Staff Picks: Books

Nikki Heat Series by Richard Castle

I watched the television show “Castle”. In the television show Richard Castle is a writer who gets to ride along with Detective Kate Becket and her team. In the television show (and I emphasize this) Richard Castle (played by Nathan Fillion) writes a book about Detective Kate Becket and calls her Nikki Heat. Someone thought hey lets write a real book about Nikki Heat and pretend it is written by Richard Castle just like in the television series. There are now 6 books in the Nikki Heat Series written by Richard Castle. Nobody knows who really writes these books. The book jacket shows a picture of Nathan Fillion but they say his name is Richard Castle. Nathan Fillion has even signed some books using his television name Richard Castle. The books have the same characters as in the show but they change the names. Richard Castle is called Jameson Rook, Kate Becket is of course Nikki Heat, Detective Ryan is Raley and Detective Esposito is Ochoa. I like that they renamed Castle as Rook. In Chess in a move called Castling, the Rook can change positions with the King. There after you call that piece a Castle. I like that they choose to use that play on words. When reading the books it is like watching the show but can get confusing. I was reading one of the books and watching the show at the same time, not exactly the same same time, and was getting a wee bit confused. In the show her mother was killed in an alley, but in the book she is killed in their kitchen. On the show during think tank sessions they toss around a little ball the size of a tennis ball, in the book they toss a basketball, I like the show version better. I downloaded from KPL and listened to these books on my mp3 player, KPL also has the print versions and digital. So whether you prefer print, digital or audio KPL has it all. Check it out at KPL.


Nikki Heat Series by Richard Castle

Mirage, A Novel of the Oregon Files

Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul have written another book, Mirage, filled with the adventures of the crew from the ship the Oregon. This time it’s all about invisible ships and magnetic blue beams. A Navy ship sailing out of Philadelphia disappears and somehow an inventor named Nikola Tesla is involved. Give it a read at KPL.



A Librarian with a Statistics Degree?

Yes, I studied actuarial science before getting my library science degree, which statement probably prompts most of you to think, “I didn’t even know those two sciences existed.” But I bring this up, because I am currently enjoying reading/listening to three books on three completely different subjects, but where numbers and statistics play a big part: 

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Triumphs of Experience by George Vaillant

The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong by David Sally

Lewis’ book The Big Short is a well- known bestseller that explains the financial meltdown of 2008. It is fascinating and infuriating and may leave you swearing like a Wall Street bond trader (bond trader is worthy of replacing sailor in that cliché).

In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant tells the story of the Harvard Grant Study, a longitudinal study that started in 1938 and has followed almost three hundred men of which the survivors are in their 90s now. The study was started as an attempt to, “transcend medicine’s usual preoccupation with pathology and learn something instead about optimum health and potential and the conditions that promote them.” The conclusions are interesting as well as the different factors they study over time that they think might lead to optimum health and the changes in the definition of optimum health. 

Sally’s book The Numbers Game is to soccer what Moneyball (written by Michael Lewis who wrote The Big Short) is to baseball. As he crunches the numbers, he comes up with conclusions like launching corner kicks into the box hoping to score a goal is less valuable than just retaining possession with a short safe pass and that the team that takes the most shots on goal actually loses slightly more than half of the time. 

Isn’t it great that libraries have books to please all sorts of tastes? 


The Numbers Game



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

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


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!



Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old boy genius who kidnaps a fairy in order to get her gold. This is the first in a series and is titled Artemis Fowl. Artemis is what every 12 year old boy wants to be. His mom has dementia so he is not hampered by her rules and having to go to school, yet he does miss her and would still like to have her back as his mom. Artemis has a man servant with the last name of Butler who is huge and protects Artemis. The first thing that happens is that Artemis captures a fairy book. With this first chapter we are introduced to Artemis and find out that he has a castle, has a great computer network, that he is always two steps ahead of everyone and that Butler is very strong and dedicated. Artemis uses the knowledge in this fairy book to ambush Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon fairy unit. He holds her hostage and demands a ton of gold. The fairies try to get Holly back but are defeated time after time by Artemis. Root, a commander in the LEPrecon unit decides to send in a dwarf named Mulch. This book is written for a teen age audience. It is heavy into to fairies, dwarfs, goblins, trolls etc. It also has the gassy fart humor that teen age boys enjoy. The drawf can unhinge his jaw and tunnel through dirt. Prior to starting he also opens the back flap of his tunneling pants because what goes in the jaw comes out the other end. He also builds up a tremendous amount of air pressure and he actually is able to use this to incapacitate Butler. This book is full of details about fairy life. This is book one of a series. I got my copy from KPL's digital audio collection but we also have them in hard copy. I look forward to “reading” (having them read to me) the others.


Artemis Fowl

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

A co-worker recommended the book A Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to me. What a great suggestion! In 1950’s era England, eleven year old Flavia de Luce finds a body in the family’s cucumber patch. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my entire life.” She attempts to solve the mystery ( sometimes to the consternation of the local police) using her intelligence, advanced knowledge of chemistry, and just plain persistence. A quirky family- two older, literary sisters and a widowed father who is an avid stamp collector-also figure in the story. Canadian author C. Alan Bradley won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for this delightful mystery, the first in a series featuring memorable Flavia.


Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

A Short Story Winner

You Know When the Men are Gone, a collection of eight loosely connected stories, is centered on Fort Hood, Texas. The title of the first story and the collection refers to what is not heard through the thin walls of military housing: no boots stomping, no football games, no early morning doors slamming as they leave for drills. You know the men have deployed.

The women and the children wait, they cope in different ways. The men on deployment cope in their ways also; the homecoming can be bittersweet, challenging.

These are personal stories, not political. The tone is straightforward, the stories are compelling. They put a human face on the news stories.


You Know When the Men are Gone

Half the Sky

A few months ago, I happened to catch a show on PBS called “Half the Sky,” a series about the oppression of women in developing countries. The film followed a number of women throughout the world who have devoted their lives to freeing women and young girls from sex trafficking, domestic violence, and inadequate healthcare (including access to better prenatal care and freedom from genital mutilation). The topics were heavy and the film footage often heartbreaking, but the work being done by these selfless, heroic women was inspiring.

