Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What We're Watching: Jan

Shoeshine. Directed by Vittorio De Sica. Starring Rinaldo Smordoni and Franco Interlenghi.

Social conditions are often the catalyst for works of art. Such is the case of the 1946 film Shoeshine, directed by Vittorio De Sica. It is the story of two boys in post World War II Rome. Rome at the time had high unemployment, poverty and many people were in despair. In the film, the boys are close friends who make money shining shoes for American soldiers. Their outlet is saving their money to ride horses by the hour and their dream is to own a horse of their own. Horses represent majesty and freedom from the bleak existence in the city. The boys unwittingly become involved in a crime of blackmail and are sent to a prison-like reformatory. They are separated, deceived by the system and eventually betray each other. Factor in bullies, jealousy and a society dealing with desperate circumstances and the cherished friendship comes to a tragic end. This film is an example of Italian neorealist cinema after the war that shined a light on harsh working-class concerns. It was a new way of filmmaking that was recognized around the world. The film was a recipient of a special Academy Award that stated in part that '... a country scarred by war can still be creative in adversity'. Shoeshine (along with so many international films) shows life and conditions that are important in other countries.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What We're Reading: Cathy

Prophecy by S.J. Parris

The place is London, the time, 1583. This is the second novel (Heresy was the first) to feature Giordano Bruno - ex-monk, author, philosopher, seeker of arcane wisdom - as the protagonist. He is living in London now, still secretly working for Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen's spymaster. Plots to dethrone Queen Elizabeth and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne are rife. Bruno has convinced the staff of the French Embassy that he favors the Scottish queen so that he can get information on whatever plots they are involved in. Meanwhile 2 of Queen Elizabeth's waiting women are murdered. This rather un-nerves the Queen, who seeks help from her astrologer Dr. Dee as well as her "secret service." Bruno doesn't know who to trust and is followed several times and attacked - several times - and then saved by a mysterious defender. Bruno finally finds out who is behind the attacks but loses a friend. The period detail is wonderful, you almost feel like you are walking the streets of Elizabethan London.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What We're Watching: Brenda

Obesity in a Bottle: Understanding Liquid Calories & Nutrition and Obesity in a Bottle II: How to Pick Healthy Beverages by Learning ZoneXpress

These are two great DVDs that will help you and your family make the right choices when selecting a healthy beverage to drink.

The first DVD "Understanding Liquid Calories & Nutrition" is aimed at children in the 5th grade and above. It is definitely corny but has tons of good information in it. It talks about the relationship between weight gain and the empty calories in soda and juices, the increase in serving size over the years, the dangers of diet soda, and the negative effects of energy drinks among other topics. It ends with a segment on the benefits of drinking water.

The second DVD "How to Pick Healthy Beverages" is aimed at children in the 9th grade and above. This DVD is narrated by a nutrition expert and is not nearly as corny. I think it would be better received by older children who may not be able to get past the silliness of the first DVD. It talks about how much sugar is in many popular beverages that most people would probably think are healthy options. It also stresses the importance of looking at the label and checking both the nutrition information and the ingredient list. Finally it discusses what to drink when participating in sports activities and some myths about caffeine.

These are both great DVDs to either watch on your own to make healthy choices for your younger children or to watch together as a family with older kids.

What We're Reading: Edward


by Jeff Abbott

Sam and Lucy are expecting their first child. They both work at a CIA office in London. Sam is tracking a money man who helps terrorists. Lucy calls him while he is in a meeting with an agent from home. He runs out of the building thinking that there is a problem with their unborn child. As he leaves the building, the floors occupied by the CIA explode. Sam sees Lucy in a car and gives chase. He is unable to catch her. Now the CIA believes that Sam and his wife are traitors. After almost a year in captivity, Sam is freed. He gets a job as a bartender and is being watched by the CIA. When he is almost killed, he evades the CIA and sets out to find his wife and child. He joins forces with a mysterious group that is also looking for the terrorist's money man. Sam does not know who to believe and trust. Will he be able to find Lucy and their child? Will he be able to prove to the CIA that he is not a traitor. Great thriller and hopefully the start of a great series.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What We're Reading: Debbie

Work Song by Ivan Doig

This charming story picks up 10 years after the author's "The Whistling Season" ends, in 1919. Morrie Morgan, the teacher from the one-room school house from the previous book, shows up in the copper mining town of Butte, Montana. This time, Morrie gets mixed up with the local labor union's struggles with the Anaconda Mining Co., all while wooing his landlady, working at the public library, and being harassed by Chicago mob goons because of his past. I enjoyed learning about the history of Butte and copper mining, and the multi ethnic based characters of the local miners. Of course, the old-time library setting was really my favorite part of the story! The historical basis of this tale is accurate. There really was an Anaconda company, and the labor issues, and deadly accidents referred to in the story, really happened.

Star Wars Day at the Sterling Heights Library

Over 600 happy fans, young and old, attended our fourth annual Star Wars Day on Saturday, August 13. Characters from the 501st and Rebel Legions, games, and crafts highlighted the event.

