Wednesday, September 4, 2013

By Curtis Sittenfeld
Adult New Fiction - Main Level - SITTENFELD

Identical twin sisters Violet and Daisy are psychic. They can sense things that are about to happen. This story is told from Daisy’s perspective, back and forth between their childhood and the present, when they are adults.

Vi has predicted a huge earth quake to take place where they live in St. Louis, Missouri. National television has picked up the story, making Vi somewhat of a celebrity. Daisy, who in adulthood goes by her middle name of Kate, turned off her “senses” after her daughter was born, so she does not know if Vi’s prediction is true – but she does trust her. Vi may be a bit of a loose cannon, wild and unpredictable, but Kate knows her.

This is a story of family loyalty and obligation.  I’ve loved all of Sittenfeld’s books (especially Prep – read that one first!), and this one is a winner too.


By Margaret Peterson Haddix
Teen Fiction - Main Level - HADDIX

This is a book about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. It is told in three voices: Bella is an immigrant teenager from Italy. She came to America in order to get a job and send money back to her starving family in Italy.  Yetta is a Jewish teenager from Russia. She and her sister Rahel fled from Russia to escape the pogroms, and hope to save enough money to bring the rest of their family to America too.  Jane is the daughter of a wealthy factory owner in New York. All three girls find themselves a part of the suffragist movement, and also striking for better working conditions. While this book is shelved in the Teen Zone, it is every bit as much a book for adult readers. One of the best books I've read all year!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cinnamon and Gunpowder

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown. Adult New Fiction – Upper Level – BROWN Owen Wedgewood was chef to the head of the Pendleton Company, which seems to be a fictional relative of the East India Shipping Company. When the famous pirate Hannah Mabbot arrives to kill Wedgewood’s employer, she pauses to eat some of the dinner he’d cooked and decides to take him with her. She offers the straight-laced Wedgewood a bargain: cook her a full dinner every Sunday and be spared. Initially horrified by her lawlessness and determined to try to escape, he gradually comes to appreciate Mabbot’s iron determination to bring down the opium trade, so ruinous for both addicts and for those forced to grow it. Wedgewood is a philosophical cook, waxing poetical about the powers of civilization and wheat to create bread and the meanings of different tastes. Brown seems to have a good background in old-fashioned cooking, as he describes Wedgewood’s efforts to create what he considers a modern, functional kitchen on board ship, including his difficulties with the stove, creating a yeast starter from scratch, using a cannonball as a rolling pin, his joy over making sauerkraut and his delightful first experiments with miso. There are several almost-right errors in the nautical terminology, perhaps because the story is narrated by Wedgewood, who is decidedly not a sailor. In between the fabulous meals, there are many piratical adventures, including attacks on prisons, sea chases, and fights in seedy port taverns. Even though Mabbott’s ideas are decidedly more modern than 18th century, Wedgewood’s struggles to reconcile his new world with his beliefs felt perfectly appropriate to his time. This is a delightful book that I am happy to recommend to all those enamored of both food and adventures at sea.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Small Message, Big Impact: The Elevator Speech Effect
By Terri L. Sjodin
Adult Non-Fiction - Upper Level - 658.452 S

Here's a little light summer reading for all you wheelers and dealers! It is truly a small message (219 pages) with a big impact. There is so much good advice packed into this little tome; it is well worth your time to read it. Some key ideas include:

1. Craft a variety of elevator speeches or talking points and deliver the one that is most appropriate and relevant to the situation. For example, if you are at a work conference, you can introduce yourself to a session speaker using an elevator speech around the topic of the session.

2. The author gives advice for different presentation styles, but warns that ultimately you have to be you. You can try something really creative and kitschy, and that does work in the right situation, but you still have to be comfortable delivering it and it has to work for the audience.

3. This leads to the author's idea of being "scrappy." Find out about the person you want to add to your network and use that information to make connections. Do they like coffee? Bring them coffee and ask for three minutes of their time (the length of time it takes you to deliver your elevator speech).

