Staff Picks

Tombland

Summary: 
I was extremely excited when C.J. Sansom returned to his famous lawyer Matthew Shardlake for book #7. In 1549, the nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old; his uncle, Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Edward's regent and protector in turbulent times. Matthew Shardlake works in the service of Henry's younger daughter, the lady Elizabeth. A gruesome murder of one of Elizabeth's distant relations, rumored to be politically motivated, draws Shardlake and his companion Nicholas to the lady's summer estate, where a second murder is committed. The kingdom erupts into rebellion, peasants are taking up arms all over the country as a result of the abuses imposed on them by the greedy lords and barons. Nicholas is imprisoned for his loyalty, and Shardlake must decide where his loyalties lie -- with his kingdom, or with his lady? A fascinating book. I learned so much about the Peasants Revolt of that time and as well as trying to solve the murder that Shardlake had been tasked by the lady Elizabeth to investigate. A wonderful read!

Recommended By: 

Raven, Tell a Story

Summary: 
Local author Anne Donaghy tells the story of Tessa Ravenwing, a young woman who lives in a village in the mountains of Alaska. Raised by her grandmother, she learns the role of healer and storyteller at a very young age. The story begins in the year 2091 when a military weapons manufacturer controls the US government for its own profit. At seventeen Tessa decides to become an underground resistance fighter. Can she and other kindred spirits with unusual psychic gifts overthrow violent tyranny without using violence? This book weaves together indigenous mythology and exquisite descriptions of nature with a riveting story line and much suspense. It will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page.

Recommended By: 

Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates

Summary: 
Ever wondered what pirates were actually like? Did they bury treasure? Have parrots on their shoulders? Make innocents walk the plank? Most of what you think you know about pirates is far from the accurate historical record. However, Dolin reveals Blackbeard, Captain Kid, Edward Low, and dozens of other pirates lived lives a million times more fascinating than any fictional representation. Dolin examines the complex relationship pirates had with society over time. The American colonies at one point loved pirates and protected them from arrest because they offered cheap goods and valuables. Dolin presents an engaging history and argues the significance pirates had on history is greater than anyone could imagine.

Recommended By: 

Annihilation

Summary: 
A mysterious zone called "the Shimmer" appears on Earth, a gateway to a beautiful and terrifying world of mutation, duplication, and decay. Lena (Natale Portman) sets of to explore "the Shimmer" with a group of scientists after her husband returns, emotionally and physically ill, from exploring it. The movie turns its sci-fi landscape into a war zone as the characters try to keep their sanity while fighting monsters. However, director Alex Garland's central question, why the characters actually fear "the Shimmer", is the really intriguing aspect of the film. The world of "the Shimmer" reflects the beauty and horrors we see in biological life in the real world:forest, animals, and people; but also cancer and other lethal diseases.. Garland asks how humanity's fear for the unknown complexities of our own world drives us.

Recommended By: 

Wait, What?

Summary: 
The Dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education discusses the art of asking—and answering—good questions. Five questions in particular: Wait, what?; I wonder…? Couldn’t we at least…?; How can I help?; and What truly matters? Using examples from many sources, as well as his own personal life, Ryan attempts to show how these essential inquiries generate understanding, spark curiosity, initiate progress, fortify relationships, and draw our attention to the important things in life. And finally how to answer what he considers to be able answer life’s most important question: “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?” This is a light-hearted and sometimes amusing and thought-provoking book, that could change the way you think about asking questions. As a scientist, I was trained to ask questions and consequently found this book a very interesting read. I would recommend this to anyone who is of like mind. I have always said there are no silly questions, and this brief little book adds another dimension to this idea.

Recommended By: 

Fire and Sword

Summary: 
This third novel in the series following the careers of Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington, takes place in the years from 1804 to 1809. The French revolution is over and Emperor Napoleon sets his sights on the rest of Europe. Wellesley has just returned to England after many years in India. When Napoleon puts his own brother on the throne of Spain, Wellesley sees the opportunity to damage Napoleon's ambitions to rule Europe. He finally gets his chance to command a British force in Portugal and begins to inflict losses on parts of Napoleon's army. Extremely well written and meticulously researched, this book continues to build his characters. Scarrow is a great storyteller, bringing this period of history to life. I devoured this book and will be reading the fourth very shortly.

Recommended By: 

Conclave

Summary: 
The Pope is dead!! As the Dean of Cardinals, Lomelli has the task of facilitating a Conclave. We follow his investigations into corruption, secrets, his spiritual struggles and the reflection of his own conscience as he navigates mystery upon mystery in this compelling novel. Meticulous research on the traditions and laws of Roman Catholic Conclave results in an exciting story of an election of a Pope. I was enthralled by the events described in this book and it made me wonder about actual elections that have take place over the centuries. Robert Harris is an excellent storyteller and the ending was incredible. I could not have anticipated the final chapter. Brilliant!

Recommended By: 

BlacKkKlansman

Summary: 
The film is based the memoir of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first and only black policeman in his department, infiltrating the KKK with his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Lee clearly draws direct connection between the racism presented in the film to the political conflicts that resulted in the Charlottesville incident. Lee's point is these men in the KKK like David Duke still mostly exist today. It has only been a generation since the Civil Rights movement; therefore, America cannot assume racial hatred has disappeared within that time. Stallworth is interesting because he believes in fighting for racial equality by rising within institutions rather than joining the protests of the Black Panther movement. He questions how much he can change when the institutions fear blacks because of a predicted race war; and questions if black protest is becoming too polarizing and causes more anxiety than peace. Lee's ultimate argument is American society has allowed hatred to persist in the shadows, hoping to avoid conflict. The problem is what brews in the shadows will eventually grow strong to strike in the light.

Recommended By: 

Roads to Memphis: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr

Summary: 
About fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in front of his hotel room by James Earl Ray. King was fighting for the rights for sanitation workers as part of his mounting war against poverty in the United States. He believed a grand change in the economic landscape was necessary. James Earl Ray was one of the poverty-stricken people King was fighting for; yet, Ray saw his salvation through killing King. The documentary makes it clear that Ray believed society would reward him for the assassination. He sought fame and fortune with violence while King was trying to achieve his aims with non-violence. Ultimately, the documentary asks How long can peace persist in a nation plagued by the legacy of slavery? King accomplished a lot by bravely leading a movement for years; but Ray's single action created a setback for civil rights and enflamed racial tensions. Is it a sad truth a killer can be just as influential as the hero he killed?

Recommended By: 

The Help

Summary: 
The Help focuses on Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and other African American women that are maids for the rich white families of Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. The leader of the white women socialites, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), desires to pass a law to segregate all bathrooms. Skeeter (Emma Stone), an aspiring journalist, decides to fight the law and expose the terrifying racism of the state by gathering testimonies from Aibileen and the other maids to publish. However, they all face great danger for doing so. What is fascinating about the film is the racial dynamics of the home. On the one hand, the white women allow black maids into their homes to take care of their children. However, these same women fear black contact, thinking they will catch diseases. The home becomes a place of simultaneous integration and segregation. More interesting is how this set up is caused by the socially restricted roles placed upon white women at the time. Society expected these women to get married at young ages when they lacked the maturity to take care of children and the home. Therefore, the women resort to hiring older black maids to take on their responsibilities. Despite depending on the maids so much, the women look down on them, declaring themselves as racially superior beings. The Help argues that much of racism actually stems from white insecurity about themselves. --

Recommended By: