This heart wrenching Coretta Scott King Award winner can help young children who are trying to cope with absent fathers. The main character and his father like to play a Knock Knock Game where the boy pretends to sleep through his father’s knocking but then jumps up and tells him good morning and that he loves him. One day, the boy’s father vanishes, and the boy is left confused and saddened. Eventually, the boy leaves his father a letter asking him to come home. After two long months, the boy receives the father’s heartfelt reply. Beaty writes, “’For every lesson I will not be there to teach you, hear these words: […] Knock Knock down the doors that I could not. Knock Knock to open new doors to your dreams. Knock Knock for me, for as long as you become your best, the best of me still lives in you.”
Though the father doesn’t return, the boy grows into a successful young man with a family of his own.
The Author’s Note at the end explains that Beaty’s father was incarcerated when Beaty was a young boy and that growing up without his father at home had a profound effect on his life. He is now an educator and has seen the same thing happen to many of his students. The illustrations are brilliant and moving. The illustrator first heard the book performed as a monologue by Beaty.
Check the WRL catalog for Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me.
If an asteroid hit the earth it would be bad news for all of us; that much is obvious. But what exactly would happen? Mega Disasters features ten episodes describing unimaginable catastrophes such as an F5 tornado hitting Chicago, a major eruption of Mt. Rainier onto Seattle or a huge earthquake hitting Los Angeles. It uses evidence from past cataclysms and tells the story with real disaster film footage. Expect lots of experts predicting doom and tons of (slightly cheesy) computer graphics.
Sometimes I feel like being completely awed by nature. This week I have talked about some of the smallest things (Molecules), some of the Oldest Living Things, and some of the cutest birds (Penguins and Chickens). But sometimes to fully appreciate these lovely things I have to imagine the most catastrophic. Many of this week’s science books are much more useful and appealing because they are visual. To get the full effect of a volcanic eruption (and not actually stand on an active geologic zone and risk pyroclastic flows and lava), I don’t think you can beat sound and action. Boom! Crash! Sizzle! Whoosh! Grab your popcorn, it’s time for a disaster movie!
Some of these mega disasters have happened before, such as the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago, or a Yellowstone eruption that buried the entire Midwest in feet of ash, but these happened long before humans or human civilization were around. The effects on us today would be enormous and perhaps not predictable, but in true History Channel style, Mega Disasters tries to predict. It shows the familiar high-rise buildings of Chicago and then shows computer-animated effects of wrenching winds with flying glass and debris. The creators of the series based their predictions on current expertise and up-to-date knowledge. They interviewed many geologists, meteorologists, astronomers and other scientists. Most of the scientists appear to be unflappable people, so when they dryly state things like, “This entire area would be devastated with nothing left alive,” you know it’s time to sit up and take notice.
My favorite episode is Yellowstone Eruption, because I am spellbound by supervolcanoes that could potentially kill most life on earth, as ably described in the teen novel Ashfall by Mike Mullin. Other good book tie-ins include nonfiction on the worldwide effects of a much smaller eruption, like Tambora, by Gillen D’Arcy Wood.
Mega Disasters will also interest viewers who like fictional disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012. And if you think this is a silly topic and you are ever feeling too complacent, just remember this quote attributed to Will Durant, “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
If your birthday is also Valentine’s Day, you probably either love all things hearts and flowers, or hate every pink and red bit of it. The fact that Piper’s birthday falls on Valentine’s Day means that she typically receives many heart-themed birthday gifts each year, but does not mean she believes in love. This year though, her best friends Claire and Jillian are determined that the three of them will not be alone on the most romantic day of the year. They devise “The Plan.” Some of “The Plan” involves things you might expect, such as hair highlights and new makeup techniques. Then the girls take things one step further.
When she’s not at school, Piper works at Jan the Candy Man, a candy store known for its creative confections. Piper, Claire, and Jillian borrow the kitchen one evening to make a new, special type of chocolate. A chocolate that incorporates the recipe Jillian found for a love potion. When the girls’ crushes start to notice them after eating the chocolates they are sure it’s coincidence—right?
Reading Love? Maybe is like watching a fun romantic comedy. You begin to root for the main characters in their struggle to find love. The subplots are also entertaining and even secondary characters have personality. Even Valentine’s haters will find something to love in this one.
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Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization, by Andrew Lawler
The title of this book poses an interesting question: why do chickens occur all over the world, and have for a long time? The short answer is that people took them around the globe because they are useful and noble birds.
