Maybe we should have brought a map? A wanderer’s If/Then….

Here be monsters!
Here be monsters!

Summer is a time for exploration…for road trips and sailing trips and airplane voyages and stay-cations.  And that last one, those stay-cations, might very well be the best kind–know why?  Because it gives you plenty of time to head to the library and check out one of these books!  <–That, right there?  That was a shameless plug.  But I am ok with with this, because it’s true.

Some of the best voyages I have ever taken have been via library books, not only because they were tales of derring-do and far-flung adventures, but also because the books I read usually ended in unmitigated disaster, questionable success, or nightmare monsters that follow you home.  They are the kind of adventures you simply can’t have in real life (and probably shouldn’t, if you have any plans of telling people about them later).  And that is why we have fiction–to take us away, and let us explore those shadowy, shiny, mysterious places that we simply couldn’t see otherwise, and let us come home safely at the end.

So for those of you ‘armchair explorers’ like me (or beach-chair explorers, or adirondack-chair explorers), then these books might be for you.  Most of them feature unreliable narrators, which is one of my favorite tropes in all of fiction; every step in the story is like paddling into uncharted waters.  You can never tell if what you see is real, or if the tide might shift without warning, dragging you into another place entirely.  But I can guarantee, you will return with quite a story to tell!

So….If you like adventure novels perfect for a summer stay-cation, Then check out:

2683970Pandora in the Congo:  I originally started reading this book simply because it was there, and the first scene was really ludicrously funny.  But the more I read, the more I was absolutely captivated by the adventure tales it contains, the consistently unsettling feeling of dread that closes around the main characters, and the unrelenting tension that builds as the narrators confession slowly unfolds.  Though this story is recorded by Tommy Thompson, a ghostwriter’s ghostwriter’s ghostwriter (you read that correctly), it is told by Marcus Garvey, a man attached to a disastrous African expedition to the Belgian Congo that resulted in the murder of the expedition’s leaders, brothers William and Richard Carver and the disappearance of the African crew.  Garvey promises to tell Thompson precisely what happened in the jungle–but whose truth is he telling?  Though this is meant to be a pastiche of the 19th-century African adventure novels that were so popular in the British empire, this is so much more than satire.  It is a heart-rending, blisteringly fast-paced, and simply unforgettable tale that you need to read to believe.

2138106Life of Pi: Yann Martel’s now-classic novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2002, and has since been turned into a popular film, but don’t let it’s public acclaim deter you from giving this book a try.  It’s gentle, subtle, sometimes ridiculous humor makes the narrator, sixteen-year-old Pi, instantly endearing.  Pi is the sole survivor when the cargo ship carrying his family and a menagerie of animals sinks on its way to Canada.  He recounts his experiences after the fact, telling about his tiny life raft, adrift in the Pacific, with only Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan, and an enormous royal bengal tiger.  The story itself is extraordinary, wildly imaginative, and completely transporting.  However, like Pandora in the Congo, the real magic of this book lies in the revelations that Pi holds back until the book’s end, and the lessons he reserves for those willing to take his journey with him.

2223181Oscar and Lucinda: This is one of my favorite books ever.  Ever ever.  It is one of those books that I make people read in order to determine if we can be friends.  Peter Carey is a master storyteller, and it’s impossible not to fall under his spell in any book he has penned, but this historic narrative is his masterpiece, dealing with big themes like love and faith, as well as colonialism and capitalism.  Haunting, and hauntingly beautiful, heartbreaking and inspiring, this is the tale of Oscar, a minister’s son who is terrified of water and addicted to gambling, a Lucinda, a determined survivor who owns a glass factory.  They meet on an oceanic voyage to Australia–a moment that will change them and challenge them, and culminate in an insane, and stunning wager to transport a glass church across the Australian Outback.  Carey gives both his hero and heroine an enormous collection of quirks, foibles and shortcomings, but they only make them both more human and real, and transforms the journey across the outback into something so much bigger than them both.  There are passages in this book that are quite honestly breathtaking in their beauty, and will leave readers changed for the better.

