Boss: season one (DVD:Lions Gate studio) © 2011

Rating:©©©©

Summary: This Starz made for TV drama seriesBoss, written by Farhad Safinia and produced by Stella Stolper, is all about the power, control, and secrecy used by the politico to succeed. Set in Chicago, the story follows the day-to-day actions of the protagonist, mayor, Thomas Kane. Chicago Aldermen, representing many of the ethnic groups of the Windy City’s melting pot, vie for political favors from not only the mayor, but also each other. Of course, each favor comes at quite a cost. Being related to the mayor is also a liability. The mayor’s immediate family is dysfunctional at best and this lack of family functionality provides the additional thematic material used throughout the eight episodes to create a complex and intriguing drama.

Review: After watching episode one, I was not sure I would continue to watch the remaining seven episodes because I found the film to be an assault on my senses and ethical beliefs. This being said, I feel compelled to forewarn potential viewers that this series is a lot like an extreme, twenty-first century version of The Godfather. The screenwriter relies heavily on the use of overt sex and violence to convey the power and control possessed by the Mayor Kane. Few topics explored in the series seem to be taboo, and most seem to be based on actual Chicago events.

The characters in the story are the mayor, his staff, the city aldermen, and to a lesser extent his wife and daughter, as well as other government officials. Each episode’s plot is meticulously revealed through the narrative threads woven by the main as well as the supporting characters. This serial drama relies on the previous episode to develop the story line of the current episode to chronicle a day in the life of Mayor Kane. Each day is filled with the jobs needed to get done by the mayor’s office, no matter what the cost. Moreover, every endeavor undertaken by the Mayor and his staff is aimed at enhancing, protecting, or repairing his legacy. Actor Kelsey Grammer, known for his comedic rather than dramatic roles, brilliantly portrays the story’s manipulative, corrupt, and ruthless Mayor Thomas Kane. Grammer’s performance is complimented by an equally talented supporting cast, which makes the series very compelling. Boss is dramatic, intense, unsettling, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

More Movies Like This: If you enjoy mature and intelligent, adult dramas like The Sopranos, 24, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire, you will love Boss. Other DVD films owned by the Lake Bluff Library that possess political or mob themes are GoodFellas, Public Enemies, American GangsterThe Vegas Casino War, and There Will Be Blood.

Availability: Season one of the TV DVD series Boss is available for patrons at the Lake Bluff Library.

Review by Valerie

COUNTY: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital (by David Ansell,M.D.:Nonfiction) © 2011

Rating:©©©©

Summary: David Ansell’s exposé on health care at County, Chicago’s publicly funded hospital, is insightful and thought provoking. The reader is introduced to the many problems and inequities patients and physicians encounter when treatment occurs at a public hospital for low-income and uninsured patients. However, perhaps in spite of itself and Chicago politics, County and its physicians are responsible for the creation of many highly regarded patient treatment and education programs, such as: the Women’s Early Breast Cancer Detection program, the Burn Treatment Center, the Asthma Treatment Center, the Maternal and Infant Health Center, and the Infectious Disease Prevention and Treatment Center as well as the first Trauma Unit, the world’s first Blood Bank and the first Cobalt-beam Therapy Unit. These are impressive health care accomplishments for any hospital but even more so for a hospital dependent on government funding. Finally, in 2002, Cook County Hospital was replaced by the John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital. The addition of this the new medical facility eliminated one of the many inhumane conditions patient’s faced at County but it did not eliminate the social inequalities of poverty. Overcoming many obstacles, County/Stroger Hospital continues to strive to provide adequate health care for all.

Review: Health care in the United States has been and always will be a hot button topic. Whether one believes that adequate health care is a basic human right or a privilege, author/physician David Ansell constantly reminds the reader that a person’s quality of life is directly related to their health and no matter if one is rich or poor, politics always plays a role in health care public policy formation. That being said, the author goes about describing how he and his colleagues fought against a formidable foe, namely politics, to create renowned healthcare protocol and programs to better serve the healthcare needs of those they serve. Ansell clearly became a physician because he wanted to help people. Employing great compassion and humanity, he recounts patient stories in a thought provoking manner connecting the patient’s health issues to their life and death. As a healthcare activist, he fought for the under served, now however, he fights for a system that provides adequate medical care for all.

Read-a-likes: My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor is a personal account of how the Harvard trained neuroanatomist recovered from a stroke and retrained her brain using her in depth understanding of the human brain’s inner workings. Her recovery chronicles the physical and emotional journey of a woman trying to become whole. This book is available in the library’s nonfiction collection in several formats: hardcover, audio book, and eAudiobook.

Availability: This book is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library’s nonfiction collection and My Media Mall in downloadable eAudiobook format.

Review by Valerie.

Too Big to Fail (DVD:HBO Films) ©2011

Rating:©©©©©

Summary: This HBO film, based on the book by Andrew Ross Sorkin, chronicles the 2008 United States economic crisis. Screenplay writer Peter Gould clearly illuminates the thought process behind the bank bailout plan and the steps taken by the U.S. government to avert financial disaster. The story begins after the Government allows Leman Brothers to go bust, chronicling the period of financial failure beginning with the collapse of Bear Stearns through the rise of TARP.

