Staff Picks for Adults and Teens

When you're in the Library, be sure to browse the "Staff Picks" display for additional staff suggestions.

Letters of note

an eclectic collection of correspondence deserving of a wider audience (2014)
Letters of Note

This fabulous selection of letters provides a glimpse of a wide range of personalities who changed history as well as the personal side of both famous and not-so-famous people.  There are letters by presidents, businessmen, school children, criminals, musicians, artists, and soldiers from the 1340 BC to modern times.

Each letter tells a story.  Some are part of famous events we learned in history class:  Queen Elizabeth sends a recipe for scones to President Dwight Eisenhower after he visits Balmoral Castle in Scotland, a letter from twelve-year-old Fidel Castro asks President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a ten dollar bill, a telegram that was sent from the Titanic as it sank, Hitler’s nephew pleads with FDR to let him enter the US military to fight against Germany in WWII, and the message John F. Kennedy carved into a coconut shell when his PT boat was sunk.

Others are from ordinary people:  poignant letters from mothers who had to leave their children at the Foundling Home, an ex-slave replies to his former master politely rejecting a job offer and asking after those who lived on the plantation, a series of letters from the State of Michigan to and from a landowner they thought was building “unauthorized” and “hazardous” dams (the dams were being built by beavers) and replies (many of them thoughtful and detailed) sent to teens from people they admired.

It makes a great coffee table book, to be dipped into whenever you would like a window into other worlds.  Compiler Shaun Usher has made a great effort to provide a photo or facsimile for each letter which adds a visible dimension to the words.  So take a peek into different worlds, and read Letters of Note.

View more by: 

The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger

2009

When Alec Wilkinson approached Pete Seeger about writing his story Seeger asked him to write something that could be read in one sitting. This book fits the bill. Wilkinson covers the influence of Seeger’s parents who were classically trained musicians, his brief time at Harvard University, days and nights with the Almanac Singers where he was introduced to Woody Guthrie, his performances with the Weavers and his affiliation with the Communist Party. There are stories of his early train hopping days where he broke the neck off his ever present banjo and his love of living in the woods with his wife and small children. Seeger was a down to earth activist who was passionate about the Bill of Rights. He truly loved America. He remained strong while giving testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee on August 18, 1955 and ultimately disavowed his support of Communism.  In later years, Seeger became an environmentalist after being inspired by a reading of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Readers will gain an understanding of who Pete Seeger was and how he became a folk hero in America.

View more by: 

Flirting with French

how a language charmed me, seduced me & nearly broke my heart (2014)
Flirting with French

William Alexander loves the French language, the music and landscape of France, French food, French history, French politics; in fact he loves everything about France.  At the advanced age of 57 he decides to overcome his horrible memories of Madame D., his high school French teacher, and attempts to become fluent in French over the period of thirteen months.

He begins the process by attending a seminar on language acquisition, taking a college-level placement test, and undergoing a functional MRI so he can compare his brain at the beginning and end of the process.  He spends the next year in daily work with with Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur audio courses, TV courses, immersion classes including two weeks in France, reading dual-language books and skyping with a French woman.

Along with humorous anecdotes and hilarious slips of the tongue, you will read about development of the French language, how the mind changes when you learn a second language, and what not to say when in France.  His enthusiasm and ardor despite the odds are infectious.  If you would like to speak a second language but have been afraid to try, you will certainly enjoy reading about the process and perhaps gain the courage to enroll in a class.  Anyone who roots for the underdog (try translating that into French!) will enjoy this humorous, touching and informative book.

View more by: 

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

(2015)
Etta and Otto and Russell and James

I felt as though I read this book from a distance.  I watched this heartfelt story play out from across the broad and dusty farmlands of Saskatchewan and through the dense Canadian wilderness.  Early on, this story casts a spell.  83 year-old Etta sets off on a cross-country walk with the mere goal of seeing the ocean.  She leaves behind her husband Otto to bide his time until she returns, if in fact she remembers to return.  The novel unfolds the couple's history, binding them through letters, sent and unsent.  Though the aging Otto gently accepts Etta’s mission,  Russell, a close friend, is inspired and pursues his heart’s desire.  James, walking companion and coyote, adds to the surreal nature of the tale. Lives are shown to be precious and fragile, meaningful and tragic.  The sorrow in the book is beautiful in its vulnerability.  

