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Staff Picks: Books

British Stamps Meet British History

As librarians we frequently recommend books, music, and films to our patrons, but sometimes this goes the other way and our patrons suggest library materials to the librarians. This happened to me recently when a loyal KPL patron brought me this book and told me it might appeal to my interests. He was right. This 2013 title by Chris West uses a unique concept in that it covers the dual subjects of British postage stamps and British history. Mr. West takes 36 stamps and in a few pages gives a summary of the history behind the subject of each one. Topics include the coronation of Elizabeth II, the 800th anniversary of Ely Cathedral, and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. One can read any or all of the 36 chapters. The color illustrations of the stamps are beautiful and really enhance the impact this book makes.


History of Britain in thirty-six postage stamps

A DCI Monika Paniatowski Mystery

Sally Spencer writes top-notch suspense novels. Backlash was a little slow going at first. But then it really took off. It was one of those mysteries that once you got into it you couldn’t put it down. It had a very interesting plot and ending. As a matter of fact, the ending was a real shocker! At least, I certainly didn’t expect it.

Well, currently, Monika has her hands full. She’s on her own and still missing Charlie. Chief Superintendent Kershaw’s wife is missing. Monika is caught up in trying to balance between handling the disappearance of the Chief Inspector’s wife and the disappearance of a young prostitute, who no one really cares about. Backlash is a clever mix of suspense and drama as Monika appears to blow off the Chief’s wife as a priority and is mainly focused on the streetwalker. Some question the handling of his case and wonders at her motives. To them she appears callous and uncaring and some question that she might be carrying a grudge. Could that be the problem? Even Monika questions that.


Backlash: A Monika Paniatowski Mystery

The heart of the plate: vegetarian recipes for a new generation

I love cookbooks. I just enjoy looking through them, even if I never make any of the recipes. With Mollie Katzen’s newest cookbook, though, I can almost guarantee that you will want to try some recipes. The book is called “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a new Generation”.

The recipes I tried were delicious and used ingredients that are easily available. The pictures alone are enough to make you want to get started ASAP, and you really don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the recipes. I don’t usually buy cookbooks, but this just may be an exception!


The heart of the plate: vegetarian recipes for a new generation

The Rosie Project

Professor Don Tillman is pretty sure that the best way to find a female life partner is to create a thorough questionnaire for women to answer; having the results will streamline the difficult process and present him with the one woman who is perfect for him. Don has a little trouble with social cues (maybe more than a little trouble) so he enlists the help of a couple of friends (of which he has four, if you count one child) to help him behave more appropriately on dates.

The Rosie Project is sweet and funny; Don is a man who doesn’t need to be fixed, he just needs someone to love.


The Rosie Project

Please Bring Balloons

I love a magical adventure and this new picture book from Lindsay Ward does not disappoint. A friendly polar bear leaves a note for Emma, asking her to bring a balloon. Emma plays along and what follows is an unexpectedly fun journey and a friendship for Emma and P.B. (polar bear). Through beautiful cut-paper illustrations and charming text, Lindsay Ward tells this lovely story that I'll be sure to share with many kids this year. 


Please Bring Balloons

Dogged Devotion

Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty, and Life with Dogs is an emotionally gratifying collection of true dog stories written by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, a dog owner and lover. She is also the founding director of the Deja Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising funds for the care of rescue dogs. The book’s cover was what first caught my eye. It is a photo of a dog looking attentively and lovingly above the camera at what could be imagined was his/her owner. An illustration of true, unerring devotion!

Many of the stories contained here feature people involved in public service, such as firefighters and veterans. Several that I particularly enjoyed showcase pit bulldogs who are many times made out to be fearsome and vicious in the popular media. This negative press has led some to conclude that they are unadoptable. But as these stories show, nothing can be further from reality.

One such entry was a retelling of the experiences of Steve Sietos and his pit bull terrier, Wilma. Steve, who is a New York City firefighter, also doubles as a herbalist/energy healer. Wilma was a sweetheart of a stray whose problem was that she was prone to episodes of self-mutilation, ripping the pads off the bottom of her paws. On top of that she was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

After spending $8,000 on Wilma’s vet bills, Sietos was left bankrupt. He decided to take a different tack, and started to investigate herbs and flower essences online that might help immune system disorders. From this arose his second profession as a clinical herbalist. He practiced his newly acquired skills first on Wilma, but then branched out to treat some of the guys in the firehouse, as well as their family members. Wilma was soon on the mend, and Sietos now regularly administers to the needs of humans and their dogs; dogs with health problems that veterinary science hasn’t been able to help.

Another story I much enjoyed was about a pit bull named Lilly, who was rescued from a shelter and became the constant companion to a police officer’s mother who struggled with depression and alcoholism over many years. Lilly ended up saving the mother from a moving train, and even though she was severely injured during the incident, stayed by the woman to protect her until help arrived.


Each of these thirty-eight short tales is accompanied by beautiful color photos of both the dog and owner in question. There are also concise informational notes about the specific breed or, in the case of mixed breeds, some fun and fascinating general canine facts.

What makes this book special is that as the title implies, devotion is important in any serious relationship. And for a true bond to form, devotion must be a two way street flowing not only from dog to owner, but also from owner to dog. Only then can true love blossom.

In a salute to that belief, this blog is dedicated to my friend and co-worker Mary who recently experienced the tragic loss of her faithful dachshund companion, Augie. Both will forever be devoted to each other.



Quiet and moving

There's not a lot of high-paced action in Jill McCorkle's latest novel, Life after life.  Set around a retirement home in a small town in North Carolina, it is a set of intertwined stories that are both reflective and relatable, with main characters ranging in age from 12 to 85.  Funny, poignant, and surprising, this novel does not leave the reader with easy answers, or even a clear view of what the future holds for the characters, but instead with a hopeful regret.


Life after life

The Museum

You Gotta Have Art! After reading this simple picture book, the importance of art in our lives is so obvious, you might be inspired to visit an art museum, such as the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts where children age 12 and under are free. Kalamazoo Public Library has many insightful art books for you. We will assist you with finding them.

The Museum is a simple story in rhyme about a girl’s experiences and emotions on a visit to an Art Museum. She is energized and inspired. “When I see a work of art, something happens in my heart. I cannot stifle my reaction. My body just goes into action.” And “Its rhythm exists in all I see. The museum lives inside of me.” The watercolor illustrations blend beautifully with the book’s subject. At the end of her visit, the girl finds an empty canvas and suddenly she realizes that she can fill it anyway she chooses!

Test your art knowledge and see how many art pieces you can identify in this picture book!


The Museum

Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013)

"Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." - Nelson Mandela








Nelson Mandela related resources at KPL:

Adult books:

Teen books:

Kids books:


Nelson Mandela


Margaret Atwood brings the trilogy, which she began with the brilliant Oryx and Crake, to a satisfying conclusion with her latest novel, MaddAddam. The story continues on from the events in the second book The Year of the Flood, but also relates back to Oryx and Crake giving readers a more complete picture of the story arc without tying everything up too neatly that it becomes uninteresting. If you haven’t read Oryx and Crake, I encourage you to do so, and once you do, I then defy you to not read the other two books. The post-apocalyptic near-future satirical world that Atwood conjures in these books is vividly drawn and fascinating to explore, but its true power comes from the scenarios we can project from the realities of our current world that turn the trilogy from science fiction to plausible prediction.



“Bob the Cat” – not the only Cool Pet Story around

Teresa’s blog about A Streetcat named Bob got me yearning for stories about pets who help others heal. She did such a good job advertising Bob, that I couldn’t check it out quickly – too many holds! If you are eagerly awaiting your place in the cue for Bob, consider these titles in the meanwhile:

Homer’s Odyssey – A truly inspiring 3-lb. blind cat by the name of – you guessed it-- Homer, compelled his owner, Gwen Cooper, to develop a new career, in order to properly support her felines. He survived six moves with her and saved her from an intruder in her NYC apt. Homer has spunk, character, pizazz. I’d love to meet him! The chapters about living through 9-1-1 and its aftermath, one block away from the twin towers, were especially harrowing and moving. Somehow, Cooper’s account brought home to me the true terror pet owners experienced during the ordeal in a way I’d never envisioned before.

A Dog Named Boo - Coincidentally, author Lisa Edwards experienced 9-1-1 in New York with her pets, too. Edwards is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who turned her sensitivity about her own abuse into wisdom when training her special-needs dog, Boo. She faced life challenges--like the early death of her beloved brother from Lou Gehrig’s disease-- and passed tests to become a professional dog trainer and behavioral consultant, in spite of her learning disability, figuring if Chuck could train to become a CPA after his diagnosis, she could manage difficult tests to obtain her career. Boo had a rare physical condition, which made training slow and arduous, but which gave him a unique patience and compassion for working as a therapy dog. His progress inspired Edwards to excel, despite physical limitations.

Edwards’ description of the healing encounters of therapy dogs with family members of deceased 9-1-1 victims and the emergency rescue workers are very moving.

Tired of reading about dogs and cats? Look instead for:

Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence – and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process, by Irene M. Pepperberg

Wesley the Owl: the Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and his Girl, by Stacey O’Brien. (Another co-worker, Rebecca, turned me on to this book. I blogged about it forever ago, and I still think it’s a remarkable story.)


A Dog Named Boo

Books on Music: Hip Hop Family Tree

If you've been looking at the KPL Staff Best of 2013 lists, you've no doubt found something new that you hadn't seen before. For me, this years' big surprise was volume 1 of Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree, released in book form just last week- just in time to make it on my end-of-year list! Collected from nearly two years' worth of serialized strips on the weird tech/culture blog Boing BoingHip Hop Family Tree takes it way, way back to the formative years of hip hop. Starting with DJ Kool Herc spinning records at a local rec center in the South Bronx in the mid-70s and ending with the mainstream hip hop explosion of 1981, Hip Hop Family Tree covers a ton of ground in only a few years. Visually it's a treat as well, done in a yellowish, pulp comics look that wouldn't feel out of place next to a newsstand copy of X-Men in Times Square in 1979. Raw yet painstakingly researched, Hip Hop Family Tree is an essential read for hip hop fans. Ch-ch-check it out!


Hip Hop Family Tree


It's the most wonderful time of the year....

the time of year when all of the "Best of" lists for music, movies, and books come out! I usually scour a bunch of my favorite websites to find book recommendations and make a list of all the great stuff I missed. Then I put it all on hold at KPL and wait for that glorious moment when there's a stack waiting for me on the library's hold shelf! 

I like the lists from Publisher's WeeklyNPR, the New York Times (and children's) that come out around this year. But the list I most look forward to each year is KPL's Best of 2013. Our staff have a range of interests and each year the "Best Of" list has wonderful choices on it! Each title is conveniently linked to our catalog for quicker hold-placing! If the library doesn't own something you are interested in, fill out a "Suggest an Item" and let us know. 

Update as of 12/4: NPR has changed it up this year and is offering a book discovery tool called "Book Concierge" and it's lovely. No list format from them this year, just cover images to play around with! I'm in love!

Happy reading, listening, and viewing to you!   

Scary Tales

Sometimes it's surprising when younger readers ask for scary stories or when their parents say, "I don't know, she just likes scary stuff." Fair enough. For those horror loving youngsters, I am happy to say we have the first book in an exciting new series by James Preller. Scary Tales #1 is called Home Sweet Horror. This isn't a collection of unrelated short stories - like the classic Alvin Schwartz books. Instead, each chapter takes the reader further along into a family's new house and the horrors that lurk within. Take a look at this one to make sure it's not too scary for your young reader. The big blue dot we put on the spine indicates that this transitional reader's reading level is appropriate for 2nd and 3rd graders and up. You can look forward to the next book in the Scary Tales series: I Scream, You Scream!


Scary Tales


Takedown Twenty

Stephanie Plum and Lula are at it again. It’s a formula that works, Stephanie Plum is a cute, bumbling bounty hunter. She is torn between the two men in her life, Morelli and Ranger. Morelli is a former bad boy turned cop and Ranger is a mysterious man who runs a security company, can open any locked door and shows up just in time to save Stephanie over and over, mostly because he has trackers in her purses, cars etc. In Takedown Twenty Stephanie is after Salvatore "Uncle Sunny" Sunucchi who ran over a guy twice. Finding Sunny is problematic. Bella puts the evil eye on Stephanie. Stephanie, as she does in every book, needs Rangers help and wreaks and loses cars. Janet Evanovich, the author, in this book changed up the animal from a monkey, which we have seen in a couple of previous books to a Giraffe which Lula keeps trying to find and feed. The fun is in the reading, not the solving or capturing of the criminal. If you look at the back cover I think Stephanie Plum is Janet Evonovich’s alter ego.


Takedown Twenty

Men We Reaped

Jesmyn Ward won the 2011 National Book Award for fiction with her book Salvage the Bones, a novel that follows a poor Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and uses their story to confront issues of poverty and racism.  Ward’s new book Men We Reaped continues the discussion of poverty and race, but this time the stakes seem even higher: Men We Reaped is a memoir centering on the death of five men, in as many years,  in her small DeLisle, Mississippi community.  All five men touched her life in some manner, but the heart of the book lies with the death of her beloved brother Joshua.  Though the circumstance of each death varies, they are inevitably linked by unyielding poverty and deeply systemic racism.

Interspersed between the stories of their deaths, Ward tells stories of her childhood; the nonlinear storyline of the book unwinds like a puzzle—as more pieces of her childhood and details of her community are revealed, the issues that tie the deaths together become more apparent, and her feelings that the black men in her community are being stolen away are understandable.  Ward knows the hopelessness, the fear, and sadness left behind when a community loses its men; this is her attempt to tell their stories and let the world know that their lives mattered.


Men We Reaped

More Reasons to Like Michigan

Here is an outstanding book that gives photographs and one-paragraph commentaries on notable buildings in Michigan. Any book of this nature will, of course, be subjective in the selections made for inclusion, but I think Mr. Gallagher made some wise choices. The book is divided into eight sections -- buildings in which we gather, play, govern, learn, worship, work, and live, as well as facilities for art. The Kalamazoo buildings presented are the 1931 Kalamazoo City Hall, the 1852 Amariah T. Prouty house at 302 Elm Street, and the 1947-49 Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Parkwyn Village, off Winchell Avenue. The photography is by Balthasar Korab, who also took the pictures for Peter Schmitt's 1976 book on early Kalamazoo homes. Clear pictures, concise narrative, and great buildings make this a book worth seeing.


Great architecture of Michigan

Italian Ways: on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo

This title immediately piqued my interest, since it was about both Italy and train travel. The author Tim Parks is British, and he has lived in Italy for over 20 years. He regularly travels by rail from his home in Verona to Milan for his work, as well as having travelled to other regions of Italy by train, so he’s well placed to give his thoughts. Whether he’s commenting on the passengers or staff, the history of railroads in Italy, or his views of modern Italy and its politics, it makes for entertaining and informative reading.

If you’re planning a trip or just enjoy travel writing from the comfort of home, give this a try! 


Italian Ways: on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo

Far From the Tree

It took me almost a whole year to read through Andrew Solomon’s deeply moving book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. One reason is because it is so long (over 700 pages) and the other is because it was a little bit popular among Kalamazoo residents so I would have it for three weeks and then return it to fill a hold and get it back several weeks later. I don’t think this was a bad way to experience this book. It is so dense and at times emotionally draining, it was good to move slowly and take some time off.

