Staff Picks for Adults and Teens

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Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (2014)
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After finding a copy of a 1950's popularity guide written by a former teen model, Maya decides to do an experiment. Maya decides to follow the advice in the book (including wearing a girdle & setting her hair in curlers) to see if it can help on her own quest for popularity.  As this was a social experiment, she kept a diary of her daily experiences.  No one outside of her family knew what she was doing.  As she starts her year long journey, Maya is in 8th grade and living in a rough town on the Texas/Mexico border.  She considers herself to be on the bottom rung of the social ladder and is determined to climb her way out.

 

This memoir is the result of Maya's experiment and was thoroughly enjoyable all the way through.  Maya is a brave young woman, who will surely go far in life.  I work with teens on a daily basis and there are not many I know who would stick it out and follow ALL of the advice given by Betty Cornell. The results are humorous, insightful, and inspiring.  This is a book both teens and adults can enjoy.  If you have a teenage girl in middle or high school on your holiday shopping list, check this out!

 

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Leaving Time

(2014)

Jenna Metcalf's mother has been gone for 10 years.  Alice Metcalf disappeared after an incident at the New England Elephant Sanctuary, where she worked as a naturalist and expert in elephant behavior.  Her daughter, now a precocious thirteen year old, feels abandoned and is passionate to learn what happened to her mother.  In "Leaving Time", the most recent novel from Jodi Picoult, Jenna enlists the help of a once celebrated psychic and the heavy drinking detective assigned to her mother's unsolved case ten years ago.  

Serenity Jones is the psychic who disappeared from the public's radar when she misread a vision that lead to doubts about the validity of her predictions.  Virgil Stanhope left the police force when the cold case surrounding Alice Metcalf exposed doubts about his ability to solve crimes.  The two misfits see helping Jenna as an opportunity to make past wrongs right and vindicate their previous failures.  However, the only evidence to investigate comes from Jenna's early, yet vivid, memories and the conflicting memories of Jenna's Father, who has had a significant breach from reality.  The trio of Jenna, Serenity, and Virgil climb steep hills and walk down blind alleys in an effort to find clues about why the injured Alice vanished after her coworker was found dead on the grounds of the Elephant Sanctuary.      

In "Leaving Time", Jodi Picoult displays her usual gift of sprinkling the reading adventure with surprises.  She also gathers all loose story threads and ties them together neatly by the end.  The author does a masterful job illustrating the mystical lives of the elephants who reside in the sanctuary and where they are nurtured by Alice Metcalf and her husband Thomas.  The complexities of their familial relationships with each other often mirror, and sometimes surpass, those of humans. The animals also exhibit incredible attachments to their young and experience grief in a sophisticated way.  Picoult uses these fascinating aspects of elephant life to illustrate Jenna's feelings of abandonment; which help to explain the girl's obsessive need to find the truth that will answer the question of why Alice left her daughter.   

Picoult also brings awareness of the Sanctuary as a peaceful place for aging or injured elephants who are veterans of the circus or the zoo.  By the conclusion of this story, a new appreciation for the plight of these majestic creatures awaits.         

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Winter Street

2014

You could say the Quinn Family is dysfunctional… A week before Christmas father Kelley , an innkeeper, finds out his second wife Mitzi has been sleeping with the inn’s hired  Santa. Eldest son Patrick, a highly successful hedge fund investor, is being investigated for fraud. Son Kevin, who has been secretly sleeping with the inn’s housekeeper, just found out he is going to be a father. Daughter Ava, who has pinned all her hopes on getting a diamond this year for Christmas, finds out her boyfriend has left to spend the holiday with his mother in New York. Did I mention his old girlfriend is also in town?  And we can’t forget Bart, the youngest son and the only child of Kelley and Mitzi, who recently made the rash decision to join the Marines is now MIA in Afghanistan. Sounds dysfunctional enough? Well how about if I tell you that Kelley’s ex-wife, a famous television news anchor decides to join her family for the holidays this year? Like most of her books, Elin Hilderbrand brings humor, suspense, plenty of drama, and bit of heartbreak to the story. The book ends a bit too quickly, but I have a feeling we will see more of The Quinn Family in the future.

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The Mouse on Wall Street

 

The Duchy of Grand Fenwick is a tiny country (5 miles long, 3 miles across) located in the Alps, squeezed between France and Switzerland.  The nation was founded in 1370 by an Englishman, Sir Roger Fenwick, thus making English the national language.  The primary industries are the raising of sheep and the production of the wine Pinot Grand Fenwick.  The country is a parliamentary democracy under the reign of the hereditary Duchess, Gloriana XII.  Grand Fenwick is also entirely fictitious.

