Have You Heard
… the once-famous female architect who suddenly goes missing? This forms the central mystery of Maria Semple’s delightful novel, Where’d You Go Bernadette, which I have to admit, I picked up only because the cover was so eye-catching and intriguing. Thankfully, this was a case of judging a book by its cover gone right.
The story focuses on Bernadette Fox, a once-renowned architect and a current agoraphobe who spends most of her time trying as hard as she can NOT to interact with society, even going so far as to hire a virtual personal assistant in India. However, we only learn about Bernadette through the other characters, mainly in the form of letters, emails, and other forms of correspondence which have been meticulously collected by Bernadette’s young, precocious daughter, Bee. When Bee receives her final perfect report card, she cashes in on her family’s promise to take her on a trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s agoraphobia kicks into full gear, and before the family can leave, she has disappeared without a trace.
The novel walks a fine line between absurdity and over-the-top silliness, yet rarely strays into unbelievable territory. And there is an overall feeling of optimism by novel’s end, a feeling that people are indeed capable of owning up to their mistakes and taking responsibility for them. It’s actually this idea that strays ever-so-slightly across the line into unbelievability at the end of the book, but by that point, I didn’t really care. It was a funny, joyous, absurd, slightly exasperating, but ultimately enjoyable experience, and I’m happy that the book lived up to its cover.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the greatest cat toy ever? Mr. Wuffles has lots of toys – mousies and balls and fish, toys with feathers and bells and string — but one day he finds the best toy ever! It’s metal, not quite round, with a ledge around the middle that’s perfect for carrying it. Mr. Wuffles loves this toy!
The aliens inside, however, are devastated by the damage one terrestrial cat has done to their spaceship. They need to get away from this monster and find a way to make repairs. It will take the help of some friendly ants and ladybugs for the visitors to manage to find supplies and escape the enthusiastic cat.
David Wiesner’s book is a wonderful science fiction story for the very young. It is almost wordless, but the illustrations are so well done and the characters are so expressive that words aren’t really needed. (Aliens and insects don’t speak English anyway.) Mr. Wuffles, in particular, is perfectly portrayed as a cat who has finally found a toy that is truly fun!
Reviewed by Fran (staff)
As usual, Mary Roach tackles the surprising, taboo, and slightly disgusting aspects of human life with surprising humor and undisguised glee. And having learned my lesson from reading Stiff, I made sure not to read this book while eating…the life of the human digestive system does not make for pleasant mealtime reading.
Among the topics covered are: the appeal of crunchy foods, why the stomach does not digest itself, how much you can eat before your stomach bursts, and whether or not constipation actually killed Elvis. In fact, there’s a significant amount of writing dedicated to the size of Elvis’s colon, much more than I ever thought there could be on that particular subject.
The amount of research that Mary Roach does in preparation for this book is staggering and quite frankly, a little frightening. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out exactly what she does in the name of science and where she draws the research line in order to avoid frightening her colleagues. That, my friends, is dedication and I sincerely hope she had as much fun writing this book as I did reading it!
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… a bunch of guys reading romance novels? Told from the male point of view, What She Wants, by Sheila Roberts, will have you laughing through the entire book. Nerdy computer geek Jonathan goes to a library used-book sale with his sister Juliet . He notices that the ladies looking in the romance sections are going gaga over the romance books by Vanessa Valentine. He asks is sister what the big deal is about these books and why everyone seems to want them. Juliet explains that women today want romance in their lives. They don’t want to be taken for granted; it’s not just the fantasy of what they are reading. With his 15 year class reunion coming up, Jonathan figures he needs all the help he can get to impress someone he’s loved since he was a kid, so he swipes one of his sisters books and starts to read it. When one of his poker buddies, Adam, is kicked out of his house for forgetting his wedding anniversary, he bunks in with Jonathan and discovers not just one but several romance novels that Jonathan is currently reading. Let the hilarity begin!
