An Embarrassment of Riches

An Embarrassment of Riches is a blog about the best the library has to offer. From audio books to movies, from novels to zines, library staff and guest bloggers will tell you about their latest library discoveries. Read. Watch. Listen. Chat.

Let's face it. I'm really just chaffing at the bit to read Ghost Story in July. Then I read a review for a debut novel, Hounded by Kevin Hearne, that compared the book and the main character to The Dresden Files and Harry Dresden, my favorite series and character. Sold! That was really all I needed to hear to give Hounded a try.
Oh man, I just love these books. I snatched up the second, Hexed as soon as I finished the first. I couldn't wait. Let's be honest though. These aren't great classics of literature... It's only the weight of the cover that keeps them from floating off - they're pure fluff and fun. These are the 'summer action movies' of books. There's adventure, occasionally crude humor, a good sidekick or two and just enough plot to hang it on. I even scared my poor timid old cat off my lap at least once with each book when I burst out laughing.

Atticus O'Sullivan (at least that's the name he's going by), the last of the Druids, is living peacefully in Arizona. He lets people assume he means 21 years when they ask his age, when he's actually 21 centuries old. He just wants to be left alone and has picked Arizona as an out-of-the-way place to avoid the magical beings that might want a piece of him. His quiet is shattered by the arrival of an angry Celtic god who wants Atticus's magical sword, forcing Atticus to call upon some unlikely allies for help. The first two books introduce the universe and all the magical beings and characters therein.

At least I only have to wait until early July before I can read book three. The publisher is putting out the first three books in three months to build up a readership for the series; a fairly common practice within the genre. I will say that the reviewer who compared them to the Dresden files was a bit off. The tone is lighter, the humor is different, the action less serious and the hero is less heroic and good-hearted. Still, I'm not at all sorry that review got me to pick up the first book. Hounded and Hexed were just such good zippy fun and it was great to get a new urban fantasy that wasn't just a thinly veiled romance. If, like me you really can't wait for Ghost Story, or just like urban fantasy, give this series a try. I haven't had this much fun reading a novel in a good long while.

Marriage and long-term relationships can be challenging even when they're good, and keeping them alive and well can be tricky when something new is introduced. The something new in Peter Hedges's (author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape - who knew the movie was based on a book?) latest novel, The Heights, is Anna Brody, the gorgeous, wealthy mother who has just moved into the most exclusive house in Brooklyn Heights. Everyone is infatuated with Anna, but instead of hanging with all of the other rich moms, Anna attaches herself to Kate and Tim, parents of two small boys who live in decidedly less ritzy circumstances than the Range Rover-driving families in the Heights. What's the attraction? Kate thinks it's kind of cool, but also a little weird. Soon their world is turned a bit upside down when Kate, a stay at home mom, goes back to work, and Tim leaves his job as a teacher at a nearby private school to become the primary childcare provider. It turns out that Tim's quite good at it, and Anna begins to ask for more and more help with her small daughter, but is that really all she wants from him? Is there a marital train wreck in the offing? The world of The Heights is so not my milieu, but it was fascinating to catch a glimpse of the place and those who inhabit it.

As anyone who has ever watched Desperate Housewives knows, the suburbs are not always as tranquil as they might seem on the surface. In Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer, a cool breeze is blowing through the New Jersey suburb of Stellar Plains, stirring up trouble between men and women. The women are the only ones who feel it and when they do, they go off men immediately. In marriages, the wives are done with sex; in teenage couples, the breakups are spectacular and nasty; and even the illicit affairs go off the rails. Oddly enough, at the same time this breeze is taking hold, the high school is doing a production of Lysistrata, the Ancient Greek play in which the women refuse to sleep with the men until the men end the Peloponnesian War. What is going on here? Will life ever get back to normal?

Marriage is hard work.  Let's hope that at least a few survive and thrive in our newer novels!

There’s a fiction fad about knitting and relationships. My latest read was How to Knit a Love Song by Rachael Herron. I haven’t laughed out loud in a long time and this book remedied that problem. Herron has written some really funny dialog between the protagonist and the cowboys in this romance. Abigail, the main character is a young Californian fiber artist starting over on a ranch. She inherits a cottage from another fiber artist.

