Movie Review: Megan Leavey (2017)

Megan LeaveyAnimal movies are not for me. I have two dogs that I love more than most of the humans I interact with on a daily basis, but for the life of me, I rarely connect with onscreen canine personas in any meaningful way.  Any film dealing with a human’s love for their furry friends typically leaves me very cold, which is why I was surprised by how taken I was with last year’s Megan Leavey.

Based on a true story, Kate Mara plays the eponymous real life figure who enlists in the marines on a whim when she realizes that she is coasting on a daily routine that would make any psychiatrist cringe. Wanting to finally take some ownership of her life (or to punish herself for wasting it up until that point), she em-barks (woof!) on a journey that leads her right to Rex, an adorable German Shepherd that is undergoing training to perform deadly bomb checks in Iraq. Rex, like Megan, seems a little behind his peers and both of them put up a heavily guarded front that is more bark than bite. Their shared resistance to life’s daily routine ends up becoming a bonding agent between the two, as they become inseparable and lovingly tied up into each other’s hearts.

Megan and Rex

Even though you can sniff out the plot points from a mile away, that doesn’t stop the third act from losing its potency as Megan must learn how to live her life away from the war after she is honorably discharged. The dueling stories as to whether she or Rex has a place outside of the war is incredibly touching, as the story never downplays the fringe issues that crop up (PTSD, depression, divorce, etc). While these may seem like heavy topics, Megan Leavey only takes its characters as seriously as needed, creating a balanced tension between humanity and despair. It’s perfect family viewing, as there’s a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. You might not remember the film a year after you’ve viewed it, but I doubt your night will be the same should you choose to give it a try.

Movie Review: The End of the Tour (2015)

The End of the Tour posterThe beginning of this month marked the anniversary of the release of Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s uncompromisingly dense tome that made a huge splash in the literary world in the 1990s. While it covers about a hundred characters, numerous timelines, and too many locations for any sane person to keep track of, there was one constant and singular presence: Wallace’s distinct voice. Unfortunately, we lost that voice in September of 2008, when David Foster Wallace tragically took his own life.

 

While The End of the Tour can never answer the “why” of his death, it can offer a glimpse into the mind of someone so brilliantly troubled. Forgoing the usual dramatics of a standard biopic, the film dramatizes the conversations Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace shared while they spent time on the road together touring for Infinite Jest. The conversations range from the mundane to the profound, often in the same breath. When Wallace is not spouting off celebrity crushes (like Alanis Morissette, since it’s the ‘90s after all) or his fondness for his dogs, he is combating Lipsky’s incessant need to over-analyze his words and tortured life.

Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace

Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace

Jason Segel portrays the famous author, nailing the self-deprecation with which Wallace tried to cloud his enormous talent. On the other end of the tape recorder is Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky, who recycles his Mark Zuckerberg mannerisms here for a far less dastardly real-life figure. The two of them anchor the film with rivaling performances that thankfully never overshadow each other. Through the ensuing passive aggression, admiration, and petty jealousies that surround the (mostly) friendly conversations, we are treated to an interpretation of the author that is largely based on his own words. Since Wallace was largely uncomfortable existing outside of his tightly controlled prose, The End of the Tour does a great job in portraying him in a manner that is both fair and respectful. By the actual end of the tour, Lipsky and the audience find out that focusing on David Foster Wallace’s brain can make it all too easy to miss his heart.

Wrapping Up Favorite Reads of 2017

‘Tis the season for everyone to share their list of “best” books for 2017 and Librarians are no exception! If you are on Twitter, check out the hashtag #libfaves17 to see all the tweets from this year, or you can read the summary of each day (and the top 10 vote-getters) here.

It’s always interesting to see whether my own favorite reads end up on other “best of” lists. For example, I completely agree with the number 1 Librarian pick, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (ESPECIALLY the audiobook – it’s really exceptional) and I enjoyed many of the others in the top 10. That said, I seem to be one of the few people who didn’t finish Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman which leaves me wondering if I need to give it another try or just move on.

