Category Archives: Book Reviews

What the Staff is Reading

inventionofwingsFor readers who love to be immersed in history, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is a great choice. Based on the life of abolitionist Sarah Grimke, the story begins on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given the gift of a slave to be her personal maid, Hetty “Handful” Grimke. Set mainly in South Carolina, the story follows thirty five years in the lives of these strong women and the choices they must make to be true to themselves, told from two totally different viewpoints.

A  thriller that one staff member can’t stop raving about is I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. This is a fast-paced, eerily-plausible modern-day spy vs. lone terrorist story that takes you all over the world. Set against a backdrop of international politics, this race against time takes you from New York to Afghanistan, with many stops between, and also includes some surprisingly detailed character studies.

In the political satire O, Democracy by Kathleen Rooney, 20-something Colleen is a staffer for the senior senator of Illinois during the elections of 2008. She really wants to “make a difference” but finds politics is not all that she thought it would be. Based on real Illinois politicians, this “insider” look at politics is fun and fascinating, and the character studies are great.forgivemeleonard

If you enjoy listening to books, the audio format of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick is “amazing.” This young adult book deals with a day in the life of a suicidal teen as he says good-bye to four people he cares deeply about.

For nonfiction fans, there are numerous memoirs worth your time. Grace: A Memoir is by Grace Coddington, the creative director of American Vogue and a former model. Fashionistas will delight in this interesting and very candid collection of tales and  anecedotes covering just about everyone in the society pages, as well as a great many personal details.

MisterOwitaOn a different note, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall is a sweet memoir about friendship. While coping with an empty nest, illness and aging parents, the author unburdens herself to a Kenyan gardener and they find themselves cultivating a deep relationship together, as well as a garden.





Mysteries the Staff Have Enjoyed

There are many reasons mysteries are so satisfying. Mysteries are puzzles and we like not only having them solved but trying to solve them ourselves along the way; we enjoy getting to know characters in a series and seeing what happens to them over time; and we know that the “bad guy” will be caught and justice will be served in a satisfying ending (usually).

Here are some new and old mystery titles the staff have been enjoying:

mrchurchSeries by Susan Elia MacNeal, starts with Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. Fast-paced, historical mystery with spy elements set in WWII London. Great sense of time and place.

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall is the first in a series featuring India’s “most private investigator.” Filled with interesting characters and humor–a good one to try if you like the #1 Detective Agency books by McCall Smith.

thymeSusan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series starting with Thyme of Death–former lawyer buys an herb shop in Texas and becomes involved in solving mysteries. Enjoy the stories and the recipes and information about herbs.

The Cat Who Came to Breakfast by Lillian Jackson Braun (who died in 2011). This is sixteenth in series of 29 books. They are amusing, fun, “clean,” heart-warming mysteries with a strong sense of place. The main characters are retired reporter and amateur detective Jim Quilleran and his two Siamese cats. (Note: Cats do catlike things that are interpreted by Quill as clues in solving crimes, but they are not supernatural, magic, etc.). In this story they are investigating odd accidents plaguing a fancy resort recently built on a nearby island.

malteseThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. A beautiful woman arrives at Spade’s office begging for help and it leads to the death of Spade’s partner, Miles Archer. It is up to Spade to try and sift through the stories of some colorful characters and put together the truth (and up to the reader to try and guess if Spade is motivated by vengeance, the law, money, or the truth). Iconic (if pointedly un-politically correct) dialogue in this classic hard-boiled mystery.

spellmanThe Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz is the first in character-driven series featuring a dysfunctional family who run a PI firm in San Francisco. These are light, funny reads with quirky characters who are likeable and quick-witted. Also good in audiobook format.

talkingTalking to the Dead by Harry Bingham. This police procedural/psychological thriller features Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths, a Cambridge grad and rookie officer who doesn’t quite fit in with her co-workers.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams. Thirteen-year-old thespian Ingrid loves Sherlock Holmes, so when her new-found friend, “cracked up Katie” is murdered–and Ingrid is a potential suspect–she decides to solve the case. This award-winning JH title is fast-paced with a good sense of danger. (JH ABRAHAMS)

reluctantFans of historical fiction should try the informative and entertaining Thomas Potts mystery series by Sara Fraser.  Set in early 19th century England, Fraser has thoroughly researched the customs and culture of a rough-and-tumble closed society. The first is The Reluctant Constable.

this dogIf you like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone character try This Dog for Hire by Carol Lea Benjamin, the first in series set in Greenwich Village featuring PI Rachel Alexander and her “partner” (a pit bull).