3493764Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art: Carl Hoffman shows what a talented journalist can do with a well-worn, but little-understood story.  The disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the twenty-three-year old son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1961, was the stuff of international news.  Michael vanished somewhere around New Guinea while searching for native cultures and their art to fill his museum in New York.  While the family and the Dutch government (who controlled New Guinea at the time) asserted that Michael had drowned in an attempt to swim to land after his catamaran capsized.  But questions lingered about whether Michael had made it to shore, and died at the hands of the people who lived there.  Hoffman not only weaves a tale of adventure–both Michael Rockefeller’s and his own in trying to follow his footsteps–but he also explains the cultures, faiths, and traditions of the people who live in the areas that Michael encountered, explaining the unending repercussions of colonialism and invasion that continue to affect their way of life to this very day.  This is an informative, moving, and relentlessly exciting story that will appeal to history buffs as well as adventures seekers.

Happy Adventures, Beloved Patrons!  We hope to see you soon!


June 14th is typically associated with Flag Day in the United States, commemorating the adoption of the ‘Stars and Stripes’ flag by the Second Continental Congress in 1777.   But there are other reasons for remembering the date: for example, it just so happens that yesterday, June 14, was the 226th anniversary of the return to England by Captain William Bligh, and the survivors of the loyal crew of the now-infamous H.M.S Bounty.

My other car is a three-masted clipper.
My other car is a three-masted clipper.

The Bounty set sail in April of 1787, charged with transporting breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the British West Indies (so named because they taste a bit like potatoes, and smell like bread).  The crew was comprised of 44 British navy-men and 2 botanists.  Among these young men was a twenty-three-year old named Fletcher Christian, who had sailed with Captain William Bligh twice before, forming a fairly close teacher-student relationship.

Breadfruit...who knew?
Breadfruit…who knew?

The trip proved a difficult one.  After being held up by weather, the crew had to wait nearly five months for the breadfruit to properly ripen before it could be taken on board, until April, 1789.  Though all this delay made Bligh anxious to head back home, there is no doubt that his men were enjoying themselves most heartily in Tahiti, and relishing the relaxed discipline.

What happened next is well known to history:  Fletcher Christian led a bloodless mutiny aboard the Bounty at approximately 5:15am on April 28, 1789, agreeing to put as many of those who remained loyal to Bligh as would fit into 23-foot launch-boat with five days’ worth of food, rather than kill them.  What we still don’t know for sure, is why.  Some say it was because Bligh’s disciplinary attitude aboard ship had become downright tyrannical, and his paranoia so profound that he was judged to be putting the ship and her crew in jeopardy (this story was first put forth by one of Christian’s descendants).  However, the Bounty’s log books show that Bligh was fairly lenient in his command.  In fact, some argue it was this very leniency that got him into trouble.

The story of the little launch is a stunning one:  When his attempts to get help and supplies from some nearby natives proved fruitless, Bligh–thanks to the navigational skills he learned under Captain Cook–piloted the tiny boat 3,618 nautical miles, from Tahiti to Timor, and from there, another 544 miles to what is now Jakarta, Indonesia, where he was able to secure proper transport home to England.  He accomplished this with no maps, no charts, and almost no food, using the stars and the sun alone as his guide.

In comparison, the group of mutineers divided within months, with 16 men remaining in Tahiti, where they were captured in 1791 by Captain Edward Edwards, whose ship, the HMS Pandora had been sent especially for them.  When the Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, six of the men died, while the rest were forced to travel in a open boat, much like the one Bligh had been forced to use.  They were court-martialed in England in September of 1792, and ultimately, three were hanged for treason.