On the other hand, two of my absolute most enjoyable reads only show up here and there on the best of 2017 lists.  They are both filled with suspense, but each has complex and fascinating characters and layered, heart-felt stories that kept me completely engaged.  One is Celine by Peter Heller, (reviewer Ron Charles called it “a thriller with heart”) and the other is The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (author Ann Patchett called it, “One part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade, and twelve parts wild innovation.”

          

Two other titles I enjoyed were much quieter: The Mountain by Paul Yoon (“reflective, spare, haunting and beautiful” are just a few of the words I used to describe these connected stories) and Andrew Krivak’s The Signal Flame (a quiet, compelling story of family, friendship and a small community touched by tragedy).  Bonus: if you enjoy these, each author wrote a previous novel that are also wonderful!

          

If you want to see more from the “Best of 2017” lists, drop by the new book area during January and browse our display of titles published in 2017 that received accolades – and feel free to let us know YOUR favorites as well.

Season’s Readings!

Demystifying Healthcare Enrollment

Finding the right healthcare coverage can be a real challenge. At the St. Charles Library, we’d like to help you find the information you need during the open enrollment period for Medicare, which goes from October 15 – December 7, and ACA Marketplace plans, which opens November 1 and runs through December 15.

For a personalized comprehensive listing of all the Medicare supplemental insurance options available to you based on your age, gender and location, you can use the Weiss Ratings’ Medigap tool. Because Weiss also publishes rankings of healthcare companies, your results will include information on the strength of the companies offering plans that are available to you. AARP’s Medicare Basics page also contains several tools to determine which programs and deadlines are relevant to you.

If you want to make changes to your current Medicare coverage, open enrollment runs from October 15 – December 7. The Social Security Administration controls the signup process for Medicare and contains a guide directing you based on whether you need to sign up for Medicare or makes changes to already existing benefits.

To apply for an ACA Marketplace plan between November 1 and December 15 or make changes to an existing Marketplace plan, go to Healthcare.gov and select the options for your situation. You can also call 1-800-318-2596 or go to their Local Help page to find an Agent or Broker who can walk you through your particular situation and available options. See our Affordable Care Act Trending Topic page for more information.

Because the advertising budget for Medicare and Marketplace open enrollment has been cut drastically this year, many independent advocacy organizations have stepped up to fill the information gap. These are other great resources if you’re just not sure what insurance options are available to you, or if you want to spread the word to friends and family who may be unsure of their options.

Get America Covered provides a basic checklist covering what you need to do based on your current healthcare situation. The ACA Signup Project provides an interactive map that lists each state’s ACA marketplace deadlines (some have extended deadlines), so you can help friends or relatives in other states. The Illinois Coalition for Healthcare Access is an additional organization that can connect you with local help to walk through your healthcare coverage options.

If you need some help understanding all the medical jargon on your healthcare application, this printable glossary is a great resource to have handy while filling out forms. You can also check out our Health & Medicine Research Guide for even more information on a wide range of health-related issues.

No matter your situation, there are a variety of resources to help you locate the healthcare coverage you need and here at the St. Charles Public Library we are ready to guide you to those resources.

What the Staff is Reading

do-not-become-alarmedDo Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy is a suspenseful tale of how quickly life can go from wonderful to terrifying. Two privileged Los Angeles families decide to take a cruise to Central America with their children, ages 6-11, and all starts out splendid, with beautiful scenery, a nonstop buffet and an entertaining kids’ club. Then one afternoon, the wives and children pair up with a woman from Argentina and her two teenagers for a zip line excursion. A vehicle breakdown, a moment of inattention on the beach, and suddenly all six children go missing. This plot-driven tale alternates between what is happening to the children with how the parents cope and react. Although some may find the ending a bit contrived, this is a quick read that is hard to put down.

