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Lights Out, Film Noir

by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

Film Noir: 10-Movie Spotlight CollectionAutumn is here, and with the nights growing longer it is the perfect time to explore the darker side of film. The term film noir, or dark film, was coined by a French movie critic in 1946. As a genre, film noir had its heyday in the mystery and crime dramas of the 1940s and 1950s.

Critics haven’t always agreed on whether a film can be classified as noir, what elements films in the genre share, or if film noir can even be defined as a genre. Some critics determine films in the genre by their tragic conclusions, while other critics point to a distinctive visual style. Still others emphasize plot and character type, or mood and attitude.

Manhattan Public Library has an extensive collection of DVDs and Blu-rays, including many film noir classics. There are several collections that are excellent choices if you are new to the genre. “Film Noir: 10-Movie Spotlight Collection,” for example, includes ten classic films on six discs. Titles include “Double Indemnity,” “Black Dahlia,” and “Touch of Evil” to name a few.

5 Film Noir Killer Classics,” is another six disc set. In addition to the five movies, the sixth disc includes the special feature “What is film noir?,” as well as 38 classic film noir trailers. Movies included in this collection are “D.O.A,” “Detour,” “Stranger,” “Scarlet Street,” and “Killer Bait.”

Lists of the most popular film noir titles include a mix of classic examples from the 1940s and 1950s, along with more contemporary titles. “The Big Sleep,” from 1946, features on most lists of the best film noir. Humphrey Bogart stars as private eye Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall portrays the older sister of a woman being blackmailed. Along with blackmailers, there are plenty of other unsavory characters in this film, including murderers, pornographers, night club rogues, and the spoiled rich.

Several film noir classics feature the femme fatale, or fatal woman. This mysterious and seductive woman charms her lovers, and leads them into compromising, dangerous, and even deadly situations. Jane Greer is a murderous femme fatale using her wiles against Robert Mitchum in “Out of the Past.” Mitchum plays private detective Jeff Bailey, hired to find Kathie Moffat by the man from whom she had stolen $40,000 dollars in addition to shooting him. Of course once Bailey finds Kathie, the sparks fly.

Contemporary movies made in the film noir tradition are often referred to as neo-noir. “L.A. Confidential,” (1997) is one example. Three detectives in the L.A. police force of the 1950s uncover a conspiracy behind the shotgun slaying of customers at an all-night diner.

Chinatown,” (1974) is another neo-noir film. Jack Nicholson is private investigator Jack Gittes, hired to trail a Los Angeles Water Department engineer by his wife. Soon Gittes is in over his head, stumbling into a web of intrigue involving a water diversion scheme, murder, and more than he can handle in Chinatown.

Alfed Hitchcock directed several classic film noir pictures. “Greatest Classic Films Collection. Hitchcock Thrillers,” features four of them. In “Suspicion,” rich socialite Joan Fontaine falls in love with dashing Cary Grant, and slowly comes to suspect that he is out to murder her for her inheritance.

Orson Welles is another director of classic film noir. In “The Third Man,” an American novelist in Vienna learns that an old friend has been killed in an accident, and discovers that his friend was more than he appeared.

Many of the classic noir movies have literary connections, being based on novels or stories by Raymond Chandler (“The Big Sleep”), James M. Cain (“The Postman Always Rings Twice”), and  Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich’s published works provided the basis of thirteen films in the genre, including “Black Angel,” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

In addition to titles on DVD and Blu-Ray, MPL’s streaming service, Hoopla, also features several film noir titles, including “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Scarlet Street,” “Pitfall,” and “Mulholland Falls.” Your library card is good for 5 checkouts every month on Hoopla.

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Ties of Blood and Love: Memoirs of Childhood and Parenthood

By Crystal Hicks, Adult Services Librarian

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and LossRecently I picked up Nadja Spiegelman’s I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This, a memoir about generations of mothers and daughters, and it immediately pulled me in. Now, for readers of alternative comics, Nadja Spiegelman is famous as the daughter of Art Spiegelman, whose brilliant memoir Maus told of his father’s experiences during the Holocaust. For Nadja Spiegelman, though, her mother Françoise Mouly looms larger in her own life, casting a shadow she still struggles to understand and fully escape. In an effort to better understand herself and her mother, Spiegelman baldly detailed her own childhood in I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This. Quickly, Spiegelman discovered that, as much as her mother shaped her, her grandmother shaped her mother, and so on, spiraling back through the generations in inevitable cycles of love and hurt. As Spiegelman researched the matriarchs of her family, I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This became a memoir of generations, analyzing the different circumstances that shaped the women of Spiegelman’s life.