4. The author also talks about how and when to be persuasive rather than informative and how to pass the “So what?” test. Superlatives like “best,” “largest,” “oldest," “newest,” and “most popular” are not helpful when you’re trying to be persuasive. You have to prove it. What makes you the best, largest, etc. and compared to what?  There are six general case arguments that work: How are you going to save them time, money, sanity, provide security, help them have fun, or make things easy?

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Take Me To Your BBQ

Take Me To Your BBQ
By Kathy Duval and Adam McCauley
Youth New Book Collection - Lower Level - DUV

In this adorable picture book, aliens beam down to Farmer Willy's yard for a barbeque feast! They square dance, they play the fiddle, and of course they gorge themselves on ribs, potatoes, and more. The pictures are colorful and funny, with farm animals that don't know quite what to make of the alien creatures. Farmer Willy is a bit befuddled, too, but is happy enough to have his new friends' help on the farm. The cowboy boot-wearing aliens pick peppers and drive the tractor, and eat everything Willy can barbeque for them. There is even a recipe for barbeque sauce at the end of the book. Truly out-of-this-world!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Tuesdays at the Castle

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George.
Youth Fiction - Lower Level - GEORGE

Welcome to Castle Glower, a magical castle that changes itself regularly, usually on Tuesdays. It redecorates, creates new rooms, and moves other ones around at will. It’s an intelligent castle, and the people of the kingdom are used to heeding its advice on who should rule the kingdom. The current king has four children, and the castle made it clear, by filling the oldest brother’s room with astrolabes and other wizardly tools, that he should train to be a wizard, while Rolf, the next youngest son’s room was moved closer to the throne room, as an indication that he would be the next king. Celie, the youngest of the bunch, has a close understanding with the castle, and her ongoing project is creating an atlas of the castle, trying to keep it up-to-date as the castle constantly reinvents itself. Lilah, the older girl, does not so far seem to have any castle-prescribed destiny, but while of an age to start being interested in boys, remains an intelligent and sympathetic person.

I introduce the characters first because I loved them so much (the castle counts as both character and setting here), but the plot kicks off quite nicely, too. The king and queen go off to fetch their oldest son home from Wizard School, but the carriage is ambushed on the way back. After a very brief search, the king, queen and prince are all declared dead. The three children left at home don’t believe it – surely the castle would let Rolf know if he were king – but the council believes otherwise and forces the children to hold a funeral. An unwelcome guest at the funeral who refuses to leave afterward, the sinister Prince Khelsh makes it clear that he has plans to become the next king of Glower himself. As the council appears to have turned traitorous (for reasons that are never gone into), it’s up to the three children, with help from the Castle, to save the castle and find their parents. Their only dubious magical power is Celie’s bond with the castle, which means it’s up to the three of them to come up with their own plans as well as following the lead from the clues the castle gives them. I enjoyed it heartily and felt certain that my elementary-aged self would have adored it, as would my own eight-year-old son. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Giant Dance Party

Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird. Illustrated by Brendan Doorman.
Youth New Books - Lower Level - BIR

Lexy loves to dance, but as the story opens, she’s decided she’s done.  The problem is her stage fright: she turns into an “ice pop” every time she gets on stage.  Nothing she’s tried makes any difference.  In a stroke of brilliance, she decides she’ll be a dance teacher instead, so that she can dance all day without having to go on stage herself.  But the only ones willing to take free dance lessons from a child with stage fright are – a party of giants.  Lexy accomplishes the very difficult task of teaching large, clumsy giants to dance, but then an even bigger problem comes up: helping the giants get over their stage fright when they also turn into ice pops during the recital.  The art is vivid and three-dimensional, shifting between smaller sequential scenes and full spreads.  Lexy is charming with her full dance skirts and perky brown ponytails, but the giants, fuzzy and blue with pink electrical outlet noses, really steal the show.  It’s a fun story with a strong message of overcoming fear and doing what you love. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver
 Main Level - New Fiction

This new mystery thriller by Deaver once again features the characters of forensics expert, Lincoln Ryme and his NYPD assistant, Amanda Sachs. The very current topic of assassinations of American citizens  sanctioned by the U.S. government is front and center, especially when they are carried out from a secret place right in the heart of New York City.  Deaver is a master of twists and turns in the plot, never letting the reader become complacent or guessing how the story will ultimately end.  There is just enough technical detail to keep readers of forensic mysteries engaged as the scene switches from the Caribbean back to New York.  

