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A suggestion a day from the Williamsburg Regional Library
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The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

Fri, 2014-05-23 01:01

Maia Drazhar is an 18-year-old half-elf, half-goblin prince, living in exile with his embittered guardian, when a zeppelin accident (yes, the elves have zeppelins) takes out most of the royal line. Suddenly Maia is Emperor of the Elflands. As the fourth son of an unfavored and long-dead empress, he was never expected to rule. His guardian always punished him for talking too much, and now he’s expected to give speeches. No one has taught him even to dance, far less negotiate a divisive trade agreement… or investigate the treasonous sabotage of the previous Emperor’s airship.

This high fantasy follows Maia’s efforts to navigate his new position, as a bullied youth forced onto a very public stage, learning and choosing how to wield unexpected power. The charm of the story is that Maia is a thoroughly decent individual, winning readers to his side even as he alienates many of his courtiers. Hastily made over with new robes and crown jewels, Maia confounds the court with such gestures as attending the funerals of mere servants and asking daughters of royal houses who they would prefer to marry. (Not him, unfortunately.)

With a leisurely pace and old-fashioned speech, forsooth, this is a fantasy for readers who enjoy the complicated politics of historical novels but who aren’t in the mood for a George Martin-style slaughter of characters. It’s much like the court at Versailles, but with dirigibles, and an enemy is more likely to attack via a courier with a strongly worded letter than at swords’ point. As she’s shown in previous novels, the author is particularly dedicated to world-building, and that set dressing of costume, language, and protocol makes Maia’s Untheileneise Court come to life. Oh, and I thought I’d read enough fantasy not to be bothered by such things, but I do recommend that you read the appendix on names and forms of address before you start. I can’t remember the last time I had so much trouble keeping track of character names and titles… oh, yes, it was Wolf Hall. At least the Tudors were all Tom, Dick, and Harry at home, not Edrehasivar, Varenechibel, and Cstheio Cairezhasan. Ai, Elbereth Gilthoniel!

Katherine Addison is a pen name; as Sarah Monette, she has written the delightful, Gothic tales of Kyle Murchison Booth, collected in The Bone Key, and an involving four-book fantasy series that begins with Mélusine.

Check the WRL catalog for The Goblin Emperor.


The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

Fri, 2014-05-23 01:01

Maia Drazhar is an 18-year-old half-elf, half-goblin prince, living in exile with his embittered guardian, when a zeppelin accident (yes, the elves have zeppelins) takes out most of the royal line. Suddenly Maia is Emperor of the Elflands. As the fourth son of an unfavored and long-dead empress, he was never expected to rule. His guardian always punished him for talking too much, and now he’s expected to give speeches. No one has taught him even to dance, far less negotiate a divisive trade agreement… or investigate the treasonous sabotage of the previous Emperor’s airship.

This high fantasy follows Maia’s efforts to navigate his new position, as a bullied youth forced onto a very public stage, learning and choosing how to wield unexpected power. The charm of the story is that Maia is a thoroughly decent individual, winning readers to his side even as he alienates many of his courtiers. Hastily made over with new robes and crown jewels, Maia confounds the court with such gestures as attending the funerals of mere servants and asking daughters of royal houses who they would prefer to marry. (Not him, unfortunately.)

With a leisurely pace and old-fashioned speech, forsooth, this is a fantasy for readers who enjoy the complicated politics of historical novels but who aren’t in the mood for a George Martin-style slaughter of characters. It’s much like the court at Versailles, but with dirigibles, and an enemy is more likely to attack via a courier with a strongly worded letter than at swords’ point. As she’s shown in previous novels, the author is particularly dedicated to world-building, and that set dressing of costume, language, and protocol makes Maia’s Untheileneise Court come to life. Oh, and I thought I’d read enough fantasy not to be bothered by such things, but I do recommend that you read the appendix on names and forms of address before you start. I can’t remember the last time I had so much trouble keeping track of character names and titles… oh, yes, it was Wolf Hall. At least the Tudors were all Tom, Dick, and Harry at home, not Edrehasivar, Varenechibel, and Cstheio Cairezhasan. Ai, Elbereth Gilthoniel!

