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Mary Higgins Clark

Mary Higgins Clark author photoMary Higgins Clark was born in New York on Christmas Eve in 1927.  Her father died when she was ten years old, and she went to secretarial school after high school so that she would be able to get a job to help her mother pay the bills.  When she was 29, she sold her first short story after receiving forty rejections.  The first book Clark wrote was a fictionalized biography of George Washington entitled Aspire to the High Heavens.  Her next book, the suspense novel Where Are the Children?, was an instant hit and set her on the course of her best-selling career which has now spanned over thirty years.  Her latest book is the mystery I Heard That Song Before.

In America

In America DVD coverIn 2002, Fox Searchlight Pictures released the film In America, directed by venerable Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan.  Sheridan also co-wrote the script with his daughters Naomi and Kristen.  The story revolves around an Irish family who immigrate to America after the death of their son and wind up living in a dilapidated apartment in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York.  As happy as they are to have a new start in the U.S., the family continues to grieve over the loss of their youngest child, and find it nearly impossible to escape the pain of this terrible tragedy.  However, when the family befriends a strange man, things change.  Somehow, the tensions that had boiled almost to the breaking point recede and give way to a new appreciation of life, family and community.

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen author photoCarl Hiaasen joined the Miami Herald in 1976, where he still works.  In 1979, he turned to investigative journalism concentrating on property development, exposing schemes to destroy Florida’s natural beauty for the sake of profit.  His fiction mirrors his concerns as a journalist and Floridian.  His novels have been classified as environmental thrillers, although they can just as well be read as mainstream reflections of contemporary life.  The London Observer called him “America’s finest satirical novelist,” while Janet Maslin of the New York Times has compared him to Preston Sturges, Woody Allen, and S.J. Perelman.  Mr. Hiaasen’s latest book is Nature Girl.


Saturday book coverBefore September 11th, most people probably didn’t spend much time thinking about terrorism and war.  After that tragic day it’s often the first thing people think of upon hearing news of a catastrophe.  In England it’s much the same.  For when Englishman Henry Perowne sees a plane ablaze in the early morning sky, his initial reaction is to assume it’s the work of terrorists.  It would certainly make sense because that Saturday was set to be the day of the huge London protest against the war in Iraq.  But Henry soon learns that logical conclusions aren’t always correct.  Though he spent his life raising a happy family and cultivating a successful practice as a neurosurgeon, Henry has in some ways been shielded from the raw complexities of life. Saturday, by Ian McEwan, is a glimpse into one full day in the life of a man who has a unique appreciation for the fragile beauty of every moment, but whose solid footing is shaken when a series of incidents abruptly alter his own life.

Control Room

Control Room DVD coverThe 2004 film Control Room from Magnolia Pictures is a documentary about the Arabic television network Al Jazeera and other news organizations which covered the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Al Jazeera’s reports were a source of controversy as American military and political leaders accused the network of showing propaganda from anti-Americans forces.  This documentary explores the not always dissimilar views of journalists working for Al Jazeera and U.S. networks such as CNN and NBC.  Through candid interviews with journalists and military personnel, Control Room offers a wholly unique view of how journalists from across the world operate on many of the same principles and try to report the news as accurately as possible, even in spite of governmental and societal pressures.  To whom would you recommend this film?  What about it surprised you?

Teacher Man

Teacher Man book coverFrank McCourt is well loved by many for his lyrical prose and captivating storytelling.  In Teacher Man, the third installment of his autobiographical series, he gives readers an honest view of the difficulties facing teachers in America.  He knows of this first-hand after teaching in New York City for some 30 years.  No punches are pulled in McCourt’s critique of the bureaucracy in the higher echelons of the school system, a bureaucracy which often impedes teaching and learning in the classroom.  At times praised by administrators for his unique teaching style and at other times severely chastised, he refused to give up even when it seemed he wasn’t getting through to anyone.  Though he considered himself a “fraud” through many of his years teaching, readers will see that he persevered where many would not, even after a being fired a few times.  This honest portrayal of teaching in the classroom is balanced with anecdotes of McCourt’s life outside the classroom.  Though dealing with an unglamorous subject, McCourt’s trademark wit and wisdom imbue the book with energy and humor.  Which of Frank McCourt’s books has been your favorite?

Patrick O’Brian – Featured Author of the Month

Patrick O'Brian author photoPatrick O’Brian was born on December 12, 1914 as Richard Patrick Russ.  He was an English novelist and translator, best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of novels.  Set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, these stories center on the friendship of Captain Jack Aubrey and an Irish–Catalan physician, naturalist and intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin. The 20-novel series is known for its well-researched and highly detailed portrayal of early 19th century life, as well as its authentic and evocative language.  Richard Snow of The New York Times referred to O’Brian’s works as “the best historical novels ever written.”  Patrick O’Brian died in January, 2000 at the age of 85.  What do you like most about this author?  Which of his books are your favorite?

A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone book coverJoyce from the Fiction/AV Department gives this account of A Long Way Gone

As a boy of twelve, Ishmael Beah was growing up in a small village in Sierra Leone. War, in his mind, was something that happened in neighboring Liberia, or what he heard about on the BBC news. When Ishmael was in a neighboring town visiting friends, war came to his village. Rebels attacked, people ran, but there was no escape for any of them. This event changed his life forever.   In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael recounts the events of the next years of his life: of finding a haven in an army base, to being trained as a child soldier to fight against those who killed his family, and of the atrocities he saw and participated in. This unforgettable testimony gives us a glimpse into the lives of refugees, soldiers on both sides of a conflict, and the children who have lost their childhoods and their innocence. It is a story eloquently told, that needs to be read.  What are your thoughts on A Long Way Gone?  What other books or movies did you find similar to this book?

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende author photoIsabel Allende was a native of Chile who was forced into exile following the assassination of her uncle, President Salvador Allende.   While in Chile, she briefly had a job translating romance novels from English to Spanish.  She was fired, however, for making unauthorized changes to the dialogue of the heroines to make them sound more intelligent, as well as for changing the Cinderella endings to let the heroines find more independence.

Allende begins writing all her books on January 8th (after lighting candles and meditating) because that is the date in 1981 when she started writing House of the Spirits as a letter to her dying grandfather.  Her works chronicle the human condition in all its joy and beauty, pain and sorrow.

Her latest book is Ines of My Soul.  Have you read it?  What do you think of her writing style?  What is your favorite book by Isabel Allende?

In Good Company

In Good Company DVD coverThe movie In Good Company appears at first to be an ordinary comedy, but there is a lot of depth and subtlety in this 2004 picture from Universal Studios.  The plot revolves around middle-aged ad executive Dan Foreman, played by Dennis Quaid, who fears he might be laid off from his job when his company is bought out by a larger firm.  Instead he gets demoted and finds out that his new boss, played by Topher Grace, is a 27-year-old upshot who has a lot of theoretical knowledge but lacks practical knowledge.  As insulting as his new predicament is, Foreman knows he needs to swallow his pride and play along in order to keep his job and support his family.  Adding another layer of insult is that Foreman’s new boss seems to have developed a relationship with his 18-year-old daughter played by Scarlett JohanssonIn Good Company is a thoughtful insight into the sometimes skewed priorities of America’s corporate culture.  Did you find this movie accurate in it’s view of corporate America?  Can you identify with any of the charachters?  Does the film have a message or moral?