty space with the thing you lost... I don't think your missing pieces ever fit inside you again once they go missing." (page 201)

I like that John Green doesn’t speak down to his readers, that he assumes a certain amount of intelligence on our part (not an unreasonable amount; he is neither snobby nor preachy in his writing, which is also certainly appreciated). Overall, I'm glad I read both these books and look forward to reading some of his later works sometime soon.

Keep reading! Beth

Friday, November 13, 2015

Neil Gaiman Quotes

Neil Gaiman turned 55 this week, and in honor of his birthday, BBC America compiled a list of 15 of his best quotes (I'm sure it was hard to narrow it down to only 15!).

My favorite is of course #9:

On his appreciation for libraries.“A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it.”

Check them out on the BBC America website.

And check out my review of some of his shorter stories on this previous post of the blog.

Keep reading! Beth

Monday, November 9, 2015

Magician's Trilogy

Often referred to as Harry Potter - the college years, Lev Grossman's Magician's trilogy combines the wonder and drama of suddenly discovering that magic is real and possible, with some high-stakes situations (not that Harry Potter itself didn't also involve quite a few life-or-death situations). It was a great series, and I really enjoyed the ride!

The series started off close to what I expected, with the main character's discovery of a magical destiny, an introduction to the world of magic in an academic setting, and an interesting cast of misfits trying to find their place in this strange new world filled with possibilities. Lately I've been very much into stories that take place in our world but with a hidden magical undercurrent, rather than in a totally made-up fantasy universe unconnected with our world. I think this style grounds the idea of fantasy and makes it easier to relate to the characters.

Grossman's writing style was more casual than many classic fantasy novels, and at times even gritty, which really fit well with the atmosphere of the story. I loved the rules he established for this magical world, and the characters were very interesting. Some were more flawed than others, but all were understandable. Their adventures were exciting and definitely utilized the magical foundations upon which the story was built.

Things got really interesting when the story moved on from the school. I won't give too much away, including when in the trilogy that happens, but I liked that I really had no idea where the rest of the story was going after graduation. It certainly went many places, both on Earth and not.

The books are definitely meant to be read as a series, and really don't stand alone (especially the middle one), but luckily they proceed at a pretty rapid pace. The series as a whole had a great ending; The Magician's Land tied up some loose ends I had almost forgotten about from the previous two books. It brought the story to a close in a satisfyingly final way that still left a door wide open for future possibilities should Grossman decide to return to the world of The Magicians, which I for one would welcome.

Check them out below:

#1: The Magicians (2009)

#2: The Magician King (2011)

#3: The Magician’s Land (20014)

Keep reading! Beth

Friday, November 6, 2015

Bonus Post: Hoopla Podcast

I recently recorded a podcast episode with fellow staff members Michael and Suzanne to discuss the items available through Hoopla that we're excited about. We talk audiobooks, eBooks, graphic novels, music, movies, and tv shows that are available to borrow from Hoopla, and (hopefully) brought attention to some hidden gems that you may be interested in. 

Click here to listen to this episode of Diffle Presents

(And if you're interested, there are many more interesting episodes of the Diffle Presents podcast to listen to as well!)

Enjoy, and keep reading! Beth

Monday, November 2, 2015

J.K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike series 2 & 3: The Silkworm and Career of Evil

Published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, the talented J.K. Rowling has so far written three books in the Cormoran Strike series. For my review of book #1 - which I loved - see this post

This was a great follow-up to Cuckoo's Calling that continued to flesh out the main characters really well behind the scenes of a very interesting mystery.

In this second book of the series, the stakes have risen somewhat, from an "accidental" crime of passion in the first book to a premeditated ritualistic murder complete with bizarre imagery and dozens of suspects in this one (perhaps too many suspects; it was just a tiny bit hard to keep track of who was who). I loved the way that secondary characters were brought in and interacted with Detective Strike, and his assistant / 'partner' Robin's increasing role in investigations. I loved that she brings different skills and benefits to the firm, and really compliments Strike's investigative style. 

