Thursday, September 26, 2013

Great Suggestions for Book Discussion Groups

My favorite resource for good book discussion titles is a list called Great Group Reads. I have blogged about this terrific resource in this past. Published annually each fall, the titles selected are part of a program created by the Women's National Book Association "to promote reading groups and to celebrate the joy of shared reading". My own book group recently read two titles from this year's list: The Round House and The Yellow Birds. Both titles resulted in excellent discussions.

Here are the Great Group Reads selections for 2013 with links provided to our catalog. If you are searching for a good, discussable book for your reading group, you may very well find an intriguing title here. This year, all 21 titles are fiction.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
David by Ray Robertson 
The House Girl by Tara Conklin
How It All Began by Penelope Lively
Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Margot by Jillian Cantor
Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
Nowhere Is a Place by Bernice L. McFadden
The One-Way Bridge by Cathie Pelletier
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Schroder by Amity Gaige
Sparta by Roxana Robinson
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lyric Opera of Chicago - 2013/2014 Season

This year's Lyric Opera of Chicago 2013/2014 season will be an exciting one, featuring many operas written by Giuseppe Verdi beginning with Otello on Thursday, September 26 in the Mutilpurpose Room at 7:00 p.m.  Our facilitators will be from the Lyric Opera Education Corps.  Our opera display can be found in the Audiovisual Room.  

Otello by Giuseppe Verdi - Thursday, September 26 First performed in La Scala, Milan in 1887, Otello is based on Shakespeare's tale of the Moorish general and his fatal jealousy.  It is widely accepted as one of Verdi's finest operas.  It includes a Storm scene, a Drinking Song where the evil Iago gets Cassio drunk. It also has a Heroic Aria where the heroine bids good night to her maid in a single line which can be a Mad Scene, a Farewell Aria and suicide Aria all rolled into one.  It also includes an Oath Duet for tenor and baritone.

In the film Serenade, Mario Lanza plays an operatic tenor who is singing Otello for the first time.

Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini - Thursday, October 30

Premiered at La Scala on February 17, 1904, it was badly received.  During the first performance, the crowd booed and jeered.  Puccini, suffering from a car accident leg injury, stood in the wings saying, "Louder, louder you beasts!  You'll see who's right - this is the best opera I've ever written!"  It was first performed in two acts and later the second act was split in half.  It was shown three months later to great acclaim.

"The story of Madama Butterfly is based on an actual incident involving a young Japanese girl who became pregnant by an Englishman and attempted suicide." (Lyric Opera Season Companion 3013/2014)

The Broadway and West End musical Miss Saigon (1989) was, in part, based on Madama Butterfly.  The location was moved to Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War and the Fall of Saigon.

Parsifal by Richard Wagner - Wednesday, October 30

Parsifal was first performed in Bayreuth in 1882.  It was a religious drama and Wagner's last opera.  He died in Venice six months after the premier of Parsifal.  "Parsifal is a tale of a "young fool," an innocent who must learn of life's sorrow before he can fulfill his destiny as the king of the knights of the Holy Grail." (NPR)  The Third Reich banned it in 1940 and was not performed in Russia until 1993.

Wagner learned that the scenery was moving too slowly and had to add a few bars between the Transformation Music and the Grail Scene.  "They always said my music was too long!" Wagner raged.  "Now it is too short!" 

Parsifal was a sacred art and one was supposed to be reverent.  August Forster said, "Just wait - Wagner's not long for this world!  A man who is capable of producing a thing of that order cannot have much time left on earth.  His work is finished!"

La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi - Wednesday, November 13

La Traviata premiered in Teatro la Fenice, Venice in 1853.  It is a romantic tragedy where a high-priced prostitute gives up the only man she loves and then dies of TB.  This is based on a true story.
It was a failure on opening night because modern-day clothing rather than the period garb was used.  The leading tenor lost his voice and the soprano did not look like a woman dying of tuberculosis.  A year later, the opera was produced again in the same city and was a success. (Opera for Dummies)

Verdi took interest in this story because he himself was living with the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi.  He was a widower since 1840, but because they were not married, the residents of Busseto in Italy were appalled.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Awards for "Horrific" Writing!

Since I select/edit GPL's NextReads Newsletter in the Horror genre I have become fascinated with the genre that provokes terror in the reader. Maybe it's the approach of Halloween, gray skies, dreary days, and too early darkness that encourages me to choose this writing in the Fall. I simply want to be scared by a story!

