Staff Review- The Favourite

The Favorite
Recommendation by Katie

 If there is only one thing that readers take away from my review, let it be this: 

  This is essentially what the big Oscar-bait film boils down to, but it is so much more about the nuanced journey than the destination. Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz feature in this jet black loosely historical comedy based on the reign and life of Queen Anne. During the midst of war with France, all the ailing monarch can focus on is her own pain and pleasure. Every person that serves her from the lowest chambermaid to the nobility clamors for her attention. The favor of the queen is the most valuable asset a person can claim, even if it is fleeting. 

Abigail Hill (Stone) comes to court a destitute young maid who was gambled away by her father. Wide-eyed and covered in filth, she stumbles into this grandiose world with only her naive charm and a seizable bag of ambition. Abigail lies in wait surveying the politics of her new habitat and observes the massive influence that her cousin Sarah Churchill (Yes, that Churchill) has over Anne. Anne is a terrible Queen. She has the most mercurial temper, she is very self conscious, and she would prefer the company of her 17 rabbits to affairs of state. Lady Sarah (Weisz) is Anne’s lover and more importantly the woman behind the woman. As the queen’s favorite she is given unparalleled influence and effectively rules the country. Abigail wants that power and the course of this movie is the rabbit race for supremacy. 

This movie is exceptional. Even though there are a lot of dramatic moments throughout I found myself laughing uncontrollably. Having watched three Yorgos Lanthimos films, the absurdist and often unnatural-sounding dialogue works really well as a source of comedy. This is what I think makes The Favourite and The Lobster enjoyable when I found The Killing of a Sacred Deer painful to sit through. 

Despite how much I have been propping up the comedic aspects of this film, it also has some jarring moments of pathos. Even though all of these people are terrible and weird, the acting of the three brilliant leads causes you to root for them both as flawed individuals and as couples. (Team Sarah!!!!) The Favourite made me reflect on the nature of love. Sarah is not frost-cold and unfeeling toward Anne, but she does have to be the heavy a lot of the time and tell her when her makeup looks terrible or not to overindulge in sweets. Abigail is superficially more kind to Anne but everything she does has an ulterior motive. Will honesty and sense win the day or will Anne be blind to Abigail’s flattery? 

Staff Review

Darwin’s Origin of Species 
by Janet Browne

I was looking for  a non-fiction book that I could read quickly, get some real knowledge from and really enjoy.  And I found it!     

The Atlantic Monthly Press has published  books that are ‘biographies’ of world changing books from “The Bible” to “Das Kapital.” The biography that I chose was Janet Browne’s “Darwin’s Origin of Species.”   She writes about all the research that went into the planning and development of the book and the personality and dedication of the author. Finally, Charles Darwin’s book was published on November 24 in 1859 with the title:  “On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” Darwin had been working on it for years and knew that it would be controversial. The concept that evolution, that plants and animals change slowly from generation to generation and living beings should not be regarded carefully designed divine creations was put forward for all to debate. And they certainly did! 

   Janet Browne’s short book, only 153 pages long, I loved.  It gives you the background of the book, an intellectual bio of Charles Darwin, a summary of the controversy in Britain, and a followup of the twentieth century’s take on the book.  It has footnotes, a list of sources and suggested reading and a real index! It was a fast and inspiring read! Onward to “On the Origin of Species!” Or maybe Browne’s biography of Charles Darwin.  

   Many books in the series, “Books that Changed the World,” are in Ocean State Library Catalog.  Go on the catalog, from Title scroll down to Series and put in “Books that changed the World” for a complete list. – Charlotte

Staff Review – The Testaments

The Testaments is the rabidly anticipated  sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale and I was eagerly counting off the days at the beginning of September until the launch date. Virtually everything about the book was shrouded in mystery. It would be set in Gilead, it would be 15 years after the close of the first book, and there would be three point of view characters. That was it. After over 30 years of wait time in between these works, some hype was felt, especially by me. I tried not to let it color my opinions, but it was extremely difficult.

One of the recurring stars of this dystopian drama is someone readers will  be familiar with if they have read the previous installment or seen the tv show: the taser-wielding Aunt Lydia,  the scourge of Gilead. Then there is Agnes. Agnes is a true child of Gilead who doesn’t remember any other way of life but she is fearful that she will be married off to the most powerful man that will have her. Last but certainly not least is Daisy. For this Canadian teenager her whole life and identity comes into question on what she believes is her 16th birthday.

While I enjoyed  this book, I don’t think that it has quite the same acidic punch that The Handmaid’s Tale possesses and I think that is mainly due to splitting up the narrative focus between three characters. The absence of June’s incredibly strong voice leaves a considerable void for the reader, but ultimately this book is  a well-written exploration of how life finds a way even under the darkest of regimes. Drawing inspiration from current politics, as always Atwood makes it very clear what her stance is and that alone makes this a delightful read. The Testaments also sprinkles in some additional details of the inner workings of Gilead and the true corruption and dysfunction that it takes  to make the sausage. It’s not just birthmobiles and punishing handmaids; the aunts are the keepers of genealogies and they ensure that there are new aunts to go on pilgrimage outside of Gilead.

I’m honestly  really hoping based upon what happened in this book, that there will be a sequel to this sequel coming down the pipeline. As Margaret Atwood herself puts it, “All good things come to she who waits.” – Katie

 

A Boy Called Bat – Elana K. Arnold

Kyera's Library

A Boy Called Bat (A Boy Called Bat, #1)

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Boy Called Bat is a children’s chapter book about a boy that tries to convince his veterinarian mom to let him keep the skunk kit that she rescued. It is a very simple storyline without much to make it stand out other than the fact that Bat, Bixby Alexander Tam, has autism. The most beautiful part of this book is the fact that no one ever comes out and says it, but most of the people in the book just function around it as if there is nothing wrong with Bat – and there is nothing wrong with him. He just functions and thinks a little differently than his peers. That normalizing of autism was so beautiful.

