>The Unconquered:In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes is an extraordinary tale of a journey into the most remote regions of the Amazon to locate a mysterious tribe–the flecherios–the Arrow People. Scott Wallace, on assignment for National Geographic, joins the 2002 expedition led by Sydney Possuelo, a leader in the National Indian Foundation of Brazil, whose goal is to protect uncontacted Indian tribes and to protect the large tract of unspoiled rainforest that has been set aside for the survival of these tribes. The trek is a grueling 3 month journey, often undertaken with insufficient food or clean water as they travel by boat, canoe and foot through the dense jungle, surrounded by dangers in the form of poisonous snakes and insects, caimans, piranhas, and deadly jaguars. Human dangers also face the men in the form of drug runners, illegal miners and loggers, and the elusive Arrow People, whose ability to shoot their arrows with deadly accuracy then vanish into the jungle strikes fear into all of the expedition members. Wallace describes the journey in fascinating detail, but besides telling a tale of adventure and exploration, he discusses the plight of indigenous tribes, both in the past and the present. The result of contact with people from the outside have usually resulted in the death and destruction of these isolated tribes. Possuelo’s approach is significantly different from contacts with tribes throughout history, made with luring natives with beads, glass or knives and other tools. “[He] sought nothing, and in turn gave little. He was just passing through. He didn’t want locals to fret, didn’t want to uncover their secrets, didn’t want to know much of anything except to know that they were doing fine…What he offered was at once nothing and everything, something so huge and intangible that they’d never know he’d even given it to them–the chance to endure, to survive another day, to replicate their way of life, a way of life that had all but vanished from the rest of the planet”.
Wallace has written a profound and revealing portrait of the last great wilderness on earth and of the forces working both for and against it’s destruction. This is a thought-provoking look at our relationship with nature and our responsibility to allow these indigenous tribes to exist in their chosen manner and in their familiar environment without exploitation by the outside world.
It’s a popular belief that there are no new stories, only different ways of telling them. And sometimes that isn’t such a bad thing. The old myths and fairy tales became popular for a reason. They are stories that tell us about people’s deepest desires and fears. Retellings of the old myths and fairy tales go in and out of style periodically. This is one of those periods of popularity, and there have been some recent imaginative, worthwhile retellings.
If you’re interested in reading retellings by some of the best writers currently writing fantasy, horror, and young adult fiction, you’ll want to pick up Happily Ever After, an anthology of 33 myth and fairy tale retellings from the past two decades. Some of the authors included are Susanna Clarke, Gregory Maguire, Kelly Link, Garth Nix and Holly Black.
A new book that came out in February of this year that has received a lot of attention is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. The novel is based on the Russian folk tale, transplanted to 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel are a childless couple who move to Alaska from Pennsylvania to start over after a heartbreaking miscarriage. After two years they are each slowly succumbing to despair. To distract themselves from their worries one evening, they build a girl out of snow. The next day the snow girl is gone and Jack sees a real, seemingly feral, child running in the woods.
Another book set in the winter but meant for middle-grade readers, is Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Jack and Hazel have been best friends for five years, so when Jack suddenly stops talking to Hazel, she’s devastated. We find out a shard of magic mirror has made its way into Jack’s heart, and he later disappears without a trace. Hazel must brave the cold Minnesota winter and enter the woods to find her friend. This imaginative tale contains many allusions to beloved children’s stories from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to A Wrinkle in Time.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer is meant for teenage readers, but it’s proved very popular with adults, too. This may be because the title character, Cinder, is a cyborg mechanic who has a hopeless romantic of an android for a sidekick. Cinder is a second-class citizen, as are all cyborgs, in this futuristic retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinder lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters and supports her family through her work as a mechanic. Her reputation reaches Prince Kai, the heir to the throne, who brings her an android to repair.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman is not a new novel. It originally came out in 2001, but a new, enhanced edition came out in 2011. This is a novel about the complex religious and mythological heritage of America and is, therefore, complex and meandering itself. Shadow is released a few days early from prison when his wife dies in a car accident. He accepts a job from Mr. Wednesday, a former god, and embarks on a trip across America, where he encounters the old gods and creatures of myth immigrants brought with them to the United States. If you’ve read American Gods before, it’s probably worth it to pick it up again, since the 10th Anniversary edition has a new introduction and contains Gaiman’s preferred text.
The end of the world seems like a good place to end this list. In Norse mythology, the end of the world comes with the deaths of the gods and the world being squeezed by a serpent that has grown so large she encircles the world and crushes it. Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt takes this story and presents it through the eyes of a young girl living through World War II who has been presented with a book of the Norse myth Asgard and the Gods.