I love the (platonic - I hope that never changes) relationship between Strike and Robin, though their lack of communication in this book did annoy me, but in a very relatable way (I think we can all admit to not being as direct as we sometimes should). 

This book was VERY tense all the way through in a way the previous two were not. Strike and Robin (especially Robin) were placed in imminent danger right from the beginning, so the whole book was - I would go so far as to say - stressful. I couldn't put it down because I just had to know what happened next, especially with the threats hanging over the character's heads.

Though the 'twist' at the end wasn't as surprising as in the first two books, there was still an element of unexpected revelation, which I appreciated. The story ended on a much more abrupt note than the previous books in the series - a real cliffhanger - so I really hope she writes at least one more book in the series, and soon!

Overall, I thought the entire Cormoran Strike series was really great. When the 4th one comes out (hopefully not too long from now!), I may go back and re-read 1-3. I like doing that with series anyway, but with these, I look forward to reading them knowing the endings, and looking out for the hints and clues that I didn't pick up on the first time I read them. Knowing Rowling's style, I'm sure there were many that I probably missed! This is especially true for Career of Evil, which I went through so fast just to see what happened that I really didn't experience the book as fully as I might have wanted. 

Keep reading! Beth

Monday, October 26, 2015

Neil Gaiman, part 1: Short Stories

I've been a 'fan' of Neil Gaiman for a long time without really having read much of his work. This year, I've vowed to rectify that by delving into his many works, starting with some of his shorter items - a short novel and two illustrated short stories.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)

One of the things I think I like best about Neil Gaiman is that I never really know where his stories are going. He almost always incorporates at least a little bit of fantasy in his writings, and that of course opens up the possibilities of 'what could happen' to truly anything.

This was such a story, and I enjoyed just going along for the ride. I really liked the characters, and that there was quite a bit of ambiguity in who many of the characters were and what was going on. This style of writing (when not overused or abused) allows the reader to work their own imaginations a bit more, which I appreciate (up to a certain point at least). The only slight complaint was that the ending was a little unsatisfying, but overall a really fun little story about mistakes and manipulation.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (2010)

I actually listened to this first on audiobook, on the recommendation of a colleague. Read by Gaiman himself, it was a great way to be immersed in the feeling of the story. As it had originally been written with the intention of being read (or maybe even more accurately, performed) for an audience, I think it was an authentic experience.

This was what I would consider a modern fairy tale. I liked the way the story unfolded, and the twist at the end, however I do have one bone to pick with the ending. It's hard to explain in detail without giving a major spoiler, but suffice it to say that the backstory seems a little unrealistic to me and doesn't give the young woman in the story nearly enough credit. But, as with Ocean, I really enjoyed the ride.

The Sleeper and the Spindle (2014)
Another fairy tale, this time an update on both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and this one I loved, with no quibbles or complaints! I loved that Snow White was the protagonist and hero, and the twist at the end was great  much more interesting than the Disney version and quite a bit less violent than the Brothers Grimm original. In fact, I liked the story so much that I wish it had been longer. The illustrations by Chris Riddell were beautiful as well. Definitely a great, short read for adults and children alike.

Keep reading! Beth

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hoopla - Available Now! Graphic Novel Highlights

Hoopla is arriving for Duxbury patrons today! This is a new source through which to borrow items, online or through the Hoopla app. There's no limit to the number of patrons who can borrow any individual item at a time - which means no waiting, and instant downloading for any item on offer. Hoopla has a huge variety of movies, music, tv shows, audiobooks, eBooks, and comics/graphic novels to choose from.

Come to our Hoopla Hoopla all day today, Monday 10/19 (we're open 2-8 pm) for more information, assistance registering, and a raffle, and we're available anytime if you need help signing up or using the service.

Here are some comics / graphic novels available to borrow through Hoopla that I can't wait to check out and try. There are lots more available, so have fun browsing through the website: www.hoopladigital.com and sign up with your card to get started watching, listening, and reading.

Doctor Who
The Tenth Doctor: Vol. 1

Hoopla has almost 100 Doctor Who comics, mostly covering Doctors 9-11. As an avid fan of the TV show, I've read many of the novelizations, but haven't read any of the graphic novels yet. This seems like a great place to start, with my favorite doctor (so far; I'm only up to Tom Baker going back to watching the classic series)!

