Provence 1970 by Luke Barr

provenceBook – This book, which is drawn from the letters and diaries of twentieth century gourmet personalities, may have you raiding your fridge as you read, due to the mouth-watering descriptions of tasty meals throughout. These personalities include writers as well as chefs such as Julia Child, Richard Olney, and James Beard. However, the focal point of this text is the food writer M.F.K. Fisher, whose revealing journals inspired her great-nephew, an editor of Travel & Leisure, to author this book. His narrative focuses on a wintry period in 1970 when his great-aunt, a columnist for the New Yorker, was traveling in France, meeting up with her fellow food connoisseurs for communal dinners in Provence, and searching for nostalgic French cuisine on her own. Intimate and not always charitable thoughts of how these characters truly viewed each other are revealed, based upon a wealth of their correspondence. The author points to this time as a turning-point, when the titans of American tastes began to question the romanticized ideal of the superiority of French cuisine.

Shutter Island (2010)

shutter islandMovie – Shutter Island  is  a psychological thriller directed by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film opens in 1954 as federal marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Auel are on their way to Shutter Island, a mental hospital for the criminally insane off the coast of Massachusetts. They have been asked to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando a patient admitted to the asylum after she murdered her three children. It is a mystery that Rachel was able to escape barefooted from a locked cell and no trace of her had been found after a thorough search by the staff of the island and its buildings.  As Teddy question staff, patients, and Dr. Cawley, the head of the institution, it seems like everyone has a secret. He begins to suspect that a terrible fate may be in store for the inmates in Ward C  which houses the hospital’s most dangerous and evil patients. There are hints of experimental, unconventional, and cruel treatments.  Teddy also has a secret, his wife’s murderer is a patient at the institution.  Not only is Daniels driven to find Rachel Solando, but he wants to confront his wife’s killer. The gothic tone of the movie is spooky and unsettling with unexpected twists and turns.  The storyline closely follows the book by the same title written by Dennis Lehane, which I also highly recommend.

The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian

Jack Aubrey SeriesBook – Although I’ll read just about anything, I primarily consider myself a science fiction fan. I love the experience of exploring new worlds full of strange and unfamiliar things, people, and attitudes. Patrick O’Brien’s excellent series of Napoleonic War naval adventures scratches the same itch for me. There’s the technology, certainly – antiquated rather than futuristic, but the attention to detail is the same, and just like you don’t need to know how faster-than-light travel works in order to enjoy a science fiction story, neither do you need to understand the finer points of sailing against the wind in order to follow one of Aubrey’s fantastic chases. But there’s also the characters, a tightly-knit cast, constantly changing, of people facing physical and emotional danger of all description. The characters are what keeps me coming back to this series, again and again. (Well, and the sloth.)

The series really acts as one long book, telling the story of Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin’s friendship, from the time they meet at a concert in 1800, through a final, unfinished novel set after the Battle of Waterloo. But although the series is best appreciated in sequential order, I do sometimes recommend that for a first attempt, the reader starts with something other than the first book – Post Captain, perhaps, or The Fortune of War (one of my favorites, set during the War of 1812), or even Far Side of the World, as I did when the movie came out and I didn’t know any better. You can always go back and start over again at the beginning, and if you fall in love with the characters, you’ll probably want to anyway.

Mark Twain (2004)

twainMovieMark Twain is a biographical documentary about the great 19th-century American author Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), directed by Ken Burns. Burns distills the essence of Samuel Clemens into almost four hours via interviews with many Twain scholars, plus other authors, such as Arthur Miller and William Styron. Hemingway called Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn, the beginning of American literature. The character “nigger Jim” represented the first time that a black man was given a voice in literature. No aspect of Clemens’ life was omitted from this documentary – his family and relationships, his failed businesses, and his travels through Europe. Burns documents Clemens’ life with hundreds of photographs, maps, journal entries, readings and even a few very early film clips of Clemens himself. Clemens was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, along the Mississippi River. As a young man, he traveled west and moved frequently from city to city working as a printer’s apprentice, a steamboat pilot, an unsuccessful prospector and a newspaper reporter. He later became an essayist and novelist, and his comic genius was soon apparent. Twain made money doing speaking tours, where he regaled audiences with humorous stories of his travels and life on the Mississippi. He was a poor kid who became very wealthy and built a fabulous mansion, yet railed against the indulgences of capitalism. I loved this documentary about Mark Twain’s legendary life. Did you know that Mark Twain was a lifelong creator and keeper of scrapbooks? He took them with him everywhere and filled them with souvenirs, pictures, and articles about his books and performances.

Instructions for a Heat Wave by Maggie O’Farrell

instructions for heatwaveBook – Meet the Riordans. Gretta, a devout Irish Catholic, discovers her husband has gone missing during a crippling heat wave in 1976 England. Her three adult children gather together for the first time in years to help search for their father. Monica, the oldest daughter, is her mother’s rock and seems to have a well-ordered life. But her partner’s daughters despise her and she hides secrets that she has never faced. Her brother, Michael Francis, feels guilt over a past indiscretion and wonders if his wife, newly enrolled in community college, is having an affair. The youngest sibling, Aoife, has always had issues. She was a screaming infant and an unruly child, until finally, as an adult, she escapes to America and reinvents herself. The disappearance of their father is the catalyst that brings everyone together, and in the search for him, they discover and are forced to address the secrets and misunderstandings that have wedged between them. I listened to the audiobook of this title and was absorbed in the story and the narration by John Lee.

