All I Want For Christmas is a Cowboy by Jessica Clare

Book – A sweet romance, All I Want For Christmas is a Cowboy by Jessica Clare is a wonderfully cozy romance of two strangers who meet by chance during the holiday season.  Cassandra needs to escape her life for the holidays.  Her boss’s boyfriend has been harassing her since she met him and it seems like there’s no escape in sight.  The solution?  A Christmas in solitude spent alone at her parents’ cabin.  Driving through a snowstorm, Cassandra flies off course in an accident.

Eli is a real cowboy, living alone on his ranch tending to the cows and his dogs.  He’s content with his life the way it is, and is happy to spend the holiday in his reclusive home.  Ready for another Christmas in solitude, Eli’s plans are drastically altered when he finds an injured woman stranded in the blizzard from a car accident.  As any gentleman would do, Eli takes her to his home and tends to her wounds.  But when Cassandra awakens, she has no memory of who she is, or any reminder of her life before the accident.  As the two learn to cohabit the Christmas season together, Cassandra’s amnesia becomes less of problem, as they grow closer.  Separated from the chaos of her previous life, Cassandra thinks maybe this is her Christmas wish come true.  But life always seems to get in the way of things.

 

Grace and Fury by Tracy E. Banghart

Book – I have spent far more time thinking about Grace and Fury than it deserves, because it’s a perfect illustration of a strange truth: writers who are good at one part of their craft are not necessarily good at others, and a book can therefore be both a good book and a bad book at the same time.

A brief overview to start: Grace and Fury is a dystopian YA novel best described as a cross between The Selection Series and The Hunger Games with a topical dash of The Handmaid’s Tale. In a society where women are forbidden to read, one compliant young woman has been trained all her life for the prestigious role of “Grace,” an official mistress to the future king, while her rebellious young sister is expected to act as her servant.  Naturally, the wrong sister is chosen for Grace, landing in the middle of court politics she’s deeply unprepared for–while her elder sister is banished to a prison island where she’ll have to fight to survive.

I’ll start with the rough stuff, to get it out of the way.  The characterization in Grace and Fury is weak at best, and the plotting is downright bad.  Coincidence is allowed to drive the story far too often.  The characters are forced to change by their circumstances, but their growth usually isn’t believable or earned.  Characters are divided strictly into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’–a particularly sad vice in a dystopian story, where there’s infinite room for complicity born of fear and similar shades of gray.  Worst of all, the story is full of moments when the audience will cotton to secondary characters’ motives long before the naive heroes do, even though we’re not given any information that the heroes don’t have.

But here’s the kicker: the worldbuilding isn’t terrible, and the pacing is actually pretty excellent.  I knew early on that this wasn’t the book for me, but I kept reading it, because the author does know how to write a hook.  It’s a quick, easy read, and I mean that as a compliment–making a book that the reader is compelled to keep reading is a skill that many authors would envy.

I think that a lot of popular books–Dan Brown’s novels and the Twilight series, for a start–excite comment and controversy for existing at exactly this intersection of high readability with weaker quality in other areas.  And I don’t mean to sound like I’m knocking anybody who enjoys those books, or this one.  Different readers read for different reasons, the same reader can read for different things at different times, and everybody has their own guidelines for which literary flaws constitute their deal-breakers.

I happen to be an intensely character-driven reader, so for me, Grace and Fury was a bust.  But I bet it’ll be popular with readers anyway, because lots of people rate pacing more highly than I do in a reading experience–and I hope those readers find this book, because they deserve a read they’ll love.

The Exorcist: Season 1 (2016)

TV Series – Father Thomas Ortega is an up-and-coming young priest in Chicago, rebuilding his long-neglected parish and working with the bishop and a local fundraising committee to organize the Pope’s visit to the Windy City. His neat professional trajectory is interrupted when Angela Rance, one of his parishioners, comes to him with a request: her daughter is possessed by a demon, and she wants him to do an exorcism. Rebuffed by the bishop, Ortega turns to Father Marcus Keane, a renowned exorcist who Ortega has never heard of — until the fellow priest appeared in his dreams. Meanwhile, Angela struggles to keep her family together as the demon’s power over her daughter grows more malevolent by the day.