So, this is how I became aware that there is a whole culture out there of horror readers and writers and that these writers are annually celebrated. Each year, the Horror Writer's Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work, Dracula. These awards are given for "superior achievement," not for "best of the year," so ties are quite probable. The first awards were presented in 1988 (for works published in 1987) and they have been presented every year since. The award itself is a replica of a fanciful haunted house where the door of the house opens to reveal a brass plaque engraved with the name of the winning work and its author. This past June 2013 the Horror Writers Association chose a historic hotel in the haunted city of New Orleans to announce the winners of the 2012 Bram Stoker Awards.
Bronze haunted-house statuettes were handed over to the writers responsible for creating superior works of horror - and the winners for Superior Achievement:

in a NOVEL
The Drowning Girl by Caiylin R. Kierman

Life Rage by L. L. Soares

Flesh and Bone by Jonathan Maberry

Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times by Rocky Wood and Lisa Morton

Shadow Show: All-new Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury edited by Mort Castle* and Sam Weller

New Moon on the Water by Mort Castle*
Black Dahlia and White Rose: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton

The Lifetime Achievement Awards went to Robert R. McCammon and Clive Barker.
The Specialty Press Award went to Jerad Walters of Centipede Press.

Choose one or more (if you can take it) of these award-winning horrific titles.
Hope you are frightened and terrorized in a superior way!

*Mort Castle is a Chicago author who teaches at Columbia College Chicago.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Free Adult Literacy Classes

Did you know the library has free adult literacy classes?  A great opportunity to improve your English reading and writing skills. Classes are for American-born adults or immigrants whose first language is not English, with skills at beginning to intermediate levels.  Classes are conducted by Oakton Community College and teacher led along with a friendly group of volunteer tutors.  The fall session meets twice weekly Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:15 AM 12:15 PM, through November 26, in the Multipurpose room. For more information call (847)635-1426.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Highly Anticipated Fall Releases

Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood
In the conclusion to the trilogy that started with Oryx and Crake (2003), Toby and Ren return to the MaddAddamite cob house after rescuing Amanda and assuming the duties of the Craker's religious overseers while Zeb searches for the founder of the pacifist green religion he left years earlier.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
In her first novel since the critically acclaimed The Namesake (2003), Brothers Subhash and Udayan Mitra pursue vastly different lives--Udayan in rebellion-torn Calcutta, Subhash in a quiet corner of America--until a shattering tragedy compels Subhash to return to India, where he endeavors to heal family wounds. Due out on September 24.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
In Gladwell's follow-up to What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures (2009), he uncovers the hidden rules that shape the balance between the weak and the mighty and the powerful and the dispossessed. Coming out October 1.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
In her first fiction novel, the author of Eat, Pray, Love (2006) traces the multi-generational saga of the Whittaker family, whose progenitor makes a fortune in the quinine trade before his daughter, a gifted botanist, researches the mysteries of evolution while falling in love with an utopian artist against a backdrop of the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Due out on October 1.

Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding
A new phase of life for Bridget set once again in present day London but with new dating challenges that come with texting and social media. Due out on October 15.

We Are Water by Wally Lamb
The two-time Oprah Book Club author's latest novel (She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True) is told in alternating voices and follows Anna Oh, a middle-age wife, mother, and artist, as she, after twenty-seven years of marriage, divorces her husband to marry Vivica, the Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success. Release date set for October 22.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Coming October 22, it's been 11 years since Tartt's last release The Little Friend. Set in New York City a young boy named Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend's family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
With a release date of November 5, this will be Tan's first novel since Saving Fish from Drowning in 2005. Violet Minturn, a half-Chinese/half-American courtesan who deals in seduction and illusion in Shanghai, struggles to find her place in the world, while her mother, Lucia, tries to make sense of the choices she has made and the men who have shaped her.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Iraqi War Fiction

I just finished reading "The Yellow Birds" by Kevin Powers, a powerful novel which follows two young soldiers during their tour of duty in Iraq and the struggles one of them faces upon his return home.   It's a moving study of combat, guilt and friendship which I found immensely sad.  But it also helped me better understand the causes and repercussions of PTSD and I recommend it to anyone who wants to gain insight into the experiences of the young men and women who have served in combat.

Here are a few more fiction titles that examine the Iraqi War experience.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
A ferocious firefight with Iraqi insurgents at 'the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal', three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew, has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America's most sought-after heroes. For the past two weeks, the Bush administration has sent them on a media-intensive nationwide Victory Tour to reinvigorate public support for the war.