This is a great way to start a summer of reading fun and I highly recommend it to all fans of thrillers.  It would make a great movie! 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Learn Something New Every Day

Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life
By Kee Malesky
Adult Non-fiction - Upper Level - 031.02 M

Here's a fun little book filled with random facts. The entries follow the calendar year, so naturally I went straight to my birthday. That date's fact is about the history of salt - which is much more fascinating in a one-paragraph blurb than you'd think!  That's the beauty of this book: each date has a paragraph-long fact, so you can literally learn something new every day with very little time or effort required.

 Big Questions from Little People and Simple Answers from Great Minds
Compiled by Gemma Elwin Harris
Adult Non-fiction - Upper Level - 031.02 B

The entries in this book are a bit longer - a few pages each in most cases. It is a fairly little book, though, so the pages are short. Questions answered include "Why does the moon change shape" (p.133), "Where did the first seed come from?" (p.137), and even philosophical questions like "Who is God?" (p.197, answered from multiple perspectives).  This is a great book for all ages! (Where did the first seed come from??)

The Where The Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science
By Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe
Adult Non-fiction - Upper Level - 502 V

Rounding out this "learn something new" theme is a book that answers questions about science with illustrations. Each section asks a question, gives a (fairly scientific) answer, and illustrates it with full-page artwork. These are mostly two-page sections - one for the question-and-answer and one for the illustration. There are awesome cross-sections like the one on the cover, beautiful intricate drawings like the one about the Circadian Clock (p.78), and a more fanciful drawing of giant sea creatures riding a giant wave to answer "Do rogue waves exist?" (p.46). This book is wonderfully browsable and the questions and answers are very interesting.

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia 
by Mohsin Hamid
Adult Fiction HAMID

The narrator of this ersatz self-help book could be the love child of Jane Austen and Thomas Friedman. This memoir of one man's rise to riches is written in a breezy and accessible style. Like Jane Austen, the narrator is keenly aware of the layers of society and how far upward he can reasonably expect to rise. Our narrator falls in love early in his life with a woman on her own upward trajectory and their poignant romance is much more significant that the mere mechanics of making money.

"Rising Asia" or, in this case, Pakistan is a major character in this story.  The vibrant chaos of life in countries with emerging economies will be familiar to readers of Thomas Friedman's books and articles. Mr. Friedman gives readers a panoramic view of life in an emerging economy, where Mohsin Hamid's novel gives the reader a taste of what it is like to eat, sleep, and survive in all that vibrant chaos. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is gritty, sad, sweet, and memorable.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Reckless by Cornelia Funke and Lionel Wigram. Translated by Oliver Latsch. Read by Eliott Hill.
 Teen CD Books - Main Level - FUNKE

Once upon a time, a father disappeared, leaving his wife and two sons. One night, his oldest son went into his abandoned study and discovered that the dark mirror on his wall was really a portal to a parallel world, one where fairies and fairy tales were real. Years later, Jacob Reckless still divided his time between the fairy tale world and our world, but spent more and more time in the pretend world, where he kept looking for his father. He was at least able to ignore the problems in his life in the real world until the time when his little brother caught him leaving and insisted on coming with him. They had a chance encounter with some goyl, living gargoyle-like creatures of stone, and Will was infected with the stone plague, cursed to turn slowly to goyl. Now Jacob must use his skills and contacts as a hunter of legendary treasures from the old tales to find a cure for his brother before he is turned completely to stone. With Jacob and Will are Jacob’s friend Fox, a fox-girl; and Clara, Will’s doctor girlfriend.

