Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bingeworthy TV: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

When I was small I loved watching musicals on the old movie channel on TV, but I never became a Musical Theater Fan. You don't need to be a capital-F Fan to enjoy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but you do need to be someone who isn't going to roll their eyes every time the cast breaks into a big musical number.

Because as delightful and human as the characters are, as wacky and insightful as the humor can be, you're going to be annoyed by the one or more choreographed songs in each episode. If, on the other hand, you check out this show because you love the idea of a musical sitcom, I hope that you'll enjoy the thoughtful and relevant soap opera-esque plot as much as I do.

This show looks like a goofy bit of fluff, and I'll admit it, the title alone put me off for months. However, the cast and writers manage to tackle some serious concepts and issues, including topics that are generally considered taboo, in ways that are nuanced and smart, while still genuinely entertaining. From sexuality and relationships to mental and reproductive health, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend covers a lot of ground.

Plus, the music's pretty darn good (and guaranteed to get stuck in your head).

~Sarah, Adult Services

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Staff Book Review: "The Hunger" by Alma Katsu and "The Best Land Under Heaven" by Michael Wallis

This past winter I read two books about a topic in America history that still has the power to illicit a strong emotional response. The Hunger by Alma Katsu and The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis both describe the ill-fated Donner Party. The story lingers in our imagination and can instantly set an eerie mood as represented in our popular culture at the beginning of The Shining when Jack Nicholson’s character explains the story to his wife and little boy as they’re driving through the mountains. The short version is that a party of covered wagons gets stuck in snow in the Sierra Mountains and resort to cannibalism to survive.

The taboo and grisly nature of the story make these events ripe for horror stories. The Hunger by Katsu is one of these horror-interpretations, but a mighty good one! The Best Land Under Heaven is a narrative nonfiction. It was interesting to read the nonfiction before the fictionalized account because it gave me some sort of historical basis and litmus test to weigh the Katsu book against. Both of the stories were excellent reads as I really felt like I was in the head of these early pioneers. 

Katsu’s tale jumps right into the trip, later revealing backstory (or inventing it), only to develop characters. She chose to focus on only a handful to keep the storyline tight. We get romantic tensions, jealousy, machismo, and back-stabbing among the party. As I felt she took liberties with a lot of the characters, it was also clear that she did her homework, as many of the journals from the party have survived. As the party moves west, and they encounter natural disasters, they begin to feel like some other kind of force is following them. As party members are attacked, and these attacks can be quite gruesome, we learn of some possession taking over these individuals. Fans of horror who like atmosphere, will really enjoy the eerie setting and the suspense of the party being plucked one by one. Knowing even a little bit of details from the real story adds to the suspense as you wait to see how Katsu will arrive and resolve the final harrowing chapters. Although this tale is horrific, and she does take liberties with the characters—possibly making some nastier then they actually were—her attention to historical detail gives her story credence. The romantic tension between characters also adds another element of emotional depth.

As much as I enjoyed The Hunger, I feel the Wallis book was exceptional and one of the best books I read in 2017. This factual account of the disaster is far more terrifying than having a supernatural explanation. He ties the story with the theme of Manifest Destiny, the reason why even people of means, left everything behind to seek more. We meet many historical figures along the way—including a young Abe Lincoln when he was a lawyer in Illinois. This book definitely moves at a slower pace— I mean they only averaged about 10 to 20 miles a day in covered wagons— but you get to follow the Oregon trail and experience the awe and difficulties of traversing this country in the mid-19th century. The historical detail and the story of each character humanizes the tale and, in my opinion, makes it more satisfying than any of the sensationalism often reported around the event.

Neither of these books are comforting reads. Obviously one isn’t after that when they pick up a book on the Donner party. They do have the power to transport one to another time in our recent history and put in perspective some of the motivations of settlers seeking better lives, for better or worse, and what they risked to pursue their dreams. These books, especially the Wallis text, paint a picture of the hardships they faced on a daily basis before even reaching the Sierras. While I’ll take the nonfiction over the zombie story, I can recommend reading either book. Though the setting can arouse a bit of romanticism in many, including myself, it’s difficult to take our modern comforts for granted when reading these books.

~Ben, Adult Services

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Great Reading Challenge: Category Spotlight "A Famous Crime"

The Great Reading Challenge of 2018 is in full swing. If you haven't heard, the Great Reading Challenge (GRC) is open to adults 18 and over and is a fun way to engage in reading with a community of like-minded readers, while tracking your books read for the year. You get to choose categories - either before or after you read books. Use the GRC to broaden your reading horizons, or just have fun finding categories to fit the books you were going to read anyway. Maybe you will read more broadly, or maybe you will finally get to some of those books you have meant to read for years! In any case, we hope you'll have fun reading! Register for the GRC here.

This new regular blog spotlight will highlight books we have available for check out at Carnegie-Stout that fulfill different categories of the GRC. All of the book descriptions are courtesy of our NoveList Plus database.

This spotlight covers #11 "Read a book about a famous crime"

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (364 CAP)
Available in book, ebook and CD Audio Book

"On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues. As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence."

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry (364.1523 BUG)
Available in book format

"The prosecutor of the Tate-LaBianca trials presents the inside story behind the Manson killings, explaining how Charles Manson was able to make his "family" murder for him, chronicling the investigation, and describing the court trial that brought him and his accomplices to justice."

Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence That Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago by Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi (364.1523 LUC)
 Available in book format

"An Italian immigrant who spoke little English and struggled to scrape together a living on her primitive family farm outside Chicago, Sabella Nitti was arrested in 1923 for the murder of her missing husband. With no evidence and no witnesses, she was quickly found guilty and sentenced to hang. Ugly Prey is a page-turning courtroom drama, but also a thought-provoking look at the intersection of gender, ethnicity, class, and the American justice system."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Bingeworthy TV: Star Wars Rebels

The animated series Star Wars Rebels takes place 14 years after Revenge of the Sith and 5 years before A New Hope. Galactic forces are getting stronger and Imperial forces are hunting down the remaining Jedi Knights all the while a fledgling rebellion is forming. A crew of rebels unite aboard a ship called The Ghost and their activity takes place around the planet Lothal. Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi Knight, discovers 15-year old orphan Ezra Bridger on Lothal and realizes he has a strong connection to the Force. The rest of the crew includes pilot Hera Syndulla, a Twi'Lek*, Sabine Wren, a 16-year old Mandalorian, Zeb Orrellios, a Lasat honor guard, and Chopper, a C1-10P droid.

I've watched all the Star Wars movies, but I never watched the animated series The Clone Wars.  There are several references to characters from The Clone Wars and some of them even show up on Rebels. Versions of characters from the movies also appear in Rebels. Basically Rebels is the story of what is going on in the universe leading up to and during Rogue One. Fun Fact: A few of the Rebels characters show up in Rogue One. You have to have an eagle eye to see them, but if you want a heads up on when they appear, check out this interview with Lucas Film Story Group's Matt Martin on StarWars.com.   

Initially Ezra is a whinier version of Luke Skywalker. He grows both in character and power as the series progresses. Kanan is a surlier version of Obi Wan Kanobi. He is a reluctant teacher and has a lot of anger over the destruction of the Jedi Order. Hera, Zeb, Sabine, and Chopper round out the cast nicely, each with their own set of skills. As with all the Star Wars movies, I find the droids to be the stars of the show and Chopper is no exception. He/it is a droid with attitude! There are only 4 seasons of Rebels; the last episode aired on March 5, 2018.

If you are wondering how all the Star Wars stories fit chronologically check out this Digital Spy article. The list does contain spoilers.

*There are a lot of different species in the Star Wars universe. Wookipeedia is a great place to go for information. 

~Amy, Adult Services

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Staff Review: Feel Free by Zadie Smith

In one of the pieces in novelist Zadie Smith's new essay collection, Feel Free, she writes that knowledgeable people -- educated people who not only pursue a craft or profession, but are also connoisseurs of Baroque music, say, or Renaissance art or French wine -- intimidate her, cause her to feel an almost-existential angst.

This seems odd because the overwhelming impression one has after reading Smith's new collection is "How can one person know so much?" Really. Smith writes (a lot), she travels, she teaches, she gives speeches, she's got a mate and a couple little kids. How does she do it?

What's even more remarkable is that she can write about so many different subjects, highbrow to low, without ever seeming pretentious, condescending, or dull. Rather, she seems down-to-earth, self-deprecating, just plain nice.

The topics of Feel Free's essays, many of which were originally written for New York Review of Book, New Yorker, and Harper's, run the gamut from Brexit to Jay-Z, British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye to Justin Bieber, portraitist Bathasar Denner to installation artist Sarah Sze. She writes about Key & Peele, Orson Welles, Billie Holiday, and Mark Zuckerberg. There are also book reviews and essays on joy, despair, optimism, climate change, writing, gentrification, and more.

Smith's a wonderful writer and her essays are engaging and personal because she's passionately engaged with life and acutely worried about the state of the world. If you're like me, reading her collection may make you feel like a bit of an underachiever, but you'll know a lot more when you finish than you did at the start and that's a small achievement in itself, right?

~Ann, Adult Services


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Bingeworthy TV: New Girl

Are you a fan of the TV show Friends? New Girl reminds me of Friends. Except, New Girl is more awkward and a touch more racy. Both shows are, however, hilarious and both celebrate the depth and true meaning of friendship and how hard adulting can be sometimes. New Girl is about a group of mismatched oddballs who live together in a large loft apartment. Also similar to the Friends and their New York City apartment - the group in New Girl would scarcely be able to afford their big Los Angeles apartment.

Jess Day (Zooey Deschanel) is the lead. She is energetic, super-awkward, very earnest yet still endearing. She talks her way into living in an apartment full of men (hence the name "The New Girl," much to their chagrin). As a teacher, she is at heart an optimist. Opposite her is Nick Miller (Jake Johnson) - a bartender, opposite in so many ways and ever-dissatisfied with life. Together, their chemistry is perfection and their witty banter is lightning-fast.

Whoever did the casting is genius! Jess, Nick, Schmidt, CeCe, Coach, Winston - they are a group of great characters with unique personalities and the actors fit their parts perfectly. For all the underlying angst, this is a pretty lighthearted show. We get to laugh at their jokes and cringe at their relationships and complicated interactions with each other and the world at large. Somehow, they always end up in the midst of ridiculous and hilarious predicaments.

I think it is a great update to the Friends model.

The show is still being produced. Carnegie-Stout owns the first five seasons on DVD. Season 7, which is the final season, premieres this spring on television. The library will purchase the last two seasons when they are available.

~Angie, Adult Services