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Staff Picks: Books

Bear and Hare - Two Good Friends Off On Another Gentle Adventure

Author and illustrator Emily Gravett has written another book featuring that likeable pair, Bear and Hare.

In Bear & Hare: Where’s Bear?, the duo play hide and seek and unfortunately it’s Bear’s turn to hide. After counting to ten, Hare has no problem finding Bear as he attempts to conceal himself in places that are far from obscure. Bear is just too large!

Then it’s Hare’s turn to hide while Bear counts to ten. Bear has a much more difficult time finding Hare. He looks in the teapot, under the rug, and under the blanket. Bear gives up and decides that a quick nap is in order. He curls up under the blanket, while Hare, comes out the other end. Now Hare is once again looking for his friend Bear. Finally, after checking all of Bear’s previously ineffective hiding spots, Hare states loudly “I WANT BEAR!” Bear comes out from underneath his blanket and they reunite with a big hug. There! They’re back together once more, and all is well with the world!

A sweet and endearing story which is sure to please any preschool child. Wonderful whimsy!


No Ordinary Sound

I highly recommend No Ordinary Sound by Denise Lewis Patrick.  The story introduces Melody Ellison, the latest addition to the American Girl historical dolls line BeForever.  Reading it transported me back to my childhood growing up in Detroit during the 1960s.  It is a wonderful read and I was so impressed with all the authentic references to the city and the time period.

Melody is a talented 9-year-old who loves to sing.  Her story unfolds as she tries to balance her youthful dreams with the harsh realities of growing up during the Civil Rights Era.  After Melody is chosen to sing a solo at her church recital, she experiences set-backs at home, in her community, and in her country.

The author has written a true classic here.  I can't wait for the Melody Ellison doll to debut this summer.  I just might find myself standing in line at a mall somewhere.  

Lost Girl

As someone who loves 20th century historical fiction of all kinds, I was drawn to Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls. The Girls follows present-day Evie Boyd as she recalls the events of the summer of 1969 when she was 14 years old. Evie, a lost and lonely adolescent, is drawn into a cult by the confident, effervescent Suzanne who is everything Evie wants to be. She finds sanctuary at the compound, but things begin to unravel when the leader plans a gruesome murder that rocks the nation. 

Being a teenager is hard on everyone. It’s an awkward time and all you want is to feel like you belong somewhere. My version of handling this stage in life was VASTLY different (mainly sitting in my room listening to emo music and reading Stephen King novels), but Cline conjured up a bittersweet nostalgia that made me feel a connection to young Evie. Cline also depicts the diversity of female relationships- with men, with girls and women, with society- and does not gloss over any of the negatives. Evie isn’t always likable and doesn’t always have a solid reason for her actions, and that’s okay. Cline isn’t afraid to show that everyone has flaws, not all decisions are crystal clear, and not all relationships are ideal, or even healthy.

I will confess that I wasn’t as captivated with the actual plot as I had hoped, but I was still drawn into this book. Even though the incident is comparable to the Manson Family murders, the thrill of the crime fell a little flat.  If you are looking for an edge-of-your-seat-true-crime-inspired fiction, move on, BUT if you’re looking for an emotional coming-of-age tale, get comfy and read on.  The Girls may not have been the historical crime story I was expecting, but it was definitely worth the read!

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

 I’ve read many novels about World War II, but A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, is the first I can recall with a Japanese setting to the Nagasaki bombing.

Amaterasu Takahaski, now living in Philadelphia, is skeptical when a badly scarred man, claiming to be her grandson, appears at her door. Her grandson and her daughter perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki, but this man carries a collection of sealed private letters that open long-buried family secrets that give her pause.

This is a heart-wrenching story of love and regret, ultimately healing and hope. I’ve been recommending this to my reader-friends and expect it will be one of my favorites of the year.

These Girls Pack a Punch!

 Do you need more dinosaurs, time travelers, and girl power in your life? If so, I have two fantastic graphic novels for you.  First up, is Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn, the writer named by Wired Magazine as " the greatest comic book visionary of the last five years." This suspenseful mystery starts with a slow burn as four paper delivery girls head out to cover their route the morning after Halloween in 1988.  After the girls accidentally set off a strange machine, the story kicks off at break-neck speed, and soon the girls are facing off against dinosaurs, laser-blasting knights, and sub-human creatures that might just be from the future. It’s intense, fast-paced, wicked fun, and the series is only just beginning. 


Also, make sure to check out the Lumberjanes series by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson. Lumberjanes follows five “hardcore lady types” spending the summer at a crazy camp surrounded by bizarre supernatural mysteries. The girls fight werewolves, solve riddles, and avoid the ever-watchful eye of their group counselor in this manic, off-beat, fantastic read. This series has been out for a while, but you can catch up on Hoopla digital.

