Posts Tagged ‘Love’

Best New Books of 2014: Emil S’s Picks

December 2, 2014

When a book calls my name, I will not turn it down. Somehow, the books know how to find me.

No Place to Hide No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald
“Cincinnatus” was the alias Edward Snowden used when he contacted Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian and a former constitutional lawyer. Cincinnatus referred to a real life hero, a farmer who in ancient times defended Rome against foreign forces, and then voluntarily gave up absolute power and returned to life on the farm. Edward Snowden was a former National Security Agency contractor, and the revelations brought about by him altered the course of history. This book – a curious blend of real life thriller, lecture, moral-ethic discussion, and petition – shows how invasive U.S. surveillance capabilities have become, and what it means in a world in which people increasingly find and display their inner lives online.  See my full review.

War of the WorldsWar of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz
Whales and other marine mammals are under severe threat from a number of human activities, not the least mankind’s insistence on waging war and preparing for war. The navy use of sonar creates noise storms that again and again cause atypical mass strandings and deaths of whales. The U.S. government regulators have become captives “to the interests they’re supposed to police,” and it is up to individuals and private organizations to help protect life in the oceans. War of the Whales is the true story of how environmental law attorney Joel Reynolds (of NRDC), marine biologist Ken Balcomb, and many others did everything in their power in order to reduce deadly, man made noise pollution and save some of the magnificent creatures that humankind share this planet with.  See my full review.

Everything Leads to YouEverything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Emi’s goal is to become a set designer in Hollywood, and as an intern on a movie set, she visits the estate sale of a legendary Hollywood actor. When Emi and her best friend Charlotte find a letter hidden in the jacket of an LP, the two of them – without knowing the content of the letter – begin searching for the intended recipient. The mysterious letter leads her to the alluring Ava, and life begins to take on film-like qualities.  See my full review.

Cycle of LiesCycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur
If the mountains of Le Tour de France are the dragons of that particular classic, then the riders are the knights. And when Lance Armstrong started slaying and devouring these opponents he seemed to be living a real life heroic poem of epic proportions. Armstrong had bravely defeated a monstrous cancer, made a mind-boggling comeback, and then developed into one of the most revered and remarkable athletes in the world. However, the tale took a nightmarish turn as evidence of highly advanced and organized doping mounted. Here is the story of Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall as understood by New York Times journalist Juliet MacurSee my full review.

Little FailureLittle Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
American author Gary Shteyngart was born as Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad (now [again] St. Petersburg) in the Russian empire that went under the name of Soviet Union. When he was seven years old, Gary and his family moved to the United States as part of a Jews-for-grains swap between the two superpowers. The Shteyngarts ended up in Queens, New York, and life in the land of the free was not easy for a “Socialist” boy with a weird accent. This memoir investigates a troubled family’s adventures and misadventures in two cultures, and it is moving, poignant, and at times outrageously comical.  See my full review.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich

October 23, 2014

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love StoriesThis is not your traditional book of short love stories. Is there a traditional one of those? I don’t know, but this definitely isn’t it.

Simon Rich is a very funny man. I was first introduced to his writing through Elliot Allagash, his first novel, back in 2010. I did a lot of giggling. So when I saw this collection of short stories on the shelf, I wanted to give it a go.

I tend to like a short story collection, which I know not everyone does. I generally prefer to space out my consumption of the stories — I have trouble staying engaged reading an entire book of short stories at once. For The Last Girlfriend on Earth, though, this was not the case. Some stories are as short as a page and a half, others are somewhat longer, but each is a quick read that will have you wanting to move right on to the next.

The stories are broken into three thematic segments; Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, and Boy Loses Girl. Classic tales of love and heartbreak, you might be thinking. But you are incorrect, dear friend. Rich’s plots and characters vary wildly, from the “girl” in question being your basic under-the-bridge troll (think: short, hairy, speaks in grunts) to the “boy” being Hitler, now aged 124, wheel-chair ridden, and hitting the party scene with his new gal in New York.

