A collection of reviews written by members of the Durham County Library Family.
Season’s Readings is made possible by the Friends of the Durham Library, Inc.
Table of Contents
Friends of the Durham Library
Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror
Young Adut Fiction
Index of Contributors
The Friends of the Durham Library hopes you will enjoy this year’s Season’s Readings, an annual collection of book reviews by library staff and volunteers. Season’s Readings is made possible with the support of the Friends and the Durham community. As we enter the dark winter months, perhaps you will discover in these pages a book to read or to share as a gift for the holidays.
Each year the Friends of the Durham Library donates funds raised from its memberships and book sales to support important library programs including Summer Reading Club, youth and teen programming and the Reading is Fundamental books. This past year the Friends continued its scholarship fund for library staff and awarded scholarships to three library employees who are currently working towards their Master of Library Science degrees, and one scholarship to a library employee who is working towards a Master of Business Administration degree. The Friends also this year supplied funds to the library for the following initiatives:
• The ebook Startup Collection
• A Roving Computer Lab and Laptops for programming at regional libraries
• Young Adult Book Club Kits
• Nook Book Club Kits on Demand
• A Comics Festival
All Friends donations strive to expand library services offered to the Durham community while supporting the amazing and hard-working library staff. The Friends of the Durham Library primarily raises its funds through its spring and fall weekend book sales, plus year-round mini-book sales open every day at seven Durham locations: American Tobacco Campus Strickland Building, 334 Blackwell Street; East Regional Library, Main Library, North Regional Library, Southwest Regional Library, South Regional Library and Stanford L. Warren Library. This holiday season please visit one of the Friends mini-book sales. Buy books for those you love while giving to the library you love!
Thank you and Happy New Year!
Ann Wilder, President
Friends of the Durham Library Board
About the Friends
The Friends of the Durham Library is a group of volunteers that provides financial support to Durham County Library. In its 40-year history, the group has raised more than $950,000 for the library through book sales and memberships. Over 1,000 Friends contribute annually and many actively volunteer their time as well. The Friends received statewide recognition in 2005 with the Frances B. Reid Award “for outstanding service to their library and their community.” In 2009, longtime Friends volunteer, Jane Goodridge, was named volunteer of the year for Friends organizations throughout North Carolina.
The Friends Support Your Library
Successful book sales and a growing Friends membership generate income that supports annual and short-term needs of the library, such as:
• Summer Reading Club: the most popular of all library programs encourages children and families to read while school is out
• The Picture Gallery at Stanford L. Warren Branch Library: documents Durham history and is on permanent display in the branch’s lobby, part of an award-winning renovation
• The Discovery Mobile: puts library programs on wheels, including Get Set… Get Ready… Let’s Read! early literacy outreach to family child care homes and Library Youth Partnership teens who deliver storytimes to elementary school children
SIX GREAT REASONS TO JOIN THE FRIENDS
1. Help make the difference between a good library and a great library.
2. Support library programs and services for children, teens and adults.
3. Shop early at the book sales for the best selection, open to Friends members only.
4. Receive Best of Friends, the Friends’ newsletter.
5. Receive Season’s Readings, an annual booklet of staff reading recommendations.
6. Enjoy a 10% discount at several local bookstores; just show your membership card.
Join the Friends of the Durham Library today. The membership application form is available from the Friends of the Durham Library web site.
FRIENDS BOARD SEEKS NOMINATIONS
Would you like to help the Friends raise and spend money? Instructions and an application for potential members of Friends of the Durham Library Board are located on the library website.
Friends Board Members:
• Attend monthly meetings on the second Thursday evening of each month.
• Assist with book sales.
• Actively participate on a Board committee.
• Perform other tasks to help the library and the Friends.
You can find great bargains on gently used books at the Friends of the Durham Library book sales. Held in spring and fall, book sales at Main Library offer thousands of used books categorized for easy shopping, as well as audiobooks, CDs and DVDs. Paperbacks begin at 50 cents and hardbacks at $1. Mini-book sales satisfy bargain-hunters year-round with a smaller selection of books, many in gift-giving condition.
DONATING BOOKS FOR THE BOOK SALE
The Friends of the Durham Library welcomes donations of gently used books, audiobooks, CDs and DVDs, except for: encyclopedias, magazines, cassettes and condensed books. You may take your donation to any Durham County Library location during regular hours. Please bring large donations (more than one bag) to the Main Library garage on Tuesday mornings between 9 and noon, when the Friends of the Durham Library are present and can help unload. The garage is on the far right side, closest to Holloway Street, as you face the Main Library from the parking lot.
If you cannot bring your large donation to the Main Library on Tuesday morning, please come first to the circulation desk and let them know you have a large donation. The security guard will open the garage doors so that you can unload your donation straight into the garage.
If you have a question, or wish to make arrangements with the Friends for a special donation, please contact the Staff Liaison to the Friends, at 560-0190.
2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America
by Albert Brooks
The year is 2030, and cancer has been cured. Although that sounds good, people are living longer and using resources young people believe should be theirs. The government is on the brink of bankruptcy, and an earthquake in California brings chaos. Brooks, a well-known filmmaker and comedian, takes you on a fascinating ride of what the near future could be like. This book is totally thought-provoking. -- Jill Wagy
The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein
This heart-warming and funny novel is narrated by Enzo, a family dog addicted to television and race car driving. The reader watches silently with Enzo as his family begins to grow and then slowly fall apart, with the illness of his owner’s new wife and the introduction of an infant into the family. Enzo knows he is more intelligent than other dogs, thanks to his extensive television viewing and the attention paid to him by his masters. Throughout the book he considers his own life if he were reincarnated as a human. It is often difficult to remember that the narrator is a dog, and it is easy to be taken by surprise when he discusses a very dog-like action (like a memorable experience with a very spicy pepper and an unfortunate incident on the carpet). This book will take the reader through a range of emotions, from laughing at Enzo’s doggy antics to crying with his owner, Denny, as he faces unbelievably trying times. The book uses racing metaphors to steer the reader through the life of a dog who tries desperately to keep his family together. -- Megan Lawson
by John Brandon
Teenage angst, true evil and the need to find out what happens next assured that I would read this book in one sitting. Plus, this was a must-read for me as I lived in Citrus County for nine years. Although Brandon gets some of Citrus County itself wrong, he does not miss on what the rural, swampy west coast of Florida feels like. The story is compelling and difficult. The New York Times said Citrus County “is a great story in great prose, a story that keeps you turning pages even as you want to slow to savor them, full of characters who are real because they are so unlikely.” Don’t expect sandy beaches and Disney World; Citrus County is far, far away from the Florida you think you know from travel brochures. -- Jill Wagy
The Dry Grass of August
by Anna Mayhew
For all who enjoyed The Help, let me recommend this book. Both novels were written by white women, both are first novels, and both feature the role of maids in white Southern society. But they are very different books. The Dry Grass of August takes place in the summer of 1954 as a Charlotte mom and her three children drive to Florida accompanied by their “girl”—forty-something Mary Luther. Mary encounters the millions of everyday slights that black people endured in the Jim Crow South, as well as its ever-present danger. These are observed by 13-year-old Jubie as she begins to question the adult world with its starkly different rules for black and white. Mary and Jubie have a special relationship that feels honest while acknowledging its limitations. This deeply moving and disturbing story gives the reader a look at a world that thankfully is no more. -- Joanne Abel
The Dry Grass of August
by Anna Mayhew
Some compare this book to The Help, and the theme is similar. Others are reminded of The Secret Life of Bees. The main characters are a 13-year-old girl and the family maid. The setting is Charlotte in the 1950s. I can say, as one who lived those years as a Southern-raised child of Northern parents, that Mayhew is true to the time and the issues. She was raised in Charlotte and now lives in Hillsborough. The book is very readable and very moving. -- Carol Passmore
Fall of Giants
by Ken Follett
Gather up your supplies, cuddle up in your favorite reading position and prepare for a long haul. Follett is going to take you on an epic ride through some of history’s largest dramas. Following the fates of five families, this is the first of a trilogy that will cover 100 years. If you liked Follett’s historic Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End you will enjoy this complex, fast-moving, albeit long, novel. The story is complex and the characters are engaging. It may feel like a marathon read, but you come out on the other side wishing the next book was already written and available. -- Jill Wagy
The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival
by Ken Wheaton
Ken Wheaton’s first novel features Father Steve Sibille, a priest struggling with his first parish in rural Louisiana, a very attractive female who is the daughter of the prior priest, Steve’s gay priest colleague and Ruby, a ninetyplus-year-old black female, who was a family servant of Steve’s parents. Ruby, who is now in a nursing home, provides advice and counsel for Steve while his
support for her is not only emotional but also includes whiskey and cracklins. Ruby is the one who suggests that Father Steve institute a festival to unite his parish and combat the challenge of the Pentecostals, who are building a huge new church on the other side of town. She also keeps suggesting to Father Steve that he needs a woman! The evolution of the festival, including the role of the elephant pictured on the cover of the book, makes for sometimes laugh-out-loud entertainment as well as thought-provoking human interaction, regardless of your religion or lack thereof. And for a bonus, there’s a detailed recipe for gumbo at the end of the book. -- Joyce Sykes
The Good Son
by Michael Gruber
I don’t generally read suspense fiction with a subject heading of Political Kidnapping and Pakistan, but alternating chapters of male and female characters caught my interest. Chapters rotate between the special operations soldier, Theo Bailey; his mother, Sonia, a Pakistani who should not return to the country due to a fatwa on her; and Cynthia Lamm, an employee of the National Security Administration. Sonia does go to Pakistan and is kidnapped along with a billionaire, a Jesuit priest and a Quaker couple. Sonia keeps the kidnappers off balance while Theo and Cynthia work to rescue the group. -- Carol Passmore
by Nina LaCour
Starting her junior year in high school, Caitlin is forced to deal with the recent suicide of her best friend Ingrid, an amazing artist and photographer. LaCour demands that the reader stand by Caitlin’s side as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life that Ingrid has caused to become utterly disarranged. Not too long after her suicide, Caitlin finds Ingrid’s journal under her bed and unravels her final days page by page. Caitlin uncovers several shocking pieces of information and is nearly shattered just by letting a glimpse of Ingrid’s pain flutter past her heart. This novel carefully weaves itself through pain, tragedy and even beauty and shows how one horrifying decision shattered many lives while mending a few as well. This book will take you on a moving journey that you don’t want to miss and will never forget. -- Kamaria Fyffe
How to Be an American Housewife
by Margaret Dilloway
Shoko is a Japanese woman who married an American GI after meeting him in Japan during World War II. The marriage was one of convenience, enabling her to leave Japan and have a better life in America (as her father wanted), but she did grow to love her husband, Charlie. Following guidelines from the book he gave her, she did her best to be an “American housewife,” working hard to make a happy family and never speaking of secrets and burdens of the past. Finding acceptance in a foreign country was difficult, however, and raising children in a two-culture household was even more so. Her son, Mike, was a loner, and she and her daughter, Sue, could rarely communicate without misunderstandings. Still, Shoko’s only real regret was her estrangement from her brother, Taro.
Over the years she had saved money, a bit at a time, in hopes of returning to Japan for a visit and a chance to reunite with Taro. But now that she can afford it, she is too ill to travel, and her only hope is that her daughter might make the trip for her. When Sue reluctantly agrees to go, taking along her teenage daughter, Helena, she does not realize that this trip will change her life, and the lives of the rest of her family, forever. -- Lynne Barnette
The Last Days of Dogtown
by Anita Diamant
This book is one of historical fiction based on a true story about the decline of a town on Cape Anne, Massachusetts in the 1830s. Most of the men have died, leaving widows and spinsters and outcasts—including whores, free Africans and witches—to do for themselves. In this book you will meet some unforgettable characters who make a life for themselves in very difficult situations. -- Joanne Abel
by Tom Perrotta
Tom Perrotta’s Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher are two of the best literary novels in recent years. His new effort, The Leftovers, while certainly worthwhile, isn’t as good. I’m not sure why. Sometimes they just aren’t.
The story may just be too broad. Perrotta’s fictive world is the well-worn fields of suburbia. His eye is sharp: this isn’t your father’s (or Cheever’s, or Updike’s, or John Irving’s) suburbia. With clear prose and pitch-perfect humor, Children and Abstinence examined urgent personal events (infidelity, sex education) stemming from traumatic choices. In The Leftovers, a huge external event (the Rapture—or a “Rapture-type event,” as it’s slyly referred to) was certainly traumatic, but as the bulk of the novel takes place three years after the “event” there isn’t much urgency.
This is probably the point. The “leftovers,” who don’t seem to be any more or less moral or spiritual or better or worse than those taken, have chosen to completely alter their lives (joining burgeoning “movements,” etc.) or to get back to normal ASAP. Any passing observation of American culture no doubt proves such reactions are accurate, but the suburban family Perrotta focuses on isn’t particularly interesting nor creates much dramatic tension.
