Don’t judge this wonderful book by its covers, which are egregious. Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm is, by a wide margin, the most intelligent and engaging romance I’ve ever read. It proves what romance readers have known for generations: a love story with a happy ending can be just as powerful and thoughtful as any other literary novel. The heroine, Maddy Timms, is a devout Quaker: she speaks in a thee-thou manner that other characters remark upon as often you inevitably will. It’s infuriating, it’s different, it’s overly pious and hard to understand. It marks Maddy as a person who lives apart, in a smaller and humbler world than her Anglican peers. Her religion is restrictive and judgmental, but it’s also warm and forgiving and kind – just like Maddy herself. Christian Langland is a standard romantic hero (a strapping, handsome, fabulously wealthy Duke who happens to be a well-known rake), until a neurological illness strikes out of nowhere, shattering his ability to communicate. Only Maddy recognizes that he is not incompetent, an idiot, a savage struck down by God for his immoral ways: he is a sick man. And she is led by God to restore him to health.

There are layers upon layers in this book. Christian is mad; Maddy is a Christian. Flowers and storms pop up in significant junctures throughout the story, bolstering the plot as well as reminding you of the central theme: there is always a way to find something beautiful, something wonderful, even in the darkest and most harrowing times. The point of view alternates between Christian and Maddy, and Ms. Kinsale does an absolutely phenomenal job of illustrating Christian’s rapid mental decline and slow recovery both from inside and outside his fuddled mind. She very rarely writes the same moment from both characters’ perspectives, so you only know what Christian can piece together or what Maddy has been present to see. The scenes inside the lunatic asylum in the immediate aftermath of Christian’s illness are heartwrenching, as we watch him struggle to make even the simplest thought understood by his doctors. Maddy is the first and only person to truly understand him, to know that his intelligence is as fierce as ever but his ability to speak and to understand has been compromised. As their love blossoms, Maddy struggles with her religious convictions and Christian struggles with his illness, his family, and his legal obligations. I’ve never been moved to root for a romance novel couple as I was for these two.

If you’re a romance reader and you’ve never read Flowers from the Storm, do so right away! You won’t regret it. Then, pass it on to a skeptical friend who thinks romances are cheap, tawdry, worthless, or sub-literary: I’ve never read a book more likely to change their mind.

One hundred years ago this week the unsinkable ship sank. The ship may be gone, but the fascination for the Titanic never ends. Here are some new publications, just in time for the anniversary of the tragedy.

Shadow of the Titanic: the Extraordinary Stories of those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson – Although we think we know the story of Titanic –the famously luxurious and supposedly unsinkable ship that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Britain to America–very little has been written about what happened to the survivors after the tragedy. How did they cope in the aftermath of this horrific event? How did they come to remember that night, a disaster that has been likened to the destruction of a small town?

Titanic, First Accounts compiles first hand accounts, testimonies, and letters by notable Titanic survivors, including Archibald Gracie, Lawrence Beesley, Elizabeth W. Shutes, and the “unsinkable” Molly Brown.

Titanic Tragedy: a New Look at the Lost Liner by John Maxtone-Graham includes dramatic survivors’ accounts of the events of the fateful night, the role of newly invented wireless telecommunication in the disaster, the construction and its ramifications at the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, and the dawn rendezvous with the rescue ship Carpathia.

Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats and the Worlds they Came From by R.P.T. Davenport-Hines – a magnificently written history that brings into focus the people involved in this legendary tragedy–the deal makers and industry giants behind the ship’s creation as well as its passengers, both aristocrats and immigrants, and its crew.

The Band that Played On: the Extraordinary Story of the Eight Musicians Who Went Down on the Titanic by Steve Turner reveals a fascinating story including dishonest agents, a clairvoyant, social climbers, and a fraudulent violin maker. Read what brought the band members together and how their music served as the haunting soundtrack for one of modern history”s most tragic maritime disasters.

