Five Book Friday!


Happy autumn, Beloved Patrons!  Though the days are clearly growing shorter, the weather is certainly cooperating still, so we hope you get the chance to get out and enjoy the sunshine while it still smiles upon us.  And indulge in all things pumpkin-flavored.

And don’t forget to keep an eye out for the supermoon eclipse this Sunday evening–if you don’t, you’ll have to wait until about 2033.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for you, here are five of the books that appeared on our shelves this week, each of which is eager to go on an adventure with you this weekend:




3658794Mycroft Holmes:  Growing up with a basketball-fan father, I have always had a wealth of respect for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  But it was only this week I learned that he graduated from UCLA with a double major in History and English, AND is a devoted fan of Sherlock Holmes.  As a result, I am excited beyond what is rational for a grown-up person to be over this book.     Abdul-Jabbar has teamed up with acclaimed screenwriter Anna Waterhouse to bring us a story of the young Mycroft Holmes that explains how he came to be the incredibly obese hermit that we meet in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories–a tale that involves otherwordly murders on the island of Trinidad, Mycroft’s headstrong fiance, Georgianna, and his best friend, Cyrus.  Though full of some fun Holmesian references, this book also gives the authors a chance to explore the complicated world of the British Empire, and the many native stories and traditional that it never quite managed to silence.  As an agent of that empire, Mycroft is torn, both personally and professionally, leading to a book that, according to Booklist “…hit[s] all the right notes…combining fascinating historical detail with rousing adventure, including some cleverly choreographed fight scenes and a pair of protagonists whose rich biracial friendship… is the highlight of the book.”

3658387The Crime of Silence:  In 2000, a historian named Jan Tomasz Gross published a book entitled Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Polanddescribing the massacre of Jews that took place in that small town on July 10, 1941.  Gross claimed that, though the violence and murders were sanctioned by the Nazis, the crimes were committed by the Polish townspeople, against their own neighbors.  Since that time, the history of Jedwabne has become one of the most fiercely contested in the field of Holocaust studies.  Anna Bikont, a Polish journalist and a friend of Gross, was convinced that he had been the victim of a hoax.  This book is the history of her search to uncover the truth about Jedwabne, about the facts she recorded, and the diverse, fascinating, and unforgettable group of people she met in her quest for the truth.  You can also read a fascinating article about her interviews and personal relationships with the people of Jedwabne here.

3660917Vintage: David Baker’s debut sounds like the results of that Food Network show, Chopped–part culinary tale, part crime heist, and part utterly unique love story, this is a book that rather defies description, but begs to be read.  Food critic and once-best-selling-author Bruno Tannenbaum is in a slum; his marriage is collapsing, his bank account is dwindling, and his wine cellar is depleted.  But when he stumbles across the story of a  “lost” wine vintage reportedly stolen by Nazis, Bruno knows that finding this bottle will save his career and turn his life around–but as word of the wine spreads, crooks, cons, and thieves aplenty begin besieging him at every turn, forcing Bruno to consider just what he is willing to do for a second chance.  Library Journal loves Bruno, calling him “a bon vivant who rambles from Chicago to France, Germany, eastern Europe, and Moscow, enjoying fantastic meals and drinks along the way, as he searches for the lost wine—and, just maybe, for himself”, and the book itself as “A feast for all readers, with a warning only to those on a diet!”

3645087The Dead Student: Fans of dark and twisty psychological mysteries need look no further than John Katzenbach’s latest release.  When a troubled PhD student named Timothy (but known as ‘Moth’) wakes up desperate for a drink, he calls his Uncle, and sponsor, Ed for a meeting.  But Ed never shows up.  When Ed’s body is discovered, the police rule it a suicide, but Timothy knows better–but in order to prove that his uncle was murdered, Timothy and his ex-girlfriend Andrea, who is battling plenty of demons herself, will have to travel into some very dark waters together.  Though the premise sounds a bit complicated, Kirkus has given this book, high praise: “Boasting one of the freshest and most unlikely duos to appear in crime fiction in some time, the latest thriller by Katzenbach is one of his most enjoyable.”

