Have You Heard
… the joys (and horrors) of gaslamp fantasy? Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells is an excellent anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Gaslamp stories have a magical element that are set in the Regency, Queen Victoria’s reign, and sometimes the early Edwardian era. Usually, they focus on Great Britain, but current and former British colonies are also fair game.
This collection features a mix of lighthearted, spooky, and even tragic tales from a variety of authors. Many of the big names of fantasy and horror are represented, including Elizabeth Bear, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire and Jane Yolen. In addition to magical terrors, they look at the real-life problems of spousal abuse, the treatment of women, and the horrific lives of many factory workers. From the elite to the well-off to the down-trodden, this collection covers all walks of life during this time period in a rich variety of writing styles. It is a fascinating look at a time of great wonders and great horrors, both real and imagined.
Reviewed by Fran (staff)
… the woman who took a chance on a little boy? An Invisible Thread is the true story of an eleven-year-old boy panhandler, Maurice Maczyk, and a busy sales executive woman, Laura Schroff, who was living and working in Manhattan. This is an incredible, wonderful and remarkable story.
In the beginning, Laura Schroff didn’t understand what is about that kid that makes her feel that he is different from other kids. However, once she started meeting with him weekly, she started to notice the similarities in their lives.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read non-fiction books. This book is so good and sentimental that by the end of it I was crying.
Reviewed by Esmeralda (staff)
… the abortion scandal that rocked a major hospital in Boston? In Michael Crichton’s first novel, A Case of Need, a local doctor named Art Lee is arrested for performing an illegal abortion on the daughter of a prominent doctor. Art’s colleague, John Berry, knows that Lee occasionally performs abortions on the side, but he doesn’t believe Lee would have let a patient die while under the knife, and so he begins his own investigation. But because of the prominence of the victim’s family, Berry encounters a lot of resistance to his investigation and quickly discovers that there is more to the story than meets the eye.
Even though this was originally written under a pseudonym, A Case of Need still bears a strong resemblance to Crichton’s later books, particularly in terms of the fast pace, the incorporation of social issues to drive the plot, and the scientific detail. I always feel like I’ve learned something new after reading a Crichton novel, and A Case of Need is no exception. Don’t be put off by the scientific jargon – I promise it’s easy to understand.
In other words, this is one heck of an entertaining story. As a lifelong Michael Crichton fan, I’m honestly surprised it took me this long to read this book. If you’re like me and have already devoured everything else Crichton has written, I highly recommend A Case of Need – it’s like happening upon a previously undiscovered manuscript.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the effects plastic has on our lives? As part of Earth Week 2013, staff members from Waukegan Public Library watched the movie Bag It, a documentary that highlights the ecological harms of single-use plastic, such as the plastic grocery bag. After watching the movie, staff members combined their thoughts into a group review.
How the movie was perceived:
- The movie was very good; it was super informative and clever at the same time
- It was funny, insightful, and gave me an idea of the problem worldwide
- I was very impressed by it
- I heard great things about it and I found it both entertaining and informative
- I even made my son watch it
Things learned from the movie:
- Europe pays for people to recycle plastic
- Many countries are banning plastic bags entirely
- There are many negative effects on the human body (including cancer) from the chemicals (BPA’s) found in plastics
- A lot of petrol (a non-renewable resource) is used to make a single plastic bottle
- Plastic bags can and should be banned
- An insane number of plastic bags are produced every day
- Many cans have plastic linings
- Plastic bottles even pollute our oceans
Actions taken after watching this movie:
- Lowering my whole family’s consumption of plastic items
- Trying to reduce the amount of plastic that I am using, especially with plastic one-use bottles
- Remembering to take my green bags into Woodman’s instead of using their plastic or paper bags
- Taking frozen-dinners out of the plastic before microwaving them when I can (my first test was very successful!)
- I’m looking for reusable sandwich bags to replace the plastic ones I use for lunch
Bag It is a movie not to be missed. Check it out!
Reviewed by Staff
… the celebration for the silliest penguin in the world? Tacky’s friends want to make everything perfect in Happy Birdday, Tacky! by Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger. It’s a little difficult since he’s such an odd bird. For one thing, no one is quite sure how old he is. (The cards range from two weeks to forty-two.) Their surprises don’t go quite as planned, either. (Ice cream cone, party hat – they’re close, right?) However, very few crises can’t be solved by a combination of Tacky’s silliness and his friends’ patience, so they have a perfect party in the end.
Not surprisingly, the books about Tacky focus on accepting and getting along with people who are different. The rather manic Tacky is very much at odds with the sedate, well-mannered penguins around him. For his birdday, the other penguins try to think of things that their odd friend will enjoy. While they don’t entirely succeed, they are also willing to go along with what makes him happy on his special day and even seem to enjoy “passing the cake” a little more enthusiastically than normal.
