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.

Defending Jacob

2012

Expectations of trust, loyalty, and unconditional love between parent and child are put to the ultimate test in William Landay's "Defending Jacob." The comfortable, suburban lives enjoyed by Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber, his wife Laurie, and 14 year old son Jacob are shattered when the lifeless body of Jacob's middle school classmate Ben Rifkin is discovered in a Newton, Massachusetts park.  Evidence implicating Jacob Barber as the suspected killer continues to mount, and it isn't long before his father is removed from his role as prosecutor for the case.  The arrest of their son devastates the parents, and Andy and Laurie struggle desperately to believe in Jacob's innocence while the strength of their once solid marriage begins to erode.  The inevitable murder charge isolates the family within their own neighborhood and community.  The phone and the doorbell stop ringing, friends withdraw, and strangers whisper.  The couple find themselves feeling as though they are being judged as accomplices to the actions for which their son has been accused.  As the story of defending Jacob unfolds and the teenager heads to trial, Andy becomes obsessed with a plan to reveal a known child molester as the true suspect, Laurie becomes a shell of the vibrant woman she used to be, and Jacob withdraws further into himself.  

For readers who enjoy a crime novel with riveting courtroom drama, William Landay's rendition will not disappoint.  The once upon a time prosecutor, Andy Barber, finds himself in the witness chair facing Neal Loguidice: the over enthusiastic Assistant District Attorney who "stole" Andy's job.  The taut writing, excellent dialogue, and dramatic plot development lead to a stunning ending, and the book is literally difficult to put down.  There are plenty of discussion points promising good reasons for book clubs to gather or friends to linger over dinner.  Some of the provocative questions raised ask how far a parent should go to protect a child; suggest the existence of a "murder gene" that could be a brilliant defense or assure an automatic life sentence; and explore how well a parent can actually know a child who is brought up on today's social media that exists far beyond the shadow of a parent's watchful eye.  

Not much can be found negative about Landay's writing.  Since he was the gatekeeper of his parents' hopes and dreams, maybe more insight into the secret life of Jacob, along with his feelings, would have been a bonus.  In addition, the emotional distance between husband and wife takes away an opportunity for the two to have more discussion about the fate of their son.  However, "Defending Jacob" is definitely a satisfying read, and in spite of its length of 400 plus pages, will leave the reader wishing for more.    

 

 

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Wrapped In The Flag

A Personal History of America's Radical Right (2013)
Wrapped in the Flag

 Claire Conner was raised in the John Birch Society. Her father, Stillwell Conner was a national spokesman for JBS, and her mother, Laurene, made it her lifelong obsession. Her parents first met Robert Welch in 1955 and three years later paid a considerable sum to be life members of the JBS.

Extremism on any side (be it political, religious, or ethnic) is not pretty. More than anything, this is the story of a young girl being raised by parents who put their ideology above everything else. But in addition to this, her story gives readers a "fly on the wall" perspective of the origins and beliefs of JBS.

Ms. Conner relates the events of history through the lens of ultra-conservatism. Some reactions are predictable, but others may take you by surprise. Integration, assassinations, elections, Vietnam and more are all included here.The opinions of Revilo Oliver, who became a well-known Holocaust denier, as well as the writings of Fred Koch (father of David and Charles) were frequently heard at the family breakfast table.

Claire was a Pro Life spokesperson, but her concern didn’t end there, it extended to life beyond birth. This became one of what would be many dividing points between Claire and her parents, who believed everyone was responsible for their own welfare. They stood for what Robert Welch called a “healthy kind of poverty….that was offset by the enormous blessings of freedom.”  

This is Claire's story of her journey from unquestioning devotion to her parents, and their ideology, to being able to understand and accept other viewpoints. This book is not without bias, but it is well written and provides incredible insight into the origins of the right wing movement in this country. This is especially relevant given today’s headlines about the far right claiming responsibility for shutting down the government and the familiar names behind movements such as “Americans for Prosperity.”

