Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - Best Books of the Year

Professional book reviewers often compile lists of their favorite books at the end of the year. There's lots to choose from and the experts don't always agree.  As 2013 comes to a close, have you thought about compiling your own list?

This year, my favorites included the novels Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and Visitation Street by Ivy Pochada.  Of the nonviction titles I read, Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo and Cooked by Michael Pollan top my list.  What about you?  What have you read this year?

And, because I always have two or three books by my bed, I'm already thinking about what I'll read next.  Here are some popular lists for the "Best Books of 2013" that I'll definitely explore for my 2014 reading.

The Chicago Tribune/Printer's Row
The Los Angeles Times
The New York Times
The Washington Post

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Outstanding Audiobooks

Whether you are baking, wrapping presents, or applying the last varnish on the hand-carved toys, an excellently narrated audiobook would be a perfect companion for you this December.

Here are just a sample of the audiobooks recommended by ALA and Washington Post that are available in the collection at your Lake Forest Library.

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Vance.  CD AUDIOBK MAN

Vance brings Tudor England to life in his beautifully accented and paced narration.

Heft by Liz Moore, narrated by Narrated by Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka.  CD AUDIOBK MOO

The contrast between Heyborne's quiet and Szarabajka's sonorous voices tell a poignant story of family relationships and lost souls.

The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith, narrated by Ari Fliakos. 

Fliakos' skill in creating tone, character and pace enhances the haunting quality of Smith's story.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, narrated by Fenella Woolgar.

Woolgar’s brisk, cultivated English delivery contributes a bracing, chins-up quality to the protagonist's tumultuous life.

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson, narrated by Bill Bryson. 

Bryson brings us a medley of signal events with his adopted British accent is pleasant and subtly amused.

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs, narrated by Jake Weber.

Weber brings great patience to the voice of the protagonist in this complex thriller.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In Memoriam: Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine

Hollywood lost two screen legends this weekend with the passing of Peter O’Toole (age 81) and Joan Fontaine (age 96).  Luckily, many of their most memorable screen performances are now available on DVD -- including those in the films highlighted below.  Enjoy!   Click on the titles to determine availability in the library’s catalog.  

Irish-born O’Toole is best known for his iconic performance as Lawrence of Arabia in the epic, Oscar-winning film of the same name, but the handsome and charismatic actor enjoyed a stellar career that encompassed both stage and screen.  O’Toole racked up eight Oscar nominations for best actor during his astonishing 50+ year film career, the last one coming in 2006 for the film Venus -- three years after he was awarded an honorary Oscar acknowledging his lifetime contribution to film.

The story of T.E. Lawrence, the heroic and troubled man who organized the Arab nations to fight the Turks in World War I and then, having reached a pinnacle of power in Mideast politics, retired to postwar military obscurity.
Lawrence of Arabia  (1962)  O’Toole and Omar Shariff star in the story of T.E. Lawrence, the heroic and troubled man who organized the Arab nations to fight the Turks in World War I and then, having reached a pinnacle of power in Mideast politics, retired to postwar military obscurity. The film's seven Oscars included the win as Best Picture.

My Favorite Year (1982)   O'Toole gives a knock-out performance as Alan Swann, a booze-loving former matinee idol who is forced into making a live appearance on a variety show to appease the IRS. Mark Linn-Baker plays the fledgling writer for the show who must keep Swann on the sober and narrow.

Venus  (2006)  O'Toole leads a powerful cast to deliver a charming and poignant portrayal of Maurice, an aging veteran actor who becomes absolutely taken with Jessie – the grandniece of his closest friend. When Maurice tries to soften the petulant and provincial young girl with the benefit of his wisdom and London culture, their give-and-take surprises both of them as they discover what they don’t know about themselves. 


Joan Fontaine is perhaps best remembered for her roles in two Alfred Hitchcock classics from the 1940’s.  Her memorable role as the haunted, second Mrs. de Winter in Hitchcock’s 1940 film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's  bestselling gothic novel  Rebecca  catapulted the young actress to stardom.  The recipient of three Academy Award nominations for best actress over the span of her career, it was her portrayal of the shy, young wife who suspects her husband of plotting to kill her in Suspicion that brought the star a well-deserved Oscar.  The younger sister of actress Olivia de Havilland -- Fontaine adopted her mother's maiden name early in her career to differentiate herself from her equally-talented sibling. 
Rebecca  (1940)   A naive young woman marries a rich widower and settles in his English manor home, only to find herself haunted by memories of his beautiful first wife.  Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson also star in Alfred Hitchcock's Oscar-winning best picture.