Come to find out, the film was based on a book called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn wrote Half the Sky in an effort to address the oppression of women—a problem they saw reaching a crisis point but not being discussed at a global level. Not only does the book attempt to raise awareness of the issues that women and girls face worldwide, but it also acts as a call to arms to inspire and enact change. They believe that empowering women, while morally right, also serves to help the global economy and combat poverty, and they give plenty of examples of organizations working hard to fight for women’s rights. Don’t be frightened away by the weighty topic—this powerful and enlightening book will leave readers full of hope and optimism.


Half the sky

The 19th Wife : a novel

In The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff weaves two stories into one engaging novel, which takes the reader back and forth between historical fiction and modern day murder mystery. While the former helps to lay the groundwork for the latter, each is its own journey. Using a series of fictional documents to tell the story of Ann Eliza Young, whose divorce from Brigham Young in the mid 1870’s, and outspoken criticism of polygamy became national news, the author provides the almost unbiased feeling of being a researcher. Meanwhile, his first person narrative of Jordan, the excommunicated son of fundamentalist Mormons from an isolated community, immediately draws you into to his struggle. This is the character I really cared about, and what keep me up at night to read “just one more chapter.” This definitely does not read like a judgment of a religious practice, but rather a glimpse into a different world. As you follow Jordan on his path to confront his past, you feel the weight of how much history has defined it, and you really care about him, and the unlikely heroes who help him find his way.


The 19th Wife

Where Do Those Eureka Moments Come From?

How does creativity work? Moreover, how do we harness creativity, both individually and as a group? These are the questions explored in the book Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired magazine and author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide.

The book is divided into two parts, “Alone” and “Together,” where Alone uses current brain research to discuss individual creativity, and Together explores history to uncover the roots of societal and group creativity. In Alone, Lehrer distinguishes two types of individual creativity. The first is what I call the “Aha!” creativity. These Eureka moments occur most often when one is not overly-focused, letting one’s mind drift and broaden enough to make subtle connections between seemingly-unrelated points of knowledge. In contrast, the second type of individual creativity is reminiscent of the Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” That is, in order to materialize one’s new ideas and Eureka moments, one must maintain enough focus and persistence to carry the concept to completion. While these two creative processes, non-focused and hyper-focused, may inhibit one another, they are complementary ways for an individual's creative ideas to be realized.

In part two, Together, Lehrer discusses how creative outputs of societies and organizations often depend on how they are structured, both physically and socially. For example, the dynamics of cities with high population densities almost force their inhabitants to interact with a diverse range of people and ideas, enabling various forms of thought and action to synergize in new ways. On a smaller scale, companies have gone so far as to design their campus architecture in ways that maximize casual communication and idea sharing among disparate departments. There is even historical evidence to show that groups seeking competitive advantage by hiding their innovations from one another (with non-disclosure agreements, etc.) actually hamper the group's own creative potential in the long run. These are fascinating conclusions for both groups and individuals about how diverse experiences and cooperation are often invaluable for creativity.

In conclusion, I’ve learned a lot about "how creativity works." The main concepts I’ve gleaned from Imagine are: on a personal level, a state of non-focus (almost akin to boredom) allows one to see the big picture and let those “Aha!” moments arise. On the other hand, many incredible works of art, literature, and science have been created by persistent focus and sustained concentration. On a social level, exposure to new ways of doing and thinking—often through unintended or casual collaboration—is the best way to create novel concepts among groups. Imagine helped me understand the creative process and gave me some new ideas of my own.

I note that, in "reading" the audiobook version of Imagine, this is the first audiobook I’ve heard that was narrated by the author themself. Thereby, I have no basis for comparison, but if you’re interested in the audio version of this book, I think that the author does a pretty good job of narrating the stories, conversations, and research throughout.

Publication Issues: Self-Plagiarizing and Quote Fabrication

Imagine—or rather, its author’s reputation—has been marred in the media by the author’s oversight on two critical publishing issues. The first is that Lehrer “self-plagiarized” by virtually cut-and-pasting portions of his magazine articles into the book without citations. Second – and most infamous – is his fabrication of a quote by folk rock legend Bob Dylan. It seems that, in centering the first few chapters of the book on Bob Dylan’s creative process, Lehrer basically conjured up a short but non-existent quote by the artist, perhaps to bring the narrative together. Not a good move.

Jonah Lehrer, as a fairly young but brilliant journalist and author, received ample notoriety and job opportunities prior to finishing Imagine. Did Lehrer simply stretch himself too thin as an impressive new writer? Whatever the case, I strongly think that (omitting the Dylan quote) Imagine is an excellent book that I would strongly recommend to readers interested in the creative mind, the artistic process, and the ways that groups can innovate.


Imagine : how creativity works

Fall's New Books

This fall is an exciting time for fiction readers. A handful of greatly loved, established writers are releasing new books this season. Earlier this month, Zadie Smith released her fourth novel, NW. Louise Erdrich's fourteenth novel, The Round House, will be published at the beginning of next month. Early November will see the publication of Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, and Dear Life, a new collection of stories by Alice Munro. And later this week, J.K. Rowling's much anticipated first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, hits shelves. Place your holds today!



Life of Pi

Life of Pi is an award winning novel by Canadian author, Yann Martel. It tells the story of Pi Patel, the 16 year old son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry India. Pi is a spiritual seeker at an early age. He is a Hindu but falls in love with the stories of other religions and tells his parents that he wants to also be a Christian and Muslim. His family emigrates from India to Canada aboard a Japanese cargo ship along with their zoo animals. When the ship sinks, Pi ends up alone in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

The book describes the experience of how Pi survives 227 days adrift in the ocean with his unlikely companions. When he is finally rescued, Pi tells his extraordinary story to representatives of the Japanese shipping company searching for the cause of the sinking. They express deep disbelief, so he offers them a second, more believable story that parallels the first one. The company reps, and the reader, can choose to believe either one. The book depicts how all people use stories to give meaning to their experiences and process reality around them – some based on faith and religion.

Life of Pi is a readable book with a thought provoking ending and would make a great selection for a book club discussion.