 

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette

a novel (2013)
Where'd you go, Bernadette

My attention caught by the retro cover, I read the first few pages and was hooked.

 Bernadette Fox is an award-winning architect who doesn’t build; an agoraphobic who hates Seattle, rain, and especially Canadians.  Husband Elgin is a software genius and workaholic who has grown apart from his wife.  Both of them would do anything for their daughter Bee, so when she achieves perfect grades all the way through middle school, they grant her wish for a trip to Antarctica.  Facing weeks of enforced social interaction on the cruise, Bernadette makes a plan which goes badly awry, culminating in her disappearance.

Quirky and laugh-aloud funny in spots, its social commentary includes a Victims Against Victimhood support group, helicopter parents, the social elite, software empires, and political correctness gone mad.  The mystery of what happened to Bernadette is brought to life in a series of emails, letters, and documents.  Its heart is the warm connection of mother and daughter, whatever their differences.

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Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life

1989

Around eighth grade Georgia O’Keeffe proudly proclaimed to her classmates, I’m going to be an artist. Robinson’s extremely detailed biography follows O’Keeffe through her youthful years in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin through her death at age 98 in New Mexico. Georgia is well- known for her large paintings of close up flowers, skulls, and magnificent skies. Her relationship with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz was integral to her success as he introduced her work to the public at his famous 291 Gallery located at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York City. There were 1800 letters and telegrams during their long time together. O’Keeffe was his lover during his marriage to his first wife and Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were married from 1924-1946. O’Keeffe’s personality was full of contradiction dating back to the strong influence of her family. There were many strong women yet O’Keeffe succumbed to the paternalistic influence of Stieglitz who was close to the age of her mother. He refused to allow her to have a child. In her later years she developed a strong relationship with a man 60 years her junior. He took advantage of her wealth and notoriety as she gradually lost her eye sight and became increasingly frail. In the end, O’Keeffe’s large body of work became her legacy.

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Who is AC?

2013
Who is AC?

Is your best never good enough? Do you keep trying and trying and still the people you are trying to help trash your efforts? Then you might find accidental superhero Lin fascinating as she brings her writings to life with the push of a button when she becomes the hero from her books. With flash photography as her superhero weakness, Lin a.k.a. AC makes an interesting if unsure teen champion whose cell phone uses binary code to transform her into a superhero.

 

The manga style of the illustrations is fine but if the writer hadn’t explicitly told me that the superhero is constantly surrounded by flower petals, I would not have been able to tell what the white blobs were from the illustrations. The three color style is too simple and serves the storyline poorly. Purple is used both the hero and the villian which can be moderately confusing. Full color or black and white illustrations would have made the images sharper and easier to understand.

 

Although the ending is somewhat satisfying, this can only be book one of at least a two book series because there are so many unanswered questions at the end.

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Jennifer Government

2004

If you are tired of dystopian tales read no further.

Still here? Good, I have a book that you may enjoy. Jennifer Government was released in 2004 though I think the content seems more relevant today than it did prior to the 2008 financial meltdown and its subsequent fallout.

The story takes place in the near future when the government has all but dissolved; at one point a character talks about how things were before taxes were abolished. In this world the corporations hold sway over most things; they run the schools, the hospitals and some of the government institutions that are left find themselves freelancing for big corporate.

The focus of the story is, you might have guessed, is Jennifer Government an FBI investigator who is on the trail of a corporate exec who thoughts his brand would gain street cred if a bunch of kids were shot while buying his companies shoes. Most the story is a cat and mouse chase around the world while our villain not only flees from Jennifer but actively works on consolidating his position in the market while evading his would be captor.

 

The book is admittedly over the top but there are so many little pieces that scream of the current state of things to make the premise feel almost plausible. I also found that the emotional rollercoaster the story puts you on is a little fractured. There were times I wasn’t sure if I should be laughing or horrified, of course that may speak more to my interpretation than any fault of the author. On the whole I would highly recommend this (mostly) fun, fast read to anyone who enjoys dystopian stories. 

