Sylvia

About Sylvia

I am an Adult Services Librarian at the Warrenville Public Library. I've been here for 15 years. I like to read literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers, and memoirs. I also enjoy cooking, gardening, and walking. All of which I can do while listening to audiobooks.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

indexBook – The Signature of All Things is an epic saga of the Whittaker family that takes place in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Age of Enlightenment and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. This work of fiction is a new venture for non-fiction author Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love and will delight readers.

Henry is a wealthy American import tycoon whose ambition left behind his life of humbleness and poverty in England. His daughter, Alma is bestowed with all the benefits of money; a good education and fine material possessions. Though she is scholarly and has a passion for learning about the natural world, especially botany, she is rather plain in her looks and socially awkward. Having lived a sheltered life, she is thrilled when almost middle-aged, she meets Ambrose Pike an artist, spiritualist, and dreamer who shares her love of flowers and plants that he expresses in his artwork. They soon get married and Ambrose whisks Alma, who has never been out of Philadelphia, on a ship to exotic Tahiti. Though the story reveals insight into the couple’s relationship, it mainly focuses on Alma’s love and impact on science and emerging theories on evolution. Well researched, this is a fascinating story, not to be missed about a woman who was well ahead of her time.

When asked about the title, in an interview the author explained, “The Signature of All Things is the title of a 16th century botanical/divine theory posited by a German shoemaker-turned-mystic named Jacob Boehm, who believed that God so loved the world that He had hidden in the design of each plant on earth some clue for humans as to that plant’s usefulness. (For instance: Walnuts are good for headaches, and are also—helpfully—shaped like brains).”

 

The West Wing (1999)

LR0sW7OlKBTV Series – If you haven’t watched The West Wing yet – WHY NOT?  This is easily one of the highest rated shows in TV history. If you haven’t watched it in years, then it is time to re-watch it.  Once again it is very timely with the upcoming election and I bet that you will be wishing that a person like Jed Bartlet would be running for President. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it gives you a sneak peek into the everyday workings of the staff of the West Wing of the White House.  Unlike some other political series, the main characters are realistic with human shortcomings and watchers can’t help but sympathize and root for them and get an insight into their personal lives and their devotion to public service.  It’s fun to compare this drama which originally aired in 1999 and aired for 7 seasons to current series such as House of Cards, Madam Secretary, Scandal, and Veep.

And here’s another bonus – Joshua Malina, who was on the show as Will Bailey for 4 seasons now has a podcast called “The West Wing Weekly” that he co-hosts with Hrishikesh Hirway. Every week, the Podcast features one episode of the show airing chronologically starting with the “Pilot” which aired on March 23rd. So you can binge watch and catch up or watch an episode and then listen to the corresponding podcast episode.

Each podcast features recaps of the episode, commentary from the hosts, and special guests including former West Wing cast members, writers, and directors.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook – What could possibly go wrong at a bachelor party held at a respectable middle-aged investment banker’s house in the suburbs of New York?  So thought Kristin, even knowing that some naughty entertainment was scheduled. She gave her husband, Richard, her blessing to host the event for his younger brother and went off to Manhattan with their 9 year old daughter. But something happens that Richard never fathomed and his life becomes a total nightmare. The two beautiful strippers providing the entertainment stab and murder their bodyguards, take their hard earned cash, and flee the scene of the crime.

Bohjalian does an excellent job telling of how Richard and Kristin’s life and marriage start unraveling as a consequence of that night. Richard admits that he had gone into the guest room with one of the girls, but swears that nothing happened, though Kristin has her doubts. Richard is also suspended from his job, is hounded by the press, and threatened with blackmail. Meanwhile we learn of the plight of the two fugitives.  Alexandra and Sonja are not really women, but girls from Armenia and not only are they on the run from the police, but the Russian mob, as well. The girls were kidnapped as adolescents and turned into sex slaves in Russia and then brought to the United States. We find out about their sad and desperate circumstances. And now with no identification, credit cards, or knowledge of any different type of life are they really free? This story of suspense and desperation will keep the pages turning.

Bohjalian wrote this book to bring awareness that human trafficking and slavery is very prevalent and profitable to the exploiters.  To learn more, please visit The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

17262100Book – This sweeping saga explores family dynamics, loyalty, love, and loss. It is the story of two brothers growing up in India.  Totally inseparable, yet very different.  With only 15 months between them, the older one Subhash is serious, reserved, and reliable, while Udayan is impulsive, a risk taker, and rebellious.  In college both excel academically. Subhash studies chemistry, Udayan physics.  It is the late 1960’s and India is experiencing political turbulence.  Subhash decides to go to America for his PhD, while Udayan stays and becomes increasingly involved with radical militant groups. He even defies his family by foregoing tradition and marrying, Gauri, chosen for love.  The brothers lose touch leading their separate lives.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, Gauri and Subhash form their own unique relationship, so that he can make sense of Udayan’s actions and because his parents shunned Guari as their daughter-in-law. Subhash acts with integrity and tries to do the right thing, but will he be a victim of his own goodness?  This sweeping saga spans four decades and explores family dynamics, loyalty, love, and loss.