Can a guy really learn something about today’s women by reading a romance novel and find what it is that a woman wants from reading a bodice ripper, a swashbuckler or a tycoon story. As any woman can tell you , the answer is YES! How Jonathan, Adam and the other poker buddies figure this out will have you in stitches. One of the poker guys is actually a romance writer, but you don’t learn this until you are well into the book. His perspective and deception and curmudgeonly ways will keep you on your toes. Does Jonathan get the girl of his dreams by applying what he’s learned from reading romance novels? Can Adam and his wife get back together?
Keep a big block of time for reading this book as you won’t want to put it down!
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
… the haunted house movie that was rated R just for being scary? Yep, that’s right. The Conjuring has no gore, no foul language, no objectionable content. It’s just that terrifying.
The story itself is not particularly unusual – a family moves into an old New England home, only to realize that the house is infested with malevolent, demonic spirits. The family calls upon Ed and Lorraine Warren, two renowned demonologists, to investigate and cleanse the house, but the demons aren’t leaving without a fight. To add an extra creepiness factor, the movie is based on the actual case files of the Warrens, who made a name for themselves in real life by investigating so-called paranormal phenomena, including the infamous Amityville Horror case. And intertwined with the main storyline is another real-life Warren investigation, this time involving a possessed doll that looks as though it just crawled up from the mouth of Hell.
The filmmakers make excellent use of camera angles and subtle Hitchcockian tricks, such as banging doors, unseen voices, and a pair of clapping hands that had me jumping out of my skin. In all my years of horror movie watching, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The build-up of suspense is masterful, the scares are genuine, and the terror lingers long after the movie ends. Believe me when I say that we will be hearing about this movie for a long time to come. And for anyone who appreciates the value of a genuine scare, The Conjuring is a must-see. It will scare the living daylights out of you.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the amazing, dangerous, and beautiful things you can do with the proper application of chemistry and physics? Mad Science 2, by Theodore Gray, collects short articles explaining the concepts behind more than thirty projects, including incinerating a diamond and cutting steel with bacon. This book covers everything from how carbide miner’s lamps worked to charging a cell phone using an apple and pennies.
Each article has a brief description of the experiment and the scientific principles involved, an overview of how it was done, several amazing photographs, and the warnings. They are very serious warnings because many of the projects displayed in this book are extremely dangerous. You, yes you, could do these experiments with the proper training (and/or supervision) and the right equipment. If you don’t have that, enlist the help of someone who does. While you’re working on that (or if you don’t mind getting your excitement second hand), read this book and pick out your favorite experiment — turning a frozen turkey into a fireball, sticking your hand in liquid nitrogen, creating a shower of sparks, freezing mercury…. There are so many cool things that it’s hard to pick one.
Reviewed by Fran (staff)
… the time-traveling serial killer from Chicago’s past?
The phrase that seems to draw most readers in to Lauren Beukes’s novel, The Shining Girls, is “time traveling serial killer,” which in my opinion, is pretty much all you need to know. Harper Curtis is a man from depression-era Chicago, who stumbles upon the House, which allows him to travel through time and kill these “shining” girls. He does not know these girls, or why they must be killed, but he does so anyway, leaving behind an object from his previous victim as a calling card of sorts. One of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survived, and several years later she enlists the help of a Chicago Sun Times sports reporter named Dan Velasquez to help her track the killer down.
The genre blending at work in this story blew my mind…besides being a serial killer suspense novel involving time travel, there are historical elements at work as well, since Harper travels through Chicago at multiple points in time, plus a smidgen of early 1990’s Chicago sports, since Kirby’s ally at the Sun Times covers the 1993 season for the Cubs. This unexpected blend kept me absolutely riveted.
As a main character, Kirby Mazrachi is a fantastically tough and determined heroine who uses her traumatic near-death experience as energy to keep searching for her would-be killer. I was particularly drawn to her witty, yet sarcastic demeanor - she came across as a strong, yet flawed character. Realistic without being melodramatic. As an adversary, Harper is a frightening villain. While I would have welcomed more of his back-story, his relentless pursuit of these women and his detached, cruel nature help transform him into a believable bad guy. Perhaps not the most dimensional, but certainly frightening.
