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Staff Picks: Books

Wicked Charms: A Lizzy and Diesel Novel

Wicked Charms is such a perfect summer read and in fact I spent several hours outside on my porch swing enjoying this light, fluffy read. Although it is in a series that Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton co-write about Lizzy and Diesel it can certainly be a stand-alone book.

Lizzy and Diesel are back in an adventure that has them searching for a famous pirate’s treasure along the New England coastline. There’s gold and silver coins, precious gems and the Stone of Avarice to hunt for. But of course they aren’t the only ones searching for the goodies.

Diesel and Lizzy both have enhanced abilities, special powers, and they are “called” on occasion to help save the world. They have been working together to locate seven ancient stones that hold the powers of the seven deadly sins. The stones are known as the seven SALIGIA stones. Lizzy and Diesel have to make sure the stones don’t fall into the wrong hands but of course there is lots of drama, adventure and a mixture of comical mayhem as the search goes forward. In the end Lizzy and Diesel accomplish their mission and save the Stone of Avarice. All is well until they get the next call.

If you enjoy Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series you will have fun with this one as well. There are a few warm beach days left – happy reading!

The War that Saved My Life

Well written with a captivating story, The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a new favorite of mine. Set in England during World War II, the story is told from 10 year old, Ada's perspective. She and her brother, Jaime escape their abusive mother when London's children are evacuated to the country. They find healing and hope in their new surroundings and it's just completely inspiring. I bet you'll love it too! 

Let Your Geek Flag Fly!

I have no problem admitting my love for all things considered “geek” – fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, role-playing, board and video games. Many of these loves I have passed down to my two daughters. Unfortunately the “geek” world can be dismissive and dangerously cruel to females (see Gamergate). This is incredibly surprising to me because many of these “outsider” passions celebrate diversity and possibilities. Author Felicia Day, in her memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), painfully describes her experience with Gamergate backlash and the meanness that followed her for months. This all happened at the height of the success earned from the web show The Guild and caused her to fall into a deep depression. Fortunately, Day was able to crawl her way out of this funk to go on to start Geek & Sundry, a network of web shows that celebrate pop culture and geekdom. Readers will also discover how a home-schooled (not for Bible thumping reasons), violin prodigy became one of the most successful and powerful women on the Internet. My hope is that my daughters will someday recognize Felicia Day as the trailblazer that helped them raise their own geek flags.


Rising Strong

Self-described researcher-storyteller Brené Brown is well known for her research and writing on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the most viewed. Several of her books, including The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead are bestsellers. Her fourth book, Rising Strong, published earlier this week, deals with what happens when we exercise courage and fail. Resilience is a hot topic right now, and Brown's new book is definitely worth checking out.


Little Black Lies

I admit to not knowing much about the Falkland Islands, the setting for the novel Little Black Lies. But the Falklands are a strong presence in this suspenseful story by S.J. Bolton, and I certainly feel as though I have a stronger sense now of the islands.

In the story, three children have gone missing in this wild and beautiful place, over a period of several years. Most of the islanders feel that accidents claimed the children- perhaps a fall, or swept away by a strong tide. As events unfold and the main characters and motives are revealed, it becomes apparent that certainly not all of the disappearances can be explained away by accidents.

Strong characters, a fast paced story, and a fascinating setting make Little Black Lies a winner. It was recommended to me by a co-worker, who said he feels it’s one of the best books he’s read all year, and I agree.

The Fire Next Time

I recently read The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates in preparation for his visit to Kalamazoo in November. Coates has garnered much praise for his latest book, Between the World and Me, a book written as a letter to his son that explores the racial history of the U.S. and its impact on black lives today. Coates’ work has me reminiscing about one of my favorite books, another book about being black in America: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.

