Archive for the ‘Rebekah’s Picks’ Category

I’m not sure if I’ve just become overly aware of the titles recently published about France, or if we’re really being invaded, but French culture has been very popular lately. I just finished two titles, Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman and French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, and one of my colleagues blogged about Paris in Love back in April. I’ve also started rereading French Women Don’t Get Fat; I thought I might be able to appreciate the book a little more the second time around, now that I have a better understanding of French culture.

I really enjoyed both Bringing up Bébé and French Kids Eat Everything, even though I don’t have children.  You might wonder why I would read either of these books, since they focus on child rearing and children’s eating habits, but both were well written and engaging reads. Bringing up Bébé was also well researched; Druckerman cites many French journals and books about their parenting philosophies. Although both books focus on children,  they also lay a foundation for an understanding of French culture in general, which I found fascinating. For instance, I never realized how important food and cooking are to the French. In France, cooking and eating together as a family are customary. Meals are several courses and often take a couple of hours. Children are expected not only to eat the same foods as adults do, but to sit at the table quietly and patiently during most of the meal. At school, these cultural norms are also reinforced during lunch. Trained chefs plan and prepare the weekly meals for students. Here is a sample menu for one day at the primary schools in Toulouse:

Radishes with butter
Fish filet, sauce meunière (a buttery, creamy sauce)
Carrot puree
Dairy: Organic bulgur yogurt (plain)
Dessert: Cooked prunes

Even if you don’t have children of your own, or yours are grown, these books can still be enlightening and eye opening. It was especially interesting to read the perspectives of the authors, who are American and Canadian, adjusting to their new lives in France.

Search the WRL catalog for Bringing up Bébé and French Kids Eat Everything.


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Downton Abbey is one of the most popular British television series at our library right now.  With a long waiting list on the first season and the wait building on the second, I thought I would offer a few alternatives.  Here are four titles sure to please, while you are waiting….

Berkeley Square:  This series is set in the early 1900’s in  Berkeley Square, a wealthy neighborhood in the west end of London.  The story focuses on three nannies who meet in the adjacent park and become friends.  The nannies come from very different backgrounds and circumstances. Their personal issues begin to encroach on their work lives, putting each woman in compromising situations. While the storylines of this series mostly revolve around the help and their relationships, the following recommendations tend to focus more on the wealthy family members.

The Forsyte Saga (2002):  Based on the novel by John Galsworthy, the Forsyte Saga series was originally produced in 1967.  This updated adaptation is a much shorter, abridged version of the story.  This saga follows several generations of the wealthy Forsyte family through many difficulties: unhappy marriages, infidelity, and disownment.  Although the saga is dark at times, eventually, many of the family members find some happiness after years of strife.  This series is issued in two parts.

Gosford Park:  This feature film is an American production, written by British screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who later created the series Downton Abbey.  It’s a  murder mystery is set in the English country manor, Gosford Park. Several family members and friends are invited for a shooting party; each brings their own servants for their stay at the manor. As the story unfolds, we begin to learn the secrets of many of the characters. This sets the stage for multiple suspects, from upstairs and down. The film will keep you guessing right to the end, but eventually, the murderer and motive are revealed for a surprising conclusion.

The Grand:  This series begins on New Year’s Eve, 1919.  The Grand hotel has recently reopened after expensive renovations, which sets the stage for financial trouble from the outset. This is quickly resolved through a partnership between the Bannerman brothers, who have very different ideas and intentions.  While the Bannermans have their own issues to contend with, the guests’ and staff’s lives also bring intrigue and drama to the hotel. This series is issued in two parts.

Search the WRL catalog for Berkeley Square, The Forsyte Saga, The Forsyte Saga: Series 2, Gosford Park, The Grand, and The Grand: Series 2.


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You may be familiar with Gladwell’s previous books, The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers; all on the best sellers lists.  What the Dog Saw is a collection of his articles from The New Yorker magazine over the past decade. The articles are not overly long, generally 20 pages or so, which is nice if you’re looking for quick reading.  Gladwell has arranged the articles in categories, but they do not need to be read in any order; each one stands on its own merit.