The Sandman
Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

I'm definitely a fan of Neil Gaiman (check back later for my first blog post about his works coming soon!), but have never given The Sandman - perhaps one of his best-known and most-beloved works - a try. Not only is it said to be one of Gaiman's best, but one of the best graphic novels ever, so I really need to give it a go! Hoopla has the entire run of Sandman available in 10 volumes, covering all 75 issues.

Leaves on the Wind

The tragically short-lived Joss Whedon TV show Firefly is still one of my absolute favorites. Though parts of the main plot were resolved in the movie Serenity after the show was cancelled, many other parts of the story were still left untold. Happily, at least some of those threads are being taken up in the graphic novels that have followed, all of which are great! Hoopla has all 4 collections available to borrow, and they're worth it for any Firefly fans.

The Walking Dead
Vol 1: Days Gone By (#1-6)

Instead of a graphic novel being a spin-off from an existing TV show like the others on my list here, The Walking Dead show was based off of the long-running graphic novel series of the same name. I've been a fan of the show for several years now, so I would be very interested in checking out the original source material to compare how closely the show sticks to the comics.

Hoopla has the first 23 volumes of The Walking Dead available, covering issues #1-138. Hopefully they will add the most recent volume, 24 (which was just published a few months ago) by the time I read the first 23. That will probably take me quite awhile!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Omnibus Vol. 1

Another Joss Whedon great, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show I loved when it was first on, and have re-watched since. Though it lasted a lot longer on air than Firefly, Buffy has also seen new life afterwards via a long-running series of graphic novels, the stories of which start even before the show then run concurrently with the episodes, and finally going beyond the series finale.

The entire main series of the comics are available through Hoopla in 7 Omnibus editions, and there are spin-offs featuring Spike, Angel, and Faith in their own comics available as well.

These are just a few of the many great options I saw as I was browsing through the selections. Hoopla has a truly great variety of comics and graphic novels, especially if you're into Doctor Who, Joss Whedon, D.C., classic novels, geeky TV shows, video games, and discovering interesting new options. Others I'll be checking out that didn't make it on to my top 5 include spin-offs from some other wonderful TV series and video games I love such as Dr. HorribleTomb RaiderDragon AgeThe Guild, and Charmed, and some that upcoming TV shows and movies are based on, such as Suicide Squad and Supergirl, that look great!

For highlight's of Hoopla's selection of eBooks, check out my previous post, and for a round-up of some interesting-looking music and movies on Hoopla, check out DFL's blog Dive Deep Into Movies and Music.

Keep reading! Beth

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hoopla - Coming soon to the DFL: eBook highlights

Hoopla is arriving for Duxbury patrons on Monday, October 19! This is a new source through which to borrow items, online or through the Hoopla app. There's no limit to the number of patrons who can borrow any individual item at a time - which means no waiting, and instant downloading for any item on offer. Hoopla has a huge variety of movies, music, tv shows, audiobooks, eBooks, and comics/graphic novels to choose from.

Come to our Hoopla Hoopla all day Monday 10/19 (we're open 2-8 pm) for more information, assistance registering, and a raffle, and we're available anytime if you need help signing up or using the service.

Here are some eBooks available to borrow through Hoopla that I'm considering checking out and trying. There are lots more available, so have fun browsing through the website: www.hoopladigital.com and sign up with your card starting Monday.

1. Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson

The first in a 4-book series, this looks like a sweet little story about the residents of a small English town - my kind of subject matter!

From Amazon: "Recommended as a cozy, comfortable and old-fashioned read." - Good Reading Guide

2. Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland

A Regency novel that spans England to Egypt, with romance, mystery, drama, and intrigue - sounds like it has it all!

From Amazon: "Espionage and steamy passion—Regency style—burning up the pages from chapter one."—Raine Miller, New York Times-bestselling author

3. Citadels of Fire by L.K. Hill 

This sounds like a great historical thriller, complete with intrigue and conspiracy, encompassing two of the places that most interest me - England and Russia. Could be very exciting!