This isn’t a bad book at all. But you’re left missing what might have been. -- Floyd Harris
by Tom Perrotta
This was my first novel by Mr. Perrotta, and I found the writing to be honest and insightful. I read the first few of the Left Behind series many years ago, before they just got to be too much, and I much preferred Mr. Perrotta’s realistic view of the world after a rapture-like event. There are earnest, but wacky cults that attract those who need to assign meaning where none really exists. And there is one character whose life work becomes cruelly proving that those who were taken were not moral or deserving. The story mostly revolves around the mayor of a small town and his daughter, and how they cope with loss and abandonment after the family is split – not by the rapture – but by the mom and brother’s choice to join separate cults. Other characters are woven into the novel and into the lives of the leads. I found their stories interesting and relatable, too. This book could have been a very dark read, but the story is ultimately about our ability to find our way back to normal no matter how unsettling the circumstances. -- Gina Rozier
by Alan Brennert
I’ve always been fascinated by Hawaii. Having visited the islands many times and learning about their culture and history, reviews I read about the book Moloka’i intrigued me. In the 1890s when it is discovered that Rachel Kalama is infected with leprosy and is sent away to the leper colony on the island of Moloka’i, you think her life will be over. However, Rachel lives a full life and learns many life lessons the hard way. There is very little of the “ick” factor within the leprosy aspect of the book and many times you almost forget why she is in the situation she is in. Moloka’i was an enjoyable read and had me longing to go back to Hawaii. -- Jill Wagy
My Year of Meats
by Ruth Ozeki
My Year of Meats is one of the most memorable books with a message I have ever read. Jane Tagaki-Little is a Japanese-American documentarian hired to produce a Japanese television show sponsored by the American meat-exporting industry. As she travels the country with her crew, Jane uncovers unsavory facts about the meat industry and must make ethical decisions regarding her career, her identity and her future. Meanwhile in Japan, the wife of the advertising manager in charge of the show struggles daily trying to be the perfect Japanese wife, cooking delicious meals of American beef and becoming pregnant. Some of the characters are polarized, but the emotional turmoil will draw you into the story. Have a burger beforehand… -- Lisa Dendy
The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus is an enchanting work filled with magic, love and competition. This dark fairy tale follows Les Cirque des Reves, an unusual circus that is only open at night and appears without warning, and its equally unusual inhabitants. On the outside the circus appears to be black and white, with the contortionists and animal trainers that can be expected from any circus. But Les Cirque de Reves is special because of the magical battle that is waging between two illusionists, the circus’s own Celia and her rival Marco. The two were unknowingly brought into the game as children, and unbeknownst to them both it is finished when only one is left standing. As the two illusionists weave a world of magic and wonder within the circus they realize that their actions have begun affecting everyone involved in the circus, and despite their rivalry the two begin to fall deeply in love. Morgenstern writes with a grace and depth that will easily put the reader under her spell. The Night Circus is one that is not easy to put down. -- Megan Lawson
The Night Strangers
by Chris Bohjalian
A scary ghost story set in an old Victorian house in New England is sure to send shivers of fear up your spine and frightening enough to beware of reading this haunting tale at night. Captain Chip Linton tries to land his jet plane in Lake Champlain after a flock of geese fly into the twin engines. But unlike the “miracle on the Hudson,” thirty-nine passengers die, leaving Chip with post traumatic stress syndrome, blaming himself for not saving their lives. He moves with his wife, Emily, and their ten-year-old twin daughters from Pennsylvania to a small town in New Hampshire to try and begin a new life. But horrors in the basement of the family’s new home begin with a secret door with thirty-nine bolts and mysterious voices coming from within. Chip has too much time on his hands now that he is not flying, and while the twins are trying to adjust to a new school and Emily is busy with a new law practice, he begins to investigate the house. Taking an axe to the basement door, he uncovers bones and begins to see ghostly apparitions of dead passengers from the plane. But that’s not the only frightening plot in this book, for the Lintons have never seen so many greenhouses in a town or so many women interested in growing herbs. All the neighbors welcome the Lintons as family and seem overly protective of the twins, Hallie and Garnette, for some inexplicable reason. This frightening tale will keep you up at night seeing ghostly apparitions and hearing unexplained noises far beyond one’s imagination. -- Donna Hausmann
Say Amen, Again
by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Readers first met the Rev. Simon Jackson and the rest of the Jackson clan in Let the Church Say Amen and got to know them a little better in Everybody Say Amen. Now, they are back in Say Amen, Again. This time, Rachel Jackson Adams, now a happily married pastor’s wife, has to deal with the news that her husband Lester has gotten another woman pregnant – at the same time that Rachel is pregnant. The story actually opens with Rachel having a dream that she and her husband’s one-time mistress, Mary, are in labor at the same time and in the same hospital room. Rachel is patient and understanding to a point, but you wonder how long it will be before Rachel reverts to her old ways to fix the mess her husband has created. Mary is desperate and willing to do whatever it takes to make Lester her husband. Rachel is not the only one with drama. Her brother Jonathan is struggling with the conflict between his religious beliefs and being gay all under the watchful eyes of everyone around him. After a lengthy battle with drugs, her other brother David finally seems to be getting his life back on track, but wait until you see who he brings to dinner. Throw in some unwanted advice from meddling Aunt Minnie and some fatherly concern from Rev. Jackson and you won’t want to put this one down until the very end. -- Lakesia Farmer
Seven Year Switch
by Claire Cook
It’s been seven years, but Jill Murray has yet to forgive her husband Seth for walking out on her and their daughter Anastasia. She doesn’t have her dream job as a high-end cultural coach, but she’s getting by with a job answering phones for a travel agency and teaching international cooking classes at a community college. Yes, she’s doing just fine in her man-free life (or so she hopes) when she meets Billy, a free-spirited entrepreneur looking for guidance in his upcoming business trip to Japan. But just as she takes a few tentative steps towards a relationship, her husband suddenly reenters her life. Her daughter sees it as a dream come true, but is it? This is a warm and funny story of one woman’s journey as she lives and rebuilds a life, making tough decisions and inevitable mistakes along the way to self-discovery and understanding. -- Lynne Barnette
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett
Sent to the Amazon rainforest to locate a lost colleague, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh discovers much about human nature when the surreal situation she encounters tests everything she values. This compelling tale, an excellent choice for book clubs, poses many questions about medical ethics, colonialism and the environment as Marina’s choices and the actions of her guides lead her further and further into the heart of darkness. -- Catherine Mau
by Michael Bamberger / Alan Shipnuck
The Swinger is a send-up of the scandal-plagued season of a certain multiracial former number one golf champion. Not that anything like this could happen in real life.
The abuses of sex, steroids and celebrity conspire against Herbert X. “Tree” Tremont, whose “handlers” hire a hard-luck small market sportswriter to smooth over public relations. As Tree’s fortunes ebb and flow, we get a peek behind the perfectly constructed façade as well as a gauge on the fickle nature of “fans” and the media.
Is any of this accurate? Who knows? The authors, Sports Illustrated golf reporters, no doubt have fun speculating on and satirizing certain truths and rumors. Is it fair? Well, in the sense that it has to be, we certainly see that hypocrisy isn’t a stranger to either side of the story.
So, is the book any good? Oh, yeah. Though occasionally way over the top, the writers know prose fiction as well as pro golf, and never go for the cheap or easy shot. As Tree might say, “it is what it is.” -- Floyd Harris
Sylvia, Rachel, Meredith, Anna
by Robert Slentz-Kesler
Robert Slentz-Kesler, a long-time Durham resident, has written a fascinating first novel. From the title you might think that it’s about a group of women, but actually the main character is a new college graduate, Gerard Kelderman, who decides to join the Army, partially because of his difficulties with the women in his life.
Gerard’s adventures in boot camp are juxtaposed with his memories and ongoing experiences with the four women in the title. The collection of his platoon mates provides lots of material for both amusement and some tense moments. Once you get by the military’s foul language, it’s impressive to evaluate this as a first novel and look forward eagerly to Robert’s next novel. -- Joyce Sykes
by Christa Faust
Christa Faust’s Choke Hold is part of the Hard Case Crime series, which combines new and classic pulp for the modern reader. From cover art to content, we’re in for old school hard-boiled crime. Choke Hold updates the noir: ex-porn star (Are they all stars?) Angel Dare is engulfed in the equally sleazy biz of MMA – mixed martial arts – when Cody, the son of an old co-star, shows up in the diner where Angel has worked since going into the witness protection program. After the co-star is murdered, Angel takes it upon herself to get Cody to Vegas for his big MMA break.
Of course, pulp is all about getting the right gritty tone and atmosphere, and Faust delivers it here in spades. Angel is seen-it-all tough, but she reluctantly finds her tender side upon meeting Hank, Cody’s mentor who’s been in a few too many fights and taken a few too many meds. Despite the modern-day R-rated language, this is all pretty cliché, though that’s easy to forgive. Unfortunately, the too-easy plot contrivances at the end take it down a few pegs. -- Floyd Harris
A Hell of a Dog
by Carol Lee Benjamin
This book is one in a series featuring Rachel Alexander and her pit bull, Dashiell, who cooperate as private investigators. In this novel a group of dog trainers meets in New York, presenting seminars to other dog trainers and the general public.
Then dog trainers start dying. The first is thought to be an accident, but by the time the number gets to three it becomes difficult to support that theory. The fun of the book comes from the interaction between the trainers and their very different breeds of dogs, their different dog-training styles and the tricks different dog trainers play on the others. Particularly if you’re a dog person, I think this is one you’ll very much enjoy. -- Joyce Sykes
Murder in Vein: A Fang-in-Cheek Mystery
by Sue Ann Jaffarian
This is a mystery story that happens to include vampires and not the other way around. Madison Rose is inches away from the knife of a serial killer when a man rushes out of the bushes and attacks him. Seeing her rescuer sink his teeth into the attacker’s neck, she is torn between being deeply grateful and seriously freaked out.
After a traumatic childhood, Madison has gradually gotten some peace and order into her life, only to be forced to completely re-think her plans. Not only are vampires real, but they can look just like anyone else, such as the elderly couple who has offered her a home and treated her like a grandchild. The group to which they belong also offers Madison a job: they want to know who is responsible for the attacks that have killed both humans and vampires. Escorted by a male member of the group acting as her entrée and watchdog, she checks out the trendiest gathering places for vampires, both genuine and wannabe, hoping to find the pattern that will point to the killers. Madison is vulnerable without being whiney and resilient without being the stereotype tough chick in leather pants with a tramp stamp. I look forward to reading Baited Blood, the second book in the series. -- Deb Warner
I can’t wait for new Mary Russell books, which is a little surprising since I was never a huge Sherlock Holmes fan before reading this series. Holmes is absent for much of Pirate King, and Russell is on her own in a situation that is not much to her liking. She is working undercover as an assistant to a movie producer filming an adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Pirates of Penzance. Did you get that? Scotland Yard suspects that the film company is a cover for criminal activity, including the disappearance of the previous assistant who Russell is replacing. Russell’s job is to find out what is really happening. Vivid descriptions of Portugal and Morocco and memorable characters—including real pirates—make this book a lot of fun, as does Russell’s wit and humor. You learn a lot about the early days of filmmaking, too. -- Joanne Abel
The Iron Duke
by Meljean Brook
Steampunk romances have been bubbling around for a couple of years now, but The Iron Duke is the breakthrough book we have all been waiting for. Using nanotechnology hidden in sugar, the Horde invaded England and used their technology to control the people. That is, until a former pirate captain, now Duke Rhys Trahaearn (the Iron Duke), makes a daring raid on the center of Horde power in London and breaks their hold. Lady Wilhelmina Wentworth is an inspector and assigned to investigate a murder on Trahaearn’s property. She intrigues him and he decides to “assist” her on her investigation as sparks fly. If this novel just had fantastic world building and fantasy elements, I’d recommend it, but there’s more. Brook has also written a masterful romance and solid mystery all wrapped in her unbelievable imagination. -- Jennifer Lohmann
by Pamela Clare
Katherine James is a half-Navajo investigative reporter who discovers that someone is trying to prevent the Native Americans from using pieces of sacred land. Gabe Rossiter is a park ranger who gets involved with James and her investigation after rescuing her from a climbing accident.
Naked Edge could easily be just a fine romance with an interesting story, but Clare makes it a sexy, page-turning romantic suspense. Her characters are fantastic. Kat’s heritage and her conflicts between traditional and modernity add depth to the story and her character. The setting, the Denver/Boulder area, is beautifully described and brought to life. Clare is an investigative journalist, herself, and her experience brings life and a sense of reality to the plot. Finally, there is Gabe, who I thought was the best part of the story. Clare allows Gabe to be human in a way few romance authors do, including a messy, imperfect house and a really bad hangover. Gabe’s essential humanity make his developing relationship with Kat more touching and much more interesting.
This was a fantastic romance. One of the best I read all year. -- Jennifer Lohmann
Something About You
by Julie James
Julie James is a rock solid writer. Something About You is her third book, and she should be an auto-buy for contemporary romance fans. Her books are funny, but not goofy, sexy without being just about sex and her characters are interesting and real. If Something About You isn’t checked in, try her other books. You won’t be disappointed. -- Jennifer Lohmann
by Cherie Priest
This was my first steam punk book, and I enjoyed it very much. The Civil War has lasted into the 1880s, Texas is a county and Seattle is walled off because of poisoned air. In this alternative history a mix of wonderful characters interacts as a young woman from the East searches for her dying father. -- Joanne Abel
The Buntline Special
by Mike Resnick
This is a tale of “the weird west,” that supposes Thomas Edison and another inventor have relocated to Tombstone and use their talents to develop, among other things, robotic prostitutes (no explicit details), electric lights, rudimentary security systems, motorized vehicles and brass armor-plating that protects stagecoaches from robbers. This last item has made them the target of assassination attempts by the outlaw Clanton gang and a zombie, Johnny Ringo. Protecting Tombstone are the Earps, who have recently recruited Doc Holiday, from whose point of view most of the story is told, and Bat Masterson. There are also some Native American tribes whose shamans have their own reasons for supporting one side or the other, one of whom hexes Bat into becoming his nickname at nightfall. As usual, Resnick is both inventive and funny as all the players work their way down to the famous showdown at the OK Corral. -- Deb Warner
The Court of the Air
by Stephen Hunt
Hunt has created a fantastical, adventuresome, steampunked world, with elements that make you stop and think and enough action to keep you reading. Early in the story, separate murderous attacks force orphans Molly and Oliver to abandon the only homes they know and to face great danger, unexpected allies and their destinies in the wider world. At the same time, one brutally repressive state uses demonic assistance and forced “equalizations” to overrun its complacent (and equally brutal) neighbor, whose deposed leaders must humble themselves to beg for outside assistance. All the while the Court of the Air floats above, observing the action – part black-ops organization and part political prison. The only major player that doesn’t appear interested in forcing its beliefs down everyone else’s throats is the Steam Nation, the inhabitants of which are one of Hunt’s best creations. The least human, they are by far the most humane. Far from mere robotic servants, the steam men have distinct personalities and souls, a religion (the Steam Loas) and system of divination and a chivalric code of conduct and ethics. I really enjoyed this book, so I am happy to say that it is the first book of a series. The next two are Kingdom Beyond the Waves and Rise Of the Iron Moon. -- Deb Warner
Plain Fear: Forsaken
by Leanna Ellis
Plain Fear: Forsaken is an Amish Vampire romance novel written by Christian fiction author Leanna Ellis. When I found out about the book, I knew it would be either really great or really horrible, but also that I had to read it. Fortunately, the novel is great.
There is no way to escape the gimmicky concept. Vampire and Amish fiction have both been very popular for a couple of years now and don’t seem to be waning. However, Ellis has taken a gimmicky concept and created a sincere story of good versus evil. Only, good versus evil is too simple of a theme for this novel. Ellis explores the complexity of relationships, love and grief, as well as the essence of ourselves that is left behind in others’ memories when we die.
Some of you will hate it because vampires in Christian fiction is blasphemous. Some of you will hate it because this is Inspirational fiction with a Christian moral and you don’t like those kinds of books. But you can’t be “meh” about this book, which is one of its strongest points. Whether you read it or just read this description, you will have a strong opinion about Plain Fear: Forsaken.