It took a little while for me to get into this book – Jacob abandoning his little brother and their failing, grief-stricken mother isn’t at first a sympathetic character. It wasn’t until everyone started off on the mission in the fairy tale world that the story started to come together. Once it does, though the quest is nearly impossible and the obstacles enormous, the characters and the detailed world are just as important as the plot. It’s a dark fairy tale world, one where they find Sleeping Beauty, still looking young and beautiful but just as clearly dead, and where they make their way through a dark and dangerous wood to the abandoned home of a child-eating witch. (I appreciated that there were also healing witches, who’d recently formally separated themselves from their “child-eating sisters”.) The happy endings may be make-believe, but the magic of the world is still seductive and compelling. Meanwhile, our characters: Jacob is dealing with tons of guilt for having left his brother for so long and for letting something so bad happen to Will. Fox, born a human but more comfortable as a fox, is just moving from puppy-worship of Jacob to a more adult and decidedly more uncomfortable attraction. Will and Clara are watching his humanity and his memories of being human fade while stranded in a hostile world. It’s a little curious that this was billed as teen, because all of our main characters are in their 20s. Still, while there’s violence, it’s low on overt sexuality, and the struggles of slightly older than usual orphans trying to find their way is appealing to teens. The world edges a bit closer to horror than I usually like, but the characters were engrossing enough for me to overlook this. I enjoyed it quite a lot, and am moving on to the second book in the series, Fearless, out last month.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair
New DVD Shelves – Main Level
Foreign ROY

Looking for a historical costume drama with an intelligent and intriguing plot to back up the beautiful sets? If so, A Royal Affair is just the movie for you. This 2012 Danish language film is the true story of a king (who is slightly mad), his queen (who is more than slightly unhappy), and the doctor who would change not only their lives, but their country as well. Set during the 18th century when the Age of Enlightenment is sweeping Europe, Denmark is still stuck in the dark past with the aristocracy controlling all the wealth while the ordinary citizens work as peasants with hardly any rights. To make matters worse, the king is incompetent and basically a puppet for the wealthy men of his court. All that changes when an ordinary doctor, not of the aristocracy, becomes the king’s personal physician and closest confidant. He encourages the king to regain control and mass social changes begin to take place in Denmark. Additionally, the doctor’s passion sparks the interest of the long suffering and ignored queen. To find out what happens, check out this Academy Award nominee (Best Foreign Language Film) today!

You definitely will not regret watching this film; it really has it all and it completely enthralled me from beginning to end. There is gorgeous costume design, political intrigue, romance, history, and superb acting from the entire cast. Mads Mikkelsen, perhaps the most recognizable Danish actor to American audiences (he played the villain Le Chiffre opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Casino Royale and currently stars in Hannibal on TV), plays the doctor. Mikkel Folsgaard and Alicia Vikander are also excellent at portraying the king and queen and their complicated relationship. Overall, A Royal Affair successfully tells the very personal story of three people and how that story affected and changed a nation.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Saffy's Angel

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay.
Youth Fiction - Lower Level - McKay

Saffy’s Angel hearkens back to the old-fashioned heart-warming large family story, but with a quirky, modern sensibility. Eve and Bill Casson are both artists, which is why she named all of her children after paint colors. The children are Cadmium, Saffron, Indigo, and Permanent Rose. As the story opens, Saffy is about six, and learns for the first time that she is adopted – Eve is actually her mother’s sister. This revelation rocks her world. But we quickly fast-forward several years, to when Saffy is 13, ten years after her mother’s death. Their beloved grandfather dies, leaving behind a cryptic will. Bill, the father, is the most odious father I’ve ever seen in a cozy family drama. He decided some years before that a real artist couldn’t work with so many children around, so he rents a flat and a separate studio in London and only visits on weekends. So when Saffy wants to know what the angel she was willed was and where it is, Bill just tells her it either never existed or was lost and she should forget it. But Saffy can’t. Her friend down the street, a rebellious rich girl in a wheelchair named Sarah, concocts a plan to take Saffy to Saffy’s first home in Italy to do research, while her siblings make their own plans.

