Thursday, April 29, 2010

What We're Watching: Jan

Coco Before Chanel
Starring Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, and Alessandro Nivola. Directed by Anne Fontaine.

This is the story of the legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel before her rise to fame and fortune. Her childhood was a struggle. Coco and her sister were put into an orphanage by their father after the death of their mother. She learned to sew at an early age and that skill, along with a discerning eye, led to her lifelong work. Her relationships with men tumultuous and passionate. These wealthy men also helped Chanel in her fashion ventures - from hatmaker to creator of the collarless Chanel suit, the "little black dress", and Chanel No. 5.

Audrey Tautou (from The Da Vinci Code) gives an expressive performance. We can feel her: she is wounded from her early abandonment and poverty, is rebellious and sure of herself in her sense of style and finally vulnerable in allowing herself to love. The other performances in the film are riveting as well. The scenery and costumes of France in the early 1900s are beautiful. The movie is in French with English subtitles.

The movie familiarizes the viewer with the harsh background of a sophisticated style icon in history and in doing so takes us to a world we could never know - like movies often do.
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What We're Reading: Edward

Page One: Whiteout
A Robin Hamilton Mystery
by Nancy Barr
Escanaba in Winter...BRRR!
Robin Hamilton could not wait to escape her home town when she grew up. But she has returned to Escanaba in this the third mystery in the series. Robin is trying to recover from her time at the Chicago Tribune and the death of her fiance, Mitch, a suburban Chicago cop. She keeps in touch with a friend of Mitch's, Nick, who is still investigating Mitch's death. Nick's sources tell him that Mitch's death was a hit by a drug dealer. Nick comes to visit Robin and they discover that drug dealers in Escanaba may be linked to the murder. Suddenly there are missing and dead people around Escanaba. Robin goes out into a blizzard to track down more leads. Will she survive a confrontation that she can not see coming?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What We're Reading: Brenda

Princesses Are Not Quitters! by Kate Lum with Illustrations by Sue Hellard

Princesses Are Not Quitters tells the story of three princesses from a different angle than your typical fairy tale. The princesses are bored with their daily lives and decide to liven things up by trading roles with the servant girls for a day. They think it will be fun to get to do chores but they soon realize that being a servant is hard work! They can't quite do all of the chores correctly and they work all day until they are exhausted but they don't want anybody to say that princesses are quitters. The next morning they awaken with a new found sense of pride and accomplishment and decide to change things for good by continuing to share in the workload! This book has a wonderful message and it is refreshing to see the topic of princesses discussed without focusing on physical beauty and handsome princes. The illustrations are humorous and full of silly details that will keep you laughing. Overall a great book for little girls and be sure to watch for "Princesses Are Not Perfect" which will be coming out this spring.

What We're Reading: Tracy

Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature, by Leonard S. Marcus.

For over 300 years, parents, priests, and publishers, to name but a few, have debated what children should read. Children themselves have had little say in the matter, forced to rely on the judgement of editors, librarians, teachers, and others who serve as gatekeepers to the world of children's literature.

In this ground-breaking work, historian and critic Leonard S. Marcus traces the "turf wars" that have erupted between these various interested parties from colonial times to the modern day. From Puritan primers through the Horatio Alger novels to the multicultural picture books of the 1960s, children's books often reflect the concerns of their time, which is one reason they provoke such strong feelings in their adult audiences. This new history will intrigue, dismay, and ultimately delight lovers of children's literature.

What We're Reading: Tracy

Fordlandia: the Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin.

In 1927, Henry Ford bought 2.5 million acres of Amazonian jungle. His immediate purpose was the procurement of rubber for his factories, but his ultimate goal was the creation of an American style town, complete with Cape Cod houses, churches, movie theaters, and happily employed workers furthering his company's success.

Ironically, Ford's creation of affordable automobiles had led, through urban sprawl, to the very demise of the cozy, small town America he loved. With Fordlandia, he hoped to corner the rubber market and re-create his idyllic homeland at the same time, with an indigenous work force that he expected would be grateful for his intervention in their lives.

But the Amazon was not Michigan, and suburban houses, towering factories, and rigidly run assembly lines were not suited to its climate or people. Fordlandia, far from the worker utopia its creator assumed it would be, turned into a catastrophe, a landmark example of the consequences of colonialist hubris.

Fordlandia offers a revealing look at a legendary local figure and one of his most little-known, and disastrous, endeavors.

What We're Watching: Laurie

The Wrestler
directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood.

