Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
The long awaited sophomore effort from author Marisha Pessl, Night Film, has received nearly as much hype as her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, received. For me, a lot of publishing industry hype is not always a good thing and can often lead to a total letdown when I actually get around to reading the book. But with Night Film, I’m happy to report, that the hype on this shadowing, page-turning thriller is justified. Like Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the story centers on a father-daughter relationship, but the relationship in Night Film is much much darker, focusing on the details surrounding the suicide of the enigmatic daughter of reclusive and mysterious film maker Stanislas Cordova. Cordova’s psychologically dark films have gained a feverish level of notoriety and have sparked the formation of a secretive society of fans who plan underground screenings of his films and hotly debate the film makers shadowy private and family life, and even his very existence. Night Flim is narrated by burned out journalist Scott McGrath, who’s grizzled attitude and ethically challenged investigation lends the book a noir-ish feel. The author does include some unconventional literary stunts to tell the story. Screen shots from webpages, news articles, and other media are sprinkled throughout the book. This my annoy some readers, yet, surprisingly they worked for me and I felt they added something to the richness of the story and were not so frequent as to distract from the flow of the narrative.
Would you be willing to risk your life to hide an escaped Prisoner of War? That is the ultimate scary decision that the Crivelli family of Florence, Italy must decide! This World War II story takes place in 1944 when Hitler’s Nazi army is fighting the English and Canadians in Italy. Paolo Crivelli is 13 years old and is ordered to remain at home, his mother is worried for his safety and that of her 16 year old daughter Constanza. When Paolo escapes at night and rides his bicycle into town, he is overwhelmed with fear when approached by the Partisans, or freedom fighters, who demand a meeting with his mother. Mrs. Crivelli is an English woman married to an Italian named Franco, who is in hiding. She makes the decision to hide the two prisoners!
The Crivelli famiy confronts head-on the perils, hardships, and heartache brought about by her choice. Will the Gestapo discover the two prisoners when they raid their home? There is very little food, how will they feed them? Will they ever see their father again? The bombardment in the nearby hills continues daily. Paolo and Constanza mature way beyond their youth as they experience the horrors of war. This is a really well written historical war story. Shirley Hughes is an English author and illustrator who has written more than fifty children’s books. This is her first novel.
Hero on a Bicycle
James McBride’s The Color of Water was our 2005 Reading Together title. If you attended his talk or his concert the following evening, you too remember how engaging he was both evenings, how much we enjoyed having him here. We bonded with him.
His new book, The Good Lord Bird, was just released last month to strong reviews; it is already included on many best-of lists and is likely to be one of my 2013 favorites.
It is the story of abolitionist John Brown leading up to the raid in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, before the Civil War. Brown takes “Little Onion,” a slave in Kansas mistaken for a girl due to the smock he was wearing when his master was shot. Little Onion travels with Brown to meet Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to muster support for his mission to liberate African Americans and end slavery. It all leads to the bloody and pathetic raid on Harpers Ferry.
The book is much better than this brief review conveys. McBride has been compared to Mark Twain in tone; this book affirms his mastery of historical fiction.
The Good Lord Bird
I’m very much enjoying a mystery by a new (to me) author, that a work colleague recommended. The title is “The Dogs of Rome” by Conor Fitzgerald. Actually, this is the first book in the series featuring Commissario Alec Blume. Set in Rome, Blume is an ex-pat American who’s lived in Italy for 22 years, long enough to understand its inner workings. When he and his department investigate the murder of an animal rights activist, it opens up possible connections to the Mob.
What I like best about this book is the setting, and the characters. Blume is something of a world weary loner, but he hasn’t entirely given up on the human race. If you like police novels, especially ones set in European locales, this provides a new series to look forward to. I’ll be reading the others when this one is finished, for sure.
The Dogs of Rome
I know I'll get questions about how I happened to land on this book, so I'll address that issue right away. I saw a picture of the cover when I was reading The New York Times Book Review and it captured my attention. This winner of the 2013 Caldecott Medal is a story about a fish who steals a hat and thinks he got away with it.*
*But -- did he?
