Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dive into the Discworld

Hello, readers! This is Ariel from MPL’s Lake Branch. I was recently invited by our lovely librarians to contribute to this wonderful blog, and I am so excited to participate! Right off the bat, you should know that I am an avid reader of the fantasy genre. I’ll try my best to mix it up a bit here and there, but don’t be surprised if all my contributions are fantastic. You should also know that I’m terrible with puns.

For my debut on Mentor’s Reader, I thought it best to talk about my all-time favorite fantasy series—Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. These books are cram-packed with parodies of classic fantasy tropes and references to popular culture, all presented with Pratchett’s signature British wit. And while the stories take place on a world full of witches and werewolves and trolls (oh my!), the stories often contain sly commentaries on reality. Fans of Paul Di Filippo, Patricia Wrede, and Douglas Adams will understand how fantasy and humor can be combined to create a reading experience that is both amusing and thought-provoking

Every book takes place on the Discworld, a flat slab of land that floats around in space on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of a giant tortoise. The great thing about all of the books existing in the same universe is that it allows the characters from different stories to pop up at random and interact with each other, which is really neat.

Another great thing about the series is that you don’t necessarily have to read them in order. By focusing on a handful of interesting characters and containing a fully developed story, each book stands well on its own.   

That being said, there are some larger story arcs that span multiple titles. In these cases, I definitely recommend reading them in order, because it really makes the whole experience more enjoyable. (I speak from experience; I read one story arc in reverse order. It was kind of weird to see the main character and his wife having their first child in the first book I read, finding out they were expecting in the second, getting married in the third, etc.) 

Here are a few of the larger and more popular story arcs, with their corresponding titles:

Rincewind the Wizard: These books feature Rincewind, a wizard with little magical aptitude. Rincewind is the protagonist of Pratchett’s earliest Discworld novels, so he has a long history. It’s pretty funny seeing how Rincewind handles himself in all of the ridiculous situations he comes across. (Personally, I didn’t enjoy Pratchett’s earlier work as much, but I guess everyone has to start somewhere.)
Titles: The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Sourcery, Eric, Interesting Times, The Last Continent, The Last Hero, Unseen Academicals

The Witches of Lancre: One thing that I’ve always admired about Pratchett is his ability to create good female protagonists. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, a couple of the witches in this story arc, are prime examples. They’re smart and funny, and I wish they were real so I could hang out with them.
Titles: Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Carpe Jugulum

The City Watch: This is probably the most popular of Pratchett’s major story arcs. Join the large ensemble of characters that make up Ankh-Morpork’s law enforcement as they patrol the streets and do other police-type things, like investigating crimes and solving mysteries. This arc features one of the most pronounced character development in the whole series—notably that of Sam Vimes, who is transformed from drunkard to respected gentleman. (Remember when I said I read one arc backwards?)
Titles: Guards!Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, The Truth, The Last Hero, Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment, Thud!

This year’s release of Raising Steam marked the publication of the 40th title in the Discworld series. Yeah. Forty. And that doesn’t include the dozens of books about the series.

I’ll let you get settled on the Discworld before I start talking about those.

~Ariel J.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Movies and Television Shows, Part 1

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! Despite the fact that this is a bookish blog, we are also quite the film and television fanatics. Today's Top Ten Tuesday is so intense, so detailed, and so amazing, that the gift will keep on giving next week! Check here next Tuesday for the continuation.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

1. A list of best movies and television could really just begin and end with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. Released in 2001 and starring Audrey Tautou, Amélie is everything I could want from a movie. It’s a little dark, a little weird, and really happy. The film’s tagline, “she’ll change your life,” says it all - Amélie travels around Paris anonymously making strangers lives better with random acts of kindness. The movie boasts an eye-popping red/yellow/green (with an occasional splash of blue) color scheme and a mesmerizing soundtrack that gives the whole story a dreamlike quality. It’s really a perfect movie.

2. My favorite movie of 2013 was so great; it also makes my top five favorite movies. Short Term 12 is a quiet story of at-risk teens in a foster facility. Brie Larson stars as Grace, a counselor who is barely masking pain and is not so far removed from the kids she’s responsible for. I really can’t say anything about this movie better than The Dissolve’s Nathan Rabin, who spent much of his adolescence in a similar situation.
3. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was actually the first movie I ever saw in theaters. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the title screen fading away to reveal Belle stepping out of her house, singing the opening lines of her song. In 1991, Beauty and the Beast kicked off a decade of filmmaking that’s known today as the “Disney Renaissance.” It was the first and only animated feature to be nominated for best picture (that is, until the academy upped the number of nominees from 5 to 10 in 2009 when Pixar’s Up was subsequently honored). I also highly recommend the documentary, Waking Sleeping Beauty which chronicles the resurgence of creativity within Disney’s animation studio after a series of flops in the 1980s.

4. A modernist masterpiece, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind manages to capture the essence of memory and imagination. The movie begins after the relationship between Joel and Clementine (played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, arguably doing some of their best work) has long since soured. Clementine seeks the help of Lacuna Inc. and Dr. Mierzwiak to erase all her memories of Joel and when Joel finds out, he does the same. We follow Joel through his memories of his relationship with Clementine, beginning with the most recent – the quiet bitterness and resentment – and traveling back to when they first started to fall in love. What is especially great about Gondry’s direction is, as Joel’s memories get older, they get less clear. For example, during an argument with Clementine, she goes into the bathroom, but when Joel follows her, she appears in the kitchen. It’s as if he just can’t remember where exactly their fight took place.
5. Today, it’s JLaw’s world and we’re just living in it, but back in 2010, Jennifer Lawrence was just making her starring debut in Winter’s Bone. Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a tough as nails girl from the Ozarks responsible for her caring for her younger siblings and her catatonic mother. One day she finds out that her father, in jail for cooking meth, has skipped bail. Worse, he put their house up for collateral and if Ree doesn’t find him, they’ll lose the only thing holding the family together. Shot on location in Missouri, director Debra Granik uses the most of her surroundings. The desolate, barren woods nearly become a character in itself and Granik populates the film with locals instead of actors. But the film belongs to Lawrence, who wholly inhabits Ree turning a performance that I personally think is her best.

That's my top five movies, tune in next Tuesday for the top five television. It will be worth it!

~Meredith T.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Librarians' Line-Up: Know Poe

Here at the Mentor Public Library we are doing a month of programming based on the one, the only: Edgar Allan Poe. "Know Poe" also involves a "One City, One Read" project where we are discussing some of Poe's works. (If you haven't already, you should pick up a free copy of the "Know Poe Anthology" at any branch of the library.)

So this month, our librarians are discussing their favorite Poe tales, the creepier the better. Enjoy!

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
Little known fact - while most people associate the detective story with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, it was actually Poe who developed the style with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."  C. Auguste Dupin is called in to solve a baffling double murder where none of the witnesses can agree on what they believe to have transpired.  The solution is incredibly clever and I won't spoil it here, but it's safe to say you'll never guess it yourself!
~Meredith T.

"The Purloined Letter"
Poe essentially invented the figure of the amateur detective (even before the term had been coined) in the figure of C. Auguste Dupin. They’re all interesting, but “The Purloined Letter” is probably the best of the lot. It seems like such a simple story, but it has lots of hidden facets and meanings. You can read it as a tale of the cleverness of an amateur sleuth, but then you start thinking, “What was in the letter?” or “How does the Queen relate to the King?” and this opens up any number of other things. Poe’s narratives can be dark to the point of morbidity, but the Dupin stories are really a pleasure to read.
~John F.

"The Fall of the House of Usher"
A creepy story about a man visiting an ancient family who has met with ruin and the entombment of one of the family members. I wrote a creative paper on this story when I was in college. Its haunted walls and insidious chambers have crept into my thoughts many a time since reading it.
~Kristin M.

"The Tell-Tale Heart"
I love the fact that this story is super-creepy, but subtle. All of the information is revealed slowly, and at first you think the narrator is just being paranoid, but there's so much more to it than that! Also, it is near impossible to read this story without hearing the sound of a heartbeat. It is all about guilt and how that manifests in the narrator's life, which is pretty scary in and of itself.
~Cailey W.
The plague known as “The Red Death” has been spreading across the countryside, killing anyone it comes into contact with in less than half an hour. Despite the threat of death, Prince Prospero decides to throw a party, inviting thousands of people to a masquerade at his home. The guests barricade the doors, attempting to wait out the plague. At the stroke of midnight a mysterious figure appears. The figure approaches the Prince, killing him with just a look. The guests attack the figure and remove his mask, only to no face underneath. The plague was coming from inside the house!
~Marilyn W.

"The Raven"
This story brings back great high school memories for me. My sophomore English class had to memorize the first 5 stanzas. Then, on our weekly poetry day, we were REQUIRED to SHOUT the stanzas as loud as we could while in class. Doors slammed down the school hallway at least once a week. Awesome! (And, to this day I can still recite that poetry by heart. Forevermore.)
~Mary P.

My favorite Poe is "The Raven." It’s a great poem to hear read aloud. And it just so happens you’ll get a chance to do just that when our Poe impersonator comes on July 28!
~Amanda D.

What's your favorite Poe story? And don't forget to join us to talk about them!

We still have several Know Poe programs that you won't want to miss out on this month--including free films at Atlas Cinemas on Thursday evenings, a Poe writing class, and a children's Poe obstacle course!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Time Travel to Save the World

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

When you have read a book six months ago and, yet, it still resonates with you today, you know that you’ve read a great book; All Our Yesterdays is that book for me.

In the not too distant future, Em is being held in a secret government facility. She has papers describing a machine that can send people back in time (in order to change the future) and Em has been imprisoned and tortured by “the Doctor” who wants her copy of those plans. The future has become a nightmare; the Doctor is using the machine to change the past and amass power for himself. Personal freedoms and rights have been set aside in the name of “security” and America has become a police state. But, Em can change it. All she has to do is go back in time. But, she has gone back and tried 14 different solutions to fix the future. None of them have worked. This is her last chance and all she has to do is the unthinkable – kill the person she loves most in the world.

In general, I dislike time travel books, but All Our Yesterdays got such great reviews I thought I would try it. And, this books proves that time travel isn’t that bad – if there is logic and good writing behind the plotline. The ending of this book is a little convoluted and I wondered if the teenagers this book was intended for would understand it. But, once you get past it, it makes total, logical sense. This book presupposes the reader is intelligent enough to take the actions at the climatic moment of the book , backtrack, and apply those changes to a “new” past/present. Will teenagers get it? The popularity of this book says they do.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has action, it has heart, it has teenage angst, and it has a love story that isn’t quite love and doesn’t quite end up the way you thought it would when you started reading. It also makes you think, “If you had the chance, would you go back in time and try to change to past in order to change your present? Would you kill to do it? Would you kill the person you loved the most in the world to do it? Could you?”

Read the book, see what Terrill’s characters do, and then try to answer that question yourself.
~Mary P.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesdays: Favorite Classic Books

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! Today's topic is our favorite classic books, and Marilyn has picked an amazing assortment for you. 

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

Right from the start of this book I was hooked. I love dystopian novels, and this is classic dystopian. Not to mention that it preaches the importance of books and reading. Can I get an amen?
This is a book that I think everyone should read. What I love most about this book is the shining beacon of good that is Atticus “The World’s Greatest Dad” Finch.
A group of boys get stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash; what could possibly go wrong? Lots; lots of things could go wrong. The boys try to behave like civilized young gents but eventually the darker side of humanity takes over.
It’s weird to put this on a list of my favorites, considering the book’s dark subject matter. However, I do think that it is an incredibly important book and deserves to be mentioned on this list. This book tells the stories of six survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima. It is a grim reminder of what humans are capable of doing to each other.
Is it cliché to put one of Shakespeare’s works on this classics list? Probably, but I’m doing it anyway. Every time I read Macduff explaining that he was not “of woman born” I can’t help but imagine him dropping the mic with the three witches cheering in the background while Macbeth gets served.
I have a love/hate relationship with The Great Gatsby. I hate all of the characters and everything they do, but I love that a book can make me feel so strongly about its characters.
I’ve read and re-read this book and it always brings a smile to my face. It’s a tale of true love, torture, death and sword fights. Who would ask for more?
“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” Madeline was one of my favorite picture books growing up. The story is adorable and the artwork is absolutely beautiful.
I believe that most, if not all, of Roald Dahl’s books are classics, and Matilda just happens to be my favorite. Matilda was a huge inspiration to me as a child and to this day is still one of my favorite characters.
The Velveteen Rabbit is the story of an adorable stuffed rabbit that told that if the little boy who owns him loves him enough he will become “real.” He soon becomes the boy’s favorite toy but the boy catches scarlet fever and the now contaminated rabbit must be burned. I swear I’m not crying over a silly old stuffed rabbit. I’ve just got something in my eye.  

