Monday, March 19, 2018

We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg

Noah Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca is an engaging read for Casablanca devotees and casual fans alike. Brimming with fresh insight, Isenberg walks his readers through the life of this classic film from its inception as a 1940s stage play through its current status as a legendary cultural icon. Highlights of the book include enjoyable anecdotes about the writing and casting of the movie, as well as relevant insights into the world of refugees in the 1940s and today. Isenberg’s intelligent and entertaining study of the genius, mystery, and timeless relevancy of this memorable film thoroughly demonstrates to his readers why we’ll always have Casablanca.

Reviewed by Chiara Genovese, Zauel Library

Friday, March 2, 2018

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, had three daughters who lived to adulthood: two by his wife, and a third who was born to an enslaved woman. Each of them found her own way to assert her individuality during her lifetime and historian Catherine Kerrison does an excellent job of bringing all three women out of the shadows of their famous father in this work.

Jefferson’s elder daughters were brought up to secure good marriages, which he saw as the end-all of a woman’s education. Although Martha and Maria lived largely conventional lives, they definitely had their own opinions, which led to some clashes with their father when those ideas didn’t match his.

In contrast, Harriet Hemings, born into slavery, had to openly stake her claim to freedom. Although Jefferson never acknowledged paternity of her, she was allowed some privileges at Monticello – including being allowed to “walk” away from the plantation after she turned twenty-one. Although Harriet disappears from historical record at that moment, family legend says she moved to Washington, D.C., passed as a white woman, and became the matriarch of a prominent family. If that is true, her safety at the time would have depended on her ability to break ties with her old life. Perhaps the most interesting section of the book is where Kerrison sifts through vital records in an attempt to bring Harriet back into history.

Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp, Hoyt Library

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

How would you live your life if you knew the exact date of your death?  Would your choices take you to that fateful day or lead you away?  And most importantly, are they even choices anymore?  Benjamin cleverly explores this dilemma in The Immortalists. This imaginative and gripping family drama follows the scatter shot lives of the four Gold siblings.  As young teens they visit a Roma Gypsy fortune teller who foretells the exact date of their deaths.  Armed with this information they make choices regarding their futures and how they live their lives.  These choices ultimately lead each one of them to their day of reckoning.   Each life story is gripping and heartbreaking.  The reader is left constantly wondering if they had turned left instead of right could they have lived another day, or is all of life written in the stars.  I highly recommend this book for readers of Donna Tartt, Alice Hoffman, and Anita Shreve.

Reviewed by Amy Churchill, Head of Zauel Library

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Music Shop: A Novel by Rachel Joyce

Reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, this emotionally satisfying novel about love and vinyl records is sure to be one of 2018’s best books.

Frank runs a struggling record store in late 1980’s London and he’ll only sell vinyl, despite the fact that his suppliers are breathing down his neck to modernize and buy CDs.  But Frank is so much more than a stubborn shop owner. He’s the “music whisperer.” The man can connect any person with the right music for them-even if they don’t think they want it, and it can change their lives.  He fixes broken hearts and broken marriages, and knows what music can fill a hole in someone’s soul. 

Despite his gift of helping others, Frank has his own emotional baggage and he must come to terms with it one day when a woman in a green coat passes out loitering in front of his shop. 

This novel is beautifully written.  A must-read. 

Reviewed by: Kim White, Head of Hoyt Library

Monday, December 18, 2017

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

The story of Ceder Songmaker, a young pregnant woman, is told in a series of frantic journal entries. The world she lives in, a few years away from our own, is falling apart. For reasons unknown, evolution has changed course: birds are becoming lizards, insects grow to the size of cats, and almost all pregnant women are delivering stillborn babies. The government has collapsed, and pregnant women are being rounded up in a desperate attempt to find women who can give birth to healthy babies. Cedar decides to find her biological parents, who join her adoptive parents in an effort to hide her and keep her safe. Meanwhile, her unborn child grows within her, their fates unknown.

Author Louise Erdrich brings to life a bizarre, hallucinatory vision of the future, with no explanations offered. Evolution works of its own accord, with no clear trajectory. Motherhood too is its own world with primal forces as old as time. Erdrich creates vivid characters maneuvering in a world gone mad. Although the lack of answers may frustrate some readers, the novel succeeds in its portrayal of just how fragile our society and systems of order are. What remains is life remade in an image we may or may not recognize. 

Reviewed by Kalum Meyers, Zauel Library

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke

Darren Mathews grew up in rural East Texas on land his family had owned for generations.  He became a Texas Ranger like his uncle.  When the book begins, he is a little down on his luck.  He and his wife are spending some time apart, and he has been suspended at work.  An old friend asks him to investigate a double murder in the tiny town of Lark, Texas that may be racially motivated.  The body of a black lawyer from Chicago was pulled from the bayou.  A few days later a younger white woman’s body was found.  Darren goes to Lark and finds a mystery with many layers.  He is able to have his suspension lifted and makes certain the local police look at the deaths from every angle.  The characters in this novel are varying mixtures of rich, poor, black, and white.  They are an interesting group.  The mystery is eventually solved, but the book ends rather abruptly and leaves a whole new issue between Darren and his mother.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a new series. 

Reviewed by Fiona Swift, Hoyt Library

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Gather the Daughters is the haunting debut novel of author Jennie Melamed. It explores the lives of women both young and old in a fictional patriarchal island society in a postapocolyptic America. The island society was founded by a group of male leaders called the wanderers. The wanderers control all aspects of life on the island, controlling access to technology, education, and resources. Female rights are strictly curtailed and summers are the only time of freedom for young girls of non childbearing age. It is during one summer that the young girls begin to rebel against the system that brutalizes and abuses them. Melamed shines when describing the horrifying rituals that surround dating, intercourse, marriage, and childbirth. Her characters are strongly written and relatable. With the renewed popularity of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Gather the Daughters is both timely and captivating.  

Reviewed by Amy Churchill, Head of Zauel Library