Penguins (which I blogged about yesterday) are relatively rare birds and are considered cute, while chickens are so ubiquitous as to be thought boring. Andrew Lawler has done a great job of convincing me that chickens are not in the least bit boring, and hopefully the photo below of Henny Penny and Co. (wondering if my iPad is edible) will convince you that they are cute. Readable, surprising and captivating, this book will make you want to immerse yourself to find out more about this fascinating bird of contradictions.
Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? is dense with facts, including many surprising ones such as that there are more chickens in the world than cats, dogs and rats put together, in fact, so many chickens that they outnumber people. Andrew Lawler argues that chickens are far more useful and important to human history than they are generally given credit for. They have been significant for religions from Zoroastrianism to Christianity for thousands of years and, because of the rooster’s habit of crowing just before dawn, they have frequently been seen as symbols of light and resurrection. As small animals that will eat scraps, they have always been economically important to poor or marginalized populations such as American slaves. They are important to medicine and scientific research in areas from growing vaccines to chick embryo development.
The chicken’s own history is somewhat murky. They are almost certainly descended from Asian Jungle Fowl (probably Red), but whether it was once or multiple times, and exactly where, is still controversial. We know why the chicken crossed the world, but how is not as clear, because chickens are small animals with tiny, easily eaten, scattered or rotted bones. Archaeological evidence of chickens is scarce, but it does suggest that Polynesians took chickens on their remarkable Pacific voyages, and that Tandoori Chicken recipes may have been invented in Indus Valley civilizations around 5000 years ago! For local history buffs, in 1752 the College of William and Mary banned their students from attending cockfights, but that didn’t stop George Washington attending one in nearby Yorktown!
One thing I found missing from this book was illustrations. When the author talked about the Red Jungle Fowl or Queen Victoria’s many exotic breeds, I wanted to see what they looked like, so I used a copy of Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds by Carol Ekarius with its great illustrations.
This book will appeal to readers who are interested in the intersection between humans and animals such as Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, by Hal Herzog, or the effects of animals on human history like Spillover, by David Quammen.
Check the WRL catalog for Why Did the Chicken Cross the World.
As the title says, Penguins: The Ultimate Guide is a guide book, but here in Williamsburg we are very unlikely to see a penguin landing on our bird feeder and pushing off the chickadees, so today’s book isn’t needed for immediate avian I.D. but is more for browsing, learning about these fascinating birds, and enjoying the dazzling photographs. Editors and publishers like to use superlatives to sell their books, but even without exaggeration, The Ultimate Guide lives up to its Ultimate hype!
Penguins are remarkable birds that also happen to be very cute. Author Tui De Roy grew up in the Galapagos Islands and has a long acquaintance with penguins and says they have an “exuberant gusto.” The book is arranged in three main sections headed by the three main authors who between them clocked up fifteen years of study and travel in the book’s creation. The first section, by Tui De Roy, goes over penguins’ general biology and occurrence; the second section, introduced by Mark Jones, includes double-page spreads by seventeen separate authors who are scientists, researchers and experts in their fields, with up-to-the-minute information such as “Beyond Prying Eyes: Tracking Penguins at Sea” by scientist Rory P. Wilson.
The last section, “Species Natural History,” is what you would expect from a guide book. It goes through the different species with common names, scientific names, physical appearance, distribution, breeding, conservation status, and so on. This section includes smaller close-up photos of individual and small groups of penguins to make positive identification. These contrast with many of the earlier photos that are often breathtaking landscapes with penguins.
Penguins: The Ultimate Guide has everything you need to know about penguins and plenty you didn’t realize you needed to know. If you consider yourself an amateur (or professional!) ornithologist, read it alongside Sibley’s Birding Basics, by David Allen Sibley. Near Williamsburg Regional Library you are not going to see penguins, but you can always dream…
For travel buffs the book takes you to some out-of-the way locales that time seems to have forgotten, such as Subantarctic Campbell Island, in the empty ocean south of New Zealand. It brings home to me how lucky I am to have been hiking in New Zealand’s mossy and ferny Fiordland, a place about which Tui De Roy says; “there are few places on earth that feel more primeval and mysterious… Based on fossil evidence, this forest has changed little from the time it was still a part of the supercontinent Gondwana 80 million years ago and dinosaurs roamed in its glades.”
Penguins: The Ultimate Guide is worth reading even if you have read Penguins of the World by Wayne Lynch from 2007, as Penguins: The Ultimate Guide is larger, more in-depth, and more up-to-date.
Visual enough for children to enjoy perusing, break it out for fans of Happy Feet or the murderous penguins of Madagascar. For an overload of nonfiction cuteness, pair it with March of the Penguins, and I challenge you to view either without going “Awwww….”
Check the WRL catalog for Penguins: The Ultimate Guide.