I’m not usually a huge fan of religious horror, and I didn’t much care for the original Exorcist – I just don’t find it all that scary. But while the TV series has just as many jump scares and gross-outs as the movie, with a whole season it has time to do some more interesting things, too. The Rance family dynamics are fascinating, even before the demon shows up, and Father Thomas and Father Marcus are polar opposites in the classic tradition of buddy-cop dramas. There’s conspiracy and ominous foreshadowing; there’s tension over what it means to be a priest; there’s discussion of Gnostic heresies and the dangerous influences of Ouija boards. Most interesting, though, is the portrayal of demonic possession from the point of view of the girl being possessed, letting you see both the power it offers her and the subtle ways it makes her suffer. I really didn’t think you could make a feminist version of The Exorcist, but I think this show has pulled it off.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

Link

Book – The Holocaust was one of the most repugnantly dehumanizing historical happenings of the twentieth century. Nazi Germany’s ethnic cleansing systematically killed an estimated six million Jews, as well as persecuted the physically and mentally handicapped, homosexuals, people of color, Slavs and Poles, numerous religious sects, and anyone else not of Aryan descent or who strayed from the political ideologies of the Nazi regime. Germany’s crime was not only on the scale of history, but on the scale of evolution.

The Zookeeper’s Wife recounts how dangerously humans bridle unruly instincts, not always playing by nature’s rules. Author Diane Ackerman uses the diary of the zookeeper’s wife, Antonina, as well as other historical artifacts to transport readers back to a time of Polish revolution in WWII Warsaw. In efforts to protect passerby Jews seeking asylum, Antonina and her husband successfully save the lives of 300 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, by hiding them in animal cages and teaching them how to appear Aryan in the public eye. The Zookeeper’s Wife is a compelling, tragic story that asserts the serious outcomes of combining eugenics with hateful intentions. Additionally, this book was adapted into a movie back in 2017 and is available on the shelves as well.

As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti

Book – In As You Wish, author Chelsea Sedoti crafts a novel about the power of wishing.  In the small, boring town of Madison, the residents have a secret.  It is a secret they work hard to keep hidden from the prying eyes of the rest of the world, lest they be made a freak attraction.

In Madison, everybody gets a wish—one wish that will come true.    On your eighteenth birthday, you are led to the cave of wishes where the deed is done.  If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.  The residents spend their youth conjuring up the perfect wish–to be the most beautiful, the best sportsman, to have the unconditional love and devotion of their chosen mate.  Many have made wishes that they will regret for the rest of their lives.  But there are no takebacksies.  No wish can be undone.

For 17 year old, Eldon, his upcoming wish is a source of stress and despair.  He fails to relate to the giddy excitement of his fellow classmates and friends as their wishing days also draw closer.  He is pressured constantly by his mother to do the right thing, to make a wish that will help his family and support those he loves.  What Eldon desires more than anything is to just ignore the whole tradition altogether and never make his wish.  Through the stories of other wishers and their mistakes, Eldon tries to understand how to make the best decision, a decision that could change his entire life for better or worse.  He’ll do anything he can to not make the same mistakes as those around him.

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Book – I have to be honest, I’ve never been a James Paterson fan (gasp).  I’ve read a few of his books and thought they were “OK”.  However, when The President is Missing came out co-authored with Bill Clinton, I decided to find out what all the hype was about and see what kind of fictional tale our former president had to tell.  Well, it ended up being a suspenseful and thrilling page-turner.

President Duncan is facing impeachment.  He is accused of not taking action against Suliman Cindoruk the leader of a terrorist group. But Duncan truly has a noble reason that he can’t disclose. Unbeknownst to the rest of the country, the President must go undercover in a covert mission in order to disable a computer virus that Cindoruk is threatening to unleash. This cyber-attack, code word “Dark Ages” would potentially cripple the United States.  The President puts himself in personal danger to save the nation.  However, he does not act totally recklessly, since he is a war hero – a former Airborne Ranger in Desert Storm and a P.O.W and assembles a team of experts to assist him.  The tensions builds as the clock is ticking down to put a stop to the virus and an assassin stalks Duncan.  In addition, he realizes that there is a traitor in his administration.  Will the traitor be revealed?  Will the President be assassinated?  Will this act of cyberterrorism be quashed?  You can find out for yourself!

Even though there is currently a hold list for this title, we have numerous regular copies, a large print copy, an audiobook, and an eBook on Overdrive, so hopefully your wait will not be long.

 

 

 

Warrenville Library’s 18,000-piece Puzzle Masterpiece

How does an everyday pastime turn into a work of art? When an 18,000-piece puzzle is completed by a few dozen community members then hung for all to admire.