The Fire Next Time is a letter written to Baldwin’s nephew on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the book, Baldwin discusses growing up in Harlem and his experiences with racial injustice. I read the book when I was about twenty years old, and it moved me in a way I can’t describe; it was a matter of reading the right book at the right time—my ears and heart were open to really listening to what Baldwin had to say. It was one of my first realizations as a white person that my experience of life in the U.S. was vastly different from black Americans. It pains me to think that this book is as pertinent as ever, and that racial injustice is legacy we Americans are left to handle. The Fire Next Time galvanized my deep respect for Baldwin and his writing and made him a forever favorite of mine.

Daughters of the dragon : a comfort woman's story

If you liked The kite runner and Memoirs of a geisha, you may be interested in Daughters of the dragon by William Andrews. This historical fiction book set in 20th century Korea follows the life of a fictional Korean "comfort woman," Jae-hee. During World War II, thousands of young women in occupied territories were forced to be comfort women (sex slaves) for the Imperial Japanese Army. Jae-hee and her sister were two of them, ripped from their happy family farm in 1943. The book details Jae-hee's escape and attempt to return to a normal life while keeping her secret.

This book unveils a dark side of history that is not well-known, but deserves to be told.


The Light of the World

 Elizabeth Alexander has written a powerful memoir of her life with, and then without, her beloved husband Ficre.  Through telling her own story in The Light of the World, Alexander gives the rest of us something to consider about the relationships we have with those who are dearest to us.  Read this to be reminded of the power of love.

The One, the Only - Ivan

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is a picture book account of the life of a wild animal who was born in a tropical forest in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lived with a large family of Western lowland gorillas. He enjoyed this time in his young life until one day poachers came and captured both him and another baby gorilla.

He and the other little one, named Burma, were sold to a man who owned a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. Burma died shortly after being delivered to her new surroundings, but Ivan lived in a home and was treated much like a human child. At age five however, he became too big and strong for his human domestic setting, and had to be moved to a concrete and glass cage at his owner’s mall. In this confining, barren environment, he amused himself by watching television, finger painting and engaging in his favorite activity of all - watching humans watch him.

After spending 27 years in this unfit, deficient situation, there was an outcry in the Tacoma community (as well as around the world), about Ivan’s plight. Letters were written, petitions signed and protests held to release Ivan from the confines of his small cage in the shopping mall.

Finally, Ivan’s owners gave in, and shortly thereafter he was sent to Zoo Atlanta where he was gently adjusted to a new life in a large enclosure populated by other gorillas, green grass and large trees.

In 2012, Ivan died at the age of 50. A memorial service was held in his honor at the Zoo, remembering Ivan’s unique role in representing the need that all animals have to be treated with dignity and kindness.

This is a wonderful book for preschoolers or early elementary kids by Newbery medalist Katherine Applegate who had previously published a novel which was also inspired by these same events. She will be conducting an Author’s Visit at the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Central location on September 22nd, 2015.

The child appealing illustrations in this volume are by G. Brian Karas who spent many hours researching gorillas by watching them at the Bronx Zoo.


Jean-Michel Basquiat: now's the time

The american painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died of a drug overdose in 1988 at the tragically young age of 27, has now been dead as long as he was alive. That fact was shocking to me, as I remember the first time I heard about Basquiat, and saw his incredibly expressive neo-folk, graffiti inspired work in a magazine at the Wax Trax! record store in Chicago during the early 1980's, like it was yesterday (well, make that last week or so). The power in those paintings was somehow apparent to my neophyte's understanding of art at the time. And later, as Basquiat became synonymous with the excessive 80's New York art scene and I saw pictures of the artist - looking impossibly cool with dreadlocks and sunglasses, barefoot but wearing an Armani suit - I knew that he was on a trajectory to fame or infamy that very few either sustain or survive. Looking through Jean-Michel Basquiat: now's the time, a new high-quality presentation of his short, yet prolific career with over 150 color illustrations of his work, many of which I had never seen before, I'm pleased to see that others saw the same power in his paintings that I saw as a teenager and that his influence and importance as an artist have only grown in the decades since his meteoric rise to fame and tragic death.