Book Review: The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

Book cover for The Queen of Tearling by Erika JohansenIf you are familiar with other book reviews I’ve written here, you know that I read mostly YA fiction. But about once every three months I get filled with the overwhelming desire to read adult fiction, usually a new adult fantasy.

A month ago this need came over me, and I started using one of our lovely online databases, NoveList Plus. This database is great if you are trying to find read-alikes to a title, author or series you loved, and it is free to use with your library card. I searched for “The Bone Doll’s Twin” by Lynn Flewelling, the first in a great fantasy trilogy that still stands out when I think about some of my favorite reads.

The first book recommended for me as a read-alike for “The Bone Doll’s Twin” was “The Queen of Tearling” by Erika Johansen. Another great and amazing thing about NoveList is that it tells you a reason WHY the book is recommended as a read-alike, so you aren’t flying blind. NoveList told me that, “Princesses cast off their disguises and return from exile in order to assert their claim to hotly contested thrones in these fantasy novels, which boast sympathetic characters, extensive world-building, and detailed political and magical systems.”

To me, that sounded like a pretty good reason for the recommendation, so I went ahead and put a copy on hold.

At first I found “The Queen of Tearling” slow. It isn’t action packed like the YA I’m used to reading. The pace is a slow, delicate climb, but the writing is so beautifully done, pace didn’t matter to me. I couldn’t put the book down.
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The Promise of Groundhog Day

Book cover for Groundhog Day by Don YoderOn Feb 2, 2015, in the small northern Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney, Phil the groundhog popped out of his hole to check his shadow. According to legend, spring may be less than six weeks away, depending on whether the sun is shining. Six weeks from February 2 brings us to the middle of March, which, in Missouri, is a time that often seems to be still stuck in winter. But there is an inherent hopefulness in this odd holiday that extends beyond the shadows and sunshine of the first season of the year.

A couple of weeks ago, browsing the library’s collection, I came across the self-help book “The Magic of Groundhog Day: Transform Your Life Day by Day” by Paul Hannam, and it made me think a bit further on the topic. Focusing on the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray, Hannan states that the term “Groundhog Day” has entered the modern lexicon as a place or state of mind that represents repetition and drudgery. Finding meaning despite the humdrum is what is important (as Bill Murray did near the end of the movie). Hannan writes that mindfulness is the key: “Where you choose to consciously place your attention ultimately determines how happy you are.” He also noted: “You can change your personal reality but you cannot change reality itself, like the past or how other people think and act.”
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The Gentleman Recommends: Emily St. John Mandel

Station_ElevenPost-apocalyptic fiction is as popular and ubiquitous as this simile is confusing and ineffective. For some it is a gloomy respite from the constant barrage of good news, utopian grocers and complementary snacks. For others it is a chilling vision of events horrifyingly near at hand. For others still it is a genre of stories that they read for pleasure.

Unlike the supplies in these stories, there is a massive selection of such books to peruse. Readers know that one of the following, in order of likelihood, will be what brings civilization to its knees: zombies, super flu, war, aliens, weather or vampires. We know roughly how things will play out and that the most important people left will be attractive and/or magical. We know it will be nearly as excruciating to experience as it is fun to read about. But what we don’t know, and what has long been one of my chief concerns about life in a hellscape, is whether or not there will be traveling bands of actors and musicians, and if there are, whether or not they will eventually run into trouble. Emily St. John Mandel’s gnarly novel, “Station Eleven,” answers my questions while being really fun to read.
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Happy Valentine’s or as Good as It Gets

Photo of a Rose by Svetlana GrobmanWe got married on Valentine’s Day. My husband thought that it was romantic. (Well, he also figured that it would help him remember our future anniversaries.) I thought it was cute and also special, since there was no Valentine’s in my home country, Russia. Yet whatever our ideas about the joys and responsibilities of marriage were, our Valentine’s wedding turned out to be a true commitment.

I’m not talking about the everyday challenges of married life: suppressing your true feelings about endless football, basketball and what-ever-ball games, picking up things lying around the house (like his size-large gloves on our dining table), suffering through Chinese meals he loves so much and patiently repeating questions that he cannot hear because he’s watching some bloody thriller on TV. You expect these things after you say, “I do.” I’m talking about difficulties that are outside our control, like every year we want to celebrate our anniversary, we have to compete with a whole slew of people who go out on Valentine’s Day just for fun.
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Images of the Past: Docs Featuring Archival Footage

how to survive a plague

Creating documentaries can take a lot of time, but it can be even harder when you don’t shoot the footage yourself. Check out these documentaries that use old footage to tell a story from the past.

the black power mixtapeThe Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” (2011)

Footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists documenting the Black Power Movement in the United States is edited together by a contemporary Swedish filmmaker. Includes footage of Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver.

how to survive a plagueHow to Survive a Plague” (2012)

The story of two coalitions whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. The activists bucked oppression, helping to identify promising new medication and treatments and move them through trials and into drugstores in record time.

let the fire burnLet the Fire Burn” (2013)

A found-footage film that unfurls with the tension of a great thriller. In 1985, a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and controversial Black Power group MOVE came to a deadly climax. TV cameras captured the conflagration that quickly escalated, resulting in the tragic deaths of 11 people.

What to Read While You Wait for The Girl on the Train

Book cover for The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsThe Girl on the Train”  by Paula Hawkins  follows the mundane life of down-and-out Rachel who commutes daily into London by train. Before long she realizes she has been observing a couple every morning as they enjoy breakfast up on their roof top. Rachel begins to fantasize about their life, creating names for the couple while wishing their life was all hers. Then one day she notices a stranger in the garden, and the woman she fondly named Jess is no longer there! Written in the same vein as “Rear Window,” you will soon find yourself entangled in this psychological thriller. Place a hold on this popular best-seller, then pick up one of these similar books that draw in the curious observer.

Book cover for A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil HoganA Pleasure and a Calling” by Phil Hogan

Mr. Hemming, such a nice man. He is a real estate agent for a small community and likes to spy on his clients. He does this by keeping keys to the homes he has sold — all of them.  Then his creepy little secret life gets put on hold when they find a dead body in one of his homes.
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