What started as a playful addition to the Library’s jigsaw puzzle table soon became a challenge for our community’s puzzle enthusiasts. During National Library Week in April, the first quadrant of the Ravensburger Magical Bookcase puzzle was launched. Our regular puzzle people tackled the first section with gusto, taking on both the puzzle and the logistics of expanding and organizing the work space so multiple people could work on different areas of the puzzle at the same time. Word spread about the wonders of this puzzle with its wacky and inspiring book titles. The first 4,500-piece section was finished in early May well before anyone anticipated.

Once Magical Bookcase followers learned of plans to display all four quadrants of the puzzle in the Library, they became inspired to work more quickly so they could see the finished product. Frequent puzzlers invited their family and friends to participate. Before we knew it, August was coming to a close and the final piece of the puzzle was put in place.

In September the Library hosted “The Big Reveal,” an event to unveil and celebrate the completed puzzle. Regular puzzlers shared stories of putting the puzzle together—the intricate details, difficulties, favorite parts and quirky book titles. One even commented that “working on the puzzle allowed me to learn all the different services the library offers from what I observed sitting near the info desk.”

The finished puzzle is a source of amazement and amusement. Measuring 6’ x 9’, you have to see it to believe it. And guess what? It’s really a 17,999 piece masterpiece. The next time you visit Warrenville, we challenge you to show us where the missing piece belongs.

The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonja Renee Taylor

Book – It’s rough living in this world with a body. It seems like there’s always someone to tell you that you’re doing it wrong – your body is too big, too small, too brown, too different, too much. And a lot of advice for dealing with this becomes yet another burden to carry: you must love your body, or you’re letting down the side. You must be beautiful in your own mind, or you are giving in. Sonja Renee Taylor offers a refreshingly different set of strategies, a series of questions and suggestions to put all those demands in context. Who is asking this of you? What do they gain by asking you to do this work? And how can you love yourself – not just your body, but your whole self – in spite of it all?

I’m very picky about self-help books. I’m not interested in anything that suggests there is one simple solution to a large and complex problem (which is, of course, what most self-help books are trying to sell). Taylor does offer just one solution, but it’s far from a simple one – learn how to love yourself in defiance of everything in the world that tells you that you are unlovable. She offers a range of tools for beginning that work, but never suggests that she has the only answers, only that she has answers that have worked for her and for others in the past. There’s a lot to digest in this short book – less than 120 pages – but it’s all very, very worthwhile.

The Brand New Testament (2017)

Movie – To give mankind the awareness of their own death may be an inapprehensible phenomenon, but Ea has done just that. The Brand New Testament is a dark yet humorous film about God, who, by the way lives in Belgium with his wife and daughter. God creates inconveniences and atrocities to all of mankind out of his own boredom. His daughter Ea is not very fond of it and has had enough. After discovering her father’s malicious intentions are being controlled through a dated computer, she rebelliously sends out the death dates to everyone on Earth. What would you do if you knew when your last breath would be? Would you leave the job you dread? Would you spend your life’s savings? Or would you not change a thing? Six very different lives answer just that in Ea’s search for additional apostles to add to the New Testament.
This French film was incredibly thought provoking and had an amusing spin on all things biblical. Although it was in French (English subtitles provided), the dialogue was light enough to truly enjoy the essence of the sheer artistry. The cinematography and plot were engaging. It’s no wonder that the film was up for numerous awards and was generally favorable among critics. If you’re looking for something different but nonetheless refreshing, this is one to see.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Book – When the weather cools and the air turns crisp, I am ready for some spooky reads. I grew up watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch on ABC’s TGIF so I was immediately intrigued to see a more grown up version of a childhood favorite. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Vol. 1 is a re-imagining of Sabrina’s origin story. Sabrina isn’t the bubbly and wholesome witch I grew up with, there are no funny magical mishaps nor life lessons learned in this graphic novel rendition. Sabrina and her terrifying aunts, Hilda and Zelda, are dark, vicious and callous. The Spellman family show little compunction to bloody murder and satanic worship. But don’t be scared away by this! Aguirre-Sacasa lends an interesting plot to this intense read and the artwork matches the intriguing plot. The story is set in New England in the 1960s, a nod to the original Archie comics where Sabrina was introduced back in 1962. Sabrina’s 16th birthday is upon her and she must decide if she wants to become an immortal witch and join the coven or to be simply a normal teenage girl. Unfortunately for Sabrina, her tragic and grisly origin will literally come back to haunt her making her decision rather bleak.

If you’re looking for a spooky read to welcome the Halloween season you won’t be disappointed. Can’t get enough of Aguirre-Sacasa’s spooky retellings? He also wrote the graphic novel Afterlife with Archie, available through Hoopla! Also, keep an eye out for the television series based on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina coming later this fall.