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) is a washed up wrestler. He has been out of the spotlight for twenty years and has had a difficult time adjusting to life outside the ring. Randy does not know how to function in daily life. He has no relationship with his daughter (Wood) and flirts with a woman (Tomei) who works as an exotic dancer at a local club. Randy tries to pull his life together by getting a job at a grocery store deli counter, trying to repair his relationship with his daughter and hoping to cultivate a relationship with "Cassidy", but fails miserably in all three areas. After enduring heart bypass surgery, "The Ram" feels his last hope is to wrestle against his arch nemesis "The Ayatollah" to gain respect from the wrestling community and his fans- the only people he believes truly love him. Rated R.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

100 Essential Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know: math explains your world

by John D. Barrow

Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus..........UGH!

For most of us high school math classes were uninteresting requirements. In 100 short chapters Barrow shows us that we were wrong to slight mathematics. Mathematics really does influence our daily lives. Algorithms make our online transactions secure. Geometry defines the shape of the roller coaster that gives us thrills. Math proves why we are always in the longest line at the store. It even defines the six degrees of seperation that links us with anyone in the world. Each chapter can be read separately. Just try one that interests you and you will be hooked!

For the viewers of the television show, Numbers.

What We're Reading: Cathy

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

It's 1910 and the Emersons are trying to figure out what to do now that they can't go to Egypt's Valley of the Kings to excavate. Ramses is in Palestine, helping an American archaeologist. The receive a visit from a couple of rather strange men, Major Morley and Reverend Panagopolous, who want them to help find a scroll and the Ark of the Covenant. Preposterous! But a conversation with British Intelligence convinces the family that they too need to go to Palestine to watch over Major Morley both because of his poor archaeological skills and because he may be a German spy. There are the usual kidnappings and near escapes. I found interesting her portrayal of Palestine at the end of the Ottoman Empire and how the British and Germans were already secretly fighting over who was going to rule.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What We're Reading: Tracy

The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel.

Renowned anthologist, editor, and essayist Alberto Manguel, author of A Dictionary of Imaginary Places and A History of Reading, turns his formidable literary mind to the world of libraries in this meditative work. A series of essays explore the concepts of libraries as (among other things) myths, spaces, islands, workshops, identities, and homes. Threaded through these essays is a progressive description of Manguel's own unique library, constructed in a fifteenth-century barn near France's Loire Valley. Historical and contemplative, The Library at Night should intrigue and delight bibliophiles and library aficionados.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What We're Watching: Laurie

Whatever Works written and directed by Woody Allen. Starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr.

Boris Yellnikoff (David) is very jaded and cynical. Boris talks endlessly about how ignorant people are and constantly condescends to those who do not share his views. One evening he meets a young woman who has run away from her home in rural Mississippi to make a life for herself in New York. Melody (Wood) moves in with Boris and he begins to mold her personality and small town ideals to mirror his own. Melody eventually marries Boris, and they both seem to be happy, until Melody's parents track her down and drastically change all of their lives forever. Rated PG-13.

What We're Watching: Laurie

The Hurt Locker directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

The Hurt Locker
follows the lives of three soldiers stationed in Baghdad who are part of the U.S. Army's Bravo Company bomb disposal unit. Staff Sgt. Will James is the new tech leader of Bravo Company and is very confident and fearless. He takes on the responsibility of suiting up to try to dismantle roadside bombs mainly for the thrill regardless of how his actions will affect his fellow soldiers or civilians. Sgt. J.T. Sanborn is very straight forward and follows protocols strictly by the book. He expects his fellow soldiers to do the same and Sgt. James' arrogance causes a lot of tension within Bravo Company. Specialist Owen Eldridge is very timid and insecure. He constantly worries that an error in judgement will bring death and destruction to his team and innocent civilians. This film is full of action and many tense moments. It explores the vast personal differences between men who must work together in very dangerous situations for the common good. Rated R.

What We're Reading: Judy

Lucy Long Ago by Catherine Thimmesh

Long Ago, Lucy Lived. Her skeleton remains and continues to unlock the past. Lucy is over three million years old, but at the time of her death in Hadar, Ethiopia was only in her early twenties. Scientists from around the world began to gather with many questions concerning her bones after the discovery in 1974.. Was she a new species ? The missing link ? Did she walk upright ? Was she human ? Her discovery created a new species of Hominid with her family tree dating around three to four million years ago.

This title located in the j569.9 section of the Library presents a clearer understanding of our orgins. Excellent reconstruction and visual information is offered that gives an upclose look at Lucy . Great for all ages interested in the orgin of human life

Friday, April 16, 2010

What We're Reading: Tish

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost.

Diamond Willow, named for the tree, is a 12-year-old part-Native Alaskan who lives in a very remote part of Alaska. She is struggling with herself, with school, and with finding happiness. When she begs her parents to let her mush the sled (with three of their six dogs) to her grandparents' house one weekend, an accident happens on the way home with frightening consequences.

