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The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

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The lavender gardenLucinda Riley uses a dual narrative in The Lavender Garden to relate the story of Emilie de la Martinières, a young heiress who now finds herself in possession of an aging Chateau on the Côte d’Azur in 1998 and that of Constance Carruthers, a British newlywed suddenly swept up in the covert activities of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive, supporting the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

Both are reluctant in their new roles, and also share a family connection which unfolds as the drama of their new circumstances plays out, and involves the characters who enter their lives. Riley does a nice job of representing both the magic of the French countryside and the tension of the difficult circumstances in which the people of Occupied France find themselves. Her characters range from bohemian artists to sneering Nazi elite, charming intellectuals and wine growers to gruff French Resistance fighters. They are fairly well drawn, if not always very likeable. Some twists and turns and family secrets also serve to make the story line moderately interesting, and the resolution is satisfying.

The Lavender Garden is a pleasant read if you like historical fiction, travel fiction, stories about the changing roles of women in society and a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure.

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Book Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

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Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult, tells the story of Jenna Metcalf, a young teen who is desperately searching for her mother, Alice. Alice disappeared ten years earlier, after a tragic accident at the elephant compound, where she was a scientist studying grief among elephants. Not wanting to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches the internet and reads her mother’s journal, looking for any information that would help her find her mother, or explain her disappearance. Having no luck on her own, Jenna turns for help to Serenity Jones, a once famous psychic, and Virgil Stanhope, a private detective and ex-cop, who was in involved in the investigation of the incident at the compound. The unlikely trio begin their search, leading them to discover the events leading up to Alice’s disappearance and the surprising truths they discover about Alice, and about themselves.

This book offered a lot of interesting information about the emotional intelligence of elephants, the dynamics of the relationships they have with one another, and the surprising amount of grief they experience when they lose a member of their group. This is especially evident with the loss of a young calf by its mother, and parallels these emotions with those of the human characters in the story.

Jodi Picoult is once again able to draw you into the complex lives, feelings and emotions of her characters in a new and unique way, while offering a surprising twist at the conclusion of the story.

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Book Review: The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory

Posted by hfowler on

Image of itemWhen dealing with the British monarchy, there is no better author than Philippa Gregory. Her heavily researched historical novels are instant successes, and The King’s Curse is no exception.

Because the history of the British monarchy is so vast, I feel the need  for a point of reference  to acclimate myself. The only way I could even begin to follow the life of Mary Pole, a Plantagenet, was  with her connection to Henry VIII, the subject of the curse.

It was through the television series, The Tudors , that I came to know about the rise and fall of  Henry VIII, his incessant desire for  male heirs, and the many women whose lives were devastated  by his whims.  It was the soap opera of the 16th century.

Philippa Gregory uses the voice of Mary Pole who was of royal descent. She became the guardian to Arthur, the young  Price of Wales, who was wed to Katherine of Aragon. Katherine was the daughter of King Ferdinand  and Queen Isabella of Spain. After Arthur’s premature death, Katherine married her brother-in-law, Henry VIII.

At one time Mary was in favor at the court, but as Katherine failed for ten years to produce a son  both women were cast aside  while Henry moved on to Anne Boleyn.

This is but the framework of the drama. How Mary managed to raise her family as a widow, keep track of her lands and household and remain in the king’s good graces makes for intensive reading, all 600 pages of it.

As Mary becomes more and more ostracized, much of what happens at court  is revealed to her by her sons who remain in the king’s favor. While Henry is the mover and the shaker, Mary brings a different viewpoint to what the country endured  over an increasingly tyrannical and  out of control king.

Although  we are now only interested in Kate, William, Baby George and Harry, it’s fascinating to see how  royal families evolve. Excellent historical reading…

 

I give The King’s Curse  4 English roses.

Happy reading from Beverly!