This book reminded me of the other 'knit-lit' title I loved, The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil. Both books have great characters, funny dialog and a moving plot. The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club is about Jo, a British widow who starts over in seaside town with her two small boys. Jo is taking over her grandmother’s knitting shop.

Knitting circles give people a chance to relax, create, and connect with other people. This positive community building gathering seems the perfect activity around which to build the plot of a novel. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs, The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society by Beth Pattillo and The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood are also more great examples of this genre.

Perhaps you want to try your hand at knitting? When you're done reading and want to knit with others, check out the knitting circles that are hosted at some of our branches.

I've discovered a wonderful coffee table book that is a hymn to nature. It is the 100th Anniversary Illustrated edition of My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir. It is a dip-in and refresh yourself kind of book, one that needs to be read in short sessions of meditation. Read and listen for the poetic language.

Come, climb to the top of a nearly cubical mass of granite:       

"...the one big stone with its mossy level top and smooth sides standing square and firm and solitary, like an altar, the fall in front of it bathing it lightly with the finest of the spray, just enough to keep its moss cover fresh; the clear green pool beneath, with its foam-bells and its half circle of lilies leaning forward like a band of admirers, and flowering dogwood and alder trees leaning over all in sun-sifted arches."

Feel the frustration after an afternoon spent forcing a flock of sheep across a small stream:      
"The wool is dry now, and calm, cud-chewing peace has fallen on all the comfortable band, leaving no trace of the watery battle. I have seen fish driven out of the water with less ado than was made in driving these animals into it. Sheep brain must surely be poor stuff. Compare today's exhibition with the performances of deer swimming quietly across broad and rapid rivers, and from island to island in seas and lakes ; or with dogs, or even with the squirrels that, as the story goes, cross the Mississippi River on selected chips, with tails for sails comfortably trimmed to the breeze. A sheep can hardly be called an animal; an entire flock is require to make one foolish individual."

Listen to the bubbling brooks:
"A more tuneful set of streams surely nowhere exists, or more sparkling crystal pure, now gliding with tinkling whisper, now with merry dimpling rush, in and out through sunshine and shade, shimmering in pools, uniting their currents, bouncing, dancing from form to form over cliffs and inclines, ever more beautiful the farther they go until they pour into the main glacial rivers."

Glory in the description and renew yourself.

I was recently chatting with a friend of mine about books, and I said that I wanted something with witty dialog and a strong female lead. To my surprise, one of the books she recommended was Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. This is a book that I read a million years ago, when I was in high school, but I have to admit that I couldn't remember anything about it: not the names of the characters, or the plot, or what it was about. I had a vague feeling that it was a love story, but that's about it. A few weeks later, when I was between other books, I picked it up off the shelf and decided to give it a go. Now there are some books that I fall right into and it's like taking a deep breath and diving into another world...and then there are some that are more of a slog until I really understand the characters, what's going on, and really want to find out what happens next. This book fell into that second camp, but once I was used to the style and the language, I found myself staying up late to find out how, exactly, Elizabeth Bennett would end up with the reserved Mr. Darcy. It was a satisfying race to the finish, and when I was done, I looked around and thought "Now what?"

I don't know if it's just me, or if there are suddenly a lot more books about vampires, zombies, werewolves and the like than there used to be, but I suddenly see them everywhere. I had previously heard about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance-- Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! and was now in a position to think "How in the world would you pull that off?" Since the idea of "ultraviolent zombie mayhem" is so contrary to the whole Regency romance idea, I decided to find out if Seth Grahame-Smith had pulled it off with any grace. In fact, I found myself surprisingly impressed by the way he inserted zombies without totally changing the course of the story, and even used zombies in ways that support the plot, rather than just feeling like a gimmick. Believe it or not, this book stays pretty true to the original, even if there are zombies eating cauliflower (they mistake the cauliflower for brains) and attacking humans on a regular basis. It did not take long for me to realize I was having fun, and was looking forward to finding out what twist would show up next. Although I was glad that I had recently read the original, since it let me really appreciate the zombie mash-up features, I'm sure reading this without any "prep" would be a piece of cake, and also enjoyable for someone who enjoys a parody, or is looking for a hilarious variation on the staid period piece.

