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.

The Curl Up & Dye

2014

LilyAnn’s hopes and dreams died when her boyfriend was killed in Afghanistan. Eleven years have passed since his death and the former Homecoming Queen is now withdrawn, slightly pudgy and working as a drug store clerk. LillyAnn is convinced that she already had her one true love in her life and lost him so she is done with men. That is bad news for her next door neighbor Mike, who has loved her for his whole life. He has spent the last 11 years trying to make LillyAnn notice him as something more than her best friend. Mike is failing miserably in his quest so the ladies from the Curl Up and Dye Hair Salon set out to help get the two of them together. This story is filled with small town Southern charm and has just enough drama to keep you on your toes. A good choice when curling up on the couch this winter.

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The Invention of Wings

(2014)

Two young girls, growing up in Charleston, South Carolina during the early 1800s, struggle to find their wings along the divergent paths they have been allotted in life.  Sarah Grimke is the daughter of a wealthy Southern judge while Hetty "Handful" Grimke is the spunky slave presented to Sarah as a "gift" on her eleventh birthday by a domineering mother.  Sarah reluctantly welcomes Handful into her life.  Finding the practice of slavery distasteful, she uses the opportunity to teach the young black girl how to read and write.  Sarah also demonstrates for Handful how they can treat each other with respect and dignity in spite of an uneven social standing and grave economic disparity.  Sarah, though she lives a life of privilege and extravagance, also finds her dreams limited because she is female.  She speaks out liberally and often against both the injustice of slavery and the constraints put upon women and girls.  She is unafraid of the consequences of her feelings, and her mother Mary is often shamed by what she believes to be her daughter's momentary rebellion.     

Handful was better understood by her own mother.  Charlotte gifted her daughter with the strength of her experiences, hope for a better future, and a deep love that knew no boundaries.  Charlotte, valued by the Grimke family as a talented seamstress, presents the story of her past to Handful in the form of a treasured story quilt and tales of the spirit tree.  She is bold and spirited and often takes chances with her own life in order to better her daughter's.  When her fearless mother is absent, Handful is drawn to the courageous Denmark Vesey, a free black man and father figure, who is passionate to win emancipation for his enslaved brethren.                       

Sue Monk Kidd explores the pursuit of freedom on both sides as the seeds of the abolition movement are planted, and the idea both unites and divides the country in "The Invention of Wings."  The author borrows facts from the real life abolitionist and women's rights activist Sarah Grimke.  The result is a moving story that shows the power one person can have as a catalyst for change or as a formidable force in changing the minds of others.  The book covers a span of 35 years, and the author lays a trail of excellent character development as the two girls grow into women.  While they lead parallel lives, Sarah and Handful are ultimately wishing for the same things and are forever tied together by the inspiration they receive from each other.      

As Sarah Grimke champions the idea to end slavery, she is eventually joined in her efforts by her younger, more fearless, sister Angelina.  The women face their adversaries, battle public conscience, and experience love and loss.  In spite of the endless array of challenges, they refuse to accept failure.  Early in the book, Sarah makes a promise to Charlotte that she will see Handful free.  She gives her entire life towards the hope of fulfilling that one promise.  Sue Monk Kidd delivers a powerful account centered around an affliction of history that was sought to be made right by the color blind Grimke sisters willing to absorb the risks and accept the sacrifices of their convictions.            

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My dog : the paradox, a lovable discourse about man's best friend

2013
 	My dog : the paradox, a lovable discourse about man's best friend
Matthew Inman drawing

The intro to this book begins with the quote- “Every Pet is a tiny tragedy waiting to happen”, (George Carlin).  But apart from facing the relatively short mortality of our pet “children”, this book is also an affirmation of the joys and idiosyncrasies that are part of sharing our lives with pets.

While this is a cute cartoon book, it is not meant for children. Some of the language is adult.  But it correlates to what it seems a barking dog is saying when chasing a car, or greeting you home. And it is funny.  (On the way to being neutered: “S*** yes! The car! Love the car! Wind and speed! Love the wind! Where are we headed anyway? Are we going to the park? Love the park!” Owner: “Dude I am so sorry.”).

The author hails from Seattle, where he began his career as a computer programmer. The Oatmeal is a comics and articles website Inman created in 2009.  He played the video game “Quake” a lot when he was younger and his alias was Quaker Oatmeal, which is how he got the name “The Oatmeal”.  He was an accomplished artist at a young age, as evidenced by this picture he drew of a bird in art class.  He built a dating website which he advertized by drawing comics. This eventually segued into his current popularity.

The book is (mostly) dedicated to Inman’s first dog, Rambo, who the dog character is based on. But readers may recognize many of their own dog’s behaviors and smile and maybe even shed a tear.

 

 

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Still Alice: A Novel

2007

Alice Howland, is a fifty year old psychology professor at Harvard University who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Told from Alice’s perspective, this story tells of the effects of this ravaging disease has on family members and the victim herself. Lisa Genova is a first-time novelist who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University. She knows of what she speaks. Yet she portrays Alice’s situation with sensitivity, humor, and compassion with a minimum of technical jargon. This book is a wake-up call to us all. This situation could happen to any of us and it would likely change the course of our lives for years to come. Thoughtful presentation.