The eight men who remained with Christian set sail for Pitcairn Island, landing on January 15, 1790, and forming a settlement with their Tahitian wives and several other natives.  However, the Tahitians, who the British men saw more as ‘property’ than fellow settlers, rose up, killing five of the Bounty men, including Christian, in 1794.  Several more years of violence and unrest followed until only one member of the Bounty, named John Adams, was left in charge of the community.  They were discovered by an American ship, the Topaz in 1808, which related the discovery of the Bounty‘s final home to the British.  Rather than punish those who now lived on Pitcairn, the British decided to use them to their own advantage, modeling the society as a model of Christianity and morality–the perfect British settlement, despite its origins.

For those of you looking to know more details about the Bounty, the Mutiny, or the people involved, here are some sources to check out, and a few to keep the armchair adventurers entertained!

2108037The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty: Caroline Alexander’s thoroughly engaging book is probably the best on the subject, bringing together generations of history in order to get as close to the truth as possible about that fateful night, and the events that took place afterwards.


1919426Captain Bligh’s Portable Nightmare: John Toohey’s work is primarily concerned with Bligh’s navigational feats after he was put off the Bounty, and emphasizes the genuinely overwhelming accomplishment that Bligh achieved in getting to Jakarta without maps or compass.  He also deals with the trial Bligh faced on his return for losing his ship, and his redemption in the Napoleonic Wars.

dFragile Paradise: The Discovery of Fletcher Christian, Bounty Mutineer: This study of Fletcher Christian, written by his great-great-great-great-grandson, is not only the tale of a mysterious mutineer, but also a great travel adventure in its own right.  It is also one of the first works to give credit to the Tahitian women who sailed to Pitcairn, and the vital role they played in keeping the settlement alive.

indexMr. Bligh’s Bad Language: A fascinating analysis of Bligh’s abilities as a Captain, and how his behavior could have contributed to the mutiny, as well as a fascinating study of power and performance in the world in which these men lived.


2680805Lost paradise : from Mutiny on the Bounty to a modern-day legacy of sexual mayhem : the dark secrets of Pitcairn island revealed:
Despite being aggressively titled, this book is highly readable, though deeply unsettling account of the later history of Pitcairn Island that begins in 2000, when British authorities were sent to the island (which remains the last holding of the British in the Pacific) to investigate the rape of a fifteen-year-old girl.  Kathy Marks was one of only six journalists sent to cover the subsequent trial, and her account, though not always easy to read, is a necessary addition to the story of the Bounty and its legacy.

2689029Mutiny: a novel of the Bounty: Crack ghost-story authorJohn Boyne turns his talents to historical fiction in this tale of Jacob Turnstile, a young man who escapes prison by accepting a position aboard the Bounty.  This tale for teens is a terrific adventure, as well as a fascinatingly complex study of human morality and strength.

2667929C.S. Forrester’s Hornblower: Ok, so it’s not precisely the Bounty, but this captivating mini-series adaptation of C.S. Forrester’s classic novels fo the British Navy (starring the very young, but still very watchable Ioan Gruffudd) features all the period detail and historical tidbits one could want out of a Napoleonic War piece.  Come on…they built a full-scale, completely accurate ship of the line specifically for the show.  Best of all, episodes Five and Six center around an alleged mutiny, thus allowing for the phrase “Black, bloody mutiny!” to be bellowed at regular intervals.

At the Movies: Literary Adaptations

On the off chance you hadn’t heard, there’s a new Jurassic Park movie out this week…on my way to the library yesterday, I heard a radio add for Jurassic World while driving by a billboard advertisement for Jurassic World, while driving behind a bus that had a Jurassic World ad on its side, so I think I am fairly safe in assuming you have heard of this movie…

And don’t get me wrong…I have no doubt that Jurassic World is indeed a terrific movie.  But there are also a number of other terrific films out there this summer, and a surprising number are based on terrific books.  Plus, movie theaters are among some of the most air-conditioned places in the entire world, so for me, there is nothing like spending a ridiculously hot summer day in the frigid atmosphere of a movie theater, gleefully fighting off frostbite.   And as the days are apparently growing steadily warmer, I thought we might take a look as some adaptations that are garnering positive reviews.

