Staff Picks

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

The Obamas

2012

This book reminded me a bit of watching West Wing. We don’t realize how the White House is buzzing 24/7. Kantor takes us inside for an eye-opening expose of life in America’s most famous mansion. Michelle and Barack Obama managed to adapt to a very dramatic change in their lifestyle with grace and maturity. But it wasn’t all rosy. We learn about the trials and tribulations the first couple endured while trying to maintain their “date” night, celebrating Halloween, dealing with the Gulf oil spill, examining the President’s competitive nature, and witnessing Michelle’s fierce loyalty to her husband while she slips into “mama bear” mode. It’s all here and more. Prepare to get up close and personal with the first family and the President’s closest advisers: Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff; Robert Gibbs, his longtime Press Secretary; and David Axelrod. West Wing may make you dizzy. This book will verify the hectic pace portrayed on that show.

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Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever

(2014)
Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever

Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever

Tom Neely & Friends

This is an adult graphic novel about a fictional domestic relationship between Glenn Danzig and Henry Rollins. Much license is taken here, as Danzig and Rollins are most definitely not in a domestic relationship, but their real life personalities come through in the fictional character’s day to day lives. This gives it a niche audience. But if you are at all familiar with the real life characters, you will be well rewarded with plenty of laughs.

There are a  lot of “guest appearances” from Hall and Oates, Lars and James, Lou Reed, various demons and many more that I’m sure I didn’t’ “get.” Even Danzig’s mother is in a couple chapters. (She puts child safety locks on all the torture devices in their dungeon and orders survivalist gear for them, as “their kind” won’t be taken up in the rapture).

Some of the best storylines occur in Henry and Glenn’s day to day living, as when they go to couple’s counseling, or are eating breakfast together and planning their day. I love the scene when they go to the pharmacy to get flu shots and watch in amazement as a clerk successfully changes the mood of a grumpy old man. (What a customer service mastermind! What’s she doing stuck in a job like this? That woman can change the world!).

Many adult graphic novels contain subject matter that is not suitable for children, and this is no exception. The humor is dark and sometimes sophomoric, but a lot of that is a play in the personalities of the characters. I only recommend this for those who are aware of this and are not offended by the content.

 

Further "reading":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF7vNVmb2fo

http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2012/06/13/five-reasons-to-love-glenn-danzig-even-though-hes-a-drama-queen

 

 

 

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The Good House

(2012)
The Good House

 

You don't want to trust Hildy Good, but at the same time, you wish she was your best friend. What Hildy has to offer as narrator and co-conspirator is dishy goodness.  She knows things – secrets. It should be no surprise then that she has plenty of her own.  As a functioning alcoholic, Hildy is trying to keep her head above water and herself out of trouble. This becomes impossible when Rebecca, a new client of Hildy’s realty firm, can’t seem to keep her own secrets at bay.  You will be surprised by how invested you become in Hildy’s fate.  See whether or not the first few pages entice you by reading this sample, provided by Overdrive.

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Pretty Deadly

(2014)