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.

Memoirs of Lady Trent (series)

(2013-2014)
A Natural History of Dragons
The Tropic of Serpents

A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents are the first two books in Marie Brennan's A Memoir by Lady Trent series. The cover art on the first title drew me in, and I was surprised by a very enjoyable read. This is a light fantasy told in the style of a Victorian memoir. Lady Trent pursues her lifelong passion to study and document dragons, and to become the world's first dragon naturalist. Pursuit of this goal brings travel and adventure, with great obstacles to overcome and mysteries to solve. Hopefully there will be more titles forthcoming in this series.

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Someone Knows My Name

(2007)
Someone Knows My Name

Sweeping tale of an African woman, Aminata Diallo, who is kidnapped near her village, at the age of 11, and sold into slavery in the United States. The story spans 60 years of Aminata's life from Africa to the US, then Canada, back to Africa and ending in England, where Aminata writes down her story for the Abolitionist movement in 1803, hoping to bring an end to the slave trade.

This tale is rich in history - I learned many things I never knew and Meena is the perfect narrator. Her strength and resilience are inspiring as she never gives up hope after all she endures. I had never heard of this novel before and, apparently, it has different titles around the world. In Canada, the home of the author, it is known as The Book of Negroes and, according to another reader, it is also known simply as Aminata elsewhere.

Regardless of what it is called, this is a fantastic book. I highly recommend it.

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The Rosie Project

(2013)

"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion is best described as delightful, funny, and quirky.  The central character, Don Tillman, has a reputation for being a rigid, highly scheduled, socially inept, and brilliant genetics professor at an Austrailian university.  Tillman is single, 39 years old, and due to his social limitations, sees himself with no prospects for love.  He moves to solve this dilemma through the development of an idea he dubs The Wife Project.  The Wife Project involves a 16 page, double sided questionnaire designed to screen dating candidates for compatibility as a suitable partner.  Don's expectations are at best unreasonable.  Though he enlists the help of friends Gene and Gene's wife Claudia, the quest to find a qualifying woman does not go well.  Results from the questionnaires actually prove to be more helpful for Gene.

The lonely Professor's image of the perfect woman is turned upside down when he meets Rosie.  Rosie walks into his life with endless contradictions to conflict with Don's idea of a life partner.  And though he finds her faults difficult to accept, he has an immediate attraction to the friendly, loud, and uninhibited woman.  They develop a friendship, and Rosie challenges the Professor's loyalty to nonconformity by introducing him to a sensory world reaching far beyond his structured environment.    

Rosie is interested in finding her biological father.  Because the quest to find Rosie's father involves the testing of DNA, Professor Tillman volunteers his expertise in genetics to help the psychology student who also moonlights as a barmaid.  This leads to the birth of the Father Project, and some of the story's most hilarious moments involve the attempts to capture and test DNA samples.  In one scenario, the duo work as bartenders and undertake a mass DNA collection at a medical student class reunion where they believe Rosie's Father is one of the attendees.                 

The author writes with a wry humor about elements of life ordinarily regarded as serious and complicated.  The occasional use of salty language may seem unnecessary to the storytelling, yet does not distract from the telling of a wonderful story. The Wife Project questions whether compatibility is a necessary ingredient for romantic love.  The Father Project asks how knowing the identity of a biological father relates to happiness.  "The Rosie Project" is a "can't put it down" book destined to keep the most discriminating reader up at night; well past a time the sun has gone down and the stars have come out.  In fact, Graeme Simsion has written a story worthy of a bright, gold star.         

 

    

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Pavement chalk artist

the three-dimensional drawings of Julian Beever (2010)

My interest in street art has led me to view numerous pictures on the internet.  Many are wonders of creativity and determination—from murals on a building to 3D art made from objects already in place.  Street art can have an important message or be a small scale drawing, there just to make you smile. 

One of my favorite types of street art is chalk art.  While temporary, in the hand of a master artist they can be incredibly detailed and convincing.  Chalk art combines art, creativity, perspective, and even performance.

One such chalk artist is Julian Beever.  He uses anamorphic drawing to create perspective by distorting the picture.  When viewed from the chosen perspective, the picture looks 3D, like you could step inside it.  Crowds surrounding his drawings show how passersby are intrigued and sometimes can become part of the scene.

I was happy and surprised to come across this book at the library.  Many of his most popular and convincing works are included, though he starts with his first creations.  You can see how his skill expands as he learns about the challenges of drawing in a certain place or at a certain angle.  For those who want to know how to do create anamorphic drawings the background and techniques are explained. 

Julian Beever has created chalk art around the world, and you will be amazed by the 3D world he creates!  View more on his website or check out this book.

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Land of Lincoln

Adventures in Abe’s America

The writer Andrew Ferguson set out to explore how Abraham Lincoln is viewed and commemorated across the nation nearly 150 years after his death.  He visits Lincoln places across the country and talks with those obsessed with our 16th president, whether they consider him a saint or a demon.  The book is a captivating look at how history remains alive, and is also extremely funny. 

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The Elephant to Hollywood

 

The Elephant of the title refers to a poor section of London, where the actor Michael Caine grew up.  His given name was Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, but when offered his first important acting role he was advised to change the name to something simpler.  Needing a name quick, he noticed the marquee for a movie theater showing the Humphrey Bogart film, “The Caine Mutiny.”  Sixty years, two Academy Awards, and a knighthood later, Michael Caine remains one of the best known actors in the world.  In this, the second of his memoirs (after What’s It All About?, 1992), he recounts events mostly from the last twenty years.  There’s some repetition from the first volume, which is a more expansive version of his life, but Caine remains a casual, self-deprecating, and funny story-teller, making for pleasant company.

