Saturday, December 22, 2012

Some favorite books of 2012

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
A work of science fiction that will leave you thinking "What if..." long after you're finished reading this book. The premise is that the Earth's rotation slows incrementally as the days pass, and of its effects on humanity. Told from a sentient twelve year old girl's perspective living in California, it is the tale of what might happen if a cataclysmic weather event affected the whole Earth. What would the toll be on the economy, government, health, relationships?  As the Earth rotation slows, days turn into blistering summer, and nights become coldest winter. Food for thought!

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey
The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a book you can't help taking everywhere with you until you've finished it. In the spirit of Bronte and Dickens, Margot Livesey has created an aptly named, plucky, and bright character in Gemma Hardy. As in any good Dickensian novel, Gemma is orphaned as a child, sent to work early, and unloved by most everyone.(You will want to take her home and give her a meal, a warm bed, and a hug.) Sad though she may seem, you will keep with Gemma until she's reached the full potential you know she is capable of, and deserves, from the very first page. She will not disappoint.

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a modern retelling of the Illiad; the story of the war resulting from the the kidnap of Helen of Troy from her husband Menaleus, by Paris of Sparta. Set in ancient Greece, The Song of Achilles depicts Achilles’ early life and training by the centaur Chiron, as well as his relationship with his cousin Patroclus, and their time at war in Sparta. It is beautiful, melodic writing that portrays Achilles as a gentler soul than Homer and most others have portrayed him. If you have ever read the Illiad or have a student that will be reading it, it is the most enjoyable, palatable version of the Illiad you will ever read. I hope she writes a version of the Odyssey next, and experience Miller’s version of Odysseus' long voyage home.

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
On the surface, The Art of Fielding is a book about baseball. Scratch the surface of Chad Harbach’s beautifully rendered, character driven novel, and you’ll find it’s a book about drive, family, friendship, and loyalty. Henry Skrimshander is the most fluid, perfect baseball player Mike Schwartz has ever seen. Henry’s playing just for the love of the game in a summer league in a small town when he is discovered by the dynamic Mike Schwartz, captain of the Westish College baseball team. Soon Henry is on a path to a dream he never thought he dared to hope for. Then life throws him a curve ball... Will Henry survive the debilitating setback?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Author visit with Amor Towles (and more authors I am excited about!)

Amor's Grandparents. His grandmother was an inspiration for the book.
All other authors coming to Duxbury beware! Amor Towles has set the bar high for being one of the best speakers and readers that we've had the pleasure to have at the Duxbury Free Library. His wonderful stories about living in New York and of his grandmother's socialite past dovetail beautifully into the fictional New York of the 1930's in Rules of Civility. His heroine, Katie Content, is the daughter of immigrants but despite her upbringing and the Depression, sees another life for herself. Very motivated and hardworking, and without sacrificing principles, Katie quietly takes advantage of opportunities presented to her to raise her social profile and forge her career in Manhattan in the 1930s. It is a timeless story of a girl coming to New York in her twenties. My friend Beth, who came to the reading and also read the book, said that this story reminded her in many ways of her own story coming to New York in the 1980's. Manhattan has the same feel-the big buildings, parties, bars and diners- in the city now as it had in the time of Rules of Civility. It is a fantastic book for a book club discussion. If you missed the wonderful discussion with Amor, read and discuss with your book club. It is new in paperback at Westwinds.

Donna, Brooke, Amor Towles & Carol at the DFL
Coming up- Maryann O'Hare will be coming on November 28th to the Duxbury Free Library to discuss her new book Cascade, a fictionalized account of filling in the Quabbin Reservoir in 1939, and one of the three towns that were sacrificed to create it. Historical fiction at it's best- a story that makes you learn and think, in an enjoyable format.