magpie-murdersYou don’t have to be a mystery lover to enjoy Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, but a careful reading for those who are will find all sorts of delightful references to the genre. Horowitz, who wrote scripts for Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, as well as other books, has written a very clever mystery within a mystery. The book starts with editor Susan Ryland sharing with us the script of famous author Alan Conway’s latest novel–a classic British mystery in the style of Agatha Christie. However,  the last chapter is missing, and when she tells her boss, she learns that the famous author has committed suicide. However, as she gleans clues from the first manuscript, Susan comes to believe Alan’s death may have been murder. Great fun as the reader becomes involved in seeking out clues while enjoying the “in” jokes and various plays on words.

valiant-ambitionWith all the hoopla about the musical Hamilton, many of us have become more interested in the events concerning that time in our history. However, if you tried reading Ron Chernow’s  Alexander Hamilton and found it a bit too heavy, try reading Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick. This riveting nonfiction narrative mixes scholarship with great storytelling, centering on the figures George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Covering a period of four years, set amidst infighting of generals and dismal conditions, the reader gains a greater understanding of how Washington worked hard to overcome many difficulties while Arnold succumbed to a long list of slights he felt against him.

Patron Picks

Books your friends and neighbors have been talking about!

unwantedUnwanted by Kristina Ohlsson (FIC OHLSSON)

This very good mystery set in Sweden is the first in a new series being translated into English. Would especially suggest if you like the author Jo Nesbo.

 

Peter De Vries is a name you may not be familiar with, vale-of-laughterbut this author (born in Chicago) writes satire that is side-splitting funny and has a great perspective. Several of his titles are available as eBooks in Hoopla – give one a try!

 

Adapt: How Humans Are Tapping Into Nature’s Secrets to Design adaptand Build a Better Future by Amina Khan (620 KHA)

I picked up the book because it was on display and the cover looked cool, and it was full of interesting information about how humans can tap into nature’s secrets to design and build a better future.

Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead (381.141 WOO)shopping-seduction-selfridge

If you are enjoying the PBS miniseries then you should check out this entertaining biography about the man who inspired it!

And speaking of miniseries, a patron said she laughed through every episode of the British comedy, Mrs. Brown’s Boys – featuring a mom who loves to meddle in the lives of her six children.

Eclipse-Mania Hits St. Charles!

sun-moon-earthIn case you’ve been living under a rock (pun intended), you’ve probably already heard that on Monday, August 21 around 1:20 p.m., Illinois will be privy to a solar eclipse viewing. Partial sighting will take place in the Chicagoland area, and if you’re lucky enough to be in the southern portion of the state (Hello Carbondale!) you’ll be able to witness the main event.

A popular question this week has involved the availability of eclipse-viewing glasses. The library will be distributing them to St. Charles Public Library cardholders (one pair per card, please have your card in hand to receive a pair) this Friday -Monday when our doors open. We will also be live-streaming it on the lower level in the Huntley meeting room, so consider yourself invited.

Staff has also compiled a list of related resources that are currently being featured at the Reader Services Desk. Feel free to check them out and take them home:

American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World
by David Baron 523.78 BAR

Documents the efforts of three scientists to observe the rare total solar eclipse of 1878, citing how the ambitions of James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison helped America’s early pursuits as a scientific superpower.

Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon
by F.E. Close 523.78 CLO
Looks at the science of eclipses, reveals their role in culture, and focuses on people who travel around the world chasing these events.

Sun, Moon, Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses, from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets
by Tyler Nordgren
An astronomer describes how solar eclipses were treated and interpreted by past civilizations, philosophers and Victorian scientists. 

In the Shadow of the Moon: The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses
by Anthony F. Aveni
Explores the scientific and cultural significance of solar eclipses.

Mask of the Sun: The Science, History, and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses
by John Dvorak
An astronomer explores the ways eclipses have shaped the course of human history.