Life of Pi

Wolf Hall

An avid history fan, I’m listening right now to a wonderful audiobook version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. It’s a look at the England of Henry VIII, when Henry decided to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, and marry Ann Boleyn. Mantel portrays these turbulent political and religious times through the life of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was very much behind the scenes, and powerful. He came from humble beginnings. But he contrived to know the right people and got things done, first for his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, and later for Henry VIII, when Wolsey fell out of favor with the king. Cromwell is not always portrayed in a favorable light; here Mantel has made him a wholly believable and not unsympathetic figure.

Wolf Hall was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and it’s well deserved. Mantel is historically accurate, and the characters and times are fascinating in their detail. Library Journal’s review says, “There will be few novels this year as good as this one,” and I would concur. Author Hilary Mantel was born in England. She studied law at the London School of Economics, and has lived and worked in Botswana and Saudi Arabia, before returning to live in England.


Wolf Hall

I’m Just Wild About “Wild”

I walk regularly - almost on a daily basis and especially so in non-winter months. In addition to the exercise it provides, I love the simplicity of the activity. Walking is a natural form of stress releasing fun. So it’s no surprise that what attracted me to read this book titled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was it’s simple premise: One woman’s extraordinary solo hiking journey of 1,100 miles from Mojave, California to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon.

It’s a memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, the acclaimed author of the very well received novel Torch. The book starts off with the 22 year-old Cheryl caring for her 45 year-old vegetarian, non-smoking mother who nonetheless is suddenly diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and ends up dying just a little over a month after that initial diagnosis is made. This event throws Cheryl into a frenzy of confusion and doubt where she makes a number of life changing decisions, some much worse than others. She divorces her husband whom she confesses she still loves, has several affairs and dabbles with heroin. Changing her last name to “Strayed” as a reflection upon the state of shambles that her life had become, she decides to find herself. This moment of self-enlightenment comes four and half years after her mother’s death. Looking for some drastic challenge to undertake, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail even though she knows little about long distance hiking.

She chronicles her journey with Monster, an overstuffed backpack weighing in excess of forty pounds, on her back, and an ill-fitting pair of new hiking boots that leave her feet blistered, sore, bruised, and with several of her toenails severed off.

On her trek, she has to regularly deal with the rattlesnakes that she spots, as well as cougars and other wildlife. If that weren’t enough, not all the people she meets on or near the trail are friendly. A few are downright fearsome and want more from her than a little conversation or a friendly smile.

I found this book to be very honest, in fact brutally so. But this is tempered by Strayed’s very easygoing and likeable writing style, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading of her soul searching adventure. It is definitely an emotional trip, and one that is not easily forgotten.

And I also look forward to reading Torch.

But first, it’s almost time for my walk! Just around the neighborhood mind you.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Summer of 1962: “Dead End in Norvelt”

The summer of 1962 in a small town Norvelt, PA is off to an iffy start for 11 year old Jack in Dead End in Norvelt. He accidentally fires off his father’s World War II Japanese rifle, and, Jack’s mother “grounds him for life” (or at least the summer.) The one exception to his not leaving the house is to help Miss Volker, whose arthritic hands make it impossible for her to type the newspaper obituaries. She can’t drive, either, so she gives Jack driving lessons and with Jack at the wheel, they careen around town trying to discover if a Hell’s Angel really put a curse on the town, or if the Girl Scout cookies are laced with rat poison. Eccentric and colorful characters abound in this book. It also provides a glimpse into actual historical events, an added plus. (There really was a town called Norvelt, created by Eleanor Roosevelt, and based on communal land ownership.)

A wonderfully readable book with non-stop action for older children, Dead End in Norvelt won the Newbery Award for 2012. It joins a long list of other great titles by popular author Jack Gantos, including the Joey Pigza chapter book series and the Rotten Ralph picture books.


Dead End in Norvelt

I Am the Messenger

If you enjoy listening to Australian accents and if you like stories written with an ingenious idea, then listen to I Am the Messenger, written by Markus Zusak and read by Marc Aden Gray.

The summary, as listed in the KPL catalog, reads: “After capturing a bank robber, nineteen-year old cabdriver Ed Kennedy begins receiving mysterious messages that direct him to addresses where people need help, and he begins getting over his lifelong feeling of worthlessness.” Ed Kennedy’s ordinariness and common desires keep this story fresh. Ed lives in a self-described shack with his stinky old dog named “the Doorman.” Who is sending these playing cards with cryptic messages written on them anyway? Messages that demand Ed to seek justice by entering the lives of various townsfolk, ie: an abused wife, a lonely old woman with dementia, an athletic teenage girl who runs barefoot, a priest with dwindling attendance at his run-down neighborhood church, a poor mother of three children, two battling brothers, Ed’s own condemning mother, and lastly, his three best friends with hidden agendas: Ritchie, Marv, and Audrey.

This intriguing, thought-provoking story is certain to satisfy both teen and adult readers.


I Am the Messenger

E-book Alert: Penguin Publishers

Changes in the way in which downloadable e-books are bought, distributed, and accessed are coming fast and furious. How will this impact your e-book reading experience at KPL? The most recent change to the way in which you access our e-book collection impacts users who own Kindle devices or Kindle apps. The following alert concerns Penguin Publishers. Starting February 10, Penguin will no longer offer additional copies of e-books and downloadable Audiobooks for library purchase. Additionally, Penguin e-books loaned for reading on Kindle devices will need to be downloaded to a computer then transferred to the device over USB. For library patrons, this means Penguin e-books will no longer be available for over-the-air delivery to Kindle devices or to Kindle apps.

It is even more important now to note who the publisher of your book is when attempting to download and transfer e-books to your computer, e-reader or mobile device. We will continue to bring attention to these kinds of industry changes when they impact library use. Stay tuned.


Moonwalking with Einstein [electronic resource] : the art and science of remembering everything

In Search of Lost Rembrandts and Leonardos

In preparation for a day when I would be spending a lot of time in the car, I took a short visit to the audiobook collection at Central Library.  For me, commutes or road trips become much more enjoyable when I have a good book to listen to.  I gathered up a few titles, including a favorite I have listened to a number of time, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and headed to the self check-out.  At the last second, one more title caught my eye titled The Art Detective: fakes, frauds, and finds and the search for lost treasures by Philip Mould.  I quickly snatched up the title knowing it was right up my alley and could likely keep me intently listening for hours.