Katherine Addison is a pen name; as Sarah Monette, she has written the delightful, Gothic tales of Kyle Murchison Booth, collected in The Bone Key, and an involving four-book fantasy series that begins with Mélusine.

Check the WRL catalog for The Goblin Emperor.


Longmire: Season 1

Thu, 2014-05-22 01:01

There have been a couple of posts about Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire mystery series on this blog. A recent post referred to the A&E Show based on the series, Longmire, so I’m following up with a review of the TV show.

I’ve only read two or three books in Johnson’s Longmire series so far, but I really enjoyed them and was intrigued at what a TV show based on it would be like.

The role of the titular Absaroka County, Wyoming, sheriff is taken on by Australian actor Robert Taylor. He looks and speaks exactly how I imagine Longmire from the books would, and this is what drew me into the show: aging, a bit cranky, set in his ways, gruff manner covering a rather soft heart. However, his character is a bit darker and more angst-ridden than in the books. His past is also murkier, with some dark secrets driving a major plotline which is absent from the books. This plotline necessitates more of a sense of inner torment and greater recklessness in the TV show Walt. His relationship with his daughter, Cady (portrayed by Cassidy Freeman), is explored in both formats, though the TV show cannot resist infusing it with far more Sturm und Drang than in the books.

Longmire’s deputy, Victoria “Vic” Moretti, played by Katie Sackhoff, is in my mind quite similar to the character in the books. I haven’t gotten through all of the books, nor the rest of the TV show, but I’ll be interested to see how the relationship between Walt and Vic plays out and how it is treated in the show versus the books.

Craig Johnson’s character of Henry Standing Bear, Walt’s best friend and oft-times liaison to the Cheyenne Indian reservation’s law enforcement and citizens, is happily present and accounted for here. His speech, mannerisms and stoic nature from the books are intact in the show, for which I’m grateful. He plays an important part in every episode. He is portrayed by Lou Diamond Phillips who I think does an outstanding job.

Lucian Connally is the former sheriff who preceded Walt, and he plays a bigger part in the books than he does on the show. I’ve gotten through Season 1 and only seen him in one episode, but he was relatively true to life in his reckless cantankery. His nephew, Branch Connally, is Walt’s competitive deputy on the show, but this character does not appear in the books. His presence provides several storylines which were not possible in the books, but certainly add to the show’s dramatic and sexual appeal.

Fortunately for the book lovers, major themes of the books are revisited honestly and regularly by the TV series: the ever-present tension between the Cheyenne on the reservation and the local Absaroke County residents; a sense of social justice attained or denied; man versus nature.

Some of the plotlines are recognizable from the books, but much liberty is taken with them. I actually don’t mind this – for me this show can co-exist quite happily independent of the book series. One “character” I do miss from the books is the sense of mysticism surrounding Cheyenne legends and beliefs. Although each television episode has had a small element of it, the books dwell much more on Walt’s spirituality as a part of his character; in the TV shows it’s more of a simple plot device, although perhaps this will be explored further in future episodes.

On the whole, I’d say if you enjoy the books you will enjoy the series, if you don’t mind major plot deviations. Enough of the essential elements of appeal are present: characters, atmosphere, and setting. Craig Johnson seems to have nothing but good things to say about the show, and the TV series has boosted circulation of Johnson’s books. On his blog Johnson reports that the same folks who are “binge-watching” the series on A&E are going on to buy and “binge-read” the books in his series, and this must be very gratifying.

Give Longmire a shot! And check out Johnsons’ newest entry in the Walt Longmire series, Any Other Name.


Longmire: Season 1

Thu, 2014-05-22 01:01

There have been a couple of posts about Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire mystery series on this blog. A recent post referred to the A&E Show based on the series, Longmire, so I’m following up with a review of the TV show.

I’ve only read two or three books in Johnson’s Longmire series so far, but I really enjoyed them and was intrigued at what a TV show based on it would be like.