 Suspicion  (1941)  Well-to-do wallflower Lina McLaidlaw is in love -- and perhaps in danger as well. She suspects that Johnnie Aysgarth, the playboy who swept into her life and married her, is a murderer and that she may be his next victim.  Cary Grant also stars in this classic Hitchcock psychological thriller.  
Well-to-do wallflower Lina McLaidlaw is in love, perhaps in danger. She suspects that Johnnie Aysgarth, the playboy who swept into her life and married her, is a murderer and that she may be his next victim.
Well-to-do wallflower Lina McLaidlaw is in love, perhaps in danger. She suspects that Johnnie Aysgarth, the playboy who swept into her life and married her, is a murderer and that she may be his next victim.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Biographies with Movie Tie-ins

Two new biographies from the world of entertainment are receiving rave reviews – one a moving portrait of actress Vivien Leigh and the other an in-depth look at the troubled, but talented director/choreographer Bob Fosse.  While reading about their lives and careers – why not revisit some of the films that best capture their magic as well? Click on the titles to determine availability in the library's catalog.

Vivien Leigh is best known for her iconic performance as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, which first brought her to the attention of American audiences, but the British beauty enjoyed a successful career that encompassed both stage and screen in England and the United States.  Other acclaimed film performances include that of aging southern belle Blanche DuBois in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, and divorcee Mary Treadwell in the 1965 drama Ship of Fools.  Her role in Desire, opposite Marlon Brando as the brutish Stanley Kowalski, earned Leigh her second Oscar as Best Actress; her first coming in 1939 for GWTW. 
Leigh’s career was cut tragically short by her death in 1967 from tuberculosis.  She was 54.  Kendra Bean’s lush, new biography of the actress, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, provides a thoroughly engaging review of her storied career and her tumultuous private life, including her marriage to legendary British actor Sir Laurence Olivier.

Gone With the Wind   (1939) 

The epic love triangle between Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, and Ashley Wilkes unfolds against the backdrop of the Civil War.  Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland star.  Winner of 13 Academy Awards. 


Director Elia Kazan’s acclaimed film version of the Tennessee Williams play earned 4 Academy Awards, including acting nods for Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden.  Amazingly, Marlon Brando’s celebrated performance was passed over in favor of another iconic performance that year – that of Humphrey Bogart in African Queen.   

Ship of Fools  (1965) 

Director Stanley Kramer’s film adaptation of the novel by Katherine Anne Porter recounts the overlapping stories of several passengers aboard an ocean liner bound for Germany from Mexico in 1933. The large, distinguished cast includes Leigh (in her last film), Simone Signoret, Jose Ferrer, and Lee Marvin. The film was nominated for 8 Oscars; taking home the honors for cinematography and art direction. 

Fosse  by Sam Wasson

Chicago-born Bob Fosse began his career as an actor and dancer – and quickly gained a reputation as one of the most talented directors and choreographers in Broadway history.  His distinct and sensual jazz style of dance was featured prominently in such Broadway hits as Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, Pippin, and Chicago.  His unique style also lent itself well to film -- as can be seen in such hits as Cabaret  and All That Jazz.  Fosse's life and career are in the spotlight in Sam Wasson’s revealing new biography of the troubled genius.  


Cabaret  (1972)

Fosse won an Oscar for his direction of the classic film version of the Broadway hit, which is set amidst the rising tide of Nazism in 1931 Berlin.  Liza Minnelli also scored an Oscar for her signature role as seedy Cabaret performer Sally Bowles.
All That Jazz  (1979)

Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, and Ann Reinking star in Fosse’s semi-autobiographical tale of the excessive lifestyle of a driven dancer.  The film is chock full of examples of Fosse’s legendary choreography. 

Chicago  (2002)

Fosse had hoped to bring his huge Broadway hit Chicago to the screen  – but the project failed to get off the ground before his death in 1987.  When director Rob Marshall tackled the film project in 2002 – winning the Oscar for Best Picture in the process -- he paid tribute to Fosse's influence by emulating Fosse’s style in his own choreography for the film.