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: 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: 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?