 

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Weber's Big Book of Burgers

The ultimate guide to grilling backyard classics (2014)
Weber's Big Book of Burgers

I love burgers and trying new recipes. While the (rumored) arrival of summer is bound to make most all of us happy, trying nearly all of this title's beef recipes will further sweeten the deal for me. Also included are recipes for bison, lamb, pork, poultry, seafood, and vegetarian burgers, as well as condiments and sides.

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Out of the Easy

(2013)
Out of the Easy

In 1950s New Orleans, Josie Moraine dreams of escaping the Big Easy and attending Smith College in Massachusetts. Unfortunately for her, this is an especially difficult task. Josie is the daughter of a French Quarter prostitute with a penchant for trouble. Josie's mother, Louise, fancies herself to be a gangster's moll and frequently gets Josie entangled in her mistakes.

Despite the seriousness of the events taking place, Out of the Easy is never over-the-top nor does it contain any graphic descriptions of things occurring in the story. What Ruta Sepetys does extremely well is create very realistic (and colorful!) characters that you genuinely care about. From the very first paragraph, you are transported to New Orleans, immersed in Josie's world and you will not want to leave.

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The Secret Life of Sleep

(2014)
The Secret Life of Sleep

Kat Duff’s book had its beginnings as a blog for the “sleepy, the sleepless and the curious” and that sets the tone for the book. The chapters are short, interesting, folksy and informative.

Have you ever been falling asleep and suddenly your whole body startles awake? There is actually a name for this- a Myoclonic Kick. As we wind down to sleep we pass through a state called hypnagogia where we slowly lose consciousness. Once asleep, our brain continues to function, but in a way that is healing. The author brings up many interesting possibilities and conjectures about different states of sleep. Some are scientific, some are cultural, all interwoven.

Chapters are devoted to dreams. An ancient Greek philosopher stated that the science of the soul would come to us through sleep. During the Dark Ages, dreams were denounced as works of the devil. The affects of dreams on memory and learning are addressed here from a more modern viewpoint.  The psychological aspects of this subject are looked at through a Jungian lens.

Another section is devoted to trying to get to sleep when one cannot do so. Within this is a detailed history of sleeping pills from Bromide to Barbiturates to Benzodiazepines. There is some rather interesting data on sleep tests and drugs. People do not necessarily sleep much longer with the help of sleeping pills, but they feel more rested.

A side note I found interesting was that the president who established a special committee to investigate drug dependence in 1962 regularly took Ritalin for energy, barbiturates for sleep, codeine for pain, and Librium for anxiety.

It is easy to read a couple chapters of this book before going to bed at night. And what better time to read a book about sleep?

 

 

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

2014

A.J. Fikry is a miserable man. His wife died tragically, his bookstore is struggling and now his prized possession, a rare edition of Poe’s Tamerlane has been stolen from his apartment. The sale of that book was what was going to get A.J. off this island some day. Now A.J. is stuck on Alice Island, where he has alienated most of the population with his superior attitude and bad disposition. Everything changes for A.J. when a mysterious bundle is left in his bookstore one night. This small bundle gives A.J. the power to change his entire life which, in turn changes the lives of other people close to him.

 

This book surprised me. This is not the type of book I normally would be drawn to and it actually sat on my desk for a week before I decided to give it a try,. The minute I picked it up, I was hooked and didn’t put it down until I was finished (with tears running down my face). This book is full of literary references, has the emotion of a memoir and yet at times, reads like a romantic comedy. Definitely quirky and may not be for everyone, but pick it up and give it a try. You may be as surprised as I was!

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Wonder

(2012)

August (Auggie) Pullman is different from other ten year old kids.  Born with a rare congenital condition resulting in startling facial deformities, he has a not so ordinary face that invites curiosity and criticism, as well as compassion.  He leaves the bubble of his loving and safe home-schooled environment to attend fifth grade at Beecher Prep in New York City.  For one year, readers follow Auggie as he stumbles through the minefields of adolescence: vulnerable in a school culture where being different is an oddity not easily forgiven.  The 2014 Fox Cities Reads selection of "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio for its community read leading up to this week's Fox Cities Book Festival is a true winner.  A glimpse into the world of Auggie Pullman presents multiple opportunities for discussion between a community of parents and children, teachers and students, teens, preteens, and their peers.  

Auggie takes us down the hallways that echo with whispers and into Ms. Petosa's homeroom where the desk next to him remains empty.  We join him for lunch where he and his new friend Summer are stared upon as they sit alone, at a long table, in a crowded room.  It is here at Beecher Prep where he dodges enemies and forges friendships in spite of being called names like "Zombie Kid" and having a school recess game named after him called the "Plague".  Soon we understand why he hid his face inside an astronaut helmet for years or why wearing a mask so he can blend in with everyone else makes Halloween his favorite holiday.  Though saddened by the reactions of others, August does not feel sorry for himself.  Instead, the fifth grader returns to school every day; ultimately winning over the hearts of his classmates and teachers with his sense of humor and his humble acceptance of their natural curiosity.     

The book evokes much emotion and is at different times funny, warm, heartrending, insightful, and sad.  While "Wonder" is a worthy exploration of Auggie's experiences, the author also includes reactions to the young boy's circumstances from the view of various people involved in his life.  Palacio tenderly shows readers how Auggie triumphs over his own adversity with the help of loving parents, his protective sister Via, a compassionate school principal in Mr. Tushman, fellow classmates who dare to be his friend, and an excellent attitude.  The Fox Cities Reads author should be commended for writing a meaningful story and introducing us to a character who will remain on our minds and in our hearts for a very long time after the 2014 Fox Cities Book Festival has ended.    

 

  

 

     

 

 

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