Now I'm on the hunt for a new book. And it looks like I have my choice of mash-ups if I want to go that route, since there's Little Vampire Women, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, among others, but maybe I'll take a break and watch the movie Pride and Prejudice. I know I'll have multiple choices, since it's been remade multiple times. Have they made a movie version with zombies yet?

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will by Judith Schalansky, translated from the German by Christine Lo

What is it about an atlas that I love so much? The colors, the names I've never heard, the ability to turn the page and get to a completely different part of the world. I can get from Portland to Florence, Oregon in a heartbeat, or Florence, Italy in a few seconds. How about a remote island, maybe in the South Pacific? Yes, please.

This sweet book is not your average atlas. It has a lovely size, easy to hold at just 143 pages, and not concussion inducing if you fall asleep while reading in bed. Each island has its own two-page spread, one page devoted to a single paragraph about its history, the facing page a map of the island itself. For those interested, the text is a style called MVB Sirenne which I thought just gorgeous, and I don't often notice that sort of thing.

Again, the key word here is remote. These islands are so far from most continents that they don't usually show up in an atlas, they're too small to bother placing in those wide expanses of blue ocean, I imagine. Some I've not heard of, many I have--not that I could tell you where they are, whether they're north or south of the equator, what ocean they're in, or anything at all about them, whether they're inhabited, whether they have fresh water, if pirates have frequented their jungles, or if cannibals still live there today. But now I've read all about them, and there are islands that meet all these fabulous descriptions.

I don't get many Sundays to myself these days, but this would be the perfect book for a long, casual, Sunday, favorite beverage at your side. For those of us who awake at 3:23 a.m. on a semi-regular basis (and I know you're out there), it is the perfect book to pick up and read at that dark and mysterious hour, and I loved every single minute of reading it.

P.S.  You know, Father's Day is just around the corner, and for a dad who loves to travel, or sail, for a dad who loves atlases or oceans, for a dad who longs for a quiet place--I think he may just love this book, too.

If you have ever come home to a preschooler chasing the cat around the house with a tube of Chapstick (because "the kitty wants WIP BALM on her WIPS!") you know that your first task is to confiscate that Chapstick. You also probably know that you will be too late, because by the time you liberate that tube from the greasy little fingers wrapped around it the cat will be staring at you accusingly from under a bed, glistening with fury and emollients.

We all have our monsters. Here are some of my favorites:

The Host
Set in Korea, a dysfunctional but devoted family pays a great price when a nefarious substance is dumped down a drain and winds up in the Han River. This movie is eccentric family comedy, political commentary and kick-ass monster in one compelling package. What is scarier--the thing that lives in the sewer or the self-serving governments that originate and perpetuate misguided terror?

The Abyss
A nuclear sub is sunk in some of the deepest waters on earth, and the only people with the equipment to potentially mitigate impending disaster are a ragtag bunch of civilian, off-shore drilling engineers, including the sparring, married-but-divorcing Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Love-hate relationship plus undiscovered alien life in the Mariana Trench? I'm there.

The Bad Seed
It doesn't get much scarier for a parent than the realization that your adored little girl is an eight-year-old homicidal sociopath. Patty McCormack is not to be missed as Rhoda Penmark in the title role; piano practice and penmanship will never be the same again. One of the best movie endings ever.

My Neighbor Totoro
Sometimes we need friendly monsters, and Hayao Miyazaki's lush animation is a treat. This is an all-ages movie for the whole family; two sisters discover the title "keepers of the forest" as they cope with moving to a new house and their mother's extended hospital stay. Hop aboard the Catbus and prepare to be delighted.

Our guest blogger is Sola, who is an avid reader and a library school student through the University of Washington. She is interning in the Central Branch Popular Library until the beginning of June.