 

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Review: Flight of the Sparrow, by Amy Belding Brown

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Flight of the SparrowWhen a new historical novel written by former Grafton resident Amy Belding Brown came to my attention, I immediately ran to the library. Amy’s first novel, Mr. Emerson’s Wife, was well received, and I’m betting  her newest effort, Flight of the Sparrow, will be an even bigger success.

Subtitled , “A Novel of Early America”, Flight of the Sparrow  brings the reader back to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1676. As seen through the eyes of Mary Rowlandson, the wife of a Puritan minister, life is hard, but there seems to be enough food in the village of Lancaster and they persevere. Unfortunately, there are still Indian uprisings, and when one particularly savage attack occurred, Mary and one of her children were captured , enslaved and held for ransom. Two of her other children were taken elsewhere. Her husband was away at the time.

Although her capture lasted only three months, Mary’s experience  into the lifestyle of the Indians was life-changing. After an initial period of brutal handling including rope around her neck, her captors lessened the severity of her treatment  and she was allowed some freedom of movement after her heavy work was done.

She became accustomed to the Indian ways  and began to appreciate the natural world around her. Even her new clothing consisting of a deerskin shift and soft moccasins was a relief from her cumbersome Puritan garb. The Indians, however, were slowly starving. They broke camp frequently and looked forward to the reward a ransom would bring.

Three months later she was returned to the English for a ransom. The location of this occurrence was Redemption Rock in Princeton. (route 140 north).

The rest of the book concerns her adjustment to the restrictive  Puritan ways. Mary refused to disclose information about her enslavement, so rumors and sly looks ensued. Her husband was not happy with her reticence, and Mary began to question her husband’s authority and religious teachings.

Amy Belding Brown did a great deal of research  into this fascinating look into local history. For example, James Printer, a Nipmuc Indian, came from the Hassanamesit, a Praying Indian Village in Grafton. Sound familiar?

Do not under any conditions  miss this book . It is stellar.

I give the book 4 sparrow feathers.

Happy reading from Beverly!

 

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Review: The Walk series by Richard Paul Evans

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The Walk Series – Book/Series Recommendation by Marilyn Wilcox, Library Assistant

I had a great time this past summer reading the Walk Series by Richard Paul Evans. The series includes the following five books: The Walk, Miles to Go, The Road to Grace, A Step of Faith, and Walking on Water. All books depict in journal style Alan Chistoffersen’s walk from Spokane, WA to Key West, FL. It is because of a traumatic loss that beckons Alan on his quest to walk away as far as possible. It makes more sense to read the series in number order, but I started with four and five and then returned to read the first three in order. Book five, Walking on Water, was released this past May. I really enjoyed snippets of Christoffersen’s theology; that was enjoyable to me. Next time you stop by the library, ask one of our out-of-this-world friendly staff members as to where you can find these books. or place a hold below.

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Book 1:

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Book 2:

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Book 3:

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Book 4:

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Book 5:

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Review: Oh No! Series written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat

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oh, no

Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) Written by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Dan Santat

The story begins when the young heroine creates a failed science fair project and her newly created robot science fair entry goes rogue. The robot begins to cause destruction and mayhem in the city with everyone wondering “how can it be stopped?” The young scientist tries to get the machine’s attention, but it is no use. She can’t yell, the robot has no ears. She can’t hold up a sign, she never taught the robot to read. She can’t use force, the robot can’t feel. And on top of that, all of the features that once seemed so useful (superclaw, laser eye, power to control dogs’ minds) have all proven to make the robot more difficult to control and capture. Suddenly, she has an idea and sets off to create another science project to bring the robot back under control. She makes a giant toad and programs it to destroy her robot. With the robot defeated and blue ribbon in hand, she realizes she has another big problem as her super toad bursts through the school wall and begins to attempt to catch planes like they are giant flies.

oh, no 2

Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to save History) (Or at Least My History Grade) Written by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Dan Santat

Our young friend is at it again in the time travelling sequel to Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World). It all started when she took a history quiz, only to find she got one question wrong. The first cave paintings were in fact located in France not Belgium as she had originally thought. The young scientist still receives an A, but she cannot let that one point off stand. She decides the best course of action is to build a time machine and go back in time, with art supplies in hand, to change history and make sure she gets the full credit she feels she needs and deserves. First she goes too far back in time, then, not far enough. Eventually, she times her journey correctly ready to paint some cave art. The locals are resistant to her request so she is forced take matters into her own hands… again. Unfortunately, while she was busy with her cave paintings the locals took her time machine and changed a bit of history themselves, and when she makes it back to present time, her grade went from an A to an F.

Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) and Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to save History) (Or at Least My History Grade) are both fun lighthearted reads that are sure to give some laughs and smiles. Check them out this summer and Fizz Boom READ!

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Book Review: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Posted by hfowler on

The Art ForgerIt’s been 24 years since the largest art heist in the world occurred at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston right next to the Museum of Fine Arts. To this day none of the art has been recovered. The Art Forger, by B.A.Shapiro is a fictionalized version of what could have happened to one piece in particular, After the Bath, by Degas. At the heart of this story is Claire Roth, a starving artist type who is barely making a living as a reproductionist. She badly wants a one woman show at a prestigious gallery run by Aiden Markel. It is Markel who strikes a deal with Claire that transforms her from a reproductionist to a forger. What could possibly go wrong? What got my attention in this book was the many insights into the behind the scenes of the art world including cleaning the old canvases and getting a show to a gallery. It’s full immersion art. There are flashbacks to the lifestyle of Isabella Stewart Gardner throughout the book including personal letters to her niece. Even though they are not authentic, Shapiro showed the letters to be full of chatter about her lifestyle and filling her museum with the best art she could acquire. The Art Forger was such an inspiration to me that I went to the Worcester Art Museum and viewed the works with a new appreciation of the artists’ skills. In addition the collection of armor and artifacts from the Higgins Armory was an added pleasure. There’s much to recommend Shapiro’s first work – local history, drama, relationships with a heavy dose of moral dilemma. I give the book 4 impressionists. Happy reading from Beverly   Download The Art Forger eBook Download The Art Forger eAudio Request The Art Forger in hardcover Request The Art Forger in paperback Request The Art Forger in Large Print Request The Art Forger on audio CD Request The Art Forger on a Playaway

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Review: Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter

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A variety of books have been published recently touting the benefits of a low carbohydrate diet. The research on this, however, is not new. Scientists have known for years that carbohydrates, even supposedly “good” ones like whole wheat, can cause serious health problems. The fact that humans are not genetically wired to tolerate a high amount of carbohydrates in the form of sugar and gluten, especially when they come in the form of genetically modified and highly processed items, has led to an epidemic of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. These books contain an array of scientific jargon and statistical data, but the main thrust is that these bad carbs spike our blood sugar and send us on a vicious cycle of hunger, craving even more of that which is bad for us, as we pack on the pounds. We don’t get the nutrients we need and we gain weight, suffering the health risks associated with obesity. In essence, fats don’t make people fat, carbs do.

One of the newest additions to the conversation is Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers by renowned neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter. While many previous books have concentrated on weight loss and other potentially devastating consequences of gluten intolerance, Perlmutter’s research hones in on the effects of all these bad carbs on our brains. He is convinced the research shows that the current emphasis on low-fat and low cholesterol diets to achieve weight loss, combined with a push for “healthy grains,” in addition to the detrimental results of eating processed foods full of sugar and bad carbs, is robbing our brains. He maintains we need fats and cholesterol to support healthy brain function. Permutter establishes carbs as the culprit in causing such afflictions as dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches and depression among other ailments. In one particularly disconcerting chapter he presents at length the evidence he proposes exists between diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease.