From Amazon: "If you enjoy historical fiction, in a Russian setting particularly, you'll enjoy Citadels of Fire. It's a wonderfully written story that I enjoyed getting lost in." - Review for Pretty Little Pages Blog

4. The Truth About Mr. Darcy by Susan Adriani 

Having read and loved a couple re-tellings/sequels to Pride and Prejudice this summer (check out my review here), I am always interested in checking out others, with different takes on the classic story. This one seems to overlap the events of the original, with a focus on Mr. Darcy and his relationship with that cad Wickham.

From Amazon:  "Truly remarkable, creative, and brilliantly written, The Trouble With Mr. Darcy is one "what if" variation you will surely not want to miss." - Austen Prose

5.  As One Devil to Another by Richard Platt 

This sounds like an interesting book, formatted in letters from one 'devil' to another, with commentary on humanity and man's shortcomings.

From Amazon: "Most who come to As One Devil to Another, Richard Platt's homage to The Screwtape Letters, will already be devotees of C. S. Lewis. They will not be disappointed.... ventriloquism on behalf of devilry is not easy, as is clear from attempts by others. ... It is impressive, therefore, that Platt has been able to maintain a high standard over 31 letters, the same number as in the original.... it forces us to ask those questions which, as individuals, we need always to ask... - A. T. Reyes, Groton School, Massachusetts, and Wolfson College, Oxford  The Journal of Inklings Studies

I guess I'll need to start by reading The Screwtape Letters first!

Those are just 5 eBooks that looked interesting to me as I was browsing through the Hoopla website. There are plenty more to choose from, in many different genres.

On Monday I'll have a roundup of graphic novels I can't wait to check out!

For highlight's of Hoopla's selection of music and movies, check out DFL's blog Dive Deep Into Movies and Music.

Keep reading! Beth

Monday, October 5, 2015

Roundtable Review: Go Set a Watchman

In which several members of our staff who have all read the same book offer their differing thoughts and opinions. Today: the controversial follow-up to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Please note, there WILL be spoilers as we discuss all aspects of this book, including the ending!

Ellen: Reading Go Set a Watchman was a fascinating experience for me. As someone who grew up in the 1960s in the racially tense setting of NYC, I had always found the attitude of Atticus and Scout towards the black community in Maycomb patronizing. What a revelation to read Jean Louise's anger and frustration regarding race relations in Watchman!

As a member of our DFL discussion of the two books said, "Too bad Harper Lee didn't follow up Mockingbird with another book based on Watchman but with the benefit of the terrific editing skills of Tay Hohoff." Perhaps Hohoff thought the public wouldn't be able to respond positively to a more strident narrator. The voice of Scout in Mockingbird is so clear and she shows rather than tells, which makes that book a masterpiece and Watchman a rough draft. We also found the class distinctions in Watchman fascinating to discuss. I agree with the Library Journal's Barbara Hoffert's review which says of Watchman, "Disturbing, important, and not to be compared with Mockingbird; this book is its own signal work."

Judy: From the time I heard that the new Harper Lee novel, Go Set a Watchman, was to be released, I waited patiently for its arrival. I wanted to go back to Atticus, Scout, Calpurnia, and the rest of the characters living in Macomb County. It was worth the wait. Once again, I was holding a book by Harper Lee and clearly, in my opinion, it WAS written by Ms. Lee.

Of course, the story was different and, after reading many reviews, I was prepared when Scout/Jean Louise, looking back at her childhood, was disenchanted with what she found. Atticus was not the hero she portrayed in Mockingbird. He was simply a man  a good man  who was living with the beliefs of many men of his time, and who would have changed his racial views as time progressed.

Unfortunately, issues of race had not changed much from the 1930s to the 1950s in Alabama, and coming to terms with life in Maycomb, and with Atticus in particular, was painful for Scout, now a city girl living in the more liberal Northeast. Scout's life and her relationships with family and friends were affected by what she found out about Atticus on one of her annual visits. However, the insightfulness of Atticus prevailed as before and he helped Scout resolve her conflict and move into adulthood as an independent person.