The role of the titular Absaroka County, Wyoming, sheriff is taken on by Australian actor Robert Taylor. He looks and speaks exactly how I imagine Longmire from the books would, and this is what drew me into the show: aging, a bit cranky, set in his ways, gruff manner covering a rather soft heart. However, his character is a bit darker and more angst-ridden than in the books. His past is also murkier, with some dark secrets driving a major plotline which is absent from the books. This plotline necessitates more of a sense of inner torment and greater recklessness in the TV show Walt. His relationship with his daughter, Cady (portrayed by Cassidy Freeman), is explored in both formats, though the TV show cannot resist infusing it with far more Sturm und Drang than in the books.

Longmire’s deputy, Victoria “Vic” Moretti, played by Katie Sackhoff, is in my mind quite similar to the character in the books. I haven’t gotten through all of the books, nor the rest of the TV show, but I’ll be interested to see how the relationship between Walt and Vic plays out and how it is treated in the show versus the books.

Craig Johnson’s character of Henry Standing Bear, Walt’s best friend and oft-times liaison to the Cheyenne Indian reservation’s law enforcement and citizens, is happily present and accounted for here. His speech, mannerisms and stoic nature from the books are intact in the show, for which I’m grateful. He plays an important part in every episode. He is portrayed by Lou Diamond Phillips who I think does an outstanding job.

Lucian Connally is the former sheriff who preceded Walt, and he plays a bigger part in the books than he does on the show. I’ve gotten through Season 1 and only seen him in one episode, but he was relatively true to life in his reckless cantankery. His nephew, Branch Connally, is Walt’s competitive deputy on the show, but this character does not appear in the books. His presence provides several storylines which were not possible in the books, but certainly add to the show’s dramatic and sexual appeal.

Fortunately for the book lovers, major themes of the books are revisited honestly and regularly by the TV series: the ever-present tension between the Cheyenne on the reservation and the local Absaroke County residents; a sense of social justice attained or denied; man versus nature.

Some of the plotlines are recognizable from the books, but much liberty is taken with them. I actually don’t mind this – for me this show can co-exist quite happily independent of the book series. One “character” I do miss from the books is the sense of mysticism surrounding Cheyenne legends and beliefs. Although each television episode has had a small element of it, the books dwell much more on Walt’s spirituality as a part of his character; in the TV shows it’s more of a simple plot device, although perhaps this will be explored further in future episodes.

On the whole, I’d say if you enjoy the books you will enjoy the series, if you don’t mind major plot deviations. Enough of the essential elements of appeal are present: characters, atmosphere, and setting. Craig Johnson seems to have nothing but good things to say about the show, and the TV series has boosted circulation of Johnson’s books. On his blog Johnson reports that the same folks who are “binge-watching” the series on A&E are going on to buy and “binge-read” the books in his series, and this must be very gratifying.

Give Longmire a shot! And check out Johnsons’ newest entry in the Walt Longmire series, Any Other Name.


The Big Miracle (2012)

Wed, 2014-05-21 01:01

I’m usually a sucker for animal rescue stories and films (just look at some of my previous posts, including this one.).  While vacationing at the beach last week, I was presented with the opportunity to watch this movie, and I hesitated, wondering if I wanted to spend my valuable beach time watching yet another movie about animals that need to be rescued.  Well, I was glad I did, because The Big Miracle is exceptional for several reasons:

One extremely cute family of three whales, including an adorable baby whale, that get trapped in the ice five miles from the shoreline near Barrow, Alaska, in 1988. Their desperate calls for help are very moving.

Some extremely hazardous weather conditions,  including temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit , high winds, blizzards, and treacherous ice, mean that their chances of survival are slim, and make for exciting drama.

An extremely unlikely group of people join together to help these poor whales, including a Greenpeace activist (Drew Barrymore), a wealthy oil tycoon (Ted Danson), a local TV news reporter (John Krasinski), and a local Inuit tribal elder (John Pingayak).  A typical movie like this pits the good-guy activist against the bad-guy industrialist, so it’s refreshing to see them all working together for once, even if they have ulterior motives for helping.

The actions of this group bring about some amazing results.  The local TV news reporter, who first discovers the whales, does a feature report about their plight for the local Anchorage news. The story is picked up by the national news, and quickly goes international. Before long, thousands of reporters from all over the world are descending on little Barrow, Alaska.