The author, Philip Mould, is an art dealer from London.  He has gained popularity through his dealings over the years and has been an appraiser on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow.  He spends much of his time researching and examining paintings that are up for auction all over the world judging their worth by considering their subject, attribution, state of preservation, popularity, and provenance.  His book tells stories from during his career when lost paintings have been identified and forgeries uncovered.  Through art historical research in libraries and archives, and scientific innovations, art connoisseurs are able to learn more about how a work of art originally looked and functioned than ever before.  Mould, his colleagues, and his many friends in the art world painstakingly follow leads and try to trace back a painting's history to determine its' origins.

The six chapters each tell different stories of discoveries - identifications of "sleepers" (works by great masters who have somehow been forgotten or misidentified as belonging to a lesser artist), exposing forgeries of great works, and uncovering the greatness of a masterpiece by removing extensive overpainting or darkened varnish.  A great storyteller, Mould is able to keep your attention easily.  The audiobook is very enjoyable, however, I might recommend the book because it includes before and after restoration pictures of the paintings mentioned in the book.  The pictures of the Rembrandt Self-Portrait depict an especially delightful transformation (note: if you like Rembrandt, you don't want to miss the current exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts)!

If you are interested in art history mysteries, you may also enjoy the video titled The Da Vinci Detective about Maurizio Seracini, the director of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego.  Seracini has done extensive research on Da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi and has been instrumental in leading the search for the possibly lost fresco, The Battle of Anghiari.  Though this search has been halted for a few years, it seems as though research has once again commenced using somewhat more invasive, but also more telling, procedures.  (Hopefully soon, this search for Da Vinci's lost fresco will be forever solved!)  I hope you'll enjoy these stories about the quest for lost art!


The Art Detective: fakes, frauds, and finds and the search for lost treasures

Gary D. Schmidt: Okay for Now

Gary D. Schmidt does a superb job of character development and reality writing in his Young Adult novel titled: Okay for Now. It’s the late 1960s and Doug Swieteck, the main character, is 14 years old and has just moved to a new town in New York. Doug is the darling who frequently mends his family and community… a gigantic feat for a teen who is abused by his bum father, is mutually loved by his mother, is scorned by his jealous older brother, and is the lifesaver of his oldest brother who returns broken after serving in VietNam.

Doug’s best friend is Lil Spicer; her dad owns the grocery store where Doug gets a delivery job thereby befriending more townsfolk. Doug delights in his weekly redemptive visits to the library where he studies Audubon prints and learns to draw. Doug’s disabilities are painfully uncovered by an astute teacher, while yet another teacher creates nightmares.

You might ask, Why read this book? Doug is fun. Doug is cool. Doug triumphs. By the way, Gary D. Schmidt lives near Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is an English professor at Calvin College and has written other great must-reads!


Okay for Now

Ask Me Why I Hurt

I first heard of Randy Christensen, MD, when Diane Rehm interviewed him on her show, discussing Ask Me Why I Hurt. “Dr. Randy” is medical director of Crews’n Healthmobile, a mobile medical clinic providing health care for homeless youth in Phoenix, AZ. In this book, Christensen tells the true stories of many of the young people he’s treated on the healthmobile, changing names and identifying characteristics, of course, to protect the privacy of his patients.

We learn early on where the book gets its title, when “Mary” appears outside the van, wearing a beaded bracelet, with the words “ask me why I hurt” spelled out in block letters. Mary nervously avoided the doctor’s direct questions, so it took a while for Dr. Randy to build enough rapport with her to trust he could ask the question, without her running away. When Mary did finally answer him, after several stops to the mobile, he learned she’d been seriously sexually abused by her father. Mary’s and the other teenagers’ stories told in this book are both heartbreaking and heartwarming, as many of them do ultimately find reason to hope and ways to heal.

I take exception to the subtitle: “the Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor who Heals Them.” To say this book is about the kids nobody wants isn’t the whole truth. Many of the young people seeking health care at Crews’n have experienced serious neglect and/or abuse, often at the hands of family members, that is true. Yet, Mary finds sanctuary and a second chance with her aunt; ultimately, we learn that she goes on to finish her education and complete a master’s degree. Donald—a boy whose father beat him so severely he sustained permanent brain damage--gains a loving family and caring community when Pastor and Mrs. Richardson take him in. Then there are all the workers from HomeBase, a shelter for teens, and UMOM, a shelter for homeless families, who help teens prepare for adult life, via GED and life skills education.

To my mind, the book isn’t really about Randy Christensen. Granted, he shared autobiographical details that help the reader understand the stresses of trying to balance family life with the particular challenges of his chosen career. And yes, as I read the story, I came to care about him, as well as the kids that visit the van. The book is written in first-person narrative, but the main reason for the book is that these young people matter, their stories matter, and Christensen felt they needed to be heard. Christensen shows us that there are a lot of young people suffering, there's a desperate need for more services and protection for them, and yet there are many people who care and are helping teens-at-risk make positive changes in their lives.


Ask Me Why I Hurt

Give the Gift of a Library

During this busy holiday season, parents and other adults are scrambling about in search of the perfect gift for their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Well, look no further!

Consider a gift that will entertain and educate kids of all ages and bring your family closer together. Give the gift that keeps on giving - the gift of reading! Reading with a child/children and encouraging them to read independently are two of the most significant things an adult can do to influence a youngster’s life.

Of course, good books make wonderful gifts. Kids naturally enjoy the magic that a book brings as they go over the story and illustrations, (many times, often more than once), practice their reading skills and perhaps learn something new in the process. Magazine subscriptions also make great recurring reading presents.

But maybe the best option for a reading themed gift is to bring a child to the Kalamazoo Public Library sometime during their holiday break. If you time it right, you can attend one of many programs planned for children. Then you can sign up the little guys for their own library cards, which come complete with plastic carrying cases and lanyards. And even though it is free of charge, the amount of pride and joy you’ll see in the little ones’ faces when first presented with it, will form a pleasurable, lasting memory for all gift givers.


