Staff Picks

 Comment on a review by clicking on its title. You can also write your thoughts about any book on our Facebook Wall. When you're in the Library, be sure to browse the "Staff Picks" display for additional staff suggestions.

You can still access reviews from pre-September 2012 for Adults and Children.

The Mouse on Wall Street

 

The Duchy of Grand Fenwick is a tiny country (5 miles long, 3 miles across) located in the Alps, squeezed between France and Switzerland.  The nation was founded in 1370 by an Englishman, Sir Roger Fenwick, thus making English the national language.  The primary industries are the raising of sheep and the production of the wine Pinot Grand Fenwick.  The country is a parliamentary democracy under the reign of the hereditary Duchess, Gloriana XII.  Grand Fenwick is also entirely fictitious.

 

 

 

Grand Fenwick first burst onto the world stage in 1955 with the publication of the book, The Mouse That Roared, in which the microscopic duchy declared war on the United States solely in order to gain reparations.  This wonderful plan was foiled when Grand Fenwick won the war, leading to all sorts of complications.  In the treaty ending that war, Grand Fenwick won the rights to market a wine-flavored chewing gum in the United States.  Many years later, that gum unexpectedly becomes a great success and Grand Fenwick finds itself awash in American cash.  This is proving to be horribly disruptive to the Fenwickian economy, yet the money keeps rolling in.  What to do?  Duchess Gloriana strikes on the idea of losing the money in the stock market.  She selects a stock by randomly sticking her embroidery needle into the newspaper’s stock listings and off goes the check.  Needless to say, things don’t go as planned.

 

 

This third novel in the Mouse series is a funny and charming book, which makes a few satiric points, but gently.

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The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

2014
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

A 15-year-old girl in a red dress flees through the woods pursued by a dark shape.  The housewife who sees her and calls the police is later found dead and the girl vanishes.  For over 30 years no one knows what happened to Nola.

Marcus Goldman is experiencing writers’ block as his deadline draws near for his second book.  His first novel was a great success and he has all the perks—dating an actress, a great apartment, a fancy car.  As his publisher threatens to sue for non-delivery of a manuscript, he becomes so desperate that he visits his old college mentor, Harry Quebert, to overcome his problem.  Harry is an American literary icon due to his novel The Origin of Evil, but has become a recluse in the small town of Somerset, New Hampshire.

Shortly after Marcus comes to visit, a skeleton of a girl is found in Harry’s yard when planting bushes.  It is Nola's, and buried with her bones is the manuscript to Harry’s novel The Origin of Evil.   Harry is arrested for her murder, however Marcus strongly believes in his friend's innocence and stays on to solve the mystery, with or without police help.  His passion to clear his friend allows him to start writing again—but the book is nonfiction, an exoneration of Harry.  Marcus is tireless in his pursuit of the truth rather than a best-selling book, to the extreme disgust of his publisher, who wants a tell-all that will sell millions of copies.

Everyone in this small town has secrets, many of them connected to Nola.  What is her father, the motorcycle-riding minister, hiding when he plays loud music for hours?  Why does Luther, the disfigured chauffeur, secretly take Nola to another town to visit a millionaire?  What really was the relationship between Harry and Nola?  There are suspicious accidents, lying spouses, and contradicting stories on all sides, as the story is told in flashbacks through the book Marcus is writing.  As you read the last hundred pages of this novel there are an amazing number of unexpected revelations, major plot twists and red herrings until you must suspect almost everyone.

 

Written by a 28-year-old Swiss author and translated from the French by Sam Taylor, this best-selling and award-winning thriller is based in New Hampshire, where the author spent his summers.  It has won multiple awards, and has been on the best-seller lists in Europe and America.

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Janet Leigh: A Biography

2013

Janet Leigh was best known for her portrayal of Marion Crane in the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller, Psycho and her eleven-year marriage to Tony Curtis. She starred in mostly low-budget films throughout her film career which spanned from 1947-1999. Hollywood film moguls were attracted to her natural beauty. She endured the unwanted attention of Howard Hughes. Before their marriage, Tony Curtis stated, “It just devastated me to look at this woman.” Curtis and Leigh had two daughters, Kelly Lee and Jamie Lee. Jamie Lee became an actress in her own right and she appeared in later films with her famous mother. The book follows Janet’s career in film, television, and stage, her dedication to her family and her sunny outlook on life. 

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Knights of Sidonia

(2013)

 

Knights of Sidonia is an addicting manga sci-fi epic of high stakes, war, and the spark of hope that humanity can hold onto even in the darkest of times.  Knights is set in the distant future, long after Earth and its solar system has been destroyed by an extremely adaptable alien life form known as the gauna.  These creatures are nearly impossible to destroy, regenerating impossibly fast.