 

 

 

Grand Fenwick first burst onto the world stage in 1955 with the publication of the book, The Mouse That Roared, in which the microscopic duchy declared war on the United States solely in order to gain reparations.  This wonderful plan was foiled when Grand Fenwick won the war, leading to all sorts of complications.  In the treaty ending that war, Grand Fenwick won the rights to market a wine-flavored chewing gum in the United States.  Many years later, that gum unexpectedly becomes a great success and Grand Fenwick finds itself awash in American cash.  This is proving to be horribly disruptive to the Fenwickian economy, yet the money keeps rolling in.  What to do?  Duchess Gloriana strikes on the idea of losing the money in the stock market.  She selects a stock by randomly sticking her embroidery needle into the newspaper’s stock listings and off goes the check.  Needless to say, things don’t go as planned.

 

 

This third novel in the Mouse series is a funny and charming book, which makes a few satiric points, but gently.

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The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

2014
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

A 15-year-old girl in a red dress flees through the woods pursued by a dark shape.  The housewife who sees her and calls the police is later found dead and the girl vanishes.  For over 30 years no one knows what happened to Nola.

Marcus Goldman is experiencing writers’ block as his deadline draws near for his second book.  His first novel was a great success and he has all the perks—dating an actress, a great apartment, a fancy car.  As his publisher threatens to sue for non-delivery of a manuscript, he becomes so desperate that he visits his old college mentor, Harry Quebert, to overcome his problem.  Harry is an American literary icon due to his novel The Origin of Evil, but has become a recluse in the small town of Somerset, New Hampshire.

Shortly after Marcus comes to visit, a skeleton of a girl is found in Harry’s yard when planting bushes.  It is Nola's, and buried with her bones is the manuscript to Harry’s novel The Origin of Evil.   Harry is arrested for her murder, however Marcus strongly believes in his friend's innocence and stays on to solve the mystery, with or without police help.  His passion to clear his friend allows him to start writing again—but the book is nonfiction, an exoneration of Harry.  Marcus is tireless in his pursuit of the truth rather than a best-selling book, to the extreme disgust of his publisher, who wants a tell-all that will sell millions of copies.

Everyone in this small town has secrets, many of them connected to Nola.  What is her father, the motorcycle-riding minister, hiding when he plays loud music for hours?  Why does Luther, the disfigured chauffeur, secretly take Nola to another town to visit a millionaire?  What really was the relationship between Harry and Nola?  There are suspicious accidents, lying spouses, and contradicting stories on all sides, as the story is told in flashbacks through the book Marcus is writing.  As you read the last hundred pages of this novel there are an amazing number of unexpected revelations, major plot twists and red herrings until you must suspect almost everyone.

 

Written by a 28-year-old Swiss author and translated from the French by Sam Taylor, this best-selling and award-winning thriller is based in New Hampshire, where the author spent his summers.  It has won multiple awards, and has been on the best-seller lists in Europe and America.

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Janet Leigh: A Biography

2013

Janet Leigh was best known for her portrayal of Marion Crane in the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller, Psycho and her eleven-year marriage to Tony Curtis. She starred in mostly low-budget films throughout her film career which spanned from 1947-1999. Hollywood film moguls were attracted to her natural beauty. She endured the unwanted attention of Howard Hughes. Before their marriage, Tony Curtis stated, “It just devastated me to look at this woman.” Curtis and Leigh had two daughters, Kelly Lee and Jamie Lee. Jamie Lee became an actress in her own right and she appeared in later films with her famous mother. The book follows Janet’s career in film, television, and stage, her dedication to her family and her sunny outlook on life. 

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Knights of Sidonia

(2013)

 

Knights of Sidonia is an addicting manga sci-fi epic of high stakes, war, and the spark of hope that humanity can hold onto even in the darkest of times.  Knights is set in the distant future, long after Earth and its solar system has been destroyed by an extremely adaptable alien life form known as the gauna.  These creatures are nearly impossible to destroy, regenerating impossibly fast.

 

What remains of humanity is living aboard a spaceship mimicking the conditions of Earth called the Sidonia.  Tanikaze is one of the ship’s inhabitants, but he is considered to be a bit more “crude” than the majority of Sidonia’ s society, which has been genetically advanced.  For example, Tanikaze is singled out for his “excessive” need to eat three meals per day, whereas nearly everyone else needs to eat only once per week and otherwise gains energy from a less wasteful process they refer to as photosynthesizing.  Some in the society are also genderless or have a new gender altogether, which I find a very interesting concept explored by Nihei.  Despite what could be called Tanikaze’s “overly” human tendencies, he is surprisingly excellent at flying the Gardes, which are the ships that are used to defeat the gauna.