Through interviews with parents, Solomon explores the lives of families coping with children with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities; and with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, and who are transgender. The summary in our catalog describes the book as, “elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance--all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.”

Do not be put off by the size of the book. If you just can’t get yourself to take on a project that big, the chapters stand mostly alone so you could pick and choose what you wanted to read. Also, just reading the introduction is highly satisfying, as you encounter more compelling and fascinating ideas than most whole books.

In the chapter on transgender children, Solomon mentions a documentary titled Prodigal Sons that was made by one of the subjects of that chapter. I was delighted to see that the library owned a copy and I highly recommend it.


Far From the Tree 

The Gunniwolf

Think back….way back when you were a kid in the library or at home reading a book. It was your ah-hah moment…. when reading a book struck you as something to remember for the rest of your life. Well, at the library, we as the staff were challenged to think about our stories. So, I went home and asked my daughters what were theirs.

My 24 year old said for her it was when I would visit her school library twice a year to read. I always read The Gunniwolf. The Gunniwolf retold by Wilhelmina Harper is a “don’t go in the jungle” story.  It’s a little scary as the little girl after seeing flowers on the edge of the jungle goes further and further in and then meets up with the wolf. She had been so excited by the beautiful flowers that she was singing a song when the wolf rose up. The wolf demanded that she sing the song for him and he would fall asleep. While he was asleep she would try to make her escape….”PIT-pat, PIT-pat, PIT-pat” and the wolf would wake up and chase her “hunker-CHA, hunker-CHA, hunker-CHA”…..The little girl eventually escapes.

Glenna said that all the kids loved it. It made her feel like a superhero for the day. I am so glad to be part of her ah-hah moment…..

What’s yours?


The Gunniwolf

The Silver Button

Bob Graham’s books always catch my eye... his stories are often about the ordinary things that happen in families with young kids and the illustrations have all kinds of interesting things to look at.

In The Silver Button one thing happens: Jodie draws a duck and then her baby brother takes his first step. But what else is happening? Subsequent pages show other parts of the neighborhood and then we realize that myriad things are happening and all at the same time!

This book is a little unusual, but very satisfying.


The Silver Button

The Goldfinch

At a library conference this summer, I heard Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, rave about a soon-to-be released book, The Goldfinch, by her good friend, Donna Tartt. I added it to my reading list.

I just finished this lengthy novel. At almost 800 pages it does take a substantial investment of time and I agree with some reviewers that some sections dragged, but overall I liked it.

The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills narrator Theo Decker’s mother and leads to his unlikely possession of the Dutch masterpiece “The Goldfinch.” His life and fate revolves around the painting as the novel covers the next 14 years.

At times the story seemed just too coincidental but I was totally caught up in it and had to read to the end.

If you take on this book, I’d be interested in what you thought of it. I’d give it four out of five stars.


The Goldfinch

50th Anniversary of JFK Assassination

I was born in Washington D.C. four days after JFK was killed. As a result I always felt an affinity for, and curiosity about, Kennedy.

I was especially moved when my father and I had the chance to visit the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. We went to Dallas together on the last major trip my father took before he died. We watched TV clips of pivotal moments in Kennedy’s presidency. We looked out of the window from which the shots were fired, onto the white painted “X” on Elm Street marking the spot where Kennedy was struck dead. Dad told me about how he felt, living in D.C., expecting a new baby to the family, while memorial events for the fallen president were taking place.

After the museum, Dad and I went for dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby. As we were finally leaving downtown, we got a little turned around and drove down a few different streets before finding the exit onto the freeway. I felt chills when I realized-- just as we were clearly headed in the right direction-- that I was driving right over the fatal spot, the painted “X” on Elm Street.

As the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination approaches, you may wish to revisit that time, explore something new about Kennedy’s administration or ponder the controversies surrounding his death. We’ve got so much you can read, view and hear.

Where were you? America Remembers the JFK Assassination


Bellwether Prize

When I recently came across a book that was the subject of an earlier blog post by Sue, I noticed it has a new sticker on it: PEN/Bellwether Prize Winner for Socially Engaged Fiction. This led me to look up more about this award and its background. Here’s what I learned:

The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. The $25,000 prize is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner also receives a publishing contract with Algonquin Books. The PEN/Bellwether Prize will be conferred at PEN’s Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City in the fall of 2014.

Past winners include:

2000 – Donna Gershten for Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth [now on order for KPL]

2002 – Gayle Brandeis for The Book of Dead Birds

2004 – Marjorie Kowalski Cole for Correcting the Landscape

2006 – Hillary Jordan for Mudbound  

2008 – Heidi W. Durrow for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

2010 – Naomi Benaron for Running the Rift

2012 – Susan Nussbaum for Good Kings Bad


PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction

Recipes for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because I love to cook (and eat). A few years ago when I was living in New Hampshire, where all my extended family lives, I prepared a huge Thanksgiving dinner for them and made everything from scratch, including the pumpkin pies, which required baking, scraping, and pureeing two whole sugar pumpkins. I relied on several books and resources for recipes and cooking techniques, and I recommend them highly.

I'm not much of a meat eater and don't cook meat very often, but that Thanksgiving I prepared what my uncles say was the best turkey they've ever eaten. I owe all the credit to Alton Brown and his Good Eats Roast Turkey method, which involves soaking the turkey in a brine for a minimum of eight hours. I got the pumpkin pie recipe, which I must say was the best pumpkin pie I've ever eaten, from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. Additionally, I referred to Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie for tips on mixing and rolling pie pastry. I also used Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook for her multigrain rolls, which were tasty and much easier to make than I anticipated. If you're looking for vegetable sides, Recipes From the Root Cellar is a great book with tons of recipes for sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips-- all the great winter vegetables currently in season. The Maple-Balsamic Root Vegetables are a favorite. For past vegetarian Thanksgiving meals I've made a lentil loaf as the main dish, but that rarely goes over well with omnivores. I suggest Deb Perelman's Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It is so flavorful and satisfying, that I can't imagine even a meat lover not asking for seconds. The one dish that remains completely elusive for me is stuffing; I cannot find a recipe I like. I'll happily take your recommendations!

We have a bit more than two weeks to plan Thanksgiving meals. KPL has a wonderful cookbook collection, so you should have no trouble finding some great recipes to try. What will be on your menu this year?


Recipes From the Root Cellar


A Wild and Crazy Guy

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown caught my eye a few weeks ago. This humorous and thought provoking picture book starts out by focusing on Mr. Tiger’s very uptight lifestyle; prim, proper, and oh, so boring! Being unhappy with the phony baloney circumstances of his town (where all the animal inhabitants walk upright and wear dreary, monochromatic, Victorian era clothing), makes him want to turn over a new leaf. He first decides to loosen up a bit by getting down on all fours. Right off the bat, this makes him feel like a brand new, more natural tiger. To celebrate this newly found life’s joy and to let off some pent up steam, he roars his loudest roar ever!

All his animal friends are shocked by this behavior. Mr. Tiger’s new ways are totally unacceptable and against all the proper protocols of their little society. But the animal citizens of this somber and stodgy town haven’t seen anything yet, as Mr. Tiger discards his fussy top hat, his drab suit and his oh, so sensible shoes. Au naturel, he runs into the wilderness to bond with the truly natural world that surrounds him, with his orange, white and black streaked fur on fast, furious and fabulous display.

However there is one drawback to this self imposed exile to freedom; he misses his friends and even the city he escaped from. After a while he returns to see that a lot has changed for the better there; more tolerance and freedom for all. By taking that first risky step himself and leading by example, Mr. Tiger made a positive impression on his friends and they in turn made positive changes in their own lives as well. In short, everyone was much happier being themselves. And that was indeed a very good --- no, a very great thing!

The message of the necessity to be true to oneself, and that by adopting this adage other good things will follow, could not be more clearly expressed than in this simply written, yet visually sophisticated volume.

It’s a Roaring good time!


Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Good Night, Sleep Tight

There is an easy rhythm to Mem Fox’s new book titled: Good Night, Sleep Tight, that makes it really funderful for Reading Aloud. Fox has woven several familiar mother goose rhymes into a story about a babysitter named Skinny Doug who has the job of putting Bonnie and Ben to sleep. Skinny Doug tells a rhyme, and the response is: “We love it! We love it!” said Bonnie and Ben. “How does it go? Will you say it again?” and the reply is: “Some other time,” said Skinny Doug. “But I’ll tell you another I heard from my mother:” When I read this book at story time, the parents automatically chimed in and recited from memory the familiar rhymes, including: It’s raining! It’s pouring! The old man is snoring!

Judy Horacek’s expressive illustrations blend beautifully with the text and the happy time spent with Skinny Doug and the adoring Bonnie and Ben.

Mem Fox, an Australian, is a huge proponent of reading aloud to children. I encourage you to check-out her many other picture books and instructional books at Kalamazoo Public Library. Visit Mem’s website for a multitude of read aloud suggestions, ideas and techniques: Happy Read-Aloud!


Good Night, Sleep Tight

Yoga for the Beginner

If you’re like me and you have a passing interest in applying a bit of yoga to your daily routine but haven’t found the time yet to take a course from a professional trainer, let me recommend the following book, Easy Yoga: any age, any place, any time by Jude Reignier. There is very little text to read through which is nice for those of us who simply want to learn about certain stretching poses. In fact, the book is primarily composed of helpful images that relay which part of the body the pose is designed to assist. I would still like to take a course from an expert but until then, this book is a handy guide for the inquiring beginner.


Easy Yoga: any age, any place, any time

A Different View of Detroit

Detroit has been in the news a lot lately, and there hasn't been much good reported. But, for a different view, I invite examination of this book that we received in the History Room within the last year. From the Wayne State University Press comes this beautifully crafted volume that documents the houses of worship of the various denominational groups in the city. The survey begins in 1848 and comes all the way down to the middle of the twentieth century. There are nice maps, close-ups of the stained glass and organs, views of the exteriors, and views of the interiors that sometimes even include the ceiling. I like the photo of the optimistic sign in front of the Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church which says, "GIVE THANKS ... It could be worse."


Detroit's historic places of worship

World Book Night 2014

Last week the application to be a Book Giver on World Book Night became available! What is World Book Night? It's an "annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person." Book Givers give out 20 copies of a book they love to adults and teens who may not have access to reading materials.

The folks behind World Book Night also revealed the titles that will be given out by tens of thousands of people in their communities on April 23, 2014. The list of titles includes some of my favorites, like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

The deadline to apply to be a Book Giver is January 5, 2014. Apply here. Kalamazoo Public Library will again serve as a pick up site for Book Givers.


Kitchen Confidential

Ties That Bind

Do you ever listen to “StoryCorps” on NPR? Here it Kalamazoo, it airs on Friday mornings and I’m frequently within listening range as I’m getting ready for work. I’ve read several of the books that Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorp, has put together from transcripts of some of the recordings.

This new one, Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps, is a treasure. The very short, very personal stories are all good reminders of how we are connected to each other and how those connections bind us together in so many interesting ways.


Ties That Bind Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps

Healing Journeys

I recently read accounts of two long solo walks. One was fictional; one was a memoir. One takes place in England; the other transpires on the west coast of the USA. Still, both books drew me right in, and I found intriguing similarities in the stories.

Harold, the unassuming hero of Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, leaves the house one day to post a letter to a dying friend. Suddenly, his feet take off and before he knows it, he’s headed across England to see her in person, convinced that his journey will keep Queenie alive. Cheryl Strayed was still reeling from the death of her mother and the end of a marriage, when she set off hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail, weighted down by much more than her far-too-heavy backpack.

Harold and Cheryl are both compelled to continue, day after harrowing day, despite torturous run-ins with ill-suited footwear and other gear. Strayed starts off Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail with a punch. We learn that she has just lost one of her hiking boots down the side of the mountain. They never fit well, anyway, and what good is one boot without the other? Her reaction, then, is to heave the other out into the abyss, and we are left wondering how on earth she made it safely home, without hiking gear for her feet. (Read the book to find out!)

Strayed and Joyce each give excellent descriptions of nature discovered, and human connections created, along the way. The people they meet enrich their experiences; however, ultimately both the heroine and the hero find the strength to complete their journeys solo, facing down inner demons in the process.


Wild: from lost to found on the pacific crest trail

My Child Could Paint That!

Are you interested in modern art, but don’t know quite what to make of it? Do you just keep your mouth shut, because you don’t want to come across as stupid? Do you wish you had taken the time to take the Art Appreciation class in college instead of rushing through, taking only classes that fulfilled degree requirements?

Well, What Are You Looking At?  by Will Gompertz can help you out a bit in all three of these cases. Gompertz was the director of London’s Tate Gallery and is now the BBC Arts Editor. He introduces you to dozens of artists and art movements from Impressionism up to the present, showing how each fed off those that came before and often were rebellions against the ideas of the earlier artists. My favorite part was a fun story about Robert Rauschenberg asking Willem de Kooning for a drawing so he could erase it. It’s interesting how many of the names that we use to categorize different movements were taken from derogatory reviews of their work.

The book includes some color plates of art work in the middle as well as some black and white images sprinkled throughout the text, but you will find yourself searching the internet for many of the works of art that are discussed, but not depicted. You will want to see what he is talking about and you might find yourself making your own explorations online.

This is a really easy to read and fun introduction to modern art.


What Are You Looking At?

The Poetry of John Berryman

John Berryman is the kind of poet that has always interested me. He was an emotionally tormented soul for most of his life and whose complicated verse radiated both a deep intelligence and humane tenderness, sometimes within a single line. His most famous work, the epic Dream Songs series, is considered by many critics to be among the best written, if not some of the most highly influential poetry of the post-war period. Berryman’s work is difficult to describe but he’s often lumped in with the Confessional Poets (see: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton). One moment, Berryman’s voice is raw and revealing, the next, lyrically abstract but heartbreakingly profound. For those looking into his work, I recommend the Dream Songs, a masterful work that like Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Pound's Cantos or Olson's Maximus Poems, possesses both variety and thematic continuity.


John Berryman: Collected Poems


Heroes and Villains

Author and essayist Chuck Klosterman examines pop culture like nobody else. He seems to revel in each just-right cultural references and to thrill in the depth of his arguments about the shallowest areas of our culture. In his latest collection of essays, I Wear the Black Hat: Grapling with Villians (Real and Imagined), Klosterman takes on the concept of villainy and in quintessential Klosterman style he gleefully examines the role that bad guys play in our culture. To the uninitiated, Klosterman’s rants can get tedious at times and to many readers going on for pages about the gangster rap group N.W.A.’s use of the imagery of the Oakland Raiders professional football team and how both organizations cultivated the image of themselves as bad guys to great success, might seem a bit much. But sticking with Klosterman is well worth it, he is funny and smart and you get the sense that he would probably be writing all this down regardless if anyone actually reads it or not and that kind of commitment to ideas is always worth checking out. As I’ve been reading the essays in I Wear the Black Hat on and off for the past week, I’ve also been reading Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the greatest sports conspiracy ever, by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell. Nobody illustrates the hero to villain archetype better than Armstrong, O.J. Simpson might be close, and his very public swapping of white hat (or yellow wristband) for black is fully illustrated in Wheelmen. While reading all the sordid details of Armstrongs cheating, I couldn’t help but think of Klosterman’s assessment that a villain is the person who “knows the most, but cares the least” and apply it Armstrong.