I don’t normally read nonfiction, but something in Spiegelman’s work connected with me, and that connection made me curious about other memoirs. Which other authors, I wondered, have spilt their own blood on the page in an effort to better understand themselves and their families? Here are the fruits of my research, a handful of recent memoirs that explore various aspects of childhood and parenthood.

In her memoir Where the Light Gets In, Kimberly Williams-Paisley also wrote about her relationship with her mother, which irrevocably changed when her mother, Linda, was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia. All too quickly, the bright, supportive mother of her childhood began to change, as Linda physically deteriorated and eventually lost the ability to recognize her own family. Despite the enormity of Linda’s illness, Williams-Paisley’s family forged ahead, supporting each other and working to find the best in a difficult situation. In rare moments, Williams-Paisley could still recognize her mother’s spirit and sharp intelligence, and she learned to live in the present instead of mourning the loss of the mother she always knew.

Instead of a traditional memoir, The Rainbow Comes and Goes presents a year’s worth of correspondence between Anderson Cooper and his mother Gloria Vanderbilt. Near her ninety-first birthday, Vanderbilt fell seriously ill; though she recovered, her sudden illness prompted Cooper to stop waiting and begin writing to her, asking everything he’d ever wanted to know about her life. In alternating emails, mother and son reflected on every aspect of their lives, from their greatest losses to their most personal hopes and dreams. The deep connection between mother and son can be felt through the pages, and the book’s advice and musings will stay with you beyond the last page.

The final three memoirs I found all focus on grief and loss from the perspective of a parent, though each parent struggles with a different circumstance. In Falling: A Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back, Elisha Cooper detailed his daughter’s diagnosis with kidney cancer and told how he grappled to come to terms with the uncertainty and lack of control he had over his life. Rosalie Lightning, a memoir graphic novel by Tom Hart, depicts his daughter’s sudden, heartbreaking death and the journey he and his wife went through coming to terms with their loss. This book benefits greatly from its graphic novel format, as the images help convey the depth of feelings Hart dealt with following Rosalie’s death. Finally, Cards for Brianna is a memoir from the other side of the equation, written by a terminally-ill mother for her young daughter. Once Heather McManamy realized her breast cancer was terminal, she decided to write cards to her daughter for various life events; this book presents snippets of them, along with vignettes about McManamy’s life, motherhood, and the gifts you can receive by accepting death.

All of these memoirs were published in 2016 alone; if you would like to look into older familial memoirs, Manhattan Public Library has a great selection of those, too. You might start with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Are You My Mother?, Alan Cumming’s Not My Father’s Son, or Susanne Antonetta’s Make Me a Mother, just to name a few. For even more biography and memoir reading suggestions, you can sign up for our emailed book lists or request a personalized reading list online.

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Follow Your Whim to a Great Book

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of DistractionNot surprisingly, in my work as a librarian, I spend a lot of time in discussion about books: what people are reading, how people select books, and how they experience books. Reading is one of the few activities that has stood the test of time, persisting through centuries of distractions that have fallen to the wayside. So I always cringe when I hear someone say, “I should read more” in the same way they might say “I should eat more kale.” When an individual has stopped reading, I don’t think less of them. I just mourn for everything they are missing.

I am not exaggerating when I say that reading has made my life better and I know I’m not the only one. In the Pew Research Center’s recent study, Book Reading 2016, they reported that Americans read an average of 12 books per year. They read for work or school, to keep up with current events, to research topics of interest, and 80% read for pleasure. In direct contrast to the widely held view of younger generations being distracted by technological devices, 18 to 29 year olds are reading just as much as older age groups, and 83% of them read for pleasure. People don’t read because there’s nothing else to do or because of moral superiority; they read because they want to. Books can provide a window into worlds we would otherwise be unaware of, expose us to new ideas and different perspectives, and they can also bring comfort or escape, or even give us a hearty laugh.

So it was with great delight that I stumbled upon Alan Jacobs’ book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.  The primary theme that Jacobs presents is “Read at Whim.” He encourages readers to read what will give them delight. This can be classic literature, but it can also be a romance novel. All he asks of the reader is to examine the part of our nature that “knows itself and therefore seeks what is really good.” Therefore, he encourages those reading the substantial tome from the list of “100 books you must read” to quit reading if you’ve gotten a good ways into a book and still find it to be a trudge. He also challenges those who stick to a genre with almost identical plots to examine if their reading is still bringing them delight or if finding something a little different might bring a spark back to reading.

