Movie Review: Sorry to Bother You

Usually when I love a movie it’s because: the movie contains monsters; the movie makes me cry; the movie has robots in it; or the movie is called John Wick. Sometimes, though, I love a movie because it surprises me and confuses me and then I can’t stop thinking about it.

Directed by Boots Riley, Sorry To Bother You is a dystopian satire that should be familiar but instead is multiple layers of discomfort. Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) wants terribly to move himself and his performance artist girlfriend out of his Uncle’s garage. After he begrudgingly accepts a job at RegalView, a telemarketing agency, he begins to climb the corporate ladder by applying what a seasoned coworker (Danny Glover) calls ‘The White Voice,’ (which is actually the voice of David Cross).

The movie parodies so much at once (underpaid and undervalued workers, meme culture, activism and more) that at times it becomes a little messy and rambling, although it always stays funny and interesting. Watch the entire movie, and then visit me in the Children’s Room and let me know if you saw it coming. Saw what coming? You’ll know. You’ll just know.

Review by Sarah Maciejewski, Children’s Room Staff.

To request a copy, click here.

Book Review: The Acadian Kitchen

The Acadian Kitchen by Alain Bosse (The Kilted Chef)

I lived in a suburb of Montreal when I was a kid. Unsurprisingly, one of the things I remember most vividly about my time there was the food. Poutine, smoked meat sandwiches, and chicken and rib franchises (I’m thinking about you, Swiss Chalet!) are what immediately come to mind for restaurant food, but when I think about eating at friends’ houses what I remember most is Tortiere. Flaky, lardy crust filled with ground pork and allspice which, like the underappreciated Canadian sport Ringette, just hasn’t seemed to catch on here.

Seems as though Alain Bosse, a.k.a The Kilted Chef, is trying to change that with his book The Acadian Kitchen. Featuring Acadian recipes inspired by Cajun and French Canadian history, the first thought I had when I opened it was “Sarah, renew your passport and go eat all the food.” And my second thought was “But wait! Instead I can just use this book and MAKE THE FOOD.” Then my family made the potato pancakes for supper and they were excellent. Next up: Farmer’s Wife Soup, Fried Bread and Sugar Fudge.

There is a brief history or anecdote above each recipe but they are short (and interesting), and a welcome diversion from many of the blog-post inspired cookbooks I’ve picked up lately. These recipes will be familiar and comforting to New Englanders and the book mostly calls for pantry staples making this a stress-free read. Think of it as Acadian Hygge.

Review by Sarah Maciejewski of the Children’s Room.

To request a copy, click here.

Book Review: The Dreamers

The Dreamers, by Karen Thompson Walker

 In a small California town, a college freshman complains of feeling sick, falls asleep… and doesn’t wake up. Soon, there are more cases like hers—otherwise healthy individuals suddenly overcome by fatigue they can’t shake. Once they are asleep, nothing can wake them from their slumber. Soon, the mysterious illness sweeps through the town like the wildfires carried by the Santa Ana winds. Within weeks, the entire town is under quarantine, and chaos erupts as stores run out of supplies and the National Guard is called in.

The Dreamers is a clever mix of dystopian and literary fiction, comparable to Station Eleven. The narrative weaves between several different characters, offering a complex perspective not only on the effects of the sleeping sickness, but of the grim, inexorable results of the mandatory quarantine. Characters who remain awake must contend with the disorder and panic taking place around them. Some choose to help those who have fallen sick; others make the difficult choice to remain locked in their house in the hopes their loved ones will return to them.

To make the illness even more bizarre, the medical staff taking care of the sleepers all observe the same thing—those who are asleep are displaying abnormal levels of brain activity, indicating they are in a ceaseless state of dreaming. And the few characters who manage to awake report strange, vivid dreams, dreams that feel more real than reality itself.

This is a great read, filled with lovely prose, high stakes, suspense, and engaging characters. For a book about people trapped in a deep sleep, The Dreamers is sure to keep its readers wide awake until the very end.

Review by Shannon Bowring, Technical Services

To request a copy, click here.