 

What remains of humanity is living aboard a spaceship mimicking the conditions of Earth called the Sidonia.  Tanikaze is one of the ship’s inhabitants, but he is considered to be a bit more “crude” than the majority of Sidonia’ s society, which has been genetically advanced.  For example, Tanikaze is singled out for his “excessive” need to eat three meals per day, whereas nearly everyone else needs to eat only once per week and otherwise gains energy from a less wasteful process they refer to as photosynthesizing.  Some in the society are also genderless or have a new gender altogether, which I find a very interesting concept explored by Nihei.  Despite what could be called Tanikaze’s “overly” human tendencies, he is surprisingly excellent at flying the Gardes, which are the ships that are used to defeat the gauna.

 

Despite all of the destruction and death you might expect in a series like this, there is a good amount of humor to lighten things up and above all, a very interesting treatment of the characters and all of their unique abilities and characteristics.  The world-building in this series is extraordinary—dense with detail and always intriguing.  Nihei also does an excellent job showing instead of telling, allowing us to come to our own conclusions instead of relying on heavy-handed narration.  I can’t understate how much I love this in fiction in any medium.

 

If this concept all sounds a bit familiar, you may be thinking of the series Attack on Titan.  I think readers of the Titan series would likely enjoy Knights, as it is in a similar vein but is definitely its own story, and one which I’d highly recommend.

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Devil in the Marshalsea

(2014)
The Devil in the Marshalsea

Antonia Hodgson knows how to create atmosphere.  She also has done her research.  The result is a wonderfully cinematic story that thrusts you into the dark, gruesome underbelly of London, England in 1727.  The narrator that Hodgson crafts is Thomas Hawkins, a young man, once bound for the clergy, now bound for the Marshalsea, an infamous debtor’s prison, filled with brutality, bad luck, and disease.  Despite his desperate efforts, Tom finds himself confined with a possible murderer for a roommate.  If Tom values his life and liberty, he must expose the truth before what little luck he has runs out.  This would be a thrilling novel to listen to on audiobook.  As it so happens, the audiobook has received high praise for its voice acting.  If you are prepared to be hurled into a world of gut-wrenching living conditions and treachery at every turn, please consider this gem.

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What If?

Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (2014)
What If? by Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe earned a degree in physics at Christopher Newport University (VA) and went on to work on robots at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia before quitting to become a cartoonist  (xkcd.com: “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language”).  He employs humorous stick figure sketches to help provide scientific answers to absurd hypotheticals submitted to him through his website.

I loved this book – and the great thing is, if there is a question you don’t care about, simply skip to the next one.  One of my favorite chapters addressed  “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?”  A science-supported answer, bolstered by helpful, hilarious sketches, help you decide whether constructing such a display would be a good project to undertake.  The author also includes some questions he doesn’t bother answering that are quite funny and often disturbing.  If you enjoy science and humor, you will likely really enjoy this book.  I am only disappointed that the book didn’t address the scenario depicted on the cover:  how long it would take a tyrannosaurus rex to be digested in a sarlacc pit.

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Drawing Autism

(2014)
Drawing Autism

Drawing Autism showcases the artistic talents of individuals with autism spectrum disorder while giving perspective on how these artists relate to the world around them.  Temple Grandin has written the forward which is a perfect introduction and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Author Jill Mullin, a behavior analyst with a clinical background in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), divided the selected works into themes.  Her goal was to provide an overview of the autism spectrum while celebrating the individuality of each person.  Artists selected for the book were all asked to complete the same questionnaire.  Some were able to complete these on their own, some had assistance from family or a caregiver, while others were unable to answer any questions at all.  Content the artists shared with Mullin is included on the page(s) with their work.

 

As with any art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There were some pieces I enjoyed immensely and would happily hang in my house, while others I didn't care for.  No matter how I felt about an artist's work however, I was able to appreciate their process and what, if anything, they were trying to convey.  This is a book that we keep in our adult non-fiction collection, but can be enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation of art or someone in their life on the autism spectrum.

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Cancel the Wedding

2014

The one year anniversary of Olivia’s mother’s death is drawing near. Her mother’s dying wish was very explicit, her ashes were to be scattered in two specific locations in Huntley, Georgia, a town neither Olivia nor her sister had ever heard of.  Looking for a way to escape her increasingly chaotic personal life, Olivia decides now is the perfect time to go Huntley and find out why this place was so special to their mother. What she finds makes her wonder if she ever really knew her mother at all. Huntley is gone…well actually it now sits at the bottom of a man-made lake. Olivia is drawn to the mysteries that she has discovered and decides she needs to stay in nearby Tillman and find out what else her mother has been hiding all these years. The more questions she asks, the more it seems people are trying to hide things from her. The mystery behind the long lost town and the secrets her mother has kept hidden for decades continue puzzle and intrigue. You find yourself at the edge of your seat and anxiously awaiting the outcome of this compelling story.

