New Hilarious TV Show: "Vicious"!

Fans of The Office, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Arrested Development will love the new TV show Vicious! Featuring star actors Sir Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings), Sir Derek Jacobi (Gladiator), Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones), and Frances de la Tour (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), this show is a sure-fire hit.

From the first minute of the show, viewers are thrown into the intimate lives of Freddie and Stuart, two brutally honest elderly gentlemen living in London. Freddie is an arrogant washed-up actor who sees himself as the epitome of beauty. His partner Stuart acts as a homemaker, hosting dinner parties and rushing through never-ending phone calls with his mother. Freddie and Stuart's close friends frequently visit the apartment, much to the displeasure of their hosts. They certainly make up a motley crew: Violet brags of her love interests, Ash shines with youthful optimism, Mason constantly complains, and Penelope can't remember what she had for breakfast. Viewers will even enjoy Balthazar, Freddie and Stuart's decrepit dog, who is often mentioned but stays out of sight.

Nearly the entire series is filmed in Freddie and Stuart's living room, but the show manages to maintain interest through witty dialogue. In fact, Freddie and Stuart seem to have a dialogue entirely their own; they never miss an opportunity to wickedly hurl insults at each other. Never has personal ridicule been so hilarious! This example from the first episode characterizes the show's sarcastic humor well:
"Stuart: Egg and cress sandwich, Mason?
Mason: Is that what that is? I thought it was a crumb surrounded by a toothpick!
Stuart: Well perhaps you'd like some of what you brought. I could always cut you a slice of nothing."

Be sure to check out AADL's other New TV Shows as well as the rest of the Comedy TV collection!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #504 - "This being human is a guest house... Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond." ~ Rumi

Award-winning filmmaker/artist Miranda July brings "(her) characteristic humor, frankness and emotional ruthlessness" to her debut novel The First Bad Man * * *. (Check out her short stories in No One Belongs Here More Than You that reviewers called "simultaneously bizarre and achingly familiar.")

Fortysomething Cheryl Glickman, managing director of Open Palm, a women's non-profit works from home at her bosses' suggestion. Tightly-wound and incredibly regimented, she lives alone and suffers from debilitating globus hystericus. Cheryl has been secretly in love with Phillip, one of her board members and fantasizes a sexual relationship. At times, she has reasons to hold out hope, until Phillip's tearful confessions.

When Cheryl's bosses ask if their 21 year-old daughter, Clee, can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl's eccentrically ordered world explodes. Gradually, Cheryl and Clee work out a bizarre arrangement in that they act out the staged scenarios in a series of women's self-defense videos, with Clee playing the part of the "bad man". Ultimately, it is the selfish and cruel Clee who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, provides her the love of a lifetime.

"Told in Cheryl's own confiding, unfiltered voice, the novel slides easily between plot and imagination, luring the reader so deeply into Cheryl's interior reality that the ridiculous inventions of her life become progressively more and more convincing."

Called "dazzling, disorienting, and unforgettable", The First Bad Man is a "spectacular debut novel that is so heartbreaking, so dirty, so tender, so funny...that readers will be blown away."

For open-minded readers ready for something new and unusual.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Jane Smiley's Some Luck depicts americana beautifully

If you’re a Jane Smiley fan like me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of her newest novel, Some Luck, which is the first in a projected trilogy appropriately titled The Last Hundred Years. Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres, and similar to A Thousand Acres, Some Luck follows several generations of a twentieth century Iowa farm family. The book is broken up into 34 brief chapters, each marked with the start of a year, beginning in 1920 and ending in 1953. As expected, some major life events are recounted over this period, but I enjoyed Smiley’s poignant telling of the day-to-day activities and situations that come together to create a family and a life. Because of this, the pace of Some Luck is truly unique: I found myself eagerly turning each page, not because of any unresolved plot lines, but rather because the book follows the unexpected pacing of life itself.

“Smiley depicts isolated farm life with such precision that readers can understand exactly how little boys help their father shorten lambs’ tails, and how Rosanna copes when she must deliver her baby alone,” states the review of Some Luck in the Washington Post. Some Luck is far from just another Midwestern nostalgic farm novel, however. “Smiley’s version is weirdly bold in a different way, stubbornly telling the story with the same kind of unadorned (and sometimes unspoken) language its characters use,” writes the review.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jane Smiley but enjoy the works of Marilynne Robinson and Annie Proulx, I would highly recommend giving Some Luck, and other of Smiley’s works a try. Early Warning, the second book in the trilogy, will be published in 2015.

Royal Reads (and movies, too!)

The recent release of a great new imperial biography, Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts, got me thinking that nothing could be more intriguing this wintry season than a little courtly intrigue! You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy stories about rulers of old. So, here are some suggestions for other books and movies that compliment each other nicely.

Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey offers a terribly readable and riveting account of Elizabeth I’s early years – a fascinating chapter of history with a totally astonishing young ruler at its helm. For a stunning film experience, try Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett and it’s sequel Elizabeth, The Golden Age.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir, gives us a portrait of an educated, strong-willed ruler of her own lands as well as wife of two kings and a complicated family dynamic, to say the least. If you only have time for one film featuring this queen, The Lion in Winter is a must. With incredible performances from Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, this is a must regardless!

Turning to fiction books, why not try Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund – lush and yet attentive storytelling from the perspective of this most infamous of queens. The movie Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst offers eye candy galore in the form of sumptuous sets, costume, and cinematography, in addition to some experimental touches that keep things fresh. And, well, it’s hard to stick strictly to fiction here when the movie is based on such a good bio: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser.

Last but definitely not least, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel chronicles the oh-so sticky politics of Henry VIII, seen through the sharp lens of his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Mantel endows this narrator with a bitingly intelligent voice that is exceedingly refreshing in the genre. I'm coming up short on films focusing on Cromwell’s perspective, but Anne of the Thousand Days focuses on the Boleyn side of the story, and A Man for All Seasons highlights Sir Thomas More’s role in the courtly goings on (both of which feature heavily in Wolf Hall).

Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion

Simon the donkey was rescued by animal welfare officers in a raid on a farm in the middle of the night. Sunk in the mud, covered with lice, fleas and rat bites, his skin black with rain rot and unable to walk on his misshapen hooves, Simon hovered near death until Jon Katz, of Bedlam Farm fame, brought him home. Katz is well known for his many books about farm life and especially his dogs, donkeys and sheep. But rescuing Simon was to be the most difficult, and most blessed, experience he ever had with an animal.

Katz tells all in Saving Simon: how he restored Simon to health, how he struggled to understand and forgive the man who had abused the gentle donkey, how he came to feel a connection to Simon that felt spiritual and fore-ordained. Along the way, he also tells the story of acquiring Rocky, the 33-year-old, blind pony, and Red, his realio-trulio, meant-to-be-best-friends-dog. This is a complex and heart-breaking story, with much angst and depth and, ultimately, much reward. Basically, Jon Katz became a much better person through being friends with a donkey.

It turns out that donkeys are very special creatures and have a long association with humans. Many stories tell of this relationship (think Aesop, Sancho Panza, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jesus, and Juan Jimenez). Juan Ramon Jimenez was a Nobel Prize-winning poet who walked throughout the countryside and villages of Andalusia, Spain with his sweet, donkey-companion, Platero. His book Platero and I is a lyric contemplation of the good life and is considered a classic of Spanish literature. We own it here at AADL (in a Spanish/English side-by-side). Many others have written about the gentle, mystical and wise nature of donkeys; right now I am enjoying the book, The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World by Andy Merrifield. Who knew that donkeys, in spite of a long history of being over-worked, abused, and ridiculed were such evolved, forgiving and large-hearted friends?

PreK Bits - Odd One Out

Ms. Rachel presented stories of "one" in Preschool Storytime.

"One Lonely Candle" - a "Happy Birthday" story with props and sound effects ... from oral tradition.
JUST ONE MORE is a new book by Jennifer Hansen Rolli.
TEN IN The BED is a traditional nursery song ... that pushes everyone out, until only one is left in the bed.
Who's in the bed? "O" creatures ... Owl, Otter, Octopus, Opossum ...
Who's left? One Baby Owl ... and .... one Papa Owl!

Here are more stories of ONE:
ONE DROWSY DRAGON by Ethan Long. A Dragon bedtime countdown.
ONE TWO, THAT's MY SHOE! by Alison Murray. And the dog runs away with the shoe!
ONE TOO MANY: A Seek & Find Counting Book by Gianna Marino. For finding and counting farm animals.
ODD ONE OUT: A Spotting Book by Britta Teckentrup. A NEW seek & find book.
ONE LIGHTHOUSE ONE MOON. A classic counting book by noted author and illustrator Anita Lobel.
ONE HUNDRED HUNGRY ANTS. A classic counting book by noted author and illustrator Elinor Pinczes.
ONE HUNDRED THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY by Amy Schwartz. A NEW book with numbers more than ten!

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas

I love the unique new picture book, Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, written by Lynne Cox and illustrated by Brian Floca (who won awards for his work last year in Locomotive). The adorably depicted book tells the true story of Elizabeth, a southern elephant seal who lived in the Avon River in Christchurch, New Zealand for many years. Most elephant seals live in large groups in and around the ocean, but not Elizabeth! In attempt to place Elizabeth in her natural habitat, volunteers tow her hundreds of miles out to sea on three separate occasions, but Elizabeth always manages to return to her home in the city. Her tremendous endurance and determination wow the locals, and are sure to impress readers as well!

“Nature and urban life rarely intersect so incongruously: There’s something inherently funny in seeing commuters gawp and swerve around the huge, regal mammal,” says The New York Times Book Review. “Children may wonder, “Who has the right of way?” That’s a very good question, which Cox, with great restraint, allows readers to ask — and maybe answer — for themselves.” Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas is truly a special new addition to the AADL collection.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #503 - “Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company.” ~ George Gordon Byron

For many of us who travel over the break, it is crucial to have the company of a good audio book. Here are some tried-and-true winners that take the form of epistolary novels and will keep you engaged and entertained.

I just returned That Part Was True (2014) by Deborah McKinlay. Charming and delightful, with mouth-watering recipes. Highly recommended.

"Spinsterly" (self-described) 46 year-old Brit. Eve Petworth is long-divorced, privileged and painfully shy. Then uncharacteristically she strikes up a pen pal friendship with successful American novelist Jackson Cooper (think Robert Parker) through their mutual love of food and fine cooking. Over time, they support each other through challenges (hers, a bridezilla daughter and his, writer's block) and personal relationship dramas before Jackson suggests they meet for a culinary rendezvous in Paris.

Attachments (2011) by Rainbow Rowell
Gossiping and sharing their personal secrets on e-mail in spite of their company's online monitoring practices, Beth and Jennifer unwittingly amuse Internet security officer Lincoln, who unexpectedly falls for Beth while reading their correspondence.

Frances and Bernard (2013) by Carlene Bauer (FFF, a Fabulous Fiction Firsts)
It is not love at first sight for Frances and Bernard. She finds him faintly ridiculous while he sees her as aloof. But after that first meeting, Bernard writes Frances a letter which changes everything and soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can alter the course of lives.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008) by Mary Ann Shaffer (a FFF)
In 1946, writer Juliet Ashton finds inspiration for her next book in her correspondence with a native of Guernsey, who tells her about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club born as an alibi during German occupation.

Letters from Skye (2013) by Jessica Brockmole (a FFF)
A love story told in letters spans two world wars and follows the correspondence between a poet on the Scottish Isle of Skye and an American volunteer ambulance driver for the French Army, an affair that is discovered years later when the poet disappears.

Safe travels.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #502 - "Faith is about doing. You are how you act, not just how you believe.” ~ Mitch Albom

In A Song for Issy Bradley * debut novelist Carys Bray, "(w)ith courage, warmth, and intelligence...sweetly and subtly breaks your heart", as the Bradleys come to terms with grief, each in his or her own way.

A man of strong faith and even stronger sense of duty, Ian Bradley, math teacher and Mormon bishop in a secular British neighborhood, embraces his calling often at the expense of his family's needs. His wife Claire (a convert upon marriage to Ian) feels overwhelmed and lonely in caring for their large family - Zippy and Al, teenagers who endure and rebel in equal measures; 7 year-old Jacob, sensitive and wise-beyond-his years, is the one who tries to hold the family together when 4-year-old Issy dies of meningitis.

"In this wry, original, generous-spirited debut novel, members of a family come to terms with grief...They wrestle with belief and disillusionment, desire and hopelessness, pervasive sorrow and moments of transcendent joy. The result is riveting, powerful, and quietly devastating." It will appeal to fans of Me Before You; Little Bee; and Tell the Wolves I'm Home.

A much anticipated debut this December is The Bishop's Wife * * * by Teen author Mette Ivie Harrison, her first try at adult fiction, inspired by an actual crime.

Unlike Claire Bradley, Linda, the mother of five grown boys and the wife to Mormon bishop Kurt Wallheim of Draper (UT), embraces the duties and challenges of being the bishop's wife, having been raised a Mormon herself. But Linda is increasingly troubled by the church's patriarchal structure and secrecy, especially when a neighbor, Jared Helm, appears on the Wallheims' doorstep with his 5-year-old daughter, claiming that his wife, Carrie, disappeared in the middle of the night. Carrie's worried parents present quite a different image of the Helm household. The more Linda learns about the curious circumstances at the Helms' residence, the more she suspects Jared is responsible for his wife's disappearance.

When Tobias Torstensen, another member of the church becomes gravely ill, Linda tries to provide support for his wife Anna, who helped raise Tobais' sons after the death of his first wife, a mystery that begins to unfold as Linda finds an unlikely item hidden in their barn. Despite Kurt's entreaties to leave these problems alone, Linda is driven to investigate. The discovery of two bodies produces devastating revelations for the close-knit community, but Linda never thinks of giving up her search for the painful truth. For those who enjoyed Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard.

Both Bray and Harrison were raised in strict Mormon households. Their unique perspectives and candor lend authenticity to these debuts.

* = starred review
* * * = 3 starred reviews

Beary Good Stories

This week at preschool storytime Ms. Amanda told bear stories about all sorts of bears off on different adventures. We met a bear who had a little problem in “I Have A Little Problem,” said the bear and no one would listen to him. We also met a baby bear who liked to count all the new animal sounds he encountered as winter approached in Baby Bear Counts One. And we tiptoed around in Tiptoe Joe as we met a new tiny little bear cub. The library has so many wonderful bear picture books, and they are perfect for this time of year as you snuggle up with a good, warm book.

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