It’s all really very silly, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

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The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

September 29, 2014

This was one of those books I practically devoured in one sitting. The story sticks with me, particularly in light of the Ebola virus running rampant in West Africa.

Prenna is an immigrant to the USA, but it’s not where she’s from that makes her so unusual, it’s when she’s from. Prenna and her group are time travelers. They come from a future in which a blood borne illness carried by mosquitoes has wiped out large chunks of the population. Her world is a wetter, hotter, and swampier environment because of climate change. There is no government to speak of, schools are closed, and there is mass panic. For Prenna and others in her group the rules are simple. Assimilate to modern 21st Century life, don’t get too involved with time natives, and you can’t go to doctors or hospitals.

For Prenna these rules are hard. She likes a time native boy, Ethan, who is in her AP Physics class. He seems to be interested in her as well. Prenna also loves to be outside in nature, even though most 21st Century kids prefer TV and video games. How can she explain her love for an outdoor world, a pristine world in her eyes? Her mother struggles to keep Prenna from breaking the rules to much. However, her mother is grief stricken from losing two children to the plague, and a husband who chose not to come.

Things turn really weird when the homeless guy in town wants to talk to Prenna. She gets suspicious because he knows things he shouldn’t. How does he know these things? He wants her to stop something in the future that would alter the time line. Of all her group’s rules, this is the most sacred, never interfere with the timeline. However, there might be a chance of a better future if Prenna intervenes. Can she find the courage to do the right thing?

Ann Brashares’ The Here and Now was an interesting dystopia romantic suspense book. A perfect read for a sunny day by the pool, or a rainy day stuck indoors.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

July 31, 2014

Everything Leads to YouIn Los Angeles, California, where modern legends and myths are created, and where everyday life is lived moment by moment, Emi is trying to become an established part of the movie industry. Her goal is to work as a set designer, and as an intern on a movie set she gets to visit the estate sale of a recently deceased Hollywood legend. When Emi and her best friend Charlotte find a letter hidden in the jacket of an LP, the two of them – without knowing the content of the letter – begin searching for the intended recipient.

Meanwhile, Emi is offered work for a low-budget movie that has the potential to launch her career. The screenplay shows Emi that it will be a realistic film, and the challenge is to create sets that give an impression of actual everyday life. At the same time, Emi views her personal life through the lenses of the Hollywood movie industry, which offers romance, mystery, and redemption. And as the mysterious letter leads her to the alluring Ava, life does take on film-like qualities. Perhaps the border between film and real life isn’t all that rigid; perhaps the two co-exist in a symbiosis.

“We love films,” Emi says, “because they make us feel something. They speak to our desires, which are never small. They allow us to escape and to dream and to gaze into the eyes that are impossibly beautiful and huge. They fill us with longing. But also, they tell us to remember; they remind us of life.”

John Green said that he was “SO PSYCHED to read” this piece of realistic fiction. John Green lovers may feel the same way.

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Keeping the Castle: A Tale of Romance, Riches, and Real Estate by Patrice Kindl

September 18, 2012

Every review of this book compares the author to Jane Austen, and uses words like “frothy” and “endearing” to describe it. Many books are compared to Jane Austen’s works, but few can live up to the hype. As a hardcore Janeite, I often try to read these modern imitators, but rarely manage to finish them. To me, most are dry attempts to echo the classic books that I love so much. Keeping the Castle is different. I’m not saying it’s destined to become a classic that will be read and reread for centuries to come. No, I am saying that it is a fun read—one I can recommend to those who love Jane Austen and to those who are just looking for a romantic comedy in a book.

A beautiful young girl named Althea is from a genteel but poor family and knows she must marry well in order to preserve the family home for her younger brother. Althea has two mean-spirited stepsisters who have money of their own, but who refuse to contribute to anyone else’s comfort. Her mother does her best to help, but figuring out how to make the most of the very little moneythey have falls on Althea’s shoulders every day, and she must be both diligent and creative.

Being only 17 years old, Althea is a little too honest sometimes. She loses one suitor when she lets it slip that his money plays a part in her willingness to marry him. But she knows there will be others, and of course there are. Soon a party of friends comes to visit the neighbors, and Althea’s prospects look brighter.