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Among others

(2010)
Among Others

Morwenna , age 15, arrived at Arlinghurst with few possessions but a lot of mental baggage.  Her twin sister was killed and she was crippled in an accident after trying to peform magic to save the world from her wicked and possibly insane mother. 

Fleeing her Welsh home she appealed to her father, who she barely knew.  He is controlled by his three spinster sisters, though his interest in science fiction is enough to form a bond between them. 

Now Mori, as she rechristens herself, must try to find friends in this foreign world of the upper-class English boarding school, a tough task when she is Welsh and lower class in their eyes.

 

Her intelligence and devotion to reading set her apart from her schoolmates who are interested only in sport—in which her damaged leg does not allow her to participate.  Instead she fills her time with reading as an escape and also to look for answers to her past.

When she returns to Wales to visit her grandfather and aunt she goes into the hills to look for answers.  Did she and her sister do right in performing magic which ended up harming others?  Should she try to get her sister back, or use magic to gain friends at the school? 

The determination with which she goes about getting more reading material (the wonder of inter library loan!) and tries to apply what she sees in fiction to her life—a life where fairies and magic are real—were engaging for me since I was also a voracious reader when young. 

 

For those who are interested in books, especially science fiction and fantasy, this is a great reminder of what it felt like to meet those characters and discover those worlds for the first time.  If you are not interested in fantasy, it may be less intriguing.  If you liked Ready Player One with its concentration on the pop culture of the 1980s, and you also like fantasy and science fiction, this may be the book for you!

Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

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If We Survive

2012
If We Survive

 

It will readily become apparent to most readers of this blog that I am swiftly becoming the action adventure book reviewer. My  favorites are well written action adventure books with a quirky sense of humor. Andrew Klavan’s If We Survive  is an excellent exploration of how people react to terror and extreme circumstances. Although I generally shudder at the mixture of unclear voices, unrealistic verbiage, and  the uneven rhythm of the character dialogue found in most books, Klavan’s use of first person narrative allows a nearly seamless flow between the dialogue  of the characters and the monologue of the lead character.

 

In the book If We Survive six Americans find themselves in a suddenly hostile Central American country under the control of a man that one character calls “soulless psycho killer”. Facing down firing squads, spiders the size of your fist and a raging river, they will discover true courage if they are going to make it home.

 

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A Walk in the Woods

Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1998)
A Walk in the Woods

The Appalachian Trail runs over 2,000 miles, through 14 states, from Georgia to Maine, and Bill Bryson decided to walk it.  Fans of Bryson’s other travel books (In a Sunburned Country, Neither Here Nor There, and more) know that they will get a very personal account of his travels, with comments that are, at times, trivial, bizarre, amazed, grumpy, and very, very funny.  A Walk in the Woods ranks as one of Bryson’s best, a real delight.

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Survival Lessons

2013

 

I have always enjoyed Alice Hoffman’s novels, being introduced to her at age 16 and awaiting each new release. Her books have elements of magical realism and dystopian fiction, with several having ended up on bestseller lists and turned into feature films. I was very interested to learn, then, that she had written and published her very first non-fiction book.

Survival Lessons was started while Hoffman was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, while at the same time facing down other life disruptions and losses. She describes the book’s origins as a sort of ad-hoc list for herself of important affirmations and choices to remember while going through her ordeal and for when she made it through to the other side, as a survivor. This is the meaning behind the title of the book. While there are parts that are deeply personal, this book is not a memoir in the traditional sense.

During a first cursory glance of the subject matter and summary, I sighed and surmised that it would be probably be depressing and tearful. Also, did I really want to put myself through that in this post-holiday dead of winter? I could not talk myself out of foregoing something written by my favorite author, so I checked out our copy of Survival Lessons on audiobook, popped it in for a long car ride and ended up feeling much more uplifted and hopeful than I ever anticipated. But, most importantly, I arrived at my final destination with a list of people I already wanted to start recommending this title to.

While chemotherapy and cancer are mentioned, it is not the central focus; nor does Hoffman make her illness-or even herself-the main character of the book. Her aim here seems to be an all-inclusive observation of life upheaval; humans become survivors by making it through all manner of painful events that cause one’s view of their world and of themselves to change. Loss and joy run through all lives, she reminds us. It is impossible to have one without the other.

Each chapter is a "choice" that Hoffman presents to the reader, framing it within her own experiences. Chapter 1, for example, is “Choose Your Heroes.” Other “choices” include: choosing to plan for your future, choosing to forgive, and choosing to dream. Hoffman, never preachy, always includes the listener in her suggestions and experiences. This format results in a more reflective and personal experience, as opposed to simply reading someone else's story and trying to find where you-as the reader or listener-can relate.