April 3

We Bought a Zoo – Matt Damon, Thomas Hadden Church

When his teenage son gets into trouble, Benjamin Mee gives up a lucrative newspaper job to move his family to the most unlikely of places: a zoo! With help from an eclectic staff, and with many misadventures along the way, Benjamin embarks on a fresh beginning to restore the dilapidated zoo to its former glory, while uniting his family. PG

War Horse – Emily Watson, David Thewlis

Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War, this movie begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets; British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter. PG 13

April 10

Happy Feet Two – Eljah Wood, Robin Williams

Mumble, the Master of Tap, has a problem because his tiny son, Erik, is choreo-phobic. Reluctant to dance, Erik runs away and encounters the Mighty Sven, a penguin who can fly! Mumble has no hope of competing with this charismatic new role model. But things get worse when the world is shaken by powerful forces. Erik learns of his father’s ‘guts and grit’ as Mumble brings together the penguin nations and all manner of fabulous creatures. PG

Iron Lady – Meryl Streep

A surprising and intimate portrait of Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. One of the 20th century’s most famous and influential women, Thatcher came from nowhere to smash through barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world. PG 13

April 17

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner

Blamed for the terrorist bombing of the Kremlin, IMF operative Ethan Hunt is disavowed along with the rest of the agency when the president initiates ‘Ghost Protocol.’ Left without any resources or backup, Ethan must find a way to clear his agency’s name and prevent another attack. To complicate matters further, Ethan is forced to embark on his mission with a team of fellow IMF fugitives whose personal motives he does not fully know. PG 13

April 24

Contraband – Mark Wahlberg, Lukas Haas

Chris Farraday long ago abandoned his life of crime, but after his brother-in-law, Andy, botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss, Tim Briggs, Chris is forced back into doing what he does best, running contraband, to settle Andy’s debt. Chris is a legendary smuggler and quickly assembles a crew with the help of his best friend, Sebastian, to head to Panama and return with millions in counterfeit bills. Things quickly fall apart with only hours to reach the cash. R

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Tom Hanks, Thomas Horn

Oskar is convinced that his father, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a message for him hidden in the city. Feeling disconnected from his grieving mother and driven by an active mind that refuses to believe in things that can’t be observed, Oskar begins searching New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he found in his father’s closet. His journey through the five boroughs takes him beyond his loss to a greater understanding of the world around him. PG 13

 

 

It’s so lovely when a novel can turn a well-worn trope into a fresh, lively story. Just as she did with time travel in The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger turns cliches into something more in Her Fearful Symmetry. The story follows 21 year old twins Julia and Valentina, who inherit their aunt Elspeth’s London flat and fortune on the condition that they live in the dwelling, without their parents or any other chaperone, for one year. The catch: Elspeth, mute and invisible, has clung to her flat and haunts it – and she’s getting stronger every day. Don’t groan! It sounds horribly cliched – identical twins; an inheritance contingent upon ridiculous demands; London; ghosts – but it’s so much more than it seems. Elspeth is the estranged twin sister of Julia and Valentina’s mother, Edie; the elder sisters have a history of secrets that Niffenegger unravels throughout the tale. Even more impressive is the host of delightful secondary characters: Martin, an obsessive-compulsive neighbor who writes crossword puzzles for a living, and his estranged wife Marijke (pronounced Mah-RYE-Kuh); Robert, a cemetery historian and Elspeth’s former lover; even the white kitten the twins adopt has personality and verve. They call him “The Little Kitten of Death.”

It’s a beautiful, unusual tale that unfolds slowly and doesn’t pander to the reader. Both of Niffenegger’s novels tell the stories of ordinary, although perhaps quite unusual, people who must find a way to navigate a frightening, supernatural situation. She tells the tale at the pace she wants, rather than dropping in action sequences and extra dialog where they don’t belong. If you liked the style of The Time Traveler’s Wife, you’ll be pulled in by this ghostly, ethereal tale. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was excellent in that format; a perfect companion for rainy springtime commutes!

