Archive for the ‘Circulation Services's Picks’ Category

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.


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

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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wonder womanShe’s one of the most memorable and enduring superheroes: an Amazon from Paradise Island sent to America to promote liberty and freedom while fighting suffering and injustice. She’s Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) and since her debut in 1941, her adventures have been chronicled in comic books, a daily newspaper strip, and a popular television series starring Lynda Carter. Wonder Woman’s adventures may be legendary, but the story behind her development is as incredible as any superhero story.

Wonder Woman was created by a man named William Moulton Marston, a polymath, psychologist, and huckster heavily influenced by suffragists and early feminists. The story of William Marston and Wonder Woman is a fascinating tale involving feminism, psychology, the advent of comic book superheroes, unconventional relationships, and family secrets. Historian Jill Lepore explores the complicated life of William Marston and the development of Wonder Woman in her entertaining and provocative new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

Lepore’s narrative is divided into four main sections: Veritas, which recounts the early lives and education of Marston and his childhood sweetheart (and later wife), Sadie Elizabeth Holloway; Family Circle, an exploration of Marston’s family life, including his polyamorous relationships with Holloway and a former student named Olive Byrne; Paradise Island, an examination of the development and success of Wonder Woman; and Great Hera! I’m Back, a discussion of Wonder Woman’s influence and legacy. This structure allows Lepore to unpack the nuances of Marston’s life, work, and relationships and how they relate to Wonder Woman in an engaging and accessible manner.

William Moulton Marston was born in 1893 in Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University, where he became interested in the movement for women’s suffrage. He was particularly fascinated by the British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst who, in 1911, was scheduled to speak at Harvard, but was later barred from speaking on campus.

Marston studied Philosophy and Psychology and was especially interested in determining whether or not deception could be detected by measuring systolic blood pressure. His research was instrumental in the development of early lie detector tests, and Marston testified as an expert witness in lie detection in several court cases.

After graduating from Harvard, Marston married Sadie Holloway, a Mount Holyoke graduate, and the couple stayed in Massachusetts to attend law school. They also pursued advanced degrees in Psychology.

While Holloway found work in New York as managing editor of Child Study: A Journal of Parent Education, Marston pursued a career in academia at Tufts University. At Tufts, he met Olive Byrne, niece of ardent feminist and birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Byrne became Marston’s research assistant and eventually moved in with Marston and Holloway.

Marston, Holloway and Byrne formed an unconventional family unit. Marston had a son and daughter with Holloway and two sons with Byrne, but they kept the true nature of Marston’s relationship with Byrne a closely guarded secret from everyone, including their sons. Byrne invented a husband named William K. Richard who died after a long illness, and wrote feature articles for Family Circle magazine using the name “Olive Richard.” In these articles, she discussed pressing issues of the day with prominent psychologist William Marston.

Over the years, Marston’s academic career fizzled, but he never stopped trying to promote his expertise in psychology and lie detection. He offered his services in the case of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son; he also appeared in an advertisement for Gillette razor blades. His efforts met with limited success until he was hired by Maxwell Charles “Charlie” Gaines, the publisher of Superman, to work as a consulting psychologist. At the time, critics were concerned about the level of violence in comic books, and Marston had a solution: create a female superhero that possessed “all the strength of Superman plus the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Gaines was intrigued and Wonder Woman made her debut in the fall of 1941.

For several years, Wonder Woman was a major, if occasionally controversial, success. Working with artist Henry George Peter, a fellow supporter of women’s suffrage, Marston brought his vision of Wonder Woman as a “Progressive Era feminist” to comic books and a short-lived daily comic strip. She was not without her critics, who expressed concern about her costume and the pervasive use of chains and other forms of bondage. In response, Marston told his publisher that the motivation behind the imagery was to draw the “distinction between in the minds of children and adults between love bonds and the male bonds of cruelty and destruction.”

Despite the controversy, Marston’s vision remained largely intact until his death in 1947. Wonder Woman’s adventures continued, but subsequent writers and artists produced iterations of Wonder Woman that barely resembled the concept Marston had in mind when he originally created her.

Lepore’s background on Marston, Holloway, and Byrne is lengthy, but it effectively provides the social and cultural context for the development of Wonder Woman. She covers a lot of ground in these chapters and her lively writing style keeps the narrative moving at a brisk and enjoyable pace. The chapters on Wonder Woman and her legacy are similarly well-researched and include footnotes, a comics index, and extensive illustrations showing the evolution of Wonder Woman over the years.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a satisfying look at the making of a superhero, and the social and political changes that shaped her development.

Check the WRL catalog for The Secret History of Wonder Woman

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bloodyToday’s post is written by Gemma.

Horror. It’s bloody and unpleasant, the reader’s absolute revulsion at what they’re witnessing brings horror into its most satisfying perception. However, what Joey Comeau does so well, and what he does best in his novella, One Bloody Thing After Another, is that he brings the terror of horror around on its head. Sure, there’s plenty of blood and sure, there’s even a monster to terrify us between the pages, but it’s not those fears that cause sickly dread in this book. Comeau has the uncanny ability to cause our hearts to scream from within and our heads to spin all around, and only by revealing the terrifying things found within ourselves.

Comeau twists his tale around the individual lives of three people, each dealing with their own monsters — both real and imagined (or maybe they’re really the same) — and intertwining them until they can’t escape. Jackie is still grieving over the death of her mother long before, while simultaneously managing to navigate her teenage years; Ann is experiencing difficulties at home and is trying her best to ensure her world doesn’t all fall apart around her; and Charlie and his dumb dog Mitchie just want to live in peace.

Even with Comeau’s knack for horror, the author manages to maintain a note of hope. Despite everything terrifying that befalls everyone, there’s inevitably the feeling that everything will be all right in the end.

Check the WRL catalog for One Bloody Thing After Another

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