>The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons is one of those atmospheric novels that transports one to another age and creates a desire for the story to never end as we are caught up in another time. Elise Rosa Landau is one of the privileged Jews in Vienna. Her Mother is a famous opera singer and her father an accomplished writer. Hitler is coming to power and life as they have known it is on the brink of disaster. Her parents are hoping for a visa to escape to America, but Elise must get out of Vienna some other way. Elise posts a refugee advertisement in the London Times: Viennese Jewess, 19, seeks position as domestic servant. Speaks fluid English. I will cook your goose. Elise Landau. Vienna 4, Dorotheegasse, 30/5. She receives a letter in return from the housekeeper of Tyneford House who has been instructed by Mr. Rivers to offer Elise a position of house parlor maid, He will sign the necessary visa application statements, providing that she stay at Tyneford House for a minimum of a twelvemonth. This is the beginning of a new life for Elise and her family. A life of tragedy and grief but also love. The emotions of the characters, rich descriptive details of the beautiful coast of England and captivating story of life struggles for all classes during World War II create a wonderful novel.
Written like a CIA report, An Ordinary Spy tells the story of new spy Mark Ruttenberg as he learns the ropes and reality of life undercover. Alternating between researching dusty documents and cultivating relationships with possible informants, Ruttenberg longs for the big break that will raise his status in the organization. When one of his informants starts to share quality information as he is falling in love with her, he begins to wonder if any information is worth the methods used in gathering it.
Weisberg uses a device that some will find amusing and some annoying. Some of the text of the book is blacked out, supposedly by the censors, so we miss out on some details. Even with some of the context missing, he has created a gripping tale that serves up plenty of intrigue and action while examining the conflicts of living life as someone else.
Los Angeles police detective, Harry Bosch, has been placed on The DROP, (the Deferred Retirement Option Plan) and is facing retirement in three years. But never one to slow down, Bosch seeks challenging cases to test his mental, physical and moral strength. Good for Harry! He gets two new cases: the DNA match of an eight-year-old boy associated with the rape of a teenage girl in 1989 and the surprising death of a city councilman’s son who was pushed from a hotel window. Connelly tightly twists the two cases, still giving a light touch of family, romance and many unexpected snafus. This is the 17th book in this police procedural which began with , the Black Echo.
>I must confess, I read One for the Money a few years ago and I didn’t like it. I decided to give Janet Evanovich one more try, though, so I picked up Love in a Nutshell and was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it.
Kate Appleton has had a horrible year. She found out her husband was cheating on her, got a divorce, lost the custody battle over her poodle, and then she lost her job. She really needs a break. Her plan is to fix up her parents’ lake house and turn it into a bed and breakfast. This would be easier if it weren’t in horrible shape and she hadn’t lost most of her savings in the housing market crash when she and her husband’s house lost a lot of its value.
Enter Matt Culhane, owner of a successful restaurant/brewery in town who needs someone to find out who has been sabotaging his business. Matt offers Kate $20,000 to find his saboteur, which she accepts as pretty much her only option for saving the house (did I mention her parents were behind on house payments?).
Kate has a lot on her plate with trying to find out who is sabotaging Matt’s business, meet new friends in Keene’s Harbor, fix up her parents’ house, and try to resist her growing attraction to Matt.
Marielle married a wonderful man, Carson, a widower of five years with two young children. She agreed to live in his previous wife’s family home, along with Adelaide the matriarch, “for the children’s sake” and to take care of Sara’s grandmother. It may not be the most comfortable of conditions but, Marielle did love the children and cared very much for Adelaide.
Holly Oak was an historical mansion in Fredricksburg, Virgina, that had survived the Civil War. It was rumored that Adelaide’s Great Grandmother, Susannah, was a spy for the Union Army and that Holly Oak was haunted. The truth of the stately mansion is told through Susannah’s letters written to her cousin in Maine during the war. Susan Meissner brings her characters alive and there is evidence that she has done much research before the telling of A Sound Among the Trees.
