Saturday, May 31, 2008

Three acclaimed films

We have three classic, Oscar-winning films on the New shelves for your viewing pleasure:
Midnight Cowboy stars Jon Voight as a naive Texan who comes to New York City to seek his fortune - whatever way he can. Cold, broke and out of his depth, he meets petty criminal Ratso Rizzo (played by Dustin Hoffman ). Hoffman's belligerent, fast-talking Rizzo became the stereotype for New Yorkers (remember the scene of him pounding on a car hood, yelling "I'm walking here!"). It's a bleak movie with a very sad ending, and is well worth watching.
Rocky was the film that catapulted Sylvester Stallone to stardom. Winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1976, it is the ultimate underdog story. Stallone plays a small-time boxer who seems destined for a washed-up life until he gets the chance to fight the world heavyweight champion. It's his only chance to turn his life around.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a film adaptation of Edward Albee's acclaimed play. Directed by the talented Mike Nichols and starring the legendary Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, it is a searing portrayal of a miserable marriage. You can't help but wonder if the performances would have been as good if Taylor and Burton didn't have a famously stormy relationship off-screen. As it was, Taylor's acting won her an Academy Award and many critics feel this is her best film.
It's not exactly movie-watching weather (thank goodness!) but when the rain comes back, you should make a point of watching these excellent films.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Books I would like to read if I had time

Alexander the Great Failure: the collapse of the Macedonian Empire by John D. Grainger. Historian Grainger argues that far from being one of the greatest leaders in history, Alexander was in fact a short-sighted ruler who doomed his huge empire - and his people - to destruction because of his refusal to think about an heir or to take his own mortality seriously. Big-picture people always get all the glory, while the practical-minded folk ("well, gosh, how are we going to secure and administer this huge new empire we just snatched?") are derided as nay-sayers.
Hell Hath No Fury: true stories of women at war from antiquity to Iraq by Rosalind Miles and Robin Cross. This book looks at the long history of women and combat, including some notable instances were women were actually the leaders of their forces. They do a nice job of looking at all the roles that women have played in military campaigns, including camp followers, statesmen, healers, spies, revolutionaries, and torturers (see, we can be just as evil as men given half a chance). Very interesting for any fan of military history or women's history.
Personality: what makes you the way you are by Daniel Nettle. Of course, I tried to skip all the chaff and just look up what I am, but I couldn't find a simple description that fit me. I actually find a fair amount of comfort in knowing that my entire personality can't be summed up in one word. Not having read the book (no time, remember?), I would still hazard that I am not a 'Poet', 'Worrier', 'Wanderer', and definitely not an 'Empathizer', so that just leaves 'Controller'. Well, that just sounds a little judgemental, doesn't it? I'll have to make them change that....

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Death Before Wicket

I've become quite a fan of the Phyrne Fisher mystery series by Australian author Kerry Greenwood (Phyrne is pronounced fry-nee, according to the dust jacket). The books always feature a nice blend of elements: a self-reliant female detective who isn't a shrew, a little sprinkling of sex without being too graphic, a semi-exotic Australian setting, a 1920's time period, and a good fashion sense. In fact, if PBS were to ever film this series, it would be worth watching it just for the clothes. The plots are a little bit beyond the edge of reality, but the dialogue is always fun and the other characters seem to regard liberated Phyrne with a bit of dropped-jaw awe.
Our newest addition to this series is Death Before Wicket, and it involves the University culture, mysticism, the seamy side of Sydney, and the 1920's fascination with all things Egyptian. As much as I liked this book, I will caution that if you have not read this series before, I would not recommend starting with this one because there is a fair amount of discussion of cricket. Since the only thing I know about cricket is that the matches can last for multiple days, I confess that I skimmed over those parts. But since I am a Phryne fan, I persevered through talk of bowlers, bats and wickets and enjoyed the rest of the story. The first book in the series - Cocaine Blues - is a good place to get to know our intrepid, mesmerizing heroine and the pleasant cast of supporting characters.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