The challenge can sometimes be how to find the next book, the one that will fill you with delight. We have lots of tools to explore on the library website,, but there is something to be said for seeking out the recommendations of fellow readers, whether you find them in the pages of your local newspaper or a chat with friends. A list of recommendations gives you a good place to start. From there you can pick up the ones that grab your interest and feel free to ignore those that don’t appeal.

One downside of reading is that it is such a solitary endeavor. As beneficial as reading is, we humans also require community. Manhattan Public Library is hoping to help you meet both needs. Join us at 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at Arrow Coffee Co. for our first Silent Book Club. We will gather with fellow book lovers to discuss books, read, and create community. Despite the word “silent,” there will be no shushing involved. We encourage talking with each other about your favorite books. Gigi, our adept librarian, will be on-hand for book recommendations, tips on what the library can do for you, or just to chat about the world of reading.

So, don’t look at reading as an obligation or a moral directive; instead let yourself be open to the advantages that books can bring to your life. Jacobs summarizes his ideas best with a quote from writer Randall Jarrell, “He read it . . . just because he liked to, wanted to, couldn’t help himself.” We wish you all the best in finding such a book and would be delighted to help in your search.

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The Schooling of Chefs

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

Four KitchensWho can resist the temptation of a nicely seasoned meal and a beautiful presentation?  If you’re like me, you wonder about the thought and planning that goes into the dining experience at a nice restaurant, and you speculate about the chef who orchestrates the experience.  I enjoy reading books about the education of chefs and have learned that the library has a number of such books, if you are also inclined.  Let’s take a look at a few favorites and see why these books appeal to so many.

  • Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential came out in 2000 and was an instant hit. Why?  It’s his personal take on working the line.  The stories he tells about his education as a chef are sometimes humiliating (like the derision of the broiler man when Bourdain dropped a sizzling pan of osso bucco) and usually crude (like his references to old fish and blood contamination in the kitchen).  Bourdain’s book is written in what he calls “Kitchenese,” a language easily recognizable to anyone who has cooked professionally, and if you’ve ever watched any of his television restaurant tours, you’ll recognize his trademark sarcasm and bluntness.  You’ll also come to respect the determination and back-breaking work that made him the celebrity that he is today.
  • Thomas McNamee’s take on kitchen wizardry follows the career of Alice Waters and her famous restaurant, Chez Panisse. In a surprising twist, Alice did not attend a rigorous cooking school, nor did she undergo the backbreaking training of which Bourdain speaks, and yet her focus on local foods and her insistence on décor and the lovely presentation of food have made her an icon.  McNamee’s tales of the fluid restaurant menu and the talented chefs who created various dishes is a captivating read.  And the candid interviews with those who were a part of the restaurant’s early days are amazing.  Try McNamee’s Alice Waters and Chez Panisse for a groundbreaking take on American dining.
  • For a different take, you might like Lauren Shockey’s Four Kitchens. Shockey is a highly respected New York food writer, frequently published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among others.  She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and has won a Culinary Trust/Julia Child Foundation Grant.  What’s the book about?  In an attempt to better understand restaurant food, she apprenticed in four different countries to four different restaurants.  At Sendersens in Paris, for example, Shockey learned what fourteen-hour days were like, and she managed to prepare langoustines for one hundred customers in one evening.  Lots of humorous stories also grace her book.
  • Raised by adoptive parents in Goteborg, Sweden, Marcus Samuelsson was destined to become a great chef. Why?  He learned to love and prepare food under the tutelage of his Swedish grandmother.  From those childhood lessons, he traveled to locations like Switzerland and Austria, where he learned the discipline involved in 6-day work weeks, as well as distinct regional cuisines.  And he also worked for a time for Georges Blanc, long considered one of the top chefs in the world.  Samuelsson learned that inexpensive ingredients, if treated with exceptional care, could become a dish of exquisite quality.  Samuelsson’s book, Yes, Chef, bustles with stories about the chef’s development and love for the process.  And here’s a special plus:  check a listing for Marcus Samuelsson on the Internet to find a terrific roster of some 11 restaurants that he owns, most located in either New York or Sweden.
  • And that brings us to another great book from a renowned chef, Eric Ripert.  Ripert is owner of New York’s Le Bernardin, a three-star Michelin-rated restaurant that has never disappointed in the 11 years since its opening.  Ripert has also starred in PBS TV specials, served on the board of New York’s City Harvest, and published several quality cookbooks.  But behind the celebrity he now enjoys was a childhood made difficult by an abusive stepfather.  Ripert’s determination to become a great chef helped him through the rigors of culinary school and eventually on to a very challenging job working for Joel Robuchon, a tyrannical chef who achieved three stars before the age of forty.  32 Yolks (the title referring to the dreaded hollandaise sauce Ripert mastered) is a wonderful testament to humility and dedication.