Once armed with the card, the child has the entire library’s collection at his or her disposal. They can choose their own books, audiobooks, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. Of course, librarians are always on hand to aid your young ones in the selection process, helping to match the child with books covering their particular interests, and on their reading level as well. Best of all, this process can be repeated again and again. Just return the items and pick out new ones as many times as you like. Truly the best gift of all. And one that will keep on giving for a lifetime!


Library Card

Are You a Psychopath?

Did you ever wonder if you were a psychopath? I hope you answered, “no,” to that question. If you have, please do not comment on my blog entry and I do not work at the Kalamazoo Public Library.

But seriously, all types of folks should enjoy Jon Ronson’s new book, The Psychopath Test: a Journey Through the Madness Industry. As Ronson tries to untangle the history of the label of psychopath by exploring several different cases, he starts to wonder if the traits of a psychopath are actually advantages in business or the political arena. He also questions his own sanity at several different points, especially after he reads through the mental illnesses listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

I listened to this book during my commute to work and along with the interesting subject matter, I loved listening to Ronson’s British accent and his, at times, over-excited delivery. I definitely recommend the audiobook.


The Psychopath Test

The Dog Who Came in From the Cold

If you are looking for a funny, poignant, delightfully read audio book, The Dog Who Came in From the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith, is just the thing.

The dog in question is a Pimlico terrier, with the rather elegant name of Freddie de la Haye. Freddie and his owner, William, a middle aged wine merchant, live in alively London neighborhood apartment building called Corduroy Mansions, with a varied, quirky assortment of residents.

To his complete surprise, William is approached by British intelligence agency M16 who want to recruit Freddie for a spy mission. It involves placing a tiny recording device in Freddie’s collar, and putting the dog in the middle of a Russian spy ring to monitor conversations.

The mystery involving Freddie is intertwined with stories of Corduroy Mansions residents’ lives, loves and foibles and the reader, Simon Prebble, brings just the right touch to the tale and the characters.

Many readers may recognize the author McCall Smith from the Ladies’ #1 Detective Agency series and other books. The first title in the series about Freddie and his human friends, Corduroy Mansions, is also available at Kalamazoo Public Library.


The Dog Who Came in From the Cold

Someone Knows My Name

I just recently traveled to the east coast for my husband’s big birthday celebration. Our entire time on the road was spent listening to the audiobook titled Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill. What a great experience it was for the both of us, plus it made a fourteen hour trip just fly by.

The story is about a girl named Aminata who was abducted from Africa as a child and enslaved in South Carolina. Through her eyes, a terrifying part of history comes to vivid life. The narrator’s voice is so captivating that you can’t stop listening until the story ends and then you want more. The language is so poetic at times about a subject so cruel. Here is a quote from the book that I love “If the sky was so perfect why is the earth all wrong?” The story covers six decades of her life and her three crossings of the Atlantic.

My husband, a history buff, enjoyed the audiobook so much that he’s now going to the library and checking out his own audiobooks. He just finished Abraham Lincoln by George McGovern and is currently listening to Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Being a reciprocal borrower, he was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of resources Kalamazoo Public Library has to offer its patrons.


Someone Knows My Name

Make Way for Ducklings

I wonder how many times I’ve read this book aloud. Hundreds, at least. I remember the book from my childhood and I’ve since shared it with children at home and at the library.

How is it that a book published in 1941, with illustrations in only one color, is so loved by kids? Those one-color illustrations in Make Way for Ducklings are certainly a big part of the attraction... the ducks are realistic, the perspectives and angles are varied, and there’s a strong feeling of movement and action. But the story is nearly perfect, as well. Words are practical yet poetic, the conversations between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are wry; Mrs. Mallard, especially, has a bit of attitude that allows for no nonsense from anyone or anything.

If it’s been a while since you’ve spent some time with Robert McCloskey’s ducklings, visit the Children’s Room for a reminder of the power of a picture book.


Make Way for Ducklings

The Paris Wife

It has been a long time since I’ve read any Hemingway. The Paris Wife, although fiction, is a look at his early years and the jazz age literary scene in Paris in the 1920’s.

The book is written in the voice of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. They met in Chicago, were married after a whirlwind courtship, and headed to Paris—part of the “lost generation” that included Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others.

Although Hemingway wrote “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her,” their marriage was doomed in the hard drinking, fast living, huge egos of the time as Hemingway struggled to find his writing voice and eventually published The Sun Also Rises, dedicated to Hadley.

My book group will discuss The Paris Wife later this month. I’m guessing we all will have thoroughly enjoyed it and we’ll have some interesting conversation about the times, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the others. Did the books of that generation stand the test of time? Are they still read and appreciated? There will be much to talk about!


The Paris Wife

Minding Frankie

Minding Frankie is one of Maeve Binchy’s best novels yet! Baby girl Frankie is born to mother Stella, who is dying of cancer. Stella names Noel--an alcoholic struggling with work and life, who has had no recent contact with Stella—as the father. Noel is forced to step up to the plate and do right by this infant. As a result, his life is transformed, as well as the lives of many family members and neighbors.

As happens also in Jan Karon novels, the lives of Maeve Binchy's characters intertwine with each other in unexpected ways. We get to know and care about who they are, how they are growing and how their lives touch each other. In recent Binchy novels, I’ve felt a strong thread of cynicism that has frankly put me off. The classic Binchy irony appeared again in this novel, but she left the cynicism out, allowing the humor and richness of the busy world we inhabit to shine through.

I would rank this one right up there with Evening Class.


Minding Frankie

The Keepsake

I was looking for a “good listen” book on CD for an upcoming car trip, and selected The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen. It was a lucky choice. Mummies, mystery, and lots of action make for a riveting story.
When a mummy is discovered in the basement of a Boston museum, it’s dubbed “Madam X” in the ensuing media attention. Everyone assumes it’s an ancient mummy- until a very modern bullet is discovered in the body when the wrappings are removed.

It’s up to homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles to unravel the tangled tale, and to figure out why additional recently mummified bodies are appearing.

Information about Egyptology in the story is a plus, in this seventh in the series by Gerritsen that began with The Surgeon. TNT also has a TV series called, not unsurprisingly, “Rizzoli and Isles.”


