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Reserve February and March Best Sellers and Sneak Peeks

Want to get a preview of some of the new releases coming out next month?

Download or view the February Fiction and February Non-Fiction lists to see if anything interests you. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog.  Log into your account and place a reserve. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.

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Memories of Ireland

While you might not remember how to pronounce it, you probably do remember what havoc the Iceland volcano named Eyjafjallajökull created in the early spring of 2010. Gerry and I were scheduled to visit my youngest daughter who was living in Dublin, Ireland completing a graduate degree.  Nasty volcanic ash spewed forth from Eyjafjallajökull and cancelled our trip. Chaos ensued for the entire week when our plans for a lovely Irish vacation were finally permanently shelved. Gerry’s disappointment was further complicated by my sadness that I wouldn’t be seeing my daughter who had left the previous fall for Dublin.

In 1983 I was lucky enough to live in Ireland for one full calendar year. My now-ex-husband and one-year old daughter and I arrived in the southern city of Cork just after Christmas in 1982. During our year, we spent many weekends driving back roads and touring practically every village, castle and sacred spot across the Republic. Our youngest daughter, Ciara, was born that summer in Cork which is the second largest city in Ireland with a population just over 125,000.

Our small family lived in the tiny village of Glounthaune, 7 kilometers east of Cork at the estuary of the River Lee. Not all houses in Ireland are named, of course, and not all years are spent magically, but ours was. Our rented home was surrounded by high stone walls. Near the wooden door opening to the entry was a plaque with the simple name: The Garden House. Our home was situated along a winding road leading north and overlooked an 18th century country house hotel and the Cork Harbour beyond.

We left Ireland just before the next Christmas to return to the United States, as was planned. What I hadn’t planned was my profound sadness leaving what had become a home in my heart.

I’ve returned as a tourist to Ireland twice since 1984. I took my daughters back to celebrate Ciara’s 10th birthday. I visited again in 2004 before I met my husband Gerry. After our marriage in 2007, I wanted to share some of my favorite places, moments and memories with Gerry. In April 2010, Eyjafjallajökull foiled those plans and many others. The weddings of all four of our children and the births of our six youngest grandchildren have kept us from remaking plans since to travel to Ireland.

My Christmas gift for Gerry this year was to surprise him with a long-awaited trip. Given the busy-ness of our lives, I’ve planned only five days and nights away. Norwegian Airlines recently added direct flights from Providence to Cork. We’ll depart on an overnight Monday flight – a perfect idea for a short vacation and arrive before breakfast. Our Saturday return, given the time change, gets us back home early in the evening.

Making air reservations is only the first step in travel. On a short trip, there is not the luxury of whiling away any time. Rambling and exploring have to be left for those fanciful and extravagant trips of more than a few weeks. That’s why I need to explore the travel guides well in advance of our trip planning an itinerary that will make the most of our five days. I’ve learned that driving around looking for overnight accommodations is never a good plan and advance reservations for convenient, centrally-located hotels and inns are next on my list.

This first visit will include arrival and departure from Cork, travel to Killarney to the west, to Kilkenny midway to Dublin, and to Dublin on the east coast. We learned the hard way on a trip to Italy a few years ago that a good up-to-date map is a must. Relying on Google maps can use up an entire allotment of data and can end up being a very expensive mistake. Cell service is often spotty in the least expected places, road blocks and detours can become hellish diversions to nowhere, and wrong turns waste an extraordinary amount of time. For that reason, I’ve invested in a recent edition of a Collins Roadmap of Ireland even though there are maps provided in any reputable guidebook. This way we can fold it this way and that and forget about having to replace a guidebook when we want to return it to the library.

Fodor’s Essential Ireland is published annually and I’ll be using it to search for up-to-date information on hotels in Killarney, Kilkenny and Dublin. While the Internet is a terrific resource, I want the straight-talk from locals and professionals before booking online. I’ll take a look at Frommer’s Ireland, Rick Steve’s Best of Ireland, and Lonely Planet Ireland which are all terrific overviews. Along with my own knowledge, the guidebooks will remind me of the best sites in the towns and cities we will visit. Both Lonely Planet and Frommer’s are also available on Hoopla, the library’s streaming and downloading service.

I’ll plan two nights in Dublin – feasting on the city where over half of Ireland’s population lives. Trips to the Guinness Brewery and Jameson Distillery are top on Gerry’s list and I’ll order advance tickets that I’m sure to read about in the guidebooks. We always take in a bus tour of every city we visit – we find it gives our feet a rest and the added audio or personal commentary is helpful.

I’ll have to be very careful choosing just the right places during our Dublin visit and so first I’ll consult 20 Things to Do in Dublin Before You Go for a Feckin’ Pint by Colin Murphy and Donal O’Dea!  Next I’ll read both 111 Places in Dublin that You Shouldn’t Miss by Frank McNally and Secret Dublin: An Unusual Guide by Pól Ó Conghaile.