This book written by a father and son about a father and son takes “Go to Work with a Parent Day” to new extremes. Hayward’s dad, who looks startlingly like Gregory Peck, works for a tabloid, and Hayward believes that all of his father’s wild tales are false. Hayward’s skeptical nature is tested throughout the day: a dinosaur egg hatches at the Museum of Natural History, Big Foot is their taxi driver, and a giant chicken attacks a hot dog vendor. Hayward finally can’t explain away a huge metal octopus that begins attacking the city after landing in a flying tea cup, but can he save the day? Even if he does, will his classmates believe him?
The illustrations in this book steal the show with cameos by Elvis and the Queen. The text appears as though it is ripped from the headlines. This silly story will win over the most skeptical readers in your household.
Check the WRL catalog for The Daily Comet: Boy Saves Earth from Giant Octopus.
Laura shares this review:
Heart Transplant is a story about bullying that is both engrossing and heartwarming. In the opening narration, a kid named Sean takes down the movie clichés about high school life, where outsiders are able to rise above their social position when the popular kids realize they are a beautiful swan instead of an ugly duckling, or the beautiful girl learns about how great the nerd is on the inside and rejects her jock boyfriend. Sean is an outsider, and as such he is ignored by the more popular kids unless it is convenient for them to notice him. “The only time anyone ever saw us was when they needed someone to make themselves look big. By making us small.”
Sean is from a terrible, broken home. His mother has had a steady stream of live-in boyfriends, each of which she has insisted that Sean call “Daddy.” Her latest one, Brian, is vicious when he is drunk, which ends up being most of the time. Sean’s mother offers no protection from her boyfriend’s beatings. When she isn’t otherwise occupied, she takes her swings at Sean too. With no friends and rejected at home, Sean lives a sad existence.
When a drug deal by Brian goes bad, Sean comes home to two bodies. Before a social worker can take him off to a foster home, Brian’s father comes by the house and, seeing the child sitting alone, offers to take Sean in. Pop gives Sean what he has never had before: a home, with unconditional acceptance and protection. Living in a loving and supportive environment for the first time in his life, Sean begins to blossom.
But like many people, Sean begins to have problems in Junior High, despite his high grades. As kids begin to coagulate into social groups, Sean finds he doesn’t really belong anywhere. He’s different, the kind of person who gets rejected by every other group. When Sean gets picked on, everybody laughs. Ashamed to let Pop know what is happening, he tries to hide his bruises, but the old man isn’t so easily fooled. A problem that faces a child is a problem that faces their parent as well, and Pop is going to make sure that Sean has the skills to deal with this, and other challenges in life.
Recommended for young adults, their parents, and readers of graphic novels.
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Everything is made of something and on a scale that ordinary people (by ordinary people I mean me) can understand everything is made of elements and molecules. Author Theodore Gray has followed the winning formula (pun intended, sorry) of his 2009 book The Elements and has created another visually stunning book that informs, enlightens and fascinates.
There is no simple way to organize all possible molecular combinations, so Molecules is organised into chapters of how people use or perceive molecules, not necessarily how they are chemically related. So there are chapters on how things smell, on painkillers, and on molecules caught up in politics. He covers everyday substances (soap, nylon), controversial substances (mercury in vaccines), and things made of very odd substances. In Gray’s signature quirky style we find a section on “Keratin Extruded by Warm, Fuzzy Animals.” As you’d expect, this includes wool, mohair and feathers, but also includes a pair of socks that were made out of the hair of a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever! My dog is part husky, so she frequently sheds the equivalent of a small chihuahua per day, so there must be something I can do with all that hair….
Visually stunning is not an exaggeration for this book, and artistically inclined people can enjoy Molecules for the bright, active photographs and chemical structure diagrams that leap off the page from the black background. Artists will also be fascinated to learn about the origins and chemical analyses of historical pigments like burnt sienna, turquoise, and ultramarine. This is one of the occasions when Theodore Gray goes on flights of poesy not often seen in a chemistry book, such as “sienna, which has been the color of the Earth for as long as there has been an Earth and will stay that way until there is no longer an eye to see it nor a soul to hear its name.”
Molecules should be of interest to everyone, because we are all surrounded by these chemicals every day, but it is a must-read for science fans. It is attractive enough for coffee-table browsing and informative enough for supplementary reading in classrooms. It is the next logical step after Theodore Gray’s 2009 The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. Pair both books with Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World, by Mark Miodownik, which is more narrative non-fiction about chemical properties while Molecules is more visual with basic facts.
Check the WRL catalog for Molecules.