This work is very timely as scientists continue to grapple with offering correct advice to the public in a field which notoriously produces conflicting information on a weekly basis from a variety of authorities from the government to the American Heart Association. The June 23, 2014 cover of Time Magazine ran the story “Eat Butter: Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.” So the conversation continues! Whether you agree with the author or not, Grain Brain is a highly informative, thought-provoking and rather frightening presentation of the price we pay for our modern American diet of highly processed and genetically modified food, chock full of carbohydrates, while experts continue to insist that low-fat diets are the answer. Perlmutter does sometimes get a little overly technical for the average reader, but not so much that if you are really interested you can’t get through it. He presents his “Revolutionary 4 Week Plan” to heal the damage through better dietary and lifestyle choices, which includes a small collection of recipes, as a guide to “reprogram our genetic destiny for the better.”

Other recent books on the carbohydrate debate are worth checking out as well: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis, MD and The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight and Live Better by Jonathan Bailor

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Review: Just One Evil Act, by Elizabeth George

Posted by hfowler on

Let’s get the ugliness over with right away. Just One Evil Act, by Elizabeth George is overwritten. At 719 pages it taxes the patience of even the most ardent fan. I had to check the book out of the library three times in order to get through it. The local color in the Italian portion is overdone, and the use of Italian words to describe the most common of items as well as conversations is frustrating and baffling. Other than that, it is a Thomas Lynley novel featuring his sidekick Barbara Havers, so all is sort of forgiven.

It bears repeating that the Thomas Lynley series is ongoing. Just One Evil Act is #18 in that series, so to break into the series at this point would rob the reader of all that came before to shape the main characters. It’s a very convoluted back story.

As this portion of the drama unfolds, Barbara finds herself overly involved in the life of a neighbor Taymullah Azhar and his daughter Hadiyyah. Angelina, Hadiyyah’s mother, had taken her daughter to Italy where she hopes to begin a new life. A kidnapping ensues, and the Italian police take over the investigation. Against the advice of her Superintendent, Barbara attaches herself not only to computer hackers but also a tabloid journalist . A flying fiasco follows.

What looks like a happy ending midway through the book is no such thing. It’s just a kick-off to more red herrings, twists, turns, introduction to more non-essential characters and lots of running around the Italian countryside.

To tax the patience of the reader even more, there is an open-ended conclusion so we have more of this to look forward to.

I have extolled the virtues of Elizabeth George’s writing for many years. Hopefully, she will take her time coming up with the further adventures of Thomas and Barbara, preferably in English and under 500 pages.

I give the book 3 telefonos.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Death Angel by Linda Fairstein

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Death AngelWelcome to the world of Alexandra Cooper, an assistant district attorney in New York City and her partner, Mike Chapman. Although this is Alex’s fourteenth appearance in a novel, it is my first meeting. Her creator, Linda Fairstein, has reprised Alex’s role in the current Death Angel. Prepare yourself to be immersed in a tale intelligently written, captivating and instructive.

There are two main settings in Death Angel–Central Park in New York City and The Dakota, an historic luxury apartment building located on the west side of the park. Both are historically significant and both have stories to tell.

For example, The Dakota first came into prominence as the setting of Rosemary’s Baby, a nightmare unto itself. Also, years later it was the site of John Lennon’s death. As seen through Fairstein’s eyes there are other mysterious happenings on the upper floors overlooking the park.

The story commences with Alex and her partner being asked to investigate the circumstance surrounding the discovery of a body under a bridge in Central Park. Since there is a history of many attacks on those in the park including homeless and runaways, the case looks daunting. The rich and little known history of the park is woven throughout the narrative including the architects , the foresight of those who saw the need to set aside park land to avoid urban sprawl and the care offered to the park to this day. It is a great history lesson.

There is shocking realism on display, which is not unusual since Fairstein is a legal expert on crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence. Although the park is a sanctuary for thousands of New Yorkers and tourists alike, it is also the hunting ground for a deranged killer or two.

The core group of characters seen in Death Angel reveal behind-the-scenes techniques of those in charge of the protection of citizens. Their ability to follow the smallest of clues is instructive and enlightening.

In addition to learning about the history of Central Park, I also was reminded that it is not a good idea to walk alone there after dark with headphones on. Just saying…

Happy reading from Beverly!

 

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