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Staff Picks: Books


This take on Beauty and the Beast really is original. Dylan, an over-sized and hirsute 15 year old, is our unreliable narrator. Awash in a sea of self-pity and zero self-esteem Dylan spends most of the book thinking everyone sees him the way he sees himself (honestly, he spends so much time pitying himself it's exhausting) and waiting for a sign from his deceased father. Jamie, an amazing, funny, and creative girl challenges Dylan’s superficiality when he realizes that not only is he totally into her, but that she is transgender. So, confession: this book ticked me off a lot. I spent a lot of the day yelling at Dylan for being a jerk. Almost all the characters are crappy people and I felt incredibly cynical about them. BUT! I could not put it down. As frustrating as I found this book, the writing is compelling and the character growth is authentic. Also, unreliable narrators make for a fun read, even when they are super irritating.

Snowman Goes From Being Lonely to Being Perfect With a Little Love and New Friends

The Most Perfect Snowman, written and delightfully illustrated by Chris Britt, is about a simple,lonely snowman named Drift, who has arms made out of sticks and a nose and mouth made of coal.

He dreams of wearing some splendid items of clothing like a hat, scarf, mittens and of possessing a pointed carrot nose. like so many other more stylish snowmen, who would often ridicule his plain looks. 

One day three children come upon Drift and much to his delight share with him a scarf, hat, mittens as well as a pointy carrot nose. Upon donning his new togs, the kids proclaim him to be a perfect snowman and all spend the rest of the afternoon in fun play.

Once darkness begins to set in, the kids say goodbye and head home.During the night ,a blustery blizzard blows most of Drift's clothes away. All is not lost because he befriends a scared, cold and hungry tiny bunny who asks for his help to survive. Sure enough, Drift gives the bunny his scarf for warmth  and his carrot nose to relieve his hunger. With these acts of kindness and generosity, he proves that he truly is the most perfect snowman!


Gotta Read 'em All

I’ve been a Pokéfan for almost 20 years now.  It started in middle school with Pokémon Blue on and now I’m currently working my way through Moon and draining my phone battery with Pokémon Go (hey, don’t judge Go, it’s getting me outside for fresh air and exercise).  It’s been years since I’ve watched the anime and movies, but it’s probably time to check it them out again.  Apparently, there’s some wisdom hidden between the battles and Poké-antics.I know how silly that sounds, but roll with me on this.  

The Essential Pokémon Book of Joy is a cute, short book of quotes from your favorite characters that offer lessons in life, love, friendship and, of course, Pokémon battles.  Ok, they may not all be profound, but some of them are surprisingly deep.  Even the baddies from Team Rocket occasionally offers some good advice such as never abandon a teammate in trouble, and do not fear failure/never give up.  Meowth is particularly clever and has my favorite quote from the entire series: “We do have a lot in common.  The same air, the same earth, the same sky.  Maybe if we started looking at what’s the same instead of always looking at what’s different...well, who knows?”  Pokéfan or not, that’s something we should all keep in mind.

If you’re feeling a little low and need a little pick-me-up, there is plenty of joy to be found in this book (including Nurse Joy)!  Even if the quotes don’t make you think, they’ll at least make you smile.  Whether you’re a Rising Star, Ace Trainer, or Veteran, be sure to flip through this book and, as Meowth says, remember to “..mind your P's and Q's and Pikachus.”


I’m an Alice Hoffman fan. I’ve read just about everything she has written, some I like more than others. Faithful is one of my favorites of hers.

This is a story of tragedy and sorrow. Shelby and Helene are best friends in high school until an accident changes both of their lives.

Grief, guilt, recovery, friendship – it is all here but I didn’t find it as depressing as it sounds from this description. I agree with the reviewer who wrote…. “there is unique magic that Hoffman casts in all of her novels; seriously, this is a novel for anyone who has faith.”

This is a beautiful novel about surviving, forgiving ourselves, and connecting with others.

Paper Girls 2 For Me and You!