We have quite a few Andy Goldsworthy fans in town, and with good reason. His natural art installations readily appeal to people - like us - that live amidst stunning natural beauty (especially when the sun shines). His latest book, Enclosure, documents an installation he created in the rugged landscape of Cumbria, England. Over the course of a decade, Goldsworthy produced over 40 structures that embrace and accentuate not only the natural glory of the landscape, but also the human presence that has been there for centuries. Many of his pieces take on the form of enclosures, built of hand-lain stone walls, that mimic the old sheep enclosures that Cumbrian farmers have been building forever. (To be perfectly honest, if I had stumbled across some of his cairns when hiking around Cumbria - something I do on such a regular basis - I would have assumed they were relics of druid sacred sites). Goldsworthy even manages to incorporate the English weather into his art, carefully decorating a wire fence with wool and letting the wind gradually carry it away; or constructing temporary dams of sticks and stones and letting spring runoff wash them away. My particular favorite is his "Hanging Trees" piece (pgs 176-181), where huge polished tree limbs seem to be growing sideways inside massive stone enclosures. Every photo in this book makes you wish you could have seen the work in situ, and I imagine many of these pieces are still in place should you get over to England. I can't help but wonder what the phlegmatic Cumbrian farmers thought of all this activity around their fields, tho.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A splash of romance

We have a few new romance books on the shelf, just in time for hot weather and lazy-day reads.
Solar Heat, by Susan Kearney, is a paranormal romance set in outer space. She's a spy, he's an asteroid miner (what exactly do you mine off asteroids, and doesn't it just make you dizzy when they spin like that?). Conflict and sparks abound.

The Briton, by Catherine Palmer, is an inspirational historical romance set in England right after the Conquest. He's a handsome Norman (and a Christian) and she's a beautiful Saxon (and a pagan). Will Jaques le Brun and Lady Bronwen be able to share their cultures, beliefs, and love?

The Senator's Daughter, by Christine Carroll, is a romantic suspense novel set in the beautiful California wine country. The Senator's daughter has been in the news too much lately, so she drops out of sight. Her attorney boyfriend tries to find her, but uncovers some dangerous corruption involving the Senator. Oops.

The Perfect Match, by Kimberly Cates, is a cozy romance set in a small Illinois town. The new pet-store owner is looking for a nice community to settle down in, and the local deputy is looking for help with a huge stray dog that has seemingly become part of his single-dad household (he could also use some help raising his two daughters).

Everybody Loves Evie, by Beth Ciotta, is a tongue-in-cheek romance where the heroine is an ex-grifter who now exposes crooks for the law enforcement group Chameleon. Her current assignment - expose the scam artist who has targeted her mom (and try to choose between her sexy new boss and a luscious bad boy named Arch).

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, by Jenny Gardiner, involves a woman fed up with her romance-less marriage to her stuffy husband and the endless demands of mothering 5 kids. When an old boyfriend wanders into her life, what's going to happen?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Big Change

Nothing sends people scurrying for information like a pregnancy. Whether it's themselves, their partner, their child or even a friend at work who is expecting a baby, there is an insatiable desire to know more about the whole process. How is the baby developing? What changes are occurring with the mother? How should we be preparing? What should we expect after the baby arrives? And most importantly - what color should we paint the nursery?
We have a slew of books about parenting, pregnancy, nutrition, decorating, shopping, post-partum relationships, baby care, pregnancy fitness and child development. And because the demand is never-ending, we are always getting more, including two new books on the shelf.
Our Bodies, Ourselves: pregnancy and birth is from the Boston Women's Health Collective. This nonprofit organization has written other very popular guides to women's health, so if you liked their other works, you will like this one. This is a nice overall guide that covers all the basic topics of motherhood (nutrition, fetal development, stages of labor) and also discusses some issues you may be hesitant to bring up with your health care provider (sexual activity, postpartum depression, alternative birthing settings). The chapters on Special Concerns and Childbearing Loss are extremely valuable, but my advice is don't read these chapters unless they apply to you, you don't need to stress about possibilities.
The Everything Guide to Pregnancy Over 35: from conquering your fears to assessing health risks - all you need to have a happy, healthy nine months is by Brette McWhorter Sember. More and more women are having children at a later age, and this book addresses some concerns pertinent to older mothers: declining fertility, genetic testing and counseling, dramatic lifestyle changes, working while pregnant, preparing your children for a new sibling (including half-siblings), and recovery (because, let's face it, you're not going to bounce back easily from this pregnancy. This is the voice of experience talking here, ladies). If this is your first child, this book should be supplemented with a more general guide - like Our Bodies, Ourselves - to cover the basic nuts and bolts of pregnancy. If you're already a mother, then more power to you.