What I enjoy about Gladwell is that he can take a subject, perhaps something that you have never really thought about, like ketchup or hair color, and draw you in. He reveals the history and background of a subject to give you a glimpse of the story behind it. His tone is conversational; you feel as though you’re reading a fictional story, but these articles are actually well-researched works of non-fiction. Some of the articles may have been more apropos when they were first published, but most of them are timeless works that will appeal to anyone.

I read the ebook version of this title, which you can download hereWe also have the print version, which you can find in our catalog.


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“I want someone, anyone, to look at my secrets and feel something.”

I found this book on the library’s mending shelves with a broken spine. As I flipped through, I began reading the thoughts, dreams, heartbreaks, sadness, and desires of strangers who felt compelled to share their secrets with the world. If you aren’t familiar with PostSecret books, they are the brainchild of Frank Warren. In November 2004, as a community art project, Warren printed 3,000 postcards and distributed them in subway stations, art galleries, and in library books. The postcards asked people to create cards of their own, sharing a secret that they had never revealed before to anyone. From millions of contributions, Warren has compiled five books and hosted art exhibits and campus events.

What is so extraordinary about PostSecret books? Open one and you will see. Each page is filled with pieces of art that will elicit some emotion. You will identify with some, feel true sorrow at the pain expressed by others, and laugh at the sheer honesty of people’s secrets:

“I’m too lazy to close the blinds when I pee and my apartment is on the ground floor.”

I encourage you to check out one of Warren’s books.  I was especially affected by this one, but I am sure the other titles also hold a treasure trove of emotional candor.

Check the WRL catalog for A Lifetime of Secrets.


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Just a regular guy, raised in the American Midwest, Kelsey Timmerman journeys through four countries to discover where his favorite pieces of clothing were manufactured. His first venture is into Honduras to find the factory where his t-shirt was made.  Unfortunately, the trip is fruitless. Without any contacts, he is obviously denied access to the factory, but he briefly speaks with one of the workers after hours.  Although deemed a failure, this trip plants a seed to pursue further travels into Bangladesh, Cambodia, China and, finally, an American factory.

Timmerman is more successful during these other trips.  In Bangladesh, he goes undercover as a buyer to gain access to a factory.  Although it’s not the exact one that manufactured his boxers, he is able to observe the workers and the conditions in which they work. Cambodia is the home where his Levi’s jeans have been sewn.  He finds that with regulation, Cambodian factories are well run and there are few instances of child labor. In China, he is unable to tour a factory, but he speaks with a couple who make flip-flops similar to his own.  On the surface, it seems Chinese workers may have better conditions, with the highest pay of the countries he visits. But Timmerman soon finds that garment workers are often forced to work many hours of overtime without pay, and many of the regulations in place to protect them are not enforced.

Although Timmerman touches on the economics of the garment industry, his main focus is on the people and their difficult lives. A common thread among each of these workers is family.  Many of them leave small villages to work in the city and send money home to support their parents, siblings, and often their own children. With little opportunity back home, the small wages of manufacturing jobs bring some stability and hope for survival. Thought provoking and revealing, Where Am I Wearing? is a human interest story that gives us a glimpse of not only how our clothing is made, but also who makes it.

Check the WRL catalog for Where Am I Wearing?


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This debut is set in upstate New York.  The main character, Dave Gurney, is a former homicide detective with the NYPD.  He and his wife have moved to a remote property in a small town.  Although Gurney has been retired for a year, it has been challenging to disengage from his former life.  To make the process even more difficult, he has just been contacted by former college friend, Mark Mellery, whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to for twenty-five years.  Mark needs help with an unusual case, which must be handled with discretion and cannot involve the police.  Eventually the police do become involved when Mark is murdered.  Gurney becomes entangled in the investigation and is hired as a consultant to solve not only this homicide, but several others that are found to be connected.

Think of a Number is a compelling mystery; I really had a hard time putting it down.  Surprisingly, it is written by a former advertising executive.  I expected John Verdon was a former investigator or at least had some background in criminal justice.  His characters are very believable and the clues are quite puzzling.  For instance, how does the killer know what number his victim is thinking of, before he even thinks it?  Evidence at the crime scenes is also confusing and keeps not only the characters guessing, but the reader guessing as well.  Verdon reveals very little additional information to the reader, which makes the story that much more intriguing.  I didn’t suspect who was behind the crimes until nearly the end of the book.