The story itself jumps back and forth through time as easily as Harper, which admittedly made the first half of the book a bit difficult to follow. Not impossible, just something I had to make sure I paid attention to. But the method and the patterns began to emerge in the second half and suddenly everything started to make a little more sense. It’s definitely a clever plot device, and one that lends itself to another reading, just to pick up on the clues that I missed the first time around.
The book is not perfect, but it has its own unique charm that kept me spellbound. And it could make a good suggestion for anyone looking for something “different” to read, because I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve ever read before.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the importance of consideration for others in our busy world? I just finished The Wisdom of Compassion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan. It’s one of our new books and an excellent choice if you are struggling with understanding compassion.
It is set up a little different than other books by the Dalai Lama in that it is very story like. By that I mean it isn’t purely didactic but reads like a novel with a main character who keeps injecting knowledge by his actions, words, and interchanges with other world leaders and many interesting people I never even heard of. Here is a “humble monk” as he calls himself who never proselytizes about Buddhism but imparts his worldly wisdom in a way that everyone can accept and enjoy.
Reviewed by Richard (staff)
… the school for carousel carving or Winchester hats? Take an armchair trip with the Discoveries … America. Tennessee DVD. Home to country singer Dolly Parton, you’ll visit Music City USA – Nashville, where only one talented singer makes an impression out of thousands who try each year. Most end up waiting tables or singing on the street. Of course no visit is complete unless you visit the Grand Ole Opry. Did you know that the Smokey-the-Bear type hats worn by most law-enforcement personal are made at the Winchester Hat Factory in Tennessee? It’s an interesting process to see different fibers blended together to make these hats.
Have you ever ridden on the carousel at the State Fair? You can actually attend a school to learn to carve these beautiful animals. Did you know that Tennessee has the largest freshwater pearl farm in America? This is a fascinating segment that shows how pearls are grown. You won’t want to miss the Mississippi Queen Riverboat ride. From Cincinnati to New Orleans, the overnight accommodations and food are to die for. You can pick up the trip from just about any place on the Mississippi River and go as far as you’d like. I’ve done this trip several times and done the short hops as well, and you always see something different. The Holladay Bluegrass & Fiddlers Jamboree is always fun and you meet a lot of interesting people.
The Discoveries …America series is 51 DVDs, each about one hour long, of all of the states (plus Washington, DC) and the famous and not-so-famous things to see and do in each state. They will give you lots of things to learn or ideas to incorporate into your next vacation.
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
… Sheryl Sandberg’s sensational and controversial book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead? This book, which takes a look at modern-day perceptions and expectations of women in the work place, has sparked a lot of heated debates about politics and feminism. But what is the book actually about?
The main point of the book is that women are still significantly underrepresented in leadership roles, and that today’s group of working women need to empower themselves to take risks, challenge themselves, and pursue their goals with passion and enthusiasm. Sandberg also talks about how modern women struggle under the impossible standard of perfection known as “having it all” – a career, a family, a supportive relationship, and a clean house, among other things. However, instead of arguing that women can only focus on their career or their family, Sandburg pushes for equality between men and women in terms of child care and domestic duties.
There have been a lot of counterarguments towards Sandberg’s book, but regardless of where your viewpoints stand, Sandberg’s book absolutely succeeds in reviving a long dormant conversation about the perspective of working women, and what we as women can do to help ourselves. As a way to get women thinking critically about their place in the working world and what they can do to empower themselves, this book is a great kick-starter. It got me thinking about risks I was and wasn’t taking, and how I could challenge myself so that it would pay off later in my career.
Regardless of your political views, this book is an excellent jumping-off point for a larger conversation. Does Sandberg’s argument have merit? You’ll have to read the book and find out for yourself.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)