Staff Picks

 Comment on a review by clicking on its title. You can also write your thoughts about any book on our Facebook Wall. When you're in the Library, be sure to browse the "Staff Picks" display for additional staff suggestions.

You can still access reviews from pre-September 2012 for Adults and Children.

Necessary Lies

2013

Newly graduated Jane Forrester, is eager to begin her career as a case worker for the Department of Welfare. It is the 1960’s and times are changing in North Carolina and Jane is eager to make a difference. Jane is assigned to an area in rural Grace County and her clientele are poor laborers who live and work on the local tobacco farms. It becomes obvious that Jane is too tender-hearted for this job and she quickly becomes emotionally involved with one of her clients, Ivy Hart. Fifteen-year-old Ivy cares for her declining grandmother, her mentally ill older sister and her infant nephew. As the Hart Family’s deeply held secrets begin to surface, Jane quickly finds herself pit against the government’s Eugenics Sterilization Program. Jane comes to the realization that the program, which mandates sterilization for anyone deemed by the government as unfit to bear children, is not only flawed, but now also threatens Ivy. Jane struggles with doing her job and doing what she feels is right. Her job demands that she follow through on her orders, yet if she does what is expected of her, Ivy’s life and lives of countless others like her will be forever damaged.

 

I can’t help but compare this story to that of Winter Garden, by Luanne Rice. Both books are teeming with compelling characters and though both are fictional stories, they deal with real events from history. Not only are these books enjoyable to read, they are also giving you a glimpse of what life was like during turbulent times in history.

View more by: 

The Woman Upstairs

(2013)

Nora Eldridge dwells upon what she perceives as her unhappy, spinster life while she grieves the death of her beloved mother and teaches third grade at Appleton Elementary School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the woman upstairs in Claire Messud's "The Woman Upstairs."  The title of the book is actually a metaphor for a type of woman who, though she could live anywhere, is always there when you need her and is always there to help.  She is forever kind, quiet, tidy, trusting, dependable, and agreeable.  The woman upstairs is predictable and rarely deviates from the staleness of her routine.  Such a woman describes Miss Eldridge.   

When a young boy named Reza Shahid joins the third grade, his teacher is instantly under the spell of his charm and comes to think of him as the child she never had.  Ultimately, Nora is introduced to Reza's Italian mother Sirena.  The two women from different cultures embark upon a friendship cemented by their mutual love of the arts.  Together, they rent a studio where they are free to explore their artistic interests and feed what is missing in their lives.  For Nora, the "family affair" is complete when Sirena's husband Skandar enters the equation.  The Lebanese professor has brought his family from Paris for the school year while he conducts research at Harvard.    

The third floor art studio offers another translation for "the woman upstairs", and much of the story unfolds in this work space that comes alive with color, music, and light.  Nora comes to depend on the family to give her own life purpose and meaning when they make her feel interesting and important.  However, the fantasy she creates threatens to destroy the true version of her life as well as her glorified friendship with the Shahids.     

A secondary thread to the story is the life of Nora's mother.  While Nora admired her, she also pitied her for a failure to realize her own dreams due to more traditional life choices.  Through the subsequent relationship with her father after her mother's death, the daughter comes to understand her mother more clearly as a person who could still teach her some valuable life lessons. 

The strength of the story is in the telling.  Messud is a lyrical writer. She creates a story that is spellbinding and irresistible in an eerie way.  She does a masterful job exposing the raw emotions of Nora's character and making her loneliness palpable.  However, the weakness of the story is also in the telling.  The author's expression of the raw emotions is at times heavy, overwhelming, and redundant.  

According to Messud, the "woman upstairs" is also invisible and does not make mistakes.  However, Nora Eldridge is determined to make herself visible to the Shahids, and in the process, she makes some unforgettable mistakes.         

 

 

        

View more by: 

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson

(2013)
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson
1955 wedding
Cousin Joann, maternal grandmother and Charlie

The author of “Manson: The life and times of Charles Manson” brings us a life story, rather than the history of the Manson murders.

Charles Manson was born in 1934 to a teenaged mother. He often said that his mother was a prostitute, but here was no evidence of that.  She did get pregnant at 15 and when the father didn’t want any part of the baby, she somehow talked William Manson into marrying her before Charlie was born. Kathleen Manson was a party girl who liked a good time and drinking and dancing, which her Nazarene mother strongly objected to.