Check the WRL catalog for Think of a Number.


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Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors.  He is known for psychological thrillers and as a master of suspense classics such as Psycho, Rear Window, and The BirdsThe Trouble with Harry is a lesser-known work and one of Hitchcock’s few comedies.  The film starred Edmund Gwenn and John Forsythe (early in his career).  It was also the debut for two other well known actors—Shirley MacLaine and a very young Jerry Mathers (who later played Beaver in Leave it to Beaver).

The opening scenes of the film show a quaint, picturesque New England town during early autumn.  A small boy traipses through the woods and up a hill as three gun shots are heard in the distance.  He continues to a clearing where he sees a man lying on the ground with blood on his forehead.  The boy runs away, presumably to find help.  Next we see an older gentleman, Captain Wiles, who fired the three shots while  rabbit hunting.  Captain Wiles finds a tin can and a sign that he hit with the first two shots, but no rabbit.  As he climbs a small hill he sees a body lying in the clearing.  Wiles believes he has found where the third bullet ended.

As Wiles tries to hide the body, several people happen to come by in this remote, woodsy area.  The little boy returns with his mother, who recognizes the man and seems content to see him gone.  A hobo wanders through and takes the dead man’s shoes.  A local man, distracted by the book he is reading, trips over the body without notice.  An older woman, who knows Captain Wiles, sees him moving the body, but promises not to divulge his secret.  Eventually, Harry, the dead man, is buried.  But a turn of events, a sort of comedy of errors, causes Harry to be dug up and buried, and then dug up and buried again, and finally exhumed for a third time.  I won’t reveal any more, but there are several very complicated reasons why Harry’s body just can’t stay underground.

The Trouble with Harry is definitely not Hitchcock’s usual fare, but you can still feel his directorial presence.  The dialogue, although somewhat stilted, subtly reveals each character’s quirks.  The pacing and mood of the scenes are very deliberate.  Although the film isn’t laugh-out -loud funny, there is a very wry, dark humor just beneath the surface.

If you have never watched a Hitchcock film, I wouldn’t recommend this as the place to start, but for those who appreciate his work, you will find The Trouble with Harry a welcome diversion.

Check the WRL catalog for The Trouble with Harry

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Freaks and Geeks was a short-lived television series that ran on NBC from 1999-2000, with a mere 18 episodes.  The show introduced viewers to the Weirs, a typical American family—mom stays at home to raise the two kids, and dad owns a local sporting goods store.  The kids, Lindsay and Sam, are both teenagers attending the same high school.  Sam is a freshman.  He and his friends, Neal and Bill, are the geeks of the show.  Lindsay, a former geek, has just started transitioning to the freak group, becoming friendly with Daniel, Kim, Nick and Ken.

Part comedy and part drama, Freaks and Geeks portrays your typical high school experiences:  Sam is in love with cheerleader Cindy Sanders, who is dating a football player.  Lindsay is interested in Daniel, who’s dating Kim, while Nick finds Lindsay attractive.  Neal, Bill, and Sam are all targets of bullying on a regular basis.  Lindsay and Sam are chronically embarrassed by their “square” parents.  Lindsay’s former geeky BFF, Millie, doesn’t understand why Lindsay has changed and still hangs around trying to resuscitate their friendship, while Lindsay is desperately trying to change her image and fit in with the freaks.  Although the teenage drama sounds cheesy, the show doesn’t portray it that way.  These are “coming of age” storylines with which anyone can identify.

The show’s backdrop of late 1970s culture—the clothes, cars, and music—will send Gen Xers on a trip down memory lane.  One of my favorite episodes, “Tricks and Treats,” has Bill dressed as the Bionic Woman for Halloween.  In the last episode, Nick is found dancing in a disco competition, which earns him endless teasing by the other freaks.

It’s unfortunate that NBC canceled the series after one season.  The show was never able to fully develop the storylines it introduced and viewers were merely given a glimpse into the characters’ lives.  Nevertheless, Freaks and Geeks deserves a chance in everyone’s DVD player.