I loved holding the book, I loved reading the book, and I love the poetic and sublime writing of Harper Lee.

Pat: Before I read the book, I had read some reviews of it in magazines and online. One of the comments made was not to look at the book as a prequel or a sequel, but to read it as a completely "stand alone" novel. With this in mind I read the book and struggled right from the beginning. My immediate feeling was that I was not a fan of the "grownup" Scout at all. I found her very abrasive, not particularly sensitive, cynical, and foul-mouthed.  While I admired her strength and independence, especially as a young woman during this time period in history, I just did not find her likable.

It was at this point that I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to read this book as a completely separate novel from the first book, or even from the movie. You can't 'unread' a book that you've already read and loved. You can't 'unsee' one of the greatest movies of all time. So that advice from the critics I had to completely throw out the window. I realized I was most definitely biased right from the beginning. As I plodded through the book, my negative feelings about Scout did not change, and continued right to the end. She bitterly confronts Atticus at the end of the book, with a string of angry, mean, abusive, and foul-mouthed words, and I just couldn't get past where this anger came from, and the fact that Atticus was at the other end of it. It just didn't seem to fit the character. In the end, when Scout finally realizes why she was so angry at Atticus, it was just too late for me to find much redemption in this character. For a child who so loved her father, and idolized him to such a huge degree, it just never made sense to me why she would be so abusive to him. To me, it just seemed almost unrealistic.

Suzanne: For me, the best part of Go Set a Watchman was re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird in anticipation of the release. While I have some issues with Mockingbird, it is a well-written, engaging story... Go Set A Watchman is not. It is clearly a first draft. Most of the book consists of conversations between Jean Louise Finch and people who are simply explaining their points of view, with hardly any action or character building. There are two scenes that stand out for being charming and fun to read  both memories Jean Louise has of when she was a child and teenager. Good for Harper Lee's editor for recognizing that there was potential in those scenes and for steering her in that direction into what became Mockingbird.

Even if you haven't heard too much about this book, you have probably heard that the character of Atticus Finch is different than how he appears in Mockingbird. In this book, he is tolerant of hearing people's extremely racist points of view, does not believe that the NAACP and SCOTUS rulings in favor of civil rights will help African Americans, and was a member of the Ku Klux Klan during his youth because it was an organization that every white man was supposed to join. The plot of this book is Jean Louise being horrified by this revelation and coming to terms with her feelings about her father.

I am going to spoil the ending here. Jean Louise cannot reconcile the fact that her father is her hero with the new knowledge that he has such backwards views about race, and so she decides she can't ever see him again. When she tries to leave town, her uncle punches her in the face and calls her a bigot (for being color-blind), then makes her feel better with a glass of whiskey. Apparently that is exactly what she needed, because she is then able to reconcile with Atticus, accepting him as just a man who loves her, although no longer her hero. What a reader in 2015 is supposed to take away as the message of this book, I just don't know. Sometimes the people you love are surprisingly racist?

There is one character that we do not get to hear going on and on at length about race and the South, and that is Calpurnia. She is the Finch's former housekeeper, a black woman that Jean Louise thinks of as the closest person to a mother that she had. When Jean Louise visits Calpurnia, she doesn't say much to Jean Louise, which the reader is told means that she no longer loves the Finch family like her own, but just thinks of them as merely white people. Hearing from the black characters about how they view the changes in society would have been interesting and also illuminating to the book's other characters. But maybe that was beyond the scope of Harper Lee's abilities, as a white Southern writer living in the 1950s. 

Read this book if you are interested in seeing how obvious it is that writers need to write many drafts (with the help of editors), or if you like reading arguments in favor of state's rights vs. the Supreme Court. If you are interested in the ongoing, complicated state of race in America, you should probably read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which was released at the same time this summer.

