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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Real Heroes of Monuments Men

Roll out the red carpet – it is Oscar time. The annual pageant of Hollywood’s brightest stars continues this Sunday as the award show honors 2013’s best movies and performances. Absent from this year’s nominees is Monuments Men (directed by and starring George Clooney) since post-production delays pushed its debut in theaters to 2014. Even had it made the deadline, it may not have been nominated in many categories. The movie received mixed reviews and felt too convoluted--a combination of buddy-war movie, comedy, drama and treasure-hunt adventure. But no other movie I saw this year made me want to learn more about its subject. And for that, Monuments Men deserves an Oscar in my book.

For curious viewers, a first stop should be Robert Edsel’s 2009 book, The Monuments Men, the historical account upon which the movie is based. Put the book on hold. It’s worth the wait. And after you finish reading it, see if you agree with me that the wealth of information and profiles of real-life Monuments Men and women might have been better suited to a multi-part mini-series a la Band of Brothers instead of a feature-length film.

If you happen to live in the DC metro area, two area museums are currently hosting small Monuments Men exhibits based on holdings in area archives. And if you don’t, the online exhibits are actually richer and more in-depth than the physical exhibits.

The National Gallery of Art played a seminal role in the creation of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program (MFAA, the formal name of the “Monuments Men” commission). Their exhibit focuses on the Gallery’s role in its inception and on the experiences of a few real-life Monuments Men who donated their papers and photographs to the Gallery.

Also in DC, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art is hosting an exhibit of Monuments-related items in its collection through April 20, 2014, as well as two gallery talks in March. The online display includes numerous photos and a treasure trove of oral history interviews with many of the commission members. The Archives’ blog also has two excellent entries about the collections—The Real Monuments Men and Women and Artful Collaborators: James J. Rorimer and Rose Valland

Additionally, Sony Pictures released a great educational website based on the movie that contains biographies, interactive maps, lesson plans and video clips from that time.

I appreciated these exhibits and websites greatly after seeing the movie. They were satisfying in a way that the movie was not. So, I am grateful that the movie has brought wider recognition to the achievements of the MFAA commission and will ensure its story lives on. For rescuing 5 million pieces of art, the living monument of humanity’s greatness, in the midst of war… the Oscar goes to the real Monuments Men and women and the people who continue to tell their story.

- Ginger Hawkins, Centreville Regional Library

Monday, February 24, 2014

Upstairs, Downstairs with Downton Abbey

Watching the characters of Downton Abbey navigate the ties of love, class, duty and desire in Edwardian England has become a national pastime. The storyline moves the inhabitants of the Earl and Countess of Grantham’s country estate from the sinking of the Titanic in 1913 through the vast social and economic changes of the roaring twenties. However, it’s the tumultuous upstairs and downstairs relationships that keep followers entertained and entranced with this Julian Fellowes hit. So, when Season Four ended Sunday, the break until the show resumes next year will leave an abbey-sized hole in our viewing lives. While you can always fill that void by watching Seasons 1-3 again, here are some alternatives to consider.

In the early 1920s, a young maid plays silent witness to the lives of Lord Ashbury's family in The House at Riverton: a Novel by Kate Morton. When a director making a documentary film interviews her late in life about the tragic 1924 death of a poet on the estate, long-buried secrets of that fatal night begin to emerge.

If you’ve ever wondered what downstairs life was really like, try the biography that inspired the show Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" highlights the fascinating details of her life in service. In Servants' Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance she shares the true story of an underparlor maid who eloped with the heir to a prominent family.

If true tales of young heiresses and impoverished earls intrigue you, consider Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon. This history of Highclere Castle, the actual estate used as the setting for Downton Abbey, portrays the marriage of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon to the young daughter of an industrialist during and after the First World War.

Brideshead Revisited, based on the book by Evelyn Waugh, was a popular BBC costume drama. This sweeping tale of British upper class life between the two world wars tells the tale of architect Charles Ryder’s tangled and troubled relationship with the aristocratic Anglo-Catholic Flyte family.

The movie adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s classic depiction of service in a great British house, The Remains of the Day starred Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. An aging butler reflects on his life and losses during his rigid and uncompromising pursuit of perfection in carrying out his duties for a lord with unsavory political ties.

- Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act (July 2, 1964), a landmark achievement in ending discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The legislation overturned and outlawed the legalized racial segregation of “Jim Crow” and led the way for two other significant laws to be passed:  the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. These achievements would not have been possible if it weren’t for the events, and more importantly the people, involved in bringing about this social change.

Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy by Bruce Watson - This critically acclaimed history documents the events of the summer of 1964 when over 700 college students came to racially divided Mississippi to register black voters and educate children, despite the considerable risks. The first night, three students disappeared and were later found murdered. The killings shocked the nation and became a critical moment in the fight for civil rights.

The King Years:Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement by Taylor Branch - Branch presents selections from his Pulitzer Prize-winning trilogy in this one-volume work. He describes the major events of the civil rights movement and those who fought against the injustices of segregation and discrimination.

Death of Innocence:The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson - Written by the mother of Emmett Till, this memoir recounts her fourteen-year-old son’s kidnapping and murder in 1955 which ignited the civil rights movement.

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King - Prior to Thurgood Marshall’s involvement in Brown v. Board of Education, he took on the case of the Groveland Boys in Lake County, Fla. This 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winner for General Nonfiction details the corruption involved in the arrest and trial of the four teenagers and how it reflected the racial divide of the time and the demand for civil rights reform.

Carry Me Home:Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter - McWhorter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account tells the story of 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., when children peacefully demonstrated for desegregation against the threat of violence.  Months later, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing took place. McWhorter uses FBI records, archival documents, interviews with black activists and Klansmen and personal memories to document the events of this time and place.

We Shall Not Be Moved:The Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In and the Movement it Inspired by M.J. O’Brien - O’Brien’s book tells the story behind the famous photograph, its participants and the movement it inspired in Jackson, Miss.

- Amanda Post, George Mason Regional Library

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Top Five Romantic Reads

“Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.” The movie adaptation of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride gives us the definitive greatest kiss of all times, at least according to S. Morgenstern. But what are the most passionate, most pure romantic novels of all times? There have been so many great love stories through the ages that it’s hard to imagine choosing just five. So, to level the playing field, I’ll limit myself to more recent offerings. Here are my five contemporary contenders for the crown. Have a list of your own to share? Let us know your favorites in the comments below.

Me before You by JoJo Moyes - When relentlessly cheerful Louisa Clark accepts a job as a daytime caretaker for Will Trayner, the only thing they seem have in common is the town that brings them together. A motorcycle accident left Will, a former thrill-seeking executive, paralyzed and deeply depressed. Their deepening relationship provides a complex, compassionate take on what it really means to love.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - The breathtakingly magical Le Cirque des Reves, open only at night, serves as an arena for the dueling protégés of two enemy magicians. As Celia and Marco create ever more elaborate illusions to outwit and delight each other, the consequences of their competition begin to affect both the circus and its performers.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - In the first entry of the Outlander series, a circle of standing stones in Scotland flings Claire Randall from the arms of her husband in 1945 to the arms of Jamie Fraser in 18th century Scotland. Her fate becomes passionately entwined with the young warrior as she navigates the perils of clan conflict and political intrigue.

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt - In this elegant and intellectual love story, modern day scholars Maud Bailey and Roland Mitchell are brought together by hints of a hitherto unknown romantic relationship between Victorian poets, Christabel Lamotte and Randolph Henry Ash. Their quest to uncover long-hidden secrets will change both of their lives forever.

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - Librarian Henry DeTamble suffers from chrono-displacement, a time-traveling disorder. Despite his disorienting and at times humorous dips through time, he and artist Clare Abshire’s relationship is a love that endures all.

- Rebecca Wolff,Centreville Regional Library

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Warm Recipes for Cold Days

When it’s cold and wet outside, we’ve got the recipes you need to stay toasty and warm inside. Jazz up your slow-cooking repertoire with soups, stews and other easy recipes from some of our favorite cookbooks. You’ll feed your body and still have plenty of time left over to read!

The Mediterranean Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone - In this latest addition to her slow-cooking series, the author transforms recipes from around the Mediterranean for your slow cooker. Ranging from Greek Meatballs with Feta and Tomato to Moroccan Spiced Carrot Soup, these recipes will spice up your weekend.

Slow Cooker Revolution: One Test Kitchen, 30 Slow Cookers, 200 Amazing Recipes by Daniel Van Ackere - The team at America’s Test Kitchen not only brings you a wealth of recipes you can trust to deliver reliable results but the tips and techniques you’ll need to perfect your slow-cooking skills.