View more by: 

Escapo

(2014)

 

Originally published in 1999, Escapo has been out of print for years—until this excellent reprint, which includes a generous amount of bonus content and has now been beautifully colored.  Escapo is the namesake character, a talented circus escape artist who struggles with humankind’s biggest challenges—finding one’s place in the world, seeking out true love, and defying death.

 

Pope illustrates many wild, fantastical traps for Escapo to take on, each one deadlier than the last.  But perhaps even more nerve-wracking is Escapo’s interaction with the circus community he lives within, or his attempts at a romantic relationship with the circus tight-rope walker.  We feel his fear and vulnerability in these moments.

 

Aesthetically, this book is very attractive, with energetic inking and colors, and expressive lettering.  My only real complaint about this book is it seemed a little clipped to me, although the bonus content pads it out a bit.  Overall, a very thought-provoking, exhilarating read.

View more by: 

Unremarried Widow

A Memoir (2013)
Unremarried Widow

This is a lovely telling of the author’s meeting, relationship, and marriage to her husband, Miles, an Army Apache pilot, and the first years following his death as she finally starts to reclaim her own life. Her writing is clear, honest, and to-the-point, but always deeply felt.

View more by: 

Looking for Alaska

(2005)
Looking for Alaska

John Green's first novel is a treasure. Set in an Alabama boarding school, the story's main character is Miles, a junior from Florida in his first year at Culver Creek. In Florida, Miles did not have any friends and looks to reinvent himself at Culver Creek. He quickly becomes friends with his roomate, Chip, aka The Colonel, Takumi, a Japanese American with a great talent for rapping, and Alaska Young, whom he falls in love with the instant they meet.  Green succeeds in writing a true "coming-of-age" novel, centered around a life-changing (not happy) event.  This book is definitely geared toward older teens/mature readers.

The story is real, raw and emotional. Have a box of tissues ready for the "after" section of the book. Absolutely fabulous!

View more by: 

One Summer

America, 1927

 

In late May, 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew solo from New York to Paris and instantly became the most famous and revered person on the planet.  That was just the start of the summer of 1927, the height of the Jazz Age and a period of wild American exuberance.  Babe Ruth was hitting record home runs.  Dempsey was smashing opponents in the ring.  Al Jolson was about to talk onscreen (“You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”).  The Mississippi River was flooding.  Prohibition was being ignored.  Al Capone was running Chicago.  And President Calvin Coolidge was fly fishing in the Dakotas—all summer long.        

 

 

 

In his typically discursive style, Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods, In a Sunburned Country) surveys the events and personalities of that time, pausing to delve into whatever captivates him, from the naming of hot dogs to the sex life of the movie’s “It Girl,” Clara Bow.  Bryson gets a few of his facts wrong (Oswald was not the first name for Mickey Mouse; Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was an earlier Disney cartoon character.), and one can quibble with some of his interpretations (Edna Ferber a hack?),but even with those caveats, Bryson is nearly always entertaining, as is this book.

 

View more by: 

The Martian

(2011)

For what seems to be forever, earthlings have looked up towards the stars and only imagined what travel to another planet might be like.  Such a possibility comes to life in author Andy Weir's debut novel, "The Martian".  NASA has successfully sent two crews to Mars, and America's space program has the world's attention.  However, during the subsequent mission of Ares 3, a series of unfortunate events results in a lone astronaut being left behind.  Though presumed dead, it is soon discovered that a very alive Mark Watley is stranded on the uninhabited planet.  "The Martian" is an empowering story of ingenuity on the part of the astronaut and a relentless dedication from NASA as it works feverishly in its attempts to bring one of their own back home.   

A diary kept by Mark Watley, chronicling his odyssey, represents the main vehicle for telling the story.  His account of the Mars experience is riddled with humor, a profound instinct for survival, and mind boggling mathematics.  Creativity reigns as the botanist/mechanical engineer confronts challenges involving food, equipment, and leisure time during the endless passing of "sols".  Each sol, a measurement of time in space, is 39 minutes longer than a 24 hour day.  Many, many sols lie between Earth and Mars.     