When Charlie was 5, his mother and a couple of her friends cooked up a spur of the moment plan to rob a man who wanted to party with them. This led to a 5 year prison sentence.  Charlie went to live with his Uncle Bill, Aunt Glenna and his cousin Joann. Joann said Charlie lied about everything.  He had many setbacks, but others have managed to overcome even worse situations.  Manson was a tiny child with an oversize sense of entitlement and a habit of blaming others for the things he’d done; he soon wore out his welcome with those who took him in.

At 12 he went to the first of 6 reform schools. He got out at 19, got married and became a father. They were soon divorced.  By 21, he was in prison for car theft. He then re-married, had another child and divorced once again. While in prison, he attended a class in which he studied Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, which he claimed had a huge influence on him. He also picked up a key bit of information from the pimps in jails: “You had to know how to pick just the right girls, the ones with self-image or Daddy problems who’d buy into come-ons from a smooth talker…You wanted girls who were cracked but not broken.”  In 1967, he walked out of prison at 32 and began trolling for such women in Haight-Ashbury. He became a “guru” who would take care of his “family” of young women.

Guinn chronicles the first girl, a library assistant at UC Berkley, who let Charlie live with her and who supported him, even when he started to bring other women into the “family”. One recruit was a 14 year old girl whose parents let her go with Manson.  He immediately made her his main lover. Soon he moved them all down to LA, where he lived off the charity of others.  Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, let Manson and his “family” crash at his house, where they ran up huge tabs on his credit cards.

Charlie wanted to be a rock star and believed he would be, once he was discovered. Wilson got Tony Melcher to listen to Manson’s music, but it went nowhere. (The house Tate was murdered in was the house Melcher was living in at the time Manson knew him). Most of the attraction Manson had to those he wanted charity from was his group of sexually compliant women. They had to have sex with anyone he told them to and had to do anything the person wanted. If they balked, they would be publicly humiliated until they lost their “inhibitions”.  Eventually Wilson kicked them all out and the “family” moved to the desert.  

Manson had an ideology that featured a race war that Blacks were going to win. Once they won, they would realize they didn’t know how to run things and that was where Manson and his family would come in and take over.  The “family” had to spend part of everyday walking about in the hot desert looking for the opening to a bottomless cave where they would all live during the coming race war. They would not age while living in this cave and would be strong and healthy when it was time for them to take over. In reality, they were starving, dirty and isolated. Women were not allowed to use birth control, as it was “unnatural”. Likewise, hospital births were “unnatural”. Daily Bible readings were mandatory. (Manson thought he was Jesus Christ). After the murders, some tried to escape, but ineptitude and confusion brought most of them back.

The murders were meant to lead police to believe they had been committed by the Black Panthers (hence the slogans written in blood, etc). Manson was hoping to jump start the race war he prophesied, and also to make it look like a similar crime that one his friends was in jail for had been committed by the Black Panther’s. The police never considered this, as Black people did not frequent the areas the murders occurred in during the late 60’s. Someone would have noticed.

Charlie Manson and some of his “family” were consequently arrested for car theft. They might never have been implicated for the Tate/LA Bianca murders if it wasn’t for a couple women from his family, who were in prison, were willing to talk and who actually found someone to believe them.

There was nothing mystical or heroic about Charlie, he was an opportunistic sociopath. How is it that people like Manson (others who come to mind are David Koresh and Jim Jones) can have so much influence over others?  Reading about his life in the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s helps us see who the Manson of the 60’s really was.

 

 

 

View more by: 

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe

(2013)
Super Graphic

Comic books, especially superhero comics, are not a part of my daily life, but I couldn’t resist the lure of the infographics in this book.  Once I started looking at the charts, I had to read every page, despite not recognizing many of the characters—especially the villains.

 

It was a delight to see such visually attractive design highlighting facts in ways I had never thought of:  villains or superheroes in order by weight, for example.   If you grew up during the 60s you know that the Batman TV series theme song only had 2 words in it:  “da” and “Batman”.  Did you ever wonder whether “da” was used more times than “Batman”?  This book shows you!