I'm a sucker for a series where the characters start to feel like family members. That discovery that I can be reunited with someone I've come to appreciate (dare I say cherish?) by just reading another book is almost enough to make me do the happy dance. Usually this results in me devouring the books one after another, and then moping around until I find a new book I like, or the next one in the series gets published. If the series is something that my husband enjoys and we can chat about? Well, so much the better. A few years back, shortly after my twins were born, I stumbled on Craig Johnson's The Cold Dish. Being sleep deprived usually means that I'll forgo reading for a little shut-eye, but Sheriff Walt Longmire, of Absaroka County, Wyoming, jumped off the page and into my life, and I found myself unable, during those rare, quiet moments, to put the book down. Walt is one of those characters who is not immediately likable, and in fact, I don't really know that many mildly depressed, middle-aged, widowed, almost-alcoholic lawmen. Those questionable features were balanced out by the fact that he's also sweet, sincere, well-read, and is totally lost around women. Once I added in his friends, including a Native American named Henry Standing Bear, the former sheriff Lucian, and Walt's current deputy, the ever full-of-attitude Victoria Moretti, the scales definitely came down on the side of wanting to keep these people in my life. Walt would rather hang out in his partially built cabin, drink rainier, and obsess about a rape case that ended with suspended sentences for the four young men who were convicted, when one of those young men is found shot. Walt's sense of justice is strong enough to start looking into it, and determine that it wasn't, in fact, a hunting accident, when the second of the four is murdered in the same way, and it's clear that someone is out for revenge (a cold dish indeed). With a solid mystery, characters I found myself caring about, and a setting that I was starting to feel like I'd visited even though I've never been there, I powered through The Cold Dish.

And, in fact, I did do the happy dance when I found out it is was the first in a series of books with Sheriff Longmire. I'm up to speed at this point, but I'm always on the lookout for the next book by Craig Johnson. In the meantime, I'm hunting for a new book (or series) that I can fall in love with to fill the gap. Any suggestions?

Tired of all the British pomp and circumstance in the news around the royal wedding? I sure am. My antidote of choice: some classic British punk rock, delivered with sneer and two-fingered salute. “London’s burning” by The Clash, perhaps?

Back in their 1980 heyday The Clash were called “the only band that matters,” and maybe they still are. There’s a great article in the 3/3/11 issue of Rolling Stone by Mikal Gilmore entitled “The Fury and the Power of the Clash” that gives a brief, comprehensive history of their rise and fall. In it he quotes Joe Strummer as saying in 1978: “we’re trying to be the greatest group in the world … at the same time we’re trying to be radical .. maybe the two can’t coexist, but we’ll try.” What do you think, do they still matter? Were they, are they, the greatest? There’s a lot of stuff here at the library to help you decide.

In recent years, a bunch of new Clash material has been released: a live album of a 1980 performance at New York’s Shea Stadium; a documentary about the life of Joe Strummer; and a 532 page, appropriately epic account of the making of their epic masterpiece, London Calling. Speaking of that album, the 25th anniversary edition includes an additional disc with unreleased demos and songs from that album’s sessions that is definitely worth hearing. And in 2005, all their other studio albums were remastered and re-released. So if you haven’t already, it’s probably about time that you went back and listened to all those, too.

Strummer famously scrawled the slogan “passion is a fashion” on his leather jacket. Passion’s timeless. So is a sneer and a two-fingered salute. Whether or not they’re the only band, the Clash definitely still matters.

“Black or white turn it on, face the new religion
Everybody's sitting 'round watching television
London's burning with boredom now”

It is a rare and wonderful thing when something makes me laugh so hard that I cry.

Recently it happened while watching the Colbert Report. Mr. Colbert was ostensibly getting etiquette lessons from a fellow who is apparently a Professional Proper Englishman. Colbert is utterly unconstrained: he has no rules to follow. He eats sugar by the spoonful, lets a cupful of cream slide down his chin. The Englishman is defined by rules. He is outraged, perhaps even angry, but he can hardly show it. He can only murmur ‘No, you musn’t’. And the more he protests, the more outrageous Colbert’s behavior becomes, spurned on by his foil.

The scene very much reminded me of the Jean Renoir movie that made me laugh just as hard, Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux). A homeless man is ‘saved’ by a middle class family, and what ensues is a great deal like Colbert and the Professional Proper. Boudu spits out his beer, he wipes chocolate on the duvet. He does not follow the rules, and it is enormously funny.

