Ann Patchett’s latest novel, State of Wonder, takes the reader deep into the heart of the Brazilian jungle.  Dr. Mariana Singh, who conducts research for a pharmaceutical company in Minneapolis, has just been informed that her co-worker, Dr. Anders Eckman, has died of a mysterious fever in the Amazon.  At the time, Dr. Eckman was attempting to find the pharmaceutical company’s top research scientist, Dr. Annick Swenson, who has ceased all contact with the CEO of the company.  Dr. Singh has been recruited to travel to South America in order to find out more about Dr. Eckman’s death and to make contact with Dr. Swenson about the status of her research, which may culminate in a lucrative new drug for the company.

 After a long trip to Brazil, Dr. Singh learns more about Dr. Swenson’s remarkable research and its ethical connotations.  While trying to process what Dr. Swenson has uncovered and the worldwide implications of her findings, Dr. Singh learns the truth about what has happened to her colleague, Dr. Eckman. State of Wonder is full of adventure, scientific breakthroughs, ethical dilemmas and coming to terms with the triumphs and mistakes of the past.   Actress Hope Davis reads the audiobook and does a superb job of narrating this complex story.

On a side note – about 12 years ago I heard Patchett read from her book “The Magician’s Assistant” in Nashville, Tennessee.  Although the book sounded fascinating, I never got around to reading it.  After listening to this audiobook, I can’t wait to go back and listen to “The Magician’s Assistant.”

Wow! This is a great book for travel dreamers or doers.  Subtitled A Rough Guide to Travel Adventures by Greg Witt, Ultimate Adventures showcases all sorts of exotic locations — some places I’ve never even heard of, but now can’t wait to see.  And though there are many adventures which are geared more to the adrenaline junkie, there are still plenty of “soft” experiences for the more conservative traveler.  For instance, I know I’ll never ever attempt a 51-day ski trip to the South Pole or ice diving in Russia’s White Sea.  But maybe I could handle hiking New Zealand’s Milford Trek, as I’ve had friends who’ve successfully completed it.

One handy feature is a 5-star rating system covering 4 elements: physical, psychological, skill level and wow! factor.  This is designed to help the reader decide if this trip is a good match for their abilities.  For example, climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro is ranked high (4) for the physical endurance required, only a 2 for the skill level needed (it’s basic hiking, not technical rock climbing) but it scores a 5 for Wow factor.

It’s well-organized (by continents); the photos are breathtaking and the descriptions should inspire even the stodgiest couch potato.  As a librarian, I don’t need to buy many books, but I do plan to purchase this one!

Neil Gaiman’s fairy tale novel Stardust is a charming story of love and adventure.  Tristran Thorn is a young man who has for years pined away after the most beautiful girl in the village of Wall, Victoria Forester.  One night Tristran bravely asks to kiss her, and though she refuses, she tells him that she will fullfill his greatest desire if he can bring her the falling star they just saw.  Tristran at once sets off on this journey, which starts with the forbidden action of leaving Wall and venturing into Faerie, a realm filled with creatures and magic Tristran never imagined.  Little does Tristran know he has been to Faerie before, and on the course of his adventure he will learn shocking truths about his heritage, as well as what it means to find true love.

This book was an absolute joy to read.  It has a little bit of something for everyone: romance, action, adventure, humor, and so much more.  There are a lot of storylines that don’t initally seem to be related (Tristran’s journey to find the star, an old witch looking to restore her youth, brothers fighting over who will rule their kingdom now that their father has passed, and a woman selling glass flowers at the local faerie market), but they all come together beautifully in the end.  Gaiman does a lovely job of crafting a new and unique world, and the details really make both Wall and Faerie come alive.  I recommend Stardust to anyone who loved fairy tales in their youth, because Gaiman has done a great job at creating one for grown-ups.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde fits into a lot of different genres:  it’s a little bit sci-fi, literary fiction, humor and thriller.  In an alternate 1985 in England, Thursday Next is a LiteraTec working to solve literary crimes (typically small-time stuff like copyright infringement).  But her career takes a more drastic turn when criminal mastermind Acheron Hades steals the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens.    And so begins a game of cat and mouse between Thursday and Acheron in which she is constantly escaping death, though just barely.  Things take a turn when a character goes missing from Dickens’ novel:  it turns out that Thursday’s uncle has created a device that allows a person to jump into a literary work, and Acheron has found the device and kidnapped the character, changing the whole story.  And if his demands aren’t met, Acheron will take things to the next level and do the same to the beloved Jane Eyre herself, removing her from her classic novel and thus changing the face of classic literature forever.