3678754Magpie: Sweets and Savories from Philadelphia’s Favorite Pie Boutique: Three years ago, Holly Riccardi opened a tiny bakery called Magpie that swiftly became a beloved institution in an increasingly food-savvy town.  Now, you can bring some of the luciousness of Magpie to your own table with Riccardi’s season, traditional, and heirloom recipes, including her great-grandmother’s butterscotch pie and savory pies and quiches as well.  Please feel free to bring any dishes made from these recipes to a circulation desk near your for taste-testing!

It’s not funny anymore…The end of the Roald Dahl Prize

Last weekend’s Primetime Emmy’s ushered in Awards Season for the television and film industries…or that period of time when many of us begin making lists of all the shows and movies we missed over the past year (and will now be checking out on DVD from the library,….right?).  But Award Season can be great for bibliophiles, as well, as a number of awards are currently in the process of selecting winners–which we will naturally be covering with great avidity.


But today, some sad news came out regarding a fairly unique, and meaningful award: the Roald Dahl Funny Prize is no more.  From 2008-2013, this prize was awarded by Booktrust, the largest reading charity in the UK, and Roald Daul’s literary estate. Two prizes were awarded yearly, one aimed at books for the six and under age group, the other for seven- to fourteen-year-olds, with a cash prize of £2500 for the winner of each category.

The 2012 Dahl Funny Prize Winners

The prize was founded by then-Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, who explained  “I wanted to put a special emphasis on reading for fun…funny books often get overlooked when it comes to prizes. It’s usually felt that they should reward serious books. My own view is that many funny books tackle serious issues in a funny way, and that being funny is one extremely good way to engage children’s interest in reading.”  It certainly seemed that Rosen was right; some 900 children served as readers for the award, which, in it’s five years of existence, celebrated nearly 90 authors and illustrators.  Needless to say, those authors and illustrators enjoyed a great deal of well-deserved praise and press for their hard (but funny) work.

Because the truth of the matter is that writing for children, in any capacity, is no easy feat.  Dahl was one of those authors who made the process look easy, but behind his larger-than-life characters and fantastical plots is a beautiful balancing act that is exceptionally difficult to maintain.  On the one hand, Dahl was able to treat children like the thinking, feeling, rational beings that they are; he doesn’t patronize, and he doesn’t pander.  At the same time, he also distilled all the awful, scary, overwhelming people and themes in this works into something that they could understand, absorb, and, ultimately, enjoy.  And in giving children (and adults) the space to laugh at the things that scare or overwhelm them is one of the best ways to help them through the tough times.  It’s also pretty brave–humor implies a shared understanding and a shared experience, meaning that writers have to tap into something inherent in the world of children that adults may not be able to access with their big, compartmentalized brains. It is that remarkable talent that the Roald Dahl Prize was created to celebrate.

"...Roald Dahl creates such brilliant characters: He taps into something in the collective memory of people. God forbid everybody can remember someone as awful as Miss Trunchbull..." (Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical)
“…Roald Dahl creates such brilliant characters: He taps into something in the collective memory of people. God forbid everybody can remember someone as awful as Miss Trunchbull…” (Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical)

But yesterday, after having suspending the award for a year, the Roald Dahl Estate announced that the award, as it has been known, has, has ended.  The Roald Dahl Estate has assured people that it will be back (in some form) for Dahl’s Centenary next year, but Rosen himself has used the announcement to start a pretty interesting discussion about the presence of humor in children’s books.  “We demand space for reading for pleasure,” he tweeted, “but we need to acclaim all books which enable children to do it, including #funnychildrensbooks”.  Later, he queried,  “On the national curriculum documents about Reading, so the words ‘laugh’, ‘smile’, ‘grin’, ‘jokes’ appear anywhere?”

So, in honor of laughing, especially when it hurts, here are some past winners of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, in the hopes that they will bring a little mirth to a person–young or old–near you.


3495662Six and Under: The Peanut by Simon Rickerty (published in the UK as Monkey Nut): Is it a hat? Or a boat? Or a drum? Whatever it is, everyone wants it – and they DON’T want to share! One little monkey nut causes big trouble in this bright, funny and original book.

51n+8Vv30+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Seven to Fourteen: I Am Still Not A Loser by Jim Smith: Barry has a new problem: Gordon Smugly—who has the most perfect name for himself ever in the history of having a name, because he looks like a Gordon and is smug and ugly—has stolen Barry’s best friend. Join Barry as he attempts to get Bunky back, organizes a girly-screamvoice test, and tries to avoid seeing his teacher kissing his grandma.