This beautifully illustrated book tells the true story of Edith Rosenbaum and her musical French pig, Maxixe. Rosenbaum was a fashion designer who was travelling from Paris to New York on board the doomed Titanic. When the ship begins to sink, Rosenbaum goes to the deck to help children into lifeboats. Crew writes, “Everyone was calling for help, especially the children. ‘Where is my mama?’ they cried. ‘Where is my papa?’” A sailor mistook Maxixe wrapped in a blanket as a baby and put the music box into the lifeboat. Rosenbaum hopped in and used the musical pig to comfort and entertain the children in the dark, cold hours on the ocean.
This upbeat book about survival and music is a good way to introduce a tough topic to younger children. The Author’s Note in the end gives many more details than the simple story, including that Maxixe is kept in a private collection in New York today.
Check the WRL catalog for Pig on the Titanic: A True Story!
Several months ago a group of us here at Williamsburg Regional Library presented The Top Five of Five for Non Fiction at the Virginia Library Association Conference. I was assigned science books, and one of the trends I reported on was “Guide Books Plus.” Over the next three days I will be reporting on some science Guide Books that are Plus, Plus, Plus! I think they expand the definition of guide book and that they are superbly readable, informative and visually stunning books. The first one is the loveliest book I have seen for a long time with a quirky and fascinating angle on nature: The Oldest Living Things in the World.
Rachel Sussman spent a decade travelling around the world finding, researching and photographing these enchanting, odd, and sometimes poignant organisms. Everything in the book is over 2000 years old and they go up to tens of thousands of years old. Animals, apart from primitive ones like sponges, simply don’t live that long, so most of the photographs are of plants, but there are also fungi, lichens and coral. Sadly, as the author says, “being old is not the same as being immortal,” so some of the organisms, like Florida’s Senator Cypress tree, are listed as “Deceased.”
Some of these organisms have become so old by using unusual survival techniques, or in everyday language by being very strange, for example the underground forest of southern Africa. The landscape is so dry and devastating fires so common that most of this plant grows underground. The photograph shows reddish desert dirt with an unassuming low-spreading plant with olive green oval leaves—just your average weed, except that the part showing is just the crown peeping through. If a fire rips through, it is only like having your eyebrows singed off and the tree will survive.
This is a large format book (27 x 30 cm according to our catalog) that is worthy to grace any coffee table. The exquisite photographs of varied landscapes from the fjords of Greenland to the rain forest of Eastern Australia to African deserts are dazzling enough to attract the attention of an art photographer, while the text about the organisms is personal and engaging. Rachel Sussman often describes how she heard of some of the more obscure organisms, how she traveled and what adventures she had in all corners of the world. About 3000-year-old Chilean desert plants she says: “Every once in a while you see something so ludicrously beautiful that all you can do is laugh.” Armchair travelers will thrill at seeing some little-visited parts of the world.
This is a great book for readers who like unusual science books with beautiful photographs like The Snowflake, by Kenneth Libbrecht or quirky guidebooks like The Songs of Insects, by Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger. And read it if you find yourself ruminating on the brevity of our allotted three-score and ten.
Check the WRL catalog for The Oldest Living Things in the World.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
In Tuesdays at the Castle, author Jessica Day George creates a setting that becomes a character. Castle Glower, identified as “The Castle,” is home to Princess Celie and the rest of the royal family of Sleyne. Living in a castle sounds pretty great, but what makes Castle Glower even better is that it is a magical castle. It will expand to create new rooms, make rooms that are no longer needed disappear, and even provide furnishings, all at its own discretion, of course. And it is a very opinionated castle. If it likes you, your visit to Castle Glower will be most comfortable. If not, your accommodations might look more like the dungeons, or The Castle might kick you out altogether. Furthermore, The Castle has views on who should rule. King Glower’s heir was chosen not by himself, but by The Castle.
You might think that such defenses would eliminate any concern about a hostile takeover from a rival kingdom, but that is just what happens. Prince Khelsh of Vhervhine, along with his entourage of guards and sycophants, has weaseled his way into the castle under false pretenses. He is determined to take over The Castle and claim the throne. With the rest of her family missing and presumed dead, Princess Celie, her brother Rolf, her sister Lilah, and Castle Glower must work together to mount a defense. Allegiances are questioned, and the siblings quickly learn that they can trust no one but themselves and The Castle.
I found this story to be very immersive and quickly became lost in the twists and turns of Castle Glower. The setting truly comes to life, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering, “Well, how does The Castle feel about that?” Don’t worry, being concerned for the emotional well-being of supposedly inanimate objects is just a side effect from reading fantasy in general, and Tuesdays at the Castle in particular. This is the first in a series which continues in Wednesdays in the Tower.