Friday, May 23, 2008

All the King's Men

If there is a movie about World War I that isn't completely depressing, I haven't seen it. (I don't count Blackadder Goes Forth - that wasn't really about WWI). And of all the depressing events of WWI, the Gallipoli campaign has to be the most wrenching. Masterpiece Theater produced a 2-hour program that examined the fate of one British company sent to Gallipoli. What makes All the King's Men so interesting is that the company was made up entirely of servants from the Norfolk estate of King George V and the entire group vanished on the battlefield, never to be heard from again. The viewer gets to see the men of this ill-fated company, led by the King's steward (Sir David Jason) at home before their deployment. By focusing in on a few characters (including a sweet love story), the film draws the viewer into their fate. Dame Maggie Smith is wonderful as always, portraying Queen Alexandra (who instigates an investigation into the fate of her servants), and all the supporting actors and actresses are good also. You can't help feeling a little frustrated at the naiveité of everyone involved and their unrealistic expectations of what happens on a battlefield, but then they didn't have imbedded reporters piping back graphic accounts into their living rooms every night. It might not have been a gentler time, but it was certainly a simpler one.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

TAG Movies

We have three new movies on the shelf that were specifically recommended by our Teen Advisory Group:

Wizards is an animated feature written, produced and directed by Ralph Bakshi. The name might not mean much unless you are an avid fan of animation, but he was the person who created the 1978 version of The Lord of the Rings (it was actually a blend of the first two books in the trilogy). I remember going to see it when it was in the theaters, and found his depiction of the Nazguls very creepy. Wizards is actually an earlier work (1977), but you can see Bakshi formulating his image of elves and fantasy worlds. It even has an edgy, Dr. Seuss-like look to it. An interesting film for fantasy enthusiasts.

Children of Dune is a 4 1/2 hour miniseries that combines the second and third books of Frank Herbert's Dune series. If you loved reading Dune, then you might enjoy this video (or you might not...when people really enjoy a book, they usually have a very definite idea of what the movie should look like, and it's never what the director thinks. Ah well.)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a gleeful parody of all those Hollywood action flicks. Since it was directed by the same person who wrote the screenplay for Lethal Weapon, the jokes are pretty much spot-on. Vla Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr., and Michelle Monaghan play their parts a bit tongue in cheek, which gives the whole movie its overall feeling of fun and good humor (as well as some murders, fight scenes, and car chases).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Quickie Reviews

Five new books, five one-line reviews for those of you 'On the Go':

Getting the Best Out of College: a professor, a dean, and a student tell you how to maximize your experience by Peter Feaver, Sue Wasiolek and Anne Crossman. Your kids should be required to read this before you sign their tuition check.

One Year to an Organized Life: from your closets to your finances, the week-by-week guide to getting completely organized for good by Regina Leeds. Week One: get rid of the space-sucking slob you live with.

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's: three men, five great wines, and the evening that changed America by Charles A. Cerami. It gives you an interesting perspective on how bogged-down our current political process has become.

Street Dogs by Traer Scott. Guaranteed to make dog-lovers go misty eyed.

100 Great American Novels You've (probably) Never Read by Karl Bridges. Finally, one of those '100 Best' lists where I can actually check off all the entries: "Nope, haven't read that one either".

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

500 Tiles

We have a beautiful new book that would be of interest to anyone who likes decorative arts and fine craftsmanship. 500 Tiles: an inspiring collection of international work, edited by Suzanne Tourtillott, is a survey of some of the most creative ceramic artists working today. There is a wide range of styles and themes in this book. Some of the tiles have an Arts & Crafts look reminiscent of the famous Rookwood pottery, while other pieces are like tiny little minimalist paintings or abstract sculptures. There are individual, highly detailed tiles as well as entire installations covering over 20 feet. Grasshoppers, faces, guns, flowers, car grilles, fruit and coffee cups all appear in glimmering colors and voluptuous bas-relief that just cries out to be touched (well, the tiles themselves are 3D. Obviously, the photos in this book are not). Hand-cut, air-brushed, silk-screened, press-molded, slab-rolled, hand-built: these tiles exhibit just about every technique and style you could possibly think of and the results are truly beautiful. This book is well worth sitting down with for a good, thorough browse.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Futuristic Classic