Whether it makes you shudder with revulsion or jump with excitement, I encourage you to read it. -- Jennifer Lohmann
by Jacqueline Carey
Sometime in the future, a terrible sickness strikes the United States and Mexico, leading to war between the two countries. Border towns are closed off from the rest of the world, and the US runs its war from those isolated towns held captive by their own government. Loup Garron, daughter of a genetic engineering experiment and a town woman, learns at a very young age the injustices the government can commit against her own people, and she fights back. She’s a strong heroine trying to make sense of the world around her. This would be a good read for fans of The Hunger Games. -- Jennifer Lohmann
To Say Nothing of the Dog
by Connie Willis
Ned Henry is tired. He’s having trouble differentiating sounds, is slow to react and will wax poetic at the drop of the hat. It can only mean one thing: time lag. He’s done 14 drops in a week. He’s traveled back and forth between 2057 to WWII era Coventry, England searching church jumble sales and the wreckage of the post air raid Coventry Cathedral for the Bishops Bird Stump. It is not entirely clear to Ned what the Bishop’s Bird Stump is. All he knows is that the powerful Lady Schrapnell will keep sending him back in time until he finds it – the final piece to her reconstruction of the Coventry Cathedral. Only now that Ned’s been diagnosed with time lag, he’s been ordered to take two weeks of bed rest with no time travel, which Lady Schrapnell will never allow. The only way he’ll ever get the rest he needs is to make one last drop to Victorian England where he can rest for two weeks after he does one thing – except, he can’t remember what it is. In his extreme state of time lag he is unable to follow the instructions. All he remembers is that something was accidentally taken from Victorian England to the present day, something that if it isn’t returned without notice, may cause serious repercussions in the future. Only he doesn’t know what it is, if he even has it or what he was supposed to do with it. All he knows is that the future is depending on him. -- Amy Godfrey
1861: The Civil War Awakening
by Adam Goodheart
This is the perfect book to read during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. It introduces you to a wide cast of characters, who played a role in the run-up to the Civil War. One of my favorites was Jessie Fremont, wife of the famous explorer, who was a brilliant politician and philosopher. It was her work that ensured California would enter the Union as a free state. You will learn of an abolitionist who burned the Constitution because it enshrined slavery in the very soul of the government. Many other little-known characters are introduced and bring the times to vivid life. Goodheart also talks of the technological changes like the railroads and telegraph and the crucial role that they played. One of the lasting impressions that this book leaves is that, initially, few on either side believed the war would last so long and be so bloody, yet all knew the war was about ending slavery. -- Joanne Abel
Barefoot Contessa is one of my favorite Food Network shows. Ina Garten makes cooking fun.
This book is all about saving time and avoiding stress. The cookbook has easy ingredients, easy shortcuts, easy techniques, easy menus and easy recipes. The recipes were road-tested on the author’s friends and are tried-and-true Barefoot Contessa. I enjoyed looking at the accompanying photographs as much as the recipes. -- Rheda Epstein
Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty Is Not the New Thirty
by Tracey Jackson
In this hilarious part memoir, part pep-talk for us 50-somethings, former screenwriter of Confessions of a Shopaholic, Tracey Jackson, refutes the current myth that “50 is the new 30.” With laugh-out-loud abandon, Jackson faces middle age topics head-on, such as dating/sex after 50, modern childbirth, mammograms, estrogen (or the lack thereof), age discrimination in employment, managing money for retirement and the empty nest. One aptly named chapter is titled, “If I’m 30, Why Do I Need a Colonoscopy?”
The conclusion Jackson reaches is that age 50 is different from what it used to be for earlier generations; however, it is still full of changes, adjustment and loss. With proper nutrition and exercise, as well as with the help of other modern “miracles,” we can look and feel younger than our parents and grandparents did at 50. Laughs abound on every page, so this self-help book is definitely good for your health! -- Susan Wright
The Big Short
by Michael Lewis
When my retirement account tanked in 2008, my interest in the stock market crashed as well. Attendance in our library’s ValueLine discussion group waned and conversations of buying and selling stocks seemed to vanish from the library, maybe from the county as well. Few people came to the “Invest Your Best” programs. Stocks, it seemed, had become a loser’s game.
The stock crash killed my interest in stocks for three years, but I enjoyed a fascinating book by Michael Lewis that finds some truth in a story that is all about greed, gambling, dishonesty and selfishness. In The Big Short, we get a story of little guys beating the big guys…of misfits who outsmart the billionaire lords of brokerage houses like Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. The heroes of this story are underfunded but super smart, and though one has a glass eye, he sees through the trickiest subprime mortgage default swap schemes. And while all the heroes are somewhat antisocial in behavior, (one suffers from undiagnosed Asperger’s) this makes them talented at speaking the nasty truth to the investment bankers who ruined our economy.
The villains of the tale are the investment bankers who used Americans’ desire for homes to push bad loans at people who could not afford those loans. The loans were built to fail, but only after earning the bankers million dollar bonuses. Wisely, our heroes invested in the only financial product that could beat the worthless loans—they bought cheap insurance on the loans, called credit default swaps. When the borrowers failed to repay (by the tens of thousands), the value of the cheap insurance skyrocketed and our misfits got rich. And the system went bust.
The real satisfaction of The Big Short comes from many incidents in which our misfits tell the highfalutin bankers how mendacious and worthless they are, and how stupid they are for not understanding their own products. I wish those Wall Street slickers in their silk suits got the slap they deserved. Sadly, when companies like Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG failed, their guilty CEOs carted millions in taxpayer-subsidized bonuses to the bank.
According to Michael Lewis these untried criminals are lying low now, perhaps for fear of a reckoning. Unfortunately, this knowledge is cold comfort. On the other hand, the story is fast moving, informative and very entertaining. I enjoyed it in an audio format. -- Mark Donnelly
In this true story, 6-year-old Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin, are involved in a horrible car accident, and both are taken to the hospital. Dad doesn’t sustain any lasting physical injuries, but Alex’s injuries are so severe that the coroner is called, and the first church friends to arrive at the hospital say they believe Alex has gone on to be with Jesus.
Alex goes into a two-month coma and awakes as a quadriplegic. However, when he is able to speak, Alex has unbelievable recollections of the details of the accident and truly amazing and reassuring stories to share little by little about his temporary visit with angels, unearthly music and Jesus in heaven.
After the car accident, the faithful Malarkey nuclear family and their extended church family adjust to a new normal. This book is just as much about Alex’s parents’ journey throughout the ordeal as it is about the details of heaven, presumably because Alex was given strict instructions not to divulge certain details about heaven…and he chooses to obey. Nevertheless we get a clear, uplifting view of Alex’s changed life in addition to his family’s increasing faith and desire to fully listen to and believe their son.
All along, Alex insists that the attention be on Jesus—who it’s all about—and not on him personally. Alex’s description of angels is that they are “magnificent, awesome and incredible.” This book can be summed up in the way that Alex describes heaven, “impossible to describe…it’s glorious!”
Compare this to two other books in the library’s collection: 2010s Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by 3-year-old Colton Burpo’s father, Todd and Don Piper’s 2004 adult tale of his near-death experience and rebirth in 90 Minutes in Heaven. -- Susan Wright
Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food
by Wendell Berry
It is amazing to me that this book was originally written in 1971. Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer and maybe, a prophet. As Michael Pollen notes in his introduction, many of the current issues of food security, food safety, the fate of family farms and even the “foodie” movement are discussed in thoughtful and elegant prose in these essays. I wonder where our country would be if we as a nation had heeded his words in the 1970s. -- Joanne Abel
Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military
by Randy Shilts
No stranger to controversy, what Shilts did for the ambivalent handling of the early AIDS epidemic with his masterpiece And the Band Played On, he does for gays in the military with Conduct Unbecoming. The table is turned as he focuses on the deplorable tactics used by investigators to root out gays and lesbians. A shocking expose that, at times, will have you believing it couldn’t have been this bad, until you remember such infamous stains on our past like the McCarthy hearings and the Japanese internment camps of WWII. Yeah, it happened, and what’s worse, we let it happen. I consider this book a prequel of sorts to Unfriendly Fire by Nathaniel Frank. Shilts unearths all the ugliness and intolerance dictating the handling of our nation’s most courageous men and women in a time when service to our country was supposed to mean something. After reading Conduct Unbecoming, I can’t fathom how anyone more than a perfect zero on the Kinsey scale could even walk into a recruiting center, let alone serve. When my son was in Baghdad, I was constantly thanked for his service, as I’m sure other loved ones were. No one checked sexual orientation first. President Clinton saw the mistakes and tried to correct them; President Obama succeeded. -- Cleo Bizzell
Dallas Cowboys: 50 Years of Football
by Editors of Sports Illustrated
My love for books and my love for football are a winning combination. That’s why I’m sure you will understand my excitement over a book about football at the public library. I won’t even dwell on the fact that it’s a book about my favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys!!!! Dallas Cowboys: 50 Years of Football is a detailed account of the team from the 1960s to 2000s. This coffee table book captures the heart of the sport. From struggles, to challenges and many victories, it’s a book that will create great conversation about the legacy of football with the Dallas Cowboys. The photographs tell the story of a great football team. One can’t help but stroll down memory lane as the story of Super Bowl champions is shared. Learn more about star players – Tom Landry, Emmitt Smith, Too Tall Jones and Hollywood Henderson. This book has increased my excitement about football season. Whether you’re a Cowboys fan or not, enjoy the games this season. If you haven’t decided on a team yet think about these statistics: 8 Super Bowls, 5 Super Bowl titles, 30 playoff appearances, 12 Hall of Famers, 50 years of football. GO COWBOYS!!!! -- Tammy Baggett
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Why read a book about cancer? Well, for one reason, this book is brilliantly written and sweeps you along it as describes the history of cancer, going back to ancient Egypt. Interwoven in this history is the story of people who have sought a cure, as well as those who have personally battled the disease over the years. It was interesting to note that forms of mammograms and Pap smears for cancer screening were developed many years before they were adopted. If there had been more women in cancer research and treatment, one wonders if these important tests might have been adopted decades earlier. Also fascinating was the conflict of politics and health policy dealing with tobacco’s role in cancer. With references to literature (Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and Margaret Edson’s Wit) this is science writing at its best. -- Joanne Abel
Emeril 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast
by Emeril Lagasse
Looking for a way to capture extra time so you can shop during the holidays? This book may be your answer, at least when it comes to saving time in the kitchen that is. Emeril offers a selection of excellent meal choices that can be prepared and ready to serve in 20, 40 or 60 minutes. I put the book to the test and prepared a meal for a family of four. I timed everything perfectly and within 60 minutes we were sitting down to a mouth watering meal. I prepared Emeril’s Salad (10 minutes), sautéed yellow squash with carrots (20 minutes) and salmon with orange butter sauce (30 minutes). So, if you can’t visit one of Emeril’s restaurants anytime soon, consider checking out his cookbook. It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned cook, or just learning your way around the kitchen, you will enjoy these quick and easy recipes. Go ahead, invite some guests over and impress them by cooking the “Emeril way.” -- Tammy Baggett
Jacques Pépin is one of my cooking heroes. His shows have been on PBS for more than 25 years.
“For the first time ever, the legendary chef collects and updates the best recipes from his six-decade career. With a searchable DVD demonstrating every technique a cook will ever need. In his more than 60 years as a chef, Jacques Pépin has earned a reputation as a champion of simplicity. His recipes are classics. They find the shortest, surest route to flavor, avoiding complicated techniques. Now, in a book that celebrates his life in food, the world’s most famous cooking teacher winnows his favorite recipes from the thousands he has created, streamlining them even further. They include Onion Soup Lyonnaise-Style, which Jacques enjoyed as a young chef while bar-crawling in Paris; Linguine with Clam Sauce and Vegetables, a frequent dinner chez Jacques; Grilled Chicken with Tarragon Butter, which he makes indoors in winter and outdoors in summer; Five-Peppercorn Steak, his spin on a bistro classic; Meme’s Apple Tart, which his mother made every day in her Lyon restaurant; and Warm Chocolate Fondue Soufflé, part cake, part pudding, part soufflé and pure bliss. Essential Pépin spans the many styles of Jacques’ cooking: homey country French, haute cuisine, fast food Jacques-style and fresh contemporary American dishes. Many of the recipes are globally inspired, from Mexico, across Europe or the Far East. In the accompanying searchable DVD, Jacques shines as a teacher, as he demonstrates all the techniques a cook needs to know. This truly is the essential Pépin.”-- Provided by publisher. -- Rheda Epstein
The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You
by Eli Pariser
This was one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. No, it’s not a horror story by Stephen King; it’s the real world, right now.
Every time you do a Google search on your computer, click on a Facebook post or go to Amazon.com and they already know where you are, or the ads now seem to be things of interest to you, or Amazon has suggestions for you … these are the signs of what the Internet is hiding from you and the content bubble we are all living in.
Pariser, an online organizer who started a website after 9/11 that attracted more than half a million people, has been mobilizing people through online engagement. I first saw him in a TED Talk about the Filter Bubble and I immediately requested the book from the library. I could not put it down! I also went around telling everyone about it.
If you are at all curious about the things YOU see when you are on the internet, this is a must read. -- Jill Wagy
Good Eats 3: The Later Years
by Alton Brown
If you are fan of cooking, The Food Network or science, then you need to check out this final installment of Alton Brown’s Good Eats series. Combining nerdy enthusiasm, hilarious science models and great food, this book will lead you through the final seasons of the Good Eats show with recipes, behind-the-scenes extras and history tidbits. Brown does a wonderful job of explaining not only how to cook great food, but why it works the way it does. Protein chains, starch molecules, icky bacteria and taste buds come to life as puppets, Styrofoam balls and more in the wacky world of Good Eats. Enjoy good reading as well as good food with Alton Brown in Good Eats 3: The Later Years. -- Patricia Dew
The Happiest Baby on the Block
by Harvey Karp
Like any first time mom, I was overwhelmed with joy when my daughter was born. After the first few days, I quickly came to the realization that babies have some serious trouble trying to fall asleep... and when they aren’t sleeping, they like to cry. A LOT. This book was amazing for me – it teaches you how to effectively calm your child with the 5 S’s (swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking) that trigger the calming reflex. And if you’re too much of a sleep deprived zombie to read the book, like I was, the library carries the DVD version so you can watch and learn how to effectively calm your baby! -- Kathleen Moore
It’s Your Time
by Joel Osteen
Joel Osteen is a popular pastor of America’s largest church, Lakewood Church located in Houston, Texas. He shares his message on television as well as in books. His message covers five areas in It’s Your Time. They include: it’s your time to believe, it’s your time to favor, it’s your time for restoration, it’s your time to trust and it’s your time to stretch. Each area is presented in a conversational manner. He provides stories and words of motivation that encourage people to activate their faith, achieve their dreams and to increase in God’s favor. He presents a positive message that causes people to pause and think of their spiritual walk and what it means in their lives. He frequently makes reference to scripture and presents thought-provoking questions. He provides an uplifting message for those facing difficult times and emphasizes the importance of praise during good times. It’s an enjoyable read! -- Tammy Baggett
Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton
by Rebecca Shambaugh
This book focuses on Hillary Clinton as a prominent political figure and discusses her reputation of achieving despite challenges. It serves as an instructional tool for women in leadership roles and offers insight to her success as a leader. Whether you are new to leadership or a seasoned leader, you will find valuable information to guide you. It will help you focus on how to lead with purpose during difficult and good times. It is both a refresher to basic leadership skills and presents information that will cause you to examine your leadership style and your effectiveness as a leader. While seven areas of leadership secrets are shared, I especially liked her words of wisdom on “Embracing Change.” A great deal of emphasis is placed on communication as a major tool for bringing others on board with change. Hillary encourages leaders to “Never resist a good change – get ahead of it.” The tone shows Hillary Clinton as very open minded, confident and well prepared. It’s a quick read that is very enlightening. -- Tammy Baggett
Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books
by Maureen Corrigan
Obviously as a librarian it is in my DNA to want to read books about books, and especially by authors who read books for a living. This is the case with Maureen Corrigan, a book reviewer for NPR’s Fresh Air, and her insightful, and at times introspective tome, Leave Me Alone I’m Reading. Having often mumbled these words myself, I was immediately attracted to Corrigans’s book and reveled in her ability to include aspects of her personal life, like growing up in Brooklyn, matriculation from Catholic school through Penn as a PhD student, decisions related to marriage, adopting a daughter from China and championing what she calls women’s extreme adventure stories via Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland and Edward Stratemeyer’s Nancy Drew.