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My introduction to the film My Dinner with André came from a rather unlikely source – a Mad magazine parody called My Dinner with André the Giant. In the years since its release, My Dinner with André has inspired numerous tributes and parodies, including a Far Side comic and an episode of the the first season of Frasier called “My Coffee with Niles.” My Dinner with André is a unique film that I revisit every few years; usually when I’m looking for something insightful, but primarily because the extended conversation at the heart of the film is quite entertaining.
The film stars actor/playwright Wallace Shawn and director/actor André Gregory playing fictionalized versions of themselves. The movie opens with Shawn preparing to meet Gregory at an expensive New York City restaurant. Gregory was an early supporter of Shawn’s work; however, the one-time colleagues have not spoken to each other for years. Shawn is filled with trepidation at the prospect of meeting with Gregory. Over the years, he heard that Gregory had left his successful career as a director and traveled the world in search of spiritual enlightenment. Shawn’s concern is heightened when he hears that a mutual friend ran into Gregory in an obscure part of town, sobbing because he had just seen Ingmar Bergman’s film Autumn Sonata and was moved when Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) says, “I could always live in my art, but never in my life.”
Despite his concerns, Shawn agrees to have dinner with Gregory, and duration of the film consists of their wide-ranging and deeply philosophical conversation. Gregory begins by describing his artistic and spiritual pursuits after leaving the theatre. He goes to Poland to work with his friend, director Jerzy Grotowski; he travels to Findhorn in Scotland and the Sahara; and finally he stays at photographer Richard Avedon’s estate in Montauk, where he participates in a rebirth ritual in which he’s nearly buried alive.
Shawn is fascinated by Gregory’s stories, but he wonders if such pursuits are practical, especially if you have a wife and family as Gregory does. During the second part of the film, Shawn playfully challenges Gregory’s philosophical outlook and in the process begins to his see the world around him in a new light.
My Dinner with André is an eloquent and understated film that can be enjoyed on a number of levels. Gregory is an engaging raconteur whose stories are intriguing and often quite amusing. His interaction with Shawn is so relaxed and natural that you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time. Director Louis Malle keeps the film moving at a brisk, efficient pace. The restaurant is elegant, but the décor doesn’t overshadow the actors. Interestingly, although the film is set in New York City, the restaurant scenes were actually filmed at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.
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Check the WRL catalog for season one of Frasier
Noreen shares this review:
America Singer lives in llea, which was once the United States, but now is a country with a caste system, a monarchy, and lots of rebel groups. Her family is in the third caste, which is not great but is also not terrible. However, an opportunity to better their lot appears when the Palace sends out a call for The Selection. Each province can send one young woman to live in the palace and vie for the honor of marrying Prince Maxon Schreave. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the Bachelorette meeting royalty in a dystopian land. But, you want to keep reading.
America also has a secret. She is in love with Aspen, the son of a neighbor who is in a lower caste. They meet secretly at night in a tree house in America’s yard. Aspen is the sole provider for his family. He is constantly working and is always hungry. As America’s family keeps pushing her to enter the contest, Aspen seems to be withdrawing, indicating hat he has found another woman. America finally agrees to enter, and, of course, is selected.
The characters were interesting and constantly developing. Plus the descriptions of everyday life in the castle, including clothes and meals, were wonderful. The relationships among the women vying for the Prince’s hand provide humor and some intrigue.
Equally intriguing is the relationship that develops between America and Prince Maxon. She is completely up front with the prince about not wanting to win, while admitting that she’d like to stay, if only for the food and clothes. Prince Maxon is obviously interested. Enter Aspen who is now a military guard. America is caught between her feelings for Aspen and the Prince. How will it end? We need to wait for the next book.
The Selection ends with us waiting to see who America will choose and how it will work out. And I do want to know.
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ROAR! Watch out! It’s a velociraptor! Never fear – did you know that velociraptors were only as big as your family dog? Any budding paleontologist will love this fun take on dinosaurs that tells us a little more about the realities of what they looked like when they lived. Kids will read about comparisons to the modern day that really put these creatures into perspective.
Each page describes one specific dinosaur from the littlest Microraptor to the largest Argentinosaurus and everything in between. Readers will learn about how much they weighed, how big they really were and so much more. There is a great section of this book that tells the reader about the process archeologists use when they find new dinosaur bones and when they preserve them. To add to the wonderful information, there are two fold-out pages that open up to show each of the dinosaurs discussed in the book in comparison to one another and to the other present day animal comparisons. This holistic look at the end of the book ties together each of the previous pages.
Adults and children will enjoy going through this book in individual, small group or large group settings and hearing the reactions from the groups will surely be fun. Grab this book for a wonderful look at these ancient and mysterious animals.