The author cleverly tells the moving story of Willow and her family in diamond-shaped one-page proses with hidden messages printed in darker ink at the center of each one.

This book has won the 2008 Michigan Mitten Award. It is an easy-to-read story for upper-grade elementary-level students.

What We're Reading: Tracy

The Day-Glo Brothers: the True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors.
Written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani.

Ah, Day-Glo: favorite color scheme of the groovy '60s. It was a surprise to learn from this new biography that the creation of Day-Glo paint dates back to the 1930s. Young brothers Bob and Joe Switzer created the famed colors through their hobbies of magic and chemistry, using materials from their father's pharmacy (as well as their mother's kitchen mixer, which led to an unfortunate fluorescent angel-food cake incident). The eye-popping colors of Day-Glo burst from the pages of this perfectly designed picture biography. Put on your sunglasses and enjoy!

What We're Reading: Cathy

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: a Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

This is a basic introduction to 14th century England. It describes a very different world from ours. London is still the largest city but at a population of 40,ooo is nearly 4 times as large as the next largest city and most people live in tiny towns and villages out in the countryside. An interesting point was that the more violent society of that time could be somewhat explained by the fact that 1/2 of the population was 21 years old or less - not enough wise old men. He describes the type of food people ate and what they drank. Medical care by "doctors" - a combination of religion, magic, astrology, and plain old bad information - was best stayed away from. His description of leprosy is especially graphic. There is no local bobby patrolling the streets. All men were members of a tithing which made each one responsible for the doings of the others. Women of course weren't included in tithings and were treated differently than men if convicted of a crime. What you wear depends on your rank as well as your income. You would definitely think twice before traveling here if it was possible. It is a society however where "Everyone dances. Everyone sings." It would be a great adventure.

What We're reading: Edward

Lost Throne

by Chris Kuzneski

Interpol is investigating the crucifixion of priests in Europe, Asia, and Africa.The murders seem to be linked to an ancient manuscript. It may reveal the location of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Interpol, private collectors and the Vatican are all racing to find the treasure. Then seven monks are found decapitated at a mountain top Greek monastery. Was the monastery the hiding place for the treasure? A hidden room reveals traces of the treasure. Was the treasure moved or has it been lost over the ages? Bullets fly as the different groups vie to find the treasure. Will it be found or remain lost?

What We're Reading: Edward

Earthway: an Ella Clah novel

by Aimee and David Thurlo

A cutting edge technology nuclear power plant is being built on the Navajo Reservation. There is a group of activists that are willing to do anything to prevent the plant's commissioning. Ella Clah, a Navajo Tribal Police Special Investigator, prevents a pipe bomb from injuring students at the local college. Was the bombs target a local minister working with the F.B.I.? One of the college's professors seems to be involved with the group against the plant. On the reservation the plant underscores the struggle between the Navajo traditionalists and the modernists. Working with the Feds and the minister, Ella tries to prevent any violence.

This is the 15th novel to feature Ella Clah. The series is worth reading from the start. Good choice for the fans of Tony Hillerman.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What We're Listening to: Abby

Last Night in Twisted River: a novel by John Irving. Random House Audio, Unabridged Edition, 20 Discs (24.5 hrs) Read by Arthur Morey.

Last fall I went to see John Irving speak about his new book, Last Night in Twisted River. I have been a huge fan of his for many years and have enjoyed his previous novels tremendously. It was very exciting to listen to the author talk about his process. I was fascinated to learn that he always starts with the last sentence! Once he has the last sentence the rest falls into place.

Now that I knew the secrets behind the genius and I had heard the author read from the book, I was very excited to listen to it for myself. Unfortunately, that excitement soon dissipated. There were the quirky characters and unexpected twists and turns as well as the prerequisite bears but the story was so boring I kept wondering why his editor didn't trim down the long winded and overly detailed sections. But being such a loyal fan I stuck with it, all 24.5 hours of it and for that I think I deserve some kind of award! I can't say that I would recommend this book. If you haven't read John Irving, try his earlier novels, this one doesn't quite live up to my expectations.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What We're Reading: Rita

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan
This is Pollan’s handbook for the message he delivered in his last book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto – “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much”. Some of the rules are homey maxims whose messages are still relevant in our wired world, for example, #37 “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead”. Others serve as helpful reminders to eat the right thing, like #19 “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t” and #36 “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk”. This is an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow guide to eating right - or at least eating better - for those of us who are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of nutritional information (often conflicting) that we’re bombarded with every day. The practical advice in Food Rules makes it possible, with only some conscious thought and a few behavioral changes, to avoid the pitfalls of the Western diet, “the one diet that reliably makes its people sick”.

