Book – State of Wonder by Ann Patchett starts in Minnesota and sends us on an exotic journey down the Amazon River to the Jungles of Brazil. Pharmacologist Marina Singh receives word that her research partner, Anders Eckman, has died of a mysterious fever and that his body is buried somewhere in the Amazon Jungle. Anders was sent there by their pharmaceutical company to check on the progress of the development of a new fertility drug by Dr. Annick Swenson, because she refuses to respond to the company’s increasingly urgent queries. Marina agrees to go to the Amazon for the sake of Anders’s wife, who has her doubts about his death, and for the company that still needs answers from Dr. Swenson.
Marina arrives in the town of Manaus, where she eventually hooks up with Dr. Swenson. Marina discovers that Dr. Swenson has a hidden agenda regarding the secrecy of her research and the mystery surrounding the death of Dr. Eckman. Fast-paced and beautifully written, the reader will feel the oppressive heat, heaviness and crawly feeling of the jungle. Definitely a page turner and very thought provoking, especially regarding the issues of science and ethics. Recommended as a book discussion read. If you enjoy this book you may want to read these: Intuition by Allegra Goodman, The Sound of Butterflies by Rachael King, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre, and other books by Ann Patchett.
Book – The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a hauntingly beautiful story set in an extraordinary time. The rotation of the Earth is gradually slowing which affects the length of days and nights, gravity, tides, the food supply, and human and animal behavior.
Told from the perspective of Julia, a sensitive bright 11 year old, this is more of a coming of age tale than science fiction. Julia narrates her life as an adolescent bringing to light typical experiences of popularity, bullying, friendships, cliques, and crushes. But if life weren’t complicated enough, Julia now must face the reality of what the future holds for her and if she has a future at all. Not only are there blatant environmental changes, but normal daily activities are increasingly difficult to hold onto. The Earth’s inhabitants are divided on whether to live by the clock or let the sun and darkness, which are both slowly increasing as the Earth’s rotation continuously is slowing, dictate their sleeping and waking patterns.
Walker consulted scientists in her research and while reading the book I questioned how I would react and what would I do under similar circumstances. This is a great book for both teens and adults. It was named one of the “Best Books of the Year” by O: The Oprah Magazine, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and others. A movie based on the book is currently in production.
Book – Can marriage work for a modern day mail order bride and her suitor? Read The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger to find out. Twenty-four-year-old Amina from Bangladesh meets 34-year-old George from Rochester, New York via the internet on the website AsianEuro.com. They had never met in person, but only received photos of each other as attachments in email. Despite obvious differences in nationality, culture and religious upbringing they decide to marry. When Amina arrives in 2005, she experiences true culture shock, but slowly assimilates. Within three years she has her green card, is married to George, and is taking college courses while working at Starbucks. However, there are problems. Amina returns to Bangladesh to bring her parents to the U.S., but a problem with her father’s visa delays her return. Will absence between Amina and George make their hearts grow fonder? This is a moving story of love, kindness, acceptance and cross-cultural differences with just the right amount of humor to make it an enjoyable read.
TV Show – If you want fast paced juicy escapism then you should watch the TV series Scandal. This is about dirty politics and politicians in Washington, D.C. and their greed for power. Sometimes reputations get tarnished and scandals arise. That’s where Olivia Pope comes in. She is a professional “fixer” who makes problems go away before anyone knows they exist. Kerry Washington stars as Olivia who worked previously as the White House Communications Director for the current President of the United States and was instrumental in helping him get elected to the Oval Office. Her crisis management firm has a staff of intelligent devoted operatives, who like Olivia, are very good at keeping secrets, perhaps because they all have secrets of their own. These people devote their lives to managing crisis after crisis and they work very hard at trying to punish the bad guys and reward the deserving. The characters are well developed and the twists and turns in the storylines will keep you watching. Shonda Rhimes of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice is the creator of Scandal.
Movie – 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.
DVDs -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.