However, this book does bog down in chapter four with an overly long, and at times tiring, reminiscence of the author’s retrospective reading experience in Catholic school. This arduous chapter notwithstanding, the reader will appreciate Corrigan’s overview of favorite titles and extensive genre focused lists – many reviewed on Fresh Air. This book is a must read for book lovers. -- Carter B. Cue
The Little Book of Bulletproof Investing: Do’s and Don’ts to Protect Your Financial Life
by Ben Stein & Phil DeMuth
While the economy has shown some improvement, there continues to be an up again, down again turn to restoring our investments. The authors of this book offer practical advice on investing during challenging times. Here are a few words of wisdom from the authors:
• Do have a financial plan, otherwise, you are flying blind.
• Do control what you can: your asset allocation, staying the course, watching fees and expenses, keeping it simple.
• Do diversify globally with your stock and bond holdings.
When it comes to investing it’s equally important to reflect on some of the don’ts:
• Don’t take a reverse mortgage except as a last resort.
• Don’t assume that anyone else will care as much about your financial life as you do.
• Don’t blindly accept a lump-sum payout from your pension plan.
Information is shared in an entertaining way, but the message is consistent and will guide you to more informed investment decisions. -- Tammy Baggett
Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art
by Thomas Hoving
Deceased since 2009, art connoisseur and antiquities specialist, Thomas Hoving, served as the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1967 to 1977 – an institution he left an indelible mark on. Hoving’s riveting account of his time at the MET, making the “mummies dance,” is akin to a National Enquirer tell-all and probably could not have been written until many of the individuals the author talks about had died and gone to that great art gallery in the sky.
Not only does Hoving’s account give the reader the inside scoop on the museum’s political infighting and rivalries, artists and exhibitions, shady acquisitions and dealings with politicians and wealthy benefactors, but the reader learns how the savvy and highly intelligent Hoving transformed the once staid Metropolitan Museum into a popular arts venue. The brash, winner-take-all Hoving admits that his “collecting style was pure piracy,” that he had a “reputation as a shark” and that his book of “dealers and private collectors, smugglers and fixers” was the best in the business.
The twists and turns the author infuses in this (at times) self-congratulatory book, has the makings of a good “whodunit” spy thriller. Overall, the reader will enjoy learning about the sometimes failed but mostly successful exploits of museum professional Tom Hoving. -- Carter B. Cue
Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage
by Richard Stengel
Words of wisdom, insight and encouragement fill this book as Nelson Mandela shares his thoughts on life, love and courage. The book is inspiring and allows the reader to capture a glimpse into the life of an extraordinary leader. The book provides historical information, but it reads like an intimate conversation. While there are countless lessons that can be learned from Mandela, the 15 shared in this book are powerful. The wisdom that he imparts can be used in personal or business settings. A chapter is dedicated to each lesson, and personal stories from his childhood offer a unique reflection of the man who has become known as the grandfather of South Africa. I especially enjoyed some of his words on finding your own garden: “The main thing is that each of us needs something away from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfaction, a place apart.” It’s true; we should all find that source that we can get lost in, that source that allows the weight of the world to be lifted from our shoulders, where we can have quiet moments and become lost in peaceful thought. -- Tammy Baggett
The 250 milestones are accompanied by 250 gorgeous, mostly colored photos. You can start at 150 million B. C. with ant odometers and move through time, stopping where you want. Kepler, in 1611, conjectured that the maximum density for packing balls in a box is 74 percent and was finally proven correct in 1998 – but M&Ms pack at a density of only 68 percent. Lots of puzzles appear – Rubik’s and 15 other puzzles are included. Paradoxes also appear, like the birthday paradox. If 23 random people are in a room, the probability is 50 percent that two of them share a birthday. It jumps to 99 percent if 57 people are in the room and is 100 percent if 366 people are in the room, which is explained by the Pigeonhole Principle of 1834. Even if you hated math, or can’t remember how to solve a simple algebraic equation, this book is fascinating and fun. -- Carol Passmore
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
by Wes Moore
This is the story of two men who grew up just blocks apart in the same city, born to single mothers just a few years apart. One becomes a Rhodes Scholar and a successful businessman; the other ends up in a correctional institution. With a reporter’s interest and a great personal curiosity, the author explores the turning points in his life that made his story one of success. He poses questions of choices and luck as he comes to know the other Wes Moore. -- Joanne Abel
Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan
by Del Quentin Wilbur
Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan is a minute-by-minute account of what happened on March 30, 1981, just weeks after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as President of the United States. Wilbur does a masterful job documenting the thoughts of everyone – in real time – from the individuals who subdued Reagan’s would-be assassin, to the agents transporting the wounded Reagan to the hospital in the presidential limousine, to the nurses who cared for him in the emergency and recovery rooms. The author reveals the details of events at the White House during Reagan’s incapacitation, including Nancy Reagan’s reaction to the news and the drama that unfolded behind closed doors in the Situation Room between Secretary of State Alexander Haig and other administration officials. The first part of the book isn’t quite as exciting as the later chapters, but it provides essential background information. Then it’s nonstop adventure to the very end. Even if you’re not a history buff, this is one book you won’t want to put down. -- De Lois Cue
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
by Elisabeth Bailey
Elisabeth Bailey, a writer of essays and short stories, became bedridden for a number of months due to a mysterious and undiagnosed illness. Her friends dug up and brought into her room a small pot of wild violets from the woods near her house. In the violets was a tiny snail which set out to explore its new world as Elisabeth watched and listened. Elisabeth’s friends created a terrarium as a friendlier environment for the snail, and she continued to watch and listen and read about snails. This book is beautifully written and very peaceful as the author watches more closely than even a determined naturalist and describes the world of the snail for us. -- Carol Passmore
Start With Why
by Simon Sinek
I have seen Simon Sinek in person. At the time, I had no idea who he was or what he was going to talk about. By the end of his presentation, I not only understood why he was there, but I wanted to find out more. I immediately sought out his book, Start with Why. For successful companies, CEOs, politicians and other leaders, the secret to success lies not in what they do or how they do it, but the why of their philosophy. Look at Apple Corporation – there are people who will wait in line for hours for the newest iPhone because they believe in Steve Job’s philosophy of trying to build the best product and then letting the end user decide. Not some research or analytics firm, tech pundit, advertising company, record label or movie studio, but the ‘little guy’ who is going to use it. People don’t get excited about Dell or Toshiba because those companies haven’t figured out their why. Southwest Airlines knows their why, as did Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Wright brothers. Simon Sinek explores what it truly takes to lead and inspire. -- Patricia Dew
Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition
by Barbara Lynch
Anyone who has ever seen my cookbook collection knows I make a judgment of price versus number of recipes. I have many thick, door-stopper style cookbooks and very few thin cookbooks with beautiful photography – those beautiful photographs just don’t seem worth the money when all I really want are the recipes. If I beg and cajole my mother for a slim, beautifully photographed cookbook for Christmas, it has to be fabulous, and Stir is a fabulous cookbook. First off, ignore whatever diet you may be on and make the pastry-wrapped chicken; the neighborhood will thank you for it even if they never take a bite. Then make her Orecciette with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Pistachios – easy enough for weekday dinners, fancy enough for company. Might I also suggest the Spicy Tomato Soup with Crispy Grilled Cheese? I don’t bother to strain the soup, although I might if I were making it for company, and it’s delicious with all the yummy tomato and onion bits in it. It doesn’t matter what you make out of this book; everything will turn out deliciously. -- Jennifer Lohmann
What art lover or museum-goer has not wondered what happens behind the scenes at museums and ritzy art auction houses, or in the studios of blue chip and poor artists? Or wondered about the closeted art purchases by eccentric and singularly focused art collectors? The answers to a few of these questions are at the heart of Richard Feigen’s Tales From the Art Crypt: The Painters, the Museums, the Curators, the Collectors, the Auctions, the Art. Feigen, a 50-year veteran art dealer and art world insider, knows where the skeletons are buried and doesn’t disappoint the reader as he lays bare the sometimes sordid and scandalous shenanigans of the upper echelon art world – a world hardly understood by most casual museum patrons and art buyers.
The word “characters” is an understatement for the people in this book. Feigen’s colorful memoir traces the evolution of museum directors to museum CEOs and the boards that invented them; while introducing us to wacky and megalomaniacal collectors like Mort and Rose Neuman and Mary and Leigh Block; plus revealing strange interactions with talented albeit kooky artists like Ray Johnson, Salvador Dali, Jean Arp and Victor Brauner. Feigen even devotes a chapter to the wives and female consorts of artists – many of whom will be responsible for carrying on the artist’s legacy or managing the estate at the artist’s death. Overall, this hilarious book is a wickedly raucous and well-written expose on the art world by a person who has intimate knowledge of the subject he writes about. -- Carter B. Cue
Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11
by Damon DiMarco
Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11 captures interviews of a wide variety of the people who were part of the 9/11 disaster and its aftermath. This second edition (the first edition was entitled Tower Stories: The Autobiography of September 11th, 2001) includes updates about many of the people interviewed in the first edition.
As a volunteer firefighter, my particular focus in looking at this book was on the first responders, but I was also fascinated by the experiences of many other people and the updates on their perspectives five years after their initial horrendous suffering.
Not surprisingly, the many images by many different photographers contribute greatly to the power of this book. -- Joyce Sykes
Unbound: A True Story of War, Love and Survival
by Dean King
In 1934, the Nationalist Army surrounded the Chinese Communist Army. Rather than surrender, the Communist Army fled, marching 4000 miles in a year. King covers this exodus by following the 30 women who joined this march. The chapters are short and readable, covering the struggle for food and survival. Almost all of the women survived the march. The alternative history presented here is interesting, and one also can see hints of why the young Mao eventually came to power in China. -- Carol Passmore
Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America
by Nathaniel Frank
Published over a year ago, Unfriendly Fire offers a critical analysis of gays in the military and former President Bill Clinton’s 1993 solution: the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Right from the start you realize that Frank is heavily biased in favor of gay rights. Understandable. The United States of America has stood for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” since its inception. Periodically we suffer the fate of our more established brethren by aiming our laser-like focus on a group of individuals and singling them out as problematic instead of attempting to live up to the lofty ideals of Lady Liberty’s “melting pot.” Point by point, and in painstaking detail, Frank dismantles the tired notions that gays should not be allowed to serve in the finest military the world has to offer, but if they are, let’s not talk about it. George Santayana hit it on the head: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We went through this with Native Americans, women, blacks and gays. Who’s next? Hopefully, no one. -- Cleo Bizzell
Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom
by Jennifer S. Holland
These are true stories of animals that usually either eat the other or hide from the other. Many of the animals involved are young and others were in stressful situations. In each case the unexpected happened. The cockatoo became great friends with the resident cat. The mare got between the coyote and the newborn fawn and protected the fawn until the mother was able to return to her baby. Both the gorilla and the orangutan treated the kittens who wandered into their space as pets. My favorite might be the pit bull on a farm who loves babies. He and the resident Siamese cat take care of each new batch of chicks when it arrives. The photos are cute, and the stories behind the photos are interesting. This would be a great book to share with an elementary or middle school child. -- Carol Passmore
The Whole Hog Cookbook
by Libbie Summers
Having grown up in a home where we did not eat any pork, cooking this meat has always been both mysterious and frightening to me. This book, written by someone who had wrestled with pigs as a child, helped me unravel the mystery. The book covers every part of the hog, from head to toe. I loved the funny, yet touching, stories scattered throughout the pages, as well as the beautiful photographs. And the recipes are great, too! Lula Mae’s double cola-braised pork shoulder was easy to make and absolutely fantastic! -- Janet Levy
Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance
by Lisa Desjardins
While it may not be the most comprehensive personal finance book out there, Zombie Economics is certainly one of the most entertaining. The authors start with the premise that the techniques and skills needed to survive a zombie apocalypse are the same as those needed to prepare for and survive tough economic times. A story of zombie apocalypse survival is interwoven with sections on personal finance that mirror the fictional story. Among other topics, the authors include sections on budgeting (“Find All the Weapons; Block All the Windows”), managing credit cards (“Don’t Feed Them, It Only Encourages Them”); dealing with unemployment (“Surviving the Graveyard”); and steps to take toward long-term financial survival (“There is No Cure”). The parallels the authors draw between zombies and financial apocalypses are eerily on target. Although not for the faint of heart, Zombie Economics takes a unique and entertaining route in presenting the basics of personal finance. -- Shelley Geyer
by Tina Fey
This hilarious memoir of comedic writer and actress Tina Fey is one of the few books that has actually made me laugh out loud while reading. One of the most successful comedians of the last decade and best known for her impressions of Sarah Palin and her sitcom 30 Rock, Fey uses her autobiography to explain how she came out on top little worse for wear. Growing up as an obviously awkward child, Fey was introduced to the world of acting as a teenager, and with a lot of luck became a writer for Saturday Night Live. Eventually she branched out to write her own television show, and while it has won numerous Emmys, she insists it remains unpopular and low in the ratings. Between describing what it is like working for infamous producer Lorne Michaels and speaking out for women in the workplace, Fey also talks about being a working mother and turning forty (this earned a whole chapter which consisted of three sentences). The book also contains pictures of Fey throughout her life and copies of some of the scripts she has worked on. This book is excellent for anyone who is familiar with Tina Fey’s work or for anyone who is just looking for a good laugh. -- Megan Lawson
George Harrison: Living in the Material World
by Olivia Harrison
This is the coffee table companion to Martin Scorsese’s HBO documentary on the quiet Beatle: a beautiful collection of rare photos (many from George, he was an avid photographer), cards and letters, alongside quotes from family, friends and, of course, his old mates. Although the story has been told countless times, it’s still fascinating how kids living in a war-scarred city in England would grow up to change the world. It’s perhaps even more interesting that George, the youngest and most working-class of the Beatles, would do it all well before the age of thirty, with half his life yet ahead.
There were many ups and downs in the later years: solo albums great and mediocre, a failed marriage, filmmaking and other professional and personal pursuits. Harrison pretty much invented the large scale benefit rock concert and was a huge part of introducing Indian music and spirituality to the Western world. He took this quite seriously, as evidenced by the book’s many photos from India.