Clearly, the staff had very different opinions about the book! What did you think of Go Set a Watchman? 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Summer Reading Highlights, Part 5: Contemporary British - Mrs. Queen Takes the Train and The Book of Tomorrow

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

This was a very cute book about what Her Majesty the Queen of England might actually be like when the cameras are turned off and the crowds disperse. Having ruled the kingdom since her 20s, in this story the Queen is getting fairly tired and restless (I think justifiably!), and decides to act spontaneously in what can be assumed to be the first time in quite awhile. 

I really liked the way that the story followed not only the Queen, but also the small handful of people affected by her impromptu jaunt, leading to a fairly well-balanced cast of characters (it's not all high tea and tiaras). However, having the story set from so many different perspectives, with flash-backs peppered throughout, did make for a somewhat confusing read. For such a light book, I really felt that I needed to pay attention! 

But other than that minor quibble, this was a fun, easy read that I would highly recommend. 

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern 

This book started a little slow, and I wasn't sure how much I would like either the characters  especially the main character, who by her own admission was quite a brat  or the story line. Even when she found the mysterious book, I wasn't particularly taken. But then the mystery of the story and the supporting characters really picked up and I found myself not being able to put the book down. 

I loved that the ultimate mystery solved by the end of the book hadn't even been something the main character (and therefore the reader) even knew was something to be solved! While she was busy worrying about one thing, suddenly another thing entirely came to light, and it made for a fairly suspenseful second half of the book. All in all, I think it's well worth wading through the set up in the beginning to get to the pay off at the end.

Keep reading! Beth 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Summer Reading Highlights, Part 4: Mysteries – The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Crossing Places

The Cuckoo’s Calling by "Robert Galbraith" (aka J.K. Rowling) 

I was initially unsure if I would like this book or not, given how much I disliked Rowling’s first adult book, The Casual Vacancy. But where that book was filled with unlikeable people doing terrible things, with a situation that simply kept going from bad to worse, Cuckoo’s Calling was filled with interesting people in exciting situations. It was a curious contrast that Rowling’s murder mystery was substantially less depressing with more sympathetic characters than the straight fiction, but that was indeed the case!

The story itself was suspenseful, but not scary, and had a great twist at the end. Both the characters and the main and secondary stories were compelling, and definitely made me excited to read the two sequels, The Silkworm and Career of Evil. After quite a bit of doubt from The Casual Vacancy, I think Cuckoo’s Calling shows that Rowling can indeed write just as well for adults as she does for children. 

Check out my review of the next 2 books in the series here

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths 

This was another mystery set in England (I’m sure you can start to see a distinct trend in my reading choices), this time in the country as opposed to London, where Cuckoo’s Calling was set. Though at first glance the main characters of both mysteries share little in common -- Rowling's Cormoran Strike is a gruff, imposing ex-military type with a prosthetic leg, and Griffiths' Ruth Galloway is an anthropology professor with body image issues and a couple of cats. Both, however, are emotionally vulnerable and lonely in their middle ages, which makes them much more personable and relatable that they otherwise might have been.

I loved that this modern mystery brought in some very interesting bits of history and lore, and I must say I was very proud of myself that my guesses were fairly close to the mark! Perhaps that means the story was a touch predictable; I still haven't decided if it's better or not if the reader is able to guess the correct suspect in a mystery. I was pretty close in this one and way off in Cuckoo's Calling, but  I couldn't put either of them down, so if that's the real measure of a book's success, then both these mysteries came out winners.

Keep reading! Beth

Monday, September 14, 2015

Summer Reading Highlights, Part 3: Jane Austen Spin-Offs – Longbourn and Death Comes to Pemberley

This book takes place alongside the events of Pride and Prejudice, this time from the perspective of the servants who tend to the Longbourn estate and the Bennet family. In keeping with great TV shows such as Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs, the stories of the ‘downstairs’ residents of great English houses really completes the picture of what life really was like in the 1800-1900s.

There were far more Sarahs and Pollys than there were Elizabeth Bennets in the Georgian and Regency eras, and their ways of life are often overlooked in favor of the flashier upper class. Of course servants of grand houses were in much better positions themselves than a great number of English citizens, as demonstrated by the high desirability of such jobs. My favorite part of historical fiction is developing a greater understanding of how people lived in different places and times, and this story fits the bill nicely, while also fleshing out a classic story!

