Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Set in both 1991 and 16th century Massachusetts, this book is appealing on several fronts. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane successfully combines historical fiction, the Salem witch trials, and romance, for a good read with substance.

Cambridge graduate student Connie Goodwin moves to the rundown family home in Marblehead, Massachusetts for the summer. Connie finds an old key and a small piece of paper in a family Bible, with the words “Deliverance Dane” scrawled on it, and begins an investigation into its source. Soon after, strange events begin to occur. Flashbacks to Connie’s ancestors and events in the early American witchcraft era are seamlessly interwoven into the story.

I listened to the audiobook version of this title, read by Katherine Kellgren, and highly recommend it.


The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane: a novel.

Read Any Good Epistolary Fiction Lately?

Before email, instant messaging, tweets, texting and even phoning, friends and family exchanged letters. Epistolary fiction is a story based on letters or diary entries, a format that is enjoying a resurgence.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a recent bestseller and a favorite of many book groups, is the correspondence between a British journalist and a reading group from Guernsey, set just after World War II. (KPL also has the audiobook version.) 

Twenty years of correspondence is the basis for 84 Charing Cross Road, based on the real-life exchange of letters between New Yorker Helene Hanff, a freelance writer, and Frank Dole, a used book dealer in London.

One of my favorites in this format is The Diary of Mattie Spenser, a fictional journal of settling the Colorado Territories in the late 1800’s.

There are children’s, teen, and adult materials, fiction and nonfiction, in a letter or diary format. The subject headings in our catalog are “epistolary fiction” and “diary fiction.”


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Liberty Porter or the Obama Girls?

My latest read from the Juvenile collection is called Liberty Porter, First Daughter. Its author, Julia DeVillers, combines just the right portions of humor, truth, frustration, and embarrassment to deliver this quick read for third-fifth graders. Liberty Porter’s dad has just gotten a new job…and she has to move to a new house…in a new city…and, well, even though it seems predictable since her dad is now President of the United States, and her new house is the White House in Washington DC, and now that she has her own Secret Service detail…

Liberty likes her new house, sort of. She likes her father’s notoriety, sort of. She likes being in the public eye, sort of. Liberally sprinkled with black and white illustrations that curiously resemble the Obama family, Liberty Porter, First Daughter is a quick, enjoyable read. The book would make a great book report for a school assignment, too! Readers will enjoy just enough truth about what’s inside the White House to make them want to explore further through other books in the Kalamazoo Public Library’s collection about this National landmark, the home of the President and his family.


Liberty Porter First Daughter

The Postmistress

It is 1940 and the United States is on the cusp of entering World War II. London is in the middle of the Blitz, Jews all over Europe are being rounded up and contained, and coastal townsfolk in the U.S. fear invasion. Iris James is the postmistress of a small Massachusetts town performing her duties to her town and country keeping the mail organized and delivered on schedule. Emma Fitch, the young doctor’s bride, is new in town. Frankie Bard is busy blazing a new path as a female war correspondent/radio reporter in Europe. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake is the story of the intersection of these three women’s lives.

Blake’s historical fiction novel makes you feel the edgy uncertainty and fear of that time. The novel is divided into sections with titles of the changing seasons which reminds the reader that the world is about to be devastatingly changed by the seasons of war. It addresses how people react to fear, the fear of war, invasion, loss of family, loneliness, and the fear that you know too much about someone’s life. What do you do with information that you know is going to devastate someone’s life forever, how do you tell them? What will happen if a letter is purposely not delivered? I was drawn in to this novel getting to know each of these women wondering how their lives would touch, and I was not disappointed. It sweeps from the U. S. to London, then Germany, and back to the U.S and takes the reader along into these women’s intertwining lives. This is a great book for readers who like the 1940s or WWII era with some romance and drama elements. It is also a great women’s fiction book as well.

If you find you would like to read more books like The Postmistress I would like to recommend: A Season of Shadows by Paul McCusker; The Night Watch by Sarah Waters; Charlotte Gray: A Novel by Sebastian Faulks; HumanVoices by Penelope Fitzgerald; Touch the Face of God: A WWII Novel by Robert Vaughan; and last but not least La’s Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel by Alexander McCall Smith. Happy Reading!


The Postmistress

TAGGED – Mara Purnhagen

Is it art or is it graffiti? Is being in the “in” crowd worth fighting for? Can a high school girl just choose to disappear into the background, or is standing up for your friends worth the humiliation and pain of being thrust into the spotlight? These issues and much more surround the story of Kate and her best friends Lan and Eli in this new teen book by debut author Mara Purnhagen.