3189293Six and Under: My No, No, No Day! by Rebecca Patterson (published in the UK as My Big Shouting Day!): After having a day in which nothing is right, tired Bella cuddles with her mother and talks about having a more cheerful day tomorrow.

3247833Seven to Fourteen:
Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie ThomsonThirteen-year-old schoolboy, Dirk Lloyd, has a dark secret – in fact he is a dark secret. Dirk – according to his own account – is the earthly incarnation of a Dark Lord, supreme ruler of the Darklands and leader of great armies of orcs and warriors, intent on destruction and bloody devastation.

9780330518802Six and Under:
 Cats Ahoy! by Peter Bently and Jim Fields: When Alfonso the cat hears there’s a boat coming into harbour carrying its largest ever catch, he hatches a plan. It’s brave! It’s bold! And it involves a ghost pirate ship, some rather gullible fishermen, and cats …LOTS of cats. With an infectious rhyming text and laugh-out-loud illustrations, this book is set to become a firm favourite for fans of life on the high seas.
3582072Seven to Fourteen: The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz PinchonTom Gates is the master of excuses for late homework: dog attacks, spilt water, lightening. Tom’s exercise book is full of his doodles, cartoons and thoughts, as well as comments from his long-suffering teacher, Mr Fullerton. After gaining five merits for his ‘Camping Sucks’ holiday story, Tom’s work starts to go downhill, which is a pity, as he’s desperate to impress Amy Porter, who sits next to him.


2942410Six and Under:
Dog Loves Books by Louise YatesDog loves books! Dog loves books about dinosaurs and Dog loves books about aliens: in fact Dog loves all books! Dog has his very own bookshop, although he doesn’t have many customers. But that’s all right, because when Dog is surrounded by books, he is never short of friends or fun. And when someone does come into the shop, Dog knows just which books to recommend.
3111453Seven to Fourteen: Withering Tights by Louise Rennison:  Picture the scene: Dother Hall performing arts college somewhere Up North, surrounded by rolling dales, bearded cheesemaking villagers (male and female) and wildlife of the squirrely-type. On the whole, it’s not quite the showbiz experience Tallulah was expecting…but once her mates turn up and they start their ‘FAME! I’m gonna liiiiive foreeeeeever, I’m gonna fill my tiiiiights’ summer course things are bound to perk up. Especially when the boys arrive. (When DO the boys arrive?) Six weeks of parent-free freedom. BOY freedom. Freedom of expression…cos it’s the THEATRE dahling, theatre!! 

Wednesdays @ West: They Work Hard for the Money

Like many of the staff members at the PIL, I am a big Downton Abbey fan.  I love following the exploits of the upper class Lady Mary, Lady Edith and, most especially, the Dowager Countess.  But perhaps even more intriguing to me are the “downstairs,” working class characters.  John and Anna Bates are my favorite romantic pairing and my appreciation for the fabulous Mrs. Hughes grows with every season.  As much fun as it can be to see how the elite lived in the earlier part of the twentieth century, I know in my heart of hearts that had I lived then, I would have been much more likely to be in the kitchen with Daisy and Mrs. Patmore than in the drawing room with Lord and Lady Grantham.

When it comes to books, I feel just the same.  It can be intriguing to get a glimpse into the lives of the rich and powerful, but I will admit, I often prefer the more down to earth characters and stories of people who have to work hard to earn a living.

A couple of weeks ago, the Christian Science Monitor offered a list of  “10 Great Books Featuring Working Class Heroes.”  This list focuses on recent fiction and nonfiction, but of course, working class heroes are far from new to the literary world.  After all, some of the great classics of literature, like Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men or almost anything by  Dickens, are the stories of the working class.

In any case, had the author of the Christian Science article consulted me about my picks for her article, here’s a few fictional I would have recommended she add:

mebeforeyouoneplusoneMe Before You  by Jojo Moyes was my first Moyes title and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The main character, Lou, is pretty much the entire reason why.  When we meet Lou she is working at a tea shop, but after she is laid off, she takes a job helping to care for Will, a former daredevil, rich boy who was severely injured in a motorcycle accident.  Billing this book as simply a romance is, I think, remarkably unfair, but whatever genre you’d put it in, it’s a compelling read.  A movie version is in the works, but I’m far more excited by the book sequel, After You that is due out this month.