This story is a direct sequel to Austen’s classic, picking up the story of Elizabeth and Darcy a few years after their wedding at the end of Pride and Prejudice, and adding in a juicy mystery to boot! I have been a great fan of sequels and series since I was a child, always appreciating the continuation of a story for characters I have grown to care about, and this book doesn’t disappoint in that respect.

I loved reading about (one possible version) of Elizabeth’s life at Pemberley as a wife and mother, with almost all of the Bennets making an appearance. The framework of a mystery was much more interesting to me than the simple romances that other Austen sequels seem to feature (though this is the first I’ve read, so I shouldn’t judge until I’ve tried the others out), though I might have appreciated a story much more centered around Elizabeth and Darcy than Wickham and Lydia. But that slight detail didn’t keep me from really enjoying this book.

I wish James had written more before she sadly passed away last year.

(Also, the BBC miniseries based on the book was great, and very close to the book!)

What are your favorite historical novels? 

Keep reading! Beth

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer Reading Highlights, Part 2: Historical Fiction ­– The Kitchen House and Remarkable Creatures

This book started off a little slow, but picked up really quickly until I found myself not being able to put it down. Debut author Kathleen Grissom really knows how to write characters that you care about, root for, and feel for. Taking place at the height of the slave era in the south, the story was a unique window into both sides of plantation life, with the main character Lavinia often times uncomfortably straddling the inter-dependent worlds of landowners and slaves. Though the story was filled with lots of heartbreak and tense situations, the heartwarming relationships, especially between Lavinia and Mama Mae, were uplifting.

The ending was a satisfying conclusion to the story (I dislike endings that are too vague or open-ended), while still leaving the possibility for much more story yet to come. I wish she would write a sequel! But I’m trying to be respectful of the author and her creative process as I anxiously await her second book (which of course may or may not be a sequel), so many years after The Kitchen House was released.

As a devoted Anglophile, any story that takes place in England (or anywhere in the UK really) is practically guaranteed to interest me. This one was of particular interest because – as I discovered part-way through the book – the story is based on real people.

The main character, Mary Anning, was a poor girl from a working class family who lived during the Regency and Victorian Eras. Decades before Charles Darwin made his discoveries on evolution, she became a notable fossil hunter as she scoured the beaches of her hometown on the south coast of England. Despite not knowing exactly what she was finding, she succeeded in (almost) turning both the religious and scientific communities on their heads with her fossils of long-extinct creatures.

I love reading about strong women who lead interesting lives, and this one certainly fit the bill!

Keep reading! Beth

Friday, September 4, 2015

Summer Reading Highlights, Part 1: Science in Fiction - The Martian and The Circle

I’m going to start with the best book I read this summer. There’s been some growing buzz surrounding this book due in large part to the upcoming movie starring Matt Damon. Having heard few specific details about this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And boy were those low expectations exceeded!

The science part of the book was a bit heavier than I anticipated, and I’ll admit there were some parts that were a little too detailed and heavy for my tastes, but they were wonderfully balanced by the humor. Who knew a book about a guy getting stranded alone on Mars for years would be so funny?! The tense nature of the storyline (how would he survive? would he get rescued?) kept me engaged throughout the book, and the humor was definitely what kept me highly entertained.

I also loved that reading this fictional book made me think a lot more about all the current talk of sending real manned missions to Mars, and how feasible that would be. It also had an interesting perspective on how valuable one life can and should be. Lots to think about! Well worth reading.  

This was the other book I read this summer that really made me think – this time in perhaps a less positive way. The story delves into how dependent on technology we can (or maybe have) become, and the subtle way it creeps deeper and deeper into our lives. I was on the edge of my seat throughout this whole (tense!) book, anxious to find out what the main character would do next and how far she would go.

I really took this story as a caution to be more mindful of how much I rely on technology personally, and definitely vowed to do more reading without the distractions of phones, computers, TVs, and tablets anywhere nearby!  I certainly appreciate a book that makes me want to read more.

What did you think of these two books? Or are you now inspired to give either of them a try?

Keep reading! Beth