There are so many regions of Ireland that are distinct – from western Cork to Galway and Sligo just south of the Northern Ireland border to the mountains south of Dublin where St. Kevin’s tower nestles in Glendalough. We’ll have to save those for another trip which I’m sure will happen once Gerry has his first taste of Ireland. That’s when we’ll take Scenic Walks in Killarney by Jim Ryan and Dublin Strolls: Exploring Dublin’s Architectural Treasures by Gregory and Audrey Bracken.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the December 28, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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Never too Late to Change

Funny. I had another article in mind to write for this week, and then it hit me. Garfield. Do you remember the craze around that persnickety cartoon cat by Jim Davis? When I was a teenager I loved following the comic strip. Actually, I loved everything cats (before I realized my allergies stemmed from my own cat, Oreo). I decorated my room with the Kliban Cat, the one who wore red sneakers. And every Sunday I couldn’t wait to sit down, newspaper in hand, to read Hägar the Horrible and Garfield.

So it was really no surprise when a stuffed animal version of Garfield appeared in our family Yankee Swap one year that I had my eye on him. I’d picked a good number too, or so I thought. The only problem? My eight-year old cousin had decided to enter the “grab.” Her mother had assured everyone that she knew the rules and we shouldn’t treat her any differently. When she opened the box that held Garfield, she had a look of sheer delight. But wait? I thought. She doesn’t follow the comics like I do. She doesn’t appreciate the humor between Garfield and his owner, Jim. Not to mention, like I said, I had the higher number. So when it was my turn, I went in for the kill. I swept Garfield in a flash and deposited whatever hand knit coat hanger or crocheted soda can hat I’d opened instead.

I should have been ready for the tears, but I wasn’t. The right thing to do would have been to put myself in her place. Instead, I reassured myself I was playing the family game fairly. After all my cousin had said she wanted to be a part of the “adult” swap. Wasn’t I justified in taking the gift from her? The terrible thing was I didn’t feel so great after I took it. Not to mention the adults looked at me like I was the Grinch. Suddenly Garfield didn’t feel so warm and snuggly in my arms.

As it turned out I didn’t have the best number. Number 1 belonged to my Uncle Norman. He was the loveliest great uncle. He did things that other uncles wouldn’t typically do. He loved to bake (I still make his Quiche Lorraine). He kept finches in his tiny apartment. He crafted hats for ladies on Newbury Street and he could whip up a dress or skirt for my grandmother in no time. He also had heart of gold. I don’t remember what he said to me when he came over, but I know he folded Garfield in his arms and handed him to my tearful cousin.

That was one night when my personality didn’t shine, but I’d like to think my character has changed over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I still love unwrapping presents at the holidays. However, I’ve matured enough to know that it’s not the “things” in life that matter. At this time of year especially I’m reminded of Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Who doesn’t love to read Charles Dickens’ story or watch the movie? Who can forget Scrooge’s dramatic change of heart? Perhaps Dickens’ story has stood the test of time because there is a bit of Scrooge in all of us. The night I took the stuffed animal away from my cousin, I was young and driven by the selfish desire to own Garfield. The good news is people do change.

Recently I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and I fell in love with a bookseller named A.J. Fikry. He was a character whom I could relate to because he becomes a better person. In the beginning of the book, he is a young curmudgeon. His life is not going according to his plan. Not only has his wife died unexpectedly, but he has been left in charge of a desolate bookstore on the island of Alice. His misery consumes him and the only pleasure he finds is in his books, especially a rare one that he owns by Edgar Allan Poe.

And then, as with all good stories, something unexpected happens. Someone steals A. J.’s precious book, Tamerlane. Around the same time something, or should I say someone, arrives in his bookstore that turns his life around. I don’t want to give too much away but, like Scrooge, these events move A.J.’s soul like nothing has done before. In the process, his bookstore begins to become a center of community, like a well-run library.

Granted The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry and A Christmas Carol are works of fiction, and yet fiction reveals truth, too. We might not meet with Marley’s Ghost in the middle of the night, but it’s nice to know that we have the ability to change our outlook on life. We can choose to become more caring and less self-absorbed. Maybe it’s as easy as bringing some figgy pudding to a friend’s door or shoveling the walkway for a neighbor. We only need to be open to that stirring.

Today I will be delivering a pink hoodie and bracelets to a young girl whose father is incarcerated in a local prison for the Angel Tree. As I write, I wonder if she likes cats. If I could find one, I’d like to wrap up Garfield to go with the other packages. That might be a good sign that I’ve come full circle. Still I know I have “miles to go before I sleep.” Either way, I’ve learned the same lesson as Scrooge and A.J. Fikry: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Here’s wishing you a very happy holiday!