If you’re one of the millions of viewers of the PBS Masterpiece series Downton Abbey, no doubt you’re feeling the first pangs of loss on the brink of tonight’s second-season finale. Downton Abbey is an award-winning, lavishly-detailed period production and costume drama which has a stellar cast and a legion of fans. The series’ first season opens in Edwardian England in 1912 at Downton Abbey, a stately English country house, and follow the lives of the wealthy Crawley family and their servants as the clouds of World War I loom and break. Season two takes the story through the upheaval and tragedy of the war back to peacetime, but to a world where personal relationships, social structures, and politics have all been irrevocably altered. Although season three is in production, scheduled to air first in Britain in autumn 2012 and later in the U.S, the coming months will be a long, long wait for diehard fans. But it’s my happy task to tell you that Manhattan Public Library has plenty of diversions to help get you through the coming Downton-Abbey-less months. Firstly, if you’ve missed out on the series so far, you have plenty of time to catch up, starting with Downton Abbey’s first season on DVD and moving on to season two, both now at Manhattan Public Library. There is also a companion book to the series, The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, filled with photographs and illustrations, production sketches and research. Downton Abbey was filmed at Highclere Castle, the real-life ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon, and screenwriter Julian Fellowes drew inspiration from the history of the great home and the life of Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon during the same time period. Read more about the Almina’s life and times and the history of the castle, including its use as a wartime hospital, in Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: the Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona, current Countess Carnarvon. Downton Abbey fans can also check out Below Stairs: the Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir that Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey by Margaret Powell, a book which rocketed to best-seller status in the UK following the airing of Downton Abbey. While you’re waiting for DA season three, why not revisit that other classic PBS series focusing on the intertwined lives of the upper class and the servant class, Upstairs, Downstairs? The library has all five seasons of the series, which originally aired in the 1970s and enjoyed an audience of nearly one billion viewers in over 40 countries. Also set during the Edwardian Age, Upstairs, Downstairs takes place in a large London townhouse, home to the wealthy Bellamy family. In its entirety, the combined seasons of this series offer an intimate view of the lives of both masters and servants from 1903 to 1930, as well as a panoramic overview of the social and technological changes taking place during those years.
For a different and highly-entertaining twist on life in a great English country house, check out the 2001 Robert Altman film, mystery-drama-comedy Gosford Park. This time landed gentry, their upstairs guests, and the downstairs servants gather for a “shooting party” in 1932 and are joined by members of the local village police constabulary as mayhem, drama, and high-jinks ensue. In addition to the interdependence of privileged and servant classes, the film subtly explores changing sexual mores of the time and the impact of the First World War. With a script by Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes, the film features a large ensemble cast that includes the indomitable Maggie Smith as well as Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi, Clive Owen, Alan Bates, and others. Or look for Flambards, another great series on DVD at the library, which was based on the novels of K. M. Peyton and originally aired on PBS in 1980. Orphaned heiress Christina Parsons is sent to live with her tyrannical, bitter Uncle Russel and his two sons at their neglected and decaying country estate, Flambards. Speculation is that Russell plans to marry her to brutal, fox-hunting-obsessed son Mark and then use her inheritance to restore Flambards and the family’s finances. Christina, however, befriends second son, William, who is involved with early experiments in flight, hoping to become an aviator. And finally, treat yourself to John Galsworthy’s absorbing, monumental work (in print or on DVD), The Forsyte Saga, which chronicles the lives and trials of generations of the upper-middle-class Forsyte family from 1906 into the 1920s.
>“Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the wonderfully imaginative debut novel The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. Myfanwy (pronounced like “Tiffany”) Thomas opens her eyes to find herself standing in a park in the rain surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves. She finds two letters addressed to herself in her coat pockets containing instructions for how to either slide herself into the life of the old Myfanwy Thomas, the previous owner of the body, or how to run and begin a new life for herself with a new name. Myfanwy obviously chooses to stay and take up the responsibilities and life of Thomas (as she calls the old owner of the body), which turn out to be complicated and very surprising. Thomas was a “Rook,” one of eight heads of the organization known as the Checquy that protects the United Kingdom from supernatural threats. Someone was obviously trying to remove Thomas from the picture and Myfanwy is saddled not only with the challenge of quickly learning how to run a secret organization and control the supernatural powers she inherited along with her body but also with the task of sussing out the conspiracy behind her memory loss and how the increasing number of supernatural attacks since she woke up in the park is related to her existance.
This is a totally enthralling, complex, and darkly humorous debut that should appeal to readers who enjoy Jim Butcher or Neil Gaiman.
>Interested in Africa, I picked up Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. This is her fourth book and a narrative of her mother’s love for Africa where her family lived during the 1950′s and 60′s. Alexandra was raised by an eccentric mother with a zest for life. Nicola was born in Scotland but raised in Kenya. Her love for Africa is expressed through this narrative as we learn the British colonial period’s history of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Alexandra presents her mother with such spirit as she describes her love for the land and creatures even though she experiences untold hardships and tragedy as she runs from war. The Tree of Forgetfulness in Zambia is where the mother presently thrives raising tilapia (as the premier producer of fingerlings in the country) and sharing her love for all things African.
