Staff Picks

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. --

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Knocked Up

Summary: 
Ben Stone (Seth Rogan), a stoner, ends up getting E! reporter Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) pregnant. Now they have to navigate the crazy adventure of pregnancy together. Judd Appatow manages to show the raw side of relationships while also highlighting the magical power of love. Appatow's script of witty raunchy dialogue makes the characters feel real. They are completely insecure about themselves. No one knows what they are doing and can only resort to advice from others who are just as clueless. The only option is to just be the best one can be and roll with the flow.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (George Smiley #5, Karla #1)

Summary: 
"Control" is dead, and George has been forced out of the Circus by the younger generation. When a would-be defector surfaces with a shocking revelation that a Soviet mole, code named 'Gerald' has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence, it is clear that his treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. George Smiley is assigned to identify and destroy him.. Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal group,Smiley recognizes the hand of Karla—his Moscow Centre nemesis—and sets a trap to catch the traitor. Le Carré's writing, in my view is brilliant, his language and ability to convey the inner workings of the spy industry as a profession is without peer. This is a world-class entertainment and an important, enduring novel, one of the few legitimate classics to arise from the espionage genre. Even on the second reading, the experience was just as enthralling.

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The Fallen Angel (Gabriel Allon #12)

Summary: 
While Gabriel is taking refuge restoring art in the Vatican, he is summoned to St. Peter's Basilica by the Pope's private secretary Donati; the body of a woman lies beneath Michelangelo's magnificent dome. The Vatican police suspect suicide, though Gabriel believes otherwise. Fearful that a public inquiry might inflict another scandal on the Church, Donati tasks Gabriel to quietly pursue the truth—with one caveat. "Don't ask too many questions." The dead woman had uncovered a dangerous secret—a secret that threatens a global criminal enterprise looting and sellingtimeless treasures of antiquity. Gabriel's investigation becomes a chess match between Gabriel and the terrorists planning the third Intifada. The climax takes place in Jerusalem on Good Friday during a visit of the Pope, with a breathtaking race between the terrorists and Gabriel and Eli to defuse a bomb that seeks to destroy the Temple Mount and all the history with it. A great read. Daniel Silva clearly has a better understanding of Middle East dynamics than most of us.

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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography

Summary: 
This book for me is a journey back in time, when I was at university in England and "Monty Pythons Flying Circus" was fresh, new and outrageous. Trying to get a spot in the many television rooms on campus each week to watch the latest episode was highlight for me and most of the students there. Eric Idle reflects on the meaning of his own life in this entertaining memoir that takes us on a remarkable journey from his childhood in an austere boarding school through his successful career in comedy, television, theater, and film. This is a wonderfully entertaining read -- and I had to chuckle at the fact that the song he wrote for the "Life of Brian", 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', has since become the number one song played at funerals in the UK. What an epitaph!! Hilarious.

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The Map of Salt and Stars

Summary: 
The story of a Syrian refugee family on their flight westward is paired with the fleshed-out legend of a 12th century girl the same age as the narrator. Imagining the story of Rawiya, whose apprenticeship to a mapmaker takes her through the same regions, and her super-powers and ingenuity, is enormously comforting to the modern girl. Poetry on every page, thanks to the narrator’s synesthesia-- and her childhood in New York City. A lovely book.

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Munich

Summary: 
This is a wonderful and gripping piece of historical fiction set in 1938 Europe during the time of the Munich Crisis. Hugh Legat, a rising star of the British diplomatic service, serves at 10 Downing Street as a private secretary to the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain; and Paul von Hartmann who is on the staff of the German Foreign Office, who is secretly a member of the anti-Hitler resistance. The two men were friends at Oxford in the 1920s, but have not been in contact since. Their language skills are vital to the Prime Minister and the Fuhrer, respectively and so they meet in Munich. Set against the background of actual historical events, Robert Harris tells a story that is certainly a fascinating, engaging, and ultimately thought- provoking. Whether Chamberlain was a truly astute politician and negotiator for peace, or a weak, misguided leader, naïve in his attempts to find peace with Germany, clearly remains open to debate. However, if the real events that occurred in 1938 are even remotely like those described in this book, I have to admit have much more sympathy for Neville Chamberlain. A must-read for anyone interested in this time.

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Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Summary: 
This is Stephen Hawking's final gift to us, a book in which he answers some of the big questions facing this world. Will humanity survive? Should we colonize space? Does God exist? ​​Hawking addresses these and other issues in this wide-ranging, passionately argued book. Anyone who reads this book will draw their own conclusions, but the message I came away with, was that he is optimistic over the fate of the human race, with science playing an integral part. A thoroughly thought-provoking book, that has to be read more than once to appreciate the thoughts of one of the most brilliant minds seen in history.

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Sacred Britannia:Gods and Rituals in Roman Britain from Caesar to Constantine

Summary: 
Sacred Britannia is an excellent academic book on religion in Roman Britain. I learnt a lot the gods and rituals of those times and it the writing is easy to take. However I was not fond of the speculation and which I felt went a little to far. Worth reading for a glimpse of a very different world in a country that I am very familiar with.

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The Generals

Summary: 
The second in the quartet of novels focusing on two giants of European history, Wellington and Napoleon begins with Arthur Wellesly (later Wellington) and Napoleon Bonaparte making their mark as men of military prowess. Wellesley, as commander of the 33rd Regiment of Foot, is sent to India, where his skill and bravery make a remarkable impression on his superiors. Napoleon's role as commander of the Army of Italy leads to success in battle and rapid political progress. By 1804, the time has come for Wellesly to stand against Napoleon in the confrontation that lies ahead, for Napoleon has established himself as Emperor, and has his sights set on conquering all of Europe. Another epic tome, this is a joy to read, easily moving from Wellesley to Napoleon, slowly bringing their paths together in a totally absorbing account. Will move to the next, once I've caught my breath!!

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