Finally, he was a settled family man and father, happiest working in his garden. George Harrison was lost much too soon to cancer, which lends a kind of sadness to all the beauty found in this book. -- Floyd Harris
Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses
by Claire Dederer
Even though the author is obsessed with yoga, this delightful book is really about a young woman, her relationship with her family, her husband and her new baby. Each chapter is named for a yoga pose that (sort of) relates to the subject she is discussing. The writing is wonderful, especially the vivid descriptions of Boulder, Colorado: “The heat shimmered across the prairie in an almost visible wave, the way you can see the rising temperature move though olive oil in a sauté pan.” Even if you don’t practice yoga, this is a great read. -- Joanne Abel
Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
by Avi Steinberg
Typically, many readers might not find the memoirs of a librarian as intriguing as, say, a CIA operative, homicidal killer or bank robber, but Avi Steinberg’s hilarious but humanistic memoir Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian provides the drama of a mystery and pop psychology book all rolled into one.
Steinberg himself stumbles upon this most unlikely career on Craigslist because his own job is somewhat unfulfilling and very lacking in health insurance. A keen storyteller and a deft observer of human nature, Steinberg describes his clients not as incarcerated, deadbeat inmates but well-rounded, albeit slightly flawed, human beings that are interested in cooking, politics, law, poetry and a host of other subjects. Steinberg’s humorous book also reveals the deeper human shortcomings and accidental reasons that brought his library users to prison in the first place. The author not only observes the humanity of others but also intersperses his own issues as a frail, curious orthodox Jew wrestling with his own faith, future and family values.
Because Steinberg’s library is in a prison the reader is exposed to the typical prison conflicts: inmates to guards, inmate to inmate, jailhouse love, illegal contraband and the secretive communication skills employed by the prisoners. Steinberg is assisted in the library and educated in prison mores by a cast of interesting characters bearing names like Fat Kat, Messiah and Boat. Ultimately the zany yet sophisticated inmates provide the author Steinberg with greater human compassion and the reader with a comical and insightful look into America’s penal system. -- Carter B. Cue
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
This fascinating account of Louis Zamperini’s experiences in the years surrounding World War II is all the more compelling because it’s true. Zamperini, then a popular track star on the verge of running the first two-minute mile, competes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics before becoming an Army aviator in the Pacific. After his plane is shot down, he endures an ordeal at sea and the terror of Japanese POW camps. Liberated at the end of the war, but with his body and mind damaged, he struggles to find a place in postwar America. Hillenbrand’s tremendous narrative skill, demonstrated previously in Seabiscuit, draws the reader in, turning what could have been a melodrama into a personal story that resonates long after its conclusion. -- Catherine Mau
Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him
by Luis Carlos Montalván
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can turn a person’s life into a nightmare. And for service dogs that aren’t making the cut, life can be a nightmare as well. Until Tuesday explores the relationship between an Iraq War veteran and a heartbroken service dog who are put together through the Wounded Warrior Project and Puppies Behind Bars. Montalván shows us the world of PTSD from the inside, with insight and depth that will move you. The story of Tuesday the golden retriever is just as gripping and shows how service dogs are so much more than just a companion. Keep a box of tissues handy as Until Tuesday takes you through pain, hope, recovery and love for both man and dog. -- Patricia Dew
Batman: Year One
by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Batman is probably the least superhero-like superhero. His only inherent science fiction or fantasy qualities are his super-spy gizmos and his improbable strength and coordination. Batman: Year One embraces this plausibility and fills it out with genuine humanity, albeit the humanity of someone who’s a little crazy. It is the Batman archetype that has been used ever since its publication in 1986, including Christian Bale’s performance in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
Year One is a character-driven crime story featuring Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the intensely moral but highly unethical vigilante crime fighter that we’ve come to love. Equally compelling – maybe more – is the book’s depiction of James Gordon, Batman’s eventual friend-on-the-inside, whose journey to becoming Police Captain mirrors Wayne’s. It’s also a portrait of a harsh but believable Gotham City and its inhabitants; brief appearances by Gotham residents Harvey Dent (Two-Face, but not in this story) and Selena Kyle (Catwoman, but only just) make the portrait extra rewarding.
David Mazzucchelli’s pencils and inks, and Richmond Lewis’ colors, completely repainted for this edition, are beautifully matched. Their artwork is a perfect partner for what is arguably Frank Miller’s finest writing. Both art and writing are thankfully free of the clichés found elsewhere, even in Miller’s own earlier and later works.
Checking out Batman: Year One from Durham County Library as a boy was one of my earliest encounters with the grand potential of the comics medium. It is still a work that I come back to again and again, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. -- Patrick Holt
Life With Mr. Dangerous
by Paul Hornschemeier
In this offbeat, but engaging graphic novel, Amy is a twenty-something looking for meaning in her suburban, workaday life. She’s just dumped her boyfriend. Her mother has bought her a wholly inappropriate pink, unicorn sweatshirt for her birthday and her best friend, Michael, is out of town and out of touch. Interspersed through the episodes of Amy’s life are episodes of her favorite television show – Mr. Dangerous – where the lead character has a mysterious memory ailment that causes him to mistake his neighbor for various inanimate objects. It sounds random, but the writing, story and graphics all come together to make for a satisfying read and an astute commentary about life. -- Gina Rozier
by Marjane Satrapi
The Islamic Revolution in Iran is brilliantly recounted in this autobiographical graphic novel. The author’s black and white drawings starkly portray the horrors caused by the political upheaval during the 1970s and 80s. The history is told through the eyes of a child: honest, humorous and often confused about the tumultuous adult world. Satrapi experienced the Islamic Revolution, the overthrow of the Shah and the war between Iran and Iraq during her childhood. Her compact book illustrates these monumental changes and the life altering effect they had on her country and family. Persepolis pays tribute to the bond and love of her family who successfully protected her independence and ensured her survival. -- Archie Burke
by Nick Bertozzi
The Left Bank Gang
“Just another modernist with no head,” comments a police officer at a murder scene. Everyone’s a critic in The Salon, Nick Bertozzi’s dynamic and compelling historical mystery, including the murderess targeting Paris’ avant-garde. Picasso, Satie, Stein and company split their time between the canvas (or score or manuscript) and a peculiar, blue-colored absinthe that allows the drinker to enter the reality of any nearby painting. Soon this mind-altering key to the doors of perception is understood to be life-threatening in more than ways than one. Subtle humor and emotional depth pervade this excellent graphic novel, as they do Jason’s The Left Bank Gang. Here, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound and Joyce spend all their waking (and drinking) hours struggling with the meaning of their chosen profession: comics! When the fear of artistic failure and financial ruin sets in, Hemingway takes drastic measures and proposes that the quartet rob a bank. The crime and its aftermath are portrayed, Rashomon-style, by all the players, through to the bittersweet end. Jason’s trademark anthropomorphized animals and his clear-line drawing style and page composition are perfect for this story that rewards multiple readings. The Left Bank Gang and The Salon are excellent books that make even better companions. -- Patrick Holt
The Walking Dead (Volume 1): Days Gone Bye
by Robert Kirkman
Since the second season of the television show, which is based on this graphic novel, came out this October, I decided it would be a good addition to this Season’s Readings. Police Officer Frank Grimes wakes up from being in a coma in a deserted hospital. After stumbling outside he discovers the entire town is empty. Well… empty of the living. Zombies have taken over and Frank sets out on a mission to find his wife, son, and any other survivors along the way. The illustrations by Tony Moore are phenomenal. Kirkman does an excellent job of portraying human survival during the collapse of society. As the series continues it becomes less about zombies and more about the human condition and the relationships that form as a result of an apocalyptic disaster. It is a must read for all zombie fans. The 15th volume of this series is due out this December. -- Jessica Corbin
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
This National Book Award winner follows high school freshman Junior as he decides to transfer from his Spokane Indian Reservation school to a school outside the reservation. Alexie uses honest, direct language to depict Junior’s struggle between feeling like a traitor to his reservation and his desire to get a better education. Throughout this engrossing book, Junior tries to understand what it means to be part of a community and to be an individual. Absolutely True Diary is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, as Junior uses his sardonic wit to deal with poverty, racism, alcoholism and the death of someone close to him. Junior’s black-and-white cartoon illustrations, drawn by illustrator Ellen Forney, add a lot of emotion to the text. The story appears to be semi-autobiographical, as Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and many events that happened to Junior also happened to Alexie. The combination of fast-paced realistic plot and witty cartoon illustrations would appeal to reluctant readers. It is also a good choice to facilitate discussion on issues of community, identity, poverty and racism. -- Kristin Hamon
by Nnedi Okorafor
Sick of boarding schools, vampires and typical teen fantasy tropes? Then try this wonderfully inventive book about a 12 year old Nigerian-American girl who battles some truly terrifying demons. Having recently moved back to Africa with her parents, albino Sunny feels that she doesn’t fit in anywhere. But she soon finds out that weakness can be strength in a different context. This book has more magic libraries, thrilling soccer matches and horrifying dirt monsters than any other book I read this year. -- Autumn Winters
Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins
Anna’s senior year in high school is approaching, and she can’t wait. After all, she has a fabulous best friend, a great job at the local multiplex (with dreams of becoming the nation’s premier film critic) and a crush on her coworker which is showing some promising signs of becoming something more. So she is understandably freaked out when her father enrolls her in a boarding school in Paris. As in France. And she doesn’t even speak French!
Once she’s there, however, she meets some pretty nice classmates, including Etienne St. Clair, who is one of the best looking guys she’s ever met. And he has the most beautiful hair. Of course he has a girlfriend, but they can at least be friends, right? Plus, she soon finds out that Paris could be considered the film appreciation capital of the world, with hundreds of great little theaters. Perhaps this year can be bearable after all…
Stephanie Perkins has perfectly captured the angst, excitement, agony and adventure of being an American teenager in Paris. This is an entertaining read for teens and teens-at-heart. -- Lynne Barnette
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Told from Death’s point of view, this is the story of book thief Liesel in World War II-era Germany. The first book Liesel steals is a book about grave digging left at her younger brother’s grave. This starts a pattern of stealing or “reclaiming” books, including books from a Nazi book burning. With the help of her loving foster father, she tries to learn the meaning behind the books’ words. Zusak explores the interesting concept of stealing back words in a time of fascism, and the book demonstrates the power of words and reading. Although the choice of having the omniscient Death as the narrator makes the story initially hard to access, this device gives the reader an inside look at the story and the characters. The moving writing style and interesting relationships make this book worthy of being a Printz Honor Book, and Zusak’s tone is never too saccharine, nor too depressing. The complexity of themes would appeal to ages 13 and older. -- Kristin Hamon
But I Love Him
by Amanda Grace
I absolutely loved this novel. It is about a high school senior named Ann and her abusive relationship with a boy named Connor. Ann loses her friends, her family and her sense of self through the course of this relationship. Constantly justifying the relationship by saying, “but I love him.” This heartbreaking story is written from her perspective and the book starts at the end of the relationship and works its way backwards to the day they first met. It is this fact that makes this book so unique and such an interesting read. Normally, when one reads a story like this, we see this relationship from the very beginning and the reader sees the signs of abuse long before the characters. The reader wants to yell and scream at the character to get away before the violence happens. With this story, the reader has no opportunity to do that. The book starts off at the end of one of Ann and Connor’s worst fights without knowing what caused it, how it happened or even how these two people got together in the first place. The reader can pass no judgment, because so much of the information is missing. I could not put this book down. -- Jessica Corbin
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart
I love you E. Lockhart. You make such three-dimensional female characters. I love that you write books that are not overtly political. You do not bash the reader over the head with feminist ideals, yet make us question the double standards that ladies (especially middle and high school ladies) constantly face and often reinforce ourselves.
If you are a lady who has ever felt marginalized by the community of men around you, then you will love this book. Not because the men around Frankie Landau-Banks begin to truly appreciate and respect her brilliance, because they don’t. Not because Frankie gets her dream boy in the end, because she doesn’t. But because Frankie comes to an understanding of what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated society, an understanding that I only wish I could have had in high school. Frankie is tired of playing by the rules, and since the rules were written by the “Old Boys,” they’re not really her rules anyway. -- Amy Godfrey
by Cate Tiernan
Nastasya seems like your average teenage party girl. She has it all... money, cool friends and plenty of free time to do whatever she wants. And Nasty, as she’s called by her friends, really does have all the time in the world because she’s actually four hundred and fifty-nine years old! (a.k.a. an Immortal)
But time becomes meaningless when you’ve lived for so long, doing all of the same things. Nastasya can’t really remember a time when she was truly happy. When her best friend Innocencio does something horrific, she must make an abrupt change. Nastasya is suddenly filled with a sense of dread toward her so-called friends, and the only place she can run to is the middle of nowhere... a sort of rehab for immortals. It’s there that she begins to think that maybe the dark magic inside her actually can be overcome. But when she starts having flashbacks about the incredibly handsome but guarded Reyn, she realizes that things might not be as simple as they seem.
This is the first book in the Immortal trilogy, and I couldn’t put it down. The action starts off slow, but once things get rolling, you become sucked into Nastasya’s world. It’s easy to identify with what life would be like if you did indeed live forever and how your feelings could slowly grow numb. If you have a taste for magic and a little romance, you will love this book! I can’t wait for book two! -- Heather Cunningham
by Holly Black
This is the third book in The Good Neighbors trilogy. Rue, a half faerie, half mortal teenager is stuck in the middle while her world is falling apart. Her boyfriend is being eaten alive by mergirls and then there’s Tam, the guy she kissed, who just won’t give up. The faeries, with her own mother leading the way, have taken over her city, but the humans have decided to fight back. Somehow Rue has to stop the worst from happening, and she must make a decision: will she continue to live as a mortal with her father, her friends and all that she knows, or will she side with her mother and all the creatures of the faerie realm?
This book was a fun, fast read in graphic novel format. The illustrations really made the story come alive. I recommend this for teens who enjoy fantasy, adventure and romance. -- Heather Cunningham
The Scorpio Races
by Maggie Stiefvater
Being eaten by your horse is just one of the dangers faced by riders in The Scorpio Races. As the only place where the capaill uisce, or water horses, come to land, the island of Thisby attracts tourists and horseman from around the world each November for the race. Sean Kendrick, famed for his ability to work with the water horses, has won the past four years on Corr, a water horse stallion owned by his employer. He enters the race again this year, hoping to find a way to purchase Corr.