Whether your little birds would prefer a ballet recital or a Flapwaddle Dance at their party, they’re sure to appreciate Tacky and his friends!
Reviewed by Fran (staff)
… baking cookies from scratch? Nestle Toll House Best-Loved Cookies is a bakers’ delight of easy recipes. If chocolate chip cookies are your all-time favorites, then this is the book for you. There are seventy easy-to-follow recipes and no exotic ingredients. All of these chocolate chip recipes are different enough from each other that you’ll probably end up making just about everything.
Whether you like your chocolate chips in cookies, bars, or brownies there is something for everyone. It even has a section of lighter chocolate chip goodies for those who just have to have their chocolate chip fix, several times a day.
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
… the incredible sounds that come from mixing folk and punk music? The Dropkick Murphys’ Signed and Sealed in Blood is an excellent example of what this American Celtic band can do. The twelve songs on this disc mix the energy and strong beat of punk with the lyricism and traditional instruments of Celtic music. From accordion and bagpipes to autoharp and banjo to the incredible blend of voices, everything on this album comes together beautifully.
The songs themselves are an equally diverse mix. Raucous energy is balanced by sweet sentiment, with a hysterical holiday song for good measure. Whether you’re preparing to take on the world, bond with friends, or appreciate your family, this album has just what you need. If you like high-energy music with a great sound and strong lyrics, check out Signed and Sealed in Blood.
Reviewed by Fran (staff)
… the tragic death of Amelia Baron? Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel, Reconstructing Amelia, begins with Kate Baron, a single mother and attorney, receiving a call from her daughter Amelia’s exclusive private school, saying that Amelia had plagiarized her latest English essay. Kate can’t believe that her intelligent daughter would have done something like this, so she heads to the school to sort everything out. By the time she gets there, however, she finds that Amelia has fallen to her death from the school roof in an apparent act of suicide.
Several months after Amelia’s death, Kate receives a text message saying “Amelia didn’t jump,” confirming what she already knew in her heart - that Amelia didn’t commit suicide. As Kate begins her own investigation into Amelia’s death, she realizes just how many secrets her daughter had, and how she barely knew her daughter at all.
One of this book’s biggest accomplishments is how authentically Amelia’s teenage world is portrayed. The story may take place at a privileged high school, but the uncertainty, fear, and frustration are definitively universal for anyone who went to an American high school.
Lately, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to the literary thriller genre, which has been popularized by Gillian Flynn’s breakout novel, Gone Girl. If you’re a fan of Gillian Flynn, or character-centered suspense novels, I highly recommend Reconstructing Amelia. It’s a thrilling and intense mystery, but it’s also a poignant story of high school hazing, love, sexuality, and friendship. Can’t go wrong with that.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the secret group that investigates government conspiracies in Washington, DC? In David Baldacci’s political thriller, The Camel Club*, the four members of the club find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy bigger than anything they’ve ever experienced before, when they stumble upon a murder-in-progress in a deserted part of Washington, DC. From there, the investigation leads to a group of foreign terrorists who are coming up with an elaborate plot to take down the President of the United States at an upcoming event – a plot that may link back to the federal government.
What made this book unusual was that David Baldacci used research pertaining to current political events (in this case, terrorism and Middle Eastern culture) and skillfully wove it into the plot so that I was learning while being entertained at the same time. In particular, Baldacci includes a lot of information about Islam and Middle Eastern culture, which has sparked a lot of discussion and debate amongst his readers. (Side note: if you’re particular about political views, the story takes on a more liberal perspective.)
It’s also worth mentioning that the “bad guys” of the story are not as cut-and-dry as you might expect. I won’t give too much away here, but there’s a lot more ambiguity in terms of determining who’s “good” and who’s “bad.” It gives the story an extra layer of complexity – something I didn’t expect from a political thriller.
And if you liked this book, make sure to check out The Collectors, when the Camel Club returns for another conspiracy investigation – this time, the assassination of a Supreme Court justice.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… one man’s experience with life after death? Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D., has the whole story. These kinds of books always get me hooked and I have to read them (especially as I age). I mean who isn’t curious about the afterlife, right? But this one was written by a neurosurgeon so I figured he had a leg up on most of the others who had a Near Death Experience (NDE) and wrote a book.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that this book contained a story within a story. Dr. Alexander is an orphan and was trying to find out the identity his biological parents, and darn if he didn’t weave that into the whole experience too. It was a very quick read and the book contains a very thorough bibliography at the end, of other, similar titles. No doubt I will be checking out those books, too, or interlibrary loaning them.
Reviewed by Richard (staff)