The titles mentioned above are but a few of the many available at the library.  In exploring the books of Manhattan Public Library’s cooking shelves, you’ll find a wealth of personal stories and mouth-watering fares.

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Exploring Modern Folklore

By Danielle Schapaugh, Public Relations Coordinator

Eva LunaWatching the Olympics always makes me curious about other cultures. What are their values? What bedtime stories do they tell? For answers, I turn to literature, because I find storytelling more interesting than nonfiction, and because I think it’s possible to learn a lot about other cultures by exploring their folklore.

To begin, I selected a book from one of the masters of modern folklore (often referred to as magical realism), Isabel Allende, who is an award-winning author from Peru.

Allende’s books are steeped in magic and passion. Her most recent work, Island beneath the Sea is a visceral and shocking tale of endurance and triumph. Not only does this book explore other cultures, but it also takes a look at history.

Island beneath the Sea tells the story of Tété, a slave in Saint Dominique, who has been raised with the ways of the voodoo loa (deities). The story chronicles Tété’s life as a beloved child, a concubine, a slave, a servant, a revolutionary, and a voodoo priestess. Throughout her life, the loa guide, frustrate, play tricks, and provide Tété with the power to overcome.

“I strike the ground with the soles of my feet and life rises up my legs, spreads up my skeleton, takes possession of me, drives away distress and sweetens my memory. The world trembles. Rhythm is born on the island beneath the sea; it shakes the earth, it cuts through me like a lightning bolt and rises toward the sky, carrying with it my sorrows so that Papa Bondye can chew them, swallow them, and leave me clean and happy.” – Tété

If you like this book, and I think you will, then I suggest exploring other titles by Allende, such as The House of the Spirits or Eva Luna, both set in the recent past and full of cultural identity.

Laura Esquivel is another fantastic author from Latin America. Like Water for Chocolate is probably her most famous work and would make an excellent choice for a book club! There are so many recipes, themes, and striking characters that you will want to discuss with friends.

At its core, Like Water for Chocolate is a story of unrequited love and family dynamics. It is full of longing and sorrow, magic, and triumph. Tita is the youngest daughter of a respected Mexican family. She will never be allowed to marry or have her own life. Instead, it is her duty to devote herself to the care of her aging mother. Sounds a bit like Cinderella, doesn’t she? The themes are similar and both tales include magic, but Like Water for Chocolate is not a Disney version of the story.

Tita begins her lifetime of work in the kitchen where she learns to express all of her emotions through food. Since she pours herself into her recipes, the food she makes is imbued with the magic of her feelings and has the power to affect those who eat it. Imagine what happens to the wedding cake when her sister marries the man Tita loves! This beautiful tale of Mexican folklore has also been made into a movie which is available at the library.

I also read Esquivel’s The Law of Love, which is set in the future. The book includes a CD of music to be played at certain points in the text. You will enjoy every “interlude for dancing!” As you read, you’ll learn about the relationships and achievements valued in Esquivel’s culture.

Finally, a book that really surprised me was Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, a fascinating author from Indonesia. The “rich and astonishing strangeness” of this story makes it very difficult to put down and even more difficult to forget. Visions of fireflies who rob the site of a man with a guilty conscience, a tornado of a mother who makes the house shake and drives out a cheating husband, and bees who drown out rational thinking will stay with you long after you finish this story.

It was interesting to me how the lines between “good” and “evil” characters are blurred in Of Bees and Mist. I’m used to clear distinctions in moralistic tales. Characters suffer because of bad decisions and bad influences, but at times it is difficult to figure out who the “bad guy” is. Every character is complicated, and I found myself slightly frustrated because this style is out of step with my native culture. It was a pretty cool discovery!