Sand Queen by Helen Benedict
Nineteen-year-old Kate Brady's vision of bringing honor to her family and democracy to the Middle East is tarnished when she joins the Army only to be assigned to a forgotten corner of the Iraq desert in 2003 as a prison guard, but she become acquainted with Naema Jassim, an Iraqi medical student whose father and brother are detainees, and through their parallel struggles to survive and hold tight to the people they love, the young women have a profound affect on each other's lives.

The Sandbox by David Zimmerman
Operating Base Cornucopia: A three hundred-year-old fortress in the remote Iraqi desert where a few dozen soldiers wait for their next assignment; among them, Private Toby Durrant, a self-described "broke nobody." Then a deadly ambush touches off events that put Durrant in the middle of a far-reaching conspiracy.

Wrongful Death by Robert Dugoni
Reluctantly aiding a bereaved widow in a wrongful death lawsuit against the government and military for the death of her Iraq war soldier husband, attorney David Sloane uncovers evidence of a dangerous adversary who retaliates by threatening David's family.

Betrayal by John Lescroart
When Dismas Hardy agrees to clean up the caseload of recently disappeared attorney Charlie Bowen, he thinks it will be easy. But one of the cases is far from small-time--the sensational clash between National Guard reservist Evan Scholler and an ex-Navy SEAL and private contractor named Ron Nolan. Two rapid-fire events in Iraq conspired to bring the men into fatal conflict: Nolan's relationship with Evan's girlfriend, Tara, a beautiful school-teacher back home in the states, followed by a deadly incidentin which Nolan's apparent mistake results in the death of an innocent Iraqi family as well as seven men in Evan's platoon. As the murky relationship between the US government and its private contractors plays out in the personal drama of these two men, and the consequences become a desperate matter of life and death, Dismas Hardy begins to uncover a terrible and perilous truth that takes him far beyond the case and into the realm of assassination and treason.--From publisher description.

Fobbit by David Abrams
At Foreward Operating Base Triumph, a combat-avoiding staff sergeant named Chance Gooding spends his time composing press releases that spin grim events into statements more palatable to the public.

Last One In by Nicholas Kulish
Jimmy Stephens makes the worst mistake of his career as a gossip columnist when he wrongly accuses a big star of cheating on his wife. With lawsuits pending, Jimmy's imperious new editor blackmails him into taking the place of the paper's injured front-line war correspondent. Shipped off to the desert and embedded with a group of foulmouthed but fraternal Marines, Jimmy provides a bewildered but unfiltered view of the invasion of Iraq that is alternately hair-raising, hilarious, and heartbreaking.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Forthcoming Fiction for October

Here are some titles coming out this October You can reserve them by clicking on the links to our Online Catalog.

Duck the Halls: A Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews
Christmas Bliss by Mary Kay Andrews
Esrever Doom by Piers Anthony
The Litter of the Law: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery by Rita Mae Brown
The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini
Gilt Trip by Laura Childs
Ask Not by Max Allan Collins
Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas
The October List by Jeffrey Deaver
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George
Sycamore Row by John Grisham
Ghost Gone Wild by Carolyn G. Hart
Taken by the Wind by Ellen Hart
Silencing Eve by Iris Johansen
Fifteen Minutes by Karen Kingsbury
Bastion: A Valdemar Novel by Mercedes Lackey
We Are Water by Wally Lamb
Starry Night: A Christmas Novel by Debbie Macomber
Cross and Burn by Val McDermid
Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky
Loss of Innocence by Richard North Patterson
The Double by George Pelecanos
The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice
Storm Front by John Sandford
Accused: A Rosato and Associates Novel by Lisa Scottoline
Guests on Earth by Lee Smith
Vicious Circle by Wilbur Smith
Winners by Danielle Steel
A Nantucket Christmas by Nancy Thayer
Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
Identical by Scott Turow
Candlelight Christmas by Susan Wiggs
Doing Hard Time by Stuart Woods

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blood and Beauty

Can we say it in one word? Borgia. Yep, that infamous family. Sarah Dunant's book Blood and Beauty starts up the tale just as Alexander VI takes up his papal throne in 1492 and proceeds to wine, dine and bribe the great houses of the Italian states. And on the chess board is his teenage daughter Lucrezia.  Which family will be the most advantageous to marry into? And what about his son Cesare? Some how becoming a powerful cardinal is not going to be enough for the ambitious and lethal young man.