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov and how they lived through the horrors of the German concentration camp, Auschwitz. In 1942, the German government, looking for workers for their labor camps, made Slovakian families send someone 18 or older for work details with the guarantee of safety for the remaining family members. Twenty-six year old Lale volunteered for this to protect his family and was transported to Auschwitz in a jammed cattle car with other Slovaks also looking to secure their families safety. Lale left behind his parents, brothers and sister.

Lale soon realizes in order to survive in the camp, he must keep his head down, follow orders and never argue. This carefully designed strategy enables him to become the assistant to the tattooist of the camp. Their job is to tattoo each prisoner’s arm with their identifying number. There is a small level of independence given to this job. Lale sleeps in better quarters and is given more food than other prisoners (which he conceals up his sleeve and secretly shares). When the daily transport of prisoners arrives at the camp, they are lined up for their tattoos. It is in one such line, Lale finds Gita in front of him, waiting for her tattoo and immediately knows this is his love.

The everyday life of the prisoners is described in detail. It is hard to read but the hope of a future beyond the camp and the will to survive are portrayed as equally as important in the book. Lale is desperate to protect Gita, no matter what the cost and manages in the nearly three years of their internment, to do just that. They see each other briefly in the central compound and try to find moments of time together by hiding behind buildings. Their lives and those of every prisoner around them, are rife each day with cruelty and brutality and the callous indifference of the guards and the SS overseers. But they survive each day. When the Russian Army is close to the camp, chaos breaks out. Gita and Lale are separated. Gita is forcibly sent on the five-mile walk to the next camp, Birkenau, while the Germans try to destroy all the camp records. Many women on the march do not survive. Gita and four Polish young women run away from the guards and make it to a farm house where they are temporarily protected and then sent on to others who further help their escape.

Lale is herded with hundreds of other men into a packed cattle car and shipped to another concentrations camp, Mauthausen in Austria. He is constantly thinking of Gita and how he is going to find her. Lale’s eventual escape and his reunion with Gita are episodes of bravery and love using the very words Lale himself recorded when he was interviewed by the author for this extraordinary story.

Review by Mary Ellen Wilson, Interlibrary Loan Coordinator

To request a copy, click here.

Book Review: Sadie (2018)

Sadie by Courtney Summers

If you’re looking for an audiobook that will get you through a boring car drive, this could be just the ticket. It is performed by a full cast, so the voices are always changing, which helped me stay focused. And the story is quite suspenseful, about a murder and a disappearance of two sisters from a small town in Colorado.

The story unfolds in two ways. First, we hear individual perspectives in the voices of two main characters: Sadie, a nineteen-year-old who disappears after her 12-year-old sister is murdered; and West McCray, a radio personality, who begins a search for Sadie after her the discovery of her abandoned car suggests that she may have become a victim herself.

The story also unfolds in interspersed episodes of McCray’s resulting podcast: The Girls, which is like the infamous Serial podcast. McCray details his search for Sadie, but to do so, he has to retrace her steps and interview all the people she came into contact with to figure out who or what Sadie was trying to find, and why.

No spoilers here, but in the end, all but one of his questions are answered. It is very well done, and very entertaining. (It was the winner of the 2019 Audie Award for Young Adult Audiobooks.)

Other caveats: this is a story about not-very-nice-people doing not-very-nice things to themselves and to others. If you don’t enjoy hearing the details and harsh realities of the lives of the down-and-out, and/or don’t enjoy coarse language, this is probably not the book for you.

To request a copy of the audiobook, click here.

To request a copy of the print edition, click here.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian

Book Review: Looking for a New Author? Try Miriam Toews.

I just put a hold on this wonderful Canadian author’s newest book, Women Talking, after reading about it in The New Yorker. This, her eighth novel, was released in Canada last year and is due out in the U.S. on April 2. As in many of her books, she draws on her Mennonite heritage as a way to express outrage, humor, and melancholy (often simultaneously).

