Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Bud here with a few mini reviews of some good non-fiction books.

Helter SkelterHelter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, by Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry

The fascinating story of Charlie Manson, his fanatically loyal hippie followers and the savage Tate-LaBianca murders is engrossingly recounted by the author Vince Bugliosi, who was directly involved as a prosecuting attorney in the case. Forty-one years after its original publication, it deservedly remains one of the best, and most popular, True Crime books of all time.

Sample sentence: “It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes down the canyon.”

Check the WRL catalog for Helter Skelter

 

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride, by Daniel James BrownIndifferent Stars Above

The story of the tragic Donner party expedition in 1846 is vividly recounted in this fine history book. Told primarily through the experience of one young woman, the narrative is grim and occasionally heartrending but also educational. You learn a lot about what everyday life was like for pioneers on the overland trail and, in particular, about the astonishing ability of people to endure great suffering and survive. A tragic tale eloquently and engrossingly re-told.

Sample sentence: “When she first looked into the survivors’ eyes, Eliza Gregson was startled by what she saw looking back at her, and she later marveled at it. ‘I shall never forget the looks of those people, for the most part of them was crazy and their eyes danced and sparkled in their heads like stars.’”

Check the WRL catalog for The Indifferent Stars Above

 

Empire of the Summer MoonEmpire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne

The lifestyle, battles with white settlers, and eventual decline of the Comanche Indians in late 19th century Southwest America are detailed in this extensively researched and elegiac history. In particular the lives of white Indian captive Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, last war Chief of the Comanche are poignantly recounted.   A remarkable story graphically brought to life by a skilled writer. A good choice for anyone who thinks history is boring.

Sample Line: “What was she (Cynthia Ann) in the end? A white woman by birth, yes, but also a relic of old Comancheria, of the fading empire of high grass and fat summer moons and buffalo herds that blackened the horizon.”

Check the WRL catalog for Empire of the Summer Moon

Or try Empire of the Summer Moon as an audiobook on CD

DeathWoreWhite

This is the first entry in a series featuring Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and his Detective Sergeant Bob Valentine in Norfolk, England. It’s a police procedural with a “locked-room” element to the main plot: A line of cars is stranded in a snowstorm on a desolate coastal road. When help arrives, the driver of the first vehicle in the convoy is discovered dead at his steering wheel, murdered seemingly under the noses of the other drivers stranded behind him. With no footprints in the snow, Shaw and his team are stumped as to means and opportunity. As to motive, however, the police begin to uncover some very convoluted relationships between the other drivers–supposedly all strangers to each other–in the convoy. Complicating matters are two other murders in the immediate vicinity, one corpse floating to shore on a toy raft and another found buried in the sand. Could all these deaths be related? You’d be surprised!

The plot was satisfyingly byzantine, and the atmosphere deliciously chilling and bleak. But what piqued my interest was the back story of DI Shaw and his relationship with Valentine. Valentine is an older man who fell from grace and was demoted as a result of implied corruption in the fall-out of a failed investigation years before. His partner had been DI Shaw’s father, since deceased. Shaw Jr. wants to know the truth about this unsolved case, which involved a murdered child, and his father’s true role in the investigation. Valentine would like his name cleared and his position back, but suffers from resentment of serving under the younger man. A mutual lack of trust complicates matters even further, but over the course of the story each man begins to develop a grudging respect for the other’s detective abilities. One can tell that this back story will continue to develop in future series entries, which will keep me reading.

Check the WRL catalog for Death Wore White

amazing mauriceNancy from Circulation Services concludes the week with this review:

Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents focuses on a group of rats led by a sly, conniving cat.. Oh, and let us not forget, the animals have gained the ability to speak to humans, think for themselves, reason, and gain a conscience. Pratchett allows his reader to contemplate the possibility of a society where animals, namely rodents, can not only live in peace and harmony with humans, but the two can help each other in the process.

In the town of Bad Blinitz Maurice the cat and his cohorts decide to pull their “Pied Piper” con. Little did they know that the town was fighting a food shortage thought to be brought on by the current rat population, and thus have hired rat catchers and deployed menacing traps throughout the city both above and below.