A couple of other forays into other works by Jojo Moyes were enough to show me that I really only like her when she is writing about likable, funny and flawed working class women.  Luckily for me, she wrote One Plus One.  Jess, a single mother, works two jobs: one at a bar and one as a house cleaner.  Despite her best efforts, her family is struggling.  Her teenage stepson is viciously bullied and her brilliant young daughter needs more than her mediocre school can provide.  When her daughter has the chance to enter a competition that could pay for her fees to much better school, Jess is determined to make it happen, even if it means accepting help from a rich client for whom she has a certain amount of disdain.

beantreesflightbehaviorUnlike Jojo Moyes, Barbara Kingsolver is not a new-to-me author.  I’ve been enjoying everything she’s written for fifteen or sixteen years now.  She has quite the knack for creating characters that intrigue me, whether they are missionaries in Africa or recluses in the mountains of Appalachia.  My first Kingsolver novel was The Bean Trees.  When Taylor Greer graduates high school, the first and only item on her to do list is to get out of  her rural Kentucky hometown.  She takes a less than reliable car and starts driving west.  She eventually lands in Arizona, but  along the way, she picks up an abandoned child and finds herself creating a whole new family.

Despite the first scene in which Dellarobia Turnbow appears in Kingsolver’s Flight BehaviorI found myself really liking this young woman from a struggling farming family in Appalachia.  She’s sarcastic and condescending towards her husband and in-laws, but I found her rather endearing.  Flight Behavior is the story of how Dellarobia is thrust into a world of scientific observation when her family’s property becomes the site of a climate change phenomenon.  Frankly, the whole book is worth reading just for the scene where Della demonstrates to a yuppie environmentalist  just how little he knows about the lives and habits of working class people.

languageflowersAt the start of The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Victoria doesn’t even make the ranks of the working class.  As an eighteen year old, aging out of the foster care system, she has no place to live, no job and no support.  She’s also bitter and angry and perhaps an unlikely candidate to know much about the usually romantic Victorian language of flowers.  This is her specialty, however, and she parlays her affinity for flowers into a job with a florist.  Things certainly don’t proceed smoothly for Victoria, however, as she must face the events and people of her past.  In real life, Victoria would be extremely difficult to like, but between the pages of the book, the reader grows to feel a certain sympathy for her.

weneveraskedforwingsDiffenbaugh’s recently released second book offers another main character who can be difficult to connect with at first.  Letty is a single mother, but without much emphasis on the mother part.  Her own mother has, until the start of We Never Asked for Wings almost exclusively raised Letty’s children while Letty worked as a bartender.  When her parents decide to go back to Mexico and leave Letty to fend for herself and her two children for the first time, Letty certainly doesn’t seem to be a contender for mother of the year.  However, she does try to improve her children’s lives by dreaming up a scheme in which they can attend better quality schools.  In the end, it’s her teenage son, Alex, who really steals the show and runs away with the readers’ hearts, but I found myself liking Letty more at the end than I thought I would.

bookofunknownamericansLike We Never Asked for Wings, The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez features characters from working class families that have recently immigrated to the United States.  In this case, the spotlight is on the Hernandez family that comes from Mexico after their daughter suffers brain damage in a sad accident.  Believing an American school can help Maribel recover from her injury, the Hernandez family relocates.  They are unprepared, however, for the reality that faces them in the United States.  This includes Maribel’s new relationship with a neighbor boy from Panama.  Henriquez weaves the stories of all the immigrant neighbors of the Hernandez family into an intriguing and heartbreaking novel.



Card Catalog Display: Books are the New Black

Considering the recent Emmy Awards and the South Branch’s most recent TV-centric post, it makes sense that the Main’s card catalog display, too, is inspired by a television show. Netflix’s award-winning series Orange is the New Black, inspired by Piper Kerman’s best-selling memoir with the same title, has enraptured millions of viewers with Kerman’s story of drug trafficking and consequential incarceration at a minimum-security women’s prison. The show and the memoir are quite different though, especially after the first six or so episodes.  For example, in the book Piper and Alex (named Nora in the book) were not in the same prison, nor were there such rampant sexual activities between the female inmates. And while TV-Piper was starved out after insulting Red’s food (named Pop in the memoir), book-Piper was only scolded by the cook and the pair went on to have a good relationship.


