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Is It Luck or Fate?

Is It Luck or Fate?

posted by:
December 3, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Some LuckIn Jane Smiley's Some Luck, on a farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon begin their married lives in 1920 in the time-honored tradition of past generations. Walter ponders fertile fields and chooses good bottom land for his farm. Rosanna becomes the consummate farmer’s wife and produces five children, all with vastly different personalities: Frank, brilliant but fiercely independent; Joe, whose gentle spirit and love of the land make him the heir apparent to the farm; Lillian, the beautiful but innocent angel; Mary Elizabeth, destined to fate; Clare, her father’s favorite; and Henry, always thirsting for knowledge.

 

Spanning three generations, covering the coming of age of America, Some Luck is the latest offering from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Smiley. Smiley deftly weaves historical events throughout her narrative, painting a portrait of one family as it endures the Great Depression, drought, social unrest and burgeoning communism, through World War II and its aftermath. With a sure hand, Smiley portrays each of these events as they affect farmers and laborers, town and city, America and the world. Whether on the farm or in a war, everyone must endure the hardship and the vagaries of life and fate. As Grandma observes, “But what would we do without some luck?” Smiley also subtly reminds us of the importance of family and friends, as they support each other through trying times and happy moments. As Walter and Rosanna survey their family at a Thanksgiving feast, they realize all they have achieved and conquered and that, by forming this family, they have created 23 unique stories that will resonate through succeeding generations.

 

Some Luck is the first installment in a trilogy. Once you have laughed and cried and shared all their stories, you will be anxiously awaiting the next installment.
 

Leanne

 
 

The Worst Fear

Cover art for The FallCover art for On ImmunityAsk parents to share their deepest fear and, inevitably, it involves something tragic happening to their child. In Diogo Mainardi’s The Fall: A Father’s Memoir in 424 Steps, Mainardi writes about the intersection of grandeur and error which led to his son’s disabling cerebral palsy. On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss examines modern medicine’s sometimes controversial practice of vaccination.

 

424. That’s the number of footsteps taken by Tito Mainardi as he and his father walk to Venice Hospital where he was born, and where physician error resulted in his brain injury. It’s also the number of brief passages that make up this small memoir in which Mainardi finds connections between art, architecture, music and history, and relates them back to Tito and his illness. Profoundly moving and structured by concentric links, The Fall demonstrates that tragedy and beauty may not be such a dichotomy after all.

 

Red-faced and screaming or silently stoic: either way, it can be tough as a parent to put a child through the often painful series of recommended inoculations. Even more difficult would be wondering if your child’s autism was triggered by a vaccine or passing on those shots only to see a child hospitalized with whooping cough. Biss looks at the varied reasons behind a parent’s decision to decline immunizations, which include African and Middle Eastern Muslim fears of a western plot to harm their children via the polio vaccine to American concerns about greedy pharmaceutical companies or political agendas pushing unnecessary and invasive medicine — all of which compromise the “herd immunity” protecting communities from disease outbreak. On Immunity provides a thoughtful view on the impact of vaccines on contemporary public health.

Lori

 
 

Life Lessons

Life Lessons

posted by:
November 28, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Don't Give Up, Don't Give InWar hero and Olympian Louis Zamperini died last July at the age of 97, but was able to finish Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life with co-author David Rensin. This inspirational volume is filled with Zamperini’s wisdom and insight garnered from a long life of remarkable experiences.

 

Zamperini was an American World War II prisoner of war survivor, an Olympic distance runner and, in his later years, a popular, inspirational speaker. His remarkable life has absorbed readers in both his autobiography, Devil at My Heels and Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling Unbroken. Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In is not a rehash of prior books. Instead readers learn more about the man, his personality and his will to endure from previously untold stories. Faced with one horrific event after another, including a plane crash and a brutal Japanese prisoner of war camp, Zamperini refused to give up and chose to view hardships as challenges. After the war, the adventures continued and even included a showdown with Frank Sinatra! Zamperini is honest in answering the questions he received repeatedly from fans and in revealing his secrets to living an honorable but exciting faith-based life.

 

Zamperini’s incredible life story will be brought to the big screen next month with Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Unbroken. Watch the trailer of this film, already generating award buzz, written by the Coen brothers and featuring Jack O’Donnell.
 

Maureen

 
 

Leslie Knope Approved This Message

Cover art for Yes Please by Amy PoehlerAmy Poehler wants you to know that writing a book is very, very hard to do. She handles the pressure well in her memoir, Yes Please.

 

Delving into her deep-rooted love for all things comedy, Poehler shares hilarious stories from her performing past. She shares how, as a 10-year-old playing the role of Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard Of Oz, she was able to get her first audience to laugh and how she has been chasing that feeling ever since. From her college years through her work with improv troupe (and later Comedy Central show) The Upright Citizens Brigade, Poehler stresses the value of hard work as the source of her success. Fans of her work on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation will not be disappointed either — several chapters share inside jokes, back stories and funny mishaps on the sets of both beloved shows.

