Amadeus (1984)

Reviewed by Zach S (Library Staff)

Love, betrayal, selfishness, passion, and above all, music! These are the themes that form the core of Milo’s Foreman’s 1984 Academy Award winning classic “Amadeus.” The film follows the story of the now eldery composer Antonio Salieri, having attempted suicide he is sent to a mental institution where a young priest asks the once great composer to unburden himself from his sins. What follows is a three hour saga as Salieri confesses both his hatred and admiration to the one man he considers to undoubtedly be the voice of God: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, brilliantly portrayed as a spoiled and entitled savant by Tom Hucle. The film is enriched by it’s incredible attention to detail from its costumes, set design and most importantly its performers. It’s the performances of Hucle’s Mozart and F. Murray Abraham’s Academy Award winning work as Salieri that anchor the film and give it its lasting effect that lingers with the viewer far after the credits have rolled. The question was once asked “If there are literally hundreds of films about Beethoven, why is there only one about Mozart?” The answer? There only needed to be one, and it is a masterpiece.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

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Reviewed by Anonymous (Library Patron)

I think that this is a great book. It has a good story-line that is about a young Jewish girl that lives in Denmark when the Nazi’s invaded. I really liked how the Author put a lot of emotion into her writing. When Annemarie gets the news about Jews being killed and taken to labor camps her family is forced to hide. I think that people who are interested in Historical fiction would really enjoy this book.

Located in Children’s Paperbacks (J PBK LOWRY)

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

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Reviewed by Judy B (Library Staff)

Well written story with murder, deception, women’s subjugation, dysfunctional families, science and a “dash” of fairy tale all wrapped around the art of lying. It won the Costa Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for several other awards.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC HARDINGE)

Hamilton (2015) by Lin-Manuel Miranda

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Reviewed by Emily Terasa (Library Staff)

Since it will probably be years until I can see the smash-hit musical Hamilton (with it seemingly being sold out for forever!), I decided to check out the soundtrack so I could see what all the fuss was about. And let me tell you, the fuss is well-deserved. Lin-Manuel Miranda, a recent recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, fulfills the genius title with his creative and amazing lyrics and music. Every time I listened to some of the songs, I would remark to someone near me how much of a genius Lin-Manuel Miranda is, to have come up with something so brilliant.
Hamilton follows the life story of a founding father, Alexander Hamilton. I really knew nothing about his life, but after listening to the soundtrack, I realized he had an extremely fascinating story. From fighting in the Revolutionary War and becoming Treasury Secretary, to battling with Jefferson over the government and dueling with an old friend, Alexander Hamilton lived quite the life. The story is told mainly in song, with an emphasis on, surprisingly, rap (the rap battles between Hamilton and Jefferson are epic!)
The soundtrack is two discs, so you are able to follow most of the story, even without seeing the musical. There are many standout songs, but two of my favorites are “You’ll Be Back”, which is basically King George singing a song to the US (like the US was an ex-girlfriend) and “Ten Duel Commandments” which is a rap explaining the rules of a duel.
The entire soundtrack is fabulous, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves musicals, or who just has an appreciation for music, and the writing process because Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the entire musical himself. He truly is a genius, and this musical is genius. You’ll be back to listen to it again and again!

Located in Soundtracks (CD SDTK HAMILTON)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

Every so often, a library patron presses a book into my hands and says, “You must read this NOW.” I want to turn the tables and press Between the World and Me into the hands of everyone who comes through the library’s doors.

The book is written as a letter from the author, a well-known journalist with The Atlantic magazine, to his fifteen-year-old son. He is giving the boy advice about how to navigate the culturally fraught experience of being a young black man in America. Coates draws from his own experiences, as well as from history and current events, in his brilliant exposition of the struggles all black men face.

I am neither black nor a man, so there was little I could personally relate to in this book. Yet it resonated with me. Coates elucidates truths I have never, not once in my life, considered–yet that millions of my fellow Americans deal with every single day. For example, he points out that a young black man like his son cannot wear a hooded sweatshirt and walk alone on an unfamiliar street without risking being stopped by the police or even attacked by a zealous vigilante. That is an experience I have never had.