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read the published version of Nancy Ling’s column in the December 21, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
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Turn the Page at the Library with Louise Penny

Life changed quickly at the end of the 20th century and it seems to continuing that rapid change in the 21st. Personal computers, cell phones, email, and the Internet were the first to crash onto the scene at public libraries before the Y2K scare. Since then, streaming video, digital books and magazines, gadgets, and much more have found their way into the library and onto the Cloud.

Many of the library’s staff who served Norwood from its desks and telephones in the 20th century have retired in the past 17 years.  One of those librarians, Margot Sullivan, came to Norwood from the Boston Public Library in the 1980’s. Although she officially retired her position as Adult Services Librarian in 2008, she continued her very popular First Thursday book discussion group for nearly another decade. After 33 years leading the group, she recently decided to move closer to her son and his family in New Jersey. Of course no one could replace Margot or her leadership of the First Thursday book group.  Margot’s fans had read well over 250 books in the thirty-plus years that they met within the library’s rooms.

And so, it was time to Turn the Page.  A handful (or two) of library staff decided to lead a newly-formed discussion group with a decidedly different format. Plans were made for two staff each month to organize and host a once-a-month Wednesday program (held both in the morning and afternoon, as Margot had done.)

For the first discussion of the Turn the Page book discussion group in November, librarians Alli Palmgren and Nancy Ling chose David McCullough’s 2015 biography of the Wright Brothers. Over forty-five enthusiastic readers took the challenge, checked out the book in advance, and attended the Turn the Page discussions on Wednesday, November 15.

December’s discussion will continue this new format with Louise Penny’s first book, Still Life. Technical Services Assistant Patty Bailey and I are reading the book for what we hope will be a lively talk. Penny’s mystery Still Life, published in 2005, is the beginning book in the Three Pines Mystery series. Her latest and thirteenth book, Glass Houses, was published just this past summer.

Although I’d never read Louise Penny before now, I had heard people rave about her stories for years. Her Three Pines mystery series (and one novella for teens) feature Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector for Homicide (and eventually superintendent) of the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force for the Canadian province of Quebec.  The setting is the fictional village of Three Pines, not far from Montreal. (Author Penny claims that Three Pines is somewhat of a compilation of a few villages she has known and loved.) The mystery is the death of retired teacher Jane Neal, killed while walking in the woods near her home.

Louise Penny’s career did not begin with writing. Penny became a radio broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation after graduating from college at 21. She remained in that professions for 18 years. As a professional radio host in various locations across Canada, Penny suffered from a deep loneliness, and at the age of 35 realized that she had become an alcoholic. She did not like herself and admits that continuing her drinking would have cost her everything – her friends, family and career – had she not broken the downward spiral. After giving up alcohol and marrying a well-known Montreal hematologist, she left radio and was able to focus on her writing. Dr. Michael Whitehead convinced Penny to give up her broadcasting career to write. A historical novel did not materialize, however, and she suddenly, and fortuitously, decided to write mystery novels, one of her own favorite genres. She claims her leading man, Inspector Gamache, is modeled on her husband and she credits Whitehead’s love and support for much of her success. Sadly, Whitehead succumbed to dementia at the age of 82. Penny, twenty-years his junior, cared for him until his death in 2016 in gratitude for giving her the freedom to write.

Many readers and reviewers have labeled Penny’s Three Pines novels “cozies” which are a subset of mystery novels.  Cozies downplay the violence of crime and death with a setting that often exudes warmth and intimacy. Marian Masters, owner of the popular Toronto mystery bookstore Sleuth of Baker Street, claims the cozy label doesn’t actually fit Penny’s books.  Master’s argues that “Louise’s books are police procedurals with a very British flavor … with nasty murders and fascinating, complicated characters.”[1]

The name of the village of Three Pines itself has a mystique of its own. (Besides, of course, having an abnormally high murder rate. For a small village, you certainly wouldn’t expect so many mysterious deaths.) The lore behind three pine trees planted together in Canadian towns and villages, just over the border of New England states, is interesting. The three pines were supposedly code for the Loyalists to the British crown, those who fled America during the Revolutionary War. A house with three white pines in the front was a signal that Loyalists could seek refuge there. While there does not seem to be much historical reference to what might just be a legend, it adds intrigue to Penny’s tales.

Still Life was filmed as a made-for-television movie in 2013. While it was an adaptation, Penny co-wrote the screenplay and was pleased with it. (It’s available in the Minuteman Library catalog and should not be mistaken with either the Italian movie starring Eddie Marsden or the Chinese film directed by Jia Zhang-Ke. All three are titled Still Life.) Still Life: The Three Pines Mystery is fun with great characterization and scenery. One of the complaints is the decidedly British accent of Inspector Gamache who most assuredly spoke both Canadian English and French.