We have a classic new movie on the shelves: Metropolis. Filmed by the acclaimed German director Fritz Lang in 1927, this movie inspired countless science fiction and futuristic films. If you were to take Jules Verne, Erte, and George Orwell and shake them all up together you would get this cinematic masterpiece. A silent film accompanied by the original 1927 orchestral score, this movie is pure eye candy. The acting may be a tad on the melodramatic side, but that was par for the course during the silent film era (as was the heavy makeup the actors wear, which makes everyone look even scarier). For decades this movie has only been available as heavily edited versions, but it has been carefully restored and it is now here in its full-length glory (124 minutes). If you are a fan of science fiction, film history, Art Deco style or avant-garde culture, then you will want to watch this wonderful movie. As a fun party game, you and your friends can try to count all the examples which inspired later filmmakers (the beautiful female robot on the case's cover might look a little familiar to anyone who has seen Star Wars). Or you can go the Mystery Science Theater 3000 route and make up your own fun dialogue - ah, the joys watching silent films!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Make Jane Blush

One of the problems with liking the works of a deceased author is that once you've read all their books, the chance of them publishing a new title is pretty slim (what with being dead and all). Your only option is to move on to a similar author. Having enjoyed Jane Austen, I was then introduced to Georgette Heyer, who had an historian's eye for period detail and speech. She was able to throw just the right amount of Regency-period slang into the dialogue without becoming overwhelming, and she never had her protagonists behave in a manner that wasn't consistent with the time period. Alas, she is also dead, and most modern novels set in the Regency period are completely inauthentic. The dialogue sounds like something from Sex and the City, the plots are ridiculous, and everyone behaves like randy rabbits.
We do have a new book from an author who has attempted to be as true to the time period as possible. Simply Magic, by Mary Balogh, is the final book in a quartet set at Miss Martin's School for Girls. In this installment, Miss Martin herself finds romance with a handsome yet sensitive nobleman with a guilty secret from his past. Balogh has also written a 6-volume series (all beginning with the word 'Slightly') that follows the romantic destinies of the Bedwyn family. The characters in these two series actually overlap, so when you read this new book it's a bit like old home week as familiar faces continually pop up. The writing is relatively good, the plot isn't too farfetched, and aside from a couple of steamy scenes everyone seems to behave with the proper amount of 19th-century decorum. Of all the current spate of Regency romance novels, Balogh's are far and away the best. And fortunately, she's still alive and well.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Botswanan Crime Spree

Apparently the new hotbed of fictional crime is the placid country of Botswana (still waters run deep, I guess). We have the latest installment of the charming cozy mystery series by Alexander McCall Smith - "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency". This new title is The Miracle at Speedy Motors and it's as satisfying as the previous 8 books in the series. There's no serious crime, thrilling action or surprising plot twists but the characters are wonderful and you get a lovely sense of comfort reading these books. Although it is set in Botswana, it is more about personalities and relationships (not necessarily romantic) than it is about setting. I don't usually read cozy mysteries, but I heartily recommend these.
For a different take on Botswana, we have a new novel introducing Detective David "Kubu" Bengu of the Botswana CID. Written by a two-person team under the pen name of Michael Stanley, A Carrion Death makes greater use of the exotic setting than Speedy Motors. Witch doctors, wild animals and political unrest all make cameo appearances in a novel that has a grimmer feel to it. In a way, this is a more traditional crime novel in that there is actually a murder to solve, plot twists to unravel, and the underlying threat of continued violence. The character of Kubu ('hippopotamus' in the Setswana language) is an appealing person, and the reader will hope to see more of him in the future.
Personally, it's almost disconcerting to read another mystery novel using the same place names and geographic features as the McCall Smith books (he doesn't own the word 'Gabarone', but it feels like he does). Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Global Authors