 

What the Staff is Reading

in-the-land-of-invisibile-womenA spur-of-the-moment decision found Qanta Ahmed on board a flight from New York to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As she boarded her plane, this US-trained physician of Pakistani heritage, raised in Britain, couldn’t help but wonder about many things: who were her fellow passengers; if she was appropriately dressed and how she would manage without the required abbayah; how would she manage to meet up with her sponsor (for as an unmarried female employee, she could not enter the kingdom without a male representative from her employer); and exactly what she gotten herself into.  In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom is a fascinating account that answers all these questions and more in great detail, from abbayah shopping her first day, through coworkers reactions to 9/11 shortly before she left two years later. The reader also learns a great deal about Islam, as Qanta is Muslim and makes a pilgrimage to Mecca, again, described in great detail.

ruthless-riverHolly Fitzgerald has experienced an abundance of heart-stopping experiences around the world, but none affected her as much as her near fatal river journey in the Amazon River basin. Years later, Fitzgerald’s daughter encouraged her to take a memoir class, and that resulted in Ruthless River: Love & Survival by Raft on the Amazon’s Relentless  Madre de Dios, a recounting of several weeks in the spring of 1973. The author kept a journal at the time, and so tells the tale as though it were yesterday, of how what was to be a wonderful year-long around the world honeymoon turned into terror. Holly and her husband Fitz survived a plane crash only to become stranded in a cove of the Madre de Dios, attacked by bees during the day and fearing the sounds of the jungle at night. They are truly lost in the jungle and resort to the unthinkable to survive. Anyone who enjoys a riveting true survival story will be fascinated by this one.

exit-westExit West is the fourth novel for Mohsin Hamid and deals with the very timely politics of immigration and refugees. A young couple in an unnamed country on the brink of disaster fall in love, and as conditions  get more and more explosive Nadia and Saeed make the decision to leave through one of the many doorways they have heard whispered about, a doorway not without risks but one that can get them out of the chaos of the country. Described by a staff member as “a spellbinding blend of reality and unreality with lots of social commentary,” readers who enjoyed those same elements of The Underground Railroad may find a great deal to like about this title.

News for Readers of Romance

Many readers were shocked at Harlequin’s recent announcement that they will stop publishing several “categories” of romance.  For those who want to more information,  please check out this informative post from Novelist.  I think it is also helpful that they explain how to find certain types of romance using specific searches in the Novelist Plus database.

What is Novelist, you ask? The Library subscribes to this database to provide patrons with even more reading recommendations for both fiction and nonfiction, for all ages and including audiobooks!  It’s also handy for series information and book discussions. If you haven’t played with it lately, you just need to sign in with your library card and PIN (from home) or ask Reader Services staff to give you a demonstration the next time you’re in the library!novelist

Patron Picks

Some of the books (and more!) patrons have said are so good, others need to know about them:

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias: 101 Stories of Caregiving, Coping and Compassion:  (616.831 CHI)

Patron who was just diagnosed with dementia said she read it in bed and her husband couldn’t watch her read it because she would start crying, and her daughters didn’t want her to read it because it made her cry. However, she felt she needed to and it helped her so much to learn what she will be going through. Learning how others have gone through dementia and strategies for coping, “was a tremendous help.”

Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond by Jay simply-saidSullivan (658.45 SUL)

Sophisticated yet simple book on communicating better with everyone. Author has a good writing style and says things in a new way – really great!

 

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev (306.0947 POM)

nothing-is-trueWith Putin and Russia in the daily news, this is a fascinating and highly-recommended read.

 

 

The Art of Beatrix Potter by Emily Zach (823.912 POT)

art-of-beatrix-potterA patron who was teaching a unit on Beatrix Potter said that, unlike so many that only give part of her story, this book had it all and is “wonderful!” (Note: some might also enjoy the fictional mystery series, “The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter” starting with The Tale of Hill Top Farm.)

 

And finally, if you are looking for something new to listen to, a patron says the podcast EconTalk is excellent. Hosted by Russ Roberts, it is billed as an “economics podcast for daily life.”