 

Tim Leong, one of Wired magazine’s art directors, has done a wonderful job of making statistics interesting with visual impact.  If you have an interest in comics you will surely find something new about your favorite comics.  Even if you don’t, this book is an amazing experience.

View more by: 

A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley

2013

Some books are so interesting, you hate to see them end. A Curious Man fits the bill. Most of us have heard of Ripley’s Believe it or Not but how many know the back story of LeRoy Robert Ripley, the bucktoothed, eccentric, self-taught ethnographer and anthropologist, who grew up in Santa Rosa, California? His story is of the rags to riches variety. The reader is taken on a journey through the late 1800s, the devastating San Francisco earthquake, World Wars I & II, Prohibition, The Great Depression, and Ripley’s many travels abroad where he collected curios and women friends with a passion. Ripley got his start drawing cartoons for newspapers. He eventually had a popular radio show and delved into early television in the 1940s. Ripley became a household name that endured. There are Ripley museums at Niagra Falls, Times Square, and other locales. Today’s reality shows continue his legacy with the “weirder the better” mentality. P.T. Barnum left his mark during the 1800s and Ripley’s name will forever be enshrined in American culture. You will not want to put this down.

View more by: 

My name is Parvana

2012
My name is Parvana

I’ve been very interested in Afghanistan since the 1980s and I eagerly devour as much non-fiction as I can on the diverse cultures, complex history and natural beauty of the country. Ellis’s My name is Parvana was created to be a realistic fiction novel  based on the lives of multiple children that the author met during her time in Afghanistan.  The importance of education and its positive impact on the lives of girls is readily apparent throughout the book. At the same time the author also emphasizes the trauma of war as it permeates every aspect of life for these Afghan teens. The natural dialogue between friends and family members is both compelling and endearing as it moves the story along. Other scenes from the book do not feel as authentic because the author provides Parvana with reactions that are distinctly American. For example when Parvana smells onions on someone’s breath she mentally references a hamburger not bolani, which is a common Afghan dish. 

This book is a good introduction into Afghanistan because it captures the emotions of some of the war-weary populace. For a more Afghan perspective on life in Afghanistan I would recommend Zoya’s Story by John Follain or Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez.

View more by: 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

2013

I have been a Neil Gaiman fan since reading my first Sandman graphic novel many years ago, his book American Gods is the only reason I ever went to House on the Rock and he writes Dr. Who episodes – so enough said, I’m an fan boy. His latest work certainly doesn’t hurt his legacy. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short book, if you get sucked in like I did you can knock it out in a night. It is written for adults but would likely be okay for teens, though there is one scene in the story that is not for kids but even that is not too graphic.

The story follows a seven year old boy, or more accurately a middle-aged man looking back on his seven year self. Through the boy’s eyes we see his world(s) coming apart, both the world we all know (his family is dealing if financial issues that cause turmoil on a number of levels) and the magical world he has just learned of, yet might mean his doom. In the course of the story he meets Lettie Hempstock who becomes his friend, protector and guide in this new mysterious world where trouble is brewing.  

I love the world Neil Gaiman has created, a world that is consistent in its depths across all of his stories. You recognize the world we all know, but there is always a shadow world laying just underneath, filled with supernatural people and beings, doing shadowy things. His world seems utterly plausible because of his characters and the settings; reality never manages to push its way in and ruin the fun. It’s almost a shame to finish the book and realize that his magical world, where anything can happen never existed.   

 

I would highly recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane, it’s a good story and a great way to ease into his work. If you find you like it I would check out American God’s, Coraline and Graveyard Book

View more by: 

Game of Thrones (Graphic Novel)

2012
Game of Thrones. Graphic Novel. Volume 1
Game of Thrones. Graphic Novel. Volume 2

Game of Thrones is the story of seven noble families that fight for control of the mythical land of Westeros.  Fans of the HBO television series, Game of Thrones, and fans of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy books series will be sure to love this graphic novel.  If you have read George R.R. Martin’s series you’ll appreciate the way that Daniel Abraham (the adapter) and Tommy Patterson (the artist) have kept to the authenticity of the book. 