But it put me in mind of a story I heard recently: The instructor of a self-defense class divided the class into two groups, men and women. She asked each group to make a list of steps they take to protect themselves from rape on a daily basis. The men didn’t write down a single thing. The women had many, many items on their list: walking in groups, carrying mace, using keys as a weapon, etc. (Having once been a single, female college student on the east side of Milwaukee, I can definitely relate to that experience.) The exercise was intended to demonstrate to the men in the class that the women went about their daily lives with a fear of rape always present in the back of their minds. That’s what Between the World and Me did for me, in terms of race: this book showed me the fears and insecurities that American culture ingrains in the minds of our young black men.

Of course, I have some differences of opinion with the author. Most importantly, he tends to talk about “Black America” as if it were monolithic, and he gives very short shrift to the important differences between male and female experiences. But those little quibbles can’t take much away from my opinion that this is a must-read book for anyone who hopes to understand the issue of race in modern America.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (305.8 COA)

Bridge of Spies (2015)

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Reviewed by Jennifer Rude Klett (Library Staff)

Bridge of Spies is an outstanding but underrated film by director Steven Spielberg that is based on true events during the Cold War in 1957. Even though the events in this movie took place before I was born, I am old enough to remember plenty of fallout shelter signs, scary atomic blast footage, and pre-glasnost Soviet Union tensions. If you are under 30, view this movie as an extremely-entertaining lesson of history. I LOVED this movie. Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as James Donovan, the quietly-astute but intrepid Brooklyn attorney who finds himself defending a Soviet spy at the request of the CIA. He then travels behind the Iron Curtain into East Germany to demonstrate his mastery in the art of negotiation. This somewhat obscure story needed to be told; luckily it was done brilliantly in Bridge of Spies.

Located in Adult DVDs (DVD BRIDGE)

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Burbaker Bradley

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Reviewed by Jane Oliver-Purton (Library Staff)

A beautifully written story of Ada, a club footed child, hated by her mother and forced to stay in their dingy London flat. She and her little brother, Jamie, through grit and determination get themselves to the train taking children out of London to temporary homes in Kent to keep them safe from the expected bombing of London. Here, they are placed with sad, proper, Susan Smith, whose patience, determination and growing love for them changes their lives. There is much sadness in this story, wonderfully read by Jayne Entwistle, and much joy, as well. Ada is justifiably prickly in her dealings with “Miss”, but her undying spirit and never-ending stubbornness serve her well, and help her see how she has been gently turned from her mother’s hate to Susan’s love. 2016 Newbery Honor Book.

Located in Children’s Fiction (J FIC BRADLEY)

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Keith Gessen

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Reviewed by Anonymous (Library Patron)

What do you remember of the Chernobyl accident of 1989? I remember it was a big event, tragic, but life went on. Not for those millions affected by the Chernobyl nuclear breakdown!
This non-fiction book is not filled with nuclear jargon and numerical details but is fascinatingly and tragically rich in personal, human experience.
The author interviews hundreds of people, each with their own account and feelings, about their understanding and individual stories at that time. For most the truth of the devastation was swept under the rug by politicians. Others couldn’t comprehend the contamination that was colorless and unseen. “Dirt for them is ink, earth or oil stains, not isotopes with short half-lives. I don’t think they understood it any better than if I’d been a shaman from an African tribe.” Men courageously followed military orders to rush to the reactor site for immediate clean-up of radioactive waste that had just burned up and destroyed technology’s best robotics. Death was unknowingly a given.
I read haunting stories of illness and disease and the continuation of life with a different set of instructions. Some continued to live in their homeland that had been transformed more than a science fiction movie could portray.
I can readily understand why this author was given the Nobel Prize in Literature. She takes you deep inside the story. This book brings you as close as possible to comprehending a major earth changing event that transcends translation through our human understanding.

Available through the BRIDGES Library System

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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Reviewed by Jane Oliver-Purton (Library Staff)

This well-written book on basketball and life was the 2015 Newbery Award winner, and its win is justified. It’s the story of Josh Bell, nicknamed Filthy McNasty, who, with his twin brother, Jordan (JB), is a rising basketball star on their middle school team. After all, Filthy can dunk in the sixth grade. The story is told primarily in verse, but in such on point language and cadence that it is easy to read, and even better in its audiobook format. The year holds many changes in Filthy’s life, as JB gets a girlfriend, causing a rift in their formerly seamless twinship, and the stresses of family and a possible county championship loom large. Beautiful language, a wonderful story, and a huge heart make this a story to remember.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC ALEXANDER)