But this is a whole family drama, and all of the family members have their own stories going on, too. Eve, the mother, while perfectly affectionate, is a classic absent-minded artist, so the children alternately take care of things themselves and direct her. Caddy, the oldest daughter, is stretching out her driving lessons as long as possible because of her strong attraction to her teacher, Michael. Indigo is trying hard to cure his fear of heights by hanging out of an upper-story window, so he can be a polar explorer. I found myself caring intensely about the family and all its members (with the exception of Bill, who never really belongs), despite the neglectful parents and the high level of mostly-happy chaos that they live with. I've been quickly working my way through the whole series.  Here it is:

Saffy's Angel
Indigo's Star
Permanent Rose
Caddy Ever After
Forever Rose
Caddy's World

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grow Plants in Pots

By Martyn Cox

It's gardening season!  Anyone can grow a container garden, regardless of how much space they have. Put a few pots on your apartment balcony or a pot of mixed herbs on a windowsill.  

If the thought of hoeing and weeding turns you off, containers are the way to go.  Just water and prune if necessary and you'll have a nice little harvest with a lot less work than a traditional row garden.

I grow a variety of herbs and vegetables in containers on my deck, and this book has inspired me to try growing things I hadn't previously considered.  For example, strawberries make a beautiful hanging basket and rainbow chard makes a colorful display in a big tin bucket.  I hadn't considered growing sprawling vines like zucchini in a pot, but this book shows that it's definitely possible.

Filled with lots of glossy, color photos, this small book goes plant by plant through a myriad of container plant options.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I Dare You Not to Yawn

By Helene Boudreau
Illustrated by Serge Bloch

First you yawn, and before you know it you've been tucked into bed.  But what if you're not ready to go to bed?  There's more playing to do! Well, then you better not yawn.  This book gives all kinds of tips to hold those yawns inside!  For example, look away if someone else yawns.  Stay away from snuggly things like stuffed animals. Yawns are sneaky, though, so you'll have to be extra careful to avoid them.   

This is an adorable bedtime picture book for children!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Noticer by Andy Andrews

If you’re in the mood to read something that just plain makes you feel good, then The Noticer is the book for you. It’s part autobiography, part allegory, and all inspiring.

The Noticer is based on best-selling author Andy Andrews’ own story as a directionless, homeless teen living under a pier on the Alabama Gulf Coast. In the book, Andy is visited by Jones – no “Mr.” – a mysterious, wise, old drifter who seems somehow to know all about Andy’s life and problems. Jones has a gift – he notices things that other people miss. He gives Andy sage advice and begins leaving library books under the pier that help Andy gain perspective and turn his life around.

The story has Jones disappearing and then crossing paths with other townspeople who are experiencing their own moments of crisis, among them a couple on the verge of divorce, a businessman whose business is failing, and an elderly woman despairing that her life no longer has meaning.

The common theme amongst all these stories is finding hope in the face of adversity. The book teaches readers that “sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective.”

Monday, April 8, 2013

Will Sparrow's Road

Will Sparrow’s Road by Karen Cushman. Read by Katherine Kellgren.
Youth CD Books – Lower Level - CUSHMAN

