Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What we're reading: Toujours Paris!

With my obsession for Paris, it was inevitable that I would get around to these two books by Nina George. I read them in reverse order, having found The Little French Bistro on the new books shelf one night on my way out the door and, remembering that a librarian friend had given a good review to the first book, checked it out for my weekend read.

I have to say that both of these books took me by surprise. I have been reading Jenny Colgan's sweet, rather formulaic books with similar titles (Meet Me At the Cupcake Café, Little Beach Street Bakery, etc.) and I guess I was subconsciously expecting something along those lines. And although they do share something in common (making choices, changing your life, regeneration), George's books are in a different category of fiction.

In The Little French Bistro (alias The Little Breton Bistro in Europe--apparently the publishing industry refuses to believe that Americans are aware of the subtleties of the French landscape), the despair of the protagonist feels palpable and completely realistic. Marianne is on a trip to Paris with her husband of 40 years. Suddenly, in the middle of dinner with their tour group, she realizes that she's done. She walks quietly out of the restaurant and onto the Pont Neuf bridge spanning the river Seine. She doesn't contemplate much, because her choice seems simple and filled with clarity, as that final decision often does to suicides: This is the end. She takes off her shoes, and her coat, and her wedding ring, thinking that perhaps some homeless person will find and benefit from them, and climbs up on the parapet.

Unfortunately for Marianne, the homeless person in question doesn't avail himself of her possessions; instead, he saves her from drowning. Far from being grateful, she is immersed in despair, especially in light of her husband's reaction (that she has caused him a lot of trouble and embarrassment by her actions). When she realizes that she will be subjected to therapy and then sent home to Germany with Lothar, back to the loveless and tedious life she can no longer bear, she escapes the hospital, taking with her only a brightly colored tile she picked up from the nurse's station, depicting a seaside town in Brittany called Kerdruc. Acting almost as if in a dream, she decides she will journey to Kerdruc, where she will end things once and for all in that beautiful setting. But when she arrives, life events ensue that tentatively begin to take Marianne in a different direction.

The thing I particularly liked about this book is that it didn't make Marianne's segue away from suicide too easy; the fact that she still got up every morning for weeks after her arrival and hiked out to the coast to ask, Is this the day that I do it? (kill myself) felt genuine--she didn't immediately get over it and get on with her life, despite outward appearances.

I absolutely loved both the descriptions of the surroundings and the offbeat and interesting people who populated the bistro and the town. The fact that Marianne happened to be skilled in providing things that some of them particularly needed in that moment gave a new twist to Marianne's life choices: She arrived feeling completely useless, but the things that she had done joylessly as a wife or had chosen as a temporary though dreary escape from being a wife suddenly came into their own and became positive talents.

I also, being of a certain age myself, took hope from this story of a woman who, at age 61, was able, however haltingly and with multiple back steps, to pivot off her destructive course and gradually become a different person. Although my choices have been more self- and life-affirming, we all have blind spots where we neglect the best about ourselves or refuse to rise to a challenge or believe we deserve a good thing. Marianne was an excellent example of when to start paying attention!

The Little Paris Bookshop shares similar themes, in that the protagonist, Jean Perdu, is likewise being challenged to choose life. When we first meet him, his existence seems intriguing (or at least it did to me, as a bibliophile): Perdu is the owner and operator of an unusual bookshop, housed in a floating barge on the river Seine. He lives in an apartment building with a bunch of quirky characters, and makes his way down to the barge each day to act as a "literary apothecary," prescribing books to his patrons according to their specific needs and secret desires. But while he is adept at ferreting out the reading requirements of his customers, his own heart is numb. The loss of the most significant relationship in his life at a young age crushed him, and it takes the advent of a new person into his life, combined with an unexpected message from the past, to jar him out of his unhappy yet complacent current existence and put him on the path to recovery.

When I say that these were a different category of fiction, I'm mainly speaking to the universal yet specific profundity of their messages about life, love, and endurance. Both protagonists were simultaneously ridiculous and inspiring, each in their own way. But the language used, and the descriptions and scene-setting that George employed were likewise so beguiling. I found myself copying down clever quotes from both books, a thing I do rarely when reading, but some of these were irresistibly memorable.

I look forward to reading anything else that Nina George writes!

I noticed that NoveList was smarter than I was; it didn't assume that a read-alike would be another book set in Paris, nor was it fooled (by the inclusion of the word "little" in the title) into thinking this was a particular type of book. Instead, taking into consideration content, writing style, and characterization, it referred readers to, among others, the books of Joanne Harris--Blackberry Wine, Chocolat, and Five Quarters of the Orange. After reading George's novels, I would agree--they are a similar melding of serious life stories with lyrical whimsy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

This week at the library...

