The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman is a unique twist on the Sleeping Beauty story.  Sleeping Beauty and the people in her castle have been asleep for years. However, this sleeping sickness seems to be spreading. First, the nearby villages fall asleep, then the villages near them, and so on. Soon, the entire kingdom is asleep, and it’s up to three dwarfs and the queen of the neighboring kingdom to figure out how to put an end to the curse.

This story has an ingenious blend of fairy tales. For instance, the queen is a character from another story. I’ll just say that she is someone who has also been asleep for a long time and let you figure out who she is. There are also additional elements to the story that help flesh it out. Those who are asleep do more than sleep, an old woman who is trapped inside the castle and immune to the curse, and the more one delves into the story, the more it becomes apparent that the details of the Sleeping Beauty that appear in each retelling are not what they seem. Not to mention that the ending will leave you thinking, “Wait, what? What just happened?” Overall, this is a quick read that goes more in-depth than one would think the amount of pages would allow.

Genre: Fantasy

Setting: A fairy tale land in an unspecified historical era.

Number of pages: 66

Objectionable content? A small amount of violence, one death, an occasional corpse, and unsettling factors (i.e. the sleepers)

Can children read this? Yes, as long as they are not easily upset by unsettling elements in stories. However, this book is best for teenagers and adults.

Who would enjoy this? Anyone who enjoys Neil Gaiman’s other works, and anyone who enjoys fairy tale remakes.

Themes: Beauty, power, loss, choices, strong women, and the need to control other’s emotions vs. the strength of only feeling your emotions.

Rating: Five stars

Turtles All the Way Down

It’s been almost six years since YA uber-author John Green has published a new book (something we wrote about a while back). That’s almost  generation’s worth of his target audience – many teen readers will have been too young for his last book, The Fault in Our Stars, when it was published in 2012. The rocket-like success of that book (and subsequent movie) was both a blessing and a curse for Green: his books were being read by millions more people, but that success resulted in a period of crippling anxiety for the author. The expectations for his next book felt so overwhelming, that for a while he could not write at all.

Green has not made a secret of the fact that he’s wrestled with Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder most of his life, and what it’s like to live with mental illness is the overriding theme of Turtles All the Way Down. Aza Holmes, the narrator of the book, struggles mightily to control the obsessive thoughts that often consume her, which she calls “thought spirals” that grow more and more tightly coiled until she is driven to a compulsive behavior to quiet them.

The ostensible plot of the book is a mystery: the famous father of a childhood acquaintance has has skipped town to avoid legal troubles, and Aza’s BFF Daisy is convinced the two of them can figure out where he is and collect the $100,000 reward.  TATWD has all the John Green-isms we’ve come to expect: the quirky best friend, the seemingly impossible task, the sweet love story, and everyone’s got a poem or literature quote ready to go at a moment’s notice, (John Green characters are a bit more well-read and well-spoken than the general teen-aged public). But the real journey the reader is taken on is what it’s like to live in a hijacked mind.

Aza has a dread of germs. One of the first compulsions we witness is Aza forcing open a wound on her fingertip, so that she can clean and sanitize it before covering it up with one of her constant supply of band-aids, a ritual she performs so often that the wound never completely heals. Hand sanitizer is used combatively –  at one point she even starts drinking it.  Aza’s helplessness in the face of these thoughts and compulsions can be painful to read, and there’s no “all better now” resolution at the end – the prevailing takeaway is it’s ok not to be ok sometimes. Green has managed to paint a picture of mental illness that is more matter-of-fact than sensational, and the writing is evocative and mature. It’s a thoughtful novel that will appeal to adults as well as teens, and well worth the six-year wait.

Five stars.

Set in Connecticut: Fiction about the Nutmeg State

You might think a small state like Connecticut might not find itself as the setting for very many stories, but that’s not true! There are dozens of tales set in the Nutmeg State. You can begin with the fictional town of  Briar Creek, Connecticut where the Library Lovers mystery series by Jenn McKinley takes place and then move on to the strangely named Frog Ledge, Connecticut, home to the characters in Liz Mugavero’s Kneading To Die the first book in the Pawsitively Organic mystery series.

Some other recommendations if you want to indulge in a little fictional Connecticut scenery:

 Last Night at the Lobster: A Novel by Stewart O’Nan
Managing a failed seafood restaurant in a run-down Connecticut mall just before Christmas, Manny DeLeon coordinates a challenging final shift of mutinous staff members, an effort that is complicated by his love for a waitress, a pregnant girlfriend, and an elusive holiday gift.