Meanwhile, back in Houston, a team of gifted experts concentrates on Watley's hopeful return to earth.  There are disagreements concerning the best plan to bring the missing crew member of Ares 3 home.  And a crisis of communication between astronaut and command center complicates the delicate process.  An entire galaxy seems fixed on the plight of the martian, and there is only one chance for those at the controls to get it right.    

Andy Weir has created a true gem of a space adventure.  He borrows from human imagination and dares to explore a fantasy where the risk and the reward are unprecedented in this modern day "Lost in Space".                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View more by: 

A Bouquet of Love

2014

Niko Pappas, the successful owner of Super-Gyros, has decided to open a second restaurant in Galveston, TX. He leaves his two eldest sons in California to run the original store and moves the rest of his large Greek family to Galveston, TX. The transition from California to Texas is anything but easy for this tight-knit family. Cassia Pappas dreams of one day owning her own flower shop but when you are the oldest daughter of a boisterous, overprotective, Greek father, you spend your days, like all your other family members, working in your family owned gyro shop.  There is no time for individual dreams..or is there?

Things begin to get interesting when Niko discovers his shop is located directly across the street from Parma John’s, an iconic Italian restaurant, owned and operated by Laz Rossi, the equally proud and boisterous leader of the island’s prolific Italian family. What ensues is over-the-top competitions, entertaining family antics and hilarious altercations between Niko and Laz. This is a funny, light story that is meant to entertain the reader. The only question I had was why the story seemed to take a Christian twist halfway through the book.  It didn’t seem to alter the story, but it just seemed odd to have the story take on that course so far into the book. Still, a fun and quick read.

View more by: 

Bathing the Lion

(2014)
Bathing the Lion

Jonathan Carroll’s work is often described as magic realism, but I think Neil Gaiman said it best by stating that reading Carroll is “as if John Updike were to write a Philip K Dick novel.”  

Carroll’s book packs in a lot of different stories and details, often mixed together. The very pages of the book are thin; the smoky images at the head of each chapter visible through the following pages.

The relationships in his books tether his stories to everyday life. In all his books he explores what it means to be human, and the meaning of life and death.  He dives headlong into these topics and his books give comfort and wonder to those who allow themselves to follow where he goes.  But that is also where he loses a lot of readers. The characters and their relationships fall by the wayside of the “bigger picture”.

 This book is especially reminiscent of Phillip K Dick when five characters show up in the same dream. They all bring things buried in their psyches to the collective dream. (There is even a chatty chair). There are a lot of characters with complicated relationships, which change when they remember who they are. There really isn’t a plot. This is a slice of life, or rather many slices of life, if life were really weird. Some reviewers found the characters flat and the book boring. The sci-fi part of the book is not the usual world building fantasy that present day sci-fi readers are used to.  In a nutshell, the story is that there are beings in the universe who keep Reality from being torn apart by Chaos. They are called “Mechanics” and each performs a specific task until it is finished, rather like ants, and then they are retired. Some choose to retire on earth as humans, where they live out their lives and then die. In this book, they are being re-called to remember who they are in order to fight the coming Chaos. This turns out to be not so much an “alien invasion”  but more a routine, ongoing process. The essence of the Mechanics that has been enhanced and changed by being human is “harvested” to fight Chaos.

Even though the characters are not fully developed, they star in a series of vignettes that make you think and stay with you. Carroll put a lot of thought into this book. The following two quotes were taken from the beginning of the book and the end of the book, respectively. (Keep in mind-Updike and Dick).

 “They had been together twelve years, married nine. Sometimes he tried to pinpoint exactly when their love had turned from solid to liquid to steam to thin air. Sometimes he wondered when she had stopped loving him. At this stage he didn’t care.”

“Chaos doesn’t do, it undoes. What was a moment ago now isn’t when Chaos comes to town.   What was solid is now liquid or soft or gas or gone. Things that were a hundred per cent certain, definite, or guaranteed became instantly suspect once Chaos arrives.”

Just when you think they are getting to an “aha” moment, it turns out to be more of a whimper than a bang. But life goes on, and it seems to be Carroll’s hope that we find something to love and enjoy about it, just as one of the more hateful characters finds solace at the end by the simple act of petting a dog's head.

 

View more by: 
  •  
  • 1 of 25

  Staff Picks for Adults and Teens              Staff Picks for Kids

AddThis