> I must say that the cover and title of this book almost prevented me from reading it. Even I was slightly abashed to be caught reading this. But I’m glad I overcame my embarrassment because it’s a great story. Rob MacGregor is traveling to pay homage to the new king. As the future chief of his clan he takes his responsibilities seriously and doesn’t have the time for romance. But when a dying soldier uses his last breath to ask MacGregor to save Lady Davina Montgomery from a burning tower, he cannot refuse. Davina has lived in a convent all of her life for the sake of her own protection, but as a new king is crowned, even the convent can’t keep the forces of evil from chasing her down. She tries valiantly to defend her home, even as she sees all of those she loves being killed. With all those she trusts laying bleeding on the ground, she has no choice but to believe in the powerful warrior who scoops her into his arms and carries her away. With Ravished by a Highlander, Paula Quinn spins an adventurous tale of love and treachery, fleshing it out with historical detail, political intrigue, and two captivating characters.
>by Serena Miller Katie Calloway flees her Georgia home with her 8 year old brother, Ned. Harlan, Katie’s husband, wants her dead so that he can marry a rich widow and rebuild his war torn plantation. He blames Katie for letting the Union soldiers burn down the home that his grandfather had built. While Harlan is gone, Katie takes his horse and his money to get as far away from him as possible. In Bay City, Michigan, Robert Foster is looking for a cook for his lumber camp. When he tastes Katie’s apple pie, he offers her the job. Katie believes the lumber camp deep in the Michigan forest is the best place to hide from Harlan. Although the work is hard, the accomodations are sparse, and the injured camp cook, Jigger, doesn’t want her there, Katie gets to do something she loves. The lumbermen greatly appreciate her cooking, which is something Harlan never did. While Katie’s boss is a perfect gentleman and extremely handsome, Katie is still married. She is determined to keep her place as cook for the seven months as she agreed. But then she must find another place to work, because it is just too hard to be near Robert. This was a fast read, maybe because I just couldn’t put it down. The lumbercamp was a new experience and the extra’s that Serena Miller added, a starving sqaw & infant, Roberts sister & kids, made the journey with Katie fun. If you like Kim Sawyer, Lauraine Snelling, Mary Connealy, or Karen Witemeyer you’ll like The Measure of Katie Calloway.
>Just after World War II, Jean Paget is contacted by an attorney and learns she has inherited some money. Her plan to use some of the funds is to go to Malaysia in order to build a well in a village. As she explains to the attorney her reasons for her wish , she tells the story of her forced march across Malaysia as a Japanese prisoner of war. The men are taken to a POW camp, but there are no accommodations for women and children. They are marched through jungles and across the country, their numbers dwindling due to disease and starvation. Eventually their Japanese guard dies, and they are accepted in a village, earning their way by working in the rice paddies. The women are helped by an Australian prisoner, Joe Harmon, who steals food and medicine for them and eventually is brutally punished for his actions. Jean believes Joe died from his brutal treatment and Joe believes Jean, like the rest of the British women, is married . After the war and after learning the truth about each other, they travel to opposite sides of the world to find each other, eventually establishing a new life in Australia. A Town Like Alice illustrates the best of the human spirit, showing resilience, caring and hope in the face of unbearable suffering and brutality–a compelling story of war, survival and love.
Filmmakers Ridley Scott & Kevin MacDonald combined and edited more than 80,000 videos submitted from people in 192 countries to tell the story of what life was like in the world on July 24th, 2010. The film is a delightful mixture of the day-to-day with momentous occasions in the lives of individuals. It is so powerful to watch morning rituals, one after another, as we do them differently in different places. We also get to share such occasions as a teenager learning to shave with his dad and a family working together with the struggles of cancer. As in real life, it’s not always easy to watch, but Life in a Day kept me glued to the screen with fascination as I laughed, cried, and delighted in a world where we know each other a little better.
by Daniel Silva
Gabriel Allon is an artist, restoring valuable pieces of art. He is also a retired Israeli spy who travels with his wife, Chiara. On one of his trips to England, he spots a possible suicide bomber and follows him with the intent of killing him before the detonator is pressed. Just before he pulls the trigger, he is tackled by British police and the bomber kills eighteen innocent people. Gabriel is pardoned for his attempt of murder only by working with the CIA to put a stop to terrorism. He must convince Nadia, the daughter of the terriorist Gabriel killed 5 years earlier, to help them discover who the head man is. Portrait of a Spy is number eleven in the Gabriel Allon Series.