 

Her vast work experience isn’t the only engaging part of this memoir: Poehler also gets personal. Her reflections on motherhood and raising her two boys, Archie and Abel, demonstrate her creativity in parenting. She doesn’t directly address her divorce with comedian Will Arnett, but does offer a hilarious chapter on some divorce books she would like to someday write, such as “I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow!” and “The Holidays Are Ruined!” There are lots of stories about her friendships with recognizable names, like Tina Fey and Louis C.K. Best friend Seth Meyers also contributes a short chapter.  

 

Inter-chapters feature some interesting “advice,” and the book shows off some great keepsakes: a letter from Hillary Clinton welcoming Archie into the world, a signed photo of The Wire’s Michael K. Williams and many photographs and relics from her childhood, including poems she wrote when she was little.

 

This memoir is perfect for any fan of Amy Poehler, her work or comedy in general. Her wealth of experience in a variety of venues and acts will inspire and educate those looking to “break into the biz,” and her ideas about everything from performing sketch comedy nine-months pregnant to how our cell phones will eventually kill us will amuse and entertain any reader. After reading, pick up some of her best work, like Parks and Recreation or Saturday Night Live: The Best of Amy Poehler on DVD.
 

Jessica

 
 

Everyone, Beginning with Anyone

Everyone, Beginning with Anyone

posted by:
November 24, 2014 - 7:00am

Three Hundred MillionBlake Butler’s 300,000,000 is a jungle; readers require courage and a literary machete to traverse this five-part psychological horror story. Told through the mediums of a manifesto left in the wake of a heinous murder spree, a first-hand account of the police investigation into the atrocities, and a disjointed recollection stitching the pieces together with plenty of room for the viscera to seep out, 300,000,000 is filled with rare glimpses of toxic and transcendent ravings.

 

Gretch Gravey is 300,000,000’s patient zero of homeland terror, supplicating and drugging teenage metal heads in his city to transform them into thralls of murder. He releases his ever-expanding army of brainwashed husks into the suburbs to kidnap people and bring them back to his house to be killed and buried in a sub-basement crypt. Gravey’s ultimate goal is the utter decimation of America by its own pudgy hands, and his successes are unhindered despite his eventual incarceration. Investigating police officer E.N. Flood feels himself being consumed by Gravey’s residual evil and attempts to chronicle his descent into madness in his notes, which are actively redacted by other members of the force who have succumbed to Gravey’s will.

 

As if Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club and Damned were chewed up and spat out in a bilious, meaty mass, 300,000,000 is disgusting and schizophrenic, yet somehow delicious in its depravity. Readers who enjoy wandering through their pitch-black houses when it’s so late that it’s actually early will be tickled by the way Blake Butler makes them question their sanity. 

Tom

 
 

From Ranch Hand to Hollywood

From Ranch Hand to Hollywood

posted by:
November 21, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover of Falling from Horses by Molly GlossAward-winning author Molly Gloss’ newest novel has a transitional setting that begins on a ranch in Oregon in 1938, but the narrator looks at the past and whispers of present day. Falling from Horses is a layered work of fiction that strategically weaves together a man’s whole life by looking at the events that helped define it.

 

The protagonist, Bud Frazer, is the son of humble tenant ranchers. His upbringing instilled in him a way of life that Bud decides to use for a career, though not in the way his parents anticipated. Upon leaving home as a new adult, he tries his hand in the rodeo circuit before deciding to move to Hollywood and become a stunt rider for Western films. Eager to rub elbows with all the big names of the day, Bud packs his bags and hops a bus south. En route to Hollywood, Bud meets Lily, an aspiring screenwriter, and in their short time together on that bus trip they fall into a platonic relationship that spans a lifetime.

 

Those that have enjoyed Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses should pick this one up and give it a go. Like McCarthy, Gloss’ work is a character-driven narrative of a young man trying to find his path in the twisting and turning maze of life.

Randalee

 
 

Her Face Is a Map of the World

Her Face Is a Map of the World

posted by:
November 18, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover of The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill LeporeWas there ever a superhero created to save the day quite like Wonder Woman? Superman and Batman may have been made for pure entertainment, but Wonder Woman was always supposed to help usher in a new age of feminism where women reigned supreme over men and everyone got tied up a lot. This is The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, and it's going to be a wild ride.

 

Wonder Woman had three main creators. Psychologist William Moulton Marston was the grandstanding inventor of the lie detector (though not the polygraph). His wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, was a professional editor and the main breadwinner in a family of three adults and four children. Olive Byrne was the third member of their triad, the niece of Margaret Sanger, and likely the comic's ghost writer. Obviously, this concept wouldn’t have gone over so well in 1940s America.