We’ve already discussed Far from the Madding Crowd and Testament of Youth, both seminal works of fiction–and stellar movies, which is a rare feat, indeed.  But here are some other ideas for you to check out, both in the theaters, and here at the library:

meandearlposterMe and Earl and the Dying Girl: Though the title alone calls to mind comparisons to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Jesse Andrew’s book is a stand-alone hit that captures all the painfully self-conscious, self-questioning self-loathing of adolescence in a way that is both funny and heartwrench, and totally, utterly unique.  The title gives a fair bit of the plot away–seventeen-year-old Greg, who is painfully awkward is a rather endearing way, has an unlikely friend in the chain-smoking Earl, but it is his friendship with Rachel (the ‘Dying Girl’ of the title, who has been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia), forced on him by his mother, that changes them all for the better.  Greg and Earl’s film spoofs are priceless pieces of arch comedy in and of themselves that are sure to translate well to the screen.  Released this week, the film version of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, starring Thomas Mann, is already amassing rave reviews.  You can watch the trailer here.

madamebovaryposterMadame Bovary: Ok, I agree, this is not an adaptation based on a contemporary book.  But I was so surprised to hear that there is an adaptation being made of this enormous, emotional epic that I had to list it here.  Mia Wasikowska has been making a number of literary films of late, from Jane Eyre to the re-invention of Alice in Wonderland,  but none of these heroine are like Emma Bovary, who attempts to escape her monotonous, suffocating society life by having extramarital affairs and living well beyond her financial means.  Gustave Flaubert’s debut novel, published in serial form over the source of 1856 caused an utter scandal in Parisian society, even being attacked by public prosecutors for obscenity.  But since then, Madame Bovary has been established as one of the best–if not the best–novels ever written.  With its hidden patterns and intricate characterizations that would inspire writers from Tolstoy to Henry James, Emma Bovary’s story is not one that will be easy to take to the big screen, but the payoff could be enormous.  You can watch the trailer here, and judge for yourself.

setfiretothestarsposternewSet Fire to the Stars: This is another cheat, as it’s not strictly a literary adaptation, but this film sounded so fascinating I add had to add it here.  Based on a series of actual events, this film is based on the memoir by Professor John Malcolm Brinnin, about his friend (and occasional tormenter) Dylan Thomas.  Brinnin facilitated several of Dylan Thomas’ speaking tours, including the tour on which he died in 1953.  This story, however, is of Dylan’s first visit to Manhattan, and while his final tour might have provided the fodder for some higher drama, this film is garnering some very positive reviews for its cinematography (which harnesses all the dramatic potential of black-and-white, as you can see here), as well as the performances of Celyn Jones as Thomas, and Elijah Wood as Brinnin.  Shirley Henderson also has a supporting role as Shirley Jackson, author of The Lottery, who was apparently one of Brinnin’s neighbors.  Those interested in Thomas’ experiences in the U.S. can check out Brinnin’s memoir, Dylan Thomas in America, as well as the work of Dylan, himself, from his Short Stories to his Poetry, as well as his Letters–and even a sound recording of him reading ‘A Visit To America’, which is seriously incredible.  For a little extra treat, here is an recording of actual Dylan Thomas actually reading ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’.   Just to start your day off on an upbeat note.

So there you have it, beloved patrons–enjoy some popcorn for me, and let us know what films tickled your fancy, as well!

Saturdays @ the South: Food & Books


I’m not sure what it is about food and books that go so well together, but they’re definitely a complimentary pair. I’d say it’s because it puts two of my favorite things together, but I’m not alone in this thought. There are scads of blogs out there that embrace the book/food pairing by creating recipes from literature, inspired by literature or simply juxtapose food with books. For a brief sampling try: Outlander Kitchen; Yummy Books, Paper/Plates, Paper and Salt, or Food in Literature, all fun blogs with great content and intriguing recipes.