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A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home

2013
A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home

This was not what I expected, but I found it to be a fun and uplifting read. The cover is what drew me in of course. I am a huge proponent of therapy animals in nursing homes, hospitals, schools; wherever there are hurting people. The star of the story is Pransky, a Labradoodle with a huge capacity for love and an unerring sense of the 'right thing to do'. Certainly we can forgive her chasing the lamb during the Easter service. She is, after all, a dog! But the real story goes beyond the visits and interactions with the residents. Halpern chooses a public nursing home as the place she and Pransky would work. That alone brings to mind a less than pleasant environment. Instead, we share unexpected depths of warmth, humor, compassion and joy. We accompany Pransky on many visits, meet many friends, celebrate accomplishments and mourn inevitable losses. But this is not a sad book. The dog goes through the training, but she is really the teacher. It is through her eyes that the author, and reader, sees the true nature of virtue and kindness.

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Irving Berlin

A Daughter's Memoir (1994)
Irving Berlin: A Daughter's Memoir

At the time that Mary Ellin Barrett’s parents met, her father Irving Berlin was the world’s most popular, famous, and financially successful songwriter.  He had started as a penniless Russian Jewish immigrant, an uneducated child who had scrounged for a living by singing to the drunken wastrels of New York’s sleazy bowery.  A dozen years after the death of his first wife (who passed away just months after their marriage), Berlin met the much younger Ellin Mackay, daughter of Clarence Mackay, a fabulously wealthy businessman.  Ellin was Catholic, well educated, socially prominent, and an heiress, but she nonetheless fell in love with Irving Berlin.  Her father was appalled, and threatened to cut her out of his life and fortune if she married Berlin.  For the 1920s newspapers, the romance was a sensation and made headlines around the US and in Europe.  This is the starting point for Mary Ellin’s touching and charming portrait of her father and the family that supported and sustained him.

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Eleanor & Park

a novel (2013)
Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park are two high school misfits living in 1986, Omaha, Nebraska. Park is half-Asian, his mom is Korean and his dad American, and looks just different enough to stand out in his white bread community. Eleanor has long, frizzy red hair, is full-figured and lives in one of the saddest situations you can possibly imagine. She has recently come home to her 4 siblings, mother and no-good stepfather after having been away for over a year.

These two seem a very unlikely couple, but slowly develop a relationship through sharing a seat on the school bus. This book will suck you in and hook you to the characters right away. Rainbow Rowell skillfully tells a tale that is authentic, tender, and heart-wrenching at the same time. You will want to reach into the book and hug Eleanor yourself! Have some tissues nearby when you read this one --- your emotions will be doing a roller-coaster ride all the way through. The ride is totally worth it!

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Gideon Smith & the Mechanical Girl

2013
Gideon Smith & the Mechanical Girl

This book was far outside my normal reading, and that novelty may be a large contributing factor towards how much I enjoyed it.  Gideon Smith & the Mechanical Girl is a Steampunk novel, set, of course, in Victorian England – specifically 1890.  The author, David Barnett, presents an alternate history that includes Pulp-Adventurers, Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Bathory, Frog-man Mummies, Jack the Ripper, an Automaton, and many more amusing or terrible characters.  

 

The story revolves around 20-something Gideon Smith who is trying to solve the disappearance of his fisherman father.  In the course of this, he is swept up into incredible conspiracies and he encounters fantastic Steampunk technology. This is definitely just a light albeit exciting read, and I easily imagined the exploits being put to film.  A word of warning, however: one character regularly engages in swearing, mock-swearing, and sexual language, so if that is a problem you will want to steer clear.

 

I will be doing a saved search with an email alert in InfoSoup for the words ‘gideon smith david barnett’ to make sure I don’t miss any other books that may likely follow in a series.

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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.

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