In January, Song of Achilles author Madeline Miller will be coming to talk about her modern retelling of the Illiad. In Madeline's book, Achilles is portrayed as a much gentler person than in his past characterizations. It is a very human story of Achilles and his "beloved companion" Patroclus, and of the very long war in Troy. I really loved this book- it tells the Illiad in a way that you will remember and understand. I can't wait to ask if she is retelling the Odyssey next. I hope to convince her to if she's not- she is very good at storytelling. More Madeline, more!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Author Visit with Emily Sweeney

 by Laura Sullivan

Last Wednesday, Westwinds and the Duxbury Free Library had the pleasure of hosting Emily Sweeney to talk about her new book, Boston Organized Crime. While showing photographs unearthed from years of research in the many police departments in and around Boston, Emily interspersed tales of Boston's mob scene from years gone by. She had a very engaged and informed audience who asked many discussion provoking questions, and who, on occasion, had information about, or a connection to some of the most infamous characters in Boston's past. There was talk of crime, arrests, murder, cases solved, and of cases never solved. Boston mob crime is a subject that will always interest us because if its secretive nature and gritty glamor. Emily is an engaging young reporter, as interested in listening to her audience and making connections with them, as she is talking to them. She is currently working on a book about prohibition in Boston. Read more of Emily's work in the Globe South section of the Boston Globe, and if you have any tips, call her!

Next up for Westwinds Bookshop is a visit from the author Amor Towles, author of Rules of Civility on October 4th at 7pm at the Duxbury Free Library. Tickets are going fast- get yours at Westwinds today.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Author visit with Taylor Polites

Brooke McDonough, Taylor Polites and Carol Jankowski
by Laura Sullivan

Last night, we had the treat of spending the evening with the delightful Taylor Polites (pronounced like "politest", without the t on the end) author of The Rebel Wife. His visit was a part of Westwinds' and the Duxbury Free Library's very popular series, Book Breeze, which was favorably featured in The Boston Globe yesterday.

You can tell not by his accent, but by Taylor's charming manner that he grew up in the South, in Huntsville Alabama, near where his story takes place. As a child, Taylor was fascinated by the tales of the Civil War, and of the South's reconstruction efforts in the late 19th century. He worked in a southern mansion in Huntsville as a tour guide as a teenager, and it was then that his story began to take shape. In college he studied the Reconstruction Era, and is still as fascinated by the subject as when he first began learning about it. His passion for this time in our nation's history and it's complicated characters are evident as he speaks. He clearly so enjoys passing on his knowledge and creating characters that bring Alabama in 1875 to life. I haven't read the book yet, but after Taylor's reading and our subsequent discussion, I can't wait to see what happens to Augusta (the title character) next.

Thanks for a very enjoyable evening, and not giving away any spoilers, Taylor!

Read The Rebel Wife, available at Westwinds.

Come to Westwinds' next Book Breeze event with Emily Sweeney at The Duxbury Free Library on September 19th.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Girls Book Club on a Field Trip!

Maggie, Caroline, Tess, Aby, Anna, Courtney, Kathryn and Shea       
by Laura Sullivan

If you remember, our new ninth graders had just graduated middle school, and we embarked upon Little Women, by none other than Louisa May Alcott for the girls' ninth grade Summer read. After reading the book, we had a great time at a big screen movie night at Westwinds, with pizza and lots of candy. (I love that movie so much- it's the one with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder.) Lydia joined us for the evening, too. No need to be a teenager to enjoy that movie- it's timeless.

After seeing the movie and reading Little Women, we went out to Concord, MA to the Alcott house for the full Louisa May experience. We has a wonderful engaging tour guide who took us through the Alcott house for an hour. We all felt very immersed and connected to the book, and to the March girls. We saw Beth's piano, Amy's (May's) paintings, and Jo's (Louisa's) desk. It made me want to go back in time... but we went to lunch instead, at the Colonial Inn. Very historical, just fancy enough, and great food. It was a great end to our day.

So now, our little women are young ladies, and are off to high school. We will begin to read books for the older crowd, with more mature themes. We're going to start off with another book that is going to be made into a movie- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. I haven't read it myself yet- we'll let you know how it goes, and how we like the movie. (With Emma Watson- I bet it's good.)

 If anyone has some good high school recommendations for our girls, send them our way!
Lunch at The Colonial Inn

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Update on our Mother-Daughter Bookclub

Katherine, Aby, Kathryn, Anna, Shea, Katie & Tess (missing Courtney) in 4th grade put on a show at book club.
by Laura Sullivan

It's been four years since we started our mother daughter book club, and as our girls were promoted form 8th grade to high school, I thought they'd be much too old and bust for a book club. At the end of May I lamented that it might be our last meeting, for said reasons. I'm happy to say, there was outcry and rage at such a thought! So we will continue through high school, and meet on Friday nights instead of Wednesdays, and maybe stretch out our load. Our girls love book club- they love being together and part of a club (and even being with us, I think they might admit.) They are not great readers, as most of their mothers are, but continue to benefit from this monthly gathering in many tangible, and intangible ways.