Book – Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is an inspirational and candidly honest memoir by Cheryl Strayed. At the age of 26, feeling that she no longer had anything to lose, Strayed makes an impulsive decision to hike 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail; her ultimate goal is to reach the Bridge of the Gods spanning the Columbia River at the Washington-Oregon border. Totally inexperienced and naïve she embarks solo on a journey that begins in the Mojave Desert and takes her through California, Oregon, and Washington State. I was perfectly content being an armchair traveler as the author encountered black bears, rattlesnakes, temperature extremes, inadequate boots that rubbed blisters on her heels and made her toe nails fall off and clothing that failed to keep her cool in scorching heat or warm in the bitter cold while hauling all her possessions in a ridiculously heavy backpack appropriately named Monster. She was lonely, vulnerable, and woefully inexperienced. Many times she went hungry and unshowered due to her lack of planning and funds. At other times, I wished that I could hike along with Strayed taking in the beauty of the trail, feeling a great sense of accomplishment with every mile hiked and enjoying the interactions when meeting up with other hikers and experiencing the kindnesses and friendships that she made along the way. I cheered as she became stronger, smarter and began to heal. The book also recounts her disappointments and mistakes including drug use and sexual promiscuity that ultimately led to her escape to the trail. “I was crying over all of it,” she writes, “over the sick mire I’d made of my life since my mother died; over the stupid existence that had become my own. I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly.” This is a lovely story of both physical and spiritual endurance and realization.
Book – Cutting for Stone is a beautiful haunting epic story that will probably appeal to fans of The Kite Runner. Set in Ethiopia, the story is about conjoined twin boys Marion and Shiva Praise Stone who are born as a result of a secret love affair between a British surgeon and his surgical nurse and assistant, an Indian nun, both working at Missing Hospital near Addis Ababa. Tragically, the mother dies in childbirth and the devastated father disappears leaving the hospital and his newborn sons behind. Hema and Ghosh, doctors from the same hospital, raise the boys as their own. Though successfully separated at birth, the boys still have a very strong emotional bond to each other and their different personalities make them a complete soul.
The overthrow of the Ethiopian government disrupts their childhood and other events and personal choices result in the brothers drifting apart. Marion goes to the United States and becomes a resident at a hospital in the Bronx. He finds out that his biological father is a famous surgeon in the area. Shiva completes medical school in Addis Ababa and continues practicing medicine at Missing Hospital. An event of life and death reunites the brothers with their father. The author, Abraham Verghese, was born in Ethiopia and started his medical training there. He continues his medical career in the United States and has written other works based on his experiences.
Book - Chick Lit meets The West Wing and if you enjoy the TV series Scandal you will probably like this book. This fun, fast read is written by Kristin Gore, daughter of former Vice-President Al Gore. The main character, Samantha Joyce, Sammy, is a 26 year old domestic policy advisor to the Junior Senator from Ohio, Robert Gary. Sammy is an idealist who shares the Senator’s passion for health care reform. She is dedicated, big-hearted and loves working on Capitol Hill, never complaining about her 70 hour work week, despite being a hypochondriac and ever hopeful for romance. During a fact finding mission working on Gary’s latest health care related bill, she meets Aaron, a speechwriter for Senator Bramen a powerful politician with questionable ethics. Dizzy with love and overworked Sammy mistakenly sends a racy message to over 200 of Capitol Hill’s political elite giving Samantha her first taste of D.C. scandal. Love is in the air, but can her romance with Aaron survive when their bosses become political rivals? Kristin Gore is a keen observer of politics and definitely shares her insider knowledge of D.C. social life and how things really work in Washington and on the campaign trail. A light enjoyable read and I actually learned a few things. Good news, if you like this book-there is a sequel, Sammy’s House and rumor has it that there is a movie in the making.
Book – The Art Institute of Chicago is currently featuring a special exhibit, Violence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes” displaying her sensational painting on loan from Florence through January 09, 2014. Artemisia was as beautiful and strong as the women in her paintings, frequently using herself as a model. This fictionalized account of her artistic life gives readers insight of this true Renaissance woman and the obstacles and conflicts that she overcame to be one of the most famous and skilled painters of the Baroque era, a woman centuries ahead of her time. Artemisia’s mother died when she was twelve and was raised and apprenticed by her artist father, Orazio while living in Rome. At the age of 18 she was raped by her father’s friend Agostino. Though he is brought to trial, she ends up being publicly humiliated, shamed and betrayed by her father. She feels that she has no other choice, but to leave Rome and agrees to marry Pietro Stiatessi, an artist in Florence. Her marriage soon develops rifts as Artemisia begins to have some success. She wins the patronage of the Medicis and is the first woman to be elected to the Accademia dell’Arte before her husband. She continues establishing herself as an artist, acquires more commissions and friendships with intellectuals including Galileo. Pietro is jealous of his wife’s success and they soon separate and she continues her life as a working single mother, unheard of for an admired reputable woman during that time period. Art truly is Artemesia’s passion and Vreeland beautifully conveys that in her book. Other books by the same author include Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and others.