What the Staff is Reading

mrchurchA fast-paced, enjoyable read set in WWII London is Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal. The rich period detail is a particular strength in this character-driven spy novel. The plot centers around Maggie Hope, a British woman raised in America after her parent’s untimely death. Now living in London with various roommates in her deceased aunt’s crumbling mansion, she finds herself  working in the War Rooms after a previous secretary is murdered. Her gender limits her to a typist’s job, but her skills at code breaking lead her to discover a murderous plot, while she also discovers hidden family secrets. Fans of Jaqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series may enjoy this.

last-days-of-nightAnother historical novel with spies and intrigue is Graham Moore’s  The Last Days of Night. Short chapters really move the plot along in this story based on fact set in  the late 1880s, the beginning of the electric age. Paul Cravath is a young, inexperienced lawyer hired by George Westinghouse, who is being sued by Thomas Edison over a patent for the light bulb. With all the power and money behind Edison, it seems like a nearly impossible case to win. Other intriguing characters thrown into the mix are the eccentric Serbian immigrant Nikola Tesla and the beautiful opera star Agnes Huntington. In short, nothing is quite as straightforward as first appears.

kindredSet in both the past and present, Octavia Butler’s Kindred is a sobering science fiction book involving time travel. Dana, a contemporary African-American woman, one day finds herself suddenly in antebellum Maryland, where she saves a young boy, Rufus, from drowning. Just as suddenly, she is back in California. Over a period of time, Dana is called back various times, and each time Rufus is older and in more serious trouble. However, what seems like hours in the past is only minutes in the present, and years in the past are hours in the present. Again, this is a plot-driven book that also deals with social justice as the atrocities of slavery are dealt with. This may be a good choice for fans of Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

 

 

Patron Picks

Looking for a new book to try? Some of your fellow patrons have taken time to stop by Reader Services and share about how much they enjoyed these titles:

What Angels Fear by C. S. Harriswhat-angels-fear

This is the first in a long series featuring Sebastian St. Cyr, son of an earl who becomes a sleuth when he finds himself the prime suspect in a horrible murder.  Set against the backdrop of 1811 London society, this well-researched historical fiction does have some violence, but is also filled with suspense, mystery and a bit of romance.

The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burkejealouskind

Burke’s writing is always great and this coming-of-age story set in Texas during the 1950s is not to be missed.

 

Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner  943.1552 WILfortyautumns

Readers of history will enjoy this page-turning memoir about generations of a German family torn apart during the Cold War. “It really helped me better understand my own family’s experience regarding the Berlin Wall and a divided Germany.”

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval N. Harari 909 HARsapiens

“What a fascinating, provoking look at where humans have come from and where we are heading – in a very nice way, the author points out we are all filthy murderers!”

Books – Always The Perfect Gift

Image result for bow on book imageI can’t think of a more thoughtful gift to give someone you care about during the holidays (or anytime) than a good book. With a little thought and some helpful suggestions, a personalized selection of a few of the best titles from 2016 are just a blog post away. Click on any of the items listed below to access their catalog record, which includes a summary of the item.

For the CookThe Chef’s Library: Favorite Cookbooks from the World’s Great Kitchens

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For the Traveler (armchair, or otherwise)Complete National Parks of the United States (National Geographic)

For the RomanticMe Before You; After You (2016 sequel) by JoJo Moyes.

For the Tech-Driven Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman

For the History BuffDevotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice by Adam Makos; News of the World by Paulette Jiles

For the Popular Fiction ReaderSmall  Great Things by Jodi Picoult

For the Crafter – Supercraft: Easy Projects for Every Weekend by Sophie Pester

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For the Audio LoverA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

For the High School StudentAll the Bright Places  by Jennifer Niven

For the Literary ReaderEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave;         A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman

For the Self-Help Guru – Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

For those who want to be amazed and inspiredWhen Breath Becomes Air  by Paul Kalanithi

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For the Middle SchoolerRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

For the Biography BuffA Life Well Played: My Stories by Arnold Palmer

For those in the mood for a Holiday Story – Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

For the Comic Book JunkieBest American Comics 2016, Roz Chast, Editor

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Seasons Greetings!

 

 

 

Listen Up!

Grunt Hidden Figures A Gentleman in Moscow Journey to Munich Everybody's Fool

Looking for something to listen to over the winter holidays?  Here is a sampling of some of the best audiobooks of 2016.

Nonfiction

Grunt, by Mary Roach.  Bestselling author Mary Roach explores the science of keeping human beings intact, awake, sane, uninfected and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war. Narrated by Abby Elvidge.

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Narrated by Robin Miles.

American Heiress, by Jeffrey Toobin. The wild saga of the kidnapping, crimes and trial of Patty Hearst.  Narrated by Paul Michael.

Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. From the bestselling author of Rules of Civility –a transporting story about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.  Narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith.

Journey to Munich, by Jacqueline Winspear. The 12th installment of Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series.  This time Maisie heads to Munich.  There will be Nazis.  Narrated by by Orlagh Cassidy.

Everybody’s Fool, by Richard Russo.  After 23 years, the author returns to North Bath, in upstate New York, and the characters who made Nobody’s Fool, a huge success.  Narrated by Mark Bramhall.

The Black Widow, by Daniel Silva. An international thriller that finds the legendary Gabriel Allon grappling with an ISIS mastermind. Narrated by George Guidall.

Memoir

Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight.  The Nike founder and CEO  shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic and profitable brands.  Narrated by Norbert Leo Butz.

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer.  A refreshingly candid and raucously funny collection of extremely personal and observational essays.  Narrated by the author.

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo   The Black Widow Shoe Dog American Heiress

 

What the Staff is Reading

fierceradianceLauren Belfer’s first novel came out in 1999, the well-received historical novel, City of Light, which dealt with the developing electrical industry in Buffalo at the turn of the last century. It was more than 10 years before her second novel came out,  A Fierce Radiance. This time the setting is mostly in the Eastern United States shortly after Pearl Harbor, and the subject is the discovery of penicillin. Told through the story of a 36-year-old photojournalist for Life Magazine, the race to develop this life-saving drug is a suspenseful story of  blackmail, espionage and murder, as well as some romance.  Overall, this is well-researched with an eye for historical detail.

newsoftheworldThere was a lot of early  hype about Paulette Jiles’ recently published book News of the World, and it did not disappoint. This historical fiction, set in Texas in the years after the Civil War, is a quick but compelling read with strong characters. While traveling through northern Texas, reading the world’s news from a variety of publications to a paying audience, Captain Kidd is asked to return a 10-year-old girl to relatives. Johanna had been taken captive by the Kiowa tribe when she was six and raised as their own, where she was loved and assimilated into their culture. Now these two loners find themselves traveling over 400 miles for weeks, during which time they must find a way to trust and respect each other. In the end, the Captain finds himself with a difficult decision to make. With moral decisions to be made on many levels, this would make a great book discussion title.

shantaramAnother most compelling read is Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram. However, at over 900 pages, it is not a quick read but rather a complex saga to lose yourself in. And yet the pages turn quickly in this fast-paced, descriptive setting  with a very strong sense of place. From the first page, the narrator Lin immerses you into the fascinating place that is Bombay, India. The story is autobiographical, with the main character arriving in Bombay after escaping from prison. The author himself took over a decade to write the book, starting while he was in prison in Australia for robbery to support his heroin addiction.Through Lin, we experience many different levels of Indian society, from village life to the gritty life in a slum, from the violent life in prison to the criminal life of the underground. Overall, I found myself richly rewarded for the time spent.

When You Need a Bit of Whimsy

theyallsawacatLooking for something cheery and charming to read? Try my new go-to remedy: picture books! Now, I realize that some people have ample exposure to picture books thanks to children, or grandchildren or perhaps even your occupation. But some of us don’t cross paths with picture books as often and yet when I do, I usually find myself engrossed in the story AND the art. I also often find myself reading them aloud to enjoy the wonderful sensitsabooke of rhythm and wordplay.  They cover the gamut from whimsical to serious, but all will add a little inspiration into your day!

Not sure where to start? I know my colleagues in Youth Services would be happy to give suggestions in person, or you could look at their list of recommended picture books by topic. You could also take a look at the list of Caldecottiwantmyhatback
Medal Award winners and honor books
.  (Oh, and the three titles pictured in this post are ones I have enjoyed and would suggest.)

Unconvinced that picture books are the way to go? Take a look at this sweet video created in honor of November being Picture Book Month.

 

Already a hardcore picture book aficionado? Then perhaps you should be planning a trip to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (although it IS in Massachusetts, so pack snacks!)

Scary, But Not TOO Scary

For obvious reasons, this is the time of year readers who might not normally read horror find themselves ready to try out a frightening book.  That said, there are still those (like me) who don’t mind trying something a little scary – but we definitely can’t handle anything too dark or violent!

When I was getting my Library Degree (shout out to the MLIS program at Dominican University!) I took a “Readers Advisory” class that included a section on horror. I was SO worried about what I would have to read, but happily my instructor suggested a great book that she called “horror light.” I ended up really enjoying it, and since then I’ve passed it along as a suggestion to many others.

neverwhereThe book is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, the story of Richard Mayhew, a young London businessman with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he is plunged through the cracks of reality into a malevolent world of shadows and darkness “under” the city.

It’s dark and atmospheric and creepy without being something that made me stay up all night with the lights on! In fact, several years ago I learned BBC Radio 4 had turned it into a radio play and made an effort to listen to the live broadcast online. (Note: sadly it isn’t currently available to listen to for free, but you can check out the cast and some clips on the BBC Radio website).

haunting-of-hill-houseLooking for another “horror light” idea?  Then I would also suggest trying the classic tale The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  Not all modern day readers feel it is scary in the least, but I loved the slowly building creep factor and the many questions I simply could not answer as to who or what was truly haunted. By the way, if you would rather watch the story, make sure to get the 1963 film adaptation starring Julie Harris, titled The Haunting. (The 1999 movie is said to be truly terrible by anyone who has tried it!)