While I was hoping that the author herself would narrate the book, Xe Sands took that role. While at times a bit cloying, Sands voice is ultimately pleasant and she adds dignity and emotion to Hoffman's words and experiences. If you are looking for an interesting and thought-provoking commute, by all means grab the audio version. With only 1 hour total running time and easy stopping points, you could get through this book in a just a few days. Survival Lessons is also available in print format, at 83 pages, and through OverDrive.

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Books on Fermenting

(2003, 2012, 2013)
Books on Fermentation

 

Over the last couple years there are several books on fermentation that I have quite enjoyed.

Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz

The Art of Fermentation: an in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world, by Sandor Katz

True brews : how to craft fermented cider, beer, wine, sake, soda, mead, kefir, and kombucha at home, by Emma Christensen

Fermented Foods for Health, by Deirdre Rawlings

Real Food Fermentation : preserving whole fresh food with live cultures in your home kitchen, by Alex Lewin

 

Sandor Katz’s titles are extremely thorough; he is a well-known expert in the field, so it is good to know about him if you want to really delve into the subject.  If you want a quicker, prettier introduction to fermentation, I recommend either of the last two titles as they have a lot of good information and beautiful photos.

 

bottled and brewing kombuchaUsing Lewin’s text as a jumping-off point, I have been brewing Kombucha for a year.  A member of my household can’t bear to look at the jar, much less taste it; however, this individual kindly assists me with sterilizing my jars and equipment for new batches if I ask.  I first tried Kombucha on a whim, wondering what it was when I saw it on the grocery shelf.  After Googling it at home, I quickly decided to learn to make it since it’s quite pricey to purchase.    

 

I have also made and liked Rawling’s Ginger-Carrot Kraut, and at some point would like to try my hand at Kimchi as there are few things so good as real, fermented Kimchi!  Even if you aren’t up for trying your hand at fermenting, if you like learning new things and reading new recipes, these are some great titles on a topic that is growing in popularity.

 

fermentation book covers
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No Strings Attached

2013

Professional beach volleyball player Dune Cates and his partner Mac are back in Dune’s hometown of Barefoot William for a volleyball tournament. The beaches of Barefoot William are crawling with bikini-clad groupies, all wanting Dune’s attention, so why can’t he stop thinking about the quiet, socially -challenged Sophie Saunders?

 

Sophie Saunders has had a crush on Dune Cates since second grade, when he rescued her after she had fallen off her bike.  In the 15 years that have passed, Sophie has followed Dune’s career and her admiration for his kind ways have only made her crush on him stronger.

 

Pick up No Strings Attached and meet the fun and charming characters that make up the community of Barefoot William. Discover if Sophie, an outsider, can find her place within the tight-knit community and most of all, watch what happens as Dune and Sophie open their hearts and minds to the idea of forever.

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The Aviator's Wife

(2013)

Melanie Benjamin has assigned Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh, the storyteller in her book "The Aviator's Wife."  The result is that Charles Lindbergh's co-pilot in the air, and in life, relates an interesting account of the couple's adventures amidst the clouds as well as on the ground.  The aviatrix exposes a marriage built upon dependence and high expectation rather than mutual love.  Though it is historical fiction, the imaginary and the true are blended together successfully to form a realistic account of their experiences both in private and while under the constant scrutiny of a public painting them as celebrities.    

The reader is first introduced to the characters on Christmas Eve of 1927.  The shy Anne Spencer Morrow meets the famous and distinguished Charles Lindbergh at a party in Mexico where Anne's father is serving as the American Ambassador, and Charles is his distinguished guest. She is taken with his mystique and he with her blind devotion, and they are married after an incomplete courtship. 

At times, the chapters are interrupted by the year 1974 when the bulk of the Lindbergh's marriage is behind them, and Charles is faced with the imminent end of his illustrious life.  Time is running out.  Anne seeks closure with answers to questions that have gone virtually ignored for 45 years.  Characteristic of marriage, the years brought pleasure and pain: five children born after the unfathomable kidnapping of their firstborn son; hero status for Charles after his trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris, and accolades for Anne who served as Charles' co-pilot after their marriage and was the first licensed female glider pilot in the U.S.  However, in spite of all their accomplishments and togetherness, the distance between them often spanned the distance of an ocean.         

Benjamin does a commendable job bringing the Lindberghs back to life.  From the headlines surrounding the infamous kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby to Charles' questionable allegiances in Europe preceding World War II, the author delves into the events and resulting emotions with great intensity.  While Anne Morrow Lindbergh concentrates on the strengths and weaknesses of her beloved husband, she also exposes much about herself. As a parent, she flew solo as her husband's escapades kept him away from his family, she suffered in silence when her baby was taken from her, and her life's desire was to be a celebrated writer.  She accompished the latter with her penning of "A Gift from the Sea" and her deep involvement with author Charles Lindbergh's publication "The Spirit of St. Louis."  

Benjamin reminds readers that "the aviator's wife" seized opportunities during a time in history when most women were content at home or willing to walk in the shadow of a husband.  She had the support of her own husband, "Lucky Lindy", who, in spite of his flaws, encouraged his wife to break barriers and venture away from the home.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh proved that women could have their head in the clouds and still accomplish what once seemed impossible for a woman of her generation.    

          

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