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

Opera Talk presents...
This program is for opera amateurs and opera buffs alike! An entertaining and educational multimedia presentation will be given by a member of the LA Opera's Community Engagement Program. This week they will discuss Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, which features a veiled priestess with a hidden past. She is pursued by two lifelong friends and romantic rivals. The complicated triangle pushes forbidden love into a final struggle for life and death, until a nearly forgotten secret saves the day.

Central Library, 12:00 noon

The club meets the third Tuesday of each month. Please email library staff at for additional information. This month the club has read and will discuss The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Oldby Hendrik Groen. Bring your lunch and join the discussion!

Central Library, 6:30 p.m.

Who says coloring is only for kids? Join us for our Adult Coloring Club! We provide the colored pencils, crayons, and coloring pages, or you can bring your own. Coloring offers a fun and unique way to unwind and express creativity.

Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.

The club meets the third Tuesday of each month in the Storytime Room at the Buena Vista Branch Library. Please email library staff at for additional information. The club has read and will discuss Farthing, by Jo Walton, an alternate history mystery.

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

Not your mother's book club, Genre-X is for Millennials and Gen-Xers to hang out, drink coffee, and read short, interesting books. The club meets the third Thursday of each month, upstairs at the Central Library. (Look for the signs!) This month, the club has read and will discuss Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn.

Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

Friday Matinee presents...
A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who made his sensational debut in Captain America: Civil War, begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging super hero. Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May, under the watchful eye of his new mentor, Tony Stark. Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine – distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man – but when the Vulture emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened.
133 minutes / Rated PG-13.

Northwest Branch
4:00 p.m.

Sign up for the book club exclusively for 4th and 5th grade students! Call 818-238-5640 to be added to the list. The club meets once each month during the school year, to read and talk about some great books.

Buena Vista Branch
1:00 to 4:00 p.m.

Support your local author! This is your chance to find a new author. Stop by the showcase to meet and greet 50 local writers. Enter your name in our drawing and you might win an Amazon Kindle Fire 7 or a $25 Amazon gift card. Door prizes provided by the Friends of the Burbank Public Library.


BABY STORYTIME (under 12 months):
Northwest Branch: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required. Please call 818 238-5640 to sign up. Fall Session begins September 14 and ends on November 16, 2017. Songs, stories, and rhymes for children under 12 months.

Buena Vista Branch:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Fridays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required for the Buena Vista Branch Toddler Storytime.  The Fall Session for Tuesdays and Wednesdays runs from September 12 to November 15, 2017, and is now full(Please consider attending at the Central Library on Friday mornings at 10 a.m.)

Northwest Branch: Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Buena Vista Branch: Fridays @ 1:00 p.m. (Rhythm & Reading)

Central Library, Saturday, 10:15 a.m.

For Preschoolers and their families.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What we're reading: The latest Longmire

The Western Star, by Craig Johnson, is #13 in the Walt Longmire saga. It's been interesting to know Longmire only through Johnson's books for the first seven or eight, and then to begin to experience his stories visually and get used to the characters as seen through casting directors' eyes. I don't have major issues with the casting of the TV show, although it did take me a while to see Katee Sackhoff as Vic Moretti instead of as Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica)! Also, in the books, Henry Standing Bear is a large, somewhat menacing presence, while Lou Diamond Phillips has a rather smaller silhouette; but what he lacks in stature he makes up for in dignity, and he captures the character well. 

But enough about the show--back to the written series. This book was the first to be a true flashback to Walt's past; he's newly returned from a stint in Vietnam, and has signed on as deputy sheriff under Lucius Connally (still in his prime and running Absaroka County with an iron fist in a velvet glove), without precisely knowing either what that means to him or whether he can wholeheartedly get behind this job. He's about to accompany Lucius on the annual Wyoming Sheriff's Association junket, riding on the excursion train known as the Western Star, which runs the length of Wyoming. Walt is the only deputy on board with 24 sheriffs, but when foul play occurs, he may be the only one with enough detachment to detect exactly what's going on.

This was well done. It flashed back and forth from the past in which a murder was committed (and Walt ultimately caught the killer), to the present day, when the criminal, who was convicted for multiple life sentences, is now being considered for compassionate release, due to health issues. Naturally, Walt, tough guy that he is, is on the side of leaving the killer in jail, since life means life; but there are some other people who feel it would be politically beneficial to let the person out.

I enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the young Walt Longmire, and getting to experience firsthand his relationship with his brand-new wife, Martha, who is already dead (after 30 years of marriage to Walt) in the contemporary novels.