More importantly, the news reports bring people to the town who think that they can help in the rescue operation, including two brothers from Minnesota who have invented a de-icing machine.

The situation on the ground quickly becomes desperate, as the rescuers race around the clock and face crisis after crisis to save these whales.  I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that it involves a lot of ingenuity on the ground and help from the Alaska National Guard and an icy neighbor of the United States. And I won’t say if all three of these whales make it out alive (oops, maybe I have said too much).

This exciting, feel-good movie is based on true events in 1988 as set forth in Thomas Rose’s book Freeing the Whales.  The acting is top-rate, and I especially enjoyed Drew Barrymore as the Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer.  In one scene she dives under water to check on the health of the whales, which I found to be very memorable and sad.

I also enjoyed watching media clips from 1988 of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings when they were still in their prime. This gives the movie a sense of authenticity (reminding viewers that this was a real story) as well as a sense of nostalgia for older viewers like myself who remember watching these famous TV news anchors.

The Big Miracle is an exciting movie that I highly recommended watching, on or off the beach.


The Big Miracle (2012)

Wed, 2014-05-21 01:01

I’m usually a sucker for animal rescue stories and films (just look at some of my previous posts, including this one.).  While vacationing at the beach last week, I was presented with the opportunity to watch this movie, and I hesitated, wondering if I wanted to spend my valuable beach time watching yet another movie about animals that need to be rescued.  Well, I was glad I did, because The Big Miracle is exceptional for several reasons:

One extremely cute family of three whales, including an adorable baby whale, that get trapped in the ice five miles from the shoreline near Barrow, Alaska, in 1988. Their desperate calls for help are very moving.

Some extremely hazardous weather conditions,  including temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit , high winds, blizzards, and treacherous ice, mean that their chances of survival are slim, and make for exciting drama.

An extremely unlikely group of people join together to help these poor whales, including a Greenpeace activist (Drew Barrymore), a wealthy oil tycoon (Ted Danson), a local TV news reporter (John Krasinski), and a local Inuit tribal elder (John Pingayak).  A typical movie like this pits the good-guy activist against the bad-guy industrialist, so it’s refreshing to see them all working together for once, even if they have ulterior motives for helping.

The actions of this group bring about some amazing results.  The local TV news reporter, who first discovers the whales, does a feature report about their plight for the local Anchorage news. The story is picked up by the national news, and quickly goes international. Before long, thousands of reporters from all over the world are descending on little Barrow, Alaska.

More importantly, the news reports bring people to the town who think that they can help in the rescue operation, including two brothers from Minnesota who have invented a de-icing machine.

The situation on the ground quickly becomes desperate, as the rescuers race around the clock and face crisis after crisis to save these whales.  I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that it involves a lot of ingenuity on the ground and help from the Alaska National Guard and an icy neighbor of the United States. And I won’t say if all three of these whales make it out alive (oops, maybe I have said too much).

This exciting, feel-good movie is based on true events in 1988 as set forth in Thomas Rose’s book Freeing the Whales.  The acting is top-rate, and I especially enjoyed Drew Barrymore as the Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer.  In one scene she dives under water to check on the health of the whales, which I found to be very memorable and sad.

I also enjoyed watching media clips from 1988 of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings when they were still in their prime. This gives the movie a sense of authenticity (reminding viewers that this was a real story) as well as a sense of nostalgia for older viewers like myself who remember watching these famous TV news anchors.

The Big Miracle is an exciting movie that I highly recommended watching, on or off the beach.


Witchstruck, by Victoria Lamb

Tue, 2014-05-20 01:01

“If she sink, she be no witch and shall be drowned. If she float, she be a witch and must be hanged.”

Fantasy blends with historical fiction and romance in this first novel of the Tudor Witch Trilogy. The story is set in England in 1554, in the time of Princess Elizabeth, who has been sent into exile at Woodstock Palace by her half-sister Queen Mary. Political tensions are running high and there is talk of treason.