I wear the black hat


Cassia Reyes lives in a peaceful, carefully planned Society where citizens are sorted into occupations and matched with their mates by government officials who use statistical modeling and drugs to ensure the perfect lives for their people. Cassia has no real needs- food, shelter, schooling, and even death are tightly controlled: a planned 80-year lifespan limitation may seem a little cold, but everything is done by the Officials for the good of the people. When Cassia is Matched with her childhood friend Xander, everything appears to be going exactly according to the Society's plans, but when the face of Ky (an "Aberration", prohibited from the same rights as normal citizens) briefly appears on Cassia's screen in error, the perfection of the Society begins to unravel.

While there may be an unavoidable comparison to the Hunger Games (female protagonist who has to choose between the love of two boys, oppressive government and society), the similarities are only surface-level. Matched is thoughtful, less action-oriented, and has more in common with A Brave New World, 1984 or The Giver. The story continues in two sequels, and the scope of the conflict between the Society's ideals and the desire of humans to make their own choices widens.

Want to know more? Meet author Ally Condie on Thursday, November 7th, 6:30 PM at Central library!



We are all completely beside ourselves

Does my dog know what I’m thinking? It always fascinates me to ponder the possibilities of communication between animals and humans. That’s just one reason why I found “We are all completely beside ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler so mesmerizing.

When we meet eighteen year old Rosemary, she’s a college student drifting through life. Rosemary meets bad girl Harlow, and it forces her to confront events in her past. It’s only part way through the book that we discover Rosemary’s dad was a famous psychologist, and Rosemary’s twin sister was a chimpanzee named Fern. They were raised together as an experiment, along with older brother Lowell, and it profoundly affects all their lives, in ways none of them could have expected.

This book raises a whole host of unsettling and provocative issues, told in Rosemary’s words. The story is by turns funny, poignant and totally readable, and I really cared about the characters in this book. It's one of those stories that you find yourself thinking about later at random moments- it stays with you.


We are all completely beside ourselves


The Wish List

I love the way Eoin Colfer writes. I was hooked on his book “Benny and Omar” then I got hooked on the Artemis Fowl series. I just finished his book “The Wish List” and am still happy with his brand of writing. In The Wish List Meg and Belch are robbing an old man. Meg is reluctant and basically a good girl but Belch is rotten. When the old man pulls a shotgun Belch sic’s Raptor, his Rottweiler on the old man. Meg tries to help out, Belch is not happy. Meg jumps out the window and Belch follows her. Belch has the shotgun and in the ensuing struggle it goes off and a gas generator explodes killing Meg, Belch and Raptor. Now the twist, up until then it was a regular story but Eoin Colfer does not write just regular stories. Meg finds herself given a second chance. St. Peter gives her a chance to redeem herself and he sends her back to earth to help the old man. Belch has merged with his dog Raptor and the Devil has sent back him back to make sure Meg fails so he could get her soul. It makes an entertaining read.


The Wish List

No Ordinary Cat

I have just finished reading A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by James Bowen, a true account of the author’s remarkable relationship with his best friend, the feline Bob. At the time of their first meeting, Bowen is a struggling street musician, who has to carry the additional burden of trying to shake off a heroin addiction problem. Day to day survival on the streets of London was his only preoccupation.

One gloomy March evening, James notices a ginger cat curled up on a doormat outside a ground floor flat. Having always had a soft spot for cats, and seeing the same cat on several subsequent occasions, James decides to give him a little loving attention; something which the poor puss seems to crave. Upon closer inspection, the cat appears to be a real beauty with memorable, piercing green eyes. But its obvious that just like James, he too has been somewhat down on his luck of late. His coat is in poor condition, thin with bald patches in places. And one of his back legs, which the cat holds in an awkward manner, is clearly in need of medical attention.

James tries to find the cat’s owner, but no one wishes to claim or take responsibility for him. So James makes up his mind to transport him back to his own threadbare flat. He offers the tom some milk and a bit of tuna mashed up with biscuits which is enthusiastically wolfed down in no time. After the meal, the cat settles in a comfortable spot near the radiator moving only when James goes to bed, whereupon he wraps himself up into a ball by James’ feet. James is pleased with his new company; something he hasn’t had a lot of recently. And the cat seems to enjoy what must be very fine accommodations compared to what he had experienced in recent times, and with the added bonus of a gentle soul and kindred spirit for a flat mate.

At first, James attempts to heal the animal’s abscessed leg with a home remedy. This does not work, and he ends up taking the cat to see a local vet. After paying twenty two pounds for the visit out of the total thirty he has to his name, he decides to name the cat Bob, after a favorite character in the Twin Peaks series called “Killer Bob”. Although James enjoys Bob’s company, he doesn’t want to form a close bond with the feline, because he plans to return him back to the streets after he is healed and neutered.

Following the neutering operation, James tries to implement his original plan to set the tom free, but Bob would have none of that. He becomes James’ shadow, following James wherever he goes, often by sitting on his shoulder and looking out the window of a double-decker bus as they travel around London.


James was a guitar playing busker in Covent Garden. Ordinarily, no one would exchange a look with James, much less try to engage him in conversation. He was just another grubby London panhandler that most people don’t see; a person to be avoided and even shunned. But with Bob by James’ side or on his shoulder, people would stop and broad smiles would break out on their faces. Seeing James in the company of the cat softened him in the eyes of the public. Coins and pounds were dropped into his guitar case, sometimes even before he began playing his guitar. Bob was indeed a charmer and that first day busking with the feline was the most lucrative of James’ career up to that point. With time, people started to bring Bob tidbits of food, homemade knitted sweaters, and even asking to purchase Bob who was definitely not for sale. The cat gave the man back his dignity and identity as well as a chance to get back on life’s right track. In James’ eyes, Bob was truly priceless.

James has now lived with Bob for several years, and they are still going strong. James believes in karma – that what goes around, comes around. And he believes that Bob came into his life at an exact, crucially important moment. Bob became the best mate who guided James towards a different, more productive way of living. He states in the last two lines of the book, “Everybody needs a break, everybody deserves that second chance. Bob and I had taken ours...”

Anyone who loves cats or animals will be drawn to this feel good book, about the power of love between a man and an animal. Bob is one remarkable cat who did save James’ life. This read will put a smile on your face and maybe produce a few tears of joy as well.

Long live Bob, James and the human/animal spirit!

Follow Street Cat Bob on Twitter, Facebook, and his blog.


A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life

A Warmer World

How is climate change affecting wildlife? That's the question A Warmer World considers. Of course there are many more questions around climate change that could be at the top of human civilization's priority list. How will climate change affect low-lying coastal communities? How will climate change affect the availability of fresh water? How will climate change affect the availability of food for humans? Since climate change will affect children to a greater extent than it will affect people who are adults now, it makes sense for parents and caregivers to educate our children about what's happening and why. Children and animals have this in common: they didn't create this problem but will need to adapt to it. 


A Warmer World

Occupational hazard

Today while maintaining the shelves to the high standard of orderliness to which you have become accustomed, I found this book: Killer librarian by Mary Lou Kirwin, and I immediately wanted to read it.  However, duty called (sadly, my duties do not include dropping everything to read every fun book I run across while at work) and I am adding yet another title to the list.  This happens a lot, and the list is long.  I plan to check this out some day when I want a quick and easy read, as it looks to be the sort of cozy mystery to curl up with on a lazy afternoon, and finish by bedtime with no fear of nightmares.



Killer librarian

My Name is Parvana

While I was listening to a Sunday news program and looking at today’s Sunday newspaper both brought to my attention that on this Tuesday (10/8/2013), Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, I Am Malala will be released. You will remember that one year ago, Malala was shot by the Taliban.

Masked Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus and shot her in the head and neck. Malala was targeted for her activism. She spoke out about education for girls and against the Taliban faction that controls many parts of Pakistan. The Taliban believe that girls and women should be restricted to their home to serve their husbands and family. Malala’s father started and ran the girls school that she attended.

When Malala was 11 years old, she started speaking out for girls’ education. She gave speeches and wrote blogs for the British media. Malala wrote about the war around her between the Pakistani military and the Taliban. She was supposed to be silenced by the gunmen. But Malala lived and she is sharing her story through her recently published book.

All this reminded me of a book I read earlier this year by Deborah Ellis. My Name is Parvana, is the sequel to the book, The Breadwinner.

In My Name is Parvana, Parvana is now fifteen. She remembers the horrors of the last 4 years of her life. She remembers her struggle to survive while she is separated from her family, her home and the life she had known. This story picks up with Parvana being reunited with her Mother and sisters. They have been living in a village where her Mother has finally been able to open a school for girls. Attending school has been Parvana’s dream but her dream doesn’t last. Her story tells of the hardships they all face when starting the school, trying to keep the school running and the girls safe when the war in Afghanistan is far from over. Both the girls and the school are targeted and Parvana’s story is not unlike Malala’s. Both girls’ show unbelievable strength and courage. Life is hard and sometimes it is so hard you cannot understand how either of these young girls carry on and survive.

My Name Is Parvana, is a story that will long stay with you. It is such a strong story, you will be reminded of these brave young women often. Both books, The Breadwinner and My Name is Parvana should be on your reading list.


My Name is Parvana

Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty

The best picture books are written for everyone, child to adult. Rosie Revere Engineer is a book that all ages will enjoy. I picked it up on a whim this summer because I thought it looked like another great title encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). That's a topic close to my heart. I recently sat down to read it to my preschooler and I got a little teary-eyed. This is a book that kids will love for it's great rhymes and charming story. But it goes so much deeper than that. 

Rosie Revere Engineer is for anyone who has tried and failed and tried again. It's for anyone who likes to make stuff. It's a wonderful book for encouraging girls (or any child) to be anything they want to be, including makers, scientists, and engineers. It's so good for all of us to be reminded that the best things we make often take multiple tries to get right. 

For more great titles encouraging girls to be smart, confident, and courageous, check out the booklists on the A Mighty Girl website. We have many of their suggested titles at KPL! 

Rosie Revere Engineer


Mmmmmm PIZZA

All a book needs is the word pizza, and it will be on my list to read. The author/illustrator duo from Dragons Love Tacos is back with another scrumptious tale; this time involving a funny raccoon that shares my love of pizza. In Secret Pizza Party we follow a raccoon on his quest to eat his favorite food. Raccoon loves pizza so much, he thinks it could be art, I totally agree. I recently had the chance to read this book in a local 2nd grade classroom. They loved it! Broom-bots, secret handshakes, parties, pizza and fun, all wrapped up in a great book. Lots of hands went up after the reading with eager children waiting to tell me that they too love pizza. One insightful reader even said the book had a “Dick Tracy” feel. Check it out, grab a pizza and enjoy!


Secret Pizza Party




“A dark night. Fox breaks into the henhouse. He reaches in. He grabs a chicken!!! He stuffs it in his pocket. Fox runs!”

Uh oh. When fox gets home and pulls that chicken out of his pocket he gets a big surprise. Outfoxed has comical illustrations that add a hilarious angle to this picture book.



More Hats

Last month in this spot I wrote about This Is Not My Hat, the 2013 J. Klassen book that won the Caldecott Award. I had seen a picture of the cover in The New York Times Book Review. Even though I don't fall into the recommended age group of 4-8 years, I wanted to read more by Mr. Klassen. Checking the KPL catalog, I discovered I Want My Hat Back. This one, written two years earlier in 2011, is about a bear who lost his hat but, after conversations with lots of other animals, remembers that he had seen it on a rabbit and recovers it.  Both text and illustrations make this pleasant reading for children (and others such as myself who might enjoy taking a three-minute vacation from their usual reading patterns).



I want my hat back

Night Light is a Sheer Delight

Do you have small children who are fascinated by different kinds of vehicles? Are they ready to learn to count? If so, this highly original, very well designed book was made just for them.

Night Light by Nicholas Blechman presents numbers one through ten in a series of riddles asking the young reader to identify what vehicle might possess the number of lights depicted on a totally blacked out page. For example, “2 lights, hovering in flight?” The lights are seen through die cut holes in the opposing page. As that page is turned, a very vibrantly colored scene is revealed depicting the vehicle in question, in this case a flying helicopter. And the holes through which the “lights” were seen revert to ....

Well, let’s just leave those surprises for when you see the book on your own!

Visually appealing and wonderful crafted from beginning to end, I just loved this minute volume. It is certain to shine some brightness into any little one’s day!


Night Light

Five things you didn't know about Gandhi

1. The Tolstoy Connection: After reading The Kingdom of God is Within You, he admired the late Leo Tolstoy who became a radical Christian of non-violence and love. Indeed, Gandhi started a community that was named after Tolstoy. Gandhi also read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and was very interested in the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.

2. He was obsessed with making clothes. Not only to be self-reliant, but as a way to free India from the British textile industry.

3. He had a guilt-complex about sex. Imagine the very young Gandhi at his father’s death bed. Lust, he says, pulled him away to his 13-year-old wife. His father dies as he indulges the pleasures of the flesh. He was not there at the most important, most sacred moment of his father’s life. This haunts him his entire life. Of course this doesn’t fully explain why he took an oath of celibacy (apparently his wife was okay with that), or why he would sleep next to young women simply to “test” his faith, or why he abstained from alcohol, drugs, fancy dress, fancy food, fancy everything. It was a religious virtue for him, a tradition he got from the Gita and the Gospels. He loved disciplining his body; fasting made him giddy.

4. He was a Christian. Well, actually he was a Hindu, Christian, Moslem, Jew, etc—a religious pluralist. “The Sermon on the Mount went straight to my heart,” he said.  But he was very partial to the teachings of Jesus, so much so that his fellow Hindus would accuse him of being a secret Christian (they were missing the whole point obviously). In the mud hut he lived in, he had one thing on the wall: a picture of Jesus that said “He is our Peace.”

5. At times, he was not a very good husband and father. A lot of this has to do with the fact that he was forced to marry at a very young age. He was controlling, jealous, and cruel. He left his family for long periods of time, both for professional and spiritual pursuits (many religious figures have this issue unfortunately). He was a task-master, raised the bar way too high for his sons, and treated them just like everybody else in terms of affection. His eldest son became a drunk that would slander his father in the papers. Yet he loved them all, just as he loved all Indians, all people. Just as he even loved the person who shot him in the chest three times, as he gasped his last breath: “Oh, God.”

And that’s the whole point of Gandhi; it's not about the flaws and pecedillos, it’s what you already know about Gandhi. Like Jesus, Mother Theresa, and St. Francis of Assisi, he really loved people as much as he possibly could. That's his legacy.


Gandhi the man, his people, and the empire

Gladwell's Back

For all those Malcolm Gladwell fans out there (which seems to be everyone considering how long his books have been on the bestseller list), you will be happy to know that he has a new book coming out on October 1st. In David and Goliath, Gladwell examines the lives of individual and team underdogs, illustrating how some disadvantages may lead to advantages in the long run and vice versa.

We already have many copies on order so you can put it on hold today.



David and Goliath


Awesome indeed!

As Andrea says below, teen books are great ffun to read for adults as well as teens.  As additional prooff, I offer you The song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde.  Fforde, who has written several series for adults, started a series for a younger crowd with The last dragonslayer.  In this sequel, you will find light spheres that run on sarcasm, additional references to marzipan as a controlled substance, and an enlightening and thought-provoking view on how trolls view the human species (on page 200), as well as the most delightful sentence I've read recently.