Some other elements of the novel that seem to be missing, or at the very least scaled-down, include the camaraderie between inmates. On TV, Piper arrives to a hostile, un-accepting environment. When Piper arrives in prison in her memoir, she writes, “I avoided eye contact. Nonetheless women periodically accosted me: ‘You’re new? How are you doing, honey? Are you okay?’” Prisoners looked out for one another, though the race-division was definitely there. Still, there was less violence in this minimum security prison than the show lets on, and while sex and violence between inmates were far rarer than the Netflix version makes it seem, sexual harassment between guards and prisoners was a very real issue in Kerman’s memoir.

There is a myriad of reasons why people are drawn to both Kerman’s memoir and the Netflix version of Orange is the New Black, but prison stories in general are always an interesting read (or TV-show…or movie..).  Below are some books displayed on the card catalog right by the circulation desk at the Main Branch, just waiting for you to come check them out.

outoforangeOut of Orange: A Memoir by Catherine Cleary Wolters

Imagine seeing an ad for a new Netflix series, and realizing that one of the main characters is a representation of yourself. That is what inspired the real-life Alex Vause, named Catherine Cleary Wolters, to tell her side of the story. This memoir offers further insight into drug-trafficking than Piper’s original, and answers many questions that fans have about her side of the story.


newjackNewjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover

In order for journalist Ted Conover to get the full, unbiased story of what happens in America’s prisons, he took a job for nearly a year as a New York State Prison officer in Sing Sing, a notorious maximum-security prison. Publisher’s Weekly writes, “With its nuanced portraits of officers and inmates, the book never preaches, yet it conveys that we ignore our prisons–an explosive (and expensive) microcosm of race and class tensions – at our collective peril.”

burningdownthehouseBurning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein

The United States has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, including our children. Bernstein’s book explores the unethical ways in which incarcerated youth are treated – from physical violence to psychological torture  – and presents an argument against juvenile prisons using the voices of juvenile prisoners, as well as theory and research.  Here you will meet incarcerated teenagers, and hard-working politicians trying to shut down the practice.

Books for your ears, or Hooray for Audiobooks!

Audio-Books-creative-commons-As was noted in yesterday’s post, we here really like books.  But, I think, more than that, we enjoy good stories, in whatever form, or through whatever medium they happen to be told, especially if they involve plenty of good characters, well-planned action, and/or elaborate hand gestures…As was also noted, we also tend to focus mostly on books, since that seems to be our preferred story-drug of choice.

But the truth of the matter is that reading a book can often feel like logo-audiobook1more of a luxury than a daily event, precisely because the world does seem to move too quickly sometimes, stealing the chance to stop and reading, and making it difficult to stop by the library and pick up a new book.  And it is for precisely such occasions that audiobooks are so valuable.

Audiobooks offer all the intellectual and imaginative stimulation of reading, while still leaving your hands free to work, cook, cook, clean, or drive.  A number of our patrons swear by audiobooks to get them through a workout, or through the drive to and from work during rush hour.

Another, less frequently discussed perk of audiobooks is how much they can enrich a story, and offer details that books can’t.  In the special cases where an author narrates their own works, you can get a sense of how the book sounds in the author’s head; Bill Bryson’s work is some of the best in this sense.  In books with invented languages, such as the Dune series, the chance to hear the characters can add to the story immeasurably.  Sometimes it’s as simple as learning how an obscure word is pronounced (fecundated, for example, a word that comes up in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas).  Also, for those who aren’t visual learners, audiobook are often more effective for retention and learning than reading.

downloadFinally, thanks to Overdrive, our digital library platform, audiobooks are available 24/7…even when the library is closed.  For information and help with downloading, give us a call!