Puck Connolly’s parents were killed by capaill uisce, but in an attempt to delay her older brother’s departure to the mainland, she announces her entry in the Scorpio Races. Unable to find an available water horse, she decides to do the unheard of and ride her island horse, Dove. As they prepare for the race, Sean and Puck find their reasons for entering the race changing as they come to a greater understanding of themselves and their relationships with the people and creatures of Thisby. Full of sabotage, a touch of magic and horses that are eager to eat or drown you, The Scorpio Races will pull you in and keep you reading to the finish line. -- Shelley Geyer
Where She Went
by Gayle Forman
This sequel to If I Stay remained a page-turner. The “chance meeting” of the two main characters, Adam and Mia, set the stage for the question throughout the book: will the pair be able to rekindle their high school romance and make it work? The reader experiences many twists and crossroads before that mystery is solved at the end. Adam narrates the journey, painting his old flame as heartless and fickle before he has had a chance to learn the reasons for her choices. The story demonstrated the virtue of being open hearted and non-assuming in friendship and love. You can never know the reasons for someone else’s choices unless you know, firsthand, where they have been. This captivating young adult novel deftly illustrated faith, anger, hope, uncertainty and the many challenges of growing up. -- Archie Burke
by Kiyohiko Azuma
Yotsuba is basically a tribute to kids being cute. It’s like the kid/manga equivalent of catlolz.com. There is no overarching plot, just a series of episodes from Yotsbuba’s life: going shopping with her dad, catching cicadas with her neighbor, learning to ride a bike. But it’s just so darn cute. Did I mention that yet? That it’s cute? I read all nine volumes currently out in about two days because I just didn’t want to stop reading. I will admit that I am generally a big fan of comics that mimic real life. James Kochalka? Jeffrey Brown? Love ‘em. Not that drama isn’t nice, but sometimes it’s just really great to read things that capture day-to-day life in a realistic but charming way. I really liked being lost in Yotsuba’s world. -- Amy Godfrey
by Laini Taylor
This is a super and original fantasy novel! I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, their way of speaking and their world’s history. Magpie Windwitch, a brave fairy and daughter of the West Wind, has amazing skills. She needs them, along with her crow friends, to try to overcome the challenges she must face – especially the evil Blackbringer who wants to unmake the world. I was not ready for this book to end! Luckily there is a sequel – be sure to check out Silksinger! -- Carrie Rider
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
I had no idea what this book was about when I picked it up – I simply put it on hold when I read that it was a Newbery Honor book. It turns out that I loved it! I have read several books about tomboy girls as they grow, but this was one of the best. This is a witty, smart historical fiction novel about Calpurnia, an 11-year-old in 1899 Texas. She learns how to explore the nature around her and how to understand the people who are most important to her. I enjoyed everything about this book…except the bugs! This story is great for young scientists. -- Carrie Rider
A Family Secret
by Eric Heuvel
This book is a graphic novel of two best friends during World War II: one a Dutch gentile named Helena, and the other a displaced German Jew named Esther. It is told as a flashback story (both friends are now grandparents) of how Esther and her family came to Holland, and of the changes that occurred there during the Nazi occupation of that country.
The occupation begins with rationing, a strike by city workers – which is put down – and Helena’s older brothers joining opposite sides of the struggle. One joins the German army and is later killed in action, and the other joins the resistance. It also shows the systematic excluding of Jews until Esther’s family is taken away in a ‘razzia’ –a roundup of Jews in a certain area. Esther escapes because she is at school, but Helena does not see her again until her grandson finds her at a special rally.
The book brings the Second World War to life for young people today, demonstrating how the lives of ordinary people were affected, and outlining the horrors of the blitzkriegs and concentration camps without going overboard. It could prove a valuable resource for teachers as well, as it is written in a popular format. -- Laurel Jones
by Kevin Henkes
Junonia, by prolific children’s author and illustrator Kevin Henkes, can be described in one word: charming!
I’ve been aware of Caldecott and Newbery award-winning author Henkes’ more commercial successes featuring colorful mouse characters in Chrysanthemum, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and Owen, but didn’t realize he had a whole other body of work that is softer, gentler and more introspective.
The different-sized cover of this juvenile fiction novel drew me in with its array of junonia shells surrounding a small drawing of a little girl with her hair blowing wildly in the wind. The story is about only-child Alice, who spends her birthday week every February in a beach cottage on Sanibel Island, Florida, surrounded by her mother and father and various other family members and friends (both adults and children) who over the years have begun to feel just like family.
This particular year, Alice will celebrate her 10th birthday and wonders if she might actually put her hands on a rare and prized junonia shell. She’s anticipating it to be the best time ever until she finds that several of the people she can’t wait to see won’t be in Sanibel this time, and that a couple of others are bringing guests that will take away from the special attention Alice has been given on previous visits.
Alice has a lot to learn about traditions both new and old, accepting change, handling her emotional world and giving new (possible) friends a fair chance. Henkes has a special touch both with the words and drawings in this exceptional book for all ages. -- Susan Wright
The Lost Hero
by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson fans have reason to rejoice over this next installment of the Percy Jackson series. We get to go back to Camp Half-Blood and meet new characters Jason, Leo and Piper. The next great prophecy has been set in motion. Hera, the Queen of the Gods, has been kidnapped, and it is up to these three friends to rescue her. There are only a few problems that stand in their way. The Gods “have gone silent” and refuse to help, Jason has had his memory wiped clean and Percy Jackson is missing. This series seems to focus on the Roman personalities of the Gods. For instance Jason refers to Zeus as Jupiter and speaks Latin instead of Greek. We learn more about the powers of Aphrodite’s children and some unique and scary skills of the children of Hephaestus. Can these heroes find Hera before the Winter’s Solstice and save the world? Read and find out!! -- Jessica Corbin
The Lost Hero
by Rick Riordan
If you enjoyed The Lightning Thief books, you will love The Lost Hero! Riordan has another great series and cast of characters on his hands here. This is a fast-paced adventure with a touch of mystery told from three different demigods’ perspectives – Jason, Piper and Leo. I had fun reading about each of them! As always, the mythology is fascinating, but not overwhelming. Riordan’s writing is funny, interesting and thrilling from beginning to end. The way things were left, I think book two, The Son of Neptune, might be even better than this one! -- Carrie Rider
by Scott Morse
Magic Pickle by Scott Morse is a goofy, fun-filled graphic novel about a pickle with amazing super powers. He’s a kosher pickle, of course.
Magic Pickle lives in a secret lab located under the bedroom of a little girl named Jo Jo Wigman. Together, they fight the Brotherhood of Evil Produce.
Will Jo Jo and Magic Pickle triumph over the nasty Brotherhood of Evil Produce? Find out when you read this imaginative tale written and illustrated by Scott Morse. Hooray for pickle power! -- Tom Czaplinski
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow
by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso
This book is a fictional graphic novel about Satchel Paige, the amazing baseball pitcher for the old Negro League. Told from the perspective of a competing baseball player, we are treated to a vivid tale of an outstanding baseball talent who displayed his skills with audience-pleasing theatrics.
Life on the road was tough for the African-American players in the segregated south, but the skill and determination of these players pleased black and white baseball fans wherever they played. The best players in the Negro League could earn a lot of money in baseball. Satchel Paige was one of the best.
If you’re wondering just how good Mr. Paige was, the last pages of the book are filled with facts about his life. At age 42, he helped the Cleveland Indians win the World Series in 1948. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. All baseball fans need to read this book. It’s a home run. -- Tom Czaplinski
The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf
by Gerald Morris
This story has several of the elements of the standard fairy tale, including a beautiful maiden under siege in her castle, and a handsome rescuing knight. But the heroine is actually the younger sister of the maiden, who decides to try to get help from King Arthur. But since their father had once rebelled against Arthur, she decides to hide her identity, and meets up with a mysterious dwarf.
When she reaches King Arthur’s court however, her ‘assisting knight’ is a soft-handed kitchen boy. But he proves more skillful than expected, and they return to her home. The kitchen boy, who turns out to be a knight, wins the day, but the maiden plays hard to get in an extremely selfish fashion. When the dwarf is held captive to reveal the name of the knight, it leads to another fight, which results in the dwarf being revealed as the younger brother of a prince who ultimately wins the heart of the heroine.
The story is both like and unlike a fractured fairy tale, as the maiden and the knight are not very heroic. But it does not have the sarcastic tone of most of those types of tales, and it is a good read for those who like fairy tales that are out of the ordinary. -- Laurel Jones
The Will of the Empress
by Tamora Pierce
This book reunites the four young mages in the Circle of Four series: Briar, Daja, Sandry and Tris. Each of the four, whose tales began in their own series above, have had further magical adventures, yet this can be said to be the grandest of all.
At the request of the Empress Berene of Namorn, a distant cousin of Sandry’s, they venture to her country in Sandry’s company. They think that it is merely a visit to Sandry’s holdings in Namorn, but soon learn that the empress wishes for Sandry to marry and remain in Namorn. She also wishes to acquire the young people, whom she sees as valuable additions to her court.
But once they learn of a custom of forced marriage that is practiced in the country, which Sandry almost falls victim to before being rescued, the offer to stay in Namorn is rejected. Berene is not prepared to take “no” for an answer, and in leaving the country, they are obliged to bring down the wards of Berene’s border, a great feat of magic.
This book is written on the cusp of young adult material, especially considering a romance involving one of the characters. But it is an engrossing and entertaining read for those who like stories of magic, friendship and romance. -- Laurel Jones
14 Cows for America
by Carmen Agra Deedy
14 Cows for America is a beautifully illustrated and inspiring story of a Kenyan student, Kimeli, who goes back to his native village after having been in the United States at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
He tells the Maasai villagers about the horrible things that happened while he was in the U.S. studying to be a doctor. One of the things he tells them is that the fires were so hot they could melt iron. His people want to know what they can do to help. He tells them that he is giving his only cow to help the Americans heal, and the villagers then agree to give a total of 14 cows. These are given to the Americans in a ceremony with a visiting diplomat from the U.S. embassy in Nairobi present to receive them symbolically. The sacred, healing cows still reside in Kenya and are cared for by the Maasai as a symbol of hope. -- Joyce Sykes
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
by Laban Carrick Hill
Dave was a slave in 19th century South Carolina. He could transform 60 pounds of clay into a 40-gallon pot. He demonstrated extraordinary talent and skill to achieve creative success. At a time when it was illegal for slaves to read and write, the eloquent poetry on Dave’s remarkable pots provided inspiration and hope to those who had none.
The rich watercolor collages adopt many angles of perspective to reveal the potter’s strength and artistry. Bryan Collier, illustrator of Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, was awarded the Coretta Scott King Book Awards 2011 Illustrator Award. This book also was a 2011 Caldecott Honor Book. -- Rheda Epstein
Guts: The True Stories Behind the Hatchet and Brian Books
by Gary Paulsen
Gary Paulsen wrote this book in response to the many letters he received from readers wanting to know how much truth – and how much fiction – was contained in the pages of Hatchet and the other Brian books. The answer is mostly facts backed up by the real life experiences of Gary Paulsen.
You’ll be shocked to learn that the biggest danger to humans in the wild is not wildcats, poisonous snakes, wolves or bears – the worst danger by far is mosquitoes. He describes an experience that happened to him one summer when he was covered with thousands of hungry, biting mosquitoes. They filled his ears, his mouth and nostrils. They also covered his eyes. He was just able to make it back into his house alive.
Mostly ignored by his parents, Paulsen spent his youth learning how to survive outdoors. He made his own bow and arrow, and learned how to track and hunt game. Outdoor survival became his obsession. His tales are filled with realism, because he lived like the characters he writes about.
Read a few of his outdoor adventure books; then read this fascinating book. He’s the real deal. -- Tom Czaplinski
Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood
by Mike Artell
Many parents find the original Little Red Riding Hood a little too scary for their young children. And what child wouldn’t be frightened, with the wolf gobbling up the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood, then the huntsman coming and cutting both of them out of the wolf’s stomach? Then he sews up stones in the wolf’s stomach and the wolf falls over dead. Just a little terrifying, right? Petite Rouge is the answer to this problem. It is a hilarious adaptation of this tale. Petite Rouge is a Cajun duck with a lot of spunk who has to take her sick grand-mere some gumbo and boudin. She has to go through the swamp and her mother warns her to watch out for that ol’ gator Claude who lives there. Petite Rouge takes her cat TeJean and they set off through the swamp in a pirogue (a long flat canoe). They run into Claude, who she threatens to beat with a pole, and scare him off. He goes to Grand-mere’s house and upon hearing Claude she runs and hides in the closet. Claude puts on her nightgown and cap and waits for Petite Rouge to show up. Petite Rouge notices that Grand-mere does not look quite right. “Grand-mere! You face! It’s all green! An’ you skin got dem bomps. Now what do dat mean?” The dialogue goes on like this with the Cajun dialect, until Claude jumps out of bed and tries to get Petite Rouge. TeJean “he smart fo’ a cat,” throws a bottle of hot sauce to Petite Rouge. She splashes some on the boudin and Claude eats that (thinking he got Petite Rouge) and he can’t take the heat. “His mout’ feel like fire. His nose burnin’ too.” He runs out of the house and jumps into the swampy water to cool off and he decides that people are too spicy, hot to eat. At the end, Grand-mere comes out from the closet and she, Petite Rouge and TeJean sit down for a nice meal.
There is a much needed Cajun glossary and pronunciation guide at the front of the book to help readers understand the words used. I loved that Artell used the Cajun vernacular to tell this story. I also liked that is it is written in rhyme, which makes it easier to read out loud. The illustrations by Jim Harris entertain as well as captivate the reader. It is a wonderful retelling of a childhood classic. -- Jessica Corbin
There have been a great number of books written about Greek Mythology over the years, but this is one of the best treasuries of stories I have read in a long time. The illustrations by Christina Balit jump off of the pages. This book has it all. It contains brief, yet descriptive, biographies of the gods and heroes. It has useful sidebars that offer historical and cultural facts that enhance the stories. There are also maps, timelines and a section that has other books, websites and television series that offer more information on Greek mythology. The text is also very child friendly. It is a very easy read of 187 pages. It is a wonderful companion to anyone reading the Percy Jackson series. -- Jessica Corbin
Barry, the Fish with Fingers
by Sue Hedra
For fans of the artwork in Marcus Pfister’s Rainbow Fish, who need something that appeals to younger readers, this is the book for you. The sparkly gold additions on each page catch the reader’s attention. The story is a funny one, too. It is about a fish named Barry, who helps life become a little less dull in the ocean. Barry assists the other fish with their problems with his amazing fingers. Soon, all of his friends want fingers, too. So, Barry takes them to where he found his “fingers.” This twist will have audiences of all ages laughing out loud. --Jessica Corbin
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories
by Dr. Seuss
I am a Dr. Seuss fanatic! To say I was excited about this book coming out is the understatement of the century. This book contains seven stories that were originally published in magazines between the years of 1948 and 1959. The first story is “The Bippolo Seed,” in which a cat tries to trick a duck into wishing for more things than he needs with the magic Bippolo Seed. The duck and the cat get so greedy with their wishing they lose the magic Bippolo Seed.. It also includes “The Rabbit, the Bear and the Zinniga-Zanniga.” In this short tale, a rabbit is saved from being a bear’s dinner by noticing the bear has an uneven number of eyelashes. The bear must fix this situation immediately by climbing up a tree and staring at a Zinniga-Zanniga flower. The juice from this flower will make his eyelashes grow, according to the rabbit. As the bear climbs up the tree, the rabbit cleverly escapes saying, “It’s always the same when you fight with Big Guys…A bit of quick thinking counts much more than size.”