Of course, I have only been able to read about this new book, but it sounds like it will a bit of a departure from earlier works in form and tone, and will definitely channel some of Toews’ rage against her former religion. She wrote it after learning that between 2005 and 2009 more than a hundred Mennonite women and girls in a community known as Manitoba Colony had been raped at night in their homes. The horrific string of crimes stopped when two men were caught entering a home one night ready to sedate and assault more women.

The book is a exactly what the title suggests: Toews creates a book-length conversation of Mennonite women and girls talking and responding to what has happened to them and their community. I am sure it will be a very interesting and emotional read. To read the full New Yorker article about Toews and her work, click here.

If you haven’t read anything she’s written, I highly recommend some of Toews’ earlier works as an introduction to her talents.

A Complicated Kindness (2004) is a darkly humorous coming-of-age novel about 16-year-old Nomi, who lives in a bleak Menonnite community in rural Manitoba with her father. Her mother and sister have left them; the book is her bitingly-funny adolescent skewering of the eccentricities and male-dominated control of her community and its religion. This is the book that launched Toews’ career.

All My Puny Sorrows (2014) is a novel based on her relationship with her sister. (Toews has said that the novel draws heavily on the events leading up to the 2010 suicide of her sister, Marjorie.) The sisters in her story are Elfrieda and Yoli, the only children in an intellectual, free-spirited family from a conservative Mennonite community. Elfrieda is a world-renowned pianist: glamorous, wealthy, happily married, but suicidal and fragile. Yolandi (based on Toews) is divorced and broke; all she wants is to find true love and to keep her older sister alive. Toews tells the story with her usual mix of humor, melacholy, and compassion. Goodreads says the story is simultaneously “tender and unquiet,” and I agree.

To place a hold on Women Talking, click here.

To request A Complicated Kindness, click here.

To request All My Puny Sorrows, click here.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian.

Book Review: All the Answers (2018)

If you like graphic novels in the tradition of Maus by Art Spiegelman or Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, you’ll enjoy this graphic memoir by Michael Kupperman, an award-winning writer and artist. I am a big fan of graphic novels; even if you aren’t, you still might enjoy reading this one, for a number of reasons.

First, it is a powerful father-son story. The author tries to reconstruct long-buried parts of the life of his once world-famous father. Joel Kupperman became one of the most famous children in America during World War II as one of the young geniuses on the series Quiz Kids. He had a childhood in the public eye, but then essentially disappeared into a reclusive life and never talked about the experience again. Because Mr. Kupperman, the father, is now struggling with dementia, there is a certain urgency about the son’s desire to unearth the details about this part of his father’s past.

The memoir also provides details about a very interesting time in radio and television history, and this was fascinating to me as well. There was still a great deal of anti-Semitism in the entertainment business at the time; Kupperman’s father, an endearing and brilliant young Jewish boy, was (perhaps unwittingly) propagandized to combat that prejudice in the industry and in the country. The reasons for his father’s transformation from a “happy know-it-all prodigy” to a reclusive adult academic are wrapped up in this bit of history.

Finally, the book is engaging because Kupperman is a talented artist. I love how his images for this story reinforce the feeling that his father, now disappearing into dementia, was also a shadowy figure to him throughout his life.

The book has received all kinds of accolades. It was given “Best Book” nods in 2018 by NPR, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and the New York Public Library. It was also a winner of the Publishers Weekly 2018 Graphic Novel Critics Poll. If you’ve always wanted to try a graphic novel, this would be a great one to start with.

Review by Lesley Dolinger, Library Director.

To request a copy, click here.

Book Review: Lovely War (2019)

Lovely War by Julie Berry

The title of the Washington Post review of this young adult saga was “The novel you’ll want to steal from your teen’s nightstand.” I think that about sums it up. Julie Berry’s book is a sweeping piece of historical fiction with meticulously researched details about World War I. Like many pieces about this era (and in the YA genre in general), it is an engrossing story of love and loss.

The central plot involves two romances: the more traditional love story of Hazel and James (both are young and British), and another involving Aubrey (he’s an African-American soldier and musician) and Colette (a scarred survivor of a German massacre in her small Belgian town.) Eventually their lives and their love all intertwine.