Foreign literature, like foreign film, has a slightly different feel to it: the pace of the story, the cadence of the sentences, the perspectives and imagery are all slightly alien to American tastes. In fact, the mark of a good translator is that they can put the story into English without changing that exotic feel. We have a couple of new European novels on the shelf, as well as a couple from Ireland and Scotland (I'm not sure if they have the same foreign aura, or if we're just more accustomed to British and Irish writers). These aren't exactly feel-good fiction, but they are all very powerful stories.
The White King, by György Dragomán, is loosely based on his childhood in communist Romania. A coming-of-age story with an extra level of grimness.
A Perfect Waiter, by Alain Claude Sulzer, is a sad, lonely love story between two waiters at a Swiss hotel before World War II. Deception and betrayal drive them apart and alter their lives forever.
Civil & Strange is by Cláir Ní Aonghusa. Set in a small Irish town, it's a low-key love story that looks at the way tight-knit communities both reject and accept change.
The Night Following is by Morag Joss, and it is a disturbing story about the way guilt can fester at a person's soul and the way grief can cripple a body.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Can you sum up your life in six words? The editors of the online magazine Smith asked its readers to submit six-word autobiographies, and the results have been published in a compulsively readable book titled Not Quite What I Was Planning: six-word memoirs by writers famous & obscure. This is not the type of book that you sit down and read cover-to-cover. It's more likely that you will find yourself following someone around the house, reading them out loud. 'Oh, here's another good one'. It is truly amazing just how much imagery, tone and understanding can be packed into a few words. There are a few sad examples (is 6 words long enough to qualify as an epigram?) in this collection, but most are funny and humorous. One of my favorites is "EDITOR. Get it?". If you like reading Oscar Wilde, tombstones, or bumper stickers, you will love this book. And you will probably be inspired to try to encapsulate your own existence in one short sentence:
Alaskan Yankee blog books, needs nap.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A formidable traveler

Over 40 years ago, Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy published her first book- Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a bicycle. Since then, she has logged thousands of miles, written almost 2 dozen books, and inspired travelers around the world. She has gone to the Himalayas, the Andes, and the jungles of Africa. She is now 76 and her latest book chronicles her journey across Siberia. Silverland: a winter journey beyond the Urals takes the reader into the daily lives and personalities of the people who live along the route of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railway. Taking nothing but one enormous suitcase loaded with clothes and books, Murphy climbs aboard the BAM and travels out to its terminus at the Sea of Japan (the Trans-Siberian Railway, which sounds more romantic than BAM, follows a more southerly parallel course. She uses this route on her return trip). She relates some very touching stories, introduces the reader to some very interesting characters, and brings the various cultures of Siberia alive in her book. Traveling across Siberia in the middle of winter - alone - at the age of 75 is truly remarkable, and I think this enabled people to open up more readily to her and share their stories. Some of these encounters are depressing (poverty, alcoholism, dying cultures and environmental pollution have taken their toll on the Russians), but people have a remarkable ability to find happiness and pleasure even in the grimmest situations. This book is not funny, but it is charming enough to be a very enjoyable read, and it will make you feel like you are sitting next to Murphy in the overheated railway carriage of the BAM.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Warning

As a parent and a librarian, I feel like I should issue a warning about an ill trend I have noticed amongst the young girls of Ketchikan: a predilection for never-ending book series about fairies. My daughter and I are currently beginning book #26 in the Rainbow Magic fairy series by Daisy Meadows. Along with the two protagonists - Kirsty and Rachel - we have restored color to Fairyland by finding the Rainbow Fairies (books 1-7), saved the world from wacky weather by returning the magic weather feathers to Doodle the Magic Weather Rooster (books 8-14), and replenished fairy magic in general by finding the seven crown jewels of the magic Fairy Crown (books 15-21). We are now rescuing the magic fairy pets from the evil goblins of mean Jack Frost. The most recent installment - Harriet the Hamster Fairy - promises to be just as riveting and enlivening a read as the previous 25 books. These books have been flying off the shelves and making the rounds amongst the elementary schools.
Goodness knows I'm all for reading to children and inspiring a love of books, but not only are there 6 more fairy books to plow through, but we have some new fairy stories coming down the pipeline: 5 volumes in the Disney Fairy set, 6 volumes in the Flower Fairie Friends set, and the My Secret Unicorn series (unicorns, fairies, whatever). Is your little girl too young for chapter books? Don't despair; we even have a brand new board book about a fairy! (The author is Gaby Goldsack).
I have tried Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, E.B. White, Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis - but to no avail. Fairies rule. So it is with a sinking heart that I pick up yet another formulaic fairy book at bedtime. At least I can temper my boredom with a good mother-daughter cuddle.