My favorite story in this collection is “The Great Henry McBride.” A little boy named Henry dreams up various careers and decides that having multiple careers is the way for him because why do one job when you could do one, two, three, four…no, wait, FIVE! Five jobs is the course for him. He will be a seal-training doctor, broadcasting rabbit man, two-gun Henry McBride! At the end he decides, “right now when I am still sort of small, the best job is dreaming, with no work at all.” -- Jessica Corbin
“Buzz, Buzz, Buzz,” Went Bumblebee
by Colin West
Perfect for a very young child, this simple book is about a bumblebee landing on different farm animals, and being told to “Buzz off!” by each one. The story ends with the bumblebee landing on the wing of a butterfly. Does the butterfly say, “Buzz off?” It does not. Instead, the butterfly flies off with the bumblebee. Parents and children alike will be delighted with the simple message of how to make friends, as well as the bold, bright water color paintings that fill each page. -- Tom Czaplinski
Cock-a-Doodle Quack! Quack!
by Ivor Baddiel
Baby Rooster has a problem: it’s his first time waking everyone up in the morning, and he’s not quite sure how to do it. Well, there is an old saying, “if you don’t know, then you had better ask somebody,” and that is exactly what the little rooster does. He asks the advice of a pig, a cow and a duck, all of whom are full of suggestions, which brings to mind another old saying, “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” The farm is overflowing with advice, but none of it seems to be any good. Baby Rooster tries to wake the farm with yells of “Cock-a Doodle Oink! Oink! Cock-a-Doodle Moo! Moo! and Cock-a-Doodle Quack! Quack!” all with no success. He soon becomes frustrated, tired and ready to give up when a cat steps in with the best advice yet, “ask the wise old barn owl.”
The old barn owl is wise, indeed. He instructs Baby Rooster to simply sit quietly and listen and then he’ll know exactly what to do. Although this advice seems a bit strange, Baby Rooster does as he is told. The next day at the break of dawn, while sitting quietly and listening, a strange sound is heard from the farm next door. It catches Baby Rooster’s attention and wakes him right up,and now he knows what to do! He fluffs up his wings, puffs out his chest and lets out a resounding “Cock- a-Doodle Doo!” The sound is loud and proud, and it wakes everyone on the farm. Now, everyone is wide awake, everyone, that is, except Baby Rooster: he’s plum tuckered out! -- Anna Cromwell
Dinosaur vs. the Library
by Bob Shea
In the newest in Bob Shea’s series of “Dinosaur vs…” books, our red dinosaur friend is roaring his way through town and facing off against many new challengers: a cow, baby chicks, a shy turtle and a sad owl. Dinosaur defeats each animal with his roaring powers and, in turn, each of the animals he challenges casts off their traditional noise (moo, peep, *sigh* and boohoohoo) and begin to roar,too. Finally Dinosaur decides to “roar where no one has roared before… the library.” Can dinosaur make it through storytime without roaring?
This book is a great read aloud. It offers many opportunities for interaction, animal noises and roaring. Children will love the colorful but simple drawing style and the sparse, clear text. -- Amy Godfrey
Hakim and Grenita
By Fred Crump
Part of a series of fairy tales retold by Mr. Crump with African-American characters, this book is a new spin on the old tale of Hansel and Gretel. This story includes a few variations: the children get lost when they are sent out to the edge of Sorry Swamp and they are succored by the Fairy of Sleep until they reach the witch’s cottage. Of course, they get the better of her once they are discovered and are reunited with their father.
This was a ground-breaking series of books when they were first published in the 1980s, and the renamed heroes and heroines; Afrotina and the Three Bears, A Rose for Zemiya, [Beauty and the Beast] and Jamako and the Beanstalk to name a few of them, were guaranteed to appeal to their designated audience. -- Laurel Jones
I Like Myself!
by Karen Beaumont
As a young black child, I can remember growing up thinking; I am smart, I am intelligent and I am beautiful. Once I left home, however, I entered a world that often told me the opposite. And that is why I wish this book had been written when I was a child. It would have been much appreciated, not only by me, but also by my parents, who they tried so hard to instill self-confidence and resilience in their children, in hope of preparing us for a not-so-friendly world. I will forever be grateful to my mother for those life lessons; she is truly the love of my life.
This story starts and ends with a cute, energetic black girl celebrating her uniqueness with zany rhyming text. Every page sings of her uniqueness and provides her with answers to life’s certain dilemmas. The words of the little girl assure us that, although she knows life is not going to be a piece of cake, her answer will always be to lick the icing first and to look on the sweeter side of life, as these two passages clearly express:
Inside, outside, upside down,
from head to toe and all around,
I like it all! It all is me And me is what I want to be!
No matter if they stop and stare,
no person ever anywhere
can make me feel that what they see is all there really is to me.
This book is obviously meant for preschoolers, but I think it could easily serve as a conversation-starter for children of all ages who may be experiencing bouts of depression or low self-esteem. The illustrations complement the rhyming text, as the artist uses watercolor and ink to create whimsical drawings and exuberant facial expressions. Every child will find a line or two that resonates with them. Check this book out today; it is definitely a winner and is sure to help uncover the beauty and uniqueness of all children. -- Anna Cromwell
I Want Your Moo: A Story for Children about Self-Esteem
by Marcella Weiner
Toodles, the turkey, hates the sound she makes. There is just something less-than-dignified about the sound “gobble, gobble, gobble.” If only she could “moo” like a cow, “oink” like a pig or “quack” like a duck, Toodles feels she’d be a lot more popular around the farm.
Toodles is suffering from a bad case of low self-esteem. She sees nothing good about herself, from the sound she makes to the way she looks, with brown feathers and skinny stick legs. She thinks there is nothing pretty about her! She goes from animal to animal admiring and wishing for their attributes, while totally over-looking the beauty of her own. After receiving some good advice from a wise old owl, Toodles soon finds herself in a life-threatening situation, in which she must use her own talents and gifts to save the day.
This is a wonderful tale of self-esteem and can serve as a great conversation-starter for parents and teachers dealing with this tough and often touchy subject. Growing up is hard enough without having to deal with the pressures of popularity, beauty and acceptance. This story handles it well. It is told in easy-flowing, rhyming text, with illustrations that suit the story. The facial expressions of each animal will leave you in stitches. While a book alone cannot give a child self-esteem, the storyline within a book can serve as a powerful reinforcement. One of the greatest gifts we can give a child is a sense of self-worth. -- Anna Cromwell
Me and My Dragon
by David Biedrzycki
There are a lot of picture books about dragons, but Me and My Dragon by David Biedrzycki is one of the best. It’s a five fireball scorcher.
The narrative is clever and engaging, but what really makes this story special is the humorous pictures on each page. At home, the boy who owns the dragon empties a bag of Dragon Chow into his bowl. When he takes his dragon for a walk, you see the dragon flying behind him attached to a leash.
There’s some things you shouldn’t do with dragons. Don’t ever take them kite flying in the spring, because he’ll accidentally set fire to other kids kites. The picture shows crying kids with burning kites and a burning tree. Oops! This book is sure to elicit plenty of laughs from parents and children alike.
P.S.: A dragon like this one will come in handy when you want to toast marshmallows for s’mores. -- Tom Czaplinski
Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story
by Lisa Wheeler
Every year I stumble across a book that wins my “Best Book of the Year” award. This year, that book is Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story. It is absolutely, 100% guaranteed hilarious. I can barely write this review, because I am laughing so hard just thinking about the silly, four-line ditties Cushion sings to his suitors. Wait a minute, let’s back track; I am getting ahead of myself.
First things first, this story is about a porcupine who is sad because all the animals in the petting zoo receive lots of love and attention, all the animals, that is, except for him. No one wants to pet a porcupine; in fact, there are signs on his cage warning visitors not to pet, not to touch and to keep out! All day long, Cushion plays his guitar and sings his laments, as he belts out zany little rhymes that will leave you in stitches.
One day, Cushion decides he’s not going to be lonely anymore. Thus, he goes a-courtin’ in search of his true love. The trouble starts when he decides to take his guitar, with the intentions of singing his way into their hearts. The fact is, Cushion’s songs are a bit insulting and sometimes just plain awful! Here a couple of verses he sings to a pig and a beaver, he hopes to woo:
I’ve been so lonesome all my life
And though you’re pink and fat,
I’m porcupining for a wife
So I won’t mention that.
I’ve been so lonesome all my life,
And though your teeth are bucky, I’m porcupining for a wife,
So you’re a gal who’s lucky.
After working his less-than-charming wiles on a rabbit, a pig and a beaver, Cushion finds himself pelted with carrots, walked out on and splashed with cold water. He takes it all in stride, however, and chalks it up to “must be stuck-up.” No, sir, he isn’t deterred one bit. When he can’t find any more love interests, he starts to sing to the lonesome sky, and that is when somebody hears him. Barb, the hedgehog, who is just as prickly as he is, hears him, and not only does she love his lonesome songs, she soon falls in love with Cushion, as well. You know the rest of the story. They return to his comfy cage at the petting zoo. The only sign on their cage now is a “Do Not Disturb!” sign and they live happily-ever-after.
If you love this story, you’re love the sequel, Hokey Pokey: Another Prickly Love Story, even more. -- Anna Cromwell
Princess Peepers Picks a Pet
By Pam Calvert
Princess Peepers is not your typical princess. She wears glasses, likes bugs and does things differently than the other princesses at the Royal Academy for Perfect Princesses. And when the Grand Matron of the Academy announces an upcoming pet show, she is the only princess who has no pet.
She attempts to enter the show with a bug and, later, a frog, but both are rejected by the other princesses. But when she accidentally loses her glasses, she finds a most unusual animal. It is four-legged, winged and has a horn, so she thinks it is a flying unicorn, even when it breathes fire. (It is actually a DRAGON.) But when she learns this at the pet show, and receives a second pair of glasses to see it clearly, she is even more in love with it!
Princess Peepers is a good example that even princesses can be non-conformist. I think that it is a very free-thinking story and a good one to share. -- Laurel Jones
The Princess and the Pig
by Jonathan Emmett
This book has it all! The cover pulls you in and, once inside, boy, oh, boy, are you in for a treat! The full-page illustrations are wonderfully humorous, with bright, vivid colors. The pictures alone could tell the story, but, lucky for us, the text is just as great as the illustrations. Like any good fractured tale, hints of the original tale are sprinkled throughout the book, and, in this case, several fairytales are all wound together and peeking out here and there, leading us to a happy ending.
A baby princess belonging to a not-so-loving king and queen is accidentally swapped at birth with a piglet that belongs to a kind, but impoverished farmer. Although poor, the princess grows up in a caring home full of laughter and love. The pig, however, soon learns that her fate is not as rosy as it seems, for the king and queen only care about what people will think and continue to treat the piglet as if it were a human child. Of course, this leads to many hilarious, yet uncomfortable situations for the pig, as it rebels at every turn.
Through town gossip, the farmer and his wife learns of the pig-swapping mishap. Although it breaks their heart to lose their beautiful daughter, they think of how much the king and queen must miss their little girl. Upon arrival, however, the clueless king and queen denounce the girl as an impostor, who is seeking fortune and fame. The true princess happily returns to her simple farm life, where she marries a kind shepherd and lives happily ever-after. As for the poor pig, she is stuck with the silly king and queen, who are convinced that their little piggy-pooh needs only to be kissed by a prince to be changed back into a princess; because that is the sort of thing that happens in books, isn’t it? (Needless to say, there aren’t many takers for that duty!)
I spied the remnants of several fairytales in this book; The Prince and Pauper, Thumbelina and The Frog Prince. Check this book out today and see if you can glimpse other fairy tales hidden between the lines, just waiting to be discovered. -- Anna Cromwell
The Soup Bone
by Tony Johnston
Many young children are afraid of skeletons. After reading The Soup Bone, children may lose their fear of skeletons, as well as enjoy a well-told tale.
The story begins on Halloween as a lonely old woman searches for a soup bone to add to her soup. After looking all over the house, she starts digging for a bone outside. When she finally digs up a bone, it’s attached to a human skeleton. It frightens the woman.
When the skeleton takes over her house, the old woman dresses as a dog, frightening him. Finally, they sit down together to enjoy the soup she has made.
Children can learn a lot about making friends with children who are different from themselves by reading this amusing fantasy. After the skeleton and the old woman finish their soup, they team up to scare people. Soup, anyone? -- Tom Czaplinski
Swirl by Swirl, Spirals in Nature
by Joyce Sidman
You can’t help picking this book up. The swirly designs on the cover, rendered in eye-catching colored scratchboard is an invitation to open the book and explore the contents inside.
The author emphasizes the fact that swirls are found throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. She draws spirals in monkey tails and snail shells, in ocean waves and powerful tornadoes. As you leaf through the book, you’ll be amazed at how many spirals are in things we see nearly every day.
This is a very simple book. You can read it again and again and find something new to enjoy each time. -- Tom Czaplinski
Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat
by Bryan Langdo
If you love tall tales, like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, this is just the story for you. It is a twister of a tall tale, all done up western style. Cowboy Slim’s first mistake is that he stopped to talk to a coyote. Everyone who reads children books knows that coyotes, wolves and foxes are sly, crafty tricksters, just waiting for someone to dupe. This smooth talking coyote is about to be married and is looking for someone to take over his job as town sheriff. He’s aware no one will be willing to take on such a dangerous job, thus he sets out to trick Slim into taking the job.
Coyote asks Slim if he would be willing to deliver a letter to the sheriff of Fire Gulch City. Being a helpful but naïve fellow, Slim readily accepts the task. The coyote gives him two things to start him on his way; a letter to deliver and a ten gallon hat, which turns out to be a lot more than it seems. Each town Slim passes through presents a more dangerous scenario than the last. The ten gallon hat comes to the rescue in each case, capturing a flood and taming a tornado.
Upon reaching Fire Gulch City, Slim finds that he and his trusty hat are needed once again, as they put out a fire and inadvertently capture a gang of outlaws. Once order is restored, Slim looks for the sheriff to deliver the letter to, as promised, only to find out the absent sheriff, who sounds a lot like the coyote who gave him the magic hat, has run off and gotten married and is appointing him the new sheriff of Fire Gulch City.
Slim isn’t worried, in fact, he gladly accepts the job. He knows that with the help of his newly acquired magic hat, there’s no job too big for Slim, the new Sheriff of Fire Gulch City. This is a very funny book, and the illustrations are great. I’m sure it is destined to be a favorite tall tale for children young and old. -- Anna Cromwell
We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt
by Lenny Hort
The “we” in the title is addressed to the reader. The story itself is part of a new version of the popular children’s chant, “Going on a Bear Hunt.” In this book, the reader goes on an imaginary undersea hunt for treasure. Each page suggests asking the way from a certain sea creature, such as “a fish all set for riding” (a sea horse) in order to find the treasure. After asking twelve different undersea dwellers, the treasure is found – a chest of gold coins!