"She was so crabby, in fact, that even really crabby people put their crabbiness aside to write her gushing yet mildly sarcastic fan letters."


The song of the Quarkbeast

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I Geek Teen Books! I know we've talked about this before but I love young adult fiction. Always have. Always will. Rainbow Rowell's new book, Fangirl, had me up until well past 2 a.m., desperate to find out what happens to Cather in her first year of college. I laughed and cried and missed the characters when they were done. Cath and her twin sister Wren, so named because their mother couldn't be bothered to come up with two names (get it? Cather and Wren=Catherine), start their freshman year of college at the same university. Wren is both easygoing and outgoing. Cath is neither. Both have family baggage that comes with them to school. I loved the depth of this coming-of-age novel and the way I saw myself in every one of the characters at one moment or other. I wouldn't say I loved it as much as I loved Eleanor and Park but I can tell that I will be thinking about the characters for quite some time. And I will read it again soon, I'm sure.

Sometimes I meet people who are surprised at my love for teen fiction. "Shouldn't an adult read adult books?", they say. "Especially a librarian", they say. To that I say, "pffft!" So many adults are reading what you might call teen or young adult books. Do you know why? Because they are awesome. And there is depth and truth throughout. Also, they don't bog me down with details. I wish I could express it better than that but sometimes you just know what you like. 

It's different for all of us and it can be hard to define exactly what we like and why we like it. But know this.....Whatever you geek, KPL supports you! Love what you love and feel good about it! And let us help you find more of the good stuff! That's our job and we love it!


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Night Film

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.


Night Film

The Biggest, Fastest, most... Guinnessest!

Don't you love it when adults open a sentence with "When I was a kid..."? Well, when I was a kid, the Guinness Book of Records was a dense paperback with tiny little black and white pictures and tiny print. And we loved it! Who could forget the guy with the longest fingernails, the longest beard, the person with the most tattoos, and all those other weird world records. The Guinness Book of Records was fascinating, in part, because it was kind of a freak show. Kids still love the Guinness Book. The 2014 edition of the venerable compendium is out now and, as it has been for many years, is a full color, large format edition with lots of photo-illustrations. Guinness World Records itself is a record holder as the best-selling copyrighted book series of all time. You can borrow a copy at the library if you're curious about the world's first digital photograph (earlier than you might think) or the most baking sheets buckled over the head in one minute or the largest ridable bicycle or the largest collection of vacuum cleaners or ...

The Biggest, Fastest, most... Guinnessest!



Leaf Jumpers

Although it still feels like summer today, there are some early signs of autumn. A sure sign of changing seasons can always be found in the Children’s Room of nearly any public library.

Here at KPL there are displays of books about back-to-school, apples, pumpkins, and leaves. One that caught my eye is Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber with pictures by Leslie Evans. The linoleum-cut illustrations show a variety of leaves, while the graceful words describe colors, shapes, and textures of them.

Come visit your library and see what’s on display today.


Leaf Jumpers

‘Hero on a Bicycle’ by Shirley Hughes

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

The Good Lord Bird

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

The Dogs of Rome

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

This Is Not My Hat

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

A Secret Effort Revealed

The story of the building of the atomic bomb is often told from the scientific and decision making perspective. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, is the story from the perspective of young woman, many from the neighboring area in Tennessee, who went to work at Oak Ridge. They would not know until Hiroshima what they were working on, what part they were playing in the war effort.

The nine women highlighted here are each unique yet share a common bond. They are seeking an adventure or a way to better their lives, a commitment to the war effort, and a blind faith in their small part of a larger, unknown to them, project.

Equally interesting is the story of the companion effort underway in Los Alamos, New Mexico: 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the City of Los Alamos published in 2005.


The Girls of Atomic City

The Gospel According to Reza

Although Zealot got attention mostly for the intriguing back story of the author Reza Aslan--a Muslim turned Christian turned Muslim--it should get attention for its excellent, smooth writing style, its clear portrayal of the history of the times of Jesus. What was it like back then? In a word, chaos; complete political turmoil, revolutionary, messiahs popping up left and right and getting killed by Rome left and right. In this regard, I enjoyed the book thoroughly and learned a lot.

But then there's the portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth. This is where the Christ that most people love exits stage left, is drastically different than the Jesus of history that Aslan proposes. According to the book, Jesus wasn't a very nice guy. His most defining act, the act that clarified "his theology," was when he went into the temple and started flipping over tables:

"So revelatory is this single moment in Jesus’s brief life that it alone can be used to clarify his mission, his theology, his politics, his relationship to the Jewish authorities, his relationship to Judaism in general, and his attitude toward the Roman occupation” (p. 73).

What happened to "turning your other cheek" and "love your enemies" Jesus? The author thinks these teachings were embellished and "abstracted;" he probably meant love your fellow Jews (not Romans or the Jewish priestly class, who were enemies). Remember the Garden of Gethsemane scene? Aslan says they were hiding, "armed," and had a "bloody" tussle with the arresting party. When Jesus claims he's the Messiah, it's sedition and worthy of death under Roman law. Remember when Jesus preaches the kingdom of God is "within you" or "at hand" or "like a tree with many branches"? "The Kingdom of God is a call to revolution," says Aslan, "plain and simple” and “God’s rule cannot be established without the destruction of the present order” (p. 119-120). And that's why they killed him.

Of course some will argue he is merely selecting those passages of the Gospels that fits his theory (after all, when it comes to the historical Jesus the Gospels are basically all there is). But he will argue that historians can figure out which passages are more historical than others. I'm not a historian, so I won't go there. But I will say there's an awkward disconnect going on between Aslan's portrayal of Jesus (violent) and what he says about Jesus at the end of the book. He laments that we have lost the historical Jesus because he is someone "worth believing in." He also says in interviews that he is a "follower of Jesus." Really? Which teachings? From reading the book you don't get it. But what I think he means is that he follows the Jesus who spoke "truth to power," a force of social justice who cared about the poor and did something about it; who ultimately defied the odds of history by somehow starting one of the greatest world religions ever known.

I recommend.



The Beatles Were Fab

The Beatles Were Fab (and they were funny) by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer and illustrated by Stacy Innerst is a new favorite of mine! This biography, told like a story, follows the Beatles from their earliest days in Liverpool through the ends of Beatlemania. It also includes an historical timeline and a list of sources for more information. As the Horn Book reviewer said, "Youngsters wondering why the band is still beloved by their parents and grandparents will understand after reading the many humorous anecdotes." The charming illustrations include nods to various lyrics and anecdotes, like an address marker for Penny Lane and a Yellow Submarine on one page. My favorite part is the story about the Queen Mother laughing at John's jokes! 


The Beatles Were Fab

Beliefs matter in history! yells Rodney Stark

Ever since Emile Durkheim came on the block, sociologists and historians have taken belief out of religion. Religious belief, they say, is nothing more than, reducible to, a way for people to come together--“social solidarity”. Supernatural beliefs are peripheral, epiphenomenal, don’t matter much, and come later. 

Rodney Stark disagrees: to take God out is to completely miss the point of religion, what it means to people, and how it works in history. Or as one review put it: “Religious world views can no longer be reduced to race, class, gender, economics, social location, or one of the other shibboleths of secular academia.” What people actually think about God or Gods or witches or angels really affects how they act in history. And this lengthy book shows how.

Science, for example, comes from a particular conception of a single, intelligent, law-making creator God. Witch-hunting, a second example, came from specifically Christian doctrine and beliefs. Lastly, it was Quakers, he says, not “the Enlightenment” or “economic self-interest” that destroyed slavery. As you can see, one limitation with the book is that it focuses mainly on one form of monotheism, Christianity; and it mostly uses other religions as counterpoints (e.g., Christianity abolished slavery, and here is why Greek polytheism did not).

As I am not a historian, it would be very hard for me to critique or have an opinion on any of these points. I have certainly heard these arguments, but I've also heard arguments against them. Also check out my blogs on John Woolman and Galileo Goes to Jail. As for abolition of slavery, I think most people accept the fact that Christianity had major part to play—but of course everyone knows southern planters also used the Bible to defend slavery.

At any rate, it is a very dense, heavy, ambitious book, a whirlwind of world history, religion, theory and sociology. He comes off as an angry academic, sick and tired of the anti-Catholic and anti-religious biases that are at the bottom of these so-called secular historians (I was interested to find out Rodney Stark is not religious). He calls out scholars left and right, which makes it more entertaining and breaks up the textbook feel but borders on ad hominem attacks. I recommend for history buffs.


For the Glory of God

Reviving Ourselves

Dr. Mary Pipher brought the challenges adolescent girls face in our society to the forefront of our national discussion in the mid-1990s with her book Reviving Ophelia. Now she turns her attention to the global environmental crisis and how it is affecting us psychologically in her new book The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, which is getting great reviews.

Publisher’s Weekly writes, “As Pipher lucidly explains, the overwhelming amount of information about the desperate state of our planet leads to stress, avoiding discussion, willful ignorance, and outright denial, while the activist's call of 'Wake up!' is an ineffective remedy. Instead, Piper distinguishes between 'distractionable intelligence,' which makes us feel helpless, and 'actionable intelligence,' which combines information with suggestions for addressing problems, thus creating hope, motivation, and change.”

Will The Green Boat have the same cultural impact that Reviving Ophelia had? It certainly is a worthy subject.


The Green Boat


Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: a Memoir of Food and Longing

One of my absolute favorite cookbooks is the 1990 James Beard Award-winning Please to the Table: the Russian Cookbook by Moscow native Anya von Bremzen. The book allows me to recreate some of my delicious memories from the time I spent in Russia several years ago, with recipes for everything from adzhika to pirozhki to vareniki, originating from across the former Soviet Union. So naturally I was delighted to discover von Bremzen’s forthcoming memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, and I devoured it almost as quickly as a plate of blini.
Von Bremzen’s book is not simply about food—something that is so inextricably bound with culture, tradition, politics, economics, the environment. And it is not only personal memoir and family history, but a sweeping account examining the twilight years of the Russian Empire, the nearly 70 years of the Soviet Union’s existence, the Russian Federation’s bleak early days, as well as its more recent economic boom. Into this epic history, she weaves in details of her family’s experience. Like her paternal grandmother Alla, who was born in Central Asia, orphaned, and then raised by an early activist for women’s rights who was later exiled to Siberia. Alla moved to Moscow as a teenager, and brought Uzbek recipes with her. Von Bremzen’s mother’s bout with scarlet fever, suffered while subsisting on wartime rations, contrasts sharply with her first taste of Pepsi-Cola a decade later. And von Bremzen’s own experiences – rejecting on principle difficult-to-procure products like special candy from the Red October Chocolate Factory at her school for children of Communist Party elites, to her confusion over Pop Tarts as an immigrant in Philadelphia – are shared with earnestness.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is a satisfying read, and especially suggested for readers of food memoirs like Gabrielle Hamilton’s candid Blood, Bones and Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, or Russian culture enthusiasts who enjoyed Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.


Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

March on Washington

August 28th will be the 50th Anniversary of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” This past weekend, tens of thousands of people marched on Washington, in commemoration of the event.

I looked for information at KPL about the 1963 march and what was happening here in Kalamazoo during that time. I found writings on the history and significance of the March on Washington, biographies of prominent march organizers such as A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin and other civil rights workers, a video recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.



Local civil-rights events in 1963 included the picketing of the Van Avery drugstore and the October 6 Kalamazoo March for Equal Opportunities. To learn more local events the year ca. 300,000 people were marching in D.C. for jobs and freedom, visit KPL’s Local History desk. We have numerous files of newspaper clippings and microfilm access to the 1963 Kalamazoo Gazette.


The march on Washington : jobs, freedom, and the forgotten history of civil rights

Peck, Peck, Peck

I do love the picture books that Lucy Cousins creates! Her stories and illustrations are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, featuring strong colors, chunky shapes, and concise yet complete storylines.

The latest is Peck, Peck, Peck, a square yellow book with finger-size holes punched through the heavy cover. “Today my daddy said to me, “It’s time you learned to peck a tree.” But once this essential skill is learned, will the little woodpecker stop at trees? I’ll bet you know the answer to that question!


Peck, Peck, Peck

Open this Little Book

There's been quite a bit of buzz about Suzy Lee's picture book creations in the last few years. They are wonderfully imagined yet seemingly simple picture books that get better with repeated readings. I was excited to see a new book illustrated by Lee and written by Jesse Klausmeier, Open this Little Book. When I opened the book I was glad I did. I don't want to say too much about it, except that it is wonderfully self-referential and is a wonder of design, in my opinion. This book is just perfect for repeated sharing with children. Open this Little Book has its own delicious internal logic and closure that is somehow deeply comforting to parent and child alike. I am hopeful you take time to enjoy it!


Open this Little Book

Ads About Animals

Paul Thurlby, a British illustrator, is making a name for himself in the children’s book field by (among other things) naming the books after himself. And so we have here Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife. This is a visually rich collection of his wonderfully unique, simple yet colorful, drawings of 23 different creatures, each with a fun fact about the animal that helps make witty sense of the accompanying captions. Every animal is represented in a style that is reminiscent of poster ads from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.

One example is “Armed to the Teeth” that informs us that, “Sharks are always growing new teeth to replace those that fall out”. Or how about, “Chill out - KEEP COOL” referring to the fact that iguanas must “...move into the shade to lower their body temperature.”

I read this July, 2013 title during a recent “Tales on the Trail” program that the Powell Branch Library holds along the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail. Kids, both young and old, were wildly interested in the text as well as amused by the cool art.

So, Thurlby’s imaginative fusion of strong visual design with wordplay and fragments of information works well on his intended audience. In fact, it should entertain little readers for more than just a single reading.

This book might also appeal to all animal lovers who are young of heart, for there is far more here than first meets the eye!


Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife

Another book for the list

Like many of us, I have an extensive 'to-read' list.  (Actually, it's multiple lists and collections of clippings and hastily scribbled notes).  In my email today, a newsletter of recent releases had an item that caught my eye: Of dice and men: The story of Dungeons and Dragons and the people who play it by David Ewalt, which has now been added to the list.  Though I've never been a fanatical player, I am definitely a nerd, and I have a soft spot in my heart for dice with more than six sides, so this book looks like a fun read. 

The library has this book on order, so I can place a hold, or (more reasonably given the number of items I already have checked out) place it on one of my KPL lists.  Do you know about this great feature?  From the item record, I can click on the "Select an Action" button and choose "Add to My Lists" which will put the item on a list that is either temporary (if I'm not logged in) or attached to my account (if I am).  In the latter case, I can log in and look at the titles on my list, and place a hold from there.


Of dice and men

The HeLa Cells

Wow, has this story been in the news lately?!? Maybe you’ve heard about it? It’s about Henrietta Lacks. She was stricken with an aggressive cancer more than 60 years ago. In 1951 she was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was later found out that the doctor took and preserved cells from her tumor without her knowledge. Although that was a common practice at that time, it continues to haunt the family because the scientific industry has continued to use the information gained from Henrietta, herself, and also other family members. They have made this information very accessible and until recently continued to do so. Her cells have been used around the world and they continue to contribute to some major medical advances and financial gains. These cells were named the HeLa cells and are called that till this day.