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All the Light We Cannot See

(2014)

Marie-Laure LeBlanc lives a quiet life with her Father, Daniel LeBlanc, at Number 4 rue Vauborel in Paris, France.  Daniel is a locksmith for the Natural Museum of History in Paris before the German occupation of France during WWII.  Marie-Laure becomes totally blind by the age of six.  Her Father fashions a miniature replica of their neighborhood from wood so that she may memorize and better navigate her surroundings while he is busy working at the museum. 

Werner Pfenning also lives a quiet life with his sister, Jutta, at an orphanage in Zollverein, Germany.  The directress of "Children's House" is a kind woman named Frau Elena who loves the orphaned children as if they were her own.  Werner, who is a gifted math student, finds a hobby building and fixing radio receivers.  By age 13, he is well known as a master radio repairman.  His notoriety catches the attention of an elite German Officer, and soon he is sent to a prestigious school ruled by the powerful German Reich.   

In "All the Light We Cannot See", Anthony Doerr writes a masterful story.  He manages to intertwine the lives of these two fascinating characters using exceptional attention to detail with alternating chapters devoted to Marie-Laure and Werner as the teenagers travel along the same timeline.  However, their identity to each other is not revealed until their circumstances collide in the final chapters.  

As Germany gains more control over the city, Marie-Laure and her Father are forced to leave the museum and Paris.  The intrigue of their abrupt departure is magnified by the unknown location of a 133 carat diamond known as the "Sea of Flames"; which has long been kept safe deep inside the museum.  Father and daughter find refuge in the home of Daniel's eccentric Uncle Etienne LaBlanc and his loyal housekeeper Madame Manec who live in the more protected "city within the walls" of Saint-Malo, France.  As the relationship between the young blind girl and her Uncle Etienne grows stronger, Etienne shares with his niece the forbidden collection of gramaphones and radio transmitters that secretly occupy his attic.  

Meanwhile, Werner is in great demand as a transmission expert under the watchful eye of Dr. Hauptmann.  Wireless radios prove to be a crucial component of war.  The transmitting and receiving parts are used to assess an enemy's position or expose an enemy's plan of attack.  Though Werner's special talent earns him protection and respect, he is confused about the war objectives and the Reich's plans for the future of Europe.  The young boy is unprepared for the disagreeable facts of war, and he often yearns for the more carefree life at the orphanage with his sister Jutta.      

The author builds an imaginative story that commands interest by combining elements of mystery, espionage, the hunt for a shiny stone, and an underground resistance movement.  At 530 pages, "All the Light We Cannot See" is a lengthy read.  However, the details are intoxicating and the story captivates as it unravels.  When the conclusion arrives, the reader is reminded that there are always voices behind the static of a radio, and sometimes the blind see more than the sighted.   

            

 

 

  

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The girls of Atomic City

the untold story of the women who helped win World War II (2013)
The Girls of Atomic City

If your country needed your help would you give up your career, your comfortable home and endanger your relationships for an unknown job in a location that didn’t appear on any map?  Could you handle never speaking of your job to your spouse, or knowing where and why they had to leave for weeks? Could you work on just one small job over and over for years, not knowing what came before or would come after?

The Girls of Atomic City bravely chose this path to help their country and bring their brothers and sons home sooner from World War II.  This book throws open the curtain of secrecy to reveal the hardships they faced, the huge contributions they made towards creating the ultimate weapon, and their personal stories of love and loss.

The author was inspired by a black and white photo of a woman seated at a huge machine full of dials.  Determined to meet as many of these wartime workers as she was able to find, she tracked down these women, then in their eighties.  They recalled rough living packed together in small huts made of cement, constant construction so the ground was either dust or sticky mud, rationed food and clothing, fear of spies, and the lack of news.  They also remembered sharing your best dress with a friend who was going on a date, weekly dances, visits to the nearest town to shop, and meeting people from all over the United States.  Everyone wondered—what are we creating?  So much material comes in, but no product ever seems to leave.  Many worked for years, not knowing what end they were working toward, until the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.

This is a very readable and enlightening book, whether you enjoy biographies or history.

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April 1865

The Month That Saved America

 

We generally think of the Civil War as ending with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox, but that isn’t strictly the case.  Lee only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.  Other Confederate armies were still on the field, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was determined to continue the fight.  The assassination of Abraham Lincoln just days later caused many to believe that the South would be inspired to renew the struggle—exactly what John Wilkes Booth had hoped when he entered that box at Ford’s Theater.  Clearly, the war that had been raging for four years was coming to an end, but whether the result would be peace at last or a prolonged guerilla war was not yet clear.  April 1865: the Month That Saved Americaprovides a gripping account of a pivotal period in American history.

 

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