Review: This is a story about financial greed. The characters in the story are bankers and government officials. It is through their actions and dialogue that the story’s crisis is revealed. The movie concentrates on how the crisis was averted, one day and bank at a time, rather than why the crisis happened. Actors William Hurt and Paul Giamatti, convincingly portrayed the story’s hero, Henry Paulson Jr., and the doomsayer, Ben Bernanke, respectively. Both characters have done a brilliant job convincing the audience that without immediate intervention, the economy faced imminent collapse. The viewer comes to realize that this impending collapse was brought on by the financial industry’s reckless deregulation and subsequent risk ladened borrowing by consumers. This gluttony brought banks and insurance companies down to their knees as they faced default. As most know, after Lehman Brothers failed, the government steps in to save banks and the country from an economic catastrophe. Mr. Bernanke makes it clear; doing nothing would have catastrophic consequences. The only solution was to create something “Too Big to Fail.”

More Movies Like This: Other films owned by the Lake Bluff Library that address the financial crisis are the Inside Job, and Margin Call. If you enjoyed the movie Too Big to Fail you might try reading Sorkin’s book with the same title and other accounts of the 2008 financial crisis such as Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Bethany McLean’s All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, Suzanne McGee’s Chasing Goldman Sachs : how the masters of the universe melted Wall Street down– and why they’ll take us to the brink again, and Damon Vickers’ The Day After the Dollar Crashes: a survival guide for the rise of the new world order.

Availability: Sorkin’s book and the DVD based on his nonfiction work as well as the read-a-likes and similar movies are all available at the Lake Bluff Library.

Review by Valerie

Anatomist’s Apprentice (by Tessa Harris: Adult Fiction) © 2011

Rating:©©©

Summary: This story is set in 18th century England and it is here that Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a Philadelphia trained anatomist, has come to continue his own education as a medical doctor and forensic scientist, as well as lecture to the anatomy students of Christ Church College. As a forensic expert, he is called upon to investigate the sudden death of Lady Lydia Farrell’s brother, Sir Edward Crick. Despite the fact that his fellow townsmen despised Sir Edward, their rumors have implicated her husband, Captain Michael Farrell in his death. Silkstone, with the help of his forensic and medical training along with deductive reasoning, navigates his way through unforeseen twists and turns and ultimately determines who killed Crick.

Review: The Anatomist’s Apprentice is a fairly fast paced mystery that chronicles the progress made in understanding scientific principles and human anatomy, as well as the reluctance of some to embrace these new theories acquired during the age of enlightenment. References to social class and mores of the day also help to establish the true nature of characters within the storyline. Vividly descriptive language enable readers to see, smell, and hear every detail used to explore and unravel the mystery. Overall, this book is an intriguing tale of good versus evil, love, murder, mystery, and  heroism. Any reader who watches NCIS or CSI will enjoy reading this period, forensic mystery.

Read-a-likes: Cat of the Century by Rita Mae Brown, Double TakebyCatherine Coulter, The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen, Port Mortuary by Patricia Daniels Cornwell, The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, and The Alienist by Caleb Carr are all novels which feature sleuths in historical context.

Availability: Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library through MyMediaMall as an e-book and an e-audiobook.

Review by Valerie.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (by Helen Simonson: Fiction) c. 2010

Summary: Major Ernest Pettigrew, retired and widowed, leads a quiet life in a small town in the Southeast English village of St. Mary. Until, unexpectedly, the death of the Major’s brother ignites a friendship with local Pakistani shopkeeper Jasmina Ali. Finding that they have more in common than they could ever have imagined, friendship begins to blossom into something more. Can their rural English society, still holding onto the lingering traditions and prejudices of the past, accept this turn of events? And more importantly, can the Major himself?

Review: This is an excellent, and funny book. The characters are unique and well written, the English humor accessible to an American audience, and the issues (both personal and societal) are timely. While this will be most approachable to Anglophiles and fans of gentler reads, this is the rare title that I would recommend to almost any reader.

Read-a-likes: Other similar English titles, such as Old Filth by Jane Gardam or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, should be of interest to fans of Simonson’s work. But other titles dealing with older individuals adapting themselves to a new life and world, such as Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan are worth a look as well.

Availability: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library as a book and an audiobook on CD.

Review by Eric.

2CELLOS by Luka Šulić & Stjepan Hauser © 2011

Rating:©©©©©

Summary: 2CELLOS are the dynamic, classically trained, celli duo of Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hausner. Given that Elvis is considered the King of Rock-n-Roll, these two might be considered the modern day wizards of instrumental music, creating an eclectic tracklist filled with popular rock and pop songs. The magic happens as these musicians use a variety of playing techniques, including rapid bowing, pizzicato, and percussive slaps to capture the melodic intricacies of popular music such as “Smooth Criminal,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “Welcome to the Jungle” with the same emotion and interpretation they would afford a piece of classical music.