What We're Listening To: Cathy

Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life by Frances Mayes
Frances Mayes continues her story of life at Bramasole, her house in Tuscany. Her love of friends, family, and food permeates this account. There are some problems: wild pigs, a leaky roof, and even a bomb scare but most of her time is spent just enjoying life. She and her husband even buy a second house in Italy (more paperwork, more construction - I can't imagine!) Recipes are included on the enhanced CD for some of her favorite dishes so you can print them out on your computer and enjoy them too. Frances Mayes reads this account herself. Her previous books include: Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, In Tuscany, Bringing Tuscany Home, and A Year in the World.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What We're Reading: Tracy

Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco

It's April, and thunderstorm season has arrived. This is the perfect time for Patricia Polacco's classic picture book, Thunder Cake.

"A loud clap of thunder booms and rattles the windows of Grandma's old farmhouse. 'This is Thunder Cake baking weather,' calls Grandma."

Based on the author's own Michigan childhood, this disarmingly simple tale relates how Grandma cures her granddaughter of her thunderstorm fears by teaching her to make a Thunder Cake. Collecting the ingredients from the farm one at a time, measuring, mixing, and rushing to get the cake in the oven before the storm hits, the little girl is happily distracted from the coming thunder.

Cozy up with this charmingly illustrated book, then try making a Thunder Cake yourself: the recipe is included!

What We're Reading: Alice

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Millennium Series, Book 2 by Stieg Larsson

An electrifying follow-up to the phenomenal bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this crime novel is an intelligent and engrossing thriller focusing on Lisbeth Salander, the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker.

After she is implicated in the murder of two reporters on the eve of publication of an expose on sex trafficking, crusading journalist and publisher Mikael Blomkvist - alone in his belief in her innocence - plunges into his own investigation of the slayings.

Some of the books' appeal comes from the Swedish setting, but most of it stems from the fascinating relationship Larsson has created between Salander and Blomkvist, "the finest and strangest partnership in crime fiction since Holmes and Watson"...Scotland on Sunday.

Watch for the final Book 3 in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, due out in late May.
Stieg Larsson died in 2004 of a massive heart attack at the age of 50, shortly after delivering the manuscripts for the Millennium trilogy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What We're Reading: Brenda

The Ultimate Guide to Grandmas & Grandpas! by Sally Lloyd-Jones with Illustrations by Michael Emberley and Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy with illustrations by Polly Dunbar

Both of these book are just plain fun and will make you laugh out loud while reading them!

The Ultimate Guide to Grandmas & Grandpas is a sweet, funny book that both children and adults will love to read over and over again. It is full of advice for young children on how to take care of their grandparents and make them feel loved. For instance, you need to hold their hand when they cross the street, take naps with them so they're not the only ones, and play games with them and sometimes let them win. Most importantly, you need to kiss, hug and love them since that's what they like best! The illustrations are of all different types of animals and will make you laugh and smile. A wonderful book that I plan on buying for my children and their grandparents!

Bubble Trouble is the story of young Mabel who blew a bubble which swallows up her baby brother and carries him away through the village. Mabel, her mother and the townspeople follow in hot pursuit trying to find a way to bring the baby down. Of course the story has a happy ending with the baby being rescued but the real fun here is the text. This book is a challenge to read aloud as it is a real tongue-twister! The action moves along at a breathless pace and it will have you and whatever youngsters you are reading it to giggling out loud at the wonderful rhymes! It does get easier to read the more times you go through it and you will definitely want to read it over and over again. The text wobbles and floats across the pages just like the bubble and the illustrations are so colorful and cheery. I loved reading this book out loud to my daughter - it is excellent fun!

Monday, April 5, 2010

What We're Watching: Laurie

8 1/2 written and directed by Federico Fellini. Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo, Rosella Falk and Barbara Steele.

Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) had huge success with a previous film and is now desperately grasping at ideas to create a new cohesive vision. Anselmi wants to write and shoot an honest picture but is at a crossroads. His creative juices are not flowing and he is uninspired. Guido does not really want to work on a new project and he feels pressure from the press, producers and previous actors to make another successful film. Guido checks himself into a spa, hoping this will help relax him, but ends up feeling suffocated as all of the people he has been trying to avoid are at the spa. Guido invites his wife to join him, hoping she will help inspire him, but things go horribly wrong when Guido's wife comes in contact with his mistress. This causes to Guido to re-evaluate his entire life, especially his view of women, and his film becomes autobiographical. This film combines one man's realities, fantasies and inner turmoil and how these translate into all humankind relating to one another and coexisting in the world.