Check the WRL catalog for Freaks and Geeks

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Here is one of the few works of fiction that I have read recently and thoroughly enjoyed.  I finished the book in less than a week, which is an accomplishment for someone who has several books sitting on a side table half read.  I get bored easily.  What drew me to this work was the title.  I have re-read Little Women multiple times since middle school, and was three quarters of the way through again, when I found this little gem.  Those who have read Little Women will find that The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott feels very familiar.  Both books are based on Louisa’s life experiences.  McNees conducted thorough research of Alcott’s life and studied texts about nineteenth-century New England living to create this realistic and believable work of historical fiction.

Louisa was the second of four daughters born to Bronson and Abba Alcott.  Bronson was a philosopher and friend of the well known Transcendentalist figures Emerson and Thoreau.  He spent much of his time reading and contemplating, rather than working to support his family.  The five women of the household became very resourceful—working and relying on handouts to survive.  During the summer of 1855, when Louisa was 22, the Alcott family moved into a relative’s home in Walpole, New Hampshire, because of their financial difficulties.

McNees notes that very little is known about the events of the family’s summer in Walpole, so she chose that period to create a secret love affair between Louisa and a fictitious male character.  This romance tests Alcott’s desire and determination to become a writer.  In real life, Louisa had no known lovers.  However, it is believed that after she became famous she may have burned many of her letters in order to protect her privacy.  It is plausible that if Louisa was involved with someone she would have destroyed any traces of it.

For those readers who enjoy the fairy tale ending, like myself, you will be disappointed.  Obviously, Louisa doesn’t end up with the love of her life.  On the other hand though, some might say that Louisa’s life as a famous writer was the real happily ever after.

Check the WRL catalog for The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott


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Although I do not read a lot of fiction, I’ve discovered the joys of reading narrative nonfiction.  That is to say, stories of true events that read like a work of fiction.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is just that type of book.  The author has taken factual information and crafted a compelling story that spans roughly 50 years in the lives of the Lacks family.  Although many people are probably not familiar with the name or this story, Henrietta Lacks, or rather her cells, contributed to research that has changed the course of medicine and science over the past 60 years.

Skloot first learned about Henrietta Lacks in 1988 in a community college biology class.  Her instructor mentioned the name and talked about Henrietta’s cells, which had been used in research to create drugs that treat various diseases: leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, Parkinson’s, and more.  The cells, known as HeLa, were collected from Henrietta in 1951 at Johns Hopkins, where she was being treated for cervical cancer.  These cancerous HeLa cells were the first to successfully grow in a Petri dish.  They reproduced rapidly, creating a new generation every 24 hours, which made them ideal for scientific study.

This introduction piqued Skloot’s interest in the woman behind the cells.  At the time, she was unable to find much information at all about Henrietta Lacks.  But years later, Skloot began research of her own, digging through any articles she could find, contacting the Lacks family, conducting interviews of Henrietta’s closest friends and relatives, and gaining access to her medical records.  The decade-long journey culminates in this story, recreating Henrietta’s childhood and life as a young woman in Clover, Virginia to her final days of treatment and death at Johns Hopkins.  Skloot carries the story beyond Henrietta’s death to the lives of her children and their lack of knowledge about their own mother and what happened to her cells.  During the process, the author befriends Henrietta’s family and also becomes part of the story.

Skloot writes without bias, especially about the controversial and ethical issues surrounding the use of HeLa cells.  She has thoroughly researched her subject and, without passing judgment, presents all sides of her story.  Anyone with an interest in biology, genetics, or medicine, or who may have some knowledge about HeLa, will find this book fascinating.  For readers of historical fiction or family sagas, this nonfiction work may also prove enjoyable and enlightening.  I would definitely recommend the title for book groups, as there is much to be discussed.