The author has a unique way of illustrating his book- the sea creatures and a diver that appears in various poses on ten of the pages, including the last, are all babies in costumes! This makes for a very colorful and eye-catching book.
While some of the words will need to be explained to young children; mammal, reptile and nutcracker claws, for instance, the book makes for an interesting read-aloud and will be easily remembered. -- Laurel Jones
by Jeff Crosby
Have you ever felt that your life has become too boring? Are you tired of the same old, same old? This is exactly how Wiener Dog feels until he watches a TV show about wolves. He decides to leave his nice home and his owner, Granny, to try living in the wilderness as Wiener Wolf! Things are exciting and new until a game of chase with the wolves ends poorly for a deer. Wiener Wolf decides that he wants to be Wiener Dog again and he goes home to his Granny. He is surrounded by his old toys and old food dish and Granny realizes that Wiener Dog needs something new. She makes him a new sweater and takes him to the dog park where he meets new friends and discovers that was just the change he needed. -- Jessica Corbin
Captain America: The First Avenger is one of the best superhero films produced by Marvel’s film division. It is right up there with the first Iron Man movie. The script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is well written with moments of humor and passion. Together with the director, Joe Johnston, they strike the perfect tone for the subject. They set his origin in the 40s during the war, which was a good choice. This is an old-fashioned type of film: it is not jingoistic, but it celebrates the value of standing up to bullies like Hitler and fighting for what you believe in. There are shades of gray, but we’re not going to worry about them until after we defeat the Axis.
Though I had my doubts about him, Chris Evans turned out to be a good choice for Steve Rogers, Captain America’s alter ego. Unlike fellow pretty-boy-in-a-superhero-role, Ryan Reynolds, Evans has depths and easily handles the emotional side of the role. You can see his innate decency and ability for thoughtful leadership. He bulked up and looks the part too. At the beginning of the movie computer graphics are used to put his head on a puny body, but it was done so well that I quickly forgot I was watching a special effect.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a terrific, almost perfect summer movie. -- Charles Ebert
Country Strong has all the ingredients of a great country song including cheatin’, dysfunction, gettin’ drunk and love without the fairy tale ending. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter, a troubled country music singer with issues reminiscent of the negative publicity and mental health woes that plagued Britney Spears in the past. The threesome of Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund all put in strong acting/singing performances as well.
The movie’s soundtrack (CD SOUNDTRACK COUN) is also great, with songs performed not only by McGraw, Paltrow, Meester and Hedlund but also music by Trace Adkins, Sara Evans, Faith Hill and other country stars.
Check it out on DVD and CD! -- Susan Wright
Green Lantern was always going to be a tough one. Hal Jordan has been given a set of powers that are, except for flight and super strength, hard to explain. Being able to create any object you can think of out of green energy is not the first thing that leaps to mind when thinking about super powers. Plus the source of his power, an ancient race of immortal aliens, called the Guardians, who have found a way to tap into emerald colored energy of will power and have channeled it through a network of rings to create a galactic police force, is a melding of superhero story and space opera that has always struck me as cosmically esoteric.
Despite all that, GL is a major figure in the DC universe, an important anchor of the Justice League and has legions of passionate fans. You don’t get to be in that position unless you’re striking some kind of primal chord, so who am I to judge?
I enjoyed Green Lantern a lot, but the more I think about it the more flaws I see. Most of all, it feels rushed despite its 105 minute running time. The scenes on Oa, the home planet of the Guardians, are mostly about computer generated alien vistas and the characters there, some of whom are very popular in their own right, are given short shrift, except for Mark Strong’s Sinestro. Also the screenwriters (there are seven of them) don’t seem to know what to do with Carol Ferris, played by Blake Lively, who is Jordan’s childhood friend/ex-paramour/boss/future love interest. She gets rescued a couple of times and at one point distracts the villain long enough for GL to recoup and go on the attack. But for the most part she’s just there.
I admit I’ve never followed the comic book, but most presentations of Hal Jordan that I’ve seen have portrayed him with more gravitas than what Reynolds brings to the role. Maybe they plan to have him mature in the sequels, but I’m frankly not sure that Reynolds can pull it off. He is convincing in the lighthearted comedy bits, but when things get serious, his face became like an expressionless mask.
But as I said, I enjoyed the film despite its faults. It’s a pretty film with great effects, especially the suit and the CGI designs of the aliens and Oa. It’s funny in places and the acting is just good enough to make you care about the characters. And the best thing about it is the way they handled the cosmic back story in a serious, matter of fact way, without drawing attention to it or trying to hide it. In this world, immortal ancient aliens and galactic police forces simply exist; nothing more need be said. -- Charles Ebert
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a polished gem of a movie with interesting characters, menacing villains and Johnny Depp’s bold portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow, which was a revelation. The two sequels, made by the same team, got bogged down in metaphysical nonsense. And now we have On Stranger Tides, which strips away those pretensions and seeks to return to the lean plot lines of the first one.
Lightning hasn’t quite struck again, but it is an improvement. On Stranger Tides finds Jack in a three-way race to find the Fountain of Youth with old friend/enemy Barbossa, played by Geoffrey Rush, now a privateer working for the Crown, an official Spanish expedition, and Blackbeard, the pirate that every pirate fears, played by Ian McShane. With Blackbeard is Angelica, played by Penelope Cruz, a daughter that he has recently discovered. Jack has a history with her too. What follows is the usual catalog of reversals, uneasy truces and betrayals.
Depp’s performance is up to his usual standards. The same can be said for Geoffrey Rush. Penelope Cruz is sexy and untrustworthy as Angelica. The best job by a newcomer to the series was done by Ian McShane who plays Blackbeard with truly frightening quiet menace. He can stop a mutiny with just a glare from his pale dead eyes. He is an evil that cannot be persuaded or bargained with. McShane is a great underrated character actor.
There are a few problems. The film is too long and there are several obvious places where it could be cut. Plus there are a few holes in the plot and some unresolved threads but that may be because this was imagined as the first entry into a trilogy.
But the biggest problem is that I’m not sure that Jack Sparrow is a good viewpoint character. In the first film you see his eccentricity through the eyes of other, more normal characters and it’s wonderful. But nailing down his back story and giving him prosaic motivations is inevitably going to lead to disappointment. Because the fun of having a character like Jack is wondering how he got that way. If we’re told, that explanation will inevitably pale in comparison to our half-baked speculations. I’m not sure I want Jack to be a fully developed character. -- Charles Ebert
Glenn Close shines in the biographical portrayal of the highest ranking military person to be court-martialed for homosexuality. Colonel Cammermeyer was born in Oslo, Norway during Nazi occupation, won the Bronze Star in Vietnam and was recommended as Chief Nurse for the Washington State National Guard. When she applies to the War College, her interview with a defense investigator drags her into a different spotlight. The colonel is subjected to an invasive and at times heartbreaking investigation for daring to accept the nomination of her superiors. When asked the critical question about whether she has ever done anything that could be considered “immoral,” she asks for an explanation. As the investigator lists various personality faults (e.g. alcoholism, drug abuse, infidelity, etc…) he also states homosexuality. Col. Cammermeyer states that she identifies as lesbian, and the investigator consistently urges her to “walk that back.” She does not. What happens after that as far as the military is concerned is a matter of record. The made-for-TV movie, which garnered Ms. Close and Judy Davis (as her partner, Diane) both Emmy awards, is a complex and painful exploration of why, in the words of Col. Cammermeyer’s attorney, “it’s easier to be a murderer in the military than gay.” Throughout the film Col. Cammermeyer is constantly asked why she said anything. As an ex-veteran myself who befriended plenty of gays in the military, I found myself asking the same question. Col. Cammermeyer states quite unequivocally, “I was asked a question and gave an honest answer. Soldiers are taught to live by a code of honor, and so I answered truthfully.” She was honorably discharged. Col. Cammermeyer says, “What I’ve realized is all the things I thought I knew for sure are not reality.” President Obama recently repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and stated, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.” Progress. -- Cleo Bizzell
Is there such a thing as a “kiss without consequences?” After meeting by chance, Gabriel and Emilie have dinner and share intimacies about their lives, while having a wonderful time. When Gabriel offers such a kiss to Emilie, she takes him to task. Through a series of flashbacks, she tells the story of Nicholas and Judith, who tried to have physical intimacy without consequences and failed. Well-crafted, intimate, funny, elegant, and emotional, Shall We Kiss is a wonderful movie. -- Jennifer Lohmann
J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is now the best Steven Spielberg film not directed by Steven Spielberg, although he did produce it. It has all the classic elements. Joe Lamb, played by newcomer Joel Courtney, is a smart and imaginative kid. Like all kids in this genre, he was closer to his mother than his father, but his mother dies in an industrial accident. Though still grieving, Joel is committed to spending the summer of 1979 helping his friend Charles, played by Riley Griffiths, make a super 8 movie about zombies. Joe serves as makeup artist, cinematographer, model maker and occasional extra. Joe’s father, Jackson, played by Kyle Chandler, is a deputy sheriff in their small Ohio town. He too is grieving and so far is not rising to the challenge of bonding with his son, whose rearing he’d left mostly to his wife.
One night while filming a scene near the railroad depot, there is a train wreck. Afterwards, strange things start happening. People disappear, power lines are torn down, engines are ripped out of cars and microwaves and other appliances are stolen out of electronics stores. When the Air Force moves in, taking over the cleanup, the investigation and eventually the town’s evacuation, it becomes obvious that there is more to the situation than thought. Of course it’s the kids who first realize this and take it upon themselves to investigate.
The performances here, especially by the child actors are terrific. Joel Courtney is the emotional center of one of these movies. He doesn’t project his pain overtly but you can tell from his face that Joe is hurting. It’s a remarkable performance for a first timer. Riley Griffiths is entertaining as a budding filmmaker, obsessed with his latest project to the point that he actually talks to a girl because he’d read in a magazine about filmmaking that having a love interest makes the main character more interesting and sympathetic. He sees the need for that kind of emotional resonance without really understanding it, and it’s pretty funny. Elle Fanning, the aforementioned girl, is moving as the damaged daughter of a flawed father and AWOL mother. But she’s also smart and talented.
The best element is Abrams’ script, which connects several generations of geek filmmaking and knits them together into an amazing package. He made super 8 films as a child much like his model and idol Steven Spielberg did. Abrams takes a plot, which is not that original, adds in emotional levels which are not very subtle or hard to understand and makes a young adult classic. Abrams understands that emotional resonance that eludes his character Charles. -- Charles Ebert
X-Men First Class is mostly set in the 60s with some flashbacks to the 40s. It is an origin story for the two groups of mutants we see battling in the first two Brian Singer films. James McAvoy plays Professor X, Michael Fassbender plays Magneto and they are both terrific. Not only do they breathe life into their characters, but they recreate the chemistry that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen had in the first films. The rest of the cast is equally as good.
The director, Matthew Vaughn, understands all the elements of storytelling, especially how to do it efficiently. The training scenes in this movie serve at least three purposes: they advance the plot, they increase tension and they provide characterization. This film is long but briskly paced. The plot, which involves a powerful mutant engineering the Cuban Missile Crisis, may seem unpromising; it works, though, mostly because you care for the characters. -- Charles Ebert
Let Them Talk
by Hugh Laurie
Hugh Laurie has created one of the most distinctive characters in an all-time great American television series. Too bad for him. Whereas actors used to only really want to direct, many now want to be music stars as well. The results are often not pretty. House…er, Hugh addresses this directly in the liner notes and slyly in the CD’s title. He humbly acknowledges the pigeonhole and doth not protest too much about being a relative amateur with a glam day job.
OK. So: Can Laurie play? Can he sing? Yes and yes, but, moreover, he can feel it. Though some of these tracks are popular standards, they’re far from pop songs. This collection of New Orleans jazz, blues, Americana and even a little gospel do the originals proud. Would we look at it differently if the singer was some obscure French Quarter club musician and the stubble and the scruffy clothes more a sign of survival than a style? No doubt. But consider that Laurie was mainly known as a sketch comedian in England before House and is also a published novelist. Yeah, he’s that good. -- Floyd Harris
Joanne Abel; Humanities Coordinator, Marketing and Development
Tammy Baggett; Director
Lynne Barnette; Manager, Southwest Regional Library
Cleo Bizzell; Adult Services, Main Library
Archie Burke; Adult Services, East Regional Library
Jessica Corbin; Children’s Services, Main Library
Anna Cromwell; Children’s Services, Main Library
Carter Cue; Adult Services, Stanford L. Warren Library
De Lois Cue; Adult Services, Southwest Regional Library
Heather Cunningham; Youth Services, Stanford L. Warren Library
Tom Czaplinski; Children’s Services, Main Library
Lisa Dendy; Technical Services, Main Library
Patricia Dew; Adult Services, Main Library
Mark Donnelly; Adult Services, North Regional Library
Charles Ebert; Technical Services, Main Library
Rheda Epstein; Administrative Librarian, Technical Services
Lakesia Farmer; Executive Assistant
Kamaria Fyffe; Library Volunteer
Shelley Geyer; Adult Services, North Regional Library
Amy Godfrey; Youth Services, Southwest Regional Library
Kristin Hamon; Youth Services, North Regional Library
Floyd Harris; Circulation, North Regional Library
Donna Hausmann; Technical Services, Main Library
Patrick Holt; Adult Services, Main Library
Laurel Jones; Children’s Services, Main Library
Megan Lawson; Intern, Marketing and Development
Janet Levy; Youth Services, Main Library
Jennifer Lohmann; Adult Services, Southwest Regional Library
Catherine Mau; Assistant Director for Operations, Finance and Outreach
Kathleen Moore; Adult Services, North Regional Library
Carol Passmore; Manager, East Regional Library
Carrie Rider; Children’s Librarian at Large
Gina Rozier; Manager, Marketing and Development
Joyce Sykes; Board of Trustees
Jill Wagy; Webmaster, Marketing and Development
Deb Warner; Adult Services, Main Library
Autumn Winters; Adult Services, Southwest Regional Library
Susan Wright; Manager, North Regional Library
A special thank you to all of our contributors and to the following people for their assistance in the production of Season’s Readings:
Durham County Library Board of Trustees member, Joyce Sykes
Resources and Technical Services, Lisa Dendy
Adult Services, Main Library, Patrick Holt
Season’s Readings is produced by the Durham County Library’s Marketing and Development Division:
Manager, Gina Rozier
Graphic Designer, Hitoko Burke
Adult Programming and Humanities Coordinator, Joanne Abel
Webmaster, Jill Wagy
Development Officer, Alice Sharpe
Intern, Brittany Wofford
Durham Library Foundation Assistant, Megan Lawson
If you have questions or comments regarding this publication, please contact Hitoko Burke: 560-0150 or email@example.com