Here at the South Branch, we’ve been acknowledging people’s love of food and books for a while. From our chocolate seminars, to our cooking demonstrations and hosting cookbook authors, there’s hardly a better place to indulge your yearning for food knowledge than here (except, maybe, for the Cookbook Club @ the West Branch). We’ve got some exciting upcoming programs that bring food into the library this summer, so if you’re hankering for an evening out and eager to sample a free program, check out these upcoming morsels:

The Baker Chocolate Company: A Sweet History

Whole Foods Cooking Demonstration

If after that, you craving more books that celebrate food, try some of these titles:

3565439Food: A Love Story: I’ll be honest, I wrote this post largely so I could recommend this book. Jim Gaffigan has the healthiest, unhealthy relationship with food and it’s hysterical; I’m fairly certain he’s a real-life incarnation of Garfield. I’m listening to the audiobook (read by the author) in my car and have gotten some strange looks from other drivers because I’m laughing so hard. That pretty much gets a book an automatic thumbs-up from me. Gaffigan is a self-proclaimed food lover, but NOT a foodie, preferring to have fast food over good food that takes forever to find. You’re likely to find something relatable in this book and you’re more likely to find many things that will tickle your funnybone and possibly awaken a long-suppressed craving for hot dogs. If you, too, believe that “bacon bits are like the fairy dust of food community” do yourself a favor and read this book, immediately.

3578641Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: From Mary Higgins Clark to James Patterson; Sue Grafton to Harlan Coben, mystery writers can’t seem to keep food out of their texts. And why should they? Food is a sensual experience that can drive someone further into a story by stimulating more than just the eyes. It can be a respite from intense drama or help us get to know a character better by learning his/her taste. This book collects some of America’s favorite mystery writers’ recipes: from dishes mentioned in a novel, to a writer’s favorite recipe to make at home. You’ll be hard-pressed not to find something appetizing here. (Murder and mayhem are optional.)

3199507Taste: What You’re Missing: Turns out, we’re missing quite a lot from our everyday experience of taste.  I’m not sure Barb Stuckey’s tome got the popular attention is should have given how many considered it more of an academic book. However, Taste is extremely accessible, enjoyable and even a bit fun! Should you decide to experience some of the concepts the author talks about, she offers some exercises to try them out. (Bonus, they can also double as party games if you’re throwing a party for foodies.) She covers a lot here, but it’s broken down into small doses and the chapters stand alone, so skipping around to what interests you is definitely an option here. I read the whole thing cover-to-cover, though, and found it very enjoyable, so I recommend giving it a try!

2932386Medium Raw: Oh, Tony Bourdain. I’ve gladly followed you from the jungles of Malaysia to the boardwalk of Coney Island and everywhere in-between on TV and in text. The man is insightful, sarcastic and eloquent (if a bit heavy on the f-bombs). While many tout the value of his breakout hit Kitchen Confidential (it is a great book, to be sure) and far too few mention the outstanding, albeit short-lived TV series based on that hit, I find this book to be Bourdain at his blunt, snarky best. He’s not shy about discussing the ways he’s been taken in by trappings of mainstream culture throughout his career, but he’s also brutally honest about what he likes, what he doesn’t like and what he’s tried to stay true to, and this makes Medium Raw not only a tantalizing, but also an enjoyable read as well.

3008568The Belly of Paris: I was hungry pretty much through all 300+ pages of this book. It has: people eating; people talking about food; the author describing food; the business of food; the way that food is a commentary on social status; the way food feeds the drama of the plot (see what I did there?) … Heck, I’m getting hungry just writing about it. If you want a book that is pure indulgence, but still calorie-free, you won’t go wrong here. You may want to have a snack handy, though, just in case.

I hope I’ve persuaded you that food and books are not only a logical pairing, but a mouthwatering one as well. Thank you for putting up with all of my food puns. Till next week, dear readers! I need to find myself a snack…

Five Book Friday

And at last, beloved patrons, we come to our Five Book Friday post, which offers you a brief sampling of our new book buffet, just in time for the weekend.  There is every chance that this weekend might actually permit some outside activities, so before you go out to enjoy the sunshine, be sure to stop by and check out a tale to bring along on your adventures!