The fear of a plague from these rats caused scam artists of all kinds to attempt to capitalize on the growing fear of famine. Enter a small boy playing a magical rat pipe, who for a tidy sum would rid the town of rodents. Add in a know-it-all and somewhat bratty, young girl named Malicia, and the mayhem begins.

Pratchett’s sarcastic wit comes out in the actions and words of Maurice, the streetwise alley cat, while his fantasy and adventurous side is enjoyed through the antics of rat characters such as Hamnpork, Darktan, Dangerous Beans, and Sardines.

While reading this I found myself forgetting the main characters were simply animals for their wit, anxiety, emotional expressions, and snide comments fit many humans I know. Pratchett also adds an interesting aspect to the story in the form of quotes from another book introducing each chapter. The rats revere what is later discovered as a children’s book, “Mr. Bunnsy has an Adventure;” treating it as wisdom to live by.

Enjoy!

Check the WRL catalog for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

unstuffNathaniel from Circulation Services shares this review.

“Gentle reader; less-than-gentle reader; kind, clumsy, unfocused, slightly desperate reader… this book is for you.”

This isn’t the kind of book I usually read. It’s definitely not the kind of book I usually review. But my parents have told me (politely, but firmly) to get my boxes of stuff out of their garage, so I’ve found myself turning to books like Unstuff Your Life! in hopes they’ll help me out.

Surprisingly, they do! And of the ones I’ve read, Mellen’s book has stuck out for me in that it offered a lot of good-humored, practical advice, useful even for a twenty-something who lives in a small apartment.

Andrew Mellen is a professional organizer. He works with clients ranging from business owners to homemakers, and in his book he writes as though you, the reader, are one of his clients and he’s working through everything with you. His focus is on the psychological causes of clutter, and he makes a point of reiterating, “You are not your stuff.” He asks questions that prompt you to think about the way you think about your possessions. He reminds you that you can’t take it with you. He relates his conversations with other clients and shows how they worked through their mental stumbling blocks.

You might be thinking “Wait, I thought you said practical advice?” Well, he gives you that as well. The book is separated into specific areas to tackle – Kitchen, Paperwork, Mementos, and so on – and each section contains detailed instructions, checklists, and other information that you can use even if you don’t follow Mellen’s instructions to the letter. For instance: the cleaning tools you need before you start on a certain room, a checklist of things that might go in a car, and tips, like reminding you to sort stuff first and then buy storage, not the other way around.

The end goal is to get rid of clutter both in your space and your mind, so you can focus on you and your life. As Mellen says “I don’t think paying bills or filing papers or cleaning out the junk drawer is or should be that important. The messes that surround you are keeping you from what is important.”

If you have a garage full of boxes to deal with (or any clutter problem) and want some help with it, Unstuff Your Life! is a solid choice.

Check the WRL catalog for Unstuff Your Life!

perksNancy from Circulation Services provides today’s review of a favorite Young Adult book.

Charlie is not your average high school freshman, as you will read in this coming of age story. In a series of blatantly honest letters to an unknown recipient, Charlie lays out his deepest fears, joys, and struggles while trying to survive his freshman year and deal with his past and the events that shaped him into a wallflower. Don’t be discouraged by the seemingly serious topic, for this story also includes true to life goofy thoughts of teenagers, hair-brained schemes, love triangles, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show!” Read on!

Charlie starts his story with the quote,

So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

As the story progresses it is easy to understand why Charlie questions his emotions as his past is revealed through fragmented details that he intertwines into current events. Befriending a random group of friends, all of whom are a bit different themselves, Charlie begins to make peace with himself. As his gay friend, Patrick, explains, “You’re a wallflower …You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.” While this is an acceptable definition of Charlie’s personality, it also masks the fact that he remains an observer rather than a participant of many things. This is the part of Charlie that he wants to change, but how?

As he ventures out of his shell, Charlie finds solace in the books his English teacher gives him to read and report on, not as homework, but as a way to instill confidence in Charlie and to foster the thoughts that his opinion matters.

Two of the major themes of this story are identity and secrecy. Each of the main characters struggle with these and in the end find a way to cope with what they can’t change and begin to heal.

This is a quick read, but DO NOT SKIP THE EPILOGUE! It gives some closure for both Charlie and the reader. This book was made into a major motion picture in 2012 and quickly became a sort of cult film for some teenagers.