This book was named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly and was a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

 Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb
Back in his fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, with a new cast of endearing characters, Wally Lamb takes his readers straight into the halls of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School — where young  Felix Funicello learns the meaning of French kissing, cultural misunderstanding, and tableaux vivants. Wishin‘ and Hopin‘ barrels toward one outrageous Christmas. A vivid slice of 1960s life, a wise and witty holiday tale that celebrates where we’ve been — and how far we’ve come.

 Dune Road by Jane Green
Set in the beach community of a tiny Connecticut town, the heroine is a single mom who works for a famous–and famously reclusive–novelist. When she stumbles on a secret that the great man has kept hidden for years, she knows that there are plenty of women in town who would love to get their hands on it–including some who fancy the writer for themselves.

 

 The Land of Steady Habits: A Novel by Ted Thompson
For Anders Hill, long ensconced in “the land of steady habits”-the affluent, morally strict hamlets of Connecticut that dot the commuter rail line-it’s finally time to reap the rewards of a sensible life. Into his sixties and newly retired, Anders finds the contentment he’s been promised is still just out of reach. So he decides he’s had enough of steady habits: he leaves his wife, buys a condo, and waits for freedom to transform him. But as the cheery charade of Christmas approaches, Anders starts to wonder if maybe parachuting from his life was not the most prudent choice.

 Our Little Racket by Angelica Baker
In the aftermath of the collapse of Weiss & Partners investment bank, CEO Bob D’Amico’s daughter Madison, her mother, her best friend, her nanny, and a family friend begin to question their shifting roles in the insular, moneyed world of Greenwich, Connecticut. All these women have witnessed more than they’ve disclosed and must ask themselves: where is the line between willful ignorance and unspoken complicity?

 Housebreaking: A Novel by Dan Pope
When Benjamin’s wife kicks him out, he returns to his childhood home in Connecticut to live with his widowed father. Lost, lonely, and doubting everything he felt he knew about marriage and love, Benjamin is trying to put his life back together when he recognizes someone: his high school crush, the untouchable Audrey Martin. Audrey has just moved to the neighborhood with her lawyer husband and their daughter, Emily. As it turns out, Audrey isn’t so untouchable anymore, and she and Benjamin begin to discover, in each other’s company, answers to many of their own deepest longings.

 The Beach at Painter’s Cove by Shelley Noble
The Whitaker family Connecticut mansion, Muses by the Sea, has always been a haven for artists, a hotbed of creativity, extravagances, and the occasional scandal. Now, after being estranged for years, four generations of Whitaker women find themselves once again at The Muses. Leo, the Whitaker matriarch, lives in the rambling mansion crammed with artwork and junk. Her sister-in-law Fae is desperate to keep a secret she has been hiding for years. Jillian, Leo’s daughter, is an actress down on her luck. She thinks selling The Muses will not only make life easier for Leo and Fae, it will bring her the funds to get herself back on top. Issy, Jillian’s daughter, wants to restore the mansion and catalogue the massive art collection. Can these four generations of erratic, dramatic women find a way to save the Muses and reunite their family?

Prefer ebooks? Click here for a list of fiction ebooks that take place in Connecticut.

Downloadable Audiobooks your thing? Try these.

Return Ticket for the Orient Express

  Sometimes a literary character – and an author – just doesn’t quit, staying popular generation after generation. Sometimes we call that a classic – Scarlett O’Hara, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Sometimes we call that Hercule Poirot.

Agatha Christie is the modern world’s most successful author (yes, even more than J.K. Rowling and Nora Roberts), third only to The Bible and Shakespeare, and has sold over two BILLION copies of her works (that’s 165 stories). Rowling only ranks ninth or so, with an estimated 500 million in sales. Sure, you can use the Gone With the Wind excuse that Rowling only hit big in 1997, while Christie’s first novel was published in 1920, so it has had a lot more years to gather sales (GWTW remains the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, due to its 1939 release date. Yes, more than Star Wars). Either way, there’s a reason for that.