Paper Girls 2 is here! If you're new to the series, just know that it is the perfect comic to read while waiting for season 2 of Stranger Things. Complete with a great group of kids, crazy monsters, and 1980s hairstyles in all their feather- fringed glory. If you are already a fan, you’ll remember, at the end of Paper Girls Volume 1, KJ was still missing, and the gang was mysteriously transported out of the 80s. If you’ve somehow been patient enough to wait for the next volume instead of going out to buy the single comics, you’ll be excited to know this one starts right where the last one left off—with the girls being dropped right in the middle of 2016, and Erin coming face to face with her adult self!

Will Erin be disappointed in her future self? Will they ever find KJ? Will the paper girls be able to survive the horrors of 2016???

There's only one way to find out-- check it out right now!

Do you say soda or pop?

Speaking American got us all talking at Washington Square. How do you say “crayon” or “coupon” or “grocery store”? Do you say pop or soda, scratch paper or scrap paper, takeout or carry-out, drinking fountain or water fountain or bubbler? It probably depends on where you are from in the U.S.

We have had so much fun looking at the maps of where words are used and reading the short entries on the idiosyncracies of certain states or even cities. My wife, from Kansas, hates that I say, “You want to come with?” You can’t end a sentence with a preposition, right? Well, the majority of people in Minnesota and Chicago do. Bingo, I’m from Chicago. My colleagues tested me by asking what I called shoes that you wear for sports. Gym shoes, of course. Well, only in Chicago or Cincinnati. Everyone else says either “tennis shoes” or “sneakers.” 

I was also happy to see crayfish-crawfish-crawdad in there. Throughout our marriage, we have jokingly tried to convince our kids that those crustaceans are called crayfish (Chicago) or crawdad (Kansas). When I showed it to my wife it started the debate again and she said, “They aren’t fish.” Then I said, “Well, they aren’t dads either.” After a second more to think, I said, “Well, at least half of them aren’t.”

Also, now I know why my brother who moved to Connecticut started saying tag sale rather than garage sale. 

You will love looking through this book, especially if you do it with someone else.

Difficult Women

I was already looking forward to Roxane Gay's forthcoming collection of short stories; then I heard her interviewed on All Things Considered. And the reviews have been favorable, with Kirkus stating  "Gay is an admirable risk-taker in her exploration of women's lives and new ways to tell their stories." Now I'm even more eager to read it! 

She also has a memoir, Hunger, coming out this spring. 

Ten Prayers That Changed the World

Subtitled Extraordinary Stories of Faith That Shaped the Course of History, this is a 2016 book published by the National Geographic Society. In it are stories about ten prayers selected by author Jean-Pierre Isbouts, historian and doctoral professor at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. The book is naturally divided into ten chapters which are: Abraham's Plea, Jesus' Prayer to Abba, The Dream of Constantine, The Voices of Joan of Arc, Martin Luther's Hymn, George Washington's Prayer, The Prayer of St. Francis, The Prayer for Bastogne, Gandhi's Prayer for Peace, and Mother Teresa's Daily Prayer. As can be seen, these chapters cover a wide variety of religious persuasions, thought, and practice. Thus this volume can be used as an aid in personal devotion or as a historical study.

The Last Battle

During the last few hours of the last day of World War II, in a remote medieval castle in an otherwise sleepy part of the Austrian countryside, US and German troops joined forces during one of the strangest and least-likely battles of the entire war. The Last Battle is an account of the hours leading up to that battle, when a small unit of defecting German conscripts and a handful of battle-weary US soldiers fought off two hundred Waffen-SS loyalists trying to take control of the Schloss Itter castle and capture the six French VIPs held captive inside. Desperately low on ammunition, and with only a single battle-damaged tank parked on the castle entrance, the US and German troops- along with the support of dozens of concentration camp survivors, Austrian resistance fighters, and the bickering French VIPs themselves- managed to hold off the invading SS troops long enough for reinforcements to arrive. That this book hasn't somehow been turned into a huge-budgeted Hollywood film is almost as astonishing as the story itself.

The Poet's Dog

Patricia MacLachlan creates another heartwarming chapter book for readers of all ages with The Poet's Dog. This is an excellent book to read aloud with children. The relationships between pets, siblings, friends and poets will show you goodness, humor and love. “Dogs speak words, but only poets and children can hear. When you can’t find a poet, find a child.” Thank you to the author for these words. I love looking at the world through the eyes of children, and this book does that perfectly. Does the dog save the children, or do the children save the dog? You’ll have to read for yourself and see if you can decide!