Historical fiction is a genre which must strive to find a balance between the parts of a story that are real and those that are added by the author to provide insight into our shared past. When writing about difficult or painful historical topics, authors can risk trivializing important events if they are not given the proper weight or placed in the right context. Slavery is one such topic, and this month’s featured works explore the ways in which various women in 19th century America were affected by the institution of slavery and by systematic oppression based on both race and gender in Southern society.
|Inspired by real life historical figure Sarah Grimké, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings (2014) mixes fiction with fact to create a story that touches on themes of friendship, personhood, and freedom. The novel explores the relationship between Sarah, a daughter of a wealthy Southern plantation owner, and Hetty, a slave gifted to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. The reader sees Sarah struggle with the concept of owning another human being, becoming friends with Hetty (nicknamed “Handful”) but learning the harsh realities of all that slavery entails (Sarah is severely punished, for instance, for teaching Hetty to read). For her part, Hetty has to endure the full horror of human bondage, becoming separated from her family and tangled up in conspiracy and rebellion as she searches desperately for a path to freedom. By following the lives of Sarah and Hetty over the course of three decades, The Invention of Wings highlights the injustices surrounding slavery and the treatment of women in a way that diminishes neither and offers insight into what it means to value freedom.|
|Tracy Chevalier throws her own hat into the historical fiction ring with The Last Runaway (2013). Honor Bright is a young woman who leaves England in 1850 looking for a fresh start with her sister, Grace, and her future in-laws. Sadly, Grace dies en route to America, and Honor is left to build her new life as an outsider among strangers in a community that is both familiar and strikingly different. Living among the Quakers in Ohio, Honor is struck by the apparent hypocrisies and moral paradoxes that abound in a society that is built on moral fortitude but nonetheless recognizes the legitimacy of slavery as the law of the land. The novel is full of detail—including rich descriptions of everything from the period and setting to the practice of quilting—and deals with love and loss as Honor creates a place for herself and ultimately finds herself tested in her relationships with people on both sides of the slave trade. Her convictions lead her to get involved in helping fugitive slaves escape through the Underground Railroad, and to realize just how much strength it takes to flaunt the law when the law is itself unjust.|
|Shifting gears significantly, we have Valerie Martin’s Property (2003), which like The Invention of Wings deals with a relationship between two women, one free and one a slave, but which takes that relationship in an entirely different direction. Manon Gaudet lives with her husband, a man for whom she holds little respect and less love, on his sugar plantation. She is herself childless while he has two illegitimate children whom he has fathered with Sarah, a slave who was a wedding gift to Manon. Manon despises Sarah, in part because of the attentions she receives from Manon’s husband but much more so because Manon’s hatred of her husband and resentment for her own station in life leave her bitter and self-absorbed beyond the point of seeing Sarah as a fellow human being. Looking closely at the ways in which slavery warped the humanity of slave owners as well as the hopelessness it visited upon those like Sarah, Property refuses to sugarcoat the evils of the period and gives the reader a glimpse of how complicated the dynamics of oppression truly are.|
The Invention of Wings and The Last Runaway are available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library, and Property can be requested from one of our other Ventura County Library branches. In addition, The Invention of Wings can be borrowed in eBook format through OverDrive. If you want to find more read-alikes, you can access NoveList Plus from our eLibrary’s Reading Suggestions section. If the book you are interested in is not currently on the shelf at your branch, you can always request that a copy be sent to the branch of your choice in person, over the phone, or online through our catalog.
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Come by the Topping Room for an evening of adventure that will include a short Superman cartoon and a film featuring Sinbad the sailor. This event is free and open to the public.
The first film starts at 4 p.m. We hope to see you there!
It’s time to get your noir on! I just recently read Fatale by Ed Brubaker, a unique blend of old-style noir and creepy horror. It’s a tale of a unique dame, mysterious cults, and ritualistic murder. The story moves back and forth from the present day to the 1950s, and centers on a mysterious woman named Jo, an ageless beauty with the ability to drive men to obsession and who may have just sold her soul to the devil. Every man she meets desires her, and she uses it to her advantage.
This is only the first volume of the series, so there still remain many questions to be answered. How has this woman remained young after so many years? Did she make a deal with the devil? Why is a cult after her? Are they even really people or just demons in disguise? What is this power she has over men?
Like any good noir, the plot thickens. I won’t give anything away because I can’t. The book gives just enough to get you reading without revealing too much of the mystery. It will be interesting to see where the story goes and how everything ties together!
Heather, the Graphic Novel Goddess
The International Meat Book by Carole Lalli is a wonderful collection of sixty of the world’s favorite meat recipes. Choosing a recipe proved difficult for there are so many delicious dishes to pick from. Fortunately, I could not get the song “One Meatball” out of my head, and I had just finished reading Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; consequently, I chose to prepare the fried meatball dish.
Preparation of the meatballs seemed straightforward—breadcrumbs, eggs, ground beef, and spices—but it was not without problems. I didn’t have enough olive oil on hand, so canola oil was used as a substitute. I’m sure I’ll be scolded at our upcoming olive oil tasting event, but the Dish has got to do what the Dish has got to do. Another issue was not making the meatballs uniform in size; I had some very large, robust meatballs and some little, lumpy meatballs. That just won’t do!
But, even robust or little and lumpy, with some pasta and semi-homemade sauce the taste was superb. After I polished off the meatballs and pasta I did a rereading of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, then took a nap and dreamt I was in the wonderful tiny town of Chewandswallow. So, give the meatballs or any one of the terrific recipes in this cookbook a whirl!
Check out the book at Foster Library, or put it on hold—we will send it to you.
If there are any cookbooks in Foster Library’s collection that you would like me to try out, please leave the title on our Facebook page and I’ll get cooking!