Friday, May 9, 2008

How Illogical

We would all like to imagine that we are reasonable, sensible beings who don't just bee-bop through life without thinking. In his new book, behavioral economist Dan Ariely argues that not only don't we act logically on a consistent basis, but that our illogical behavior follows a pattern. Predictably Irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions looks at the ways in which emotion, society, past histories and future expectations influence the way we spend, save, lie, love, value and disregard. This book is a very interesting blend of behavior study and economics principles and it flows along nicely. Unlike many economics books, it is an enjoyable read and packed with real-life examples. In fact, reading this book is very like sitting in on a lecture by a popular and respected college professor (the type of professor whose lectures are so good that non-enrolled students slip into the auditorium to hear them. These people exist). Whether or not reading this book will have any effect on the way you live your life and spend your money, I'm not so sure. But it is a very fascinating study of the way our society and our economy operates. Required reading for anyone involved in marketing or retail, this book would also be great for anyone who enjoyed the runaway bestseller Freakonomics.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Batter Up!

It's baseball season again (my family are Red Sox fans, my husband a Yankee fan, so you can imagine I get an earful all summer). Way back in the pre-steroid days, when the game was truly dodgy, the marquis MLB teams didn't exist. Instead, communities had baseball 'clubs', rules were vague, but women doted on the players just as much as they do now. But Didn't We Have Fun? an informal history of baseball's pioneer era, 1843-1870 takes a look at what became America's pastime. Author Peter Morris, who wrote the award-winning A Game of Inches, takes the reader along as he charts the evolution of baseball from children's game to amateur athletic clubs to the first professional teams. He uses newspaper accounts, photos and old interviews (not conducted by Morris, obviously) to piece together a description of what old-time baseball was like to play and watch. Two teams in particular - the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the New York Knickerbockers - were particularly influential. The Knickerbockers have been credited with creating the game of baseball as we know it, since they were the team to come up with standardized rules (1845). The Red Stockings were the first professional team. Together, these two teams changed baseball and American sport.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Eat standing up

I rarely eat hot dogs (too high a caloric price to pay for what you get. For that much fat and calories, I would rather have a milkshake). But every Fourth of July I head over to the booths on the dock to get a hot dog, or a piece of fry bread, or some lumpia. There is something about food from a street vendor that makes it more appetizing. Perhaps it's the stripped-down recipe, or the easy availability, or the quick prep time. The World of Street Food: easy quick meals to cook at home, by Troth Wells, celebrates this food-on-a-stick genre. These recipes from around the globe come in all flavors: spicy, sweet, juicy, delicate, savory, tangy and greasy. The author has completely ignored North America and Europe (whats wrong with Coney dogs and deep-fried Mars Bars?), but there is cebiche from Peru, fava beans from Sudan, and Indonesian tempeh. You could cook by continent, or prepare a globe-trotting dinner of meats, legumes, vegetables and grains. And don't forget to finish it all off with a soothing beverage: Mexican hot chocolate, Moroccan avocado milk or a zesty ginger beer from Malawi. My only complaint with this book is that it is arranged by country, not recipe, so you have to hunt through the book to find all the dessert recipes. Well worth the hunt, tho.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Old voices

We have three new CDs from artists whose careers stretch back to the 1960's (in fact, they all appeared at the Woodstock Festival). They all blend a mixture of roots rock and old-time country music with fabulous lyrics.

John Fogerty's new album - Revival - hearkens back to his days as the lead singer for Creedance Clearwater Revival. The songs, all of which are written by Fogerty, often have a political or social message, his voice is as powerful as it was when he was fronting CCR, and his guitar playing is just begging the listener to crank up the volume.

Levon Helm takes a more bluegrass/country approach to music on his album Dirt Farmer. You can tell that these songs were heavily influenced by Helm's Arkansas upbringing. In fact, many of the tracks are traditional tunes that Helm has created new arrangements for, along with his daughter Amy and Larry Campbell. His guest appearance on Fresh Air was really interesting since he talked a lot about his background and the context of these old songs. A really nice album.

Neil Young has come up with a new album - Chrome Dreams II - that has received some really positive reviews. His country-rock songs are all sung in that trademark nasal whine and he has enlisted the help of some talented backup musicians. A couple of tracks on this album are very long (18 minutes for 'Ordinary People' and 14 minutes for 'No Hidden Path'), which fits in well with the experimental, 'radio playlist format be damned' attitude of the album. A good choice for people who love listening to musicians jam.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Occupational hazard