So, with that in mind, here are a few audiobooks, some selected by patrons, that are sure to keep your mind working and allow yo to be productive at the same time:

2326248Lolita, Read by Jeremy Irons: It’s already been scientifically determined that Jeremy Irons has a nearly perfect voice, so it is no surprise that this audiobook is a nearly perfect work of art.  Irons revels in Nabokov’s use of language, his pathos, and the awful love story and haunting tragedy that is Lolita.  This is a story that stands or falls on the audiences’ perception of the narrator, and Irons offers a powerfully insightful performance, making listeners feel Humbert Humbert’s fear, pain, and hopeless longing in a way that you don’t always get through reading.  I do accept that I am biased about this book, but this still remains my favorite of the library’s audiobook collection.

3551293‘Salem’s Lot, Read by Ron McLarty: It took a little bit of time for McLarty’s narration to grow on me, but it’s now become a yearly tradition for me as the leaves begin to turn and winter begins to whisper through the air.  There is something much more unsettling about being read a scary novel, rather than reading one–the story envelopes, and eventually chills you.  McLarty just gets the understated terror of Stephen King’s masterpiece, building the pace and tension almost imperceptibly, making this book feel as much a tragedy as a nightmare.  He also does a killer Maine accent, which makes the inhabitants of the doomed ‘Salem’s Lot feel that much more real as their story gradually unfolds.

3020871The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Read by David Timson: David Timson is a hero of mine.  When it was realized that there was no complete, comprehensive recording of all 60 of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, Timson set out to rectify the situation–by locking himself in a recording studio (not seriously) and single-handedly crafting a distinct and recognizable voice for every single character in the canon (this is completely true–you can watch a bit of it here).  It’s incredible not only for his energy and inventiveness, but for the fact that the voices are sustained over such a long period of time.  Perhaps more so than any other narration, Timson gets the relationship between Holmes and Watson perfectly, balancing their tempers and talents to help listeners realize just why their friendship is so timeless.

3620261Dead Wake, Read by Scott Brick: I’ll be honest–my ears are in love with Scott Brick.  Which is terrific, since he has been narrating consistently since 1999 in every genre you can imagine.  Eric Larson’s newest release on the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915 is one of Brick’s most recent recordings, and he is terrific at non-fiction works, but he has also lent his voice to novels by Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert, Dennis Lehane (and yes, he can do a Boston accent), and Tom Clancy, to name a very small sample.  Though subtle, his accents and inflections are generally spot-on–especially in Brad Meltzer’s books; Meltzer and Brick are friends, and Meltzer has been known to add characters to the story with unique accents, just to keep Brick on his toes (check out Zero Game for some examples).

3518341The Luminaries, Read by Mark Meadows: There are some books so rich, so complex, and so detailed that you simply want to hide away and devour them whole.  These are the kind of books I like to read, as opposed to hear, simply so I can savor each detail and character in depth.  Mark Meadows, however, managed to wring every drop of drama, and every nuance from each character.  Seriously, I am terrible with names, but simply from listening to Meadows’ inflections, I knew precisely who was talking, and how they were feeling.  This book is like listening to a friend, rather than a narrator, and I whole heartedly recommend it for those looking for a long-term audiobook relationship.

3617052Trigger Warnings, Read by Neil Gaiman:  Some people are made of magic, and Neil Gaiman is one of those people.  I don’t understand how he can read as well as he writes, but he does.  I picked this book because it is his most recent, but check out everything else he has written or read.  Right now.

Saturdays @ the South: The Readers’ Advisory will be televised…

51-Untruths-From-TelevisionI hope loyal readers of this blog have figured out by now that we here at the Peabody Library love books. We love reading, pairing great books with the right reader, defending the reader’s right to read and talking about cool things in the book world. We also love movies (bonus if they’re literary adaptations) and music (especially supporting local artists), but save for a notable exception here and, of course, our evangelist-like proclamations of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, we haven’t talked too much about TV. Since a well-balanced life of artistic pleasures can easily include television, I thought I’d take a post to balance things out a bit and talk about TV shows, with a little help from Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Violet Crawley.

Though the new fall season is approaching, good TV can be had year-round now with some non-traditional networks airing original material during what is typically thought of as the “off” season. This is often particularly true with British television series (*cough* Downton Abbey *cough*) that are run during the “regular” season across the Pond, and then mosey their way over to America just when we’re hankering for something new.

Me too, Lady Crawley.
Me too, Lady Crawley.

If you don’t have a TV/cable, have a tendency to miss when your favorite shows are on, don’t like sitting through commercials or are just plain looking for something different to watch, you can get some great television series, mini-series and special events right here at the library through our DVD collections. Even better, many of our TV collections are loaned out by entire seasons, which makes them ripe and ready for binge-watching!