The book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot tells her and her families’ story. It was published in 2010 and still remains on the New York Times Book Review Best Sellers list. Currently, it is #4 on the Nonfiction Paperback Best Sellers and although KPL has several copies they are often either checked out or on hold. The book tells about Henrietta, her life and how she died, and how the use of her cells has advanced scientific research. It also talks about the misuse of scientific studies done on her family without their permission, and how money has been made at her families’ expense. Rebecca Skloot can take credit for the exposure that her book has given to the HeLa cells. It has perked some interest and some results in the medical arena. There have been acknowledgements and just recently some laws have been passed that will hopefully prevent and protect families from going through what the Henrietta Lacks family has gone through.

If you get a chance pick up the book The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks and delve into this fascinating story.


The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

Breaking Stalin’s Nose

For a child’s view of a day in the life of Stalinist Soviet Union, read: Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha is ten years old and is in 5th grade and his father is a member of The State Security, which is the Secret Police. Sasha’s mother is dead, for some mysterious reason she never returned home after a hospital stay. Sasha and his dad live communally in a house with several other families. Everyone is always under suspicion, every spoken word is potentially threatening and nobody knows whom they can trust. Sasha is getting ready for the ceremony to join the Soviet Young Pioneers. A young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience. A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings. But in his haste while carrying Stalin’s banner, Sasha accidentally bumps into Stalin’s statue and breaks off the nose on the statue! Did anyone see the accident occur? If the accident is discovered, then it is truly a bleak day for Sasha. This story is an excellent portrayal of a day in the life of a fifth grade student and the bleakness of life in the Soviet Union under the dictatorship of Stalin. Eugene Yelchin was born and educated in Russia, but now lives in California.


Breaking Stalin’s Nose

I love Ghost Zeb

Eoin Colfer is best known for his teen books the Artemis Fowl series. In Plugged he 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.



Einstein’s God (no, “universal spirit”)

Oh, the history of science and religion. I’m always learning about misconceptions or false generalizations or historians with this or that agenda. The stakes are high. Einstein is perhaps the best example. Depending on who you ask, he was either a devout Jew or militant atheist. How do you trust the book you are reading? My answer: read other books. Cast your net as far and wide and deep as possible.

Einstein, like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, is hard to pin down religiously (hmmm…maybe because people are hard to pin down? And maybe that’s okay?). Anyway, according to one of his biographers “He did believe in nature as some sort of universal spirit, or...'world soul,' or some kind of universal mind, which ruled the universe" (p. 21). "My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit," he says, "that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality" (40).

He thought religion should consist in the “conduct of life" (morality), that people like Gandhi were “spiritual geniuses,” and that the experience of mystery was at the heart of true science and true religion—the "truly religious attitude” of humility and awe. The fact that science is possible in the first place has always fascinated scientists and still does. "Why is nature mathematical?...that was the basis of Einstein's faith," says his biographer (25).

No matter what you think about Einstein, his religion or his politics, his theory of relativity changed physics forever and he remains one of the greatest of all time (along with Darwin and Newton). These brilliant scientists, like all brilliant theorists, do not come up with these grand theories from scratch. Like Kepler, Newton, and Darwin, usually they cobble together other peoples’ ideas—in just the right way. And maybe that’s okay too.

But this book is not just about Einstein or misconceptions of science and religion. It's a nice conversation between Krista Tippett (NPR "On Being" formerly "Speaking of Faith") and several scientists and historians of our time, giving the reader a very appreciative and nuanced and living view of many of these fascinating issues.


Einstein’s God by Krista Tippett

Walter Dean Myers in Kalamazoo

You may have heard that Walter Dean Myers is visiting Kalamazoo for a two-day event next week. We are so very honored and excited to have the chance to meet this wonderful author and the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature! It's a very special opportunity for the Kalamazoo community and I hope many will join us. Myers will join us for a "Meet the Author" evening on Tuesday, August 6 at 6 pm at Central Library and on Wednesday, August 7 at 3 pm at Powell Branch Library. For more information, on the Walter Dean Myers visits, please see our website here.

My favorite Walter Dean Myers book is Looking Like Me. In the book, Jeremy talks about all the people that he is either in relationship to others or because of skills, abilities, and interests. I love this book because the poetry is quite wonderful and Christopher Myers' collage illustrations are colorful and engaging. But I also love it because when I read it to kids we talk about all the things that they are. Runners, writers, artists, dancers, readers, players, swimmers, etc. We are all, each of us, so many wonderful things and we can take on a new persona with each new skill we learn. Our potential is limitless! So tell me, what are you? I'm a reader, writer, and hiker to name a few. 


Walter Dean Myers in Kalamazoo

A Literary Tour of the Country

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

To Save Everything Click Here

Ever get annoyed by any of those TED talks that seem to gloss over the complexities of a problem and present a technological solution that seems too good to be true in its simplicity? Ever feel grumpy when technology pundits seem to assume that there are socially-networked, big data solutions to all of the world’s problems? Well, let me introduce you toEvgeny Morozov, one of the most challenging, snarky, and clearly brilliant people examining technology and its impact on our world today. Morozov’s latest title, To Save Everything Click Here, argues against the ubiquitous “solutionism” and “Internet-centric” thinking that seeks slick and efficient technology based solutions to nearly all of mankind’s problems and fails to recognize, or even consider, the value that messiness and inefficiency can often bring to certain systems (American politics being a good example, where conflict, compromise, and messiness are built right into the process). This is not what I would call a “light read” by any stretch, and the shear ferocity of Morozov’s argument can become tedious and annoying along the way, but his appraisal of our modern world and the way that it is developing are well worth it. For more brilliant contrarian views on our networked society see Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier.


To Save Everything Click Here

Modern Art Desserts

In terms of food preparation, we're living in a time when even the microwave seems too slow. With that thought as a backdrop, please consider this 2013 offering by Ms. Caitlin Freeman. She has written this book of dessert recipes that derive their inspiration from famous artists and their works. I would probably have been one of the last on the library staff to pick up this book; however, I had a wonderful art history course at WMU during my undergraduate days, the memory of which this volume caused me to recall. I think it would take even an experienced cook a lot of time and patience to make these treats, but the pictures make them look so good that I'm sure someone out there will want to give Matisse Parfait, Mondrian Cake, and Warhol Gelee a try.


Modern art desserts : recipes for cakes, cookies, confections, and frozen treats based on iconic works of art

The Ultimate Secret to Weight Lifting

People work out for different reasons: to look good, lose weight, gain muscle, get abs, feel better. And, like dieting, everyone wants "the secret" to meeting their goals; the easy answer, the short cut, the 10 step, 5-minute, 7 day, what-have-you-plan. So where to start? You could get a personal trainer, read a book like this one (which promotes "cross-fit" style full-body lifts (which is just fine), or just dive right in.

In my opinion there are no secret exercises, machines, or workouts...only these two principles:

  1. Intensity: this is the one most people miss. In high school I went to the gym for years and didn't get any results at all. None. In college I started lifting with intensity and I got tons of results fast. Get angry, get pumped up, increase the intensity, listen to the Rocky IV soundtrack, be that person who makes noises (not that loud), work up a really good sweat, become exhausted by the end. At first it will be hard, but we get used to it. Now I couldn't have an "easy" workout even if I tried--our brains and bodies are amazing machines of habit, which in this case is a good thing. You need to push your body to allow that habit to form.
  2. Form: perfect form, every excercise, every rep. This is what keeps you from injuring yourself. Especially combined with extreme intensity, this is crucial. Trust me, I've hurt myself more than once. Before you do any excercise, know what the correct form (technique) is. Don't be the person who can curl tons of weight by arching your back, or who can bench tons of weight only because you bounce it off your chest.

With high intensity and perfect form you will see results (and of course humble librarians are the experts on these matters, right?!). Above all, have fun. And do cardio too, not just lifting (those eliptical machines are really good if you have problems with running).


the new rules of lifting

A Whey Out Curdling Tale

Ah, the good and simple life. Living on a farm out in the country, with some hens, goats, sheep, and a few cows thrown in for good measure. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

Well according to author Angela Miller’s 2010 memoir entitled Hay Fever, farm life is anything but easy and carefree. Miller, a Manhattan-based literary publicist, decided one day that her frenetic, super urban lifestyle needed a U-turn into a more placid diversion of some sort. So she, together with her somewhat reluctant hubby, purchase and move into a 19th century farmhouse in rural Vermont, that comes complete with a little over 300 acres of surrounding countryside. The year was 2001, and the farm was envisioned to be a refuge from the NYC hustle and bustle. But the farm’s history as a working creamery and cheese making facility put a bug into Angela’s brain that she too could run a profitable dairy based concern as had its originating owner, one Consider Bardwell. However, until profits materialized, and because she couldn’t bear to totally cut herself off from her literary clients in the big city, Angela came to the conclusion that she would still need to continue being a literary agent during the middle of the week, and run the farm on extended weekend stays. The latter task was made all the more difficult since she had precious little experience in farming, much less operating an artisanal cheese making business.

Angela and Rust, her husband, acquire the requisite goats and other barnyard animals, as well as assemble a cast of farmhands, cheese makers, vets and a sundry other rural characters. They also attend many cheese making workshops and seminars and believe that armed with their newly gained knowledge, they are well on their way to building a world class cheese company on the premises of Consider Bardwell Farm. However, that road is fraught with many unforeseen bumps and learning curve detours that constantly make the project an iffy proposition at best.

This book is a cautionary tale of sorts as Angela recounts the difficulties of running and maintaining the farm, which is the primary source of goat milk that is crucial to the cheese making venture. The year 2008 proved to be an especially difficult time and she particularly concentrates on the many problems that they ran into. For example, one variety of cheese that had previously been a prize winner, was rejected by specialty food retailer Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor, which stated that the 250 pounds that were delivered to them did not match the taste profile of the winning cheese that their buyer had sampled some seven months earlier. It was returned and ended up being fed to the neighbor’s pigs. Soon after that, the farm instituted a new, more stringent control process, continuously testing and grading all the cheese being produced to assure consistent quality from one batch to another.

Currently, Consider Bardwell Farm makes over fifty thousand pounds of cheese annually, has won many prizes, and sells their products at over a dozen East Coast farmers’ markets. They are also found in the cheese carts of many fine dining establishments, as well as in numerous gourmet food shops across the country.

Speaking of farmers’ markets, my husband and I love to visit Kalamazoo’s outdoor version held every Saturday, between May and November on Bank Street. It is extremely popular, judging by the hordes of shoppers it attracts each week. It is also very well run and draws in many participating vendors, thanks in large part to the efforts of the People’s Food Co-op, which took over managing its operations from the city this year.

Last year, we remember purchasing a number of different goat cheese products at the market made by a small local producer. Now that vendor is nowhere to be found. We also searched for them at Sawall’s and the Food Co-op, both of whom used to carry their cheeses, but again these had disappeared from the dairy cases. I even went so far as doing a little more detective work by looking up the farm online. That resulted in the discovery that their prior site had been disabled, and that neither their phone number or email address worked anymore. Yes, artisanal cheese making is a tough, risky business. No one is guaranteed to make a profit and as a result, some farms don’t make it at all.

So go to the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, get something yummy (preferably cheese) to munch on and spend some time reading Hay Fever. After all, it’s summer. Time to kick back and relax.

Unless of course you live on a farm!

For more information of the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market go to:


Hay fever : how chasing a dream on a Vermont farm changed my life

Le Grande Boucle

The most prestigious cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, will celebrate 100 years of racing when it finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday and, as always, le grande boucle (roughly translated as the “big loop” for the circular path the race takes around France) has been three weeks full of exciting racing, spectacular scenery, and superhuman athletic performance. A new book, Tour de France 100: the definitive history of the world’s greatest race gives a fine overview of the history and spectacle of this incredible event. There are several more titles in the KPL collection that celebrate and document the race, Tour de France, tour de force: a visual history of the world’s greatest bicycle race and Slaying the badger: Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, and the greatest Tour de France are both excellent. But these books do little to explain the tricky circumstance that the race now finds itself in. The Tour has always, for its entire 100 year history, had foul play, doping, and other forms of cheating associated with it. But with this past year’s spectacular confession from Lance Armstrong that he used drugs and banned methods to win all seven of his Tour victories and an unheard of wave of confessions or outings of professional cyclists from the “Armstrong Era” has lifted the veil on how these guys could race at top speed for three weeks around an entire country with such unnatural strength. And now every spectacular performance (in particular this year’s domination by the current race leader Chris Froome) or incredible comeback is called into question and we, the fans and journalists alike, have no reference points for what is physically possible on “pane e acqua” (bread and water) alone in cycling. While the latest generation of professional racing cyclist talks of a change that has taken place in the sport – more ethical teams, more and better PED testing, a biological passport that tracks blood levels throughout the year – the problem is that the sport has been claiming the birth of a new, clean, era for several decades now but then each decade brings a new string of doping scandals and so skepticism (or outright abandonment on the part of Germany where the media has boycotted the race and there is no longer television or journalistic coverage) about the cleanliness of the sport abounds. But despite all of the controversy, the lies, and the falls from grace, the roads of France during July continue to be filled with literally millions of fans waiting to get a glimpse of the riders as they fly past and the unparalleled beauty and drama of this great sporting event continues into its second century.


Tour de France: the definitive history of the world's greatest race

The Burgess Boys

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

Rainbow Stew

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


Rainbow Stew

Fun with the Family

Are you vacationing in Michigan this Summer? Kalamazoo Public Library has many Michigan travel books. One particularly family-friendly book is: Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids, by Bill Semion, c.2007. The contents are separated by geographic areas, such as West Michigan-North, West Michigan-South, and Upper Peninsula-East, Upper Peninsula-West… you get the picture…(picturesque!) It includes listings of events, adventures, parks, museums, sports, theatres, places to stay, and restaurants.

I also recommend viewing: Under the Radar Michigan, a PBS television show hosted by Tom Daldin, who has a friendly, comfortable presence and a great sense of humor. UTR Michigan is in its third season. UTR Michigan showcases a different Michigan town in each episode, featuring local places of interest, stories, great people, and mouth-watering foods at local restaurants. UTR is a helpful, convincing site for choosing a Michigan town to visit. Episode 318 highlights Grand Rapids, and, if you want to see a hilarious sight, watch the people pedaling on the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser, it’s crazy! To find out the art of coffee roasting and information about the Can-Do Kitchen, watch the inspirational episode featuring Kalamazoo!


Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids

Eleanor and Park

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 Park was 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


I just love Jessica Souhami’s books. I think it must be her background as a puppeteer that makes these folk-lore based picture books so good. Sausages, for instance, is a wonderful story about being careful what you wish for. In Souhami’s newest offering, Foxy!, the storyteller and illustrator puts her own spin on a trading-up trickster tale told in different ways the world over. In this wonderfully illustrated version based on a North American version of the story by Clifton Johnson from 1897, the fox is the trickster and he’s looking for a meal. What an entertaining read-aloud!



The Silver Star

Stories about spunky kids appeal to me. Bean, the narrator of Jeannette Walls’ new novel, The Silver Star, is one of them. When their mother doesn’t return after a short trip, Bean and her older sister Liz decide to get out of town ahead of the busybodies who will think they can’t handle things themselves. They head to Virginia to re-introduce themselves to their Uncle Tinsley, who they haven’t seen since Bean was a baby. Fortunately, trouble doesn’t follow them. Unfortunately, new trouble is waiting. But spunk and guts and a little sass will take you a long way, as Bean and Liz find out.