It took me a while to really get into this book, but once Acheron has made the threat on Jane Eyre, it gets hard to put down (especially for a Jane Eyre fan!).  This is a very unique book, especially with the alternate history that is involved; it’s not the world that we know today, and this includes the ending to Jane Eyre itself.  If you’re into the classics and enjoy a little bit of a sci-fi edge to your books, I recommend picking up this book.

I love sci-fi and fantasy novels, and I have been meaning to read this classic sci-fi work for ages.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the story of Arthur Dent, an Englishman rescued moments before the destruction of Earth with the help of Ford Prefect, his best friend who turns out to be from another planet.  As the title suggests, the two hitchhike through the galaxy in search of a mythical planet called Magrathea and meet new friends, including the President of the Galaxy, his girlfriend, and a depressed robot.  The book is absolutely hilarious.  The galaxy Adams has created is interesting and well-developed, and we get to learn a lot about it through random and laugh-out-loud details.  One of my favorite things about it is the encyclopedia that Ford is writing, which guides newbies like Arthur through the galaxy and defines all the different creatures, technological advances, and concepts.  If only our encyclopedias on Earth had Ford Prefect’s sense of humor!

The movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stars Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel.  It follows pretty closely to the book and has great performances by Freeman as Arthur and the always amazing Alan Rickman as the voice of Martin.  However, I feel compelled to be honest and say that I didn’t really care for this movie.  I don’t know what it was about it, but something was just lost in the translation from book to movie.  For example, they did include narration of the encyclopedia entries, which I loved in the book.  But by the fifth or sixth little aside in the movie, I was pretty tired of the constant interruptions.  The book packed in all that detail without making it a laborious effort to get through, which is a feat that the movie didn’t accomplish in my opinion.  But then again, that’s just my opinion.  So if you liked the book as much as I did, I encourage you to check out the movie and see what you think!

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that until recently, I had no idea that the movie The Princess Bride was a book first.  So this is one of those rare instances where I saw the movie before I read the book.  Typically that hinders my enjoyment of the book, but I can solidly say that this wasn’t the case with The Princess Bride.

Everyone knows how the movie The Princess Bride goes:  Buttercup realizes she loves the farmboy Westley just as he is about to leave the country to make a name and fortune for himself.  After receiving word that he is dead, and knowing she will never love again, she agrees to marry the dreadful Prince Humperdink.  When Buttercup is kidnapped shortly after the announcement of their engagement, the story pushes forward with adventure, romance, and many surprises and beloved characters along the way.  It’s fun, romantic, and easily quotable.  I know I’m not the only person who at any mention of the movie must say, “Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”

I’m happy to say that even though I saw the movie first, I found the book The Princess Bride by William Goldman even more enjoyable.  The movie followed the book’s plot very closely, but the book has lots of valuable extra detail and backstory that you miss out on in the movie.  The book also included many fun little asides by the author, who wrote the book as though it’s an abridgement of a classic tale.  His little notes peppered in about what parts were so dreadful he had to cut them out and what happened when the original tale was read to him as a child made the book such a fun read that I couldn’t put it down.  If you’re looking for a book with a little bit of everything (humor, adventure, sword fights, romance, and so much more), I highly recommend checking out this book and then watching the very faithful film adaptation.

Recently the magazine Time Out New York listed the 30 best summer blockbusters ever. Borrow some these DVDs from the library and stage your own summer film festival!

Here are the top 10:

10. Aliens (1986) Sigourney Weaver

Ripley returns to the alien planet to stop them from killing off an entire colony. But when she gets there along with a group of marines, they only find one survivor, a small girl. Now they must fight hordes of aliens to save her.

9.Face/Off (1997) John Travola, Nicolas

A federal agent assumes the identity of a presumed-dead terrorist who killed his son. When the terrorist wakes up, he assumes the identity of the agent.

8. Terminator 2 (1991) Arnold Schwarzenegger

A shape-shifting cyborg is sent to the past to kill young John Conner before he can grow up to lead the resistance. But the resistance manages to send a protector back in an attempt to save him.

7. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill

Fleeing the evil Galactic Empire, the rebels abandon their new base on Hoth. Princess Leia, Han Solo, R2-D2 and C-3P0 escape in the damaged Millennium Falcon. Later, on Bespin, they are captured by Lord Darth Vader. Luke Skywalker, meanwhile, follows Ben Kenobi’s posthumous command and receives Jedi training by Yoda on Dagobah.

6. Fahrenheit 9/11

Using actual footage and declassified documents, Michael Moore examines the Bush administration’s financial ties to the bin Laden family, Saudi Arabia, and our involvement in Iraq, both before and after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

5. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore

Elliott is a young boy from a broken home who discovers an extra-terrestrial creature that has been stranded on Earth – light years from home. Together they form a universal friendship, and Elliott helps E.T. ‘phone home.’

4. Ghostbusters (1984) Dan Akyroyd, Bill Murray

After being kicked out of their university, parapsychology professors Spengler, Stantz and Venkman decide to go into business for themselves by trapping and removing ghosts from haunted houses. After some initial skepticism, business is soon booming as The Ghost Busters rid New York of its undead. When a downtown skyscraper becomes the focal point of spirit activity linked to the ancient god Gozer, however, the problem may be more than the team can handle.

3. Star Wars (1977) Mark Hamill, Sir Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Star Wars: A New Hope opens with a rebel ship being boarded by the tyrannical Darth Vader. The plot then follows the life of a simple farmboy, Luke Skywalker, as he and his newly met allies (Han Solo, Chewbacca, Ben Kenobi, C-3PO, R2-D2) attempt to rescue a rebel leader, Princess Leia, from the clutches of the Empire. The conclusion is culminated as the Rebels, including Skywalker and flying ace Wedge Antilles make an attack on the Empires most powerful and ominous weapon, the Death Star.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Harrison Ford, Karen Allen

Indiana Jones battles fierce Nazis in hopes of stopping them from using the power of the lost Ark of the Covenant.

1. Jaws (1975) Roy Scheider

A Long Island vacation town is preyed upon by a man-eating shark. Recently appointed Police Chief Martin Brody faces domestic troubles and searing criticism for not closing the beaches in the wake of the deadly shark attacks. Now, Brody must decide how to retake the waters, employing the aid of a young ichthyologist and a vengeful fisherman.

What book would you reach for, given the opportunity and time, if you could re-read a favorite book? There’s so much pressure to keep up with the latest/newest/hottest, that you can sometimes forget the simple pleasure of re-visiting an old friend. This week some of our blogging librarians talk about the one book (or book series) that they would re-read.

I’ll start things off with my choice, Patrick O’Brian’s brilliant Master and Commander series which follows the adventures of British Naval Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin. Set during the Napoleonic Wars when Britain ruled the seas, there is no shortage of action and bloodshed but there is also no shortage of laughter, intrigue, nuance, humor, suspense, romance and political manuvering. The enduring friendship between Jack and Stephen is the bedrock of the books, through the waxing and waning of fortunes and luck. Jack, who is a brilliant seaman but bumbling and inept on land both with the ladies and the law, and Stephen, an outsider, a scientist, a sometime spy and an opium addict may seem like an odd couple, but their love of music brings them together.

To call these books great historical fiction is to sell them short; this is great fiction – beautifully written, effortless details that do not overwhelm the story, storylines that will move you to tears or to laugh out loud, adventures that will keep you up late at night to find out what happens (do not start reading the last third of Desolation Island right at bedtime – you’ll be up until 3am!) The quality of the writing and characters does not waver, an amazing feat considering there are 20 complete volumes!

I love these books for the way it’s so easy to completely immerse yourself in them, for the adventures big and small, and most of all for Jack and Stephen, as friends you can always count on.

February 2

Amelia – Hillary Shank, Richard Gere

Bound by ambition and love, Amelia Earhart and husband and business partner George Putnam’s enduring marriage could not be broken by Amelia’s determination to fly, nor her passionate affair with Gene Vidal. Amelia set off on her most daunting mission yet, a solo flight around the world that she and George both anxiously foresaw as destined, whatever the outcome, to become one of the most talked-about journeys in history.

Zombieland – Bill Murray, Woody Harrelson, Abigal Breslin

In a world that has become overrun with zombies, two men must figure out how to survive. Wimpy Columbus is afraid of his own shadow, while Tallahassee is the biggest, baddest gun-toting zombie-slayer who ever lived. When they meet two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock, the four strike out for an amusement park that is said to be zombie-free. This mismatched group will have to rely on each other to survive, which could be worse than surrendering to the zombies.

February 9

Couples Retreat – Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristin Bell

Eight friends are on vacation in paradise, one they’ll never forget. Their group-rate vacation comes at a price when they discover that participation in the resort’s unconventional couples therapy activities is anything but optional.

Good Hair – Chris Rock

Comedian Chris Rock tackles the very personal issue of hair, and how attaining good hair can affect relationships, wallets, and a person’s self-esteem. Features interviews with Dr. Maya Angelou, Nia Long, Ice-T, Raven Symone, and more.

Time Traveler’s Wife – Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams

Clare has been in love with Henry her entire life. She believes they are destined to be together, even though she never knows when they will be separated. Henry is a time traveler, cursed with a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to live his life on a shifting timeline, skipping back and forth through his lifespan with no control. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart with no warning, Clare desperately tries to build a life with her one true love.

February 23

The Informant! – Matt Damon, Scott Bakula

The U.S. government decides to go after an agri-business giant with a price-fixing accusation based on the evidence submitted by their star witness, vice president turned informant Mark Whitacre. The FBI needs evidence, so Whitacre eagerly agrees to wear a wire and carry a hidden tape recorder in his briefcase, imagining himself as a kind of de facto secret agent.

December 1

smithsonianNight at the Museum : Battle of the Smithsonian –  Ben Stiller, Amy Adams

History is larger than life, and twice as funny, in this monumental comedy sequel. Larry Daley is a former night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits come to life after dark. Now Larry’s nocturnal friends are being retired to the archives of the Smithsonian Institution, luring him back for a hilarious, all-out battle against museum misfits who plan to take over the Smithsonian, and the world.

terminatorTerminator Salvation – Christian Bale

John Connor’s path into the future is altered by the appearance of Marcus Wright, a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row, and he must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.

December 8

half blood princeHarry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – Daniel Ratcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts for another year of schooling and learns more about the dark past of the boy who grew up to become Lord Voldemort. There was a time when Hogwarts was thought of as a safe haven, but thanks to Voldemort’s tightening grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds, that simply isn’t the case anymore.

juliaJulie and Julia – Meryl Streep, Amy Adams

Julia Child’s beginning in the cooking profession is intertwined with the life of thirty-year-old Julie Powell, who decides to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s first book in one year to escape from the monotony of her daily life.

December 15

bastardsInglourious Basterds – Brad Pitt

During World War II, a group of Jewish-American guerilla soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine, known as ‘The Basterds,’ are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. The Basterds soon cross paths with a French-Jewish woman who runs a movie theater in Paris which is targeted by the soldiers. A plot is set in motion to kill the Nazis at the theater’s movie premiere, including Adolf Hitler.

December 22

districtDistrict 9

Twenty years ago, aliens from another planet made contact with Earth. Now, the refugee camp they are forced to live in has deteriorated into a slum-like ghetto. When field operative Wikus van der Merwe is put in charge of evicting the aliens, he contracts a strange virus that changes his DNA to match that of the refugees. As his body begins to mutate, he becomes a hunted man, and the aliens’ only hope for freedom.