Many versions of Still Life can be found in the Minuteman Library catalog, including the audiobook, e-book, and large print. A version of the audiobook narrated by Ralph Cosham is currently available free on Hoopla, one of our library’s streaming services.

The Turn the Page Book Discussion group will meet on Wednesday, December 20th at both 10 am and 7 pm. We ask that you register as free refreshments are offered to all participants. Patty Bailey and I will be sharing a publisher’s map of Three Pines and other interesting trivia about Louise Penny and Still Life. Call the library for more information.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the December 14, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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10/10 Recommend: The Review Wars

It’s an accepted fact that we are living in the era of information. More than ever, people have instant access to knowledge that can help them make decisions in their everyday lives.  People are using their smartphones, computers, and other devices to make informed choices about their medical care, their political views, and how to spend their money.  And it has never been easier to spend money thanks to the convenience of shopping online.  Open access to information about products and services means we now have endless choices to consider.  So how do people figure out the best way to get the most for their money? Even with all this new technology, people still rely on an old-school method:  recommendations and reviews.

There are so many services and websites that provide us with consumer reviews.  This should make the process of selecting the best products and services easier but somehow things are still just as complicated!  There are two ways most of us look at reviews online: separate review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor OR the reviews sections of websites that directly sell products like Amazon.com.  Products and services that are well reviewed generally jump to the top of any results list.  But it seems businesses have responded to these attempts to empower the consumer with fake reviews.  Supposedly, individual users of sites like Amazon.com are meant to buy a product, use it, and then rate or review it with feedback for other individual users to contemplate when making their own purchasing decisions.

So how does a company that sells products on a site like Amazon get individuals to write bogus reviews?  By offering incentives, of course!  Some companies have set up Facebook groups to recruit potential reviewers by offering full refunds on the product they were selling if the reviewer provided a high number of stars and a glowing review.  This ensures the product will appear at the top of search results, creating the illusion of goodness rather than revealing an accurate assessment of it.

Of course, the idea of sending out free product in hopes of good reviews is not a new marketing strategy.  Business have done this for years.  The difference now is where vendors previously hoped that the free things would sway people’s recommendations, companies now require an explicit exchange to occur in order to secure a good rating for their product:  you get this thing for free if, and ONLY if, you write a good review for us.

YouTube is another treasure trove of reviews that would appear helpful since videos allow potential buyers to see a product in action.  The comment section of review videos can also aid consumers suss out potential problems.  But brands have discovered a way to take incentives a bit further than just providing free products to content creators.  Many brands now sponsor lavish trips to exotic destinations and invite select “influencers” that reflect their key demographic to participate when new products are launched.  I imagine it’s pretty tough to film a negative review of a product from a brand that has just sent you on a fre trip to Tahiti, a reason many YouTubers cite when they simply opt NOT to talk about a product on their channels at all instead giving it an honest, critical review. In reality, many content creators are not able to monetize their channels or other social media platforms and thus depend on free products to keep their reviews going.

The tension between free products from brands and honest reviews puts consumers in the middle.  Now that the holiday season is kicking off, more and more people are shopping online.  This past Black Friday and Cyber Monday seemed especially focused on online deals, with some starting the weekend before Thanksgiving and others extending to the week after.  Clearly, with our busy lives and holiday seasons, we are drawn to the convenience of shopping via the Internet. But if we aren’t able to examine the quality of the goods we’re purchasing or make any kind of assessment until they arrive in packages at our houses, we have to use reviews smartly to our advantage.  Using a few basic techniques and some common sense will help you spot a product with many fake or biased reviews.

First, it helps to read a bunch of positive reviews for a product.  Notice the language.  Do reviewers use the same key phrases or words to describe the product? If so, that can be a sign that the brand has provided reviewers with preferred talking points to include. Secondly,  look at how specific or detailed people are in their review.  The generic phrase “This product is great” doesn’t really help anyone decide if the product is a good fit.  If a review can point a few different things that made this product worthwhile or call out a few small drawbacks, it’s more likely the review is genuine.

It also helps to know when a product came on the market.  If it’s just been released and there are many glowing reviews, it can be a sign that the vendor solicited biased opinions that aren’t accurate or helpful. Finally, and this is for the truly detail oriented folks, if you start to notice the same usernames providing positive reviews for multiple products in a short period of time, you can generally conclude that reviewer might have been swayed by the promise of free stuff.

Online shopping is one of the miracles of our current technological age.  Theoretically, we should be able to save  time and money by engaging in a very targeted consumer experience rather than traditional browsing.  Through online reviews, we also have access to the best consumer resource out there:  other people’s experiences.  But even though technology has helped us spend more money than before, in order to spend it wisely, we still must evaluate our information in ways librarians have been recommending for years:  consider your sources carefully and verify the facts before you decide to hit that “Place Order” button.

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Kate’s column in the December 7, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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