Check the WRL catalog for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


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I have read a lot of books about personal finance over the past few years.  It’s a topic I felt I needed to learn more about, but I did this before the recent economic downturn. Last year I reviewed Ali Velshi’s book, Gimme My Money Back, which was written to address the causes of our financial collapse and as a basic primer for personal financial management.  I Will Teach You to be Rich also covers the basics, but it is written for twenty- to thirty-somethings. It focuses on streamlining your finances using online tools, and maximizing your returns by choosing the best online banks, credit cards and low-cost investment vehicles.  At the end of each chapter, the author lays out action steps that should take six weeks to follow. I think these are especially beneficial for young adults.  Having a manageable plan makes it more likely that you can accomplish your goals.  The last chapter focuses on major milestones like weddings, purchasing a home or car, and repaying student loans.  I was surprised by some of the things that Sethi reveals, such as that the average wedding costs $28,000 or that buying a home rather than renting may not be the best choice.

I particularly like Sethi’s writing style.  It’s no-nonsense and easy to understand.  He uses examples of his own money strategies, as well as his friends’ choices, to illustrate money-management principles.  I also like his fresh perspective.  There are many books that talk about budgeting, which Sethi says doesn’t work.  He suggests keeping necessary expenses at about 50%, investing 10% of your income, saving about 10% of your income, and the rest is fun money.  Most budgets suggest only allocating 10% to “fun,” but Sethi is recommending up to 30%.  He practices the “set it and forget it” approach; automatically invest and save your money, have bills paid automatically, and enjoy the rest.  It’s a more hands-off approach to money management, but also more practical for a younger generation.

Overall, I think this is one of the best personal finance books for the novice that I’ve read.  The only quibble I have is with the name, which is slightly misleading. This is not a “get rich quick” plan or scheme.  This book provides solid advice for properly managing your money.

Check the WRL catalog for I Will Teach You to be Rich


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I have always had a great affection for Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels and stories. There is something about the setting, in between the two world wars, that I find fascinating. The characters are equally appealing, and the development of Wimsey over the course of the stories is very well done. But the growth of Wimsey from dilettante nobleman dabbling in detection to a fully-rounded character would not have been possible without Sayers’s introduction into the series of Harriet Vane, whom Wimsey clears from a charge of murder and, after a protracted and painful courtship, eventually marries. Miss Vane is a thoughtful and independent young woman who refuses to fit easily into the social role that she is expected to play. It is the deepening relationship between Wimsey and Vane that gives the later stories in the series their strength.

In Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, we are introduced to another independent and strong-willed young woman, who also seems to be immune to the restraints that society would place on her. Greenwood shares a chronological setting with Sayers, those years after the Great War. However, rather than set her stories in the manor houses of England, Greenwood takes her heroine to Australia. In Cocaine Blues, the first in the series, Phryne (rhymes with “briny”) is a well-to-do young woman living in England. She is increasingly bored with the round of parties and balls and the expectations on a young socialite. So, when the daughter of a family friend seems to be mysteriously ill, Phryne agrees to head to the colonies to investigate. Phryne uncovers cocaine smuggling and corruption and she has some fairly steamy encounters (something that is more understated in Dorothy Sayers). She finds life in Melbourne amenable and decides to settle there, taking up detection as her work.

Phryne blends many of the characteristics of Peter Wimsey (rich, handsome, witty, good with people) and Harriet Vane (smart, liberated, independent, and compassionate), and Sayers fans will find much to enjoy in these stories. There is a fascinating cast of secondary characters, including Phryne’s household staff, her Chinese lover, her police friends, and her cab-driving aides-de-camp, Bert and Cec. The mysteries are intriguing, and Greenwood writes equally well about the lives of the rich and the poor in 1920s Melbourne. The series is best read in order.

Check the WRL catalog for Cocaine Blues


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bodyFor some reason, which I cannot now recall, I was speaking with one of my colleagues about people who clean up crime scenes. Sadly, this has become a business–cleaning up people’s murders and suicides. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned a fiction series called Body Movers, which I decided to try. The first book, also entitled Body Movers, isn’t nearly as morbid as the title sounds. Although one of the main characters takes a job as a body mover (yes, he helps move dead bodies to the morgue), the book is actually a fun, quick read.

