Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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Click for availability and more information Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach
 
When Jonathan Livingston Seagull first came out in the early nineteen-seventies, it was very popular on my college campus. Some English professors required their students to read it, and I remember seeing a lot of copies in the bookstore. As it so happened, I didn't have an opportunity to read it in undergraduate school. Fortunately, while retrieving some books for a book display recently, I spotted a copy and decided to check it out.

Rather than limiting his time to fishing for food, Jonathan Livingston Seagull decides to pursue his passion of flying. He "pushes the envelope", and tries to fly higher and faster than any gull in history. Despite warnings from his peers to conform to ordinary gull life, he pursues his dream, and is soon ostracized for trying something new. Although he is forced into exile, he is happy and peaceful.

One day, two gulls (Angels?) appear and take him to a higher plane (Heaven?). He meets the Wisest Gull - Chiang - who teaches him how to "astro travel" (move instantly from one place to another in the Universe). He is told he can advance from level to level until he reaches the highest level through the Perfection of Knowledge. Jonathan is already ahead of his peers because of his efforts to fly on Earth. Chiang mentions the Greatest Gull (God?) who resides in the highest levels. Jonathan is given the opportunity to return to Earth to teach other "outkasts", who were exiled because they did not conform.

The beauty of this book is that it uses the simple life of a gull to teach us several relevant lessons of life. One should be true to himself, and pursue newly discovered abilities and skills. Conformity is not necessarily good since "pressing the envelope" can lead to new discoveries. Everyone should work on Love, and exercise Forgiveness in order to free the spirit. No one should be ostracized for being different. This is true in our own lives as well as Nature. The book was very relevant for the times (The Vietnam War Era). I felt very happy and peaceful after reading this classic.
-Carl

Click for availability and more information American Experience: The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer
 
One of the most interesting movies I've ever seen is the PBS American Experience feature The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was a brilliant scientist, who was put in charge of the Manhattan Project during World War II. He helped develop the atomic bomb, which helped shorten the war. Yet, he was stigmatized as a Communist since his wife, friends and associate were members. It almost derailed his ability to get security clearance for the project, and after the success of the Project, he was unceremoniously stripped of his clearance. This DVD raises many questions about privacy, loyalty and individual rights. I highly recommend it for its historical narration and social commentary.
-Carl

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Liar and Spy

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Click for availability and more information Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead
 
Seventh grader Georges moves into a Brooklyn apartment building and meets Safer, a twelve-year-old self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer's first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: what is a lie and what is a game? How far is too far to go for your only friend?

This story about secrets, spies, and friendship will keep readers guessing until the end.
-Margaret

Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist

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Click for availability and more information Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist, by R. L. LaFevers
 
Nathaniel Fludd's life has taken a turn for the worst. With his parents lost at sea, he lands on the doorstep of a distant cousin, the world's last remaining beastologist. Soon Nate is whisked off on his first expedition, to Arabia, where the world's only phoenix prepares to lay its new egg. When disaster strikes, Nate quickly finds himself all alone.

Will he be able to see the phoenix safely hatched, keep his accidental pet gremlin out of trouble, and rescue his guardian from the Bedouin? If he fails, nothing will stand between the world's mythical creatures and extinction. Too bad Nate's not the sort of boy who enjoys adventure . . .yet.
-Margaret

Fall of Giants

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Click for availability and more information Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett
 
Ken Follett, already known for his enthralling historical fiction works about medieval England, has written a terrific trilogy about the twentieth century and the first volume, Fall of Giants, gets the series off to a roaring start. Concentrating on the first decades in this book, Follet has created Russian, English, German, and American families whose lives at times will become entangled with each other as World War I first looms and then breaks out. Follett's skillful writing makes the times and events come alive as the reader is taken from the White House in Washington to the streets of St. Petersburg during the Russian Revolution. In particular, the gruesome trench fighting during the war is vividly portrayed. A bonus is the explanation, with thanks to Follett's clear writing, as to why all these events happened. Fall of Giants is an engrossing and highly entertaining beginning to what will obviously be a wonderful trilogy of books about the previous century.
-Roy

The Murder at the Vicarage

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Click for availability and more information The Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie
 
Agatha Christie, in her long career as one of the best selling mystery writers of all time, created two enduring characters for her stories : Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. The Murder at the Vicarage, first mystery in book form that featured Jane Marple, was published in 1930 and still can be an extremely enjoyable reading experience for mystery lovers. There is indeed a murder in the vicarage in the village of St. Mary Mead, ironically the fictional home of Jane Marple. Colonel Protheroe is shot while in the study of the vicarage. A master at mysteries, Christie has woven this one with an intriguing cast of characters from St. Mary Mead, many who might have had motive and the ability to kill the colonel. Jane Marple, an elderly spinster in St. Mary Mead who declares that "her hobby is - and always has been - human nature," uses these skills when she eventually becomes involved and aids in solving the crime. This is a very enjoyable book to read the first of Agatha Christie's works featuring Jane Marple.
-Roy