The Keepsake

The Johnstown Flood

David McCullough is in the news for his new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. By coincidence, I just read one of his early books, The Johnstown Flood, published in 1968.

I grew up in Pennsylvania and although I had heard of the Johnstown flood, I knew nothing about it. I’m a fan of McCullough’s and when I realized one of his earliest works was about the flood, I knew it would be a readable account of this tragedy.

The flood occurred on Memorial Day, 1889, when a huge storm caused the dam and lake at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club to give way and rush fifteen miles down the mountain destroying everything in its path, including much of Johnstown. Over 2200 people perished.

The Club was a mountain resort with large “cottages” of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest – Carnegie, Frick, Mellon, among others. When they bought the property the dam was neglected and “repairs” were made. Although there were many lawsuits, none were won and the club assumed no responsibility.

Of course floods are in the news currently. Now, unlike 122 years ago, there is some advance warning and preparation time, and a realization of the devastation that can occur.

This is yet another very readable, historical narrative from McCullough. Even though I knew the outcome of course, there is feeling of terror as the water approaches and the town is swept away.


The Johnstown Flood
johnstown-flood-cover-160 M133

Quit Monkeying Around, Jay Berry!

Wilson Rawls, known for his Where the Red Fern Grows, has written a treasure titled Summer of the Monkeys. I happened on this book one night shift in Teen at Central. It’s the story of Jay Berry Lee, his family, and his blue-tick hound, Rowdy. The family lives on a farm “smack dab in the middle of the Cherokee Nation” in Oklahoma. The time is the late 1800s. Summer of the Monkeys is the story of 14-year-old Jay Berry Lee and his adventures in the bottoms of a river not too far from their homestead. Jay Berry has a younger sister by the name of Daisy, who was born with her right leg “all twisted up”. She walks with a crutch, and has a fairy-world type of imagination that lets her almost forget her leg and its limits on her life.

The Lee family is eking out a living on their farm, but there is not much money left over, and certainly not enough to take Daisy “to the city” where doctors can fix her leg.

Jay Berry comes upon a bunch of monkeys that belong to a circus and who have escaped on account of a train wreck. There is a reward for their return, and Jay Berry immediately sees $$$$ which add up to a rifle of his own, and a new pony.

The author says it much better than I can in this excerpt from the first chapter of his book: “Up until I was fourteen years old, no boy on earth could have been happier. I didn’t have a worry in the world. In fact, I was beginning to think that it wasn’t going to be hard at all for me to grow up. But just when things were really looking good for me, something happened. I got mixed up with a bunch of monkeys and all of my happiness flew right out the window. Those monkeys all but drove me out of my mind.”

Reading Rawls’ story was a real treat. I laughed. Out loud. I cried. Silently. I hope you will enjoy this story of familial loyalty as much as I did.


Summer of the Monkeys

The Dirty Life

Kristin Kimball was a Harvard-educated writer thoroughly entrenched in her East Village life when she had an epiphany while on a farm in Pennsylvania.  Researching for a writing assignment, Kimball had gone to the farm to interview a farmer named Mark, and before she knew what was happening, she was put to work.  The work she did that day changed her and made her realize that she wanted a home, one that she did not have in the city.  Within a few months of her farm visit, Kimball began a relationship with Mark and left the city to start a farm with him.  Kimball’s book, The Dirty Life, chronicles the first year of their lives on Essex Farm in upstate New York.

Recently there’s been no shortage of memoirs written by first-generation farmers seeking a more sustainable, back-to-the-earth lifestyle—believe me, I know, I’ve tried to read them all.  The Dirty Life stands heads above many of the others I’ve read, mainly due to Kimball’s storytelling abilities and the uniqueness of Essex Farm.  Kimball exposes both the brutal, unforgiving work a farm requires, along with Mother Nature’s willingness to take as quickly as she gives; but she is passionate about the work and about the farm she helped create, and that passion translates into a very good read.


The Dirty Life

Why Read? It’s Summertime!!

Recently, I was reading the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine when an editorial caught my eye. Written by Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief for the magazine, the editorial, titled “Who Can We Count On?” raises several very good questions about reading in general, and specifically, about summertime reading by schoolchildren. These questions are certainly ones that teachers, parents, librarians, and other concerned adults should ponder. Here they are, with some of my own added:

• How many books should one read in a given time frame?

• Should we encourage schoolchildren to read?

• Does reading level (of the reader) really matter?

• Should summer reading schoolchildren be provided with incentives for reaching pre-set reading goals? And, who should set these goals?

• What types of incentives should be offered? (books, burgers, bicycles?)

• Should the number of books read count for anything?

As a librarian in a public library who works almost exclusively with children’s reading habits, I find these questions “right on the money” for insuring success in a summertime reading program or club. At the Kalamazoo Public Library, the summertime reading program for kids begins in early to mid-June, and continues until the last weekend in August. Somewhere close to twelve (12) weeks. The Library offers summer games for children ages birth-entering Kindergarten, for children entering 1st-4th grade, for ‘tweens who are entering grades five through seven, and for teens entering grades eight through graduation. (Don’t worry, adults, there’s a game for you, too!) Each of these games offers incentives at intervals along the way. Each of the children’s games encourages reading books at one’s pre-determined level (usually from the Accelerated Reader program in the schools). Each game encourages reading for a minimum of twenty (20) minutes a day, and also allows for reading at one’s level and for being read aloud to.

This year, incentives and games are going to be more “across the board” than they have been in the past. Readers will earn paperback books, tee shirts, stickers, and colorful beads at pre-set intervals.

Should you bring your child/encourage your child to come to the library this summer and read in one of the games? Absolutely! And, don’t forget to read yourself! What better role model than a reading parent?

Roger Sutton’s editorial concludes with this question: “…creating a second home on the floor of the children’s room…”. Won’t you join me this summer and read, read, read?


Summer Reading

For All the Tea in China

While many of us sip on a bit of Earl Grey with a swirl of honey with our morning scone, others of us inundate the brewed goodness of green tea with ice and lemon.  Regardless of how we imbibe our tea or savor the complex tastes, we likely don't consider how it got to our pots, cups, and glasses.  For All the Tea in China is a journey from England to China and back, chronicling the years that Robert Fortune spent hunting for tea plants in the nether regions of the East.

