Charmed, I’m Sure

I’m always a sucker for the “quirky charmers” – books that in some way surprise or set off in a direction I wasn’t expecting but will gladly follow. Whether it is slightly odd characters and/or a story with a certain amount of eccentricity, by the end I find myself delighted even if (or perhaps because) they strayed away from the usual path.

Etta and OttEttaOttoRussellJameso and Russell and James by Emma Hooper  Although she lives on the Saskatchewan prairie, 83-year-old Etta decides it’s time to go see the ocean – and sets off walking.  A marvelous story of love, loyalty and friendship.


2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino – The title was enough to get me started on this tale filled with off-beat humor, and a smart-mouthed 10-year-old who is desperate to sing and reconnect with her widower father.

familyfangThe Family Fang by Kevin Wilson – The humor is a bit darker in this smart story of adult children trying to come to grips with their crazy performance artist parents. (In my book journal I noted that I both liked AND disliked the ending!) A book to try if you liked Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.

presidentshatThe President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain – Gallic charm and social commentary abound in this tale of the travels of Francois Mitterand’s hat. Or, if you prefer, head to London and be delighted by the Queen’s discovery of a bookmobile in The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen – Publisher’s Weekly summed this up nicely: “Fans of Wes Anderson will find much to love in the offbeat characters and small (and sometimes not so small) touches of magic thrown into the mix during the cross-country, train-hopping adventure of a 12-year-old mapmaking prodigy, T.S. Spivet.”

Amish Romance Novels

A fascinating new romance genre in the last twelve years is Amish romance, more fondly known as “Bonnet Rippers.” The importance of hearth and home are central themes in Amish romance with the backdrop of a tight-knit and loving community. While an outsider might woo a young Amish girl, she remains true to modesty and faithfulness. Many enjoy the genre as it is not racy, erotic, or overly sexual, but rather a sweet and innocent romance.

The three most popular authors of Amish romance are Beverly Lewis, Cindy Woodsmall, and Wanda Brunstetter. Together, they have sold more than 24 million books since 2003. Other spinoffs of Amish fiction include mystery, science fiction, and even “The Amish Bloodsucker Trilogy.”
Beverly Lewis         Cindy Woodsmall      Wanda

For more information on the Amish romance genre, take a look at this article by The Wall Street Journal.

Three popular Amish Romance series you might enjoy are:

 Home to Hickory Hollow Series by Beverly Lewis

Amish Vines and Orchards Series by Cindy Woodsmall

Brides of Lancaster County Series by Wanda Brunstetter

And don’t forget to check out this helpful list of Amish Fiction created by your very own St. Charles Public Library Reader Services team!



The Blessing of an Irish Tale

What a blessing it is to delight in an Irish read! Lose yourself in one of the titles listed below, or browse our “Read Me–I’m Irish!” display featured this month behind the Reader Services Desk (located near the “New Books”):

TeapotsIrelandThe Teapots Are Out and Other Eccentric Tales From Ireland (FIC KEANE)

The Book of Irish-American Poetry (811.008089 BOO)

The Big Little Book of Irish Wit & Wisdom (820.809415 BIG)

For the Love of Ireland (820.809417 FOR)littlebookIrishwit

Finding Ireland: A Poet’s Explorations of Irish Literature and Culture (820.99415 TIL)

You may also enjoy this list of Contemporary Fiction by Irish Authors.