Really Wild Animals is an excellent nature series from the always reliable National Geographic catalog. I picked up one video tape in the series at a local thrift shop and was impressed enough to track down several others in the Ventura County Library collections.
Though geared for young people, the beautifully-photographed and fast-paced footage will easily appeal to adults as well.
Everyone should be entertained by Spin, a jovial animated globe/planet Earth, who introduces and narrates each episode. Voiced by versatile British actor/comic Dudley Moore, Spin provides an energetic verbal flow of puns, wise-cracks, and, of course, information in a rapid-fire stream that both informs and entertains. This is definitely not one of those talking head (talking globe?) documentaries.
More information is provided by contemporary-styled songs which back up the animal footage.
Each episode explores a different natural environment. The library collection has nine volumes, including Polar Prowl and Deep Sea Dive. I especially enjoyed Totally Tropical Rain Forest and Wonders Down Under. The DVD versions also include bonus episodes and a few extras.
Online user reviews are mostly positive, and someone noted that "the DVDs are informative without being explicit. No zebras being eaten here!" Which is fine with me, though the concept of predator and prey and environmental threats are touched upon as well.
I see these DVDs as great for inspiring an early love and respect for the variety and wonder of the natural world and its amazing creatures. After all, more explicit reality will kick in soon enough.
In 1989, Tom Clancy brought back Jack Ryan, the hero of his earlier novel Patriot Games (1987), for a 700-page tome exploring the American war on drugs. Clear and Present Danger is a true doorstop of a book, featuring a large and potentially confusing cast of characters operating across continents in service of a mission about which few are in possession of all the details. The 1994 film version—starring Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, and Joaquim de Almeida—greatly simplifies the cast and plot while still managing to deliver a powerful and compelling story that covers much of the same thematic ground as its source material.
|Mustering up the will to crack open Clear and Present Danger can be tough, especially if you aren’t used to novels of this size, but Clancy does a good job of starting strong with a series of compelling events that pull you into the plot immediately. What is less apparent from the start is how the various characters and settings are ultimately going to tie together, but the slow reveal there is, after all, part of the appeal of the genre. Our introduction to the novel’s plot is the brutal murder of a family aboard their boat by two drug runners, an event which leads to the revelation that the boat owner was involved with laundering large sums of money for a Colombian drug cartel. The President of the United States decides on a course of action—motivated in no small part by an upcoming election—which is designed to curb the flow of illegal drugs into the country and involves a good deal of clandestine action abroad. When the cartel begins pushing back, things begin to unravel, and Jack Ryan is faced with the task of uncovering exactly what is going on and finding a way to minimize the damage as powerful political entities threaten to sweep the operation under the rug.|
|The film version of Clear and Present Danger, directed by Phillip Noyce, is a pretty typical example of what tends to happen when a book is adapted for the screen: characters disappear or are merged, certain scenes and subplots are eliminated, and the story as a whole is somewhat simplified. However, the film is also an example of how these types of changes do not necessarily harm the final product. Noyce’s version did not suffer as a result of its adaptation; the film was well-received, managing to adequately capture the essence of Clancy’s original while accommodating the fundamental differences between the two formats. Harrison Ford gives a strong performance as Jack Ryan, shifting seamlessly between scenes of intrigue and action and ably supported by such talents as James Earl Jones and Raymond Cruz, in addition to Dafoe and de Almeida. And while simplified, the story holds its own as an entity independent of the book, and can be fully appreciated by audiences who are wholly unfamiliar with the original—something which cannot always be said of lazier adaptations. Simply put, Clear and Present Danger is not only good by the standards of adaptations, it is good by the standards of movies in general.|
Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger is available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library in both book and audiobook (cassette) format, or you can download the eBook to your device through OverDrive. The film is also available at Foster as part of our first-floor DVD collection. If the version you are interested in is not on the shelf at your local branch, you can request for a copy to be delivered to your home branch in person, over the phone, or online through our catalog.
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Grab a bookmark/coupon at any of our Ventura County Libraries or use the discount code:
** Cannot be combined with any other offer. Offer expires August 29, 2014.
Book reports and book reviews are similar. Book reports tend to be a little more descriptive: what is this book about, who are the characters, what are the plots, what is the conclusion? Book reviews are usually more persuasive: why should or shouldn't a reader read this book? Both offer a combination of summary and commentary.
For book reviews you want to provide basic information about the book, and a sense of what your experience reading the book was. You should include:
Analysis and Evaluation
Try to get the main theme of the book across in the beginning of your review so your reader knows right away if they want to read the book.
Next, analyze or critique the book. You can write about your own opinions, but be sure to explain and give examples. Don't try to summarize each chapter or every angle. Choose the main idea/ideas or characters that are most significant and interesting to you.
Some questions you might want to consider (you do not need to use all of these):
- Did the author achieve his or her purpose?
- Is the writing effective, powerful, difficult, beautiful?
- What are the strengths or weaknesses of the book?
- What is your overall response to the book? Did you find it interesting, moving, dull?
- Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?
- You may want to say what impression the book left you with, or emphasize what you want your reader to know about it.
- While you're writing, try thinking of your reader as a friend to whom you're telling a story.
Book reviews of children’s and young adult books by their readers are always welcomed and encouraged by library staff. Look for book review forms in many new books or ask our staff on the children’s floor for one. We do ask that the book you review is age-appropriate (would your teacher accept this book for a book report?) and that it be a new book (from our new book shelves with a pink dot on it). To thank each reviewer for their input we will present them with a Hershey’s candy bar. Only one book review per week, per reviewer please.
These book reviews help the library staff and your fellow readers as well. Happy reading!