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Zhang Yimou’s masterpiece Raise the Red Lantern opens with a young woman preparing to make a fateful decision. In 1920 China, Songlian (Gong Li), a 19-year-old university student, is forced to abandon her studies after her father’s death left the family destitute. With few options available, Songlian tearfully tells her mother that she’s decided to marry a wealthy man. When her mother advises her that as the wife of a rich man she will be little more than a concubine, Songlian stoically replies, “Let me be a concubine. Isn’t that the fate of a woman?” It’s a powerful scene staged with stunning simplicity; Songlian is shown in close-up addressing her mother, who remains off-camera. At end of her speech, tears slowly roll down her cheeks belying sadness and resignation to her fate.
Songlian becomes the fourth wife (or, as she’s referred to throughout the film, the Fourth Mistress) of Master Chen (Ma Jingwu). He lives on a vast estate with three other Mistresses and a cadre of servants. Each Mistress has her own apartment in the compound; however, like birds in a gilded cage, their life of luxury comes at a steep price: their freedom.
At first, Songlian is treated well by the Mistresses and the servants. The first night in the estate, her apartment is festooned with red lanterns, she receives an elaborate foot massage, and Master Chen comes to visit. She soon learns, however, that this treatment is the exception rather than the rule. On a daily basis, the master decides which Mistress he will spend the night with, and the Mistress he selects will choose the menu for the evening, receive the red lanterns and the foot massage, and garner the most attention and respect from the servants. This ritual has fostered an environment of fierce competition, as the Mistresses vie daily for Master Chen’s affections.
As Songlian adjusts to life as Master Chen’s Fourth Mistress, she gets to know the other women on the estate: Yuru (Jin Shuyuan), the First Mistress and the mother of Chen’s son; Zhuoyan (Cao Cuifen), the Second Mistress, described as having the face of the Buddha but the heart of a scorpion; and Meishan (He Saifei), the Third Mistress, a former opera singer. There is also Yan’er (Kong Lin), a longtime servant who dreams of becoming a Mistress herself.
Songlian is savvy enough to understand the peculiar dynamics of the Chen household and implements a few schemes of her own to curry the Master’s favor. Despite her initial success, she soon finds herself double-crossed by one of the Mistresses. When Songlian eventually discovers that another Mistress is involved in an illicit affair, she unwittingly sets into motion a series of events that threaten the fragile structure of the Chen household.
Raise the Red Lantern is a visually stunning film that uses color and cinematography to great effect. The color red is a central motif that connects the key visuals. The red of the lanterns is reflected in the reds of the cheongsams worn by Songlian and the other mistresses. The impressive architecture of Master Chen’s estate is complemented by Yimou’s use of overhead shots. The setting’s beauty stands in stark contrast to the grim fates that await the mistresses. Gong Li, whose films with Yimou include To Live and Shanghai Triad, delivers one of her finest performances as Songlian.
Raise the Red Lantern was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and, in 2001, Yimou developed a ballet based on the film. In recent years, Yimou has directed a number of popular films, including Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Fans of Yimou’s later films may want to check out Raise the Red Lantern, one of the best films of the 1990s.
Raise the Red Lantern is in Mandarin with English subtitles.
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In many of director David Fincher’s films, there’s an aura of unease; the sense that what you’re seeing onscreen can’t be trusted and the real story is far more sinister than you’ve been led to believe. In The Game (1997), an investment banker is led down a nightmarish rabbit hole after signing up for a virtual reality game. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), based on Stieg Larsson’s novel, a disgraced journalist uncovers dark family secrets while investigating a mysterious disappearance. A similar sense of unease hangs over his latest film Gone Girl, a dark and haunting adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s equally dark and haunting bestselling novel.
Andrew has already reviewed Flynn’s book, so I will keep the plot description to a minimum. The film opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) heading to work at the bar he runs with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). It’s Nick and his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) fifth anniversary, but he’s not exactly celebrating. Once successful journalists in New York, Nick and Amy lost their jobs and moved to his hometown in Missouri to help take care of his mother, who was diagnosed with cancer. The move was difficult on a marriage that seemed, to outward appearances, perfect in every way.
Shortly after opening the bar, Nick gets a call from one of his neighbors, concerned that there may have been a disturbance at Nick’s house. Nick arrives home to find the cat outside and Amy missing. Worried, Nick calls the police, who discover ominous signs of a struggle. The subsequent investigation into Amy’s disappearance yields clues that the Dunne marriage had its secrets.