Check the WRL catalog for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

beforesunriseAlan from Circulation Services shares today’s review of a trilogy he enjoyed.

During a 19-year period Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke appeared in three movies together: Before Sunrise (1994), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013). It remains a unique project, because the second and third movies were never intended to be sequels of the first; rather each movie portrays the relationship between the protagonists in a discrete time-frame – less than 24 hours of a particular day that was important to their relationship. Even though the second and third movies may be considered stand-alones, it makes much more sense to view the three movies sequentially, because each builds upon its predecessor and gives the unfolding events of each plot line background, history, and context.

The story of Before Sunrise is very simple. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are students going home for the holidays who meet on a train; she is French, he is American. When they arrive in Vienna he convinces her to get off the train and explore the city with him before they continue their journeys home the next morning (hence the movie’s title). It becomes obvious that they are attracted to each other, and the movie ends with them agreeing to meet each other at the same train station six months later. Because there is this mutual attraction, you hope that they do meet again.

Fast forward ten years to Before Sunset. Ethan Hawke is in Paris promoting the book he has written about their now long-ago encounter. She attends his book talk, and they decide to spend the afternoon reconnecting before he has to catch his flight home. As the afternoon develops we learn that he is unhappily married with a young child, and she has been unable to sustain relationships. The first bloom of youth has left both of them, and they are both slightly damaged by life. When it is time to leave for the airport, he can’t pull himself away. The movie ends ambiguously – will he catch the next flight home or will they seize the second chance to live their lives together as they and the audience hope?

The third movie, Before Midnight, shows that they are together, unmarried (he is divorced), with two children of their own. Once again they spend the day and night discussing all the ups and downs of their relationship. And most of us who are enamored of these three intelligent movies and their two compelling protagonists are earnestly hoping for a fourth movie that will show us where they are and what they are like as their story continues to unfold.

Check the WRL catalog for Before Sunrise

Check the WRL catalog for Before Sunset

Check the WRL catalog for Before Midnight

The Normal Heart

The_Normal_HeartToday’s post is written by Nancy from Circulation Services.

Let me start by giving a warning – this drama is “R” rated for language, some nudity, and graphic content. Topics covered are AIDS, homosexuality, gay activists, and governmental politics.

In the midst of the heavy drama, based on an award winning play, lie beautiful love stories,  as well as anger, frustration, and feelings of helplessness. The struggles are real. This movie tells the story of the early days of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City and exposes the viewer to the sexual politics of the ’80s. A star-studded cast including Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers), Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), and Alfred Molina (Spiderman 2), take the viewer through an emotional rollercoaster showing the sometimes difficult to watch realities of life for those afflicted with AIDS and those who love and care for them.

Ned Weeks, a Jewish-American writer and gay activist helps to organize a group, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), focused on raising awareness about an unidentified disease killing off an oddly specific group of people: gay men largely in New York City.  Dr. Emma Brookner, a physician and survivor of polio, joins the fight against this little known illness, encouraging abstinence for gay men for their own safety, since it is unknown yet even how the disease is spread. Ned’s brother Ben, a lawyer, is asked to help fund the GMHC, ultimately exposing his apparent homophobia.

In the middle of the struggle Ned falls in love with Felix Turner, a New York Times writer. Throughout the film Ned’s overly explosive activism creates tension with the group. Enter the politics. Ned next looks to Mayor Ed Koch’s administration for aid in financing research about the epidemic that is quickly killing off hundreds of gay men, including some of Ned’s personal friends. The elected leader of the GMHC, Bruce Niles, who is the calmer, more politically correct, and closeted member of the group, tries to keep the peace with everyone using diplomacy instead of accusations and threats to “out” those in political positions. When the virus hits close to home for Ned the stakes are even higher, and so are the tensions and tempers.

As the story concludes with the actual statistics regarding the mortality rate from HIV/AIDS, the one solace to this intense drama is the knowledge that science has made great strides in the prevention and treatment of this disease; and society has also made some progress in acknowledging, if not accepting, that this disease is a global concern, not just someone else’s problem.

This powerful drama is directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Larry Kramer.  It left me thinking long after the movie ended.

Check the WRL catalog for The Normal Heart

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31,315 other followers

%d bloggers like this: