Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Girl You Left Behind: a Review

I run two book clubs here at the library, but I also have a group of friends who hold a book club. Sadly, I don't get there too often (mostly not enough time to read), but this month I was determined, so I picked up The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. Moyes is best known for the multiple-tissues needed Me Before You, made into a film last year (I needed multiple tissues for that too!). So knowing this, I was prepared for The Girl You Left Behind to break my heart. And it did; it really really did.

Sophie Lefevre lives in northern France in the midst of the First World War. She and her sister, Helene, are just managing to scrape by running their cafe, having just enough food for themselves, their brother, and Helene's children. Their town is occupied by the Germans, so nothing in their lives is actually easy.

Both Sophie and Helene's husbands are off on the front, and the women are missing their husbands terribly. Sophie, in particular is having a very hard time without her Edouard, a painter. Her comfort is the painting he made of her quite early in their relationship, which she keeps as a reminder of their love.

Flash forward to 2006 and that painting now hangs in the home of a London widow. The young woman, Liv, was given the painting by her husband, who died suddenly in his thirties. She has had the painting for many years, but suddenly, it has become the center of a restitution claim. Liv has to fight for what's right, but who decides that?

The book is invested in finding the truth of what the real history of the painting is, what happened to Sophie and Edouard Lefevre, and how to determine what is really right and wrong.

This book took me on a crazy journey and I became very invested in its outcomes. I didn't know what I was getting into with the book, since I'd only picked up due to the book club. At first I thought that the book was going to focus only on Sophie, which was a hard story to read for me. War-time tales can be rough to read. So when the focus abruptly shifted to Liv, it was almost like starting a new book.

The book is really about both women, and it could easily be two separate books about the different characters. The parallels between the two women were very interesting, considering the near-century between their lives. I found the whole case of restitution from the First World War to be a fascinating concept. I knew little about restitution cases, and the book really taught me a lot.

Ultimately, there was the examination of what is black and white, and where things fall on the spectrum between. Is grey really acceptable? Can some things be swept under the rug without consequences?

I definitely recommend picking this book up, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction. Even if you are not, this story was worth telling. It had mystery elements underlying the whole book, and the forward momentum never stopped. I'm the type of person who likes when I get so invested in a book that it is able to break my heart, so I do recommend keeping tissues handy if you, like me, are tenderhearted.

~Cailey

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Top 10 Books on My Spring “To Be Read” List

 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. John Rees, The Leveller Revolution
I’ve had a preview copy of this on my stack for a few weeks now and I’m just getting around to making time for it now. The Levellers are part of a really interesting moment in history when common people rose up against kings and aristocrats and said, “Sorry, we don’t need you anymore.” This is the first book in a long time that attempts a comprehensive history of the movement, and it’s a fun story too, although I will say that the main characters didn’t fare very well in the end.

This is the beginning of a new series for Stross, whose Laundry Files and Merchant Princes books have set a pretty high standard. It’s set in the world that he created for Merchant Princes, but using different characters and set at a different point in the timeline. I’m excited about this. His creative impetus in the Laundry Files had been sort of running down and it seemed like he needed a new challenge of some kind. This is near future type urban science fiction, and you can expect the snappy, uptempo writing that is Stross’s hallmark and some interesting speculation a what the next decades of human civilization might bring.

I’ve been trying to make some more time to read sci-fi and this new book by McDermott looks fantastic. It seems like sci-fi writers have been doing a lot better job lately of imagining how cloning and faster than light communication might allow interplanetary travel and colonization. This is another one of those books (Neptune’s Brood and The Voice of the Whirlwind are other examples) that look at the complications of being a clone and how lives divided into multiple bits can get very, very complicated.

There’s been a lot of Wonder Woman buzz lately, especially with the new movie starring Gal Gadot set for release later this year. The run of Wonder Woman comics contained in this collection is part of DC’s Rebirth series, which have tried to show some of their older characters in a slightly different light. The focus here is on Wonder Woman’s origin story and on the ways that her life on Themiscyra. For those familiar with other Rucka projects (such as Gotham Central, Lazarus, or the Star Wars comics he did), this is less dark and hard boiled, but still benefits from his talent for tight plotting and interesting secondary characters.

I really like a sci-fi book with a bit of scope to it, and that it John Scalzi to a “T.” If you’re going to tell stories set against the vastness of space they should be (at least as far as I am concerned) big enough not to be dwarfed by their environment. For fans of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War trilogy this should be more of the thing that worked so well already.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Five Books Worth Reading: Characters with Special Abilities

I read a lot of fantasy, so I've seen many characters with special abilities: the good and the bad. This list is some of the best examples I've read, and they all happen to be YA novels, meaning these characters are all teenagers. Enjoy!

 

When by Victoria Laurie  – What would you do if someone could tell you the exact date you were scheduled to die? Would you want to know? Be angry? Be happy? Prepare? Maddie deals with this every day because she sees the death dates on the forehead of everyone she meets. When is a very entertaining, suspenseful, and well written story about growing up, bullying, high school, a serial killer, and Maddie’s strange ability. Very enjoyable read. Highly recommended. 

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – What would happen if people in the world suddenly had superpowers? How would they react? Would they be superheroes or would they become super-villains? Well, they say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. David wants to kill the “Epic” Steelheart because he killed David’s father on the day Steelheart announced his powers to the world. This is an entertaining, funny, geektastic ride through a world filled with supervillains, the Everyman, and the danger and mania that comes with the desire for revenge. (Book 1 of the Reckoners trilogy.)

Wake by Lisa McMann – When other people fall asleep, Janie sees their dreams. Which would be cool, except Janie can’t control when it happens and it is starting to interfere in her everyday life. Then one day someone dreams of fire, burning, and torture and Janie is pulled into a nightmare – both waking and sleeping. This is an engaging, character driven teen, urban fantasy story with a romantic twist. Wake is the first book of the Wake Trilogy. I recommend all of them.

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid – In the middle of WWIII, wars are fought in outer space by drones flown by teens. Tom Raines is a down-on-his-luck teenager whose only talent is playing video games. When the military comes and wants to put a super computer in his brain to make him the best drone pilot on Earth, how can he say “No”? But nothing is what it seems and computers can be reprogrammed, even if they are inside your brain. (Book 1 of the Insignia trilogy.) A fun, well-written dystopia with a little mind-control and hopeless romance thrown in. 

Transparent by Natalie Whipple– If no one could see you, what would you do? Fiona was born Transparent. (The doctor dropped her because he couldn’t see her.) Fiona’s father, the head of the local mafia, wants to use her talent for thievery and assassinations. Can Fiona and her mother find a way to make Fiona’s transparency a gift rather than a curse? Well written, good characters, interesting story… with a believable ethical struggle thrown in. A really good read.  (Book 1 of the Transparent duology.)

~Mary P.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Marilyn's Top Five Single Issue Comics of 2016

Finishing up our lists of our favorite single issue comics of 2016, Marilyn is sharing her favorites today. You can see Meredith's list here, and John's list here.




Lazarus #23 – July 2016 (found in Lazarus: Book Five)

One of the things I love about Lazarus is the fight scenes. I’m not a huge fan of blood and guts, but I can look past that for a well-staged fight. And while Lazarus has had many fantastic fights, the battle in issue #23 featuring the Lazarus Sonya blew me away. 


Kill or Be Killed #1 – August 2016 (found in Kill or Be Killed: Volume One)

I will gladly pick up anything by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. They are such an incredible team, and after The Fade Out ended I needed more. Enter, Kill or Be Killed. The premise; Dylan, a young man unhappy with his life, attempts suicide. He survives and is visited by Death who informs Dylan that he must kill someone for every month he wishes to continue living, so he begins hunting down the worst of society. 


Ms. Marvel #12 – October 2016 (found in Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2)

For those of you who are unaware, Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel is my favorite super hero. One of the things that stood out to me when the comic first came out was Kamala’s family. And as Kamala has become more present in the Marvel Universe, we’ve seen less of her family. I had enjoyed the little flashbacks to her family coming to America, but in issue #12 Kamala goes overseas to visit her family still in Pakistan. 


Giant Days #17 – August 2016 (found in Giant Days, Vol. 4)

While Giant Days has never been as extreme or action packed as some of the other titles I read, it has become a bit of a comfort read for me. I’ve watched these characters grow through their time at university and develop meaningful friendships outside of their core group of friends, which has helped to enrich the story. Ester and Ed working together has been one of the highlights of the series, and my heart goes out to poor Daisy for having to act as Den Mother to the group. 


Saga #38 – September 2016 (found in Saga: Volume Seven)

Look man, just when I thought Saga couldn’t do something to surprise me, of course they did. It happened in September and I’m still not over it. 


Honorable Mention
Please, please, pick up Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. While no single issue made it into my top five, the series as a whole has been one of my favorite reads over the past two years. Lunella Lafayette aka Moon Girl has awakened as an Inhuman and is trying to become a superhero on her own terms while controlling, and occasionally switching places with her trusty pet, Devil Dinosaur. The ending of issue #6, where Lunella goes into her Inhuman cocoon and Devil Dinosaur sadly guards her almost made me cry. Just read it, and then have your kids read it, because they will love it too. Devil Dinosaur fights a Lego Dinosaur, what more do you need?


And that's it for our single-issue recaps of 2016, but I'm sure we'll still be talking comics throughout 2017.

~Marilyn

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Galentine's Day Edition


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


February 13 is Galentine’s Day. What is Galentine’s Day? I’ll allow Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) from Parks and Recreation to explain: “Oh it's only the best day of the year. Every February 13th, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It's like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.” So in honor of Leslie Knope and Galentine’s Day, let me list my favorite gal pals.

1. Jo and Blair (The Facts of Life) – The best frienemies to ever grace the screen. From the first moment Jo rode her motorcycle to Peekskill, she and Blair have butted heads. They spent the better part of eight seasons constantly sniping at each other, but deep down, you knew there’d be hell to pay if anyone else dared cross the other.
2. Trish and Jessica (Jessica Jones and Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat) – Developed from the pages of Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias, Netflix’s Jessica Jones series introduced us all to the friendship between Jessica and her adoptive sister, Trish. The two have a fierce bond from dealing with the aftermath of an encounter with villain Killgrave. Their friendship has recently made the jump back to the comic panels in Kate Leth’s Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat series.
3. Claire and Alice (Resident Evil: Extinction) – When the world ends, it’s important to know that your friends have got your back. Alice and Claire have been looking out for each other over the past ten years during the Resident Evil franchise. No zombies even have a chance.
4. Pauline and Juliet (Heavenly Creatures) – OK, so not all friendships end well, but you can’t argue the steadfastness of your relationship when your best friend is willing to help you murder your mom. The film is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of a real life event involving author Anne Perry.
5. The Rockford Peaches (A League of Their Own) – When the boys go to war, it’s up to the women to keep things moving on the home front. The gals of the Rockford Peaches always have each other to lean on during difficult times.
6. Thelma and Louise (Thelma & Louise) – Best friends til the end of the line. Thelma and Louise hit the road to escape their dreary lives and soon end up on the run from the law.
7. Abby and Gretchen (My Best Friend’s Exorcism) – I talked about this book more at length during my full review, but it fits very well for this list. It’s a testament to the power of friendship overcoming the will of an evil demon.
8. Novalee, Sister Husband, and Lexi (Where the Heart Is) – Sometimes friends can become your found family. Novalee has nothing when her boyfriend leaves her at an Oklahoma Wal-Mart. Luckily, the small town of Sequoyah is full of quirky, big hearted people who are ready to take Novalee under their wings.
9. Idgie and Ruth (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café) – The lifelong friendship between Idgie and Ruth is one of the most enduring, I think, in any book or movie. They face a lifetime of triumphs and tragedies, able to weather it all as long as they are by each other’s side.
10. Anne and Diana (Anne of Green Gables) – Does a pair get more iconic than this? Anne Shirley, who has never had a single soul she could confide in, finds her true bosom friend in Diana Barry. 

Honorable mention to the one and only, Leslie Knope of Parks & Recreation and her friendships with her fellow Pawnee residents. 

~Meredith