 

Despite all of the destruction and death you might expect in a series like this, there is a good amount of humor to lighten things up and above all, a very interesting treatment of the characters and all of their unique abilities and characteristics.  The world-building in this series is extraordinary—dense with detail and always intriguing.  Nihei also does an excellent job showing instead of telling, allowing us to come to our own conclusions instead of relying on heavy-handed narration.  I can’t understate how much I love this in fiction in any medium.

 

If this concept all sounds a bit familiar, you may be thinking of the series Attack on Titan.  I think readers of the Titan series would likely enjoy Knights, as it is in a similar vein but is definitely its own story, and one which I’d highly recommend.

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Devil in the Marshalsea

(2014)
The Devil in the Marshalsea

Antonia Hodgson knows how to create atmosphere.  She also has done her research.  The result is a wonderfully cinematic story that thrusts you into the dark, gruesome underbelly of London, England in 1727.  The narrator that Hodgson crafts is Thomas Hawkins, a young man, once bound for the clergy, now bound for the Marshalsea, an infamous debtor’s prison, filled with brutality, bad luck, and disease.  Despite his desperate efforts, Tom finds himself confined with a possible murderer for a roommate.  If Tom values his life and liberty, he must expose the truth before what little luck he has runs out.  This would be a thrilling novel to listen to on audiobook.  As it so happens, the audiobook has received high praise for its voice acting.  If you are prepared to be hurled into a world of gut-wrenching living conditions and treachery at every turn, please consider this gem.

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What If?

Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (2014)
What If? by Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe earned a degree in physics at Christopher Newport University (VA) and went on to work on robots at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia before quitting to become a cartoonist  (xkcd.com: “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language”).  He employs humorous stick figure sketches to help provide scientific answers to absurd hypotheticals submitted to him through his website.

I loved this book – and the great thing is, if there is a question you don’t care about, simply skip to the next one.  One of my favorite chapters addressed  “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?”  A science-supported answer, bolstered by helpful, hilarious sketches, help you decide whether constructing such a display would be a good project to undertake.  The author also includes some questions he doesn’t bother answering that are quite funny and often disturbing.  If you enjoy science and humor, you will likely really enjoy this book.  I am only disappointed that the book didn’t address the scenario depicted on the cover:  how long it would take a tyrannosaurus rex to be digested in a sarlacc pit.

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Drawing Autism

(2014)
Drawing Autism

Drawing Autism showcases the artistic talents of individuals with autism spectrum disorder while giving perspective on how these artists relate to the world around them.  Temple Grandin has written the forward which is a perfect introduction and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Author Jill Mullin, a behavior analyst with a clinical background in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), divided the selected works into themes.  Her goal was to provide an overview of the autism spectrum while celebrating the individuality of each person.  Artists selected for the book were all asked to complete the same questionnaire.  Some were able to complete these on their own, some had assistance from family or a caregiver, while others were unable to answer any questions at all.  Content the artists shared with Mullin is included on the page(s) with their work.

 

As with any art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There were some pieces I enjoyed immensely and would happily hang in my house, while others I didn't care for.  No matter how I felt about an artist's work however, I was able to appreciate their process and what, if anything, they were trying to convey.  This is a book that we keep in our adult non-fiction collection, but can be enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation of art or someone in their life on the autism spectrum.

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Cancel the Wedding

2014

The one year anniversary of Olivia’s mother’s death is drawing near. Her mother’s dying wish was very explicit, her ashes were to be scattered in two specific locations in Huntley, Georgia, a town neither Olivia nor her sister had ever heard of.  Looking for a way to escape her increasingly chaotic personal life, Olivia decides now is the perfect time to go Huntley and find out why this place was so special to their mother. What she finds makes her wonder if she ever really knew her mother at all. Huntley is gone…well actually it now sits at the bottom of a man-made lake. Olivia is drawn to the mysteries that she has discovered and decides she needs to stay in nearby Tillman and find out what else her mother has been hiding all these years. The more questions she asks, the more it seems people are trying to hide things from her. The mystery behind the long lost town and the secrets her mother has kept hidden for decades continue puzzle and intrigue. You find yourself at the edge of your seat and anxiously awaiting the outcome of this compelling story.

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