If you think that a movie made in 1932 is too darn old, or you're not a fan of subtitles, check out this YouTube trailer and reconsider. The Criterion print is lovely, and the film is a true treat.

It's the voice. Someone described Rick Bragg's voice as 'honey over smoke'. That intrigued me. I listened to a CD copy of Rick Bragg reading The Prince of Frogtown. That Alabama rhythm caught me, that pure Southern sensibility; the words just seem to flow. The storyteller's magic takes over.

In All Over but the Shoutin' Rick Bragg wrote about growing up poor in the hill country of Alabama, especially about his mother picking cotton and cleaning houses so her boys would have more than the welfare checks she received. Rick's father was an alcoholic man and very violent. He seemed to float into the life of the family and out again at regular intervals.

The author Willie Morris once told Rick that he would never have any peace until he wrote about his father. In The Prince of Frogtown, Rick pieces together the story of his father's life from interviews with his faithful boyhood friends.

The people seem so real. His father, Charles, was destroyed by drink and destroyed by his hard scrabble, blue-collar life in the mills of Jacksonville, Alabama. Yet Rick lets the soul's true light shine through the awfulness.

You can't help but like this young mischievous, hell-bent for leather boy. Rick retells one incident where Charles and his friend were flying a kite so high that it was nearly invisible in the sky.

Another boy comes along and asks, "What you doing with that string?"

"Why we're fishing," Charles answered.

You ache for the alcoholic man and the family that he has let down. Rick does not whitewash or rewrite his father's life. You get a sense of the man that could have been, but for that evil drinking and the streak of violence that resulted from that drinking.

No one is more disappointed than Charles himself. He knew he could not be with his family, that he had ruined all the chances of a life with them by his ceaseless drinking and violent temper.

Interspersed with chapters about his father are chapters about "the boy" Rick's stepson. In these chapters, he describes his own journey into fatherhood and his growing love for this boy. This story gives light and humor to a dark tale. You grow to love this boy and his stepfather who tries so hard.

Now I want to read Ava's Man, the story of Rick's maternal grandfather and the culture that shaped him.

I don't know about you, but when I'm being pelted with hail under a brilliantly sunny sky my mind tends to think, "Hey, look at that. The apocalypse is here." (This is even without factoring distressing global geological and political current events into the equation, which hold their own private audience with my horrified psyche on what seems like a near-hourly basis.) Extreme maybe, but my default setting is "the sky is falling." If I override that, I can remember it's spring.

I should be reading up on how to outwit slugs in the garden or what to do when a child discovers (shudder!) an entire universe of massively multi-player online gaming. Instead, I've been indulging in some fabulous dystopian fiction. What better way to escape the end of the world hosted by our evil slug overlords?

The Hunger Games trilogy is compulsively readable. The first book wins some sort of award for being the only reading material that has ever made me miss my bus stop. The Capitol controls the twelve districts of Panem, a country which covers territory once known as North America. The primary device for this control is the annual Hunger Games, in which one boy and one girl from each district are chosen by lottery to fight to the death in a manipulated arena on live television until only one remains. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers herself for the Games when her twelve-year-old sister is chosen. The trilogy is executed in a spare and accessible style with unexpected twists and a powerful ending.   

If you balk at reading teen fiction, now is your chance to get over it. Really. Everyone else has, and you're missing out. The Hunger Games is now part of the Lucky Day collection, so may the odds be ever in your favor.

OK. I know there are a lot of holds on this, but trust me, it's worth the wait. Tangled was the most fun I had at the movies last year. I went to go see it with three other adults and we all agreed, including the one guy, that it was great. It's funny, it has catchy little songs and it's just charming. I watched it again recently with two teen-aged relatives and my mother and they all loved it too.

It's a retelling of the Rapunzel story. You've got the princess trapped in the tower except this time she has magic hair and her prince is a scoundrel with a good heart. There's a pet chameleon that's obviously intelligent and a horse with magical abilities. But it all works, even for an adult viewer, if you're willing to go with the magic for just 100 minutes. You can go back to being a grownup who knows better later. So, go get in touch with your inner child and watch a cartoon. This one is worth it.