Dust Everywhere!

“Pardon our Dust!” If you’ve stopped in the Library within the past week you’ve no doubt witnessed a flurry of activity, above and beyond the usual bustle. Our building is swimming with construction workers and everything is in flux– materials are being shifted around, furniture has been relocated, the scent of fresh paint is in the air, and the mezzanine is entirely (though temporarily) blocked off! In short, lots of DUST has been stirred up. Staff is confident that this “controlled chaos” will eventually settle into place nicely. However, dust does seem to be center stage for the moment, even in our fiction collection. Check out these reads that, interestingly enough, even share this title:

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Dust by Patricia Daniels Cornwell, Dust by Joan Frances Turner, Dust by Elizabeth Bear, and Dust by Hugh Howey,

Dust really is everywhere! Thankfully, the “literary” kind doesn’t aggravate your allergies. 🙂

One More Time

Life After LifeGroundhog Day was this week, so of course I’ve been thinking about the iconic Bill Murray movie of the same name, which then got me thinking about the nature of repetition. No wonder. Thoughts of shoveling one more pile of snow, of putting on boots, and scraping the car windshield–of the sheer one-more-timedness of winter. Turns out there’s a perfect book for this whole phenomenon.

Kate Atkinson’s inventive, mind-bending novel Life After Life takes this notion of repeatedly living in the moment and turns it on its head. The story begins on a dark and wintery night in 1910 when Ursula Todd comes into this world–and almost immediately leaves it. Yet she doesn’t, quite, for a few pages further on, it is a cold and snowy night once more, and Ursula Todd is once again born but doesn’t immediately disappear into a kind of death.

This happens repeatedly during Ursula’s existence–some days it’s her 1910 birthday all over again, and other times it’s a day when she’s a teenager and there’s a killer stalking the woods behind her house. Throughout her life, Ursula will bear witness as England endures two World Wars and countless family tragedies. Though darkness falls in each episode, Ursula comes to life again to relive it in a different way.

Atkinson’s evocative reimagining of a life with endless possibilities is a vast and welcome respite from the sure-thing of this seemingly endless winter.

Good, Better, Best

Everyone and his brother is doing a “Best of 2013” list, so why shouldn’t I? This reading year was filled with a ton of great books, so let’s get to it.

thisisMine is the story of a happy reader, because the last book I read in 2013 was one of the year’s best: Ann Patchett’s collection of stellar essays, This Is the Story of  A Happy Marriage.


wantWant Not, Jonathan Miles’s sophomore novel, was a wry take on American consumerism. James McBride looked at the raid at Harpers Ferry through the eyes of a young boy in The Good Lord Bird, while Karen Russell looked at just about everything, but in a quirky new way in her clever collection of short fiction, Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

housein2013 was a year of  mind-boggling memoirs and exasperating exposes of global injustice, from Amanda Lindhout’s harrowing tale of captivity at the hands of Somali kidnappers in The House in the Sky, to the amazing Malala Yousafzai’s inspiring story of taking on the Taliban in I Am Malala:  The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, to Nicholas Kristof’s examination of global gender inequality, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression to Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

thankyouforThere were books about war–Ben Fountain’s scathing satire of the military and uber-patriotism, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk–and David Finkel’s sobering look at the stateside challenges faced by soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Thank You for Your Service.

lethimAnd finally, these three novels proved that one didn’t have to top 700 pages to be a worthwhile read. Sometimes the best things really do come in small packages, as demonstrated by Alice McDermott in Someone; Larry Watson in Let Him Go; and Kent Haruf in Benediction.

We can only hope that 2014 serves up as many good reads.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Patron Picks: End of Summer Edition

SisterLots of patrons stopped by Reader Services at the end of summer to talk about the titles they had enjoyed!