I was excited to listen to this book with my son on two counts – a main character I thought he would easily identify with from historical fiction favorite Cushman, paired with narration by our favorite Katherine Kellgren. We were not disappointed. Young Will’s mother ran away when he was very young, and his alcoholic father has since sold him to the innkeeper for beer. When the innkeeper says he’s selling him as a chimney sweep, Will runs for his life. Life isn’t easy for a homeless and penniless boy in Elizabethan England. After quite a while of trying to make it on his own, having his few possessions stolen and living in turn mostly off of stolen green apples, Will discovers the Fair. Not only do the food booths there provide easier targets, but the many performers there offer a means of earning actual money. He’s gotten a job passing the hat for a juggler and met a kind man with a trained pig named Duchess when the juggler unexpectedly leaves, sending him to a Master Trumball, owner of the Oddities and Commodities stall. Master Trumball travels from fair to fair with his combination mini-museum and freak show, which includes a baby mermaid in a jar, a girl with a furry face like a cat’s, and a foul-tempered and ugly dwarf named Lancelot FitzHugh. Will travels England, getting to know the colorful regional fairs, which is quite a lot of fun. But as he gets to know the people he’s traveling with, he also learns a lot about himself, about prejudice and that a person’s nature isn’t necessarily matched to his or her appearance. He goes – slowly, with some painful lurching - from viewing the cat girl as a mostly cat monster, to seeing her as a friend and helping her in her quest for a human name (she decides to go from Graymalkin to Grace Wise) and a life apart from being an Oddity, for example, and has similar revelations about his other companions. Although some of the character revelations came sooner to me than to my son, we were both waiting anxiously to find out what would happen to Will Sparrow and Grace Wise. It’s told in energetic language that strikes a graceful balance between being easy-to-understand and having the flavor of Elizabethan language. Real Elizabethan songs, mostly of the tavern variety, appear frequently, of course sung beautifully and accurately by Kellgren. I also noticed my son being more appreciative of always having enough to eat, as Will is always hungry, and lovingly describes every good thing to eat that comes his way. Cushman concludes with an author’s note about English fairs and provides historical background for the people and acts at her fairs. Will Sparrow’s Road is a tempting mix of an exciting historical setting and plot with strong, likeable characters and a not-medicinal dose of thoughtfulness.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Love Anthony

Love Anthony
by Lisa Genova
CD Shelves - Main Level - GENOVA

(Also available in print.)

I love everything that Lisa Genova writes.  She is a
Harvard-educated neuroscientist, and her novels all have neuroscience connections. Her first novel, Still Alice was about Alzheimers disease and her second novel, Left Neglected was about a neurological condition known as left neglect.

Love Anthony is about autism.  There are a few overlapping story lines, but the main characters are Olivia, who is the mother of a recently-deceased autistic boy named Anthony, Anthony himself, and Beth.  Beth is writing a novel about an autistic boy...named Anthony.  Beth does not know anything about the real Anthony, but the story she writes is uncanny.  The manuscript falls into Olivia's hands when Beth asks her to edit it.  (Olivia was a book editor in the past.)  Olivia swears it is her Anthony, telling his story through Beth.  Beth's own family consists of three healthy, beautiful daughters and a husband from whom she is separated.  Her life forms a side story that is very subtly tied to Olivia's.  Olivia is also separated from her husband.

Genova does a great job of describing autism.  No one can know exactly what it's like to be a person with autism, but the character of Anthony is very believable.  Genova describes what outsiders see when they look at him, but even more touchingly describes what Anthony thinks of the world around him and how he copes with its disorder and noise.

This is a great choice for book clubs.  It is also recommended as a read alike to authors like Jodi Picoult, Elin Hilderbrand, and Amy Hatvany.  Anyone with ties to autism, as well as anyone who wants to know more about autism, will find great satisfaction in this novel.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

People Love You by Jeb Blount

The subtitle of this book is “The Real Secret to Delivering Legendary Customer Experiences.”  Well, it turns out that it’s not a secret at all.   But it’s also not what so many of the other business books try to teach you.  Where most other books focus on the mechanics of customer service, this one focuses on the underlying emotional elements inherent in all human relationships.  Research indicates that over 50 percent of a customer experience is about emotions.  You need to get them to love you. 

“Love” is not a term that is often associated with business relationships but it is a term that is used over and over again by customers in describing how they feel about a favorite place/employee.  People value personal and unique experiences.  They want you to listen.  They want you to respond in a genuine, helpful manner.  They don’t want to feel manipulated.   

It is human nature to recognize people who go the extra mile for us.  We forget about our expectations and instead focus on how good we feel.  So although you will do everything in your power to give them what they want, even if you can’t satisfy your customers specific needs at that time, they leave with a good feeling about their experience with you.  And that experience with you reflects on your company.  Common sense?  Maybe.  But common experience?  Not so much. 

This book was written for account managers and customer service professionals but has applications for anyone who deals with other people on the job.  After all, as human beings, aren’t we all in some sort of “customer service?” 

It appears that poet Maya Angelou was right when she said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Read this book and learn more about how to make that feeling a good one.