Tess, Katherine, Aby, Shea, Courtney, Anna, Katie & Katherine give us a preview of their 8th grade promotion dresses.

We are reading Little Women over the summer, a summer read for high school that they chose to read together. We are going to visit Louisa May Alcott's house, and watch the movie, when everyone's finished, of course. I so look forward to what we will do together in high school, and look forward to revisiting some of the classics they will read in those years. Here's a comprehensive list of everything we've read so far:

Girls Book Club Books
Grade 4
The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, Louis Slobodkin and Helena Estes
All of a Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor and Helen John
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
Sport, by Louise Fitzhugh
Hank Zipzer: Day of the Iguana, by Henry Winkler
The Borrowers, by Mary Norton
Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson and Donna Diamond
The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks
Miracle on 49th Street, by Mike Lupica
Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
Grade 5
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall
The Wright 3, by Blue Balliet
Summer to Die, Lois Lowry
Ida B: …and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and Possibly Save the World, by Katherine Hannigan
Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Rules, by Cynthia Lord
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Koningsburg
Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech
Long Way From Chicago, by Richard Peck
Grade 6
Shakespeare's Secret, by Elise Broach
The Revealers, by Doug Wilhelm
Flush, by Carl Hiaasen
The Million Dollar Kick, by Dan Gutman
The Anybodies, by N.E. Bode
Lily's Crossing, by Patricia Reilly Giff
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle
Bloomability, by Sharon Creech
Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Patterson
Firegirl, by Tony Abbott

Grade 7
Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Things not seen, by Andrew Clements
If You Come Softly, by Jacqueline Woodson
Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages
Each Little Bird that Sings, by Deborah Wiles
I'd Tell You I Love You but I'd Then I'd Have to Kill You, by Ally Carter
Mockingbird, Katheryn Erskine
The Cage, Ruth Minsky Sender
If I Stay, Gayle Forman
Grade 8
A Million Miles from Boston, Karen Day
Okay for Now, Gary Schmidt
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Ruined, Paula Morris
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Wonder, R. J. Palacio
LittleWomen, Louisa May Alcott

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

More than Fifty Shades of Grey...

by Laura Sullivan

I admit, I haven't yet read Fifty Shades of Grey, but can't help but be intrigued. Is it buzz about a really good book, or buzz about a not very literary book that for some reason (we know what that reason is, really) has captured our imagination? 

People are either raving about how fun and refreshing it is to read such a sexy book, or are on the opposite side, taking it off the shelves of their libraries and descrying it as porn, as they have just done in Florida. Why is it wrong to enjoy such a book, when murder mysteries are perfectly acceptable? Killing someone, a life ending force, is okay, but a life beginning force is not? Only if you enjoy it, apparently!

Sex in books is as old as books themselves. It is part of life- what part of life isn't in books? Rape, murder, thievery, spies, car chases, love stories, financial success, collapse and ruin. All safe topics. Why not sex? The Kama Sutra was written (and drawn) in 200 B. C., and it is still in print today. Enjoy whatever book you read, and enjoy these sexy titles that were the Fifty Shades of their time:

Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D. H. Lawrence (1928) about an upper class English woman and her affair with a gardener. The shock the shame! Very erotic and literary. I read this once in a book club with all the ladies in book club and our husbands at the once a year book club that we invite the men to. It was a very fun and lively discussion, to say the least!

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert (1856) is about a doctor's wife and her adulterous affairs. Flaubert was put on trial for the lewd content of this book. He was cleared, and it is now considered a masterpiece by a literary giant.

The White Hotel, by D. M. Thomas (1981) A fictionalized account about one of Sigmund Freud's patients and her erotic fantasies. Set in Vienna in the 1930's, it is about an opera singer patient of Freud's, and his mixed feelings fer her. It's a three-fer: sexy, historical and literary too.

There are so, so many more literary, sexy books like this that I could mention that have merit. Give Fifty Shades of Grey some time to see where it falls in the pantheon of literature. Any book you enjoy has merit, sometimes especially the sexy ones.