Joshua Dread

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Click for availability and more information Joshua Dread, by Lee Bacon
 
For Joshua Dread, middle school is proving to be, well, awkward. Not only do bullies pick on him, but do you see those super-villains over there trying to flood the world? The ones that everyone, including his best friend Milton, are rooting for Captain Justice to take down? They're the Dread Duo, and they just happen to be his parents. As if trying to hide his identity wasn't hard enough, Joshua has started leaving a trail of exploding pencils and scorched handprints in his wake, and only Sophie, the new girl in town with a mysterious past, seems unsurprised. When a violent attack at the Vile Fair makes it clear someone is abducting super-villains, and that his parents may very well be next, Joshua must enlist both Sophie and Milton's help to save them.
-Margaret

Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days

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Click for availability and more information Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days, by Stephen Manes
 
Is it possible? Can an ordinary human being really become a perfect person in three short days?

Milo Crinkley thought so. What gave him the idea was a book that fell on his head one day at the library--a book with the impressive title Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days! The author, Dr. K. Pinkerton Silverfish, did look kind of weird, but he claimed to be the world's leading authority on perfection.
Milo took the book home and followed its instructions. He liked the idea of being perfect. Perfect people never had their parents nag at them. Perfect people never had to take the blame for rotten tricks their sisters played. Perfect people never needed erasers. Perfect was obviously the perfect thing to be!

Did Milo become a perfect person in just three days? More importantly, can you?
-Margaret

Bhutto

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Click for availability and more information Bhutto
 
Here's a documentary that may help clear up the complex political situation in the Middle East. The Bhutto family was involved in Pakistan politics for many years. They were considered "The Kennedys of Pakistan". Daughter Benazir Bhutto eventually became the first woman to lead a Muslim nation. Her father tried to install a democratic form of government, but the military mounted a coup, and he was executed. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979, many Muslim volunteers flocked to Pakistan to mount resistance and force the Russians out in 1989; but when the Russians retreated, no money was available to send the fighters back to their countries. They were eventually absorbed into the military, and became Al-Qaeda. As one Prime Minister put it, a new clandestine organization that combined intelligence and politics with military power emerged. Ironically, the money and equipment given to the forces to fight the Russians by the United States was used as seed money to fund terrorism!

The Bhuttos continued to fight to get control of the government. They knew Pakistan was sponsoring terrorism. Despite being driven to exile, they returned to try and save their country, which started suffering from economic stagnation. Money was diverted from social programs to fund the development of nuclear weapons. They received threats on their lives, but Benazir still returned to her homeland.
-Carl

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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Click for availability and more information Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
 
Nelson Mandela sacrificed much for South Africa. He gave up his freedom, his youth and his marriage. Yet, he remained true to his cause and himself. His people were being repressed even though they were the majority. Black South Africans of all ages were being beaten, tortured and killed. Several members of his family were killed during the violent unrest. Mandela knew this had to end, and embraced civil disobedience to this end. He believed in "one man, one vote" and worked to get representation for his people in government.

This is a very powerful movie based on his autobiography. The acting is superb. It helped me "fill in the blanks" about something I had heard about through most of my life, but never fully comprehended. The respect I had for Mandela has been increased 10-fold. Nelson Mandela was indeed a great leader. I highly recommend that you view the DVD Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
-Carl

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Shadow

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Click for availability and more information Shadow, by Michael Morpurgo
 
Surviving in a cave in war-torn Afghanistan, Aman and his mother are separated from Aman's beloved dog, Shadow, when they flee for the safety of England. Just as they are getting settled as free citizens in England, they are imprisoned in a camp with locked doors and a barbed wire fence. Their only hope is Aman's classmate Matt, his grandpa, and the dream of finding his lost dog. After all, you never lose your shadow.)
-Margaret

Lulu and the Brontosaurus

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Click for availability and more information Lulu and the Brontosaurus, by Judith Viorst
 
Lulu is so accustomed to getting what she wants that when her parents deny her birthday request for a brontosaurus, she throws a four-day temper tantrum and then storms off into the forest in search of the dinosaur she clearly deserves. Lulu isn't particularly impressed with the snake, tiger, and bear she encounters, but then she finds him--a beautiful, long-necked, graceful brontosaurus. Mr. B completely agrees with Lulu that having a pet would be a wonderful thing and Lulu thinks she's gotten her birthday wish at last. Until she realizes that Mr. Brontosaurus thinks that she would make an ideal pet for him!)
-Margaret

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