The main character, Carlotta Wren, lives in Atlanta, works for an upscale department store, and is raising her younger brother Wes (now 19), by herself. Her father, who was charged with investment fraud, has fled the country with his wife, leaving Carlotta to pick up the pieces. Her parents have been on the lam for about 10 years, but the local police just won’t give up the search, even assigning a new detective to the case. Wes has a gambling problem, owing a lot of debt to loan sharks, which adds an unsavory element to the plot. Carlotta feels the need to help Wesley, to keep him out of trouble, but in the process becomes involved in a lot of drama and implicated in the murder of her ex-boyfriend’s wife. Add to the murder a love quadrangle, some off-beat friends, and body moving to the mix, and you have yourself a winning combination of romance, mystery, and suspense.

The follow-up, Body Movers: 2 Bodies for the Price of 1, is also equally fast paced, full of drama, and further evolves the love quadrangle.

Check the WRL catalog for Body Movers.

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neverOne of my colleagues brought this book to me, because she thought I might like it. The title alone piqued my interest, so I gave it a try. The author starts off by debunking a few myths about crime scene investigation. She explains that real CSIs don’t wear mini-skirts and heels to work and they don’t interrogate criminals back at the precinct. Real CSIs collect evidence from the scene of a crime, which could involve anything from a homicide to vandalism. Much of the work is conducted behind the scenes, in a lab, analyzing evidence.

If you’d like to learn more about the real work these people do, then this book is for you, but it is definitely not for the squeamish. Kollmann’s stories can be quite graphic and they all have an element of truth (people’s names and some of the cases have been changed slightly to protect the innocent, and guilty I suspect). The author writes about some of her more interesting cases, including the one that is the premise of the title. Yes, she did get a dead man’s hand stuck in her mouth (ewww, gross!). She was also hit by flying body parts, almost attacked by a firefighter’s drunken wife, held hostage by a dingo on top of a washing machine, and saw many dead bodies in compromising positions. No topic is too taboo for this author.

Check the WRL catalog for Never Suck a Dead Man’s Hand.

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sixThis television series aired on HBO 2001-2005. It’s probably one of my all-time favorites. I own all five seasons on DVD. The premise of the show is dark and morbid. The Fisher family owns and operates a mortuary out of their home. In the very first episode, the father is killed and leaves the business to his sons, Nate and David. Nate lives in Seattle and wants no part of the funeral home. David, the dutiful son, has been working beside his father for years, but really wanted to become a lawyer. Although neither son shows a genuine interest in the business, they continue operating for the sake of their family. From the pilot episode, we begin to learn about the lives and secrets of each member of the Fisher household. And as their lives unfold, we begin to see just how dysfunctional this family is.

I should place a disclaimer here. The series obviously revolves around death; it is a funeral home after all. At the beginning of each episode someone dies. The death scenes are not overly graphic, but overall the show is intended for a “mature” audience. There are sex scenes, foul language, and occasional drug use, which is not unexpected from an HBO series. This show is not for the weak or faint of heart.

With that out of the way, I need to extol this show’s depth and complexity. The writing feels realistic and gritty. The characters and plot lines are multi-layered; nothing is ever easy and shouldn’t be taken at face value. There is always more to the story. The acting is superb. I don’t think they could have found actors more suited to their roles. While this series would definitely be classified as a drama, there is usually some humor, albeit dark, woven through an episode.

The creator and producer, Alan Ball, has started a new series with HBO titled True Blood, which is based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, about vampires. I haven’t had the fortune to see it yet, but the first season has just been released on DVD. I imagine that True Blood will be every bit as satisfying as Six Feet Under was.

Check the WRL catalog for Six Feet Under.

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officeApparently, I’ve been hiding under a rock for the past five years, because I completely missed this uproarious series on NBC, which finished airing its fifth season in the spring. Admittedly, I was aware of the show. I heard a few mentions about it, but no one extolling its virtues at length. I knew that it was a rip-off of a British comedy by the same name, which is what I think prevented me from even giving it thirty minutes of my time. I learned my lesson after watching an episode of Coupling, which was a dismal failure in the States. (I have since watched a few episodes of the British version of Coupling, which is actually quite funny. What happened with the American version, I can’t explain, but it was worse than abysmal).