The author takes the reader for a journey with glimpse of the chaos and glamour that was the Italian Renaissance. It really was a time of great contrasts. Wondrous paintings by artists on the Vatican's walls vs. political assignations on the dark side streets of Rome. Great piety shown by their holy men vs. backroom power deals. Powerful Italian city states vs. a  backwater Rome that needs to be rebuilt.  Hmm, how modern it all seems...

Dunant makes us take another look at the 'evil' Borgias - were they the worst people as the rumors suggest? Or were they merely surviving the best they could in such an environment? This book lets you decide for yourself as Dunant leads the reader through the family's tale. There are characters to love and hate, and whether you find yourself feeling for Lucrezia who seems to bring death where ever she goes, or are you seeing her as a product of her position and time - that is for the reader to decide. Alexander VI is the proud papa who loves his children and wants them to have the best. Cesare is a genius at seeing political patterns and does not let being in holy orders stop him.  But I would not want him next to me at any dinner party.

Dunant lets the tale flow and brings us this fictionalized version of a true story that is stranger than fiction. You can't make some of the things they did up. Because they did them! A great saga of a controversial family during tumultuous times. Highly recommended for lovers of  long books of  historical fiction.

For more on the Borgia family try the fictional TV series: The Borgias  or a history of the family by Ivan Cloulas.

Monday, September 2, 2013

September is National Piano Month!

In celebration of National Piano Month, even the most unmusical people can jump into the excitement that those twinkling keys can create!  Check out these stories that have a piano in it…or at least in the title!


Mozart’s Last Aria by Matt Rees (2010) - Mozart's estranged sister, Madame Maria Anna Berchtold von Sonnenburg (called Nannerl by her family), travels to Vienna to investigate the mysterious circumstances of her brother's sudden death. (excerpt from Bibliocommons)

The Piano Teacher  by Elfriede Jelinek (2004, c1988) - Deep passion, thwarted sexuality and love-hate for a mother dominate the life of Erika Kohut, a piano teacher at the Vienna Conservatory. Into this emotional pressure-cooker bounds Walter Klemmer, music student and ladies' man. Jelinek's masterpiece, The Piano Teacher was for Publishers' Weekly "Brilliant and uncompromising."  (excerpt from Bibliocommons)

The Piano Teacher  by Janice Y.K. Lee (2006) - In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient , a gripping tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. (excerpt from Bibliocommons)

The Piano Teacher  by Lynn York (2004) - Miss Wilma, the resident organist and piano teacher in the small Southern village of Swan's Knob has enough on her plate already, thank you very much, what with preparing the music for Lily Mae Strong's wedding extravaganza and fending off the pesterings of perennial bachelor Roy, who's got himself all worked up over plans for the July Fourth celebration that's months away. (excerpt from Bibliocommons)

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason(2002) - In 1886 a shy, middle-aged piano tuner named Edgar Drake receives an unusual commission from the British War Office: to travel to the remote jungles of northeast Burma and there repair a rare piano belonging to an eccentric army surgeon who has proven mysteriously indispensable to the imperial design. From this irresistible beginning, The Piano Tuner launches its protagonist into a world of seductive loveliness and nightmarish intrigue. (excerpt from Bibliocommons)

Alice’s Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer by Melissa Muller (2012, c2007) - How music provided hope in one of the world's darkest times--the inspirational life story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor who continues to play her piano in London at 107 years old. (excerpt from Bibliocommons)   

Love You To Bits and Pieces by Gillian Helfgott (1997, c1996) - The story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, a musical prodigy, his mental breakdown, and recovery.  (excerpt from Bibliocommons)  

Piano: The Making of a Steinway Grand  by James Barron (2006) - In this captivating narrative, James Barron of The New York Times tells the story of one Steinway piano, from raw lumber to finished instrument. Barron follows that brand-new piano--known by its number, K0862--on its eleven-month journey through the Steinway factory, where time-honored manufacturing methods vie with modern-day industrial efficiency. (excerpt from Bibliocommons) (excerpt from Bibliocommons) 


The Piano (1994) - Ada, a young mute woman, is desired by two men - her husband by an arranged marriage and the husband's darkly intense neighbor. Violent emotions erupt, but only one man understands that Ada's heart can only be won through her beloved piano.  (excerpt from Bibliocommons)  

Shine (1997) - Presents the true story of Australian pianist David Helfgott. He experiences a nervous breakdown and is hospitalized, but later returns to the concert hall.  (excerpt from Bibliocommons)