Some of the things that were written out of the movie adaptation are carefully depicted in the graphic novel.  One example is that the Dothraki wear their hair in long braids and when they are defeated they must shave their heads.  Khal Drogo has long braids because he has never been defeated in combat and in the book he wears bells in his braids so that his enemies can hear him coming.  The television series didn’t include the bells because they caused too much of a distraction during the performances.

I admit that I fell in love with the movie first but I’m ready to tackle the science fiction novels now.  There are so many characters and storylines that it is hard to keep them all straight but having the graphic novel actually helped me put names to faces and to become more attached to the characters.  If you like science fiction and medieval times, this is the story for you.

Warning:  This is an adult graphic novel and does contain some scenes of nudity not intended for children.     

 

View more by: 

The Other Typist

(2013)
The Other Typist, by Suzanne Rindell

If you like musing over a book's not-so-clear-cut ending for days afterward, you may love The Other Typist, too.  The entire story is presented from Rose’s first-person perspective.  Rose works as a typist at a New York City police precinct during Prohibition, transcribing criminals’ confessions.  Alone for most of her life, she eventually begins a surprising and close friendship with the appealing and attractive new hire, Odalie.  Rose, who values and self-describes herself as mousey and plain, is fascinated by everything about Odalie; she recounts being drawn into Odalie’s world: one fraught with glitz, deception, and, ultimately, murder. You will definitely want to talk about this book with someone else who has read it.

I loved the writing and pacing in The Other Typist.  This is Suzanne Rindell’s debut novel, and I look forward to more from her. 

View more by: 

Death by Darjeeling

(2001)
Death by Darjeeling

Theodosia Browning owns the charming Indigo Tea Shop, located in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina.  Local business owners fear that a real estate developer is attempting to buy their properties for redevelopment.  Then the developer is found slumped over a cup of Theodosia’s tea—dead.  The police suspect that Theo and her staff of caused his demise, despite a lack of evidence, so Theo must track down the killer to clear her name and regain the excellent reputation of her shop.

The Tea Shop Mystery series is enjoyable, with interesting characters and a touch of Southern flavor.  The detailed descriptions allow you to picture narrow cobbled streets, local women creating sweetgrass baskets, and historic buildings.  While the mystery itself wasn’t particularly difficult to unravel, the book would be especially enjoyable to read during a cold Wisconsin winter.

If you like tea you will enjoy learning more about where tea comes from, imagine tasting the delicious tea blends served at the shop, and perhaps try some of the recipes for delicious desserts that are served at the tea shop. 

View more by: 

Sworn to Silence

(2009)
Sworn to Silence

I have found a new favorite mystery writer/series (unless the author tanks it in book 2 of the series...highly unlikely)! Kate Burkholder is the Police Chief in the small town of Painters Mill, Ohio, where she grew up in an Amish family. Some pretty dramatic and traumatizing events (detailed in the book) cause her to leave the Amish culture and join English society. She is placed under the bann by the Amish and ends up leaving home for Cleveland, where she eventually becomes a police officer. She spends 8 years there, first as a patrol officer, then a homicide detective before she is hired as Chief of the Painters Mill PD.

She has been in her role as Chief for 2 years when we meet her in this captivating crime story. One of her officers has stumbled across a body while rounding up some loose cows near the Stutz family farm. The body is of a young woman who has been brutally tortured and killed, and the killer's m.o. is eerily similar to that of "The Slaughterhouse Killer", a serial killer that terrorized Painters Mill sixteen years before. Could the killer be back or is it a copycat crime? In either case, the questions begs to be answered "Why now?"

Through the course of the investigation, we learn of Kate's past and the secrets she is keeping. Secrets that can affect the investigation, her life, and her career. The characters are well developed and the story so effectively told. I had never heard of this author before, until a patron I was engaged in a reader's advisory transaction with recommended this series to me.

Apparently, Linda Castillo is best known, or was previously, as a romance author (which explains why I never heard of her --- romance novels are not my cup of tea). I would never in a million years have guessed that! Castillo is a natural in this role. If you like a good, well-written mystery -- think Sue Grafton, Kathy Reichs, or Lisa Scottoline, give this series a try. I can't wait to read more about Kate Burkholder!

View more by: 
AddThis