Staff Picks

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

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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The Dogma of Rufus

A CanineGuide to Eating, Sleeping, Digging, Slobbering, Scratching, and Surviving with Humans (2013)
The Dogma of Rufus

Rufus writes a guide for young dogs in which he shares essential ancient wisdom passed down over the ages from dog to dog. He also includes intimate knowledge of the human condition so young dogs can be better prepared to help humans lead a less pathetic existence.  Some things are left out, in case a human might be reading this book.

The book is divided into three sections-The Fundamentals, Troubleshooting and Raising Humans.

Anyone who has ever lived with a dog will not be surprised to find that the number one fundamental and mission statement is “Human Food-Our Central Purpose”.  This section also covers dog food, sleeping, marking, chasing balls, licking, biting, slobbering, welcoming guests and chasing cars (just don't do it).

Troubleshooting includes tricks, barking (how loud and annoying can you go), cats (an evolutionary mistake), professional working dogs, breed stereotypes (don’t be a doggist), philosophy, dog parks (with some fascinating pictures of dogs chasing Frisbees), leashes, sexuality (what is more natural than humping?), and holidays (costumes make for unhappy dogs).

Rufus is especially forthright in the section on humans. Chapter titles include: Dog Whisperers-the dumbest idea since the concept of throwing away “spoiled” food and Dog Substitutes-if you don’t have time for a dog, how about a nice dog statue?  Subjects covered include veterinarians (Natural disaster or Spawn of Satan?) and the poop problem (out of control human weirdness).  Barring all modesty, Rufus extolls his young readers to maximize their cuteness potential while they still have it. 

Sprinkled throughout the book are dog Haiku:

A stranger passes,

Human companion ignores,

Hey, that guy had food.

You will also find random question and answer sections, dog/human dictionaries, quizzes (dog or not a dog-Westie: Probably a dog. Maybe), and lots of color illustrations.

Larry Arnstein was a writer for SNL. He won two Writers Guild of America awards for Not Necessarily the News. He and his sons Zack and Joey assisted Rufus in this endeavor.

All in all, this is a delightful, entertaining and educational book. As Rex from Dog Magazine stated: “Riveting! …Couldn’t put it down!”

 

 

 

 

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The Battle for Christmas

A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday (1996)
The Battle for Christmas

Now and again we hear about how there is a war being waged on Christmas. Yet the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas. In 1659, the Massachusetts General Court even declared celebrating Christmas to be a criminal offense. How did we get from there to here?

The Puritan’s reasoning against the December 25th holiday included there being no mention in the Bible of when Christ was born and that no shepherds would have been out with flocks in December. Increase Mather stated that those who did celebrate Christmas in December did not do so “thinking that Christ was born in that month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian (ones).”

Christmas was celebrated in many different ways-pious devotion, feasting, drinking, misrule and carnival, social inversion, and even violence, but they were all public celebrations. By the mid-1700’s, even Massachusetts joined in, but in a “suitable” manner, without including superstition and without the excesses of the day.  

The commercialism associated with Christmas, and decried as taking away from the “true meaning” of the holiday, actually reflects the 19th century redefinition of Christmas as a family holiday, instead of a public one. The author states that Christmas as we know it started with the mercantile Episcopalian Knickerbockers in New York City in the 1820’s, including Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore (A Visit from St. Nicholas), who popularized this genteel version Christmas.

Christmas gained official recognition in the US between the 1840's-1860's. By 1865, 27 out of 36 states had set December 25th as a day when certain kinds of ordinary business could not be legally transacted. Interestingly, two of the states that did not enact this legislation were in the south east.

Behind the images of domestic bliss that Americans now regard as the timeless embodiment of Christmas lies a convoluted social, political, and theological history filled with irony. From colonial New England through 18th and 19th century New York’s urban Yuletide contributions, historian author Stephen Nissenbaum does a fascinating and thorough job of tracing Christmas in America.

 

 

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Heirs of the Body

2013
Heirs of the Body

The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher’s cousin Edgar, Lord Dalrymple,  is in his 50s and childless.  He decides search for the family member who legally will inherit the entailed estate of Fairacres and the title of Lord Dalrymple.   Potential claimants are a diamond merchant hailing from South Africa, hotel owner from Scarborough, a teenage boy from Trinidad and a rum-running sailor from Jamaica.  None of the descendants are known to the family and there are no family papers at Fairacres showing which line of the family should inherit, so Daisy is recruited to help sort things out. 

She brings her two year old twins and stepdaughter Belinda as well as husband Alec Fletcher, a representative of law and order who gets dragged into the quest for a future Lord Dalrymple when a series of accidents happen to the potential heirs.

The delightful characters and a late 1920s setting in this cozy mystery will appeal to readers of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, as well as those who enjoy the manners and period setting of Downton Abbey.  While this book can be read as a standalone, you may wish to meet Daisy before she had a husband and children, beginning with Death at Wentwater Court.

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