This young adult novel combines elements from Cinderella with Pride and Prejudice,and has a lighthearted fairy tale feel to it. I enjoyed the characters with names like Lord Boring, Lady Throstletwist, and Miss Sneech.  But, of course, Althea takes center stage and she is a delightful character—independent, fresh, and witty. She’s a younger Elizabeth Bennet, someone we would all like to know.

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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

August 15, 2012

People have been recommending this book to me for the last three years and I have been completely resistant to its charms, mostly because of how it has been described to me – something along the lines of “it’s about a hostage situation, but also about opera.” Bo-ring. Or so I thought.

After having any book recommended to me often enough, I’ll eventually try it, which is how I wound up with a copy of Bel Canto on my nightstand, waiting to be read. The story is loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis that occurred in Lima, Peru in 1996 when the terrorist group the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement took hundreds of government officials hostage, some for as long as 126 days. In Patchett’s fictionalized retelling, a Japanese businessman, Mr. Hosokawa, visits an undisclosed location in South America for a party honoring his birthday. Although invited in the hopes that he would bring business to the area, Hosokawa’s sole reason for attending is the evening’s entertainment – opera singer Roxane Coss. An avid opera-goer, Hosokawa is enchanted by her voice and jumps at the chance for a semi-private performance.

As Roxane and her accompanist finish their recital, armed terrorists descend upon the party in an attempt to make demands of the President, who was presumed to be in attendance (though was in fact at home, watching his soap opera.) What follows is the story of a group of disparate people from different cultures, speaking different languages, and how they help each other survive, hostages and terrorists alike. Some people might say that music becomes the common language for the characters in this book, but I don’t really think that’s true – it gives people something to do with their days, and something to occupy their minds, but the common language is perhaps time; how much of it they have left, and how to best spend what they do have.

The narrative weaves together different characters’ stories and shows how they build a life together over the several months that the hostage situation lasts. The book ends in much the same way that the Japanese Embassy hostage crisis did (so, sorry if I just ruined it for you) and a brief epilogue gives the reader a glimpse into what life after the event looks like for two couples.

This was my first Ann Patchett novel, and I’ll definitely come back for more.

For another perspective on this book, take a look at Brandy H.’s review of it on our blog two years ago.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps edited by Dave Isay

June 25, 2012

Remember those how-we-met vignettes that punctuated the 1989 classic When Harry Met Sally? The two who were born days apart in the same hospital and grew up in the same apartment building but never met until, as a young adult, he rode up nine extra floors just to keep talking to her? The man who married his high school sweetheart, then divorced her, then fell in love with her all over again and re-married her thirty-five years (and several wives) later?

If you were charmed by those, you will probably also enjoy All There Is : Love Stories From StoryCorps, edited and with an introduction by Dave Isay. Unlike most of Wake County Library’s audiobooks, there are no readers or actors in All There Is — just real people telling their own love stories in their own words to their children and families. The stories were recorded through Storycorps, an oral history project that allows regular people 40 minutes to interview a loved one about any topic in a recording booth. The best interviews are edited and then broadcast and podcast on National Public Radio. The one-disc, one-hour audiobook retains the documentary-style sound and the feel of a radio interview or podcast. Each 40-minute session is edited down to three or four minutes and most contain the voices of both interviewer and storyteller.

Some stories are stranger-than-fiction fun, like the pair who meet only because their email addresses are separated by just one character, though their physical addresses are oceans apart. And some are tear-jerking and poignant, like the Army widower who dispatched his own wife to the war zone where she died. All of them end with several seconds of mood music to guarantee that listeners experience the emotional after-effects they’d expect from any expertly-crafted short story.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

May 7, 2012

This book caught my eye immediately. The format is somewhere between a photographic coffee table book and a graphic novel; the story is told in words and pictures, but also through instant messages, you tube videos, and drawings. The result is a beautiful finished product to leaf through leisurely or to tackle as a quick read (I was able to plow through the entire book on my lunch break one day.)