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

stella bainBook – This novel begins with a compelling mystery as the main character awakens in a field hospital in Marne, France during World War I, not knowing her name or anything about herself beyond what is evident from her British nursing uniform and her American accent. This beautifully written historical fiction has the reader rooting for the courageous nurse as she forges on with nursing the wounded, pursuing threads of her identity, and ultimately facing a court trial. The audiobook is narrated by Hope Davis, and her pleasant, soothing voice matches Shreve’s spare, graceful presentation of a tragic yet intriguing story revolving around the development of psychotherapy for victims of shocking events. The courage, generosity, and intellect of individuals who aid the victims of war and prejudice are highlighted in the telling of “Stella Bain’s” story. The historical setting also provides a nostalgic backdrop for a love story that develops sweetly during this hopeful tale of rebuilding. If you enjoy this book, the library collections contain numerous novels by this award-winning author.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

replacementBook – Mackie Doyle is different. Then again, so is Gentry, the decaying steel town he lives in. Things are pretty good there, except when they aren’t, but mostly it’s a town where people have an unnatural ability to pretend that everything is OK. People pretend they don’t notice that Mackie is weird, and they pretend not to care when their children go missing on a startlingly regular schedule. Things start to change when Tate, a girl at Mackie’s school, loses her little sister, and refuses to pretend that it’s all OK.

I really enjoyed this dark and creepy YA interpretation of the myth of the changeling, babies stolen away by the faeries with alien children left in their place. Mackie is a wonderfully relatable character, a boy who knows he’s strange but doesn’t know how normal he is at the same time, and Tate is a fierce companion. Recommended for fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Holly Black.

Verdi by Placido Domingo

verdiMusic – This is the new 2013 CD recorded by Placido Domingo. The album, simply titled Verdi, is the first time the world-renowned tenor has released an album of baritone arias. Domingo is certainly still capable of singing all the tenor arias, having recorded every major tenor aria there is, but these baritone arias are a fabulous tribute to Giuseppe Verdi. The album is a celebration of Verdi arias, with selections from Macbeth, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Simon Boccanegra, Il trovatore, Don Carlo and others. It is well over an hour of music with eighteen tracks from nine different Verdi operas. Placido Domingo may be both the greatest tenor AND the greatest baritone of all time! He has opened the Met season 21 times, surpassing Caruso’s record of 17 opening nights. He has performed in every major opera house in the world, and has made an unparalleled number of recordings, of which 101 are full-length operas. He has earned nine Grammy’s and two Grammy’s in the Latin Division. He also conducts operas in all the important theaters, from the Metropolitan to London’s Covert Garden and the Vienna State Opera. He has conducted purely symphonic concerts with such renowned orchestras as the Berlin and the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony. As of the end of 2013, he has sung 144 different roles! Verdi was recorded in 2012-2013 at the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia” Auditiori, Valencia Spain and Angel Recording Studios, London, England.

The Rosary Bride: a Cloistered Death by Luisa Buehler

2rosary brideBookThe Rosary Bride is the first of six cozy mysteries taking place in the western suburbs of Chicago. Much of this story occurs at a school based on the author’s alma mater, Rosary College in River Forest, now named Dominican University. The central character, Grace Marsden, is an accidental amateur detective whose curiosity is sparked during a brief encounter with a spirit haunting the college library. In this volume, her understated clairvoyant abilities lead her to investigate a generations-old unsolved crime. Ample location descriptions in all the suspenseful Grace Marsden stories, make it enjoyable to travel along with Grace as her investigations take her to local landmarks such as the Graue Mill in Oak Brook, a neighborhood bookstore in Lisle, local forest preserves, Brookfield Zoo, and eateries around her home in Downers Grove, and the homes of her large Italian family around Melrose Park. Often the history of local landmarks is embellished playfully within these tales. A love triangle, adds a compelling romantic story-line to the series. Less successfully, some international espionage occasionally appears.

Upstairs, Downstairs (1971)

UpDown_TitleCard2DVDs -The Library will be hosting the program Below Stairs: Meet the Kitchen Maid Whose Memoirs Helped Inspire Downton Abbey on Thursday, January 23, 7p.m.  British servant Margaret Powell wrote the best-selling memoir Below Stairs and she will be portrayed by Leslie Goddard.  Powell’s 1968 book was among the inspirations for Downtown Abbey and directly inspired the 1970s series Upstairs, Downstairs. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, I would highly recommend the series Upstairs Downstairs. Hard to believe that it first aired over 40 years ago on Masterpiece Theater.  It won seven Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody.

The series tells the stories of the residents of 165 Eaton Place a townhouse in a posh London neighborhood.  The “Upstairs” is comprised of the wealthy and aristocratic heads of household Richard Bellamy a member of Parliament and his wife Lady Marjorie. They have two children, Elizabeth who is in her late teens and James who is in his early twenties. The “Downstairs” consists of the Bellamy’s lively and devoted servants overseen by Hudson the butler and Mrs. Bridges the cook.  Other servants include parlor maids, Rose, Daisy, and Sarah, kitchen maids Emily and Ruby, footmen Alfred and Edward,  coachman Pearce, chauffeur Thomas, and Lady Marjorie’s Maid Maude.  The series covers almost a 30 year time period and shows all the characters surviving social change, political upheaval, scandals and the horrors of the First World War. Most importantly you get a sense of the relationships formed between those upstairs and downstairs and their loyalties to each other.