Clearly, not all of what we love here at the library is based on books. What we truly love is creativity and good stories, and those can be found in just about any medium, including TV. So with the greatest deference to our regular Free-For-All-Blogess, I’m embarking on a television version of an If/Then post: South Branch style.

If your DVR is starting to smoke because your favorite shows returning this fall ended up in the same time slots, or if you’re going through withdrawal because some of your favorite shows aren’t starting until after the fall season (*cough* Downton Abbey *cough*) then here are some suggestions that you might want to try while you’re waiting….


If you’re looking forward to the final (sniff!) season  of Downton AbbeyThen you might want to try:

3446495The Blandings

If your favorite part of Downton is Dame Maggie Smith’s quips as the family matriarch, meet The Blandings. Described by Publisher’s Weekly as “Downton Abbey gone amok” this funny, irreverent take on the upstairs/downstairs relationship will still leave you pondering about social class, but without all the tears (unless, of course, they’re tears of laughter). This one is a favorite at the South; everyone who checks it out has brought it back talking about how much they laughed.

3220099Call the Midwife

If part of Downton Abbey’s appeal is the gut-wrenching heartache and occasional ugly-cry (why can’t Julian Fellowes just let Mr. Bates and Anna be happy together?), then Call the Midwife might be more to your taste. Exploring the lowest classes in a post-WWII London, this series follows the midwives of Nonnatus House as they guide families through some of the best and worst moments of pregnancy and childbirth. Keep the tissues handy…

If you’re looking forward to the return of The Big Bang TheoryThen you might want to try:

2598729How I Met Your Mother

If you like watching a slightly-awkward guy try to find love surrounded by hilarious and equally hapless friends, give How I Met Your Mother a try. This show ran for 9 seasons, yet somehow flew under the radar of many Big Bang fans, even though many of the themes and much of the humor were similar. While there are plenty of sub-plots and storylines to keep you hooked throughout, prepare yourself for what is essentially a series-long cliffhanger; the show really is about how the main character met his kids’ mother. However, unlike the Sheldon/Amy and Penny/Leonard cliffhanger from Big Bang, you don’t have to wait an entire summer to find out what happens as all 9 seasons of HIMYM are on DVD. This way, you can decide for yourself if the show’s creators made the right choice for the hotly-debated series finale.

If you’re looking forward to season 3 of Broadchurch… Then you might want to try:

3551257The Escape Artist

If you liked the whodunnit suspense of Broadchurch’s first season and the courtroom drama of its second season,The Escape Artist will fill both of those cravings for you. This was a mini-series, but it packs every bit of the same “what just happened here?” punch with its twist ending. Added bonus: it stars Broadchurch’s brilliantly-talented and delightfully-accented David Tennant, who delivers another stellar performance.

If you’re looking forward to Castle returning… Then you might want to try:


If you enjoy Castle’s mystery-of-the-week format with the satisfaction of following clues and solving a case at the end of the hour, then you’ll want to check out Rebus. This is a somewhat older British import based on Ian Rankin’s wildly popular Inspector John Rebus books. (OK, so I can’t go totally book-free, I guess.) While Rebus and his his partner DS Siobahn Clarke don’t have the will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry of Beckett and Castle, you’ll still get the same satisfying “case-closed” feeling at the end of the episodes here.

That’s it from the South front this week, dear readers/watchers. Whether you decide to read or watch TV, I wish you a great weekend!

 I'll miss Violet Crawley's quips. She has one for everything!
I’m going to miss Violet Crawley’s quips. (sigh)

Five Book Friday!


Here are a few reasons to celebrate today:

1) Yesterday was the 365th anniversary of the founding of the City of Boston, which clearly calls for a celebratory Dunkin’ Donuts.

2) Today is the 206th birthday of the Royal Opera House in London (the first performance was Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a number of versions of which you can check out this weekend, too!)

3) It is also the birthday of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who gave us the first dictionary of the English language in 1755

4) It is also Greta Garbo‘s birthday, though she was 196 years younger than the good Dr. Johnson (but you can check out her films at the library, as well!)

5) It’s Friday, which is always a call for a celebration, and an excellent reason to come and see the new books we have in stock for your weekend!  Here are five suggestions to get you started:


3650291Did You Ever Have a Family: Debut author Bill Clegg’s small-scale epic novel, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, is now available in the US, and is currently being smothered in positive reviews from outlets as varied as Buzzfeed to the Library Journal.   June Reid’s life was forever changed by a sudden disaster that killed her entire family on the eve of her daughter’s wedding.  With nothing left, June begins driving aimlessly across the country, encountering people similarly touched by tragedy, running from their pasts, or united in a shared heartbreak.  By alternating chapters between June and the people she encounters on her journey, Clegg is able to examine each character’s pain and humanity in a way that Booklist calls “delicately lyrical and emotionally direct…offering consolation in small but meaningful gestures. Both ineffably sad and deeply inspiring, this mesmerizing novel makes for a powerful debut.”

3653110The Art of Natural Cheese-makingI’ll be honest, finding this book did induce a momentary Wallace-and-Gromit-esque exclamation of joy that earned me some odd looks, but I don’t mind, because David Asher’s book is well worth the effort.  The creator of the Black Sheep School of cheesemaking, Asher’s gift for teaching comes through in these pages as clearly as his love for his craft. Most impressively here is Asher’s reliance on fairly-easy-to-find ingredients and techniques that actually make the idea of producing your own delicious cheeses a possibility, even for novices.  Richard McCarthy of SlowFoodUSA has called this a “a breakthrough book. …The more we remove the mystery to manufacturing even the simplest of cheeses at home, the more we will come to admire the craftsmanship that dairy farmers and artisanal cheesemakers bring to their work, to make life better and tastier for the rest of us.”

3634175Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights: Salman Rushdie’s newest collection of short stories was a best-seller before it’s actual release, and now it is also the selection for the library’s months Sci-Fi Book Group (give us a call for more information!)  In a collection that showcases Rushdie’s seemingly boundless imagination, the descendants of Dunia, princess of the jinn, have been let loose on the world, each playing a part in a coming war between light and dark.  These stories harken to the grand Thousand and One Nights, as the title implies, but Rushdie’s twist on the title may give you some indication of just how atypical this book really is.  The Washington Post cheers, “Rushdie conjures up a whole universe of jinn slithering across time and space, meddling in human affairs and copulating like they’ve just been released from twenty years in a lamp. . . . Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights translates the bloody upheavals of our last few decades into the comic-book antics of warring jinn wielding bolts of fire, mystical transmutations and rhyming battle spells.”

3643270House of Thieves: Architect Charles Belfoure’s debut novel is being lauded by fans of historic mysteries as a near-perfect blend of period detail and complex sleuthing.  His hero, John Cross (also, not too surprisingly, an architect) has been forced to pay off his son’s enormous gambling debts by using his professional knowledge, and arranging break-ins that no police detective will be able to solve.  Cross’ personal and professional lives are both in jeopardy in this page-turner that has already been making the rounds of our staff, and which earned a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly, which said, “Belfoure’s sly, roguish writing opens a window to those living both gilded and tarnished lives… Best of all, Belfoure holds together each and every thread of the novel, resulting in a most memorable, evocative read.”

3658395The Year of Fear: Machine-Gun Kelly and the Manhunt That Changed the NationThough I’ve grown a little wary of books that talk about how ‘the nation’ was changed, this book seems to be the real deal.  First-time author Joe Urschel, the Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Museum in Washington, D.C., has penned a story of the Depression, when gangsters were hailed as heroes for bringing down the wealthy.  In 1933, Machine-Gun Kelly and his wife Kathryn, were planning to kidnap noted oil tycoon Charles Urschel (bizarrely, no relation to the author).  J.Edgar Hoover had his FBI lawmen had been given sole authority to chase gangsters across state lines, but when he bungled the arrest of the Kelly’s, a 20,000 mile road-chase ensued across 16 states that made headlines across the nation.  The Library Journal gave this real-life historic thriller a starred review, and the Associated Press raves, “the narrative reads like the most nail-biting thriller imaginable — yet it’s all true. . . . Urschel does an amazing job chronicling a time in history that was rough for those that lived it while making the events extremely readable.”


So there you have it, beloved patrons.  Happy reading, and happy weekend to you all!

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