But there’s a third romance that provides the over-arching structure (and a reason) for the look back at the stories of these four characters and how they came through the Great War. The chapters about James, Hazel, Aubrey, and Colette are regularly interrupted by chapters set in 1942 in a New York hotel room, where the Greek goddess Aphrodite (the goddess of love), her husband Hephaestus (the god of fire and forges), and Ares (the god of war, and Aphrodite’s paramour) are all trying to sort out their own stories. Aphrodite takes credit for the central love stories of the novel; but also uses them to explain her infidelity to her husband, because of course, love and war are eternally drawn together.

The classical thread was my least favorite part of the book. Lovely War would be a well-plotted, nicely paced love story with rich historical details even without this added layer. Nonetheless, it’s a great read. I consumed the 450 pages, mostly during a single snowy afternoon.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian

To request a copy, click here.

Book Review: Horns (2011)

Horns by Joe Hill

Imagine waking from a drunken slumber only to find horn nubs sticking out of your head. Ignatius Perrish can imagine it. The main character from Joe Hill’s Horns is thrown into a wild journey from the moment he wakes with horns until the very last pages of the book. What he discovers is that the people he comes across don’t recoil from his devilish knobs, but instead spill their innermost darkest thoughts to him, then forget they ever saw him. Joe Hill takes the reader on a dark and twisted journey that is as compelling as it is repugnant. Ignatius has lost the love of his life, Merrin, to a brutal murder which he has been accused of. In the year after the incident, he finds himself floundering through life, in a relationship going nowhere, losing faith and gaining an alcohol addiction. 

Ig’s new horns and newfound effect on the people he comes in contact with adds humor to this dark and twisted tale. His mother can’t help but confess how she wishes he would just disappear, how tired she is of dealing with him after his girlfriend was killed. His doctor, oblivious to the horns, confesses his urge to snort drugs and chase teenage girls. At first these confessions make Ig uncomfortable, but as the devil takes hold, he begins to use the power to find out the truth about his girlfriend’s death. Ig drives around his small New Hampshire hometown in his aging Gremlin in search of clues about Merrin’s violent death, and digs deeper into the dark side of the lives of the people he knows and loves.  This darkly humorous story winds through several days and years of memories, following Ig on a journey into the darkest depths of human desire. By the end, Hill has placed the devil in a blue dress, torn apart his world, and dropped the reader into a tumultuous display of human desires that could bring Ig to his knees. 

Book Review: The Woman Who Smashed Codes

The Woman Who Smashed Codes : A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies (2017) by Jason Fagone

Since the publication of Jason Fagone’s meticulously researched biography, brilliant codebreaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892 – 1980) has finally received some of the attention she deserves. Her crucial role in American history, during the years before and after World War II, was obscured for decades, ostensibly because of classified nature of her work. Yet the actual reasons relate more to sexism of the time and J. Edgar Hoover’s outsized ego. In an early diary entry she wrote, “Am I abnormal? Why should something with risk in it give me an exuberant feeling inside me? I don’t know what it is unless it is that characteristic which makes so many people remark that I should have been born a man.”

Elizebeth is the only American woman to ever organize and lead a governmental codebreaking unit. She rose to the position of Cryptanalyst-in-Charge while working for both the Coast Guard and Treasury Department. Her fascinating journey from Indiana high school teacher to clandestine intelligence work makes for a plot of cinematic bravura. With no formal training in mathematics or codebreaking, she became one of the most important figures in intelligence-led policing for our federal government.

Every great story needs a good hook to grab a reader’s interest and this one has a trove: rum-runners off the coast during Prohibition who communicated in code; cryptic radio transmissions by Nazis planning coups in South America; the German Enigma machine which became the focus of British and American cryptanalysts; and the notorious Japanese spy known as the Doll Lady. Elizebeth Smith had a key role in solving all of these. You’ll want to read this book to discover how.

Review by Pam Barry.

To request a copy, click here.

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