As a sort of non sequitur, the interesting thing to me personally is that this is the second mystery I have read within a two-week time period in which the reader goes the whole book without knowing who the criminal is, despite the fact that he/she figures prominently in multiple scenes. Is this a new trend in mystery writing?

There was a bit too much with the fond nicknames substituted for the person's actual name (it's amusing when you refer to your daughter as "the finest legal mind of our time" once or twice, but when you call her that on nearly every occasion she is mentioned, it gets to be cloying). Other than that small cavill, the only other criticism I have is a woe universal to series readers: "Really? You're going to leave us with that cliffhanger? REALLY?"

Write faster, Craig Johnson!

Editor's note: If you are interested in watching the TV series as well, BPL owns seasons 1-5 of Longmire on DVD. They do diverge from the stories in the books, which bothers some people and makes others happy, since they get double Longmire--one in book form and another on-screen.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

This week at the library...

Buena Vista Branch, 6:30 p.m.

Twilight Cinema presents...
A down-on-his-luck Captain Jack Sparrow feels the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost sailors led by his old nemesis, the evil Capt. Salazar, escape from the Devil's Triangle. Jack's only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, but to find it, he must forge an uneasy alliance with a brilliant and beautiful astronomer and a headstrong young man in the British navy.
129 minutes / PG-13

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

The club has read and will discuss Masterminds, by Gordon Korman. Serenity, New Mexico, has the best standard of living in the country, with zero unemployment and total peace and prosperity. Honesty, harmony, and contentment are a way of life. But 13-year-old Eli and his friends start to notice odd things: When they try to leave town, they get sick; their Internet is remarkably sanitized compared to outside sites they accidentally come across; and some kids are considered special, while others are less so. After they discover the truth about why Serenity is so peaceful, they must face the fact that their lives have been ruled by a gigantic lie.

This club is for registered teens only, and is full. To be put on the waiting list, contact

Central Library, 5:30 p.m.


Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.

"Content is King" is a common expression among designers and marketers. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your website is if the content doesn’t get your message across. Writing for the web is different from print, email, or other delivery mechanisms, and in this session Rain Breaw Michaels will cover how to write for the web, and some of the technical tools you will need to optimize your content including:
  • How to think about content strategy
  • How users read online
  • How to use the tools to focus your content in a way that will get the most out of users’ time
  • Typical things that users will unconsciously ignore
  • How to find and focus your tone, voice, and message
This program is open to all--no sign-ups or laptop required.

Rain Breaw Michaels has been building websites since 1998. She has taught HTML, CSS, web accessibility, and Drupal in colleges and workshops.

Northwest Branch, 4:00 p.m.

A DIY program for Crafty Kids in grades 1-8. The workshop is full, and so is the waiting list. If you are signed up but are unable to attend, please call Arsine at 818 238-5641 immediately, so that people on the wait list may be admitted.

Buena Vista Branch, 12:00 noon to 4 p.m.

Disney Double Feature:
Meet the next generation of villains: Previously imprisoned on the Isle of the Lost, the kids of Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar and Cruella De Vil are being sent to idyllic Auradon to attend prep school alongside the children of beloved Disney heroes. But their focus is to execute a plan that helps their evil parents achieve "world domination" once again!

Will Maleficent's daughter and the other rebel teens follow in their rotten parents' footsteps or will they choose to embrace their innate goodness and save the kingdom? Runtime 111 minutes. Rated G.

DESCENDANTS 2 screens at 2:00 p.m.

The Villain Kids are back in a high-stakes adventure that's bigger, bolder and badder than before! When the pressure to be royally perfect becomes too much for Mal, she flees Auradon and returns to her roots on the Isle of the Lost. Hoping to retrieve her, Evie and the rest of the gang sneak onto the Isle. But Mal's former archenemy Uma, daughter of Ursula, has seized power. And together with her pirate crew, Uma prepares to unleash havok on the VKs and Auradon! Runtime 111 minutes. Rated G.


BABY STORYTIME (under 12 months):
Northwest Branch: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required. Please call 818 238-5640 to sign up. Fall Session begins September 14 and ends on November 16, 2017. Songs, stories, and rhymes for children under 12 months.

Buena Vista Branch:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Fridays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required for the Buena Vista Branch Toddler Storytime.  The Fall Session for Tuesdays runs from September 12 to November 14, 2017, and is now full(Please consider attending at the Central Library on Friday mornings at 10 a.m.)

Northwest Branch: Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Buena Vista Branch: Fridays @ 1:00 p.m. (Rhythm & Reading)

Saturday, October 07, 2017

What we're reading: Connelly's new character

People who are hooked on the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly have been wondering for a while now what would happen when Harry just plain got too old to be a part of any police force in any way, shape or form. After all, he has already retired twice and gone back twice, and then in the last book (The Wrong Side of Goodbye), he became a private investigator, but also started volunteering at a little police station out in the San Fernando Valley, working cold cases for them.