Of Bees and Mist has received mixed reviews, and the plot certainly doesn’t take a direct path to the finish line. Before you dive in, I suggest reading a few pages from the middle to see if you enjoy the tone and style. I certainly hope you decide to give it a try.

Literature and folklore provide powerful lenses for seeing into cultures around the world. I encourage you to explore new cultures by traveling as many places as you can and by finding new ideas in books.

If you need any more recommendations, please visit us at the Manhattan Public Library.

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Why Adults Should Read Children’s Literature

By Gigi Holman, Adult Services Librarian

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris LessmoreI have recently come across a few opinion pieces about how adults shouldn’t read children’s literature. They say it is too easy, that we should leave it for the kids, or one columnist even went as far as to say that “…children’s literature doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature that is written for grown-ups.” While there might be some truth to this observation, I am here to make the case that there is fantastic children’s literature, and adults should be reading it, too. Now, I am not saying that you should cross every adult book off of your reading list; I am arguing that you can have a healthy balance in your reading by sprinkling a few children’s books every once in a while. So without further ado, here is my list of reasons why you should read children’s literature with some excellent book and author suggestions.

1. Children’s literature provides a fantastic escape from reality. Most children’s authors can weave enticing stories with elements that are silly, funny, playful, historical, and magical. They can take us to a place where we can forget about all of the heavy issues that adulthood brings. For an experience such as this, give Roald Dahl a try. Even he has said that “A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men”.

2. Great stories come in small packages. Picture books can reach a wide audience. The stories, though short, have many layers and can be packed full of meaning. My most recent favorite is this year’s Newbery Award winner, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. This charmingly written story is about a boy and his grandma who, during a bus ride, learn to enjoy the people and sounds around them. Throughout the ride, the boy asks his grandma a series of questions, and each time she replies with an answer that points out the beauty in the everyday world. The ending is sweet and meaningful and reminds us about the joy of giving back to our community.
I also highly recommend The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, whose film version was awarded the best animated short film in the 84th Academy Awards. This imaginative story is a reminder that everyone’s life story matters.

3. Some stories become sweeter over time. Can you recall your favorite book from your childhood? Remember reading Charlotte’s Web, Make Way for Duckling, or the Goosebumps series? Try re-reading them. Sometimes the story can take on a whole new meaning as an adult.

4. The illustrations. There are some beautifully illustrated children’s books. You can get lost in the details of the art in some books. Exploring the Caldecott Award list, which offers awards for excellence in children’s book illustrations, can lead you to a wide variety of techniques in art. A few illustrators that I suggest you explore are Beth Krommes, who is a scratchboard artist; David Wiesner, whose illustrations reveal something new each time you read one of his stories; and Denise Fleming, who uses a technique called pulp painting to create her vibrant and colorful illustrations

5. Children’s literature can fit your schedule. Everyone is in a time crunch. Reading can sometimes be a chore instead of an enjoyable experience, but children’s books tend to be shorter. You have time to read a 200 page novel, right?

6. They help you connect with your kids. If you have young readers in your life, read books along with them. Reading books together can give you topics to share and talk about. And, kids who see adults reading are more likely to become readers themselves. There are so many benefits to reading with your kids.

Everyone can benefit from remembering what things look like from the perspective of a child, and reading children’s books helps us not forget that we were once silly, goofy, and playful too. In the end, no matter what you choose to read, come by the Manhattan Public Library and get lost in a good book.

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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

The SandlotIt’s the end of July, the all-start game is a thing of the past, and more hot summer lies ahead. In a 162 game season, there’s a lot of baseball left to play. And that’s only the regular season. From opening day in April through the first cooling days of October, baseball is America’s pastime. There’s nothing like being at the ballpark on a green and glorious day, watching your favorite team, munching on a hotdog, and cheering with the crowd. But if you can’t make it to the ballpark, you can always watch one of these great baseball-inspired movies. lists “Major League” (1989) as number 10 on its list of the top 10 baseball movies. The film deals with the exploits of a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians. Rachel Phelps, the new owner of the Indians, wants to move the team to Miami, but the move hinges on poor ticket sales in Cleveland. To help drag the team down, Phelps hires the most incompetent players available, including a near-blind pitcher and an injury-prone catcher. But fate has other plans.

Number 9 on the best list is “The Sandlot” (1993). Scotty Smalls, the shy new kid on the block wants to join the pickup baseball team that plays every day in the neighborhood sandlot. Only problem is, he doesn’t know how to catch a baseball. He learns to play, but soon sets in motion adventures that bring the gang face to face with The Beast. You have to watch the movie to see what happens next.

“A League of Their Own” (1992) follows at number 8. This comedy portrays a fictionalized account of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The league, founded by chewing gum magnate, Philip Wrigley, was active 1943-1954, and kept baseball in the public eye when so many male players were off to war.

Movie number 7 is “The Natural” (1984) starring Robert Redford, and based on the novel by Bernard Malamud. Sixteen years after a mysterious woman lead to the premature end of his budding baseball career, a once-promising pitcher comes back to baseball armed with his childhood bat “Wonderboy.”

Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, and Jodi Foster follow in “The Bad News Bears” (1976) at number 6. Called the best pure baseball comedy, this movie will remind you what Little League was really like.

“The Pride of the Yankees” (1942) is at number 5. This movie chronicles the life of Lou Gehrig, the legendary first-baseman who succumbed to a fatal neurodegenerative disease at the peak of his career. You won’t have a dry eye as you watch Gary Cooper, as Gehrig, give his “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech.

“Eight Men Out” (1988) is number 4 on the list. This is a dramatization of the Black Sox scandal when the underpaid Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series. One of the characters that figures in the story is none other than Shoeless Joe Jackson, who later returns to Iowa in another of the best baseball movies of all time.

Number 3 is “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973). This film tells the story of the friendship between a star pitcher, wise to the world, and a mentally challenged catcher played by Robert de Niro, as they cope with the catcher’s terminal illness through a baseball season.

One of my personal favorites, “Field of Dreams” (1989) is ranked at number 2. This movie is an adaptation of W.P. Kinsella’s novel “Shoeless Joe.” Farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice, and believes that if he builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson from the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox will return. But that’s just the beginning.

And the number 1 best baseball movie as ranked by is “Bull Durham” (1988). This list calls “Bull Durham” the most authentic portrayal of baseball. This romantic comedy deals with a very minor minor-league team, an aging baseball groupie, a cocky foolish new pitcher, and the older, weary catcher brought in to wise the rookie up.

So head out to the ballpark before the season ends. Or, head over to the library, checkout one of these great films on DVD or Blu-ray, get your popcorn ready, and enjoy.

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A Mystery Series for Your Summer Reading List

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager

The Cold DishSeveral years ago, I randomly picked up The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson and I was never able to look back. Ever since, I’ve waited anxiously for each installment in this brilliant mystery series. Johnson weaves the tales of Walt Longmire, an overweight, middle-aged, widower sheriff with a degree in literature, who takes better care of the county than he does of himself. Along with gripping plots, the Longmire series offers up unforgettable characters, journeys into the mind and spirit, and descriptions of Wyoming that make you feel the sun on your face and the biting wind at your back.

You’ve probably heard of Longmire from the series that was on A&E and then Netflix. I have enjoyed seeing my favorite characters come to life and was thrilled to see recently that season 5 is coming in September, but I must say that the books are an entirely different achievement. The TV show floats along the surface of the thought processes and mysticism that an author can convey so well in a book.

Walt is the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, a fictional county at the base of the Bighorn Mountains bordering the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Walt spends many hours on the road and the trail throughout the series, covering the large area of the county or venturing further for an investigation, so we become intimately familiar with the varying landscape in all types of weather. Wyoming becomes a character in the series as he explores mountains and canyons and rides across the plains or travels long stretches of highway without another human in sight.

The plots of the novels are gripping, but the true reason that I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book as soon as possible is Johnson’s ability to make characters come alive. Walt is a good man, but has faults and weaknesses that make life challenging, not to mention the underlying grief that constantly accompanies him. His practical common sense is balanced by his love of literature and respect for the traditions of the local Native Americans. He is kept above the surface by his lifelong friend, Henry Standing Bear. Henry owns a bar, has bad taste in women, and a steadfast strength. The interactions of the two friends provide subtle, dry humor throughout the books, balancing the difficulties of the issues they face. The deputies in the sheriff’s department consist of Vic Moretti, a smart-mouthed woman who can’t let go of her East Coast sensibilities; Saizarbitoria, a family man; Ferg who is dependable but would rather be fishing; and Turk, an unpleasant but competent officer. Ruby, the dispatcher, keeps everything running smoothly with her smoker’s rasp and superior nagging abilities. To relax, Walt plays chess with the former sheriff, Lucian Connally, who is regularly threatened with removal from his nursing home for various alcohol and weaponry infractions. Walt’s daughter Cady, a lawyer back east, makes regular appearances in an attempt to remind Walt that he is more than a sheriff. Each of them brings humor and heart to the series, while they all deal with demons from the past.

In The Cold Dish, which starts the series off, Longmire is called in to investigate the death of Cody Pritchard. Walt was familiar with the young man who, along with 3 friends, had been given a suspended sentence for the rape of a developmentally disabled Cheyenne girl. The other boys involved in the case are concerned that someone is seeking vengeance. Walt works to overcome his disgust with the murder victim in a situation where the meaning of justice is unclear. Called “a thoughtful page-turner, wry and sober in good measure,” by BookList, The Cold Dish doesn’t fit easily into any genre but would appeal to a wide range of readers.

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The Defense: A Top-Notch Summer Thriller

Marcia Allen
Technical Services Manager

The Defense by Steve CavanaghReady for a suspense title that will keep you reading its 300 pages at lightning speed? If so, Steve Cavanagh’s The Defense might be your favorite thriller this summer. This book, Mr. Cavanagh’s debut in this country, was nominated for the British Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for Thriller of the Year. Mr. Cavanagh, a respected attorney who lives in Ireland, wrote the novel at night while his family was sleeping. To his surprise, the finished novel was a huge success and has since been published in the UK, Japan, Italy Portugal, France, Germany, and now the U.S. In fact, he plans to publish a series of novels about his character, Eddie Flynn. You’ll wait just as impatiently as I am for the next installment to reach this country. Let’s take a look at why the critics love this book.

First of all, there’s main character Eddie. Eddie’s a young attorney who left his practice because he successfully defended a sadistic stalker who, once freed, kidnapped and tortured his original intended victim. While Eddie did manage to save the life of the girl, he realized that this horrific crime would never have happened if he hadn’t defended the perpetrator quite so skillfully. So, now he has severed ties with his former partner and tried to turn his life around. That seems to be working until the opening page of this story. Eddie is kidnapped by brutal Russian mob figures who intend to force the lawyer to fulfill the contract that his old partner couldn’t finish. And, they have Eddie’s young daughter for collateral.

What do these ruthless characters have in mind? The head of the mob has been identified as the force behind a vicious hit, so for him to evade conviction, Eddie must somehow silence the witness before he can testify. Eddie becomes the major player in a plot designed to place a bomb in the courtroom near the star witness. Eddie is horrified by the plan, but his daughter’s life hinges on the success of the plot, so he has little choice.
Seems like a helpless situation doesn’t it? But that is not the case. Before becoming a lawyer, Eddie was a highly talented con artist. Taught by a father who had a unique set of skills, a younger Eddie had made a lucrative career from faking automobile accidents. Too, he still has links to old buddies who were also once a part of other con games, so Eddie is a man with some very useful friendships. 

Secondly, there are incredible twists in the plot. Nothing is quite what it seems, whether that be the plan to ignite a courtroom explosion or the possible involvement of the FBI. And the original hit is shrouded in mystery. The hitman’s guilt seems obvious, but his willingness to get caught is suspect. There’s also the matter of a picture on the wall that seems to have been altered. And one of the enforcers working with the head of the mob is clearly an angry man with other motives. In addition, there is the matter of multiple detonators for the bomb. Could there also be decoys for the bomb itself? 

Eddie’s frantic machinations to outwit the Russians lead to stolen wallets and cell phones, as well as the acquisition of some very unusual equipment. If that’s not enough, there are also ventures onto lofty building ledges and private conversations with other underworld factions. There are supporting characters known as “The Lizard,” “Cousin Albie,” and “Tony G,” and there is an abundance of flashbacks that explain Eddie’s colorful past and surprising capabilities.

To be honest, some of the scenes in this book are truly far-fetched. It’s difficult to imagine the troubled Eddie working his way down the statue of the Lady of Justice poised on the edifice of the courthouse. And it’s equally puzzling to imagine him rocketing through New York on the back of a racing motorcycle. But suspending belief for the duration of this action-charged novel is well worth it. Exciting courtroom tactics, breakneck chases, and lots of double-dealing make this one a sure hit!

Posted in: For Adults, Mercury Column, News

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