Just months ago, young Princess Elizabeth found herself a prisoner in the Tower of London after being accused of conspiring to overthrow the Queen. As no true evidence can be found she is instead sent faraway to crumbling Woodstock Palace. This sets the scene for Meg Lytton, the Princess’s newest hand maiden. Meg has a powerful gift, one she must hide from all. She comes from a long line of witches and is very much one herself. But there is no room for witches in Catholic England, and should she be discovered she would be hanged.

Meg soon finds that the Princess has her own interest in the Craft, and often calls on Meg and her aunt to help her see into the future and answer the always pressing question, “Will I ever be Queen?” But Meg and her aunt must exercise extreme caution, as the famed witch hunter Marcus Dent has taken an intense interest in Meg and wishes for her hand in marriage.

Things only get worse when Meg learns that her own family is conspiring against the Queen. Meg’s association with the Princess puts Elizabeth in further danger. When it seems all is going wrong and there is no one Meg can trust, in walks Spanish priest-in-training Alejandro de Castillo.  Suddenly everything is beginning to look a little better and a whole lot more dangerous…

Check the WRL catalog for Witchstruck


Witchstruck, by Victoria Lamb

Tue, 2014-05-20 01:01

“If she sink, she be no witch and shall be drowned. If she float, she be a witch and must be hanged.”

Fantasy blends with historical fiction and romance in this first novel of the Tudor Witch Trilogy. The story is set in England in 1554, in the time of Princess Elizabeth, who has been sent into exile at Woodstock Palace by her half-sister Queen Mary. Political tensions are running high and there is talk of treason.

Just months ago, young Princess Elizabeth found herself a prisoner in the Tower of London after being accused of conspiring to overthrow the Queen. As no true evidence can be found she is instead sent faraway to crumbling Woodstock Palace. This sets the scene for Meg Lytton, the Princess’s newest hand maiden. Meg has a powerful gift, one she must hide from all. She comes from a long line of witches and is very much one herself. But there is no room for witches in Catholic England, and should she be discovered she would be hanged.

Meg soon finds that the Princess has her own interest in the Craft, and often calls on Meg and her aunt to help her see into the future and answer the always pressing question, “Will I ever be Queen?” But Meg and her aunt must exercise extreme caution, as the famed witch hunter Marcus Dent has taken an intense interest in Meg and wishes for her hand in marriage.

Things only get worse when Meg learns that her own family is conspiring against the Queen. Meg’s association with the Princess puts Elizabeth in further danger. When it seems all is going wrong and there is no one Meg can trust, in walks Spanish priest-in-training Alejandro de Castillo.  Suddenly everything is beginning to look a little better and a whole lot more dangerous…

Check the WRL catalog for Witchstruck


The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud

Mon, 2014-05-19 01:01

This is the first installment in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. The story focuses on young Nathaniel, a magician’s apprentice beginning his training in the art of magic. From the very beginning he shows incredible promise but is unfortunately paired with a sub-par and rather boring instructor. Out of boredom and internal motivation, Nathaniel begins his own private studies, quickly gobbling up book after book in the old magician’s study.

Things would have continued slow and steady for Nathaniel, but a fateful and humiliating event leaves him burning with rage and a desire for revenge. And so he summons a powerful djinni to help him get retribution on the magician who caused him so much hurt. But the djinni, Bartimaeus, is more formidable and cunning than Nathaniel could have imagined, while his rival magician, Simon Lovelace, is even more dangerous than he expected.

A simple plan turns into a catastrophic ordeal when Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to steal a priceless token from Lovelace, the Amulet of Samarkand. Now, around every corner lurk unseen threats and hidden perils. Worst of all, Nathaniel has done the one thing a true magician is never supposed to do: he has lost control, not only of his djinni but of everything around him.

Check the WRL catalog for The Amulet of Samarkand.


The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud

Mon, 2014-05-19 01:01

This is the first installment in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. The story focuses on young Nathaniel, a magician’s apprentice beginning his training in the art of magic. From the very beginning he shows incredible promise but is unfortunately paired with a sub-par and rather boring instructor. Out of boredom and internal motivation, Nathaniel begins his own private studies, quickly gobbling up book after book in the old magician’s study.