This is not my hat
Eoin Colfer is best known for his teen books the Artemis Fowl series. InPluggedhe is targeting the adult audience and as it is an adult audience he lets the language get foul. Not Fowl as in Atemis Fowl but Foul as in let’s let the cuss words fly. Personally I could do without the cussing but if your main character is an Irish bouncer/ ex-army type of guy, I guess some language will come with that. Daniel McEvoy is an ex-army most recently Lebanon. He is a big guy and is an expert killer especially with a knife but also with a gun. Daniel McEvoy is a bouncer at a club called Slots. He used to be a “Protection” guy and a friend for Zeb. Daniel is a very macho guy and can kill you in a dozen of ways but he is going bald and is very vain about it. Zeb, a very unsavory character and is giving Daniel hair plugs. When I first heard the title I thought plugged referred to being killed by bullets not hair plugs. But indeed Daniel and a mob type boss are both vain enough about their hair, hence the title of the book. This book was a little too flash back and now present but I really liked Daniel talking to Ghost Zeb. Daniel goes to Zeb for another treatment and a mob henchman is there and as mob hence men tend to be he tries to kill Daniel. Daniel being OUR hero kills the bad guy. Then the mystery ensues of why is the bad guy here. Ghost Zeb keeps coming to Daniel and talking to him. I listened to the audio book version and loved listening to Zeb talking to Daniel. Daniel has to figure out who killed Connie (a hostess he liked), and what happened to Zeb.
Someone, somewhere has compiled a list of books by most any imaginable subject or arrangement. This one caught my eye, especially for those of us who like books with “place” as a central theme.
50 States, 50 Novels: A Literary Tour of the United States
More books for my reading list….
Looking for Alaska
My book group had one of our most spirited conversations ever about The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. We had liked her previous book, Olive Kitteridge, so her new book was a logical choice for us.
Briefly this is the story of three siblings living with the guilt of their father’s death at a very early age. A crisis with their nephew compels the brothers to return to their Maine hometown. They revisit the tragedy, the relationship among the siblings, and the cultural divide between their small hometown and their current life.
We had so much to talk about….the relationship among the siblings, the action of the nephew that divides the small town, the Somali refugees, the marriage of Jim Burgess, family secrets. We even continued the conversation the next day on email!
This is a well-written, character driven story about family relationships. It is a good read alone or for a book group.
The Burgess Boys
Morning begins with a stretch, wiggle, sniff and giggle as the 3 kids scramble from their beds – Grandpa’s making pancakes. The grandkids love visiting him. Even though it is a rainy day Grandpa plans an outdoor activity. They will be finding colors for his famous Rainbow Stew! The colors of course are in the garden. They all put on their rainy day gear and head outside. They find lots of greens: spinach, kale, cucumbers and then they move through the garden looking for the colors of the rainbow by picking vegetables. When the basket is full, the cooking goes into full swing. Grandpa and the kids cook up a colorful stew from Grandpa’s garden.
The story is told in rhyme with bold colorful illustrations. It is the loving story of Grandpa and his grandkids sharing a special day together. The treat is how to make the rainbow stew which is included at the end of the story.
When I first read this picture book, it reminded me of our very own Fresh Food Fairy, Hether Frayer. She is visiting the Eastwood Branch, for a storytime celebrating healthy foods, on July 25th at 10:30am and at the Central Library on August 23 at 10:30 am. What a fun book to share with your preschoolers and then join in at the storytimes with the Fresh Food Fairy. Enjoy
One of my favorite things about reading a novel is when I come across one with characters so believable, so engaging, that I think about them for days after I’ve finished the book. Eleanor and Parkwas just one of those books for me, and I nearly decided not to read it because it was labeled as young adult fiction. Based on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I trusted, I put my teen lit prejudices aside and found I couldn’t put the book down once I had picked it up. Eleanor and Park are sixteen in 1986, social outcasts, and falling in love over comic books and New Wave. I’m certain I would have been friends with them in high school.
Tension in the novel arises from Eleanor’s home life—she lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather. Her situation is a tough one, and it’s heartbreaking, but author Rainbow Rowell manages present her story in a realistic way without turning it into a schmaltzy after-school special. I consider the absence of schmaltz a major feat since this is basically a story about two socially awkward teenagers falling in love for the first time, and it’s ripe with opportunities for sentimentality. This book is good for anyone, teen or adult, who likes great character development.
Eleanor and Park