3577320Servants of the Storm: Delilah S. Dawson made her name with the Blud novels, a sort of carnie-punk/steam-punk/vampire-ish romance novels that are simply phenomenal.  Her boundless imagination and fearless characterizations are out in full force in this new-to-us young adult novel.  She balances the weird and the numdane beautifully, creating a coming of age story with some shiver-inducing twists and turns.  When Hurricane Josephine ravages Savannah, Georgia, and kill’s Dovey’s best friend, Carly, it doesn’t appear that things can get much worse.  But suddenly, Dovey sees Carly sitting at their favorite cafe…which simply can’t be…unless the storm brought some other things to Savannah.  Things too dreadful to name….And as Dovey puts aside the pills and the advice of those around her, and embraces all the strange sights around her, she realizes that the hurricane was only the beginning.

3629201The Fellowship : the literary lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams: For three decades, Tolkien and Lewis held weekly meetings, either in Lewis’ rooms at Oxford, or in a nearby pub, known as the Inklings.  In these meetings, two of the most lauded British authors of the century, along with their closest friends–Owen Barfield (and linguist and noted philosopher) and Charles Williams (a poet of self-described “supernatural shockers”) discussed literature, poetry, philosophy, and life in general, as friends tend to do.  In their new book, Philip and Carol Zaleski bring readers inside these meetings, charting the odd, enlightening, inspiring, and outrageous ideas discussed among the Inklings, highlighting their genius, but also their humanity.  Fans of Tolkien and Lewis will delight in this all-access pass to their inner thoughts, fear, doubts, and beliefs, but this is also a book about Britain in the twentieth century, and the fundamental changes that it wrought on the people living through it.

3634193The Convictions of John Delahunt: In the course of researching a social history of Merrion Square in Dublin, Andrew Hughes came across the story of John Delahunt, a man who was hanged in 1842 for the murder of a young boy.  The case consumed the Dublin media, not only because of the disturbing nature of the crime, but because it turned out that Delahunt was a paid informant for the British authorities ensconced in Dublin Castle, making the threat he posed to the nationalist-minded public that must more intense.  But rather than write a history of Delahunt, Hughes decided to write a novel, told from Delahunt’s point of view.  In giving a voice to this bogey-man of history, Hughes is able to discuss some fascinating history, and the moral implications of Delahunt’s decisions.  With its defiant characters and heady atmospheric details, this is definitely a book that history buffs and fiction fans alike will savor.

3621517The Storm Murders: I know, I know, the last thing we need is to be reminded of winter at this point, but John Farrow’s formidable detective (hailed as “the Poirot of Quebec), Emil Cinq-Mars always deals in extreme weather conditions, and this case looks like quite a memorable one.  According to the catalog description, this is a locked-room mystery that adds a startling twist….there are no footprints in the snow leading to the murder scene, and no footprints leading away.  Is this merely a case of murder/suicide?  Or could it be that there is something much more sinister afoot?

3598042The Water Knife: Paolo Bacigalupi was a National Book Award finalist for his stunning novel The Windup Girlwhich provided readers with a fully-detailed, and somehow beautiful post-apocalyptic world.  This book looks to continue this tradition, telling the story of a future American southwest that has been ravaged by drought, that has several tongue-in-cheek references to contemporary political culture–and some dire observations about our current commercial practices.  When a new source of water reportedly appears in Phoenix, Angel Valsquez, a spy, assassin, and enforcer for a ruthless water-controlling conglomerate, is sent to investigate.  But what starts as rumors soon becomes a violent hunt for the truth behind an overwhelming conspiracy.  NPR’s All Things Considered described this book as “A noir-ish, cinematic thriller set in the midst of a water war between Las Vegas and Phoenix. . . . Think Chinatown meets Mad Max.”  Which seems like as good a reason to give this book a try as I’ve heard in a while!


Happy reading, and happy Friday!  Don’t forget the sunscreen!