 

The Margaret Sanger link is important. The Marstons had very close–but hidden–ties with the women’s rights movement. William Marston conducted psycholoy experiments at Harvard. He put himself through college writing movie scripts. His attempts to get people to recognize the value of his lie detector got an innocent man a life sentence, got lie detectors permanently thrown out of court and put him on the FBI's watchlist. Wonder Woman comics contain the history of several eras, as reimagined by a self-important huckster.

 

The Secret History of Wonder Woman brings all the different pieces of history together – of early psychology, education reform, suffrage and feminism from several decades. Everything is illustrated with panels from the Wonder Woman comics. From the Harvard psychology professor who became Wonder Woman's first villain to Wonder Woman's real world run for president after her creator's death. History shaped Wonder Woman, and then Wonder Woman rewrote history.

Matt

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Justice Delayed

Justice Delayed

posted by:
November 17, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Dear DaughterIn Dear Daughter, Janie Jenkins has the kind of life teenage girls like to read about in fan magazines. She’s famous for the parties she’s attended, the high-profile celebrities she’s gotten high with and the fabulous clothes she wears. Paris Hilton wishes she were Janie Jenkins. Until 16-year-old Janie sneaks into her mother’s closet, climbs into her mother’s best fashion boots and overhears a passionate argument. The next thing Janie remembers, she is covered with her mother’s blood and trying to explain this to the police.

 

Janie is known among her set as the girl most likely to steal your boyfriend. She may be popular in the press, but not among her peers. She is devious and her number one priority is herself. This may not be evidence of murder, but it sure gets you biased witnesses and an unsympathetic jury. Convicted of her mother’s murder, Janie spends 10 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Or, did she?

 

Released on a technicality, Janie follows clues she’s uncovered in the prison library databases. Pursued by the vulture press and obsessed bloggers who want her to pay for her evil act, Janie assumes the identity of a nerdy historian. In her new guise, she probes the past of the tiny gold-rush town her mother grew up in, proving that even the tiniest towns can hold deadly secrets.

 

Elizabeth Little’s debut thriller Dear Daughter brings a completely fresh perspective to the mystery scene. Her character exhibits the raw emotion of a traumatized teenager. Instead of compassion and therapy, she receives condemnation and punishment. Isolated and alone, Janie must battle her own demons in order to unearth the truth, no matter how horrific. Fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and William Landay’s Defending Jacob will appreciate the fast pace and moral conundrums. Climb into your favorite easy chair, you are about to pull an all-nighter.

Leanne

 
 

It’s a Dog’s Life

Cover art for The Great GrisbyMikita Brottman may be a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, but she clearly has a greater passion in her life. In The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical and Artistic Dog Lovers and Their Exceptional Animals, Brottman shares not only her love for her French bulldog but how dogs have been a major sources of inspiration to people throughout history. Grisby, the titular dog, was the influence for Brottman’s book which explores many human-canine relationships, both fictional and real.
 

While each chapter is ostensibly about such pairings as Prince Albert and his dog Eos or Charles Dickens’ character Dora and her beloved dog Jip, Grisby does turn up throughout the narrative in asides and anecdotes. The stories run the gamut from heartwarming to heartbreaking as Brottman relates tales about the very peculiar bond that exists between people and their furry friends. Just be warned that some of the dogs did meet untimely and even grisly ends which are told in graphic detail.

Regina

 
 

A Favor House Galactic

Cover art for TrilliumWhen it comes to comic books and graphic novels, Jeff Lemire is a 21st century Renaissance man. Hailing from Canada, he has been recognized numerous times for his prowess in both storytelling and artistry. Lemire has written and drawn most of his works completely on his own, but he also fares incredibly well when teaming up with other writers and inkers at DC Comics.
 

Lemire’s sci-fi brain bender Trillium is an eight-issue comic series published over the span of August 2013 to April 2014. In Trillium, adventurers Nika and William are torn from their worlds by occult magic and thrust together in an alien jungle on a foreign planet. Through this supernatural machination, the couple becomes intertwined, although they don’t realize it at first since they’re unable to communicate due to language disparities. Nika and William fight to understand each other while combing the flora and fauna in search of the rare trillium flower, which is thought to be the only possible cure to a sentient, space-travelling supervirus that has decimated humanity.
 

Trillium is confounding and strangely beautiful. Navigating dimensions with William and Nika is a thrilling experience with a rewarding narrative that endears readers to persevere. Throughout the series, Lemire toys with conventional comic layout standards and actually has readers flipping the book upside down and reading from back to front, conveying the disorientation the characters are feeling. Lemire’s signature mixed medium art style leaves each page messy and scrawled, evoking hysteria and tension. His ability to convey emotions through his characters’ faces is incredible; oftentimes it isn’t what’s said, but what’s left unsaid that resonates in Lemire’s works. The same is true of his 2008-2009 Essex County Trilogy, which has been praised as one of the best Canadian graphic novels of its decade.

Tom