Things would have continued slow and steady for Nathaniel, but a fateful and humiliating event leaves him burning with rage and a desire for revenge. And so he summons a powerful djinni to help him get retribution on the magician who caused him so much hurt. But the djinni, Bartimaeus, is more formidable and cunning than Nathaniel could have imagined, while his rival magician, Simon Lovelace, is even more dangerous than he expected.

A simple plan turns into a catastrophic ordeal when Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to steal a priceless token from Lovelace, the Amulet of Samarkand. Now, around every corner lurk unseen threats and hidden perils. Worst of all, Nathaniel has done the one thing a true magician is never supposed to do: he has lost control, not only of his djinni but of everything around him.

Check the WRL catalog for The Amulet of Samarkand.


One Big Happy Family, by Lisa Rogak

Fri, 2014-05-16 01:01

Dogs cuddling with goats?  An owl raising a goose? A cat caring for a litter of bunnies?  So much cuteness in one book!

One Big Happy Family is a quick read that will put a smile on your face.

Author Lisa Rogak has compiled 50 examples of cross-species friendships.  She explains that the parenting instinct in these cases defied the animals’ natural predator instincts. And whether the relationship lasted a lifetime or just a few weeks, when the young animal needed assistance most the adult animal stepped up to the plate.  As Rogak writes, “in doing so they serve as an inspiration.”

The pictures are the real draw for this nonfiction book. Every few pages there are darling photos of animals.  Brief narratives describe the origins of the relationship.  These can be quickly zipped through so you can “oooh” and “aww” your way to the next picture.

In fact, let’s just show a couple of images that will convince you of the appeal more than any number of words I can use.

 

Check the WRL catalog for One Big Happy Family

 

 


Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

Thu, 2014-05-15 01:01

Orphan Train caught my eye on the New Books shelf. I had not heard about the orphan trains before and enjoyed gaining some insight through this story.

According to PBS’s The Orphan Trains, the Children’s Aid Society, a precursor to our modern-day foster care, arranged trips between 1854 and 1929 to relocate thousands of orphan children from the streets of New York to the Midwest.  The organizers believed that farmers could use these homeless children as laborers, but hoped they would also treat them as part of their family and make sure they got an education.

Kline’s story is told through Molly and Vivian.  Molly is an angry, misunderstood teen about to age out of the foster care system.  She is arrested for stealing a book from the library and has to perform community service or go to jail.  Her foster mother is fed up with her and doesn’t want to put any more effort into the relationship.  Molly’s boyfriend helps arrange a service project for an older woman, Vivian, who employs his mother.

Vivian has Molly help her downsize her belongings.  But as they open boxes in the attic, Vivian  is reminded of her past and the experiences she had losing her family and being relocated by the orphan trains.  As they talk, Molly and Vivian develop a strong bond from having had similar experiences trying to fit in with foster families.

I enjoyed Vivian’s saga, though my heart ached for all the ups and downs of her life. I especially liked the way Molly’s present-day life and Vivian’s past were similar.  The story was an enjoyable, quick read for me.  My only criticism of the book is the ending — and I love happy endings!  I just felt that everything tied up too neatly.

This book seems to be a popular selection for book groups; in fact, we have the title available as a Gab Bag.  If you want to use it for your own discussion, questions can be found on Christina Baker Kline’s web site. In talking with others who had read the book, we all agreed that it inspired us to look into the real-life events of the orphan trains.  Tying the historical fact to the fictional story would make good talking points.

Check the WRL catalog for Orphan Train


The American Heiress, by Daisy Goodwin

Wed, 2014-05-14 01:01

 

I have to send a thank you to the library user who recommended this book to me.  I don’t know her name, but we had a nice chat about romance books — and she came back to the Reference desk to make sure I had the title correct.  She said she thoroughly enjoyed it.  I did, too!

The story takes place in the late 1800s.  Cora Cash is one of those rich, eligible, young women whose father makes more money than they can spend.  Her mother aspires to have the status of the Vanderbilts or Astors, and has set her sights on a titled husband for her daughter.

While riding in an English fox hunt, Cora breaks away from the pack and falls from her horse.  The handsome man who finds her and brings her to his drafty ancestral home is none other than the Ninth Duke of Wareham. Cora’s mother could not possibly object when the Duke declares his love for Cora and asks for her hand.