Darth Vader helped check out books.

A Sandtrooper posed with a couple of tiny Rebels.

Two young Jedi took a dramatic stance with the Stormtroopers.

A Stormtrooper helped out at the computer.

A tiny Princess Leia and Darth Vader demonstrated lightsaber safety.

One lucky guest had his helmet autographed by Darth Vader!

Darth Vader helped answer the busy library phone lines.

What We're Reading: Edward

"To Account for Murder: a legal thriller"

by William C. Whitbeck

The murder of Michigan State Senator Warren G. Hooper in 1945, brought to light corruption in Lansing. During Prohibition money flowed freely to state and local politicians. They were paid to allow groups like the Purple Gand to stay in business. Now in 1996, Charlie Cahill tell his part in the events of the time. Charlie returned from the war without his left arm. He is looking for a job as an attorney. Being a war hero gets Charlie hired by politicians fighting corruption. Charlie has a personal connection to the murdered Senator. Will Charlie be able to keep secret what he knows about the Senator's death? Naturally there is a beautiful, rich woman in the story. Whitbeck makes the time come alive.

Whitbeck is Chief Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals. He hopes to emulate the success of "The Anatomy of a Murder" by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What We're Reading: Abby

Life on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas.

This is the story of a young, ambitious chef who was born and raised in St. Clair, Michigan. Grant Achatz, of the Achatz restaurant and pie family, decided that he wanted to do more than run a small town restaurant so he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. He studied under the top chefs and worked for other legendary chefs while perfecting his craft and developing his palate. Along the way he became friends with one of his most enthusiastic patrons, Nick Kokonas. They both take turns in the book describing different periods in their lives and eventually how they came to be partners in a very successful restaurant in Chicago called Alinea. Chef Achatz is a master of molecular gastronomy. Every dish is like piece of art, visually stunning and always a surprising experience for the taste buds.

Just when everything seems to be going to well for the young chef he is diagnosed with advanced stage tongue cancer. All of the doctors said that the only treatment available was to remove the tongue and fashion a new tongue out of some muscle from another part of his body. He wouldn't be able to speak and wouldn't be able to taste but it might save his life. Chef Achatz couldn't do it. He finally found a doctor who was willing to try heavy doses of chemotherapy and radiation rather than remove the tongue. It was a very difficult time but he got through it.

Today Chef Achatz is doing well and is very busy running his restaurants in Chicago.

Monday, August 8, 2011

'Tis the Season...for Yard Sales

August sees yard sales at their height in Michigan, capped off with the annual Blue Water Yard Sale Trail, 200+ miles of treasure hunting along the Thumb's shoreline this weekend. If you're planning on doing the Trail, or are considering hosting a sale of your own, get some tips from the experts first.

Garage Sale America by Bruce Littlefield.

Get the inside scoop on garage sale success from a life-long aficionado. Learn how to spot a good sale from the road, how to tell trash from treasure, and how to incorporate finds into your home decor. Filled with anecdotes about colorful garage sale folk, this is a fun read as well as an informative one.

Buy, Keep or Sell? by Judith Miller.

Judith Miller, author of the popular Miller's guides to antiques and collectibles, provides help to anyone wondering if they should buy, keep or sell a particular item. Covering categories ranging from Art Deco to Star Wars, Miller shows what's hot and what's not, along with information on prices and fakes. Essential reading before hitting the Yard Sale Trail!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What We're Reading: Debbie

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

This haunting novel is arranged in chapters written as chronological short stories, each focusing on characters descended from the original settlers of fictional Bearville, or later named Blackwell, Massachusetts. Three hundred years of the passions and dark secrets of the interwoven characters make for a fascinating, mystical read centered on the oldest home's garden where all plants grow red. Hoffman's writing is enchanting. Each chapter is a separate treat, all blending together into a book you won't soon forget - one of my all time favorites! One of Hoffman's earlier books, Blackbird House, is written with the same technique of characters passing through a particular house over the years - an equally enthralling read!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What We're Reading: Edward

"Gentleman Captain"

by J.D.Davies

"Gentleman Captain" is the first novel in the Quinton Journals series. This series chronicles the making of the British Navy in the 17th century. It is the Navy of the restoration. King Charles II is replacing the captains who came up the ranks with captains from the gentry. These gentlemen know nothing of the sea but are loyal to the King.It is the Navy that Samuel Pepys is reforming with centralization and best practices. It is not the trim fighting force of Horatio Hornblower. Matthew Quinton lost his first ship in a storm. Through the influence of his older brother, Matthew is lucky to get another ship. His ship and a much larger vessel are sent to the coast of Scotland to forestall a possible revolt against the King. In his second command, Matthew learns much about the sea and the men who toil in the King's Navy. He proves that the Gentleman Captain can command a ship and outmaneuver the enemy.

Perfect book to read on your boat this summer!

J.D.Davies is an authority on the 17th century British Navy.