It wasn't in the locating of the tea plants that made Fortune famous.  It was his acquiring the skill to grow and harvest the tea especially considering its brutally long journey from China to India and finally to arrive in England in a usable condition.  We often take for granted time in our 21st century world of instantaneous gratification, so to even postulate on the process involved in sending seeds and plants from China to England via ship is strange at best.  However, with Fortune's ability to challenge accepted, standard methods of shipping plants, tea was able to arrive in tact, ready to germinate and be further propagated.  His work for the East India Company was invaluable, for sure.

Sarah Rose's style of writing tells the story of Robert Fortune rather than spews the facts related to bringing tea to England.  There are even some nice side stories such as the one related to technologically advanced (for the time) weaponry used in India using only beef or pig fat for greasing the chambers.  (Consider the two main religions of India and how this might be perceived...)

Listen to the serialized BBC version or check KPL's copy on CD.

I've moved on to reading Salt:  A World History by Mark Kurlansky which is not at all as delightfully told but still full of amazing trivia and facts that we often take for granted as we sprinkle our fries gently with little granules of goodness.  Regardless of the style of the book, I always find non-fiction of this sort an amazing way to sprout my knowledge of the historical and contemporary world.


For All the Tea in China

This Boy’s Life: a Memoir

I’m wondering if David Sedaris is secretly going to library school. During his visit to Miller Auditorium on April 5 he had us all scrambling for paper and pen to write down the title and author of a book he was promoting. How often do we get to hear booktalks outside the library?

Tobias Wolff is the author who touches David’s soul and he wants the rest of us to love his books, too. The book David was waving about is The Barracks Thief, which KPL doesn’t yet own. (Yes, we have ordered it). But we do own several other of Wolff’s books. I’m midway through his memoir, This Boy’s Life, and it’s excellent. I’ll read it fast so you can have it next!


This Boy’s Life: a Memoir

Wish it was only imagination...

I was slightly reluctant to blog about this, because it is not uplifting stuff, but this is a part of life that doesn't get talked about a lot and the silence can be excruciating to those that are affected, so I decided to just go for it anyway. An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination isn’t the kind of book you check out for fun, unfortunately -- you check it out because something terrible has happened to you or someone you know. The terrible thing I’m talking about is stillbirth. Recently some close relatives of mine lost their precious baby boy 5 weeks before he was due, and I desperately turned to KPL’s catalog for anything to try to understand what they were going through. There aren’t a ton of books out there on stillbirth, but since it affected my family, I’ve found out that this book is kind of the go-to memoir about the topic…It turned out that these relatives as well as several of their friends had also stumbled upon this book, and they could relate very strongly to what the author, Elizabeth McCracken, went through. Many people I’ve talked to in the past few months know someone that has experienced this type of loss…I wish this wasn’t the case, but if you are in the situation and need something to read while coping with your loss, I recommend this book. KPL also has it in audiobook format, read by the author, which makes it extremely personal and moving.   


An exact replica of a figment of my imagination

Let My People Go

 I recently enjoyed listening to Bruce Feiler's audiobook America's Prophet:  Moses and the American Story as I commuted back and forth from work.  Many times I wished I was reading it, because there were so many great quotes I wanted to right down.  Feiler uncovers the great influence the story of Moses and ideas from what we call the books of Moses in the Hebrew Bible have had all through the history of the United States.

Feiler finds it fascinating that this story of an oppressed people rising up to liberate themselves has resonated with and provided the inspiration for multiple, disparate groups in the United States from Revolutionary War leaders to African-American slaves to leaders of the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements.

A particularly interesting chapter details how abolitionists and those who defended slavery, both used the words of Moses to justify their actions. 

Feiler also points out Moses' connection to the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, and the Supreme Court along with interesting tidbits about Cecil B. DeMille's movie The Ten Commandments.

One thing I hadn't given much thought to was that part of Moses' story is that he never makes it to the Promised Land.  Feiler argues that this part of the story is powerful right along with the liberation story, because it reminds people that it may take several leaders, several generations before the Promised Land is reached.  A loss of a powerful leader does not mean the end of a movement. 

If you are interested in U.S. history or religious history, I highly recommend this insightful and powerful book.


America's Prophet

The Coral Thief

Traveling back in time to post Napoleonic Paris of 1815, author Rebecca Stott does a masterful job making us feel that we are there. A recent college graduate from Edinburgh, Daniel Connor, is traveling to Paris for an arranged position with an esteemed biologist. On the way he meets a mysterious, intriguing, and beautiful woman, Lucienne Bernard. She steals not only his heart, but also his fossils of coral, meant as a special gift for his new mentor. Confused and angered, Daniel begins searching Paris for Bernard. What he finds is totally unexpected and life changing.

Stott’s descriptions of this era of political unrest, and Paris in particular, are wonderful, and readers of historical novels will find much to enjoy and savor. Rebecca Stott is also the author of Ghostwalk, an intriguing time travel set in both the present and 17th century England, which is well worth reading.

I listened to the audio version of The Coral Thief. The reader, Simon Prebble, is excellent, and brings added dimensions to an already fascinating story and setting.


The Coral Thief

A Beautiful Place to Die

One of the great things about fiction is the wonderful variety of places and times where you can be transported. I recently listened to Mala Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die and was instantly taken to apartheid South Africa in the 1950s.

A white police captain has been murdered in the small town of Jacob’s Rest, on the border of Mozambique and South Africa. Sent to investigate is Detective Emmanuel Cooper, and he is immediately resented as an outsider from the big city of Johannesburg. Cooper has to cope with an understaffed local police department and officers from Special Branch with their own political agenda, not to mention residents with secrets of their own.

As much a glimpse of apartheid as it is a mystery, this is a promising beginning to a planned series for South African born author Nunn. If you listen to the CD version, the reader does an excellent job, and I guarantee you will be pulled right into the story.


A Beautiful Place to Die

Fur Person Tales

Weeks ago, a friend’s dog went missing in Mattawan. Many days later, he opened the gate and entered the back yard at another friend’s home in Kalamazoo. This sweet dog had lived there five years previously; in between, he lived two other places! Samuel was much thinner, and his pads were worn, but he made it home to his grateful owner.