A lot of people go through a crisis of sorts when they hit their forties, but in literature - at least in the books that I've been reading lately - things seem to go wackily and spectacularly wrong when characters enter midlife. In The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie, Sarah's forty-three year old husband goes on a short kayaking trip one day and after a huge storm, never returns. His kayak turns up, but his body doesn't and most people assume that he drowned. Sarah doesn't have the closure she wants, but believes that her husband is dead. She believes, that is, until she sees him at the grocery store. She also sees him other places including the churchyard right after his memorial service. And then there's the sighting on Halloween night. Maybe David isn't dead? Maybe he's just had enough of his old life and wants a change. Brodie kept me guessing right up until the end.

I wasn't even going to mention Chronicles of a Midlife Crisis by Robyn Harding, but then I read some reviews on Good Reads and discovered that there weren't very many other people who felt the way I did about it: that the characters were a bunch of self-absorbed, loathsome, childish losers; not to mention that the story was something like a cross between a National Enquirer cover story and the movie Fatal Attraction. It starts out well enough with some humor about how Lucy should have known that her husband of sixteen years was cheating on her (he's wearing skinny-legged trousers and using wrinkle cream - hello!). The story is told in back-and-forth fashion between Lucy and Trent. The more I read, the more I absolutely hated the characters. Not only is Trent involved with a psycho, but then Lucy starts seeing a teen celebrity (although really he's twenty-seven and just playing a teenage character on television) who happens to be her daughter's biggest star crush. Drama and severe stupidity ensues. But as I noted earlier, there were plenty of people on Good Reads who enjoyed it. One of the good things about reading midlife crisis fiction is that you can be pretty sure that your own drama will probably never be as bad!

Coming up with the perfect next read can feel like trying to scratch an itch just out of reach: sometimes there's a craving for something in that charmed middle ground - not genre fiction, not a series, not one of the warhorse classics - but how to find it?

Though most readers probably don't think much about specific publishers, and even less of searching the library catalog by publisher's name, here are two richly rewarding ones guaranteed to supply years of engaging and often offbeat reading: Europa (also Europa Editions) and New York Review of Books (search also New York Review Books, without "of", and the series New York Review Books classics.).

Perhaps best known for their bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Europa offers a wide array of sophisticated international literature, much of it, like Hedgehog, in translation. Jane Gardam's Old Filth (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) is the sharp, funny, and moving story of an expat English lawyer and his wife dealing with retirement in the motherland after years abroad, and is just one example of the excellent choices on hand from Europa.

The New York Review of Books has undertaken to reissue wonderful but neglected older books, including novels, memoirs, travel writing, and children's literature. One not to miss is  Richard Hughes' deeply weird A High wind in Jamaica, a story of inept pirates and kidnapped children sometimes compared to Lord of the Flies, but Golding's book is bland as butterscotch compared to this disturbing little masterpiece. Gregor von Rezzori's unforgettable portrait of his family in the obscure corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire called the Bukovina, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, is one of those books which, once read, just begs to be passed along to a friend. And foodies will love Elizabeth David's A Book of Mediterranean Food, written during a time of gray post-WWII privation, which opened a sunny window onto views of olive and lemon groves for the ration-weary English.

Both of these publishers will steer the reader towards something completely new, or - just as fulfilling - towards one of those great, familiar-sounding authors one always meant to get around to reading.

Our guest blogger is Naomi, who is a librarian at the Midland library.

For me, one of the highlights of a recent conference was meeting author Devon Monk and being introduced to her Allie Beckstrom series. Devon Monk lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, two sons and a dog named Mojo. She has sold over fifty short stories to fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, and young adult magazines and anthologies. Her stories have been published in five countries and included in a Year’s Best Fantasy anthology. She is currently writing two series, including the Allie Beckstrom books (Magic to the Bone, Magic in the Blood, Magic in the Shadows, Magic on the Storm, Magic at the Gate). Her latest book in the series, Magic on the Hunt, is due out this month and you can hear her read from it at the Midland Library on Sunday April 10th from 2-4 p.m.