“Two magicians shall appear in England…” A Magical If/Then Post


A number of patrons have come in recently talking about the TV adaptation of Susannah Clarke’s masterful Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell that will be airing on BBC America this Saturday.  I have to admit, I have yet to tackle this 900+ page meisterwerk (oddly, the new paperback edition seems more intimidating than the hardcover!), but this is a book that readers, critics, and other writers are all praising unequivocally.  The book picked up the TImes book of the year award in 2005, as well as the Hugo Award for best novel, and the British book awards newcomer of the year award.  Astro City writer Kurt Busiek has been singing the praises of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for a while, and is apparently quite pleased with the results (though we both agree that attempting to cover this amount of book in 6 episodes seems pretty ambitious…). Neil Gaiman, whose opinion should be considered in all manners, literary and otherwise, said that Susannah Clarke’s work was “Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years.”

And now, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are set to make their television debut.   Bertie Carvel, who has made quite a name for himself on the London stage, and appeared in the film adaptation of Les Miserables as Bamatabois, is set to play Jonathan Strange, and Eddie Marsan, who played Inspector Lestrade in the recent Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey, Jr., is lined up to play Mr. Norrell.  Critics already have lovely things to say about this adaptation…so let’s give this a try, beloved patrons, shall we?

And in the meantime, here are a few items to get you in the mood for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell…..

If you liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Then check out:

1973523Perdido Street Station: I have a crazy little reader crush on China Mieville’s work….his writing is so inviting and the imaginative details be puts into creating his worlds are so alluring that by the time you realize what a completely bizarre, borderline insane book you have started, it’s just too late.  The world outside his story just seems too dull and too predictable.  And then you finish it, and just need more.  This book itself is set in New Curazon, a squalid city full of humans, ‘re-mades’, and an enormous cast of other, even stranger people, are ruled by a ruthless Parliament and controlled by a brutal army.  But when New Curazon’s most brilliant scientist is approached by the Garuda–a fantastic half-bird, half-man–with a bizarre and fascinating challenge, he has no choice but to accept, and no idea what fate has in story for him.  I realize, even in typing this, how bizarre this story sounds, but if you told me to read a book about two magicians unite forces to defeat Napoleon, I wouldn’t question you so.  So be sure to check out China Mieville’s remarkable, explosively creative, addictive novel soon.

2717096Neverwhere: Some library sites recommend Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as a co-read piece with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell…my only recommendation to you is to read All The Things that Neil Gaiman has written.  The man is a genius, and all of his stories are transporting, inspiring, and, usually, genuinely terrifying in a way that is utterly unique and unforgettable.  Like JS&MN, Neverwhere takes a world that readers think they know and reinvents it.  In this novel, young businessman Richard Mayhew follows a young woman pursued by assassins into the London Underground…and discovers a world of saints, angels, knights, and demons; the people who have fallen through the cracks.  Neverwhere is a fast-paced, exhilarating, haunting novel that will linger long after the cover has finally closed.  And, like JS&MN, this book was also turned into a BBC mini-series that you can check out, as well!

824986The Quincunx: Like JS&MN, Charles Palliser’s epic novel is set in the 19th century, and features the kind of rich details and detailed narrative that readers will savor.  In this weighty tome, which has received a number of comparisons to Dickens, as well as to Susannah Clarke, five families form a sort of five-point key that young, pitifully poor John Mellamphy must unlock in order to save his family.  Though not a quick read, or necessarily an easy one, readers who delve into The Quincunx will have the chance to travel not only to another place, but another time, and will carry the memories of that journey for some time to come.

3579925The Paper Magician:  Though certainly not as dense as JS&MN, Charlie Holmberg’s debut features two Victorian magicians who must join forces in order to defend their world.  In this case, however, the protagonist is Cecily Twill, a young woman who graduated top of her class at a school for the magically inclined–but even she doesn’t have the power to fix her broken heart.  And despite her dreams to work with metal, Cecily is assigned to apprentice under a paper magician.  Nothing seems to make sense–until her tutor is capture, and Cecily realizes she will risk anything to get him back.  There is a light-hearted charm to Holmberg’s story that makes it easy to fall into the world of her story, and readers who enjoy this book will be delighted to know that there are two more books in Cecily’s story to enjoy!