March 6

Footloose – Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid

Ren MacCormack moves from Boston to the small town of Bomont, where loud music and dancing are prohibited. Not one to bow to the status quo, Ren challenges the ban, revitalizes the town, and falls in love with the minister’s troubled daughter, Ariel. Rated PG-13

March 13

Melancholia – Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgard

In this beautifully filmed movie about the end of the world, Justine and Michael are celebrating their marriage. A planet called Melancholia is heading directly toward Earth and threatening to collide. Meanwhile, tensions are mounting and relationships are fraying as the family deals with their fears. Rated R

My Week with Marilyn – Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne

In the summer of 1956, Colin Clark worked as a lowly assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, the film that famously united Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. When his diary account was published, one week was missing. This is the story of that week: an idyll in which he escorted a Monroe desperate to get away from Hollywood hangers-on and the pressures of work. Rated R

March 20

The Muppets – Jason Siegel, Kermit-the-Frog, Miss Piggy, Amy Adams

On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world’s biggest Muppet fan, and his friends Gary and Mary, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman to raze the Muppet Theater and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets’ former stomping grounds. To stage the Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever and raise the $10 million needed to save the theater, Walter, Mary, and Gary help Kermit reunite the Muppets. Rated PG

J Edgar – Leonardo DiCaprio

J. Edgar Hoover was head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years. Hoover was feared, admired, reviled, and revered, a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted prize. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career, and his life. Rated R

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo– Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig

Hoping to distance himself from the fallout of a libel conviction, journalist Mikael Blomkvist retreats to a remote island where the unsolved murder of a young girl still haunts her industrialist uncle forty years later.  Blomkvist’s investigation draws him into the secrets and lies of the rich and powerful, and throws him together with one unlikely ally: tattooed, punk hacker, Lisbeth Salander. Rated R.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Gary Oldman, Colin Firth

At the height of the Cold War, a precarious operation goes deadly wrong, and the head of British Intelligence wonders if a double agent is leaking vital secrets. Brought out of retirement to expose the potential mole, master spy George Smiley is the only one who can be trusted to expose one of their own. Or can he? Rated R

 

 

Hillary Jordan’s novel When She Woke is often described as a new dystopian take on The Scarlet Letter.  It is set in a future where an epidemic has left the majority of women sterile and abortion has been made illegal to prevent a declining population.  Prisons are also wildly overcrowded, so to remedy this, criminals who aren’t considered dangerous to society are not locked up but are instead “melachromed”: their skin is dyed so that their crime is instantly recognizable to the population.

The novel’s main character, Hannah Payne, is a very religious young woman who broke the law by having an abortion in order to protect the baby’s father, world-famous Reverend Aidan Dale.  Hannah is caught and tried, and she wakes up a the beginning of the novel with scarlet red skin.  The book flashes back to how she ended up in this position and how she deals with entering society as a an outcast due to the color of her skin and the nature of her crime.

This book was very compelling, so much so that I found it a little painful to have to put it down at times.  It’s a very interesting take on a futuristic society; it’s unique, but not so out-there that you can never imagine it happening.  This might even be a fun pick for a book club because its controversial nature could bring up some very lively discussion!

February 11

Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn – Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson

In the highly anticipated fourth installment of the Twilight Saga, a marriage, a honeymoon, and the birth of a child bring unforeseen and shocking developments for Bella and Edward and those they love, including new complications with young werewolf Jacob Black

Paranormal Activity 3 – Katie Featherston,  Molly Ephriam

In 1988, young sisters Katie and Kristi befriend an invisible entity who resides in their home.

Rum Diary – Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckart

Tired of the noise and madness of New York, journalist Paul Kemp moves to Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper. Adopting the rum-soaked life of the island, Kemp becomes obsessed with the fiancee of Sanderson, a businessman involved in shady property development deals. When he is recruited by Sanderson to write favorably about his latest unsavory scheme, Kemp is presented with the choice to use his words for the corrupt businessman’s financial benefit, or use them to take him down.

Take Shelter – Michael Shannon, Jessia Chastain

Curtis LaForche lives in a small town in Ohio with his wife, Samantha, and daughter, Hannah, a six-year-old deaf girl. When Curtis begins to have terrifying dreams, he keeps the visions to himself, channeling his anxiety into obsessively building a storm shelter in his backyard. His inexplicable behavior concerns those closest to him, but the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within his community can’t compare with Curtis’s privately held fear of what his dreams may truly signify.

February 21

Tower Heist – Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller

Queens native Josh Kovacs has managed one of the most luxurious and well-secured residences in New York City for more than a decade. Under his watchful eye, nothing goes undetected. In the swankiest unit atop Josh’s building, Wall Street titan Arthur Shaw is under house arrest after being caught stealing two billion from his investors. The hardest hit among those he defrauded? The tower staffers whose pensions he was entrusted to manage.

 

 

posted by Liza

Recently, the Eastern Avenue Branch book club, Between the Lines, read Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The Bridge tells the story of the deaths of a group of people who were standing on a legendary rope bridge when it collapsed. The rich characters include two young twins divided by a woman, a famous actress known worldwide and her descent into madness, and a monk who tries to make sense of the disaster. The novel tells the story as it happened, before it happened, and after it happened.

I was pleasantly surprised by Wilder’s winning novel. I remember reading Our Town in high school and thinking it was overly sentimental and sappy. What shocked me in doing research about The Bridge was that many people in Wilder’s day thought The Bridge was too optimistic and not literary enough. Now, I know times are different from the 1920s when Wilder crafted this tale, but I found it hard to think a book in which half a dozen people die in the first paragraph is too optimistic. Perhaps in the age of prohibition and flappers it was.

Wilder based the Peruvian tale on an actual bridge in South America, and his ability to capture a sense of place is remarkable. While Wilder did travel to Peru, he did so many years after writing The Bridge. Yet, it’s not hard to imagine the llamas, see the mountains, and fully feel the emotions of the characters, many of whom were based on real historical figures. I’m not adding The Bridge to my list of most favorite novels, but I have to say that this novel held my attention and interest much longer than Our Town.

Maybe it was the llamas.

January 3rd

Hangover Part II – Bradley Cooper,   Zach Galifianakis,

Two years after the bachelor party in Las Vegas, Phil, Stu, Alan, and Doug jet to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. Stu’s plan for a subdued pre-wedding brunch, however, goes seriously awry. (R)

 

 

The Guard – Don Cheadle, Brendon Gleeson

An unorthodox Irish policeman with a confrontational personality is teamed up with an uptight FBI agent to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring. (R)

January 10

Moneyball – Brad Pitt,  Johan Hill

The story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players. (PG-13)

 

 

January 13

Ides of March – George Clooney,  Ryan Gosling

During the frantic last days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, an up-and-coming campaign press secretary finds himself involved in a political scandal that threatens to upend his candidate’s shot at the presidency. (R)

January 24

Real Steel– Hugh Jackman,  Evangeline Lilly

Charlie Kenton is a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring. Now nothing but a small-time promoter, Charlie earns just enough money piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal to get from one underground boxing venue to the next. When Charlie hits rock bottom, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max to build and train a championship contender. (PG-13)

  

January 31

Drive–  Ryan Gosling,  Carey Mulligan

Driver is a Hollywood stunt driver by day, and moonlights as a top-notch getaway driver for hire in the criminal underworld. He finds himself a target for some of LA’s most dangerous men after agreeing to aid the husband of his beautiful neighbor, Irene. When the job goes dangerously awry, the only way he can keep Irene and her son alive is to do what he does best, Drive! (R)

 

More best books from our Blogging Librarians! Michelle and Lexie kind of cheated since they each picked two titles; however, they’re both so good at picking books we don’t mind a bit.

Michelle starts with a mystery. “Louise Penny’s quirky, yet endearing characters make A Trick of the Light one of my favorite mysteries of the year. Penny’s clever writing style combined with her main character, the legendary Inspector Armand Gamache, make for a superb mystery book (and the latest release in the series)”. Read more in her blog post from earlier this year.

A fiction book is Michelle’s second pick. “Katie Lee’s debut work of fiction, Groundswell was a favorite beach read in 2011. Groundswell follows a main character who becomes caught up in the glitz and glamour of stardom only then to discover what is important in life after a traumatic event”. Michelle’s blog post about this book is here.

Lexie says go big or go home with George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. “An epic fantasy series set in a land where seasons can last for decades. The series is filled with political intrigue, plenty of shocking plot twists, romance, and engaging characters who don’t fit into a traditional mold of good or evil. This complex world that Martin created has become an absolute obsession for me; the fifth book was just released in July and I’m already eagerly anticipating the next installment”. Read more from Lexie about it in her earlier blog post.

Her second pick is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. “31-year-old “carer” Kathy looks back on her youth, which was spent in an isolated English boarding school with her two best friends and plenty of secrets. This book is haunting and incredibly thought-provoking. I couldn’t put it down once I started, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it once I finished”. Lexie blogged about it here.