There has been much speculation about where Connelly would go next; after all, he has introduced several characters in the past few Bosch books who seem qualified to inherit the Bosch mantle. Personally, I was pulling for "Lucky" Lucy Soto, Harry's up-and-coming young Latina partner from The Burning Room, a few books back. I also wondered, since in that same book Harry's daughter Maddie expresses determination to become a cop, whether Connelly would bring Maddie in tangentially and then let her take over the franchise, so to speak.

But it looks like Connelly has made his decision, and it was to invent a whole new character: Renée Ballard. She is a young detective who seems to share Bosch's bad luck with authority; in Renée's case, her lieutenant from the homicide squad sexually harassed her, and when she filed a complaint but no one in her unit would back her up, he took revenge by transferring her to The Late Show, which is what the detectives all call the night shift. While Renée's partner, Jenkins, is happy that they don't have to follow through on any of the cases they collect during the wee hours, Renée is frustrated by the lack of continuity, and manages, whenever she can, to finesse it so she gets to participate a little longer in whatever it is. That, of course, turns into some trouble for her, when she gets in over her head without sufficient back-up.   

I wasn't sure, in the beginning of this book, that I would take to Renée in the same way that I enjoy Bosch. The beginning of this book was a little ponderous, and I feared Connelly had lost his touch; but both the book and the characterization picked up nicely somewhere in the middle, and remained compelling until the end. I'm not sure what it was--at the start, it felt like too much police procedural jargon without the personal touch to back it up. But by the end of the book, I felt like Renée Ballard was nicely established, and since the tagline on the cover reads "introducing Detective Renée Ballard," and since Goodreads lists this book as "Ballard #1," it seems she will stick around for awhile.

The most interesting thing about Renée is that she is technically homeless; her permanent address is her grandmother's place, up in Ventura, but she spends most days (remember that she works the night shift) sleeping in a tent on Venice Beach, accompanied by her rescued dog and watched over by an amorous lifeguard. She keeps clothes in her van and at work, showers and changes in the women's locker room, and generally lives a nomadic life divided between police work and surfing. This author definitely likes his loners.

Connelly isn't complete finished with Bosch, however; he has a new book in that series coming out later this year, and as it happens, "Lucky" Lucy is a character again. So it looks like he's going to wean us from Bosch gradually by alternating his detectives and their series.

Editor's note: We own The Late Show as a book, a large-print book, an audio book, an e-book, and an e-audio book! You will probably be on hold no matter which you choose, but with so many options, your wait will hopefully be short...

Friday, October 06, 2017

Nobel Prize in Literature 2017

The English author Kazuo Ishiguro has been named winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, praised by the Swedish Academy for his “novels of great emotional force." Ishiguro was born in Japan, but his family immigrated to the United Kingdom when he was five years old. He published his first novel, A Pale View of the Hills, in 1982, and has been writing full-time ever since.

Ishiguro is perhaps best known as the author of The Remains of the Day, which won the Booker prize in 1989 (and was made into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins). His other novels include Never Let Me Go, The Buried Giant, and the short story collection Nocturnes. Ishiguro has also written scripts for film and television, and is working on a graphic novel.

Permanent secretary of the academy Sara Danius describes Ishiguro’s writing as "a mix of the works of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix, and then you stir, but not too much. He’s a writer of great integrity."

Awarded since 1901, the Nobel prize is for the writing of an author who “shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Ishiguro is the 114th writer to be so distinguished.

Thanks to for content.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

National Book Award Finalists

The finalists for the National Book Awards were announced this morning. Among them are:


Elliot Ackerman, Dark at the Crossing       
Lisa Ko, The Leavers   
Min Jin Lee, Pachinko    
Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties: Stories
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing   


Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge   
Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America    
Masha Gessen, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI   
Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America


Frank Bidart, Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016
Leslie Harrison, The Book of Endings
Layli Long Soldier, WHEREAS   
Shane McCrae, In the Language of My Captor
Danez Smith, Don't Call Us Dead: Poems


Elana K. Arnold, What Girls Are Made Of
Robin Benway, Far from the Tree
Erika L. Sánchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Rita Williams-Garcia, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Ibi Zoboi, American Street      

The finalists for the National Book Awards are chosen by a panel of five judges for each category. Their decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation's staff and board of directors.

This year's winners will be announced on Nov. 15 in New York City.

The books with links are owned by the Burbank Public Library and are available for check-out.