We all said it was just like The Incredible Journey, the long-beloved children’s book by Sheila Every Burnford, about two dogs and a cat that travel together across the wilderness to reunite with their family. That got me thinking about other books written from the animal’s point-of-view:

The family dog, Enzo, tells The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Enzo’s ‘dad,’ Denny, loses wife, Eve, to breast cancer, and suddenly finds himself embroiled in a custody battle with Eve’s parents for their young daughter. This moving story is sprinkled throughout with insights Enzo has learned from Denny’s racing career, as metaphors for life. Enzo displays a wisdom many humans only wish we had.

The Fur Person (May Sarton) is a charming tale, written from the perspective of a stray ‘Cat about Town.’ This Gentleman Cat decides it’s time to adopt himself a suitable ‘housekeeper’ for a while and explore the comforts of an indoor home. He finds Gentle Voice and Brusque Voice – his name for the two women who inhabit the suitable home -- and to his astonishment, he transforms into a Fur Person, “a cat who has decided to stay with people as long as he lives.” I discovered this book in the Friends bookstore, not long before my ‘fur person’ adopted me.


The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Lock Artist

Compelling from the first sentence, this stand alone thriller by veteran Edgar Award winning author Steve Hamilton grabs the reader and doesn’t let go.

The narrator, Mike, is mute from a childhood trauma that also left him orphaned. As a teenager, Mike discovers he has a decided knack for opening locks, and narrates his tale as he’s ending a term in prison. Blackmailed by his girlfriend’s father, who is in debt to mobsters, Mike is trained as a “boxman” by the mysterious longtime Detroit lock artist known as “The Ghost.” Hamilton creates memorable characters in this intricately plotted, intense novel, and keeps the reader guessing to the very end. Steve Hamilton is the author of the “Alex McKnight” series, set in upper Michigan, and they’re also well worth your time.

I listened to the audio version of The Lock Artist, and reader MacLeod Andrews is very convincing as Mike, with his voice reflecting a combination of both innocence and world weariness. If you’re looking for an exceptional listening experience, give this one a try!


The Lock Artist

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

I recently listened to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, a first novel by Heidi W. Durrow. I was intrigued by this book for several reasons. Having just re-read Snow Falling on Cedars as part of KPL’s Reading Together program this year, I was interested since one theme in this book is the treatment of minorities in our society; in this case the protagonist is the daughter of an African-American G.I. and a white Danish mother. I am also a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver, and not only was this book cited somewhere as being one a Kingsolver fan would enjoy, but it was the winer of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction in 2008 AND Snow Falling on Cedars was a previous winner. The Bellwether is a financial prize established by Barbara Kingsolver, herself an author who writes “socially responsible” fiction, and encourages authors with this prize who do the same.

“Fiction has a unique capacity to bring difficult issues to a broad readership on a personal level, creating empathy in a reader’s heart for the theoretical stranger. Its capacity for invoking moral and social responsibility is enormous. Throughout history, every movement toward a more peaceful and humane world has begun with those who imagined the possibilities. The Bellwether Prize seeks to support the imagination of humane possibilities.”

—Barbara Kingsolver, founder

This touching book begins with tragic circumstances, and successfully explores a number of large themes. The story is revealed in the “voices” from several different characters, which I have always appreciated in Kingsolver’s books and which lent itself perfectly to an excellent audio version.

I am still thinking about this book although I finished it a couple of weeks ago. That’s always a good sign.


The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

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

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

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


The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane: a novel.

Read Any Good Epistolary Fiction Lately?

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

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

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

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

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


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Another from Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is one of my “Book My Favorites” authors. It’s always a treat to get her new book shortly after it is published.

Noah’s Compass is a continuation of her quirky characters in a Baltimore setting. Liam Pennywell is a man of “unexceptional talents, plain demeanor, modest means, and curtailed ambition.” He has had two failed marriages and has an emotionally detached relationship with his grown daughters and second ex-wife.

Liam is attacked in his new apartment on his first night there and has no memory of the experience. As he searches to recover those few lost hours, he is lead into an examination of his rather disappointing life and into an unlikely new relationship with Eunice, a socially inept woman half his age, who is a “rememberer.”

Trust me—the book is better than it sounds from this brief description. It is typical Anne Tyler style with no solutions as to why people are they way they are and a main character who will be in a different place by the end of the book, but who will have grown along the way.


Noah’s Compass

Eat Pray Love

The Oshtemo book group recently discussed Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat Pray Love. This book is a look at one year in Gilbert’s life, spent in Italy, India and Indonesia, trying to find peace and healing for both her mind and spirit. The book documents her four-month stay in each of the locations as she attempts to recover from a divorce, deep depression, and inner turmoil.

Our group was mixed – some finding her brutal honesty and willingness to bare her soul to be powerful and moving. Others found her to be self-absorbed and egotistical. But the fact that so much diversity of viewpoints came out of the same book, points to how well written it is. Gilbert is an excellent writer and literally brings you with her as she eats gelato for breakfast in a little Italian bistro, meditates at the top of an ashram in India, or smiles and enjoys living with the gentle people of Indonesia.

You are bound to have your own opinion of this book, and I hope you take the time to read it or listen to it in the author’s own voice on audiobook. The library has both formats.


Eat, Pray, Love: One woman's search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia

Dewey: The Cat Who Changed the World

Dewey is a heart-warming story about a cat who lived a long, pampurred life in a public library in Spencer, Iowa. The true story is written by Vicki Myron, who was the Spencer Library Director for 20 years. Considering that Vicki rescued Dewey from a library drop box when he was just a tiny, dirty, bitterly cold kitten with frostbitten paws, Dewey repays the library staff and library patrons again and again with his sweet personality and adorable cat antics.

This story is autobiographical for Vicki Myron’s personal and professional life. The town history of Spencer, Iowa is painted throughout the story with details that take the reader there. This is a wonderful story that poignantly highlights the rewarding relationship of pets to people. There is also an audiobook version read by Suzanne Toren... and... the Oshtemo Branch Library has chosen Dewey for an upcoming Oshtemo Book Group selection - stay tuned!

Vicki has since written a children’s picture book titled Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library!


Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World