Short Stories for a Short Month

February is fast slipping away!  In search of a quick read this month? Short story collections are an often overlooked goldmine of reading gems. Stop by the Reader Services Desk for suggestions or check out any of the recommended titles below:

funny onceTrue Stories Well Told: From the First 20 Years of Creative Nonfiction Magazine  814.008 TRU

Read Harder  Ed Park 814.6 REA

Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing  Neal Stephenson 814.6 STE

A Darker Shade of Sweden: Original Stories by Sweden’s Greatest Crime Writers of Sweden  John-Henri Holmberg  839.738 DAR

Truman Capote Breakfast at Tiffany’s:  A Short Novel and Three Stories  Truman Capote FIC CAPOTE

Samuel Johnson is Indignant: Stories  Lydia Davis FIC DAVIS

Problems with People: Stories  David Guterson FIC GUTERSON

Unaccustomed Earth  Jhumpa Lahiri FIC LAHIRI

Love is Murder: Including Original Stories from Bestselling Thriller Authors  FIC LOV

Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories  Lydia Millet FIC MILLET

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014  Alice Munro FIC MUNRO

Funny Once: Stories  Antonya Nelson  FIC NELSON

Heavenly Date and Other Flirtations  Alexander McCall Smith FIC MCCALL SMITH

Fools  Joan Sibler FIC SIBLER

Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories  Paul Theroux  FIC THEROUX






Listen to This!

The book was so much better than the movie!  How many times have we heardwild (or said) that? And generally, it’s true. The most recent example that comes to mind is “Wild” starring Reese Witherspoon. The book was better.  And I’d argue that the audiobook is best!


So what about audiobooks? When is the listen better than the read? Ardent listeners know that good narrators make a book come alive. As listening is my preferred format, here are a few suggestions for your spoken word pleasure.  All worth trying if you’ve been curious or are looking for a good listen while you wait for Season 2 of Serial.

Girl on the TrainHot out of the recording studio is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. It’s being touted as the next Gone Girl so get your name on a hold list. Hawkins delivers a tight, psychological thriller located on the outskirts of London. Love those British accents!


The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.  Australian mates this toime. Fun, offbeat romance with quirky lead the rosie effectcharacter. The sequel, The Rosie Effect is just out on audio so you can make it a marathon.

Nonfiction can be so dry (a.k.a. boring) but not in the hands of this narrator! Try Arthur Morey‘s reading of In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides.In the Kingdom of ice Yeah it’s 17 hours long, but Morey’s assured tone keeps you interested.


Literary Fiction is usually great on audio and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is no exception. The Invention of WingsTwo narrators alternate in telling the story of Sarah Grimke, the actual abolitionist and women’s rights advocate and Hetty Handful Grimke a fictionalized enslaved woman owned by the Grimke family. The clip is from the opening chapter of the book in Sarah’s voice:


Mysteries are great to listen to because with audio you can’t easily cheat and flip to the last chapter to see who done it. Try Robert Galbraith’s  The Cuckoo’s Calling followed by The Silkworm, or Still Life – first in the series by Louise Penny. Also good: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, Cop Town by Karin Slaughter or The Heist by Daniel Silva.

Finally, if you really don’t care what the book isEdoardo Ballerini about and just want to listen to a good reader, seek out Edoardo Ballerini.  You won’t be disappointed. (The clip is from Blood & Beauty: The Borgias by Sarah Dunant.)



Patron Picks

A new roundup of titles that have received “thumbs up” from your fellow patrons:

An avid mystery reader recommends the series by A. D. Scott. Set in the Scottish Highlands just after WWII, it has interesting characters and “great charm.” Start with A Small Death in the Great Glen

DoubleFeatureDouble Feature by Owen King – yet another in Stephen King’s family is proving to be an entertaining writer!

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris – very interesting story and look at Jewish customs in an ultra-orthodox London community.

If you enjoy romantic suspense, don’t miss the The Black Knights series by Julie Ann Walker, starting with Hell on Wheels.TimeInBetween

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas – two patrons came in separately on the same day talking about how much they loved this book. This Spanish saga has been a hit overseas too.

One of our voracious readers of romance suggests trying anything by either Dakota Cassidy or Vicki Lewis Thompson.

MaliceMalice by John Gwynne – very well done “sword and sorcery” fantasy.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor (YA) – a mother-daughter duo highly recommend this  complex fantasy that combines other-worldly beings and a modern day art student.

sevenbadideasSeven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World by Jeff Madrick (330 MAD) – a very interesting critique of current economic thinking written in such a way anyone can appreciate what he has to say.