The Silver Star

Ethics without Religion, says the religous man

It might seem odd that the leader of a world religion--the Dalai Lama--is suggesting that we all agree on an ethical system that is divorced from religious concepts, stories, and beliefs entirely. But here is his line of thinking: the holy man looks around and sees people turning away from traditional religion, as the numbers show. These people are spiritual now, beyond a particular religion, global, secular, multi-religious, atheist or agnostic or humanist. The Dalai Lama sees a few different ways of dealing with this situation. First, he could try and convert everyone to his religion. But that's neither realistic nor compassionate. Second, he could do nothing. But he thinks the world desperately needs a universal ethic of compassion. He also thinks that families and schools are having trouble teaching ethics to children, with devastating consequences. So doing nothing won't work. Third, he could offer up a universal ethical system based on compassion and other ethical principles that we could all agree on. And that's what he does here. If you think about it, whether you agree or not, it's a very compassionate move to make.

Of course, he's not against religion at all, or any of the moral systems of that come with them. He also doesn't think that nonreligous people are unethical. He just wants us all to be on the same page I suppose.

But is he successful? Does he abstract ethics so much as to take the very heart out of them? Or does he get the to core of ethics, the simple truths? Read the book and find out.


Beyond Religion

I'll share mine if you share yours

I’ve had two hallucinations in my life (reading this book actually made me remember them!). The first was actually a delusion. I remember being very young, with a high fever, lying down on the couch with a cold towel on my forehead. Suddenly, it felt as if a speeding train was approaching my brain, faster and faster towards my head, receding, approaching; or, a beam of light violently approaching me so fast that I thought I would go insane; the feeling was slightly comparable to when you get the bed spins after too much drinking. I barely remember anything from my early childhood, except this. With high fevers, delusions are common, as the book talks about.

Second, I was lying down in my college dorm room bed, in between waking and sleep. Suddenly I felt a very strong presence entering the room, and then a spiritual, ecstatic joy. I kept my eyes closed; I was afraid the feeling was going to end. Eventually it faded, but the feeling of joy stayed with me all day. When we think of hallucinations, we usually think about visual hallucinations and seeing pink elephants, but kinesthetic hallucinations, as I had—feeling a presence—are quite common too. In fact, the book portrays an astonishing variety of all the things people see, hear, smell, and feel—that are not really there.

In fact, the whole point of the book is that hallucinations are much more common, natural, and “normal” than most people think. They have been part of history, of religion, and art. Part of the problem is stigma. Hallucinating does not necessarily mean you are “crazy” or even that the cause is psychological in nature (as is schizophrenia, for example). Most people have had some sort of hallucination once in their life. It is common in people that go blind, for example, to have visual hallucinations. Many people enjoy them and think of it as a “gift” directly from their brain (which is perhaps compensating for the loss of vision by providing another visual world).

And of course the most entertaining chapter is where Oliver Sacks talks about all his self-inflicted LSD hallucinations and the many other drugs he tried in the 60’s and 70’s that caused beautiful and horrible trips—only for medical reasons, of course. Yes of course.

Still, I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I wanted to. It’s too descriptive and encyclopedic, and not explanatory, theoretical, speculative. Yes, I want the hallucinations; but even more I want to know why they occur, why we have them, how they evolved, etc. Besides occasionally making a speculations that “this hallucination explains this religious phenomenon," it fell short on that account.



The Grasshopper at Kaleva

In 2007 Colleen Burcar wrote the second edition of this book about Michigan's 'quirky characters, roadside oddities & other offbeat stuff.' Well, she's back with a third edition, published just last year. I right away looked to see if anything from this area was included, and found the Air Zoo. I don't necessarily consider that establishment to be 'quirky,' but I think the name of the museum is what precipitated this entry. I particularly enjoyed the story about the giant grasshopper at Kaleva in Manistee County. This sculpture, which is 10 feet high and 18 feet long weighs 500 pounds and was made out of recycled metal. While in Kaleva, visitors are also urged to see the Bottle House, which was constructed by the Finnish immigrant who owned the Northwestern Bottle Works. Another attraction that got my attention was 'The Great Pyramid of the Forty-Fifth Parallel.' In Kewadin, which is in Antrim County near the line that is halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, is a monument made of rocks from each of Michigan's 83 counties. For those who want to keep their summer travel close to home, this book is a good one.


Michigan curiosities : quirky characters, roadside oddities & other offbeat stuff

Hero on a Bicycle

Recently I’ve read a couple of very good books about resistance efforts during World War II in several countries. Shirley Hughes, who is best known for her picture books for very young readers, has now written Hero on a Bicycle for older children.

In 1944, 13-year-old Paolo lives in Florence with his mother and sister; their father has quietly disappeared into the mountains. They are quite certain he is working for the resistance, but no one talks about that. Paolo would love to have an adventure; every night he secretly rides his bicycle through the quiet, dark streets of his town. Suddenly, when the possibility of a real adventure comes to him, Paolo has to make a quick decision. Can he become a real hero?


Hero on a Bicycle

The Borgias

I have read books about Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander IV, and his family in the past. Each has portrayed the family as scheming, manipulative, and scandalous. One need not look far to see this perception of the family perpetuated through other materials at the library. G.J. Meyer's book, The Borgias: the hidden history, call these attitudes into question, especially when talking about Rodrigo and Lucrezia Borgia. The book focuses on three main members of the family: Alonzo (Pope Calixtus III), Rodrigo (Pope Alexander IV), and Cesare. Meyer conducted a lot of research for this book and believes the rumors started about the family were the result of political enemies hoping to tarnish the family reputation that were perpetuated as a result of historians that did not dig deeply enough into the stories to uncover the truth.

Alonzo was an obscure Spanish Cardinal before being unexpectedly elected Pope in 1455. This begins the ascension of the family to the upper ranks of Rome and the Church. Alonzo’s nephew, Rodrigo, moves with him to Rome, is appointed protonotary apostolic and, a year later, Cardinal. The book gives many details about Rodrigo’s life following Calixtus’ death as he continued to be one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church. Meyer works to debunk many of the myths about Rodrigo, especially the myth that he fathered a number of children with a longtime mistress named Vannozza. Meyer argues these children, which include Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, two renaissance figures greatly villainized in the centuries since they lived, were Rodrigo’s nieces and nephews. Meyer argues Rodrigo’s greatest weakness as a leader was his extreme nepotistic tendencies for these young Borgias, and though this is indisputable, there is no dependable proof that Rodrigo was their father.

The political situation in 15th and 16th century Italy was an every changing tapestry. Alliances were made and broken with ease, some seemingly changing with the moods of their young, spoiled, irrational rulers. The Papal States was a number of small city states in central Italy that were supposed to pay tribute to Rome and the pope but were, in reality, ruled by local warlords who had seized power of the cities and, generally, ruled over them with an iron fist. A serial headache of the Renaissance popes, the author does a good job keeping up with the ever shifting landscape of the Papal States, as well as the rest of the Italian peninsula and parts of Spain, France and Constantinople. Cesare, a military mastermind, aimed to reclaim these rebellious city states and carve out a kingdom for himself in the Romagna. The last section of the book details this quest. The thing I liked best about this book, besides that it challenged all that I thought I knew about Rodrigo, Cesare, and Lucrezia Borgia, was its “Background” sections between chapters. These sections allowed the author to distance the reader from the developing story of the Borgias to offer background information on different people, places and situations. These chapters unfailingly put the drama of the book’s characters in greater context. They were also very interesting (to one who is interested in learning more about Renaissance Italy). Meyer also concludes with a section titled “Examining Old Assumptions” that elaborates more on the characters of Rodrigo and Lucrezia bringing up things he was unable to work into the full text.

This is a dense book that takes some concentration to read. It is well written, comprehensive and definitely challenges the status quo understanding of the Borgias. I am so glad I stumbled upon it the library’s collection!


The Borgias: the hidden history

Missing May

Missing May is a bitter-sweet story about the after-effects of coping with the death of a most-beloved wife and stepmother named May. For many years May and Ob, her husband, a disabled Navy veteran, lived in Deep Water, West Virginia in a rusty old trailer. They were a childless couple until they met Summer, a distant relative who became parentless at the age of six, and who was subsequently “adopted” by May and Ob.

The story begins after May’s death. May was a very loving woman and both Ob and Summer grieve so desperately that they attempt to find May’s spirit. Cletus Underwood, a kid from Summer’s seventh grade class, befriends Ob and senses Ob’s despair. He tells Ob and Summer about a Spiritualist in a nearby county, so, Ob, Summer, and Cletus begin a quest to find The Reverend Miriam B. Conklin, Small Medium at Large. Do Ob and Summer find what they’re looking for to quell their sadness? You will discover the truth after reading this inspirational story that received the 1993 John Newbery Award.


Missing May

The Man Who Quit Money

In the year 2000, Daniel Suelo took out his last thirty dollars and left it in a phone booth, taking the final step in his quest to try to live without any money. Author Mark Sundeen, reports on Suelo’s adventures over the next decade, which included living in a cave in Moab, Utah in his book The Man Who Quit Money.

Some are inspired by his spiritual and philosophical journey. Others call him a freeloader. Read this fascinating book and decide for yourself. Maybe I will see you in Moab.

If you are interested, you can check out Suelo’s blog.

The Man Who Quit Money


Looking for a great audio book? I loved the audio version of “Dodger” by Terry Pratchett. On a dark and stormy night (what else) in Victorian London, a young 17 year old man named Dodger happens upon a young woman who is being kidnapped. He rescues her, and being a young man who makes his living from the streets, knows how to survive and protect her. It fast becomes apparent that some very bad men are trying to get Felicity back. Whirlwind action, mystery and history combine to make great listening. I’ve listened to lots of audio books over the years, and the reader can make or break a story. The reader here does a great job, and sounds as though he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.

Pratchett has some real life people make appearances, such as Charles Dickens as a sharp newspaper reporter, and also Sweeney Todd, the famous barber murderer. Dodger interacts with them, in what Pratchett calls “historical fantasy.” It’s so well done that it seems perfectly natural.

I really enjoyed this audio version from start to finish, and hope Pratchett does a sequel, preferably soon!



Paw Prints Straight Into Your Heart

In the past, I’ve enjoyed reading many non-fiction books about cats, my all time favorites being Dewey, Kitty Cornered, and Cleo. Now I think that I might have to add a new title to that list, Paw Prints in the Moonlight by Denis O’Connor.

This book was given to me as a pre-publication copy about ten months ago by a colleague, to whom I will always be grateful to for bringing it to my attention. It features the then twenty-nine year old author, Denis, who at the time lived in North Cumberland, England in a stone house circa 1876, complete with three-foot thick walls. One icy, stormy January evening, he discovers a silver grey cat screaming in agony and distress, twisting and turning in a trap, caught by the hind leg. Upon releasing the animal, he retreats back to the warmth of his dwelling. However, guilt induced concern makes him return to the scene and goads him into following the cat’s bloodstained tracks to an old barn. There he finds what turns out to be a female who, despite her injuries, has been driven by maternal instincts to return to care for her two, very tiny and bedraggled kittens. Being a cat and nature lover, Denis scoops up the entire group and carries them off to the local veterinarian. After examining the three creatures, the vet only has grim news: The mother cat is near death and her two youngsters are not faring much better. The vet proclaims that there is no hope for any of them, and suggests to Denis that the humane thing to do would be to put the entire lot down and thereby end their individual miseries.

While talking to the vet however, Denis notices that one of the kittens has moved to his outstretched hand and snuggles up to it. So he decides to deposit the little guy into a pocket of his sheepskin jacket and leaves the clinic. As he is walking out the door, the vet warns him not to get his hopes up for the kitten because, “The wee thing will suffer and die no matter what you do.”

Back home, the writer takes on the role of nursemaid to the tiny, shrew-sized kitten, who barely clings to life; the sole survivor of the storm’s havoc upon his feline family. He fills the ink sac of an old fountain pen with some warmed up evaporated milk, adds a few drops of halibut oil, and then feeds this concoction to the kitten who lays motionless in a blanket-lined box near a blazing fireplace. As he accomplishes that first feeding, Denis realizes that he has accepted a do or die mission that will require plenty of determination on his part, an unyielding will to live on the part of his charge, and a more than fair measure of just plain old good luck for both of them.

After a few stressful days, the kitten begins to rouse. A few weeks later, he seems to be out of the woods, showing a greater interest in his surroundings and becoming much more active. To encourage further progress, while at the same time assuring the cat’s safety while he goes off to work in a nearby college, Denis ingeniously decides to utilize a wide-bottomed, clear glass jug, covering it with cotton wool and placing the kitten within this new enclosure, next to the fire. Upon his return from work, he finds the kitten standing on its hind legs, peering out from inside the jug welcoming him home.

Thusly, the author names the little survivor Toby Jug. He grows into a truly beautiful adult cat with emerald green eyes, and long black fur that extends down to his nose where bloom a white moustache, mouth, throat and chest. It turns out that Toby Jug happens to be a Maine Coon; one of the largest of all domestic cat breeds. He also happens to have a personality all his own.

Author and cat develop an extremely close bond; Toby’s favorite pastime being sitting on Denis’ shoulder. Unfortunately, after only twelve too short years filled with many adventures together, cat and owner are separated by Toby’s death. That day, Denis makes a promise that he would write and publish a story of the life that he and Toby shared together.

Despite all the aspects that I found very attractive about this account, there was one that bothered me throughout. It was the author’s decision to let Toby wander at will in the fields and woods near his home. Denis states that Toby was his pet, but “...also his own cat who had enough of a wild streak to give him his natural rights and dignity as an animal.” Even though there were several close calls with wildlife and the elements, the cat was still allowed access to the outdoors at his discretion.

Personally, I could not let any of the three beloved felines who currently share our living quarters that same sort of freedom. The many dangers that are out and about, and the inherent risks that they could pose to their health and safety, are concerns that would constantly gnaw at the back of my mind.

This book took over twenty years to write due to the author’s sorrow and pain when he had to recollect their great times together that culminated in the loss of his wonderful friend. It took me ten months to complete reading it, because I found myself re-reading chapters multiple times. Simply put, I did not want the story to come to its inevitable end.

This is a heartwarming tribute that would appeal not only to cat lovers, but to anyone who has ever had a very special relationship with any animal. I absolutely love and recommend it. But make sure you have a box or two of tissues handy when reading. Believe me, you’ll make good use of them.

And if you keep your cat next to your heart like I do, please keep it indoors next to you. That’s the only place where it can revel in and enjoy the natural rights and dignity of being your true friend!


Paw Prints in the Moonlight

Any Which Wall

I'm really enjoying Laurel Synder's chapter book Any Which Wall, which also happens to be the June 27 selection in KPL's Bookworms book group at Children's Room. Bookworms is for kids in grades 1-3 (or there-abouts) with their adults. You can pick up a copy of Any Which Wall at the Children's Room desk. I like this book because it's about magic. It also features Henry and Emma and Roy and Susan -interesting characters who are children of various ages. It's well written and it's pulled me right in. I'm curious what you think about the book, about "common magic", and where you would go if you had a magic wall that could take you to any place and any time.

Bookworms is a free program and a great way to enjoy Summer Reading with other readers! 

Any Which Wall



...and now we are all beer snobs.