The story starts with the main character, Glory, missing. She has escaped from a mental institution and hasn’t been heard from since. Rewind eighteen months, and the events leading up to her disappearance are revealed:

Glory is a teenaged piano prodigy about to embark on a worldwide tour. She’s known for her skill of mixing classical pieces with modern scores in a cohesive and innovative manner (think Bach alongside Madonna). Her father is demanding and her schedule grueling. Between lessons, practice, and keeping up with her schoolwork, Glory doesn’t have a lot of time to be a normal teenager. And then she meets Frank, and her whole world turns upside down.

Glory’s deteriorating mental state is shown through clipped articles, postcards to Frank from her tour, and other documents, placed together to form a sort of scrapbook. She becomes incapable of performing the pieces that she is known for (and expected to play) and instead only plays (you guessed it) Chopsticks.

For a peek at the type of imagery you’ll see throughout this book, check out the video preview of the book or take a peek inside the book online.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

February 21, 2012

Are you a fan of Polish science fiction? Do you fantasize about visiting the old stomping grounds of Stanislaw Lem – Lviv? Krakow? Do you venerate his name? If none of this applies to you, it is hereby suggested that you give Stanislaw Lem’s strange and hypnotic novel Solaris a chance.

When Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, after an extended and exhausting journey through space arrives to the planet Solaris, he is expecting a warm welcome. He has been sent to the planet to investigate the situation there, but instead of being received by fellow human beings his vessel is automatically transported to an empty hangar for spaceships, and the space station seems empty. When he begins to familiarize himself with the space station, what he sees bear witness of destruction and disintegration. Something unusual is going on here, and the process is not yet over. Kelvin becomes part of this process when he encounters a woman from his past – a woman he loved but lost to suicide.

But to describe the plot will not do Solaris justice. The inner and outer events are equally important and there is not necessarily a clear distinction between the two, and Solaris is a deeply psychological and philosophical tale about – well, read and find out for yourself, for this novel is on the most fundamental level a collaboration between the author and the reader and the reader’s will and ability to create meaning.

Stanislaw Lem once said that Solaris was an adventure in his career. He never planned the book, and he never thought that he could write a book like Solaris. The novel, he explained, came into existence through a process of self-organization.

Solaris was published in 1961 and Lem’s reputation as an author eventually began to grow, initially in the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany). Ultimately his fiction spread over the world and Solaris was filmed three times (twice in the Soviet Union – the second time around by Andrey Tarkovsky – and once in the U.S. by Steven Soderbergh). His books were translated to more than 40 languages and sold more than 30 million copies. Poland has a proud literary tradition, so it is not surprising that Polish authors every now and then reach international recognition. Lem’s themes tend to center on alienation, the problems of communication, and the relationship between mankind and technology. All this makes him an author that has endured the test of time, but Solaris especially reflects a speech by John F. Kennedy in 1960. “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier […] the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.”

Welcome to our  time. And Solaris.

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One Day by David Nicholls

February 17, 2012

One Day is the story of a blooming love affair, although a very slowly blooming one. Dexter and Emma meet on St. Swithin’s Day (a British holiday that falls on July 15th) in 1988, and spend a lovely night together. They’ve just graduated from college and Dexter is about to head out of the country to find himself for a while, so, despite the obvious connection between the two, they part ways. Somehow a friendship grows out of their brief encounter, and they keep in touch through letters while Dexter is abroad.

Our next viewing of the pair is exactly one year later, on July 15th, 1989. And so goes the book, showing us where the two stand on St. Swithin’s Day each year for twenty years. We watch as they support each other through jobs, relationships, and life, both the good and the bad.  Their friendship has its own ebb and flow over the years, and the snapshots throughout time allow the reader to see an overarching picture of their relationship over the years.

The book is beautifully written and switches its narrative between the two characters, giving different perspectives of the same events for a fuller picture of Dexter and Emma’s lives and encounters. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, One Day was a treat to read. You’ll find yourself rooting for their relationship to finally find its groove.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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