2411850The Illusionist:  Based on the sensational, and delightfully unsettling short story, “Eisenheim, the illusionist” by Steven Millhauser (which you can read in the collection The Barnam Museum), this is a stunningly beautiful movie about Eisenheim, the inscrutable and subversive magician whose powers threaten to destabilize the whole of the Habsburg Monarchy.  Though the film plays very fast and loose with history (particularly in its treatment of Crown Prince Rudolf, who was, in reality, a pretty awesome guy), the story that sustains it is so good that it’s still worth watching, especially for the crafty final twist that makes the ending its own kind of magic trick.

Happy reading!

Wednesdays at the West: Bringing Together Books, Tea and Readers


Last Tuesday, a group of tea and book lovers gathered at the West Branch Library for what quickly turned into a literary tea party.  It was the first meeting of Literatea, a new monthly event that allows readers to sample different loose leaf teas and chat about books.

First, the tea.  This month’s tea selection was Earl Grey Creme.  Adding a touch of vanilla to the traditional Earl Grey tea lends a nice, creamy taste to this British favorite.  The ladies and gentlemen of Literatea give this tea an enthusiastic endorsement, both for its flavor and its delightful and welcoming aroma.

To learn a bit more about Earl Grey Creme, check out the Literatea June Newsletter, which also includes all the staff recommended titles for the month of June, some news from the literary world and five books that pair especially nicely with our tea selection of the month.

As our tea party progressed, things got even more interesting as the talk turned to the titles that the bibliophile library patrons suggested.  Some of the new and new-to-us titles mentioned include:

pemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, featuring Jane Austen’s much loved characters from Pride and Prejudice.


onceuponatimeinrussiaOnce Upon a Time in Russia by Ben Mezrich, is the latest novel from this prolific, but not always well known author.



palaceoftreasonPalace of Treason by Jason Matthews is another new release attracting the attention of our readers.



troublewiththetruthThe Trouble with the Truth by Edna Robinson is a tale with an interesting backstory of its own.  Robinson’s novel was originally accepted for publication in 1960, but was never released because its publishers believed it shared too much in common with To Kill a Mockingbird (also released that year).  Robinson’s daughter was determined to see it in print and managed to have it published after her mother’s death.

truthaccordingtousThe Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows is causing significant excitement amongst fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (and really, who isn’t a fan?),  since Barrows was one of that charming book’s co-authors.


inthewoodsIn the Woods by Tana French gets accolades from self-described fans of “creepy” fiction.



Then our discussion turned towards some perennial favorites.

no1Anything by Alexander McCall Smith, especially the books in the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.



companyholmesIn the Company of Sherlock Holmes, which is a collection of short stories written by authors who took their inspiration from Sir Arthur’s legendary character.


extraordinarythingsThe Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.  Is there anything more intriguing than a book that no one can agree on?  Even those who love Alice Hoffman couldn’t agree on whether to love or hate this one.



Less controversial and much loved is anything by Adriana Trigiani, including The Shoemaker’s Wife and The Supreme Macaroni Company




If you’re a fan of literature that makes you hungry, even as it feeds your mind and soul, our book lovers suggest checking out The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister




If you still can’t get enough books about food, including some tempting recipes (not Weight Watchers approved), our readers suggest you take a look at Delicious by Ruth Reichl, a fictional tale, and also the author’s food related memoirs, Garlic and Sapphires and Tender of the Bone.

forgottengardenOur bibliophiles final suggestion for June was The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  And if you love it, keep an eye out for Morton’s newest release due out in September.



The next Literatea event will be Tuesday, July 7th at 10am.  Feel free to join us in person for even more from the world of books and tea.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass