Ape House by Sara Gruen

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Sara Gruen, famous for her novel Water for Elephants has again chosen animals as her theme. This book, set in contemporary times rather than the depression era of ‘Elephants’, has at it’s heart the fascinating small chimps known as bonobos.

Sara spent time at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa becoming friends with bonobos in order to write this novel. First she was told she had to do her ‘homework’ and spend time preparing for her visit by studying linguistics and a system of lexigrams so she could communicate with the bonobos. She worked with two linguists at York University in Toronto who are doing ground-breaking work on communication with bonobos, particularly the Great Ape Trust family of bonobos.

Knowing that she would need icebreakers to open the conversation with the bonobo family, Gruen brought photos of her dog and children. The pictures of the dogs elicited no response from Panbanisha, a linguistic superstar, but when Gruen showed the bonobo a photo of her young children taking a bubble bath, Panbanisha, a mother of two, used her lexigram keyboard to respond “babies washing bubbles.” (http://www.thegreatapetrust.org/)

Ape House is the story of Isabel, an ape researcher at the University of Kansas, who is critically injured when an animal rights activist group blows up the linguistic lab to free the bonobos and broadcast their agenda. The apes escape and we are lead in a chase across the country to rescue these intelligent animals. I was thoroughly amazed at the capacity for language these creatures display, and found the book an interesting commentary on how we treat our animal friends.

The Compassion of Animals by Kristin Von Kreisler

>The Compassion of Animals is a book full of stories that show the love animals have for humans as well as other animals. This book is a compilation of actual stories of dogs, pigs, horses, cats and other animals coming to the rescue. The pig was being a nuisance when he wouldn’t let his owner sleep, come to find out the pig was trying to warn them that carbon monoxide was leaking into their trailer. A dog inside gets his owner’s attention to save a little boy from freezing when he had ridden his trike too far from home. A man was injured outside his home on a freezing night and the neighbors dog saved him from dying when he insisted his master come out and take a look. A very insistent cat saved his people and their home from a gas explosion. Many stories tell of heroic acts of animals, even at the expense of their own lives. Cry a little, rejoice a lot, and wonder what heroic act your pet may be capable of doing. After reading this book you will find yourself listening a little closer when animals speak.

Graphic novels and movies

>A number of films have been released in recent years that are adaptations of graphic novels. These, of course, include all the Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Catwoman, etc. movies, but they are definitely not the extent of this trend. They also include such graphic novels/movies as 300, Watchmen, and Sin City. In the past few months, movies based on the graphic novels Kick A** and the Scott Pilgrim series have been in theaters.

Coraline is another film with a graphic novel tie. The story was originally a novella by Neil Gaiman, adapted into the graphic novel format in 2008 and released as a film in 2009. The story is of a young girl who moves wtih her parents into a large old house transformed into four apartments. On a rainy day, Coraline explores inside rather than out and discovers a bricked up doorway in the sitting room. In the night, the doorway is no longer bricked up and Coraline passes through it into a world containing button-eyed copies of her parents and the other tenants of her building. At first this world seems better than hers, but her real parents disappear from the normal world and the other world starts to unravel. Coraline must figure out how to save her real parents and get away from her “Other Mother,” or be trapped forever and have buttons sewn over her eyes.

Persepolis is a nonfiction graphic novel adapted into a movie. It is the story of one young woman’s experience in Iran during and in the years following the Islamic revolution. The film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. The graphic novels and the film chronicle Marjane Satrapi’s life from her childhood in Iran during the war between Iran and Iraq to her teenage years going to school in Vienna, Austria and then her young adulthood back in Iran where she attended college, married, divorced and then moved to France. The cinematic style is simple, with the present day depicted in color and Satrapi’s flashbacks to childhood animated in black and white.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a film released in 2003, was based on a comic book series of the same title published beginning in 1999. The film is a action/adventure/superhero movie very loosely based on the graphic novels. It is set in the late 19th century and populated by Victorian Era superheroes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is brought together to combat the threat of the “Fantom” who is masterminding attacks throughout the world designed to create upheavel on an international scale. They stop the destruction of Venice only to discover their mysterious benefactor had ulterior motives for bringing the group together.

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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At face value, this is a story about baseball, about a little girl and her love of the Dodgers and how it brought her closer to her father. But as you get further into Doris Kearns Goodwin’s story, Wait Till Next Year, this becomes the story of a time period lost to us now. Kearns Goodwin grew up in a small suburb of New York. Her father rode the train into the city everyday and took time every evening to hear his little girl’s report on the Dodgers game. Her mother was sickly, but still managed to be the ultimate homemaker. They were surrounded by friends who gathered for backyard barbeques. She knew the local shopkeepers and they tolerated her endless curiosity. It seems like an ideal time, but she also talks about the undercurrents that were starting to bubble up like McCarthyism and racism and social conditions that would eventually tear apart the community she so loved. Threaded through the history of this community is the story of baseball. The neighborhood was split into factions that cheered the Yankees, Giants, and the Dodgers. Friendly taunting among the groups was part of the social interaction during a time when the teams often faced each other in league championship as well as World Series games. Baseball was something that brought the community and families together. Doris Kearns Goodwin utilizes her story telling magic to transport the reader to another place and time and cheer on this little girl who loved baseball.

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

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Ellen Gleeson is a journalist and the single, adoptive mother of a 3 year old, Will. She adores her son and is faced with the worries of any working parent–not enough time at home with her son, not giving 100% at work, no time for romance. She is content with her life until, while sifting through her mail, she finds a missing child postcard and is shocked to see a photo of a child who looks exactly like her son. She knows her adoption was legal but becomes obsessed with discovering the truth about her son’s identity. She is tormented by the choice she may have to make about the son she loves–should she contact the parents of the missing child or not tell anyone and be haunted by her decision? Should she search for the truth even if it will hurt both mother and child? Ellen begins an emotional journey to find answers, a search complicated by murder, suicide and romance. In Look Again, Scottoline has crafted a taut, suspense-filled story filled with emotion and with well-developed, believable characters–a story that will leave you thinking “What would I have done?”

The Doctor and the Diva

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Dr. Ravell is a successful obstetrician in Boston at the turn of the twentieth century. Erika Myrick is developing her voice with the dream of an international opera career. Erika’s husband Peter, a successful textiles businessman, longs for a child. The couple’s difficulty with conceiving brings the three together in this compelling story of romantic obsession. The novel leads us from snowy Boston to a Caribbean plantation and to the beauty of Florence, Italy. We learn interesting tidbits of the history of fertility treatment.
McDonnell used her family history as inspiration for this novel. Her husband’s Grandfather was abandoned by his mother when she went to Italy to become an opera singer.

Lost Laysen by Margaret Mitchell

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Lost Laysen is a short novel, written by Margaret Mitchell in 1916. Mitchell, who is best known as the author of Gone With the Wind, was believed to have written only one full book during her lifetime.

However, when she was 15, she had written the manuscript to Lost Laysen — a romance set in the South Pacific. She gave two notebooks containing the handwritten work to a suitor named Henry Love Angel who kept the manuscript along with a number of photographs and intimate letters with the understanding that they not be made public. After his death in 1945, his son inherited the manuscript and letters.

In 1996, Angel’s grandson discovered the amazing treasure that had been passed down to him–a box of photographs, negatives, correspondence from Mitchell to Angel, and the manuscript to her other romance novel, Lost Laysen.

Dog Tags by David Rosenfelt

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In Dog Tags, Andy is a lawyer who would prefer doing anything but working. In a moment of compassion and a love for dogs, he decides to represent Milo, a retired German shepherd police dog who witnesses a murder. His owner, Billy Zimmerman, a crippled Iraqi war veteran and ex-cop, is unable to find work since his return from Iraq. Billy has turned Milo into the perfect snatch-and- grab thief. Witnesses place Milo at the murder scene with Billy and Billy is charged with the crime. Milo is caged and may be put down if Billy is convicted. Always a sucker for a dog, Andy comes to his rescue and also ends up representing Billy. In the eighth book in the Andy Carpenter series, Rosenfelt’s dry wit can be laugh-out-loud funny.

Confessions of a Prairie B**ch by Alison Arngrim

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I grew up with Little House on the Prairie. I felt for Mary when she lost her glasses. I fell in love with Almanzo right along with Laura. Most of all, though, I hated Nellie Oleson, who represented all the bullies in my little world. I only wished I could handle my bullies as well as Laura handled hers. Confessions of a Prairie B**ch is Alison Arngrim’s story of what it was like growing up playing one of the most hated characters in America. She shares how Nellie transformed her from a shy little girl to a self-confident young woman, willing to face the very real demons in her life.

If you are looking for a typical Hollywood tell-all, this is not that book. She thoroughly covers her time on the Little House set, but her memories are surprisingly positive. She mostly limits the dirt to the discussion of her own life, the trials she’s faced and the lessons she’s learned, telling her story with such wit and style that you’ll find yourself wanting to be friends with this woman who looks so much like a childhood enemy. As the title indicates, her language can be raunchy, but her story and her viewpoint are inspiring.

Stay by Allie Larkin

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Savannah Leone is maid of honor at her best friend’s wedding, but not a happy member of the wedding party because her best friend is marrying the love of Savannah’s life. As she wallows in her sorrow, aided by a vodka-kool-aid mix, Savannah surfs the Internet and decides she needs companionship, ordering a German Shepherd puppy online. When he arrives, her “puppy” Joe turns out to be a one-year old police dog who understands commands in Slovakian–luckily for Savannah a list of commands comes with the dog. The story is filled with humor as Savannah adjusts to life with her new companion and without her old love. This is a charming novel about friendship and coming to terms with the past—about letting go, moving on and coping with life’s complications. Allie Larkin’s Stay is about relationships of all kinds and is a delightful debut novel.

Before I Fall

> Before I Fall is about a high school senior named Sam who is popular, mean, loyal, a follower and about to experience something extraordinary. The book opens on Cupid Day and Sam is in the car with her four friends while they head home from a party. Suddenly there’s a car accident and Sam realizes she’s killed in the crash, but she wakes up the next morning and it’s Cupid Day again. Thus begins the last week of Sam’s life, in which she relives one Friday seven times. She tries a different tactic to end this cycle every day, from being as nice as possible to doing whatever she wants throughout the day to spending the entire day with her younger sister. She finally figures out what needs to happen to end the cycle on the seventh day and time finally moves on.

This has obviously been done before, and Sam mentions that it seems like she’s living the movie Groundhog Day. I didn’t like this book for its originality, though. I liked it because of the way Sam handled and reacted to what was happening to her. I enjoyed the way her actions were described and understanding her motivations for the way she acted before and after she started reliving a single day. The book kept me reading and wondering how Sam was going to live the next day and how she was going to stop the cycle from continuing.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

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Piper Kerman, a Smith graduate from a well-to-do loving family, spent a year in Danbury Federal Correctional Institution for drug related charges. In her candid memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, she vividly shares the fears and regrets of her time there.

Directly after graduation Piper begins associating with an older interesting woman that travels internationally. Soon she is involved in this woman’s drug smuggling and money laundering activities. Recognizing the foolishness of this Piper begins a new life, falls in love and has a successful job. Ten years later the Feds catch up with the drug ring.

Piper owns up to her crime and shares the foolishness of her former activities as she relates the story of prison life in a minimum security prison. We meet the wide variety of woman whom she befriends and learn the sad story of the poverty cycle which causes so many to return to their illegal activities and end up right back in prison. The heartbreak she viewed as children come to visit incarcerated mothers was one of the worst experiences. She spends her time reading, exercising and learning the electrical trade. The guards were a mixture of hateful and decent men and women.

Piper is now a vice-president at a Washington D.C communications firm that works with foundations and non-profits. She has been interviewed on NPR.org.

A Hopeful Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer

> How does a woman from back East prepare for living in the wild west with all it’s hardness? Why, through Hattie Wyatt’s Herdsman School of course. Women come to find a husband, but first they have to measure up to become a bride of one of Barnett’s ranchers. Aunt Hattie makes sure they do, with hands-on training in skills such as milking a cow, branding a calf, riding a horse and cooking up a mess of grub for hungry ranch hands. Of course it wasn’t Tressa Neill’s idea to go west. With her parents gone and her Aunt and Uncle not wanting her, what other choice did she have? But maybe it will be worth it if Abel Samms will take notice of her. He already has enough trouble with cattle rustlers and wants nothing to do with the group of potential brides his neighbor brought to town. A Hopeful Heart includes humor, mystery and romance you won’t want to miss.

Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews

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Meg Lanslow returns to spend the summer in her Virginia home town to help prepare for the three weddings for which she is serving as maid of honor. The brides are difficult, her relatives are crazy, the tasks are endless, the gorgeous new guy in town is reportedly gay, and, to top it all off, people are being attacked right and left. The first in a series, Murder, with Peacocks is a light and fun read.