Gone Girl is a twisty and lurid tale that transfers well to film thanks to Flynn’s keen screenplay, a stellar cast, and Fincher’s savvy direction. Flynn preserves the structure of her novel, and the story is told from Nick and Amy’s points of view. The well-edited sequences are aided by great visual cues, like Amy using different colors of ink in her diary to reflect changes in the marriage.
The casting is spot-on. Ben Affleck delivers one of his best performances as a man whose attempts to be seen as the good guy often fall short of expectations. Rosamund Pike brings a cool detachment to Amy that serves her character well. The outstanding supporting performances include Tyler Perry as defense attorney Tanner Bolt, and Missi Pyle as Ellen Abbott, the outspoken host of a television crime show.
Fincher’s direction ties everything together. Gone Girl is long, but the pacing is never sluggish. He starts with the central mystery and uses flashbacks and shifts in perspective to provide the background and context. Music also plays an important role in setting the mood of Gone Girl. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is effectively chilling and helps build tension throughout the film.
Taut and well-paced, Gone Girl is the perfect match of director, actors, and source material.
Check the WRL catalog for Gone Girl
Everyone knows the tale. A little girl adventures into the woods and finds herself in the home of three bears, but what would happen if the tables were turned? Leigh Hodgkinson has taken the traditional tale and flipped it on its head.
In this story, a lonely bear finds himself in the heart of a big city. Lost and confused, the bear goes to an apartment building and takes the elevator up to find a place to rest. The new version of the story has many parallels to the traditional one with finding a good snack, a place to sit, and a place to take a nap. However, there is a surprising twist at the end that will have readers smiling. Hodgkinson has tied the old and new together in a seamless way.
This story is perfect for group story time for children in lower elementary school or any lovers of the original Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It would also be a great partner book for the original story and could be read as a sequel. This version has modern and colorful illustrations that make reading the story even more entertaining. Children will love to look at the details of the book and see what happens to the bear on each page.
Check the WRL catalog for Goldilocks and Just One Bear.
Rachael shares this review:
As a longtime fan of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, I picked this up as soon as I saw the subtitle. The book is told in free verse — but don’t be thrown if you are not a poetry lover – from Mary’s perspective about her young life from age 14 through her early 20’s, during which she ran away with the charismatic poet Percy Bysse Shelley to travel Europe with his coterie of fellow intellectuals and artists, and she wrote Frankenstein, before she was even 20 years old .
I fear this book won’t be very popular for those not inclined to pick up historical fiction, poetry, or the gothic classic, Frankenstein, but it is full of romance, scandal, and adventure in a format that doesn’t keep you waiting. The brief but dense poetic format offers one scandalous tidbit after another, and the title of each of the poems/entries make it easy to flip back to earlier moments in the story or character introductions. I would almost call this a celebrity gossip special, 19th century style, if it also weren’t so beautifully written, and didn’t so carefully explore Mary’s joys and struggles as a young woman who is intellectually voracious, determined to write, and in love with an inspiring yet unstable man (did someone say “bad boy?”)
I think young women will be able to relate to Mary’s growth as a young woman, as a writer, and in her relationships with others and the world; her strength and frequent acts of informed fearlessness also make her a character to admire. Hemphill’s choice to write this book about Mary’s formative years as a writer has offered the additional benefit of making her relatable by exploring the often raw and complicated formative years of young adulthood, and the strength and genius that is possible from them.
Although this book seems limited to the historical fiction and YA genres, it has much wider appeal characteristics. Teens who gravitate toward gothic and/or historical drama will find this an interesting and fast read, as will anyone who enjoys celebrity drama and scandal without a lot of excess prose. This also offers appeal to both teens and adults that appreciate YA realistic fiction about the struggles and revelations of young adulthood. Young women will also admire Mary’s self-determination, even though Mary’s love affair with Shelley may be questioned by today’s higher standards for the marital and gender equality in relationships. Adult fans of Philippa Gregory and 19th century English literature will enjoy this, as well as literature buffs who may enjoy the insight that this biographical fiction may offer into readings of Mary’s written work (I couldn’t help but constantly compare the monster/creator relationship in Frankenstein to the strained relationship between Mary and her adored yet rejecting father).
This book was interesting, packed with drama, and nicely written. I will share that there is a character list at the end of the book that may be helpful as one needs refreshing about the large cast of characters that populate the story. Enjoy this on a rainy day.
Check the WRL catalog for Hideous Love.
Every year, parents of students at suburban Australia’s Pirriwee Public School look forward to Trivia Night. The combination costume party and trivia competition is a major fundraiser and the highlight of the school’s active social scene. The competition’s theme pays homage to Elvis Presley and Audrey Hepburn; however, Trivia Night will be anything but routine this year. A late caterer, unusually potent cocktails, a rain storm, and simmering tensions among parents result in a riot and an accidental death that might really be a murder. What events could plunge an ordinary parents’ night into chaos? Liane Moriarty explores this question in her latest novel, Big Little Lies.