Sister by Rosamund Lupton is a literary thriller. “Very suspenseful–did not want to put it down.”

Pinkerton’s Secret by Eric Lerner. This romantic adventure featuring Allan Pinkerton, founder of the country’s first detective agency, kicks off in 1856 Chicago. “This was the best book I read all summer–I’m so glad you had it on ‘What the Staff Is Reading!'”beautifulbluedeath

If you enjoy atmospheric British historical mysteries, be sure to try the Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch! The first is A Beautiful Blue Death.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is a “Southern charmer” and coming-of-age novel somewhat reminiscent of The Secret Lives of Bees.StoryofBeautifulGirl

The Story of a Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon is a tender and heartbreaking story.

A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White is the story of troubled souls finding their way and making a place for themselves through the magic of New York City and a love of cooking.

GravityofBirdsIn The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman, a pair of “endearing eccentrics” must solve the mystery behind a missing painting.

Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt. Don’t be misled by the fact you’ll have to go down to Youth Services for this one. A patron handed it to me saying it is a “phenomenal book,” and I have to agree!Okayfornow


Sons of Thunder: Writing from the Fast Lane: A Motorcycling Anthology (808.839 SON). “I just picked it off the New Books shelves because I have friends who ride motorcycles; fun, well-written little vignettes.” EndofSuburbs

The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving by Leigh Gallagher (307.74 GAL) is “a fascinating look at our future.”

Many enjoyed Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs (B JOBS) but one patron stopped by to say folks should also check out The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made by Isaacson and Thomas (327.73047 ISA). It’s an intriguing story of six powerful men shaping the role their country would play in the dangerous years following World War II.ThoseAngryDays

Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight over World War II, 1939-1941 by Lynne Olson (940.531 OLS) “Just GREAT.”

What the Staff is Reading

First up, a few nonfiction books staff has recently enjoyed:

AfterVisitingFriendsAfter Visiting Friends is a haunting memoir written by journalist Michael Hainey. Just after Hainey turned six, his newspaper reporter father was found dead on the streets of Chicago, of an apparent heart attack. Growing up, Michael had to pry even this much information out of his mother, and he became obsessed with facts that he felt didn’t add up. Then as an adult he spent 10 years trying to reconstruct his father’s life, hunting down evidence, tracking down his father’s friends, and ultimately opening up secrets that had remained long-hidden.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends, an autobiography by the actor Rob Lowe, is StoriesIonlytellfriends“shockingly good,” according to one staff member. He gives an honest, witty and insightful look at the ups and downs of his extraordinary life. From his childhood roots in Ohio, through his years as a teen idol  and member of the “brat pack”  during the wild eighties, to the quest for a more grounded life, there are many glimpses into both his life and the lives of the many celebrities he has encountered.

Another noteworthy memoir is  I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place by Howard Norman. Using five places as starting points, the author shares parts of his life between the ages of 15 and 55, such as growing up in Michigan and working in the Canadian Arctic. This memoir of mostly middle age versus childhood features fabulous writing that will keep you going even when it sags a bit in the middle.

As for fiction:OldFilth

Anglophiles will be glad to discover the author Jane Gardam. Although she has authored over a dozen books, she is much better known in the United Kingdom than over here. Old Filth is the story of Edward Feathers, who has lived much of his life as a judge in Hong Kong. Although those around him perceive his life to have been relatively easy and uneventful, through flashbacks the reader learns about a difficult childhood, etc., that show a different side of Feather. With each revelation another layer is added to the story.LastRunaway

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier is a historical novel about Honor Bright, a recent Quaker immigrant who must rely on strangers in 1850’s Ohio, and begins helping runaway slaves to gain freedom. Honor is very young, resilient, and strong in her Quaker upbringing. She repeatedly relies on this upbringing as she struggles alone in a new country. It is enjoyable appreciating her ability to indulge in the silence of Quaker meetings, which carry her through several challenging situations. It is also a very interesting look at the inner workings of the underground railroad.


Library Tested, Librarian Recommended

Library Reads“The top 10 books published this month that librarians across the country love.”

