Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Book – Helen Franklin is not happy with her life. She’s worked hard not to be; she is atoning. An English expatriate, she works as a translator in Prague and has only a few friends. When one of them is given a mysterious package of documents by an elderly man working on his memoirs, he spirals into paranoia and fear, dragging Helen with him. Who is this person Melmoth who appears in so many historical writings? Is she a myth or a bogeyman, or is she truly the witness to all humanity’s wrongs, Helen’s included?

I first read Melmoth the Wanderer, the 19th century gothic novel that served as the inspiration for Perry’s new one, on the sunny patio outside my college library, so I was primed to love this book. This is a lovely modernized echo of the original story. In this version, Melmoth is a woman, a lonely creature who longs for someone as broken as she is to keep her company. Told in the fine gothic style of nested narratives – one character reading a story written by another character, which contains a story told to them by a third party – we meet a variety of Melmoth’s potential companions throughout history, from a sixteenth-century nobleman to a young German boy in Nazi-occupied Prague, to Helen’s own tragic history.

Although the story is all about guilt and atonement, and whether or not some things can be atoned for, it’s not as bleak as that makes it sound. There is also a great deal of compassionate humanity and people being better in spite of themselves. I’m happy to report that I loved this book exactly as much as I expected to, and I’m looking forward to whatever Sarah Perry brings us next.

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

Book – If you’re too busy during the holidays to read a whole book, why not a short story or two? This tiny volume of five stories by Helene Tursten, author of the Detective Inspector Irene Huss mysteries, chronicles the trials and tribulations of an 88-year-old Swedish woman called Maud. She has no remaining family and no close friends, but she lives in her father’s old apartment rent-free and has the money to travel, so she’s quite content with her life. The one thing she can’t tolerate is other people infringing upon her settled existence, and when they do, she takes steps to stop them. Murderous steps.

There’s a certain perverse joy in watching someone get away with murder because everyone assumes that they couldn’t possibly be dangerous. Doubly so when the victims are so obnoxious. Haven’t we all wished we could come up with a permanent solution to a loud, angry, abusive neighbor? Of course, most of us aren’t as clever as Maud. Save yourself the trouble and enjoy her solutions vicariously instead.

Choosing Beginning Reader Books

Helping children learn to read involves finding interesting books that are the correct level. Luckily, we have a great collection of beginning reader (BR) books.

Beginning readers (sometimes also called Easy Readers) are designed to support new readers develop the skills necessary to move into chapter books. BR books are comfortable to new readers because of their size, limited and often repetitive vocabulary, predictable story lines, helpful illustrations, and familiar characters.

Our BR books are located just inside the youth section. The newest releases are at the start of the section, and the rest are organized alphabetically by author or series. We have everything from classics (Frog and Toad, Dr. Seuss, Dick and Jane) to contemporary (Pinkalicious, Pete the Cat, and Pokemon). All of these are marked with a colored sticker on the spine to designate the difficulty level.

The Geisel Award (named in honor of Theodore Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) honors the most engaging and imaginative BR books published each year. You can find recent winners Charlie and Mouse, We Are Growing!, and Don’t Throw it to Mo!, as well as many other titles from the full list of past winners and honorees, in our collection.

There are also BR non-fiction books that are located in the J Nonfiction section with the other books of those topics (sharks, castles, construction equipment, etc.). Some series to look for are Fly Guy Presents, Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library, and Blastoff! Readers.

These books can really help readers gain fluency and comprehension skills that will prepare them for chapter books. I promise that reading the understandably popular Elephant and Piggie series or anything by Jan Thomas aloud will be fun for everyone involved!

Ask any of us at the Youth Services desk for more information on choosing beginning readers.

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.

 

The Children Act (2017)

DVD- This movie is based on the book by Ian McEwan, which has an amazing cast lead by Emma Thompson. She plays a British High Court judge who makes difficult and serious judgements, that affect the life and death of people on a daily basis. Stanley Tucci plays her sexually frustrated, left behind, husband. The film revolves around the child Adam Henry, played by Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk). Emma Thompson’s character has to decide a whether the hospital has legal standing to authorize Adam to undergo a blood transfusion which will save his life or, grant him the autonomy to trust in a faith that prevents him from accepting blood products.

I found this movie serious and intense. A few of the heavy hitting topics this movie works through include:  religion, law, middle age marriage, affairs, and an infatuated youth of a mature woman.  How courts are governed in Britain, with their customs and rules is an interesting feature, as well. Lastly, the locations depicted in the film, are beautiful.

If you are looking for an excellent, cerebral movie, this is it! If, however, you are looking for a lighthearted movie with the normally-silly Stanley Tucci and Emma Thompson, keep looking!

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.