Everything begins rather innocently when Madeline Martha Mackenzie meets Jane Chapman, a young single mother and newcomer to Pirriwee. Both women have children starting kindergarten: Madeline’s daughter Chloe and Jane’s son Ziggy. They spend the afternoon together, and Madeline introduces Jane to Tom, the proprietor of a café called Blue Blues, and Celeste White, mother of twin sons named Max and Josh. The women bond over coffee then spend the morning at their children’s kindergarten orientation.
At first, the orientation is routine; the parents socialize while the children meet their teachers and classmates. Towards the end of the orientation, an event occurs that divides the parents and teachers, and puts Ziggy and Jane in the middle of a controversy. Amabella, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful woman named Renata Klein, accuses Ziggy of bullying her during the orientation. Ziggy denies Amabella’s accusation, and Jane and her new friends believe him, although Renata and her supporters start a petition to get Ziggy suspended from the school.
Although Jane supports her son, a secret about his father causes her to question what she knows about her son and the incident. She is not the only one with an emotionally fraught personal life.
Madeline enjoys a comfortable life with her second husband, Ed; their children, Chloe and Fred; and her teenage daughter, Abigail. However, her former husband, Nathan, has moved to Pirriwee with his new wife, Bonnie, and their daughter, Skye, who is in the same class as Chloe. Not only does Madeline have to face Nathan and his new family at school functions, but Abigail has formed a close bond with Bonnie that threatens Abigail’s relationship with Madeline.
To the casual observer, Celeste’s life with her husband, Perry, and the twins is perfect in every way; however, a dark truth lies at the heart of this seemingly charmed family.
As the school year goes on, Madeline, Jane, and Celeste balance their complicated family lives with school projects, gossip, and rivalries. The parents of Pirriwee Public School are taking sides and forming alliances, setting the stage for a fundraiser that ends in disaster.
Big Little Lies starts out as a light and frothy read about mothers navigating the tricky social dynamics at their children’s school, but it turns into a provocative exploration of the effects of bullying and domestic violence. Moriarty makes it known early in the novel that a death will occur at Trivia Night, and the clues she plants along the way heighten the effect of the events at the fundraiser.
The story primarily centers on Jane, Madeline, and Celeste and their families; however, an entertaining – but frequently unreliable – Greek chorus of fellow parents and investigators provide additional depth and context to the story.
With a large cast of characters and a nuanced narrative, Big Little Lies is a fast-paced novel that’s a quirky mix of Desperate Housewives and David Lynch’s seminal show Twin Peaks.
Check the WRL catalog for Big Little Lies
His journey begins with a trip to his local library to return two books: How to Build a Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd. He tells the librarian that he’s also looking for some books, and she directs him to Room 107, located in the library’s basement. When he reaches Room 107, he encounters a cantankerous old man sitting behind a desk. He impulsively tells the older man that he’s looking for books on tax collection in the Ottoman Empire, and he’s presented with three books: The Ottoman Tax System, The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector, and Tax Revolts and their Suppression in the Ottoman-Turkish Empire.
The boy plans to check out the books and leave the library as quickly as possible; however, he’s told that the books can only be read in the library. He’s travels down another corridor, where he meets a man wearing what appears to be sheepskin. The sheep man takes the boy to the Reading Room and the boy gets another surprise: the Reading Room is a jail cell. The old man locks him in the cell and tells him that he must spend the next month memorizing the content of the books. At the end of the month, the man will question him about the books. If the man decides that the boy has mastered the content, he will set him free.
Later that evening, the boy receives another mysterious visitor: a mute girl who brings him a gourmet dinner. Communicating through hand gestures, the girl tells him that her vocal chords were destroyed. After she leaves, he finishes the dinner and starts reading The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector.
The Strange Library has many elements familiar to readers of Murakami’s work: quirky characters, surreal settings, and sense of melancholy or impending loss. Murakami’s characters in this novel are nameless except for the ones mentioned in The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector. This approach is very effective; the boy is an ordinary boy whose seemingly routine trip to the local city library takes an unusual and ominous turn.
The lavish color illustrations highlight the surreal nature of the narrative, and the repetitive images, including birds, eyes, and insects, reinforce the unusual nature of the boy’s journey and the people he encounters along the way.
Haunting and poignant, The Strange Library is a quick read compared to many of Murakami’s works, but the engaging prose and fantastic illustrations may inspire readers to make return trips to Room 107.
Check the WRL catalog for The Strange Library