In the Allie Beckstrom series, you are transported to a Portland where magic has become a commodity to better the lives of the masses - all made possible by Allie Beckstrom’s father, the CEO of the company. Of course there are those people who are the real holders of magic. In the first book, Magic to the Bone, Allie doesn’t realize how much magic she holds. She’s too busy scraping by as a hound, a person with magical powers who is brought to the scene of a magic crime to help the police. No one, except other hounds, know the physical toll the use of these magical powers has on the body. And then her father, who she has always despised, is murdered.
Living in Allie Beckstrom’s Portland is like living in an alternate Portland - both familiar, yet different. The hounds will remind you of the homeless kids you see hanging out in Pioneer square or the front of the downtown library. Allie hangs out at her favorite coffee place which is oh so familiar to those of us who live here. And so much takes place in St. Johns, the one area of Portland not wired for magic with the most dramatic scenes taking place under the St. Johns bridge.

Please join us on April 10th at the Midland Library to hear this engaging author in person.

Recently Heidi wrote about The Tudors in this blog, reminding me of my own failed attempt to watch that program. Which is not to fault the program - it’s likely that I would have really enjoyed it - if I had not read Wolf Hall first.

Wolf Hall is about Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell, and over the course of reading I had grown to think of Thomas Cromwell as ‘Cromwell my Cromwell’.

Throughout the book Hilary Mantel creates a feeling that you are sitting on Cromwell’s shoulder, experiencing the world with him, from the blacksmith’s son to the Cardinal’s councilor to the King’s chief minister. Through humiliation, manipulation, and the plague.

And I adored Mantel’s Cromwell, this extremely intelligent, ruthlessly pragmatic man, who loves his family so deeply and understands that they are all just as human as he is. The writing in Wolf Hall is not complex, but the ideas are -- power, the Reformation, the inevitably democratizing effects of literacy.

It gave me a hunger for more on the Tudors. So I tried A Man for all Seasons, various BBC documentaries, and The Tudors. None satisfied.

I only want ‘my Cromwell’, not other representations. Or the facts.

Simple enough to remember and a glorious, larger than life story to watch.

I just finished watching The Tudors, the story of King Henry VIII and his six wives. The writing and acting are good and the costumes and settings beautiful. The beheadings, burnings, battle scenes, hangings, urine, feces, vomit, blood, scabrous beggars... well, those just add a little accurate historical color. There's one execution in particular where the screams of the condemned - well, the actor really hit the right pitch to convey the hysterically desperate howl of a man in mortal agony and terror. I suspect he had a sore throat by the end of the filming that scene. I admit to a little queasiness after that scene.

The drama of a king who thinks himself divinely appointed, who holds the power of life and death and has a horde of wives and mistresses to get through in four short seasons makes for interesting television. The history isn't too bad either, though Showtime wanted good television, not a history lesson.

Each episode left me wondering what would happen next. The characters of the wives were well drawn. One was just too stupid to live, another a tragic figure. Wife number four, Anne of Cleves, actually got a rather good deal out of her hasty obedience to the king's demand for divorce. She was given a settlement that left her wealthy and was treated with friendship by the king, all because she was clever enough to see the headman's ax in the shadows.

The four seasons of The Tudors served as an admirable distraction while I wait impatiently for Game of Thrones on HBO this April 17th.  If it comes close to the quality of The Tudors in acting, writing and production, I'll be nigh ecstatic.

Does our gloomy weather get you down?  Would you like to have a new way of thinking about things?  Would you like to spend some time in a warmer and sunnier location, maybe do some things that would give you more pleasure in life?
The women in the following movies find pleasure almost by accident. Their senses are reawakened in different ways. In each one of the films, there is a very special scene where you may find yourself saying YES or maybe laughing out loud with the characters.

Babette’s Feast, takes place in a village in Denmark after the Paris uprising in 1871. It is based on a story by Isak Dinesen, which can be found in a collection of stories by the author called Anecdotes of Destiny.  Babette is a political refugee from France where, unknown to the Danish villagers, she was a gourmet chef.  She meets two sisters and out of the goodness of their hearts, they allow her to work as their cook and housekeeper in exchange for room and board. The two sisters lead a rather grim life where the atmosphere is all shades of gray and their very strict religion considers all pleasures to be sinful. Their father is dead but the 100th anniversary of his birth is fast approaching and they want to hold a celebration.  Babette has recently come into some money and she wants to prepare a special feast for the event. When Babette has worked her magic on the meal and the sisters taste the food, the simultaneous look of pleasure and guilt on their faces is priceless.