Genre: Instrumental

Label: Sony Masterworks

Review: Simply put, these two guys make playing the cello cool! Every time I listen to this CD, I smile. While some classical music purist may disagree, I have come to realize that current pop and rock music can be filled with the same rhythmic complexities and melodic depth found in most classical performances. Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hausner impress me with their pure musicianship, sheer energy, and masterful interpretation of a wide range of artists from Michael Jackson to Nirvana.

There is nothing new about the cello, it has been around for centuries, and is still considered more of a rhythmic element in classical music pieces. Until more recently, the cello did not get a lot of recognition as a solo instrument. This duo’s approach, however, is to use the celli for both the rhythm and the melody of these songs in a bold and sometimes competitive, musical call and response form. In addition to the call and response commentary, Šulić and Hausner also place an emphasis on capturing and expressing the texture and percussive qualities of the rock and pop music they perform, which truly makes each piece come alive. Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hausner have artfully knocked down the walls dividing two music genres, classical and rock/pop. While Beethoven may roll over upon hearing this work, Bach is definitely screaming, “rock on.”

Sound-a-likes: While nobody has the same energy or sounds exactly like the 2CELLOS, instrumental renditions of current pop and rock music by other, classically trained, artists such as the Vitamin String Quartet, The Section Quartet, The String Quartet, Break of Reality, or Apocalytica are already popular among listeners who enjoy instrumental music.

Availability: This music is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library as a CD or as downloadable music from the Library’s freegal music site. Check the Lake Bluff Library catalog for current availability!

 


Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World (by Paul Cartledge: Nonfiction) c. 2007

Summary: In 480 BC, the great Persian King Xerxes led a vast army into Greece, intending to add the city states there to his empire. Squabbling among themselves even as Xerxes approached, the Greek polities mustered only a small contingent of 300 Spartan soldiers (supported by several thousand allies) to make a stand in the narrow pass of Thermopylae. The battle that followed, while a Persian victory tactically, would prove to be a rallying cry that would not only turn the war in the Greeks favors but echo down through history.

Review: Cartledge does a reasonable job summarizing the Greek and Persian worlds and world views in the first stages of his book. Beyond that, he falters. The description of the battle itself is woefully brief, and virtually no description of the effect of the battle on the rest of Greece or on the subsequent course of the war is offered. No more than a sentence on the great battles at Plataea and Salamis is offered. Instead, after the brief description of the battle, Cartledge offers many chapters following the effects of the battle on art, culture, and society throughout the world and through the ages. He thus provides excellent examples that the battle ‘changed the world’, while doing virtually nothing to document how or why this was the case. For readers interested in Greek history or the Persian Wars, there are much better and more balanced books available. The audio version of the book is, at least, beautifully read by John Lee.

Read-a-likes: For those more interested in action than strict fact, the movie 300 remains the most recent and popular portrayal of Thermopylae. For fiction readers, Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield is a stirring and largely accurate rendering of the battle. For those interested in a better examination of why the Greeks and Greek civilization echo through western history, I would recommend Sailing the Wine Dark Sea by Thomas Cahill.

Availability: This book is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library as an eAudiobook, downloadable through My Media Mall.

Review by Eric.

Miki Falls: Summer

Check out Miki Falls: Summer!

Has Miki fallen too hard? It’s summer, and Miki Yoshida is learning all about love. Her senior year has blossomed with promise ever since she gained Hiro Sakurai’s confidence. Now, she’s resolved to keep his trust as he reveals more about his secret mission and warns:  “Don’t get involved!”"But Miki fears his work might do more harm than good, and she takes control—with disastrous results. How can trying to make things right turn out so dangerously wrong?

Review: I’m really enjoying the Miki Falls series! Summer takes place a few months after the first volume, Spring, but readers new to this series don’t necessarily need to read the first book in order to enjoy this latest installment. Crilley provides enough recap to not drag the story down and continues at a good pace to keep the story moving forward. Miki has been successful in gaining Hiro’s confidence and discovered his big secret. Now the two have formed a strong friendship as Miki learns about what exactly Hiro’s special mission entails. As Miki learns more about Hiro and his past, she begins to realize that her place next to Hiro is impossible yet she can’t help but feel close to him and she thinks Hiro feels the same.
In Summer, we see Miki and Hiro become more dimensional characters. While Hiro tries to back away from Miki and conceal his feelings for her, Miki pushes forward and dares to ask why. She refuses to take no as an answer and doesn’t dissolve into a pool of tears, which is one of the reasons why I like her so much. Similarly Hiro struggles with his choice of doing his duty or listening to his heart. More information about Hiro’s job is provided in the book, which is really unique and interesting. We also see a female acquaintance of Hiro’s past that adds more tension to this sweet love story.
Miki Falls is an OEL, original English language manga-style graphic novel series. It is perfect for those readers who are hesitate about reading Japanese manga yet curious about the stories they contain. The soft black and white illustrations perfectly complement this gentle story about first love. I especially love the set up of separate panels that express the emotions that run across the character’s faces making them real. I hope that you pick up Miki Falls and I look forward to reading Autumn, the third volume of the series.

Readalikes: Miki Falls Volume 3: Autumn by Mark Crilley