More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: 200 Brand-new, Budget-friendly, Slow-cooker Recipes by Stephanie O'Dea - This best-selling author and blogger brings us gluten-free recipes to tempt our taste buds but spare the budget. Try Moroccan Chicken with Lentils or Apple-Pecan Bread Pudding.

Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons by Nava Atlas - Whether you’re vegan or just want to incorporate more meatless meals into your routine, this cookbook provides a range of recipes to help you in your journey year-round.  You’ll find hearty dishes such as Orange-Butternut Squash Soup and Vegetarian Goulash for autumn and winter selections.

The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook: 250 No-Fail Recipes for Pilafs, Risotto, Polenta, Chilis, Soups, Porridges, Puddings, and More,from Start to Finish in your Rice Cooker by Beth Hensperger - Rice cookers aren’t just for white rice anymore. With this cookbook, you’ll learn how to dish up a variety of grains in recipes like Sweet Brown Rice with Curry, Carrots, and Raisins and Italian Sausage Risotto. - Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Reads to Feed Olympic Fever

The Olympics season is about to begin, and it has everyone thinking about sports—especially children and teenagers. Many young fans look up to the athletes competing in these prestigious sporting events. Yet, while there is plenty of children’s and teen fiction targeted towards popular sports such as basketball, baseball and football, it is more difficult to find interesting titles featuring Olympic sports--particularly those featured in the Winter Olympic Games. Here are some of my recommendations for winter sports-themed fiction ranging from elementary to high school reading levels:

Children’s Fiction

The Drop by Jeff Ross—Alex loves snowboarding and has dreams of joining the Backcountry Patrol, a group of snowboarders who help those in serious danger after they wander off the groomed ski slopes. The tests to prove that Alex can handle the job put him in perilous situations out in the snowy wilderness.

Face-off by Jake Maddox—Kyle’s hockey team is undefeated, and he’s trying hard to be the top scorer on the team. Can he focus completely on his game, or will he be distracted by his teammates’ injuries? (Jake Maddox has written many other fast-paced stories covering a wide variety of sports.)

Skating Shoes by Noel Streatfeild—Harriet takes up ice skating to help her recover from an illness, and on her first day at the skating rink, she meets Lalla. The two girls become best friends, but Lalla is working to become a professional skater while Harriet is just discovering her talent. Can their friendship survive if Harriet is no longer in Lalla’s shadow?

The Screech Owls series by Roy MacGregor—This series of mysteries is centered around the kids on the Screech Owl peewee hockey team. The team is from Tamarack, Ontario, but they travel all over solving hockey-related mysteries, including trips to the Winter Olympics.

Snowboard Showdown by Matt Christopher—Freddie and Dondi are brothers who fight about everything. This rivalry extends to their shared hobby of snowboarding, and because it’s the one thing that he does better than Dondi, Freddie suggests a showdown on a dangerous slope to prove once and for all that he’s the best. (Matt Christopher is another author who writes children’s fiction featuring many different sports.)

Teen Fiction

Girl Overboard by Justina Chen—Syrah Cheng is a natural snowboarder who hopes to go pro someday. But when she gets seriously injured in an avalanche, her parents ban her from the sport and take away her only escape from the rest of her problems.

Open Ice by Pat Hughes—Playing hockey is Nick Taglio’s whole life. He’s been skating and scoring goals for as long as anyone can remember. After yet another head injury during a game has his parents and coach insisting that he stop playing for good, Nick doesn’t know how to deal. Who is he without hockey?

Iceman by Chris Lynch—People call Eric the Iceman, because when it comes to hockey, he is ruthless and will do anything to win. Sometimes his anger on the ice is so out of control that even his teammates are afraid of him. Can Eric learn to deal with his anger off the ice too?

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler—When Hudson’s parents divorced and her dad moved away, she gave up on her dream of skating professionally. Now, three years later, she decides to brush up on her skills after hearing about a skating competition with a cash prize. She ends up coaching the boys’ varsity hockey team in exchange for ice time—and all the personal complications that involves!

Undercover by Beth Kephart—Elisa is a quiet, thoughtful girl whose loneliness inspires her to take up ice skating using her mother’s old skates. Her other hobby is helping the boys at school write poetry to impress girls. But when she falls for one of the boys, his girlfriend decides to get her revenge by wrecking Elisa’s chances in the free skate competition.

- Sara Griffin, Centreville Regional Library