So five seasons in, I finally decided to watch a random episode on NBC thanks to streaming video. It was funny, so I watched a few more, and I was hooked. I decided to start from the beginning, because that’s really the best way to watch a television series, to see how the characters and plots evolve. Some shows require it, like Lost or 24, while others have little continuity between episode storylines. I would recommend watching The Office in order, starting with season one. The episodes do build on one another and you learn the quirks and habits of the individual characters that explain a lot about what I saw in the few episodes I tried in the middle of season five.

While all of the episodes are extremely funny, there were two that had me in tears—Season 2, episode 12 titled “The Injury” and Season 5, episodes 14/15 called “Stress Relief.” In “The Injury,” Michael Scott, the boss of the office, cooks his foot on a George Foreman grill. In “Stress Relief,” the office learns CPR where one of the employees, Dwight, cuts the face off the dummy and wears it as a mask (Hannibal Lecter style). I’m sure these two descriptions give you an idea about the type of humor they’re writing here. Sometimes it’s a bit twisted or even a bit outrageous, and that might not be for everyone. But I think a lot of people will really identify with the core premise of the show, which is the dynamics of individuals working in an office—the friendships, romantic relationships, pranks, disagreements, and impolitic comments or actions that we all encounter in our work settings. Aren’t there days when you think, “I feel like I’m living in a television show?”

Definitely give this series a try if you haven’t yet. WRL owns seasons one and two on DVD.

Check the WRL catalog for The Office.

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prideI am currently listening to the audio version of this book, but I want to recommend the film produced by BBC Television in association with A&E Network. I have probably watched this film a half dozen times; admittedly, I can recite lines along with the cast. Until recently, I had never read the book, but enjoyed the story immensely. Now that I’m listening to the original work, I realize just how faithful BBC was with this production. Much of the dialog is verbatim from the book. The sets capture the time period so accurately. The homes, furniture, and costumes transport you to the 19th century English countryside. The actors do a wonderful job depicting the mannerisms and propriety of British society.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the central characters are the Bennet family—father, mother, and five daughters. Because there are no sons to inherit the estate, at least one of the Bennet daughters must marry well to provide for themselves and the rest of the family. The two eldest, Jane and Elizabeth, are both attractive and smart young ladies, which is more than can be said of their three younger sisters. Very early in the film, a wealthy young gentleman (Mr. Bingley), his even wealthier friend (Mr. Darcy), and his two sisters rent a nearby large estate for the summer. Mrs. Bennet is determined to ensure her family’s fortunes and insists her husband become acquainted with their new neighbor. The Bennet family finds Mr. Bingley amiable and very agreeable, while Mr. Darcy is snobbish and proud. The story continues with various encounters between the Bennet daughters and Bingley and Darcy. A few scandals occur, certain people show their true personalities, and the story ends with a satisfying, albeit predictable, conclusion.

After watching the BBC production numerous times, I was disappointed with the newer (2005) version, created as a two hour feature film. The BBC version is considerably longer at 310 minutes, but definitely worth the extra time.

Check the WRL catalog for Pride and Prejudice.

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wildparrotsTelegraph Hill, a neighborhood of San Francisco, became home to a flock of cherry-headed conure parrots. Generally parrots are found in much warmer climes, like the rainforests of South America. So it’s highly unusual to see these beautiful, colorful birds living in the wild of northern California. No one knows how the flock started, but many people in the city believe the original birds were domesticated pets that either escaped or were released by their owners.

The documentary introduces us to Mark Bittner, a resident of Telegraph Hill, who feeds, observes, and befriends the flock. He has named many of the birds, some of which live in his home. We meet Mingus, a bird that is strictly indoors with Bittner; Connor, who is actually a blue-crowned conure and the “black sheep” of the flock; Sophie and Picasso, who have paired off as parrots are apt to do. It’s interesting to learn more about this species and the parrots’ distinct personalities, as we watch the movie unfold. We also learn a little about Bittner, who seemed to wander aimlessly until he settled in Telegraph Hill to become a caretaker of a human and these feathered friends.

Sadly, not all of the birds are alive at the end, but director Judy Irving notes that the flock is still thriving in San Francisco and other parrots have been found even further north in NYC and Chicago.

You can learn more about the parrots of Telegraph Hill in Mark Bittner’s book by the same name.

Check the WRL catalog for The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

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