Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I saw A star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith on a recommended list, and I’m so glad that I did. Historical fact skillfully blends with fiction to make a story that’s hard to put down.
It’s the story of five very different women, brought together in 1930 by a single shared experience- each of them had a son who was killed in World War I. That heartbreaking fact made each of them each a “Gold Star Mother”, an actual United States government designation. Thousands of women all across the country were offered the chance to travel to Europe to visit the final resting place of their sons, with all expenses paid by the United States.
In Smith’s novel, the five “Gold Star” women who are the focus couldn’t be more different. Cora, the youngest, is a librarian from rural Maine. Then there is Minnie, wife of an immigrant Russian Jewish chicken farmer; Katie, an Irish maid from Massachusetts; Wilhemina, the emotionally fragile wife of a banker, and Bobbie, a rich socialite from Boston. Joining hundreds of other Gold Star women, they travel by ship to France, where unexpected experiences and chance meetings will change their lives forever.
I did a little research and discovered that in 1929, Congress passed legislation that allowed mothers and widows of sons who died in service between the years of 1917 and 1921 the right to make a “pilgramage” to Europe to visit the resting place of their son. By 1933, when the project ended, almost 6,700 women out of an eligible 17,389 had made the trip.
It’s a fascinating story, and well told. For a change of pace, also try author April Smith’s mystery series featuring FBI agent Ana Gray. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed in those, either.
A star for Mrs. Blake
J.D. Salinger is famous for two primary reasons (there are plenty of secondary reasons as well). First, he authored one of the most successful and critically acclaimed books written over the past 70 years (The Catcher in the Rye) and secondly, because he vanished from the public eye at the height of his fame, leaving several generations of devoted acolytes and the media to restlessly ponder the reasons behind his retreat into extreme privacy. Shane Salerno and David Shields have co-authored the gossipy, oral history called Salinger (a book based upon a documentary film) with the goal of cobbling together an assortment of viewpoints from those who knew him best. Ex-girlfriends, army buddies, fellow writers, family members, and various muses line up to break their collective silence to share their intimate memories and insights. It's a fascinating look at one of America's most significant writers and provides some new perspectives on both his creative output and his complicated private life.
Reading a book by Jack Gantos can be a wild and crazy ride, in a good way- you never know what’s coming up next. That’s one of the things I like about his books. He doesn’t talk down to kids, either, or try to sugar coat the world. And he’s funny.
His book for kids and young adults, “Dead End in Norvelt”, won the Newbery Award. Now Gantos has written a sequel, “From Norvelt to Nowhere”. Twelve year old Jack lives in a small Pennsylvania town, with his mom; it’s the Cuban missile era. Jack’s mom arranges for him to accompany slightly mad old Miss Volker to New York City. She’s ostensibly going to pay homage to Eleanor Roosevelt, but Jack and Miss Volker are also on the track of an elusive murderer. And that’s just the start of this road trip story, filled with eccentric characters and lots of action.
From Norvelt to nowhere
I like teen books. They’re clever, easy to read, and they usually end well, even if the story gets messy in the middle. Here’s what I liked, especially, about Notes from the Blender:
It’s told in two different voices: a boy and a girl (unrelated) whose single parents have hooked up and gotten pregnant. Suddenly Declan finds he’s going to be step-brother to his biggest crush. Popular, beautiful Neilly, whose parents divorced when her father came out, now finds herself estranged from her mother, yet oddly open to making friends with Declan, one of the least cool kids in school.
There are four positive gay characters in the story, including Neilly’s father and his fiancé. Neilly likes her new stepdad-to-be, and she proudly defends her father’s sexual orientation.
Declan’s lesbian aunt is minister at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church he attends. The way the adults in the church are portrayed is pretty realistic of UU communities. Unitarian Universalism doesn’t get much press in our culture, but teens who are UU’s deserve to have their church show up positively in novels. He has a close relationship with his aunt and her partner, which deepened after his mother died.
Declan’s dad gets to be a real man with feelings, grief and awkwardness, who generally communicates well with Declan (even though he botched the chance to tell Declan about his new love, before there was a baby on the way.)
Authors Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin also paired up for A Really Awesome Mess in 2013.
Notes from the Blender
Among some upcoming fiction titles about to be ordered:
The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick - "The newest from The Silver Linings Playbook author Quick is a quirky coming-of-age story about an earnest, guileless 38-year-old man with a dyspeptic stomach." (Publishers Weekly) Need I say more?
Winter People by Jennifer McMahon - ""McMahon has developed a subgenre of psychological mysteries that pit female characters with humanizing strengths and vulnerabilities against old secrets posing present dangers, forcing them to confront mystery and legend in creepily seductive settings. This mystery-horror crossover is haunting, evocative, and horrifically beautiful..." (Booklist) Haunting and evocative might be just the ticket for these long winter nights.
The Martian by Andy Weir - "Looks like sf, reads like a thriller. Mark Watney has just become the first man to walk on Mars, and now he's preparing to die there, his crew having left him behind because they assume he's dead after a vicious dust storm." (Library Journal) I don't consider myself a sci-fi fan, but this sounds fascinating.
These will appear in the catalog soon!
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
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
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.
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.
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 retoldby 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…..