I have to admit, I’m partial. Mara is my daughter and worked here at the Kalamazoo Public Library for 4 years in high school. It was here that she learned to love reading and here that her spirit was nurtured. But I think you will find that this is a quick and fun read—with a good story plot to boot. Still and all - the best part of the story is discovering gorillas in the high school, on the town square, outside the coffee shop, all over the state? …. Enjoy!



The Happiness Project

Author Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one day: she realized she could be happier than she currently was.  To remedy this, she embarked on a year-long “happiness project,” devoting herself to researching happiness and forming resolutions to actively pursuit it.  Rubin identified eleven areas in her life (such as marriage, energy, work, etc.) that she felt were vital to her happiness; beginning in January, she allocated one month to each topic and made resolutions to increase her happiness surrounding that topic.  The month of December was then dedicated to managing a year’s worth of resolutions and reflecting on her personal happiness.

In the process of becoming happier, Rubin began a blog chronicling her journey and garnered a book deal.  I first heard about her book The Happiness Project Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun on her blog at  The idea of meditating on happiness and actively appreciating the good things in life seemed like a worthy cause, so I gave her book a try.  I’ll admit the reading about Rubin’s resolutions and thoughts on happiness instantly perked me up and made me think about the ways I could pursue a more thoughtful, cheerful life.  By the end of book I found the monthly compounding of Rubin’s resolutions overwhelming: her happiness project took work—so much work that I was exhausted just reading about it!

Despite the overwhelming number of resolutions the author made, the book is a good read for anyone interested in the nature of happiness and how to bring more of it into life.  I also recommend Rubin’s website, The Happiness Project Toolbox; it’s an excellent resource for establishing your own happiness project.  


the happiness project



Universal Healthcare

With the healthcare debate raging, I decided to check out T. R. Reid's book The Healing of America:  a Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care.  Mr. Reid has some pain in his shoulder and decides to travel the world to see what kind of medical care he gets.  Although he does make a stop in India, most of the countries he chooses to visit have some kind of national health care system that covers all of its citizens.  He finds that these countries have all found different ways to administer their national health care systems with varied combinations of public and private providers.  He gives a short history of how they developed their models and the successes and drawbacks of their systems. This is a great, accessible resource to get you thinking about the issue of health care in our country and help you decide where you stand.


The Healing of America
Steve S

The Closing of the American Mind

This book is not only important because it is a penetrating critique of higher education in America, but because, when it was published in 1988, many people read it; it's a historical phenomenon; whether positive or negative, it struck a cord.

With its ambiguity, lack of clear argumentation, interesting and constant digressions, and deepness of thought, I sincerely struggled and disagreed, and agreed, and hated, and loved this book. Which makes me think: isn't that the beauty of a book?--that we can agree and disagree, understand and misunderstand, throw away and keep some or all of its' parts?

Bloom basically thinks that the American university, under the influence of some German thinkers (Nietzsche, Freud), has lost its' philosophical grounding, and has reduced itself to thinking there is no truth, that morals are relative, and so on. And from the rubble of this Nihilism emerges a student population that doesn't see the point of education, doesn't think seriously, and doesn't discuss things like what it means to live a good life, or be a good human, or have a good government. In a word, Bloom thinks the philosophers have left the building.

What I truly took away from this roller-coaster discussion--of ancient philosophy, the Founding Fathers, the sixties, and what it all has to do with the university--is that, somewhere along the way, we may have lost the sense that human knowledge is a unified whole (or even the sense that there is such a thing called knowledge!). We have forgotten that the great thinkers of our past--Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Jefferson, Locke--all considered there to be branches of knowledge that fit together in a coherent and meaningful way; they were part of a grand project, which is why they knew so much about other areas of knowledge. Have our college students lost this sense of unity?


The Closing of the American Mind

Sarah’s Key

I had never heard of the Vel d’Hiv roundup of Jews in France on July 16 and 17, 1942, by the French police. This story has long been buried in the history of the holocaust. It was a source of great embarrassment to the French government and rarely taught in history lessons. Sarah’s Key tells the tale through the eyes of both a young girl caught up in the roundup, and a reporter 60 years later uncovering the story only to find it has personal ramifications for her family. What is especially riveting is how the author weaves the story around a key—a tragic key that locked a little boy away in a closet, while his sister, Sarah, who locked him away to keep him safe and hidden, is sent to the camps—not just for the few hours she suspected, but for many months until she escapes.

I really enjoyed this book. It was hard to put down, and I am planning on choosing it for an Oshtemo Book Group read in 2011.


Sarah’s Key
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