I couldn’t help pick this book up after seeing its clever title in the New KPL Books stream in the KPL catalog, and after reading through it I can say that I am glad I did. The story of craft beer brewing in the United States is as funky as some of the places that helped it grow and pushed it forward during the past 30 or so years. The book takes you from San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co., which was basically the only small batch “local” brewery that existed in the mid-1970s, to today’s craft brew industry where we have literally thousands of craft breweries scattered across the country and introduces you to a seemingly endless stream of interesting and passionate people and their unlikely stories along the way. The book is thoroughly researched and comprehensive with interviews with all of the important players and tons of history thrown in to give the stories context. It’s a rich and full-bodied tale sure to interest any beer fan out there. And for the record, Kalamazoo may have come up short in its bid to be named Beer City, USA, but we do figure pretty early on in the story of the craft beer revolution with the Kalamazoo Brewing Company appearing right there on page 119! Number of times anything associated with Grand Rapids appears in the index = 0. Hmmm


The Audacity of Hops


Here and Now

Starting with their first letters — or ¬earlier, with the decision to correspond at all — friendship is the book’s overarching subject, and the various topics that come and go are before all else attempts at finding that common ground upon which friendship can flourish. --From the New York Times Book Review (Martin Riker)

Two of my favorite contemporary novelists have published a book of fascinating correspondence between the two that covers a wide range of subjects including the financial meltdown of 2008, sports, friendship, film, love, death and of course, their own work and those books and authors they adore. Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, two of contemporary literature’s most respected and acclaimed writers began their friendship in 2008. The subsequent result gave birth to a letter writing project collected in Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011. Letters range in length from a few pages to several sentences so one could easily bring this book along with them to the beach. Reading these letters (most of them composed on paper and sent through the mail) is like being a fly on the wall of a darkly lit bar, listening in on two incredibly charming and insightful artists feed off of one another’s brilliant minds.


Here and now: letters

Good Kings Bad Kings

Teddy wears a dress shirt, tie, and suit every day; he has two and alternates them. He’s also pretty sure he’s engaged to Mia and shows his love by sometimes connecting their wheelchairs by a bungee cord because he has a power chair and Mia doesn’t. Teddy and Mia are two of the teen residents of the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center, a state nursing facility now run by a for-profit corporation.

In Good Kings Bad Kings, a novel by Susan Nussbaum, the voices of Teddy, Mia, and other residents and staff of the ILLC use their own words to tell the heartbreaking story of youth in residential care. I dare you to not care.


Good Kings Bad Kings

What Mama Said

“Chile’, don’t worry bout other people, ‘cause they probably just jealous.”

“Yo chile is yo first priority, cause cherin don’t ask to be born.”

“If somebody don’t want to be bothed wit you, just leave em lone.”

If you see the wisdom in these quotes as I do, then you will absolutely LOVE the book What Mama Said, which is a collection of quotations from 78 year old Albion woman Willie Jewel Peterson, compiled with love by her daughter, Gladys Seedorf of Battle Creek. The book also provides a fascinating and inspiring biography of Willie, who grew up one of 14 children working on her family’s farm in Greenville, Alabama, and due to farm obligations, was not able to go to school past 6th grade. She raised a family while working hard her whole life and upon retirement at age 65, she completed her G.E.D. This book is chock full of self-help advice that Willie gave her daughter over the years, written in the same vernacular that Willie spoke to keep it authentic…common-sense, hilarious, and absolutely spot-on. I hope this book hits it big!

Here is a great article about the book, its author, and subject, from Chuck Carlson of the Battle Creek Enquirer.


What mama said

In bed with Dan Savage

When I heard Dan Savage, the renowned sex & relationship advice columnist/podcaster and co-founder of the It Gets Better project, had a new book on the way, I was very excited; I failed to realize that it would result in so much loss of sleep.  Having enjoyed his previous books on marriage and adoption and the pursuit of happiness, I was eager to read American Savage : insights, slights, and fights on faith, sex, love, and politics as well.  A collection of 17 essays on everything from end-of-life decisions to healthcare to sex education, I intended to savor it slowly.  However, Dan’s writing is so enjoyable (though be aware that some of the issues he writes about may be hazardous to your blood pressure, and there is the occasional use of profanity), that I devoured it quickly, to the detriment of my intended bedtime, and it is now on its way to the next reader.


American Savage

How placebo, mescaline, and being buried alive prove that you have a Mind

This book is a summary of all the scientific studies that have been done on the placebo effect, neurofeedback (thinking about your disease can help cure it), hypnosis, ESP, near-death experiences and much more. The author is a neuroscientist and the book reads like an exciting textbook on abnormal psychology. Here’s just a taste of the amazingly bizarre studies:

  1. people walked into the hospital with canes, were given a fake surgery, and played basketball afterwards.
  2. Tragically, a person was accidentally told they had a tumor and they died several days later. Turns out they did not have a tumor at all and should not have died.
  3. In a major depression meta-analyses, 75% of all positive results were because of placebo effect.
  4. A study of London taxi drivers found "compelling evidence that the brains of adults can, indeed, be physically changed by knowledge" (68). The dahlia lama once said “in a real sense the brain we develop reflects the life we lead” and Francis Bacon said “knowledge is power.” So go to your local library and expand your brain with knowledge. :)
  5. Indian researchers tested a Yogi’s claim that he can stop his heart and survive. They sealed him in an underground pit for 8 days. He stopped his heart for the middle five days and came out alive. The same Yogi, in a study at the Menninger Foundation in Kansas, stuck a long, unwashed sail-maker’s needle through his bicep with no pain, bleeding, or infection.
  6. In a study of women with breast cancer “the best single predictor of recurrence of cancer or death was the mental attitude of each woman” (100).
  7. “at age fifteen, John could barely move without causing painful fissures in his ‘black armour plating’”. He had a horrible skin condition known as “fish skin disease,” which made him an outcast. After trying everything, he tried hypnosis. It worked. “The improvement was startling: it ranged from 50 percent on his legs and feet to 95 percent on the right arm…One year after…John had become a normal, happy young man” (110).
  8. In one Harvard study, psilocybin (the ingredient in magic mushrooms) was shown to occasion mystical experiences. In a later study “two-thirds of the participants who received psilocybin rated it as either the best experience of their lives or within the top five…[they described] larger state of consciousness…unity of all things…two months after the study, 79 percent of them reported moderately or greatly enhanced well-being or satisfaction” (203).

But there’s more. The author is not only a neuroscientist, but a spiritualist, perhaps an experimental drug user like Timothy Leary, an eastern religion meditation-type, a “cosmic consciousness”-quantum-reality-new-age-type. He has come to believe that we have a mind that is separate from the body, that the fundamental nature of the universe is mind-or-consciousness, and that our brains act as a filter on reality, a “reduction” that gets in the way of experiencing the “unity of all things.” Not that any of this is bad. I think any metaphysical interpretation of reality is valid so long as it doesn’t promote hatred or violence. After all, nobody really knows what’s beyond our perception of the world.

My only problem with this book is the author’s word “prove.” That’s a strong word, perhaps too strong for an immaterial, metaphysical entity such as Mind. And he doesn’t do the best job doing it. He says: look at all the cool stuff the mind can do! The skeptic replies: look at all the cool things the brain can do! That’s it; the argument stops there. Two different interpretations of the same studies, the same reality. With metaphysics that's just the way it is.

In other words, the conclusion of the book—“that our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions can greatly influence what is happening in our brains and bodies” stands on solid ground. Even a materialist scientist would agree, provided that by “thoughts” we simply mean another part of the brain (one part of the brain, thought x, influences another part of the brain, hormone y). But this book wants to go further and say: therefore, there is a Mind separate from the brain. Sure, there might be. It’s all a matter of interpretation, as Life of Pi teaches.

How do you interpret these studies?


Brain Wars

This Is Not a Diet Book!

While reading two books, The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Two Whole Cakes, I came across references to a movement called “Health at Every Size (HAES).”  Unfamiliar with the phrase, I did a little research and found a book called Health at Every Size: the Surprising Truth about Your Weight by Linda Bacon.  In her book, Bacon discusses obesity and dieting and concludes that humans have evolved to store fat well, but not to lose it.  She uses scientific studies (she herself is a scientist) to back up her argument that diets don’t work and that a number on scale does not determine a person’s health or wellbeing.  Bacon urges people not to look at food (any food) as good or bad, but to listen to their bodies and eat food that makes them feel their best—energized and  strong.  She also encourages readers to incorporate more activity into their daily lives, but to focus on activity that is enjoyable and not a chore. 

This is not a diet book; in fact it’s the opposite: Bacon advises people to pay attention the way their bodies feel in relation to food and movement to improve health, not to lose weight.  I really, really liked this book; it was incredibly refreshing to read a book talking about health that urges you to listen to your body, to trust it to tell you what you need—I’d rather trust myself with my health than a diet industry that makes a huge profit selling people one particular body ideal.


health at every size: the surprising truth about your weight

An Unconventional Look at the Presidents

Writing about the U.S. presidents has been a popular thing to do throughout most of the history of the country, but especially recently, whether individually or collectively. Here's a rather large volume that has two parts: 1) The Making of the President, 1787, and 2) Presidential Profiles. I found the profile section to be particularly enjoyable. For each president, author Davis gives biographical milestones, quotations, fast facts, a lively summary of the administration, online resources for further information, and a final analysis and grade. This latter item provides the capstone to each chapter. While I don't agree with all of the ratings, I was interested to note the rationale for each. Some are obvious and expected -- Washington and Lincoln get an A+. Three in a row get an F -- Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan. But there are some surprises among the rest. This is a nice work of history presented with an entertaining flair.



Don't know much about the American presidents : everything you need to know about the most powerful office on Earth and the men who have occupied it

Facts Schmacts

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; however, everyone is not entitled to their own facts.”—Michael Specter, author of  Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

“Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true. Facts schmacts.” –Homer Simpson


Now, I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Jesse Ventura).  In fact, I recently watched a feature-length documentary that details all the crazy theories people have conjured up about secret meanings that Stanley Kubrick supposedly packed into his 1980 film The Shining.  One of these notions is that Kubrick used the Stephen King  adaptation to clandestinely confess that he helped NASA fake the moon landing in 1969.  It would be generous to call the “evidence” these theorists use to make their case for this a stretch: a boy wears an Apollo 11 sweater; a key chain that reads “ROOM No. 237” contains the same letters that one could use to spell “moon room.”  Of course, none of the theorists consider the thought that if they wanted to know if the moon landing happened or not, an old horror movie is probably not the place to go digging for evidence.  But this is just another example of the human tendency to choose one’s beliefs first and selectively scavenge for support second.  These folks are so convinced they are right, that they choose to ignore or deny any kind of actual, factual evidence that would contradict them.

This very conspiracy theory provides the title for the graphic nonfiction book How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial, in which author-illustrator Darryl Cunningham takes some of the most widespread—and often life-threatening—instances of science denial rampant in popular opinion today and presents the scientific evidence to refute them.  Using comic book panels and concise, well-researched information, Cunningham tackles topics like homeopathy, climate change and fracking, debunking the myths surrounding these issues and presenting the science in an accessible manner for both teens and adults.  It’s a quick read and I definitely recommend it to everyone, particularly if you are more likely to believe what Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy have to say about the vaccine-autism controversy than actual scientists.


How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial

Poll: Would You Genetically Enhance Your Baby?

Given the chance, would you pick the gender, eye color, height, athletic ability, intelligence of your baby? No you say? What if everybody else was? Perhaps a better question would be: given the chance, would you genetically prevent things like schizophrenia, alcoholism, autism, antisocial personality disorder, MS? None of these questions are rhetorical. They're inevitable. The technology is here and it's coming.

Michael Sandell, a moral philospher at Harvard, makes an interesting and well thought out argument against perfection. Genetic enhancement of children says more about the hubris, controlling nature, and hyperparenting of the parent more than anything else. Parenting involves two kinds of love: the love that accepts children for who they are and how they turned out, no matter what (unconditional love). And the love that helps them their goals, find themselves, perfect their abilities. This is the love that can get out of control with genetic engineering.

eugenic parenting [that's what he calls it] is objectionable because it expresses and entrenches a certain stance toward the world—a stance of mastery and dominion that fails to appreciate the gifted character of human powers and achievements, and misses the part of freedom that consists in a persisting negotiation with the given (p. 83).

It's about "willfulness over giftedness, of dominion over reverance, of molding over beholding." Life should be a balance.

My opinion, after reading this book and thinking about it, is this: when it comes to preventing certain genetic diseases, every parent should be able to use genetic engeneering. No more babies born blind, or deaf, or with horrible predispositions that are not their fault. Think about it. Hitler and Stalin and Ted Bundy probabally had the inability to emotionally feel empathy. That's a genetic defect and it's a huge problem. I'm not saying this would cure war and murder (or Hitler or Stalin), but it would probably help a lot. It should be government run and free to all, paid for by taxes. It has to be. Leaving the market to decide would create a permanent underclass of poor, sick people like we've never seen before, discrimination based on genes. "You're resume? No thanks, we'll scan your genes...thanks for applying."

When it comes to enhancing intellegence, athletic ability, etc. I'm still undecided on how we should handle it. Yeah, sure, I would love to have a better memory. But the consequences writ large could be scary. It would change everything. And it's coming.

What do you think?


The Case Against Perfection

Now you're cookin'

For most of my adult life my cooking repertoire has been severely hindered by both a lack of experience, and thus confidence, and by limiting myself to just a few very basic skills (think - boiling water, pushing down the toaster mechanism, or programming the microwave). But then just a couple years back, likely through a combination of my awareness of the seemingly endless supply of tantalizing cookbooks that KPL acquires for the collection and a growing interest in cooking that developed through the popularity of cooking shows on television and how easy they make things seem, I started to really read those cookbooks and began looking for things that I could actually attempt. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that a good recipe makes all the difference. I can’t say that everything that I create would challenge Bobby Flay, but when it works it feels like nothing short of alchemy to me to be able to pull together a great meal from simple, healthy ingredients and with my limited culinary skillset. My favorite recipes and best results have come from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, but I’ve had success with other cookbooks as well. The latest recipes that I’ve tried came from Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes by Ming Tsai. I’ve made Chicken & tri-bell pepper chow mein (pg. 34), Wonton shrimp & noodle soup (pg. 156), and Asian sloppy joes with hoisin sauce (pg. 71) and they were all just as advertised – quick, healthy, and really good!


Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes



Can Science Explain Evil?

Hitler (see my latest blog) is a perfect example. Can science explain Hitler's evil? Imagine we look into the child-brain of Hitler and see a complete lack of empathy and a 70% probably of antisocial personality disorder, depending on environmenal triggers. Could we prevent it from happing? That's one thing: science can help predict and prevent. But here's another thing: Does "lack of empathy" really explain what Hitler did? Does that encapsulate his evil? Can psychology explain him by describing the relationship he had with his father? And what about historical explanatoins of Hitler and the Holocaust? Doesn't that count? Not to mention religious accounts of evil, or philosophical ones like Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil"?

Simon Baron-Cohen says enough is enough. We need to understand evil in scientific terms in order to prevent it. Evil is "zero-degrees of empathy," which can be measured in the "empathy circuits" of the brain. Simple as that.