The second film is Enchanted April, based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim.  When I first heard the title and knew nothing about the film, I thought April was a person in the film. Instead, April refers to the month of the year.  Lottie and Rose live in England.  The weather has been rather cold, wet, and gloomy, just as our Oregon weather has been. They learn about a villa in Italy that is for rent and leap at the chance to visit there. They are not alone. Two other women, Mrs. Fisher and Caroline Dester, will be sharing the villa with them. Mrs. Fisher is played by Joan Plowright and if you are familiar with her film work, she is her usual forthright self and adds a few notes of discord to the mix. The sun, the warmth and the beauty of their surroundings, however, work their magic on the four people and they begin to relax and see their senses reawaken. Even Mrs. Fisher begins to loosen up. When the husbands of several of the women join the little group, their senses are reawakened as well.
The third film is Cold Comfort Farm, based on the novel by Stella Gibbons.  It is the 1930’s and cold comfort is indeed what you will find at that farm.  An old woman, Ada Doom, mostly just stays in her room, but when she mixes with the others, she is constantly muttering to herself “something nasty in the woodshed”. Ada is, of course, a rather crazy and spooky person. Be assured, though, that by the end of the film, you will know what has happened in that woodshed.
Into the mix comes Flora Poste, who is only twenty years old and has recently lost both of her parents. Although she comes from a well-to-do family, she only has a small inheritance. She wants to become an author in the style of Jane Austen and looks for a situation where she will have a variety of experiences with a variety of personalities. When a cousin asks her to move in with the cousin’s family on the farm, she agrees to give farm living a try.
There are plenty of colorful characters to fuel Flora’s imagination. The other relatives at the farm are rather rough around the edges and Flora tries to transform them into her image of refinement. Well, you can just imagine how well that goes over with the group!  Flora soldiers on, however, and she and the other residents of the farm begin to slowly change.
Flora tries to teach one of the women, who is almost perpetually pregnant, about birth control, and the woman bursts out laughing. She cannot imagine such a thing. Chances are you will find yourself laughing right along with the woman. Of course, birth control methods in the 1930’s were very basic and not always effective, but the incident is illustrative of some of the changes Flora tries to implement. If you try this film may you find it as enjoyable as I did.
Happy viewing!

When I was a kid, I loved creepy stories: the grimmer of the Brothers Grimm fairy-tales, books of ghosts and hauntings and anything that had a mystery with history. I spent a fair amount of time on visits to Grandma's big, old house back east trying to live in those stories: running up the (long gone) servants' back staircase, scouting around the gigantic attic and searching for secret doors and hidden passages ala Nancy Drew. It would have been so cool to visit the places where some of my favorite stories originated, but my grandmother's house, fascinating though it was, was not one of them. The characters in two novels for adults I read recently were luckier.  

In Carol Goodman's Arcadia Falls, Meg Rosenthal has just snagged a teaching job at Arcadia School, an art institute for high-schoolers in upstate New York.  The school was founded in the first half of the twentieth century by several women who wrote and illustrated a haunting tale entitled "The Changeling Girl", one that Meg read to her child and one whose origins she is now researching. Being the good gothic novel that it is, secrets abound, a death occurs, the past impinges upon the present, and there is, of course, a romantic element.

The Distant Hours, Kate Morton's latest, takes place during WWII and in 1992. Driving back from a business trip, Edith comes across Milderhurst Castle, the place where the author of her favorite childhood story, "The True History of the Mud Man", lived and, coincidentally, the place where Edith's mother was evacuated to during WWII.  Now it's occupied by the author's three spinster daughters, all well beyond seventy years of age. Edith is dying to find out more about the family and her mother's stay there, but Mum isn't talking and something's being hushed up. Secrets, death, romance yada yada yada and 500 plus pages later, we know the whole story including the true "True History of the Mud Man." So pull your chair close to the fire, get your goth on, and read some slightly sinister stories the are definitely for adults during these cold and rainy March nights.


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