What the Staff is Reading

Collections of short stories are great if you don’t feel you have big chunks of time to read. One staff member enjoyed So Much a Part of You by Polly Dugan. These are linked stories about relationships, primarily featuring one couple who meet in college. With very modern, solid writing, and an interesting way to tell story, it’s sort of like viewing their lives sideways and looking over a shoulder instead of looking straight on.

Another great short story collection is Honeydew by Edith Pearlman. These stories contain interesting character studies which uncover their hidden lives. Although at times short stories may leave the reader unsatisfied, these do not. And is often the case with short stories, this is great writing in a precise, polished manner.

A really fun and quick read for all book lovers is The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. Mr. Fikry, a lonely widower who owns a bookstore on an island off the coast of Cape Cod, has his life changed forever when a toddler is abandoned in the store.  As he rises to the challenge, layers are exposed and the reader gradually comes to realize the full story. It’s also fun to recognize all of the literary references.

In our society people are living longer, and one thoughtful book that was really enjoyed is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande,  a medical doctor who comes to realize how medicine fails aging people who need a more holistic and practical approach. Thought-provoking and well-written, it is described as sad but not depressing, and encouraging if taken the right way.

2014 National Book Awards

RedeploymentWednesday night we learned the 2014 winners of the National Book Award, and there are some terrific titles to explore.

Winner in the fiction category was debut novelist (and former marine) Phil Klay for Redeployment.  The nonfiction prize went to Evan Osnos for Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in new China.

Prizes were also awarded for poAge_of_Ambitionetry and young people’s literature. You can see all the winners and nominees online, and the lists are worth viewing as there are many intriguing titles (by the way, I was rooting for Station Eleven in the fiction category).

Also worth mentioning: the amazing speech given by diminutive and delightful author Ursula K. Le Guin who was honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Included in her thought-provoking statements was this gem, contrasting authors of “realism” with those who write fantasy and science fiction:

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being…”

You can watch her entire speech in the video below.  This was only the second time I’ve watched along as the awards were announced and I have to say it is becoming a favorite book event to “attend” – even if only virtually.  Always some new, great books to read!

Can You Keep a Secret?

There’s an ongoing fascination with those who protect our national leaders, but I’m not so sure they are pleased with their recent publicity. Here are four books for those interested in learning more about the Secret Service:

The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents by Ronald Kessler (363.283 KES)

Within Arm’s Length: A Secret Service Agent’s Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President by Dan Emmett (363.283 EMM)

In the Secret Service: The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan’s Life by Jerry Parr (363.283 PAR)

Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill (973.922 HIL)

Banned Books, Get ’em While You Still Can!

The Lovely Bones A Time to Kill Olive's Ocean Snow Falling on Cedars

This week (Sept. 21-27) is Banned Books Week which is not, in fact, a week we spend pulling books off the shelves and throwing them in a fire; it is a week of celebrating the freedom to read. So, hurry in and pick up a copy of a book that someone, somewhere in time, has challenged your right to read.

Leaves of Grass  To Kill a Mockingbird  The Great Gatsby  Lady Chatterley's Lover

We have classics such as Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in both print AND audio (hmm, is listening okay if reading is not?) also, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (most of his major works have been challenged, so take your pick), To Kill a Mockingbird (what’s not to like about Gregory Peck?), The Call of the Wild, The Great Gatsby, The Lord of the Rings, The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Ryethe list goes on and on and we’ve got ’em all!

Harry Potter  Captain Underpants  Goosebumps  Gossip Girl

Want something a little more current? There’s Harry Potter, Captain Underpants, Goosebumps and Gossip Girlall these series have been challenged.

Stop by the Library to learn more about Banned Books Week, pick up a bookmark or two and exercise your freedom to read (or listen or watch).

The Color Purple  Slaughterhouse-Five  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian  The Hunger Games