The marriage is less of a fairy tale.

Ivo, as the Duke is called by friends, seems to care for Cora.  But his emotions get tied up in knots over how things look.  It is not just the social customs that must be maintained, but he is also struggling to make sure that Cora is nothing like his own mother.

For her part, Cora loves the Duke.  She tries to please him by fixing up his family home, but in doing so she only fuels rumors that the Duke married the rich heiress for her money.  In addition to walking a fine line with his pride, Cora has to adjust to living in a foreign country and learning to cope with her domineering mother-in-law.  Her troubles seem especially poignant at the Duke’s home, where the servants are civil to her face, but unlikely to follow any requests that aren’t deemed “proper” (like removing the many pictures of Ivo’s mother and her former lover, the Prince of Wales, from the bedrooms).

Instead of talking to one another, the couple struggle with misconceptions that might break them apart.

While the story has opportunities to go gothic, it doesn’t.  The old home is certainly drafty, but Goodwin resisted the tired “dark and stormy night” scenarios.  Cora is surprisingly sympathetic as well.  She easily could have turned out to be spoiled and heartless, but she isn’t.  Spoiled, for sure, but she doesn’t turn out to be the shrew.  Snappy dialogue and interesting secondary characters also kept me turning the pages.  I especially liked Bertha, Cora’s maid from South Carolina.  It is through Bertha’s eyes that the book shows the “downstairs” portion of the social classes.

Goodwin’s book provides lots of details of the Gilded Age: the extravagant parties, the fashionable clothing, the social expectations.  She notes in the Acknowledgements that “When it comes to the Gilded Age, the more fantastical the circumstance, the more likely it is to be true.”

I would recommend this as a good read-alike for fans of Downton Abbey or even The Great Gatsby.

Check the WRL catalog for The American Heiress


Striking Distance, by Pamela Clare

Tue, 2014-05-13 01:01

Laura Nilsson is slowly rebuilding her life after being rescued from eighteen months of captivity in the Middle East. No longer interested in being in front of the camera, Laura works as a newspaper investigative journalist in Denver. Life is not perfect, but Laura is slowly putting the pieces back together, regaining her professional confidence and trying to regain her confidence as a woman. Javier Corbray hasn’t forgotten his brief and intense weekend getting to know Laura in Dubai before her kidnapping. In fact, she is never far from his thoughts, but he keeps his distance out of respect for her trauma.

While visiting friends in Denver, Javier is surprised, but thrilled, to see Laura at a friend’s barbeque. Laura is happy to see Javier but is less certain about picking up where they left off before her kidnapping. Laura longs to be the confidant woman Javier once knew, but she has secrets that she can’t share for her and her daughter’s safety. Javier won’t be deterred; he values Laura as a friend and a woman, and when she is targeted by a bomb he makes a point to be there to protect her.

Striking Distance is a great combination of character, romance, and suspense. Laura and Javier are both adults dealing with life’s harsh realities. They respect each other as people and take the time to get to know each other. They don’t deny their sexual attraction but neither do they overlook Laura’s trauma. Instead, the focus is on romance and creating a relationship based on trust and respect. Javier is a Navy SEAL, so you’ll have to suspend a little bit of disbelief over the action sequences. Just know the action never overshadows the story nor is it way over the top. The suspense is a great counterbalance to Javier’s and Laura’s budding relationship.

Striking Distance is a part of a series and previous characters appear, but it can be read independently and is one of the best in the series. Pamela Clare is a great writer and creates characters and romance that only make the genre better.

Check the WRL catalog for Striking Distance


Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, by Patty Chang Anker

Mon, 2014-05-12 01:01

Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave is part self-help and part memoir and a pleasure to read. Patty Anker was fast approaching forty when she realized that she said “no” to a lot of new experiences. She didn’t say “no” because she wasn’t interested, it was because she was afraid. Not wanting to leave a legacy to her daughters of not trying new things due to fear, she took up the gauntlet to approach her fears head on. Patty learns to swim, ride a bike, and surf but she also helps her friends tackle their fears of heights and driving too.