I highly recommend this wonderful book along with Jhumpa Lahiri’s other works – Interpreter of Maladies, In Other Words, The Namesake, and Unaccustomed Earth.

Poldark (2015)

poldarkTV Series – Family, friends, and servants assumed that Captain Ross Poldark did not survive fighting in the American Revolutionary War, but after a 3 year absence he returns to Cornwall and instead of a hero’s welcome he is faced with heartbreak and ruin.  His father has died, his beloved is engaged to his cousin, and his family estate is in severe neglect, the house squatted in by “faithful” servants.

The division and tension of the classes is even more apparent after the war. Ross has to make a living and needs means to restore the family estate, so he decides to open his father’s old copper mine.  He is no longer interested in his role as a gentleman and works side by side with the workers he employs. This surprisingly creates much resentment from his peers who would relish in his failure.  Poldark maintains his integrity and he is fiercely loyal to those devoted to him.

This superb historical drama could well fill the void for Downton Abbey fans.  It gives a strong sense of time and place – the beauty of Cornwall – and is rich in character development. Aidan Turner is wonderfully cast as Poldark and is complete eye candy too!

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

13158378BookTop Chef meets Pirates of the CaribbeanCinnamon and Gunpowder is a fun adventurous seafaring tale that mainly takes place on a pirate ship called the Flying Rose in 1819. Owen Wedgwood is the renowned personal chef to Lord Ramsey, the wealthy owner of the Pendleton Trading Company.  The ruthless pirate is Captain Mad Hannah Mabbot, who murders Owen’s employer and has her right hand man Mr. Apples kidnap the chef.  Though the ship has a cook, Hannah feels that she deserves a gourmet meal once a week and tells Owen that she will spare him his life as long as he obliges her.  Though his culinary skills are extensive, even Owen is challenged to create edible fare with the limited supplies on board, such as gruel, rat meat, and moldy potatoes.  Though a prisoner, Owen dines with Hannah weekly and learns that her mercenary pursuit of another rogue pirate, the Brass Fox, might be for noble reasons.  As time goes on his cooking skills evolve with the help of provisions picked up along the journey and the reader’s mouth will water with the delicacies he creates.  This swashbuckling read is a pure delight!

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

maya's notebookBook – What did 19 year old Maya from Berkley, California do to make her a fugitive from the FBI and drug lords and hide out in Chiloé, an isolated island on the coast of Chile? Her heartbreaking story is told as Maya records the torrid period of her life in a notebook that her grandmother, Nini has given her. Her grandparents raised her after her mother deserted her after her birth and her pilot father was rarely home due to his career. Maya’s troubles soon began after the death of her beloved grandfather, an astronomer and Nini’s husband. Maya begins hanging out with the wrong crowd, starts doing drugs, and eventually runs away to Las Vegas. Her grief is so intense that she spirals into a world of addiction, crime, homelessness, prostitution, and near death. Nini arranges Maya’s exile with an old friend, an anthropologist named Manuel. As expected, Maya’s life on Chiloé is very different. Eventually the natives warm up to her and Maya once again enjoys the simplicities of life. But she might not be totally safe . .  Allende paints a rich picture of the healing of Maya and the culture, superstitions, and natural beauty of the island and its people. Though different from the author’s other novels, because it is contemporary instead of historical fiction, it is just as moving as her other books.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

silent wifeBook – “… that her notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable than she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.”  So begins the gripping story of The Silent Wife. Jodi and Todd have been together for 20 years. Jodi is very content working as a psychotherapist part-time and filling the rest of her time with cooking, walking the dog, taking classes, and enjoying their expensive Chicago lake front condo. She even overlooks the fact that Todd strays once in a while, as he always comes back. Jodi never confronts him about it, since she is convinced that he is drawn back to their tranquil life together and her gourmet meals. Regardless, she feels that they make a great couple. Todd begins a relationship with the daughter of one of his friends. But something happens and he doesn’t come back. His new girlfriend gives Todd an ultimatum and suddenly he is moving out with threats of divorce and the prospect of being a father. Jodi’s illusion of the perfect relationship is shattered. Initially she is broken, but a “well meaning” friend advices her as to what she should be entitled to and encourages her on a course of revenge. This is a page turning psychological thriller that would probably appeal to fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Good Girl.

A movie based on the book is currently in production and will be starring Nicole Kidman.

 

Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey

honeymoonMusic CDHoneymoon by Lana Del Rey is a treat for her fans as well as those who like smoky, deep, lounge singer vocals. Her music has been labeled as alternative rock, hip hop, and indie. Her lyrics, many of which are written by her, are haunting and full of emotion. This CD contains 14 tracks. And I like all of them. Some of my favorite songs are: “High by the Beach”, “Terrence Loves You”, “Religion”, and “Salvatore”. Del Rey possesses an expansive contralto vocal range which spans more than three octaves. Ranging from high to low jazzy notes. She at times sounds like an angel, but don’t let her voice fool you, some of her lyrics can be quite gritty and explicit.

Some of her most popular songs include “Summertime Sadness” from the CD Born to Die and “Young and Beautiful” from the movie The Great Gatsby. Some of Lana’s favorite artists include Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, and Leonard Cohen. Adele is a fan of Lana Del Rey. For total entertainment, check out some of her music videos on YouTube.