His mother and even his sister are able to understand his idiosyncrasies and mold the world in a…

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Staff Review

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

While reading this novel, I had to keep reminding myself that it was published in 1969 because of the themes that are so pervasive in today’s ongoing dialogue about gender. I haven’t read any of Le Guin’s work prior to this, but I can understand her ascendance to the heights of the sci-fi/fantasy canon. The one caution I have for the more casual genre fiction reader is that there are a lot of words from Le Guin’s Hanish universe and that can be quite confusing at first. You don’t want to get your kemmer and your shifgrethor mixed up. If you can assimilate these terms and flip back to the glossary to remember the various words that the people of Gethen use to describe their frigid weather, you’ll be okay. Le Guin was also a poet and I think it really shows in what I like to call the thesis of The Left Hand of Darkness:

Light is the left hand of darkness

and darkness the right hand of light.

Two are one, life and death, lying

together like lovers in kemmer,

like hands joined together, 

like the end and the way. 

The humans of the Hanish universe are people that are experimental branches on the evolutionary tree. Genetically they are are all very similar except for one or a few modifications that make them distinct from the others. Genly Ai is a Terran native who has come to the planet Winter as an envoy whose task is to convince the king of Karhide or one of the several other kingdoms of Gethen to join the Ekumen, an alliance of other humanoid planets. As the name Winter would suggest, these humans are adapted to withstand remarkably low temperatures. The other (and much more interesting) fact about the inhabitants of Gethen is that they are ambisexual; in other words, they are completely androgenous for most of their reproductive cycle … until they’re not. This leads to a great deal of tension between Genly and the natives. He wants to classify them and finds the idea of a pregnant king strange while the people of Karhide and abroad call him a pervert (a Gethian term for a human that remains in a fixed gender state outside of mating). 

Part political intrigue and part treatise on gender roles and the way they shape human interactions and society, this novel is remarkable because it manages to sneak in romance elements without the reader even really noticing until the very end of the book. Estraven, the prime minister and adviser to King Argaven, attempts to persuade the king into forming an alliance with the Ekumen but by pushing him continuously he only incurs Argaven’s wrath and finds himself exiled and out of a job. Genly too is affected by this shift in power and Estraven does everything in his power to help Genly out of it. They travel on sledges over great distances together to see Genly’s mission through and along the way come to an understanding of each other. Genly’s internal struggle throughout is centered around not thinking in the way he has been conditioned to by his own masculine behaviors. That in this place there is no binary. Hope and despair, light and dark, male and female, beginnings and endings all exist in a grand circle that feeds into itself. 

There are some pretty significant Taoist influences and Le Guin takes an opportunity to explore spirituality in addition to the other themes that are threaded throughout her work. This story is not driven primarily by a plot but more by concepts except in a few places where it feels very grounded and much more easy to follow. This one is definitely a mind-stretcher, so pick it up if you’re in the mood for philosophical pondering or you’re looking for a unique experience.

-Katie

Staff Review

Leadership in Turbulent Times
by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Goodwin investigates four presidents who each entered office during a national crisis and how they successfully guided us during that time.   

Abraham Lincoln entered office as the nation was on the verge of civil war.  Teddy Roosevelt assumed office after the assassination of President William McKinley and inherited a coal strike. Franklin D. Roosevelt entered office facing a financial crisis. 

Lyndon B. Johnson became president after the the assassination of president John F. Kennedy and he was able to engineer the passage of more civil rights legislation than any other president.  

All four men were brought up in various circumstances in their early life.   And, they each had their own reasons for entering office.  But, all four wanted to work for the greater good.  

Goodwin writes in a style that makes it easy to follow the political machinations of the time periods involved. Even though I have never been one to pick up a history book.- JW

Staff Pick

BROADCHURCH TV SERIES
Recommendation by Nina Murphy

When a patron checks out a show I have enjoyed I can’t help but get excited for them, particularly when it’s a well done British murder mystery.   Somehow murders taking place across the pond seem less nefarious to me than those taking place stateside. Broadchurch, a three season TV program extremely popular with streaming services is available through Ocean State Library (Season 1 & 2 are available on the shelves at Rogers Free Library with Season three available for request from other libraries.

Broadchurch takes places in a fictional town near Dorset, England. The dramatic landscape of a massive cliff which looms over a wide empty beach provides a forlorn sadness to a very the sad reality: A 14-year old boy has been found dead below the cliff. As we discover with the twists and turns of each episode there are secret lives behind the townspeople which begs the question did those secrets play a part in the tragedy? To add to the tension is the working relationship between DI Alec Hardy, a seasoned detective who has for reasons we will learn later moved to this remote coastal town, and local DS Ellie Miller who is a product of the community and thinks she knows her residents inside and out.

Chris Chibnall was the creator and executive producer behind the series and more importantly wrote all 24 episodes of the series. He has created characters with complicated intersecting lives. Interesting production note which I did not know when I watched the series is the identity of the killer was kept from actors and crew up until the final three episodes. 

Broadchurch is the perfect antidote for a cool fall night along with a large bowl of popcorn. A word of warning: you don’t want to rush through this well-crafted production. Once it’s over you’ll only be frustrated that there are not more programs as well produced as this one.