This is not a book about surviving big fears like being lost at sea or in the desert or being buried alive. It is a story about tackling the “little” and “common” fears that can have a significant impact on our quality of life and often prevent us from enjoying some of the simple pleasures in the world, such as going to the beach or enjoying the view from above or taking a drive just because you can.

With humor and grace Patty shares her own fears and insecurities interwoven with research and interviews by psychologists, clergy, and authors. She illustrates through her own story and others how tackling fears can make life more vibrant. The confidence gained by approaching fear head on often transfers to other aspects of life. Once you’ve read Some Nerve, you’ll recognize the courage it takes to tackle the small jobs and that the rewards are great, even if you “fail.”

Check the WRL catalog for Some Nerve


The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Fri, 2014-05-09 01:01

Alma Whittaker is born into a life of privilege just outside of Philadelphia, PA in 1800. Her mother is a wealthy, practical, highly educated Dutch woman. Her father is an uneducated, unrefined Englishman who rose from poverty to become one of the wealthiest men in the United States. Together they raise Alma as a highly educated, practical, scientific, and lonely woman. Both fiercely independent in her thinking and loyal to her family, Alma continues in the family trade of botany with her own unique focus of studying mosses. Alma doesn’t sound too interesting, does she? Don’t be deceived.

Alma both anchors and drives The Signature of All Things and as a reader I was vested in her well-being. However, this book is so much more. It is a book about science and faith. It is a glimpse at history in England and the United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is a fascinating travelogue of Tahiti and adventurous ocean voyages. It is a story of how the world can change so quickly and so slowly all at the same time. It is a story about love, grief, and personal growth. It is a story that is well worth the time to read and moves so swiftly you’ll wonder how you breezed through 499 pages (or listened to 18 discs) so quickly.  I’ll admit that in the middle of the book the plot took a turn that I didn’t expect, and I almost quit reading. I wondered how anything could possibly be resolved in a satisfactory way. But if you persevere, it will all come together, just have a little faith.

Juliet Stevenson narrates the audio version of The Signature of All Things, and her narration brings to life the myriad of characters with authenticity. The characters had distinct voices, and the animation in her voice made you feel like you were right in the midst of the vigorous debates that take place in the novel. I loved her accents and especially appreciated how well she brought the men to life without making them sound too feminine or artificial. Whether you read or listen to The Signature of All Things it will be an experience that you are sure to enjoy.

Check the WRL catalog for The Signature of All Things

Check the WRL catalog for The Signature of All Things audiobook on compact discs or downloadable audio.


Dance Academy (2013)

Thu, 2014-05-08 01:01

Like many little girls I took dance class as a child. Dressed up in my pink tutu, tights, and soft leather shoes, I would pirouette around the room until I would collapse in giggles on the floor from dizziness. Dance was a fun way to move around but never blossomed into a desire to be a dancer, plus I never had the passion or natural skill to commit to the endless hours of practice. Nevertheless, I remained fascinated by dancers and their dreams to pursue dance professionally, especially ballet. So when I came across the Australian television show Dance Academy, I had to check it out.

Tara Webster’s first dream is to fly, but since gravity gets in the way she takes up dancing instead, because in the moment dance feels like flying. So at age 16 Tara auditions for and is accepted to the prestigious National Dance Academy in Sydney. Little does she know that her education isn’t just about how to be a ballerina but also how to live away from home, work, love, and bounce back from disappointment. She’ll have to assess her dedication to her craft versus her desire to be a normal teenager.

Tara and her friends love to dance for various reasons and work hard to pursue their dreams. They are also typical teenagers living in a metropolitan city, testing their boundaries and their mettle to be professional dancers. The show includes the requisite girl next door, the bad boy, the catty nemesis, and the rebellious best friend, and they have the experiences of the first crush, first love, and first betrayal. But the show also illustrates the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in dance, incorporating hours of repetitive practice and the drama of competition. Dance Academy doesn’t rely on profanity or shock tactics to navigate the challenges of adolescence. It’s a show that manages to be wholesome without being saccharine and dramatic without devolving into diabolical soap opera machinations. Enjoy this show with the dancers in your life or enjoy it for being a fun glimpse into the world of a professional dance school.

Check the WRL catalog for Dance Academy