If you have a title suggestion for “horror light” please share it!

Celebrating Stephen King!

The world of horror would not s-lotbe the same without the one-and-only writer Stephen King. He, of course, is best known for such cult classics as Salem’s Lot, The Stand and The Shining. The author of some 57 novels—including eight under the pseudonym Richard Bachman—Stephen is also the author of 17 novellas, eight works of non-fiction, and 11 short story collections. He has written screenplays, anthe-standd dozens of movies and made-for-TV mini-series have been based on his work.

In addition to being a phenomenally prolific author himself, several of his family members are popular authors in their own right. Stephen King’s wife is writer Tabitha King, author of Pearl, The Book of Reuben and One on One. King’s sons are writers the-shiningJoe Hill and Owen King. Joe Hill writes horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction including the book Horns. Owen King is known for writing short stories. He also co-wrote Intro to Alien Invasion with Mark Jude Poirier and Sleeping Beauties with his father which will be released in 2017.

Not sure where to start with all these reading options? Here are some titles our staff have particularly enjoyed: Cujo, Salem’s Lot and The Stand (all by Stephen King) and NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.

Patron Picks

Looking for a new book to try? Here are three titles our patrons have enjoyed – so much so that they stopped by the Reader Services Desk to tell me about it!

If you enjoyartifacts mysteries filled with interesting details, Artifacts by Mary Anna Evans is the first in a “fascinating” series featuring an archeologist.

When it came out in 2003, Booklist said, “Evans introduces a strong female sleuth in this extremely promising debut, and she makes excellent use of her archaeological subject matter, weaving past and present together in a multilayered, compelling plot.”  Readers must agree as last year the ninth title in the series was published!

soundrelsMany people are familiar with the Star Wars movies, but did you know there’s an entire universe (heh) of books that have been written, too? A patron says Scoundrels adds “a new twist to the story we know” about Han Solo,  Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian.

For those who really know their Star Wars timeline, this takes place during the Rebellion Era (five years within the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope).

 

sonic-windIf you’re looking for some interesting nonfiction, take a look at Sonic Wind: The Story of John Paul Stapp and How a Renegade Doctor Became the Fastest Man on Earth. The patron who told me about this said he wasn’t sure he would like it, but a friend recommended it and he couldn’t put it down!

Publisher’s Weekly said, “Adventure writer Ryan rescues the brilliant, obsessive John Paul Stapp (1911-1999) from obscurity with this lively biography.”

What the Staff is Reading

bluehourA character in The Blue Hour by Douglas Kennedy defines the blue hour as “the hour at daybreak or dusk when nothing is as it seems: when we are caught between the perceived and the imagined.” Indeed, the story starts with Robin and her husband Paul traveling to Morocco for a month of drawing for Paul, French lessons for Robin, and exploring and relaxing for both. Deeply in love and approaching the end of her childbearing years, Robin is also hoping this is the place where she will conceive a child. But from the very start, something seems off when Paul is inexplicably nervous going through customs. Things only get more mysterious as plans change and truths are discovered, until Robin discovers the ultimate betrayal by her husband. Things go further downhill as Paul goes missing, Robin is suspected of murder, and there are horrifying experiences in the remote Sahara. The sights, sounds and smells of Morocco are vividly described in this atmospheric, unsettling page-turner.

necessaryliesReaders who enjoyed The Help may also enjoy Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain. Both stories deal with young women determined to fight for social justice during the 1960s. Necessary Lies, set in North Carolina, follows the efforts of newlywed and young social worker Jane Forrester as she’s introduced to the residents of rural Grace County. She meets 15-year old Ivy Hart, a poor and orphaned tobacco farm laborer and student, who then becomes pregnant. While attempting to assist Ivy, Jane learns of the sterilization program in effect, and crosses the Department of Health lines in regards to interfering in her clients’ lives by becoming too involved personally. This was an especially enjoyable listen as the narrator did a wonderful job voicing several characters of various ages and dialects.

laamericanaA fascinating memoir that is part personal journey through grief, part love story and part travelogue is La Americana by Melanie Bowden Simón. Traveling with a friend to Cuba (through the back door, as this was 2001), the author is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s devastating death in her early 50s and hopes being in a totally foreign atmosphere can help. Her first day there she meets Luis, her taxi driver, with whom she falls in love. Over a period of years and with various trips back to Cuba we experience with her the tropical heat, Cuban cuisine, lively music, dense fumes, ancient cars, overgrown weeds, Santería ceremonies and more, all under the veil of communism. And of course, we experience her growing love and all the couple must overcome to ultimately be together.