Christie’s first and most popular detective is Hercule Poirot (the other being Miss Marple), a retired Belgian police officer with peculiarly meticulous habits and a brilliant mind for solving crimes, well-known for his thick black curling mustache – the only fictional character to ever have an obituary on the front of the New York Times. Poirot first appears in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)and goes on for more than 33 novels, 50 short stories, and a stage play. You may have heard of his most famous case: Murder on the Orient Express.

Originally published in 1934, Orient Express tells the story of a murder (obviously) that occurs on a train going from Istanbul to Calais, France, which Poirot, a passenger on the train, slowly unravels. The Orient Express is a real train service that began in 1883 and ran from Turkey to France, ending its official run in 2009 – operating in three centuries!

Numerous film and television adaptions of both Orient Express and Poirot’s mysteries have been made over the years, most notably the 1974 film adaption of Orient Express starring Albert Finney – the only actor to receive an Oscar Nomination for playing Poirot, though he didn’t win (Ingrid Bergman won as Supporting Actress for the role of Greta Ohlsson). The library has many volumes of television adaptions of Poirot’s mysteries. If comedy and spoofs are more your style, check out 1976’s Murder by Death, with James Coco as Milo Perrier (Poirot), Elsa Lanchester as Jessica Marbles (Miss Marple) and a host of top-name stars poking fun at all the famous detectives.

Low and behold, Murder on the Orient Express is once again returning to the big screen on November 10, 2017, with a – dare I say it? – killer cast. Kenneth Branagh, British superstar of myriad films including Henry V, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dunkirk, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and so many more, takes the lead as Poirot – not as short as Poirot is supposed to be, but ever since Hollywood ridiculously cast 5’6” Tom Cruise as 6’5” Jack Reacher, all rules are off. Add in Penelope Cruz, Dame Judy Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer and more, and it’s worth the price of admission just for the cast and the gorgeous period costumes and vehicles. Of course there’s already a furor raging among the purists about his mustache.

Kenneth Branagh is a superb actor but an even superior director, and with him in the director’s seat  and the blessings of Agatha Christie’s estate, the film promises to be everything we want it to be. So prepare by reading a couple of Poirot’s mysteries, or check out a couple of other adaptions, and then watch the film. Or, give the movie a shot and then follow up with a binge of Poirot stories. When you run out, there’s always Miss Marple.

What Kind of e-Reader is Best for You?

So you’ve decided to get an ereader, yay!  Unfortunately, the decisions don’t end there.  Tablet or dedicated e-reader? Color or black & white? Kindle, Nook, iPad, or something else entirely?

There are a LOT of ways to read ebooks these days, and figuring out which device is best for your reading style can be confusing. Let’s try and break it down a little .

The first thing to figure out is whether you want to read on a multi-purpose device like an iPad or other tablet, or do you want a device that’s dedicated for books? A lot of that depends on the way you read. Here are some question to ask yourself before you decide to buy anything.

HOW much do you read?  If you read a lot of ebooks, you may want to keep them on a device that’s just for reading. If you’re only an occasional ebook reader, having a couple of books stored on your computer or tablet may be more convenient.

WHERE do you do most of your reading? Do you need a lighted screen because you like to read in bed when the lights are off? A tablet is best for this. Do you like to read outdoors in the daytime, where an LCD screen can be difficult to see clearly? A black & white e-ink reader is what you need.

WHAT are you going to read on your device? Will it be for text-only books, or will you be using it for magazines or children’s books, as well? Magazines and children’s books with pictures will look much better on a color tablet than a black & white e-reader, and many interactive children’s books will only work with a touch-screen tablet.

What about EYE STRAIN?  If you spend a lot of time staring at an LCD screen for work,  reading on another LCD screen like a tablet may may bother your eyes. The softer display of an e-ink reader may be more comfortable. Similarly, if you read for long stretches of time, you may find it more comfortable to read on an e-ink reader.

Once you’ve determined what type of display is best, you can determine which device is best for you. The simplest to use are most often the Amazon Kindles (like Paperwhite and Fire),  there’s even a Kindle app for iPad and Android tablet users. For those who might balk at being tethered to Amazon, there are other e-ink options like Nook Glowlight and Kobo. A good side-by-side comparison of many devices can be found here. Check out PC Magazine’s reviews of the most popular devices for 2017 here.

No matter what device you decide on, you can use it to download ebooks from Cheshire Library. Check out the DOWNLOADS page on our website to see all the different downloadable items you can access with your Cheshire Library Card.