Both of these series are a great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy, action, and mystery with fabulous artwork. So what are you waiting for? 

Prisoners of Geography

This 2015 book, subtitled Ten Maps That Explain Everything about the World, is praised by Newsweek as a work that 'shows how geography shapes not just history but destiny.' The ten maps and the discussion of each conveniently take up ten chapters: Russia, China, United States, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America, and The Arctic. The discipline of geopolitics gets a very good airing here, with answers by British author Tim Marshall to such questions as: 1) Why will America never be invaded?, 2) What does it mean that Russia must have a navy, but also has frozen ports six months out of the year?, 3) How does this affect Putin's treatment of the Ukraine?, 4) How is China's future constrained by geography?, 5) Why is Tibet destined to lose its autonomy?, and 6) Why will Europe never be united? The physical aspects of the world's nations are a major factor in determining the conduct of international relations even in this modern age. Historical yet current, this book is a rich source for understanding the world scene in the 21st century and the background to its development.

The Knot Outdoor Weddings

Fresh Ideas For Events In Gardens, Vineyards, Beaches, Mountains, And More

The Knot….you might be wondering what could this possibly mean – that is only if you have not had an experience with the world of weddings recently!

The Knot was founded by Carley Roney to bring modern, fresh personal style to weddings. The Knot Outdoor Weddings book features 50 gorgeous weddings celebrating an array of settings. This is a must look at book if a wedding is in your future. My daughter and I have been studying the beautiful photographs and details for just about any outdoor wedding setting. We are adding ideas for her upcoming wedding. I know you will have fun looking through this book as well.

Happy dreaming!


Weekends with Max and His Dad

 “Just like a porcupine, he had two places to sleep.  Both were safe and both were good.  Some days were house days and some days were apartment days.  But both were home.”  This short chapter book is about Max and his dad as they find their way when divorce requires some things to change.  Weekends with Max and His Dad is a sweet, honest, funny story.

Widow Basquiat

I’ve been interested in the New York art scene of the 1980’s since…well the 1980’s. The New York of that era would be unrecognizable to the gentrified, hyper-wealthy Manhattan of today. But it’s just that gritty, crime-ridden, underworld scene that interested me so much. It also allowed hip-hop music and graffiti art to be elevated to legit art forms and inspired some truly great artists to become household names. I was totally enamored by the populist art of Keith Haring, but the artist whose work and image intrigued me the most was Jean-Michel Basquiat. Seeing pictures of Basquiat back then, dreadlocked and in a paint-spattered Armani suit, seemed too cool to be real and when I first saw the raw voodoo power of his paintings, I really couldn’t get enough. There are many books that highlight this era and the artists who were forged within it, but the uniquely resonant prose of Jennifer Clement’s novel Widow Basquiat is exceptional in its ability to take you directly to that wild time in New York City and poetically tell the story of the volatile love affair between the doomed Basquiat and his muse Suzanne Mollouk.

The Story of Kullervo

My enduring interest in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and my Finnish ancestry are two aspects of my life I never had reason to believe would ever cross in any significant fashion. Browsing the shelves, I recently discovered The Story of Kullervo (ed. Verlyn Flieger), an unfinished prose version of what is known as the Kullervo cycle, which originally appeared in the Finnish epic poem The Kalevala.   

Tolkien set to work on the The Story of Kullervo as an undergraduate studying at Exeter College, Oxford in 1914. The original story is a tragic tale of an unfortunate orphan boy, raised by his father's killer, and centered around themes of magic, betrayal, and vengeance. Tolkien, having first read an English-translated copy of The Kalevala in 1907 while a student at King Edward’s School, found the Kullervo cycle particularly captivating. Claiming the translated version to be unsatisfactory, he set to learning Finnish in order to engage the original source material, an effort which he declared left him “repulsed with heavy losses.”

Nonetheless, he remained thoroughly interested in crafting his own version of the tale, and in The Story of Kullervo, the earliest versions of many of the themes, naming conventions, and story elements of his later works can be seen. Close students of Tolkien’s books, and those published after his death by his son, Christopher Tolkien, will find plenty to enjoy here.

Being an unfinished work, it is a quick read, but editor Verlyn Flieger has supported the story deftly with insightful analyses of what is known of Tolkien’s early efforts, the source materials he used, and additional influences on his literary style. The bibliography is substantial, drawing upon all the sources one would suspect, along with scholarly journals, monographs, and at least one PhD dissertation. Indeed, Flieger’s bibliography amounts to a well-curated ‘further reading’ list and chances are if you are investigating this book, ‘further reading’ is exactly the sort of thing that interests you.