Looking for your next good read hot off the presses? This site delivers. Each month highlights only newly published adult titles (including ebooks) that have been nominated by librarians. Readers will find both fiction and nonfiction selections. If you love hearing the buzz about fresh releases getting a thumbs-up from library staff, peruse these lists.

The goal here is similar to what our Readers Services staff members try to do everyday, which is to, while representing a broad range of reading tastes, put our favorite books into the hands of as many public library users as possible who might enjoy them. When we find a gem, word-of-mouth can be the best way to spread the news!

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find featured right now:

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
The Returned by Jason Mott
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford




Remembering Anne Frank

While I learned about the Holocaust and World War II in school, for some reason I never got around to reading Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl  until this summer in preparation for a trip to the United States Holocaust Museum  in Washington D.C. I know that’s not typical light summer reading material, but I’ve always struggled with trying to understand what could lead people to do something so terrible as try to destroy an entire race of people, as the Nazis attempted during the Holocaust. I really enjoyed the audio version read by Selma Blair, which gave an engaging account of life in The Secret Annex. In fact I found myself so engrossed in the story, I wanted to know what happened next, besides the basics of who lived and who died after the Nazi discovered their secret hiding place.

Luckily, I qAnneFrankRemembereduickly discovered I was not the only one who felt this way, and many of those who knew Anne Frank and were fortunate enough to survive have written about their part in Anne’s story and what happened after the war.

Miep Gies, who was one of the chief helpers for those hiding in The Secret Annex, wrote about the challenges of living in hiding, including the day the residents of the annex were captured by the Nazis, in Anne Frank Remembered.

 One of Anne’s best friends before she went into hiding, Jacqueline van Maarsen became a writer herself and many of her books are about her friendship with Anne and surviving the Nazis, including My Name Is Anne, She Said, Anne Frank. Van Maarsen was one of many people who thought Anne’s family had escaped to Switzerland and only learned the truth after the war.

Theo Coster (known to Anne as Maurice) was another classmate of Anne’s at the Jewish Lyceum. He survived the war by hiding in plain sight with a Christian family and forged papers that hid his Jewish heritage. A few years ago, he created a documentary with Anne’s other surviving classmates, including one who reunited with Anne shortly before her death, and wrote a book about the experience called We All Wore Stars.

And, finally, to learn more about the life of Anne’s diary, you can read Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose, which chronicles Anne’s revisions, the obstacles her father faced in publishing the book, it’s reception, and the numerous stage and film adaptations of the Frank family’s years in hiding.

When you’re done exploring our books on Anne Frank, you can learn more about The Secret Annex online and even take a virtual tour of the space eight people spent two years hiding in.

Patron Picks–July Edition

Still three weeks left to sign in for Summer Reading and the list of books being enjoyed by your fellow patrons continues to grow!

IndomitableWillIndomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency by Mark K. Updegrove (973.923 UPD). Another good nonfiction book about U.S. history (patron compared it to one of my favorites of last year, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard).

Also recommended is All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt by John Taliaferro (B Hay). A fascinating look at a man who moved in the highest political circles and participated in the SummeratTiffanycrafting of many major policies.

If you’re more interested in an earlier era, a young man highly recommended the audiobook version of A World Lit Only By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age by William Manchester (AUDIO BOOK 940.21 MAN).

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart (381.141 HAR) is a fun read about a pair of friends from Iowa who become the first women hired to work on the floor of Tiffany & Co. in 1945.IsEveryoneHangingOut

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling (818.602 KAL) is a memoir full of funny stories.

Turning to fiction: Under the Dome by Stephen King. This psychological thriller is not a quick read (1,074 pages!) but “really, really good.”

DefendingJacobThe legal mystery Defending Jacob by William Landay is getting lots of buzz. One patron commented, “It is somewhat sad, but really makes you ask yourself, ‘what would I do?’ if caught in similar circumstances.” Note, this description reminds me of The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, a historical novel set in Australia that poses a heartbreaking moral dilemma.

Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem by Melissa Lemon is a really interesting way to re-tell the classic Snow White fairy tale

MrPenumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a quirky book that mixes a traditional love of books with the modern, digital world.

News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh. “Enjoyable short stories, especially once I started to see how they were connected”