Occupying an island, as we do, the community has a certain fascination with nautical disaster. People in Kansas might have liked watching The Perfect Storm in the theater, but there was an element of familiarity that left the audience in Ketchikan very quiet when I went to go see the movie. We have a new book that ties in with that interest - Near Death on the High Seas: true stories of disaster and survival, edited by Cecil Kuhne. Shipwrecks, stormy seas, life rafts, solo journeys and dogged determination fill up the pages of this book. Some of the stories might be familiar to readers: Thor Heyerdahl's account of his voyage in the Kon-Tiki, Sir Francis Chichester's trip in the Gipsy Moth, and Steve Callahan's harrowing description of being adrift in the ocean for 76 days. This is good armchair reading that is sure to get the adrenalin flowing (and send you to make sure your survival suit is still aboard). If this book gives you a taste for more nautical stories, then check out our booklist on our website:
These fiction and nonfiction tales will keep you on the edge of your seat.
(I wonder...perhaps people in Kansas don't find the tornado scene The Wizard of Oz as fun to watch as I do).

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Irish Century

Happy Birthday to Me!! Believe it or not, this blog is now one year old. On its flickering digital interface, over 350 books, audiobooks, movies, CDs and magazines have been summarized and advertised. The blog has also received a couple dozen comments from viewers, including some actual authors! (Oddly enough, they never seem to comment if I didn't like their book). So keep reading, keep viewing, and keep letting me know what you think!

Irish author Morgan Llywelyn has just finished her multi-volume saga of modern Irish history with 1999: a novel of the Celtic tiger and the search for peace. This saga, which began with the novel 1916: a novel of the Irish rebellion follows the Halloran family through years of violence, politics and shaky alliances. Llywelyn does a nice job of using fictional characters to drive the story and provide a connecting thread, and historical characters to give the backdrop and meaning to the story. The crucial event in this installment, of course, is the signing of the Good Friday accord in 1998 - an accord which seems to have finally established peace in a very troubled land. Fans of historical fiction and/or Irish history will enjoy this series.
An another Irish note, we have a new translation of the classic Irish poem The Táin. Poet and professor Ciaran Carson has written this new translation of the ancient poem (the Irish equivalent of Beowulf) and it has received very good reviews. If you know your ancient Irish history (and who doesn't?), you'll remember that this poem tells the story of Cú Chulainn and his defeat of the army of Connacht, who were trying to steal the famed bull of Ulster. If you don't ordinarily lean towards epic poems, don't worry - Carson has translated the majority of the story into prose, with an occasional stanza or two of poetry. He also provides a pronunciation guide, if you're feeling brave enough to try to read this out loud. Good luck with that.....

Friday, May 2, 2008

In the wings

We have a lovely new book that really shows readers what it is like to be a world-class ballet dancer. In the Wings: behind the scenes at the New York City Ballet is by Kyle Froman - an 11-year member of the corps de ballet. He is also a very good photographer, and his photos of the endless classes, rehearsals and waiting around backstage are what make this book so interesting. Because he is truly shooting these photos from inside the company, they are incredibly intimate - physically and emotionally. The most telling images from the book are from the chapter "11:30 A.M.", when the dancers try to repair the physical damage and toll of dancing. Interspersed with these great photos is Froman's narration - his explanation of the daily grind of the ballet, and the things that have to occur backstage and within the dancer in order to bring perfection to performance night. Since the Ketchikan Theater Ballet has such a strong presence in this community - my own daughter was an adorable nurse in the Spring Gala last year - I know there are many young people who will find this book fascinating.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Crafting with paper

For those of you who like to craft with paper, we have two new books you might like.

Papier-Mâché Treasures: creating your own vintage-style collectibles is by Teena Flanner. She gives you some very nice hints on how to work with papier-mâché compound and how to use different types of molds and glitter. If you have an antique mold (for making cakes, soap, butter pats or chocolate) you can make some truly beautiful little figurines. She also instructs the reader on how to create their own molds - gel or silicone - from existing figurines. Once these things have been painted and glittered, they really do look as if they had been made a century ago.

Big Book of Papercrafts: 40 stunning projects, by Vivienne Bolton, uses paper in a number of different ways: stamping, folding, embossing, weaving, quilling and lace cutting. If you want a good idea of the variety of looks and techniques in this book, check out pages 26-27 where she shows 26 different flowers, each done using a different technique and each one looking entirely unique. She has motifs for different seasons and celebrations, gift projects, scrapbooking ideas and cards & tags. The projects are all relatively detailed, so this is not a book for keeping your 8-year-old busy, but the finished products are so beautiful they scream 'keepsake'.