And you, dear reader? Which classics have stuck with you?


Friday, June 27, 2014

Greta Wells, Times Three

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer

It is 1985, and Greta Wells is not doing so well. Her brother Felix recently passed away, her long-term lover Nathan has left, and she is just overcome with a lack of emotion. In order to "fix" this, Greta begins to see a doctor, who recommends a long set of treatment--electroshock therapy. As Greta is shocked, her life shifts. She is no longer Greta of the '80s, but now she is Greta in 1918. She has the same family, the same house, but everything is different. Then in 1918 Greta undergoes shock therapy, and she awakens in 1941. When she has the therapy in 1941, she is then back in 1985. The cycle continues throughout Greta's therapy sessions, with the other Gretas traveling to the other time periods as well (although we don't actually get their viewpoints, except through a few journal entries). There are similar threads running through each Greta's life, including infidelity, mortality, and depression. Every Greta has lost something or someone recently, causing her depression and subsequent therapy.

This book was not necessarily easy to read, as the characters in each time period are essentially the same. It was a little too easy to forget if we were in 1941 or 1918, since many of the same characters had similar attributes in each world. Each chapter is headed with whatever year Greta currently resides in, though, so I could flip back for an idea. The author is definitely saying something about the role of the woman in these time periods, since in each time, Greta struggles with what she is "allowed" to do, and what is expected of her. In some ways, Greta finds these rules freeing, if only because they bring a sense of order to her life. Yet Greta is a woman of the '80s, fully liberated and at times offended by the lack of attention given to her ideas and suggestions.

Greta is surrounded by her lover/husband Nathan (different depending on the time), brother Felix, and aunt Ruth. Each character is rooted in their time period. For example, Nathan is part of WWI in 1918, and WWII in 1941. Felix, a gay man, is stifled by the expectations that he marry a nice girl and settle down, as opposed to be open with the world.

The central ideas of the book seem to revolve around fixing each Greta's world. I guess a sort of "fresh eyes" kind of idea. Each Greta seems to alter the others' lives, whether it be through a need to relive their own familiar lives, or simply by trying to hard. The main Greta is determined to fix her family's lives in 1918 and 1942, even if they aren't ready for the change.

Not being a big fan of time travel, I picked up this book with a good amount of hesitancy. It had been compared to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, and recommended by a fellow librarian. Since Atkinson's work seemed too big for me to handle, I thought this book may be a better alternative. I grew to like the book, although it took me until about halfway into the book to really feel the pull to keep reading. Greer tackles some pretty tough issues, such as AIDS, infidelity, post-traumatic stress (although not yet called that), and juggles three stories without getting me too lost. It's not necessarily an easy read, but it is worthwhile.

~Cailey W.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ever wonder what a traveling theater troupe at the end of the world performs?

I just finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The book is set in a world ravaged by a flu that kills most of the population. The night before the outbreak begins, a famous actor, Arthur, dies on stage while playing King Lear. 

The book follows the lives of people Arthur was connected with in some way—the paparazzo turned paramedic student who tries to save his life, the young actor who looks up to Arthur as a father, Arthur’s first two wives and his son. Although most of these people do not have connections in this new world, they are nonetheless bound by survival and history. 

This book doesn’t do anything new with the end of the world theme, but it is a solid entry into the ranks. This is not Hunger Games, but rather the kind of fiction that focuses on what normal people would do when faced with the end of society as we know it. I like the last scene where a character chooses to look to the future rather than relying on the past. An all-around solid read that will be on shelves at a library near you soon! If you liked this, I would also recommend The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Another phenomenal read in the end of the world genre. 

Oh, and to answer the title’s question: Shakespeare, of course.

~Amanda D.