RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook

I really don't know what draws me to cookbooks. I don't cook, and I don't think I would like a lot of the entrees advocated therein. But, here's one that attracted my attention, probably because it has a regional focus -- and it's our region. Chicago-based food writer Amelia Levin has assembled a collection of recipes from the four states around Lake Michigan -- Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. These recipes are either inventions of local cooks and/or contain ingredients native to these four states. An example from the Michigan recipes is 'Enchiladas de Berrien Springs,' a dish served at Leaning Shed Farm in that community. Some sound really good, like 'Michigan Peach Crisp' and 'Strawberry-Rhubarb Hand Pies.' From Salt of the Earth, a restaurant in Fennville, comes 'Cranberry-Nut Bread.' Good photographs of food, cooks, and restaurants give the reader a great culinary tour of our part of the Midwest.

The Kiss

I came upon this book because it included a piece from an author I have recently discovered, Ada Limón. As it turns out, this collection of essays and stories contains works by other authors I enjoy—among them Pico Iyer, Aimee Bender and Markus Zusak—which in turn made me read more. 

Also included:

She also said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly.
“Surely you know what a kiss is?” she asked, aghast.
“I shall know when you give it to me,” he replied stiffly, and not to hurt his feelings she gave him a thimble. ~ J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I did not realize that kissing was a first date taboo. I’m such a sinner. ~ Roxane Gay

You leaned in to kiss me outside on the spring sidewalk among Brooklyn’s many broken tulips, petals all tipsy from traffic, and I felt like I could breathe again. Like it was not a kiss, but a resuscitation. ~ Ada Limón
I look forward to reading more.


The Story of a Loving Beautiful Relationship

Rescue & Jessica- A Life Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky is a fictionalized true story. The book focuses on the bond between young Jessica and her service dog named Rescue.

Rescue is a black lab pup who was destined to be trained as a seeing eye dog.However, it soon becomes clear to his trainer that Rescue might be better suited being a service dog; a canine helper doing such everyday chores as opening doors, fetching items, and turning on lights for people with disabilities.At the same time ,Jessica contemplates life as an amputee, after operations to remove one leg and then the other it is suggested that she acquire a service dog.

Before Jessica meets Rescue she becomes worried about how the dog will be able to help her with daily routine functions. On the other hand, Rescue is wondering whether he will be able to make a connection with his new companion who needs his help.Once together, it becomes clear to one and all that Rescue and Jessica were meant to save each other.

In the book's afterward, it is revealed that author Jessica Kensky is also an amputee who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Rescue is also the name of her real-life service dog.

Told with compassion and sensitivity this story is recommended for children ages 4-7.



Animals that Work Together

I recently discovered a wonderful new children’s non-fiction series entitled, “Animal Teamwork.” Books on Elephants, Wolves, Gorillas, and Meerkats are now part of the collection. Each book details how the animals live and work together, and like many great non-fiction picture books, extra facts added to each page provide additional chances for young readers to learn more about these incredible creatures.

Silence : In the Age of Noise

Isn't it ironic that I'm writing about silence on the eve of the noisiest day of the year? Erling Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has completed the Three Poles Challenge on foot -- the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. In this small book translated from the Norwegian, he discusses the 'silence around us, the silence within us, and the silence we must create.' He further tells why silence is essential to our sanity and happiness, and how it can open doors to wonder and gratitude. Silence seems to be in short supply in this modern age, and the author indicates that 'there are very few people who are able to avoid noise altogether. We learn to live with it because we think that we must, but noise is and remains a disturbing element that reduces our quality of life, not only for people, but for animals as well.' There are many other well-said thoughts here, such as, 'Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.'

Heating & Cooling

I like a book I can read in an hour—it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. But admire Beth Ann Fennelly's Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs so much I read it twice. As the subtitle suggests, it's a collection of very short memoir pieces, many shorter than this post, covering a range of subjects from childhood memories to snapshots of marriage and parenthood to seemingly trivial incidents from her life. She probes these small events with curiosity and close attention, infusing them with significance. Recurrent themes include grief, faith, and intimacy. Several pieces address the nature of memory as Fennelly questions the attitudes and perspectives of her memories of certain events. 

Heating & Cooling is a good, quick, summer read that is a refreshing new take on memoir and also very funny.

Secret Marvels of the World

This is another of Lonely Planet's publications, and it describes, as indicated in the subtitle, 360 Extraordinary Places You Never Knew Existed and How to Find Them. Most of the places in this book I 'never knew existed,' but I'm not so sure I would want to know 'how to find' some of them. I did enjoy paging through this book, learning about pink lakes in Senegal and Australia; The Karoo in South Africa, where one can see a giant South African flag the size of 66 soccer fields; the Billionth Barrel Monument in Brunei, which celebrates a milestone in oil drilling; and Tashirojima, Japan, which is an island on which cats outnumber humans six to one. There are American sites as well, such as the Lunchbox Museum In Columbus, Georgia; Carhenge near Alliance, Nebraska, which has non-working automobiles set up like Stonehenge; and the world's largest maze on the Dole Pineapple Plantation, about 40 minutes from Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. All in all, this is a fun volume to explore.

Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy

Here's another book that's good either for browsing or for reading all the way through. English author Harford has in this volume written a chapter of five or six pages about 50 inventions that shaped the modern economy. I was not surprised to find that all this takes place in exactly 50 chapters. Included are many obvious inventions, like the elevator, air conditioning, clocks, paper, batteries, etc.  But there are also many that I never would have thought to be inventions, although I have to acknowledge that they were, like management consulting, intellectual property, tax havens, and insurance. The fact that this book is written in a breezy, entertaining way makes it appealing to a wide range of audiences.

The Ghosts of the Past: Annie's Ghosts

When I recommend books to patrons, I don't normally recommend the latest book. I normally recommend the books that I keep going back to. This book isn't a classic, but I've probably read it 3 times. Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret is the true story of Steve Luxenberg's journey to find out about his mother's sister, a sister that his mother only revealed upon her deathbed. The book is Steve's journey to learn more about this aunt, condemned to a mental institution, and the family her never spoke of her. Luxenberg explores life in 1940s and 1950s Detroit and in Eloise, the institution to which is Aunt was committed.


Those who are familiar with writer/comedian/actor John Hodgman's previous books of fake facts may be surprised by Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches. (Those who are not familiar with his books may recognize him as the PC from the Apple television commercials or from his appearances on The Daily Show.) Rather than tongue-in cheek, Vacationland is an honest, humble, and heartfelt--yet still very funny--memoir of loosely connected essays, which do concern various vacation escapades but also wander into many other topics. In addition to recounting the mishaps of home-ownership, country life, and being a weird dad, Hodgman offers his personal insights on adolescence, only children, bullying, becoming an adult (or not), grief, and his own race and class privilege. 

I listened to the Vacationland audiobook (available on Overdrive) which is read by Hodgman himself. I usually prefer audiobooks narrated by the author, particularly ones by humorists (another good one is Jessi Klein's You'll Grow Out of It), and as I hoped, Hodgman's dry and self-deprecating humor really shines through in his reading.