Well, not so simple. There is an emotional side to empathy ("I feel your pain") and a more intellectual, "cognitive" side ("I make it a rule to treat people nice"). Some people have one, some have both, some (Hitler, Ted Bundy) have neither. Emotional is more genetic, cognitive is more learnable. People with autism, for example, have trouble with emotional empathy but not with cognitive empathy. Furthermore, "zero-degrees of empathy" isn't always necessarily bad; people with Aspergers, for example, have a brain that makes them genuis's and musical prodigies (and they can live perfectly moral lives).

Wait a minute. Not so simple, still! There is an attitude of scientific arrogance here, a "step aside centuries of theologians, philosophers, social theorists, Goethe, Stephen had you're fun, now let the men in white lab coats explain everything for you." Yes, science can explain empathy. Yes, it can help to prevent and promote it (doesn't religion do that too?). Science cannot explain the whole concept of empathy or evil anymore than it can explain the whole concept of life, or pain, or death, or joy, or love.

Is that your reaction?

Either way I loved the book and highly recommend it; very readable.


The Science of Evil

Hitler: product of Germany, Evil, or Really Really Bad?

This book is not a biography of Hitler; it’s a biography of the biographers of Hitler, it’s a story about the Hitler scholars, an all-you-can-eat buffet of the full gamut of explanations for the murder of 6 to 17 million people (depending on how you count). And by “explanation” we usually mean “whose fault”? Who’s to blame? Germany? Hitler’s one testicle? Judaism? Christianity? God? The Jewish doctor who treated Hitler’s mother with cancer? Nobody? Everybody? The Nazi Party? Abstract Historical Forces? Hitler’s incestuous past, secret Jewish blood, failed artistic striving, political ideology, psychosis? Or do we simply blame Hitler himself? 

Take a deep breath. I had to. There is a level of absurdity to all of this. Why do some of these explanations sound ridiculous, narrow and short sighted? We have to remember historians are people too; they can be inaccurate, biased, and nasty. That’s the beauty of this book. It’s gossipy. We see the arrogant scholar, we see scholars tag-teaming and ridiculing each other, personal attacks, fame, red-faced, passionate, proud. Perhaps the competitive atmosphere of academic publishing is really to blame, where everything begins with disagreement instead of compatibility. Chapter 1: everybody is wrong. Chapter 2: I’m right and here’s why. Or, perhaps the historian was right that said there is no explanation for the Holocaust and never will be.  

  1. Where do we draw the line between explanation (“he was crazy”) and culpability (“he was responsible”)? 
  2. Did the Holocaust answer the question: is human nature more bad than good? Can there be “no more poetry” after the Holocaust?  
  3. Is the hatred of Hitler a potentiality in us?  
  4. What does this say about belief in God? Do we find God absent and uncaring or do we find God in the acts of heroism (the other half of the story)?  
  5. Is history driven by abstract historical/socio-political forces, or by individual people?  

Complex phenomena have complex explanations, but what really matters is the lessons that history gives us. The old adage “history repeats itself” is the whole point of doing history, in my opinion. Once we learn the patterns of hatred, we can predict them and stop them. How do you get people to hate? You separate them, call them “others,” you use the word “war,” as if to make them “enemies.” You call them “germs” or “cockroaches” or subhuman. You censor. You get rid of the media. Hitler pillaged the Munich Post. You dehumanize them and de-individualize them. Hitler passed a law that made all boy Jews have one name and all girls have another. You use esoteric, secretive, ambiguous language that hides your hatred as something “intellectual.” People eat it up. Hitler did that. So did Heidegger and Nietzsche in a way. You retell history in a way that fits with your hate story against the Jews. Hitler and the Nazis actually staged a fake battle to accomplish this.  

If you want to dive into the life of Hitler, try a different biography. If you want to dive into the sea of Hitler scholarship, I recommend this book


Explaining Hitler

An unforgettable summer

The book A summer to die is one of KPL’s oldest titles by popular young adult author Lois Lowry. I read this book as a teen in the 80s, re-read when I worked in a school library, and now read for a 3rd time before I placed it on KPL’s new “I geek teen books” display, geared for not just teens. This book follows an unforgettable year in the life of 13 year old Meg, beginning when her family moves to the country so her college professor father can finish the book he’s been working on. As the harsh Maine winter turns into spring and then a flower-filled summer at their 1840s country rental house, Meg watches her beautiful older sister, Molly, wither away and eventually succumb to a mysterious disease that causes frequent nosebleeds. With Molly’s illness never fading from the foreground, Meg develops friendships with her few neighbors while following her passion for photography…photographing her elderly neighbor, Will, the home childbirth of her neighbors Ben and Maria, and the last pictures of her sister Molly.

Look for this book and lots of other great teen/adult crossover books in our new “I geek teen books” display – located near the self-checkouts at Central library.


A summer to die

Sloth: Deadly Sin or Natural Virtue?

Caution: This blog contains information that just may be too cute for your reading pleasure. If you are disturbed or irritated by anything cute, STOP IMMEDIATELY and avoid any potential future exposure.

Even though I don’t watch much television, one of my favorite shows is Too Cute! on the Animal Planet channel. This program showcases mostly puppies and kittens, (but also occasionally exotic pets), as they are born and develop for the first two to three months of life in various, usually for-profit husbandry households. Each show culminates in the members of the new generation being adopted by their “forever” families. Even though I have watched some episodes numerous times and know that they are slanted toward the “And they lived happily ever after” ending, I still can’t help myself. There’s something about the newborn, no mater what species (well maybe not snakes), that draws me in. Especially so if the producers contrive and manipulate the action to hyper boost the cloyingly sweet “cute quotient.”

But then, a little over one month ago I came upon a book that was “too cute” without the hype. I’m referring to A Little Book of Sloth, written and photographed by Lucy Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society. It documents the activities of the real-life sanctuary of Slothville, located in the wilds of Costa Rica, which is devoted to saving these sleepy-looking, engaging, and mellow creatures. The book features some of the “cutest” inhabitants of Slothville, from the orphan Buttercup to Mateo, Sunshine and Sammy, Ubu, as well as numerous other endearing two and three fingered sloths.

Thanks to a uniquely slow nervous system, sloths are known for their lethargic, unhurried movements. They epitomize a lazy, laid back, and ultra chilled lifestyle. But while sloths may look sluggish, they are also quite acrobatic and have the ability to turn their heads around up to 270 degrees, due to an extra neck vertebrae.

Although they appear to be huggable cuddle-bugs as depicted in this volume, sloths do not make good pets and definitely belong in the wild. In captivity, they require special care. For instance, at the Sanctuary, the sloths are given regular baths in a specifically formulated, green leaf tea solution to keep their skin in good physical condition. They also appreciate hibiscus flowers being part of their standard diet.

But don’t despair at your inability to have one of these creatures hang around your home. You can always visit to help an orphaned sloth in need by making a donation, or go to to join the Sloth Appreciation Society.

And don’t forget to check out this book. The pictures alone are adorable, precious and may very well lead to you having an absolutely slothful “too cute” day!


A Little Book of Sloth


Calling all Gatsby fans! If you love the romance, mystery and decadence of The Great Gatsby, then you will be delighted with Starstruck, by Rachel Shukert. This is old Hollywood with screen legends, child stars, intrigue, and enough glitz to bedazzle one and all.

Olympus Studio has an Olympic sized problem, their biggest star, Diana Chesterfield, has gone missing and no one seems to have any answers. While the studio scrambles to find the right spin to put on this mystery, trouble is also brewing for showbiz veteran Gabby Preston and all of the little magic pills that help aid her climb to the top.

In Starstruck, Rachel Shukert has nailed the language, music and essence of the 1930s while spinning a story of deceit, Hollywood magic and teenage dreams. This is a must read if you love old Hollywood. Enjoy!



A transformative journey

A new book by Mary Roach is always a treat, and her latest volume is no exception. This weekend I Gulped it down with great pleasure. Previous books have focused on death, sex, the afterlife, and space travel.  This time she examines digestion, with all the glee of the 19th century doctor she describes who seemed to take unprofessional pleasure in igniting stomach gases (p227).

My favorite part of this book is getting to know her “favorite snake digestion expert” (p172), who pops up throughout the book with, among other interesting and sometimes gross tidbits, a biological explanation of dragons (p230). If you are familiar with Mary Roach’s work, you are likely a fan, and may already be on the holds list for Gulp. If not, why not grab one of her earlier works and dig in.  




The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a beautiful novel that artfully weaves together the stories of several women into one shared experience. Set in the wake of World War I, it follows the lives of a group of Japanese women who came to California as picture brides, knowing very little of the men to whom they would be married. Told in the first person plural, the narrative begins with the young women as they traveled across the ocean to start their new lives. Marriage, childbirth, earning a living, raising families, and being part of a community, they all learned to navigate life in this strange place. Eventually, what they came to think of as home was taken away as the Second World War called into question their loyalties. At times heartbreaking, and other times wryly funny, this book seems to be more about what actually happened than any purely factual account could contain. It is an album made up of hundreds of snapshots on a loose time line that brings to life a piece of history that is so often forgotten.


The Buddha in the Attic


The Drop

The Drop by Michael Connelly is a good classic police work mystery. Detective Harry Bosch who works cold cases has been requested by a councilman to investigate the death of his son. Bosh is also working a cold case. We get a lot of insight to police work and what they have to do to make sure that their case is ready for court and the scrutiny of the defense lawyer. In some ways they spend way too much time on telling the protocols the whys and wherefores of proper police procedure. The two mysteries that Bosh has to solve; one is the councilman’s son is found splat on the concrete and had apparently jumped from the seventh floor of a hotel (or was he pushed or tossed) the other is a twenty year old cold case of a 19 year old female who was raped and murdered. I listened to this as an audio book downloaded from KPL’s overdrive, so flipping a page and scooting ahead through the boring detail parts of police work was not an option but I was kind of glad I was forced to listen. It gave me a better feel for how tedious the plodding along and building a case was and how crucial it was or your work is all for naught as a defense lawyer gets the bad guy off on a technicality. If you like true crime, you might like this. Michael Connelly is a well know famous author and has many other books for you to choose from also.


The Drop

Andrew Carnegie: I geek Libraries ($41 million worth)

What makes an Andrew Carnegie? What turns a Scottish immigrant boy, son of a poor weaver, into the most successful man of the 1800’s? He would name five people. His father, the “sweetest nature” he had ever known. And his mother, who respected all religions and lived by the Confucian maxim to “perform the duties in this life well, troubling not about another.” And his wife, “peace and good-will attend her footsteps.” And a librarian named Colonel James Anderson, “bless his name as I write,” who opened a library for working boys:

and to him I owe a taste for literature which I would not exchange for all the millions that were ever amassed by man. Life would be quite intolerable without it…the light of knowledge streamed in. Every day’s toil and even the long hours of night service were lightened by the book which I carried about with me and read in the intervals that could be snatched from duty. (Autobiography, 46).

It is no wonder, then, that Carnegie would give $41 million (today that’s several billions) to establish 1,689 libraries:

It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support it as a municipal institution…For if one boy in each library district…is half as much benefited as I was by having access to Colonel Anderson’s four hundred well-worn volumes, I shall consider they have not been established in vain (47).

The Philosopher Philanthropist

Andrew took a trip around the world and learned that the “Great Power” had smiled on all cultures and peoples:

In China I read Confucius; in India, Buddha and the sacred books of the Hindoos; among the Parsees, in Bombay, I studied Zoroaster…I had a philosophy at last. The words of Christ ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,’ had a new meaning for me. Not in the past or in the future, but now and here is Heaven within us. All our duties lie in this world and in the present, and trying impatiently to peer into that which lies beyond is as vain as fruitless (206).

When wealthy men become wise they give their wealth to worthy causes: "I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution…Shakespeare had placed his talismanic touch upon the thought… ‘So distribution should undo excess, And each man have enough’" (255). And “of all my work of a philanthropic character, my pension fund gives me the highest and noblest return” (279).

Clearly he believed in education, as his money talks: all the libraries, a fund for university professors, for the Tuskegee Institute: “and to know Booker Washington is a rare privilege…No truer, more self-sacrificing hero every lived: a man compounded of all the virtues.”

I recommend reading this biography and his autobiography at the same time.


Andrew Carnegie

Why my Coffee was extra special this morning...

I roasted it! It’s 10x easier than you think. (1) get a hot air popcorn popper. Yep, that’s right: popcorn popper (got mine from Target); (2) get green beans (got mine from local roastery, also check out they seem really good); (3) put 1/3 cup in the popcorn popper, wait 5-8 minutes (listen for the “second crack”); (4) cool beans, grind, and enjoy. Done. (Obviously it’s a bit more complicated…visit or youtube for how-to videos). The longer you roast coffee (“dark roast”), the less caffeine.

It’s amazing that every single coffee bean that you see was probably individually picked by someone’s hand (machines aren’t smart enough for them yet). Coffee is born on coffee trees by the equator. The beans are actually found inside little red fruit cherry balls. Coffee beans are the seeds inside the fruit, small green hard beans that smell like spicy bread. It’s hard to imagine why someone roasted them in the first place, but very old civilizations certainly had coffee (there are various theories about how they stumbled on it).

Oh yeah, the biggest question of all: taste. My first batch tasted great and had a distinct smell. Not as good as a fresh cup of Starbucks or Waterstreet, but extremely close. I imagine they will get better. If you are looking to satisfy your do-it-yourself impulse, save some money (about 15-25%), and have the freshest coffee you’ve ever had, I recommend giving it a try. If you don’t like it, perhaps because of the smoke it fills your kitchen with, you’ve only wasted 25 bucks.


Home Coffee Roasting

One Dog and His Boy

Some little boys want a family dog, some parents don’t want a family dog. Hal Fenton is one of those boys who desperately wants a dog for a birthday present, but his wealthy parents Donald and Albina do not want one. To pacify their son they rent a dog for the weekend; the Easy Pets Dog Agency in London is just the place. Myron and Mavis Carker, owners of the agency, do it for profit, not for the love of dogs. Kayley is the kind teenage caretaker of the dogs. Kayley finds a mongrel, brings it to the agency, and names him Fleck, and pronounces him a rare breed: a “Tottenham” terrier. The Fentons rent Fleck for the weekend. Fleck and Hal are inseparable, that is, until Albina returns Fleck.

Let the adventure begin! Hal and his pal kidnap the dogs at the agency and begin a journey to his grandparents home near the coast of England, all the while being pursued for the tremendous reward offered by Hal’s parents. The delightful story of Fleck, Otto, the St. Bernard, Li-Chee, the Pekinese, Francine, the poodle, Honey, the rough-haired collie, and even Queen Tilly, the Mexican hairless, is both harrowing and heart-warming. Do they make it to their destination? Read it and find out!

This is the last book written by Eva Ibbotson who passed away in October 2010 at the age of 85.


One Dog and His Boy

Light and fluffy

Bagels may not often described with the above adjectives, but Sharon Kahn’s Fax me a bagel definitely fits the bill.  The first in her Ruby, the rabbi’s wife series, it is a quick and enjoyable read, with quirky characters and old technology (published in 1998 – can that really be fifteen years ago already – facsimile technology and the necessary accoutrements of a business have come a long way).  If you enjoy this title, you’ll be pleased to know that we have the rest of the series, which are six in total.  Just beware: you may finish reading with a craving for bagels, though you may be as lucky as I was – and coincidentally be offered one.  Just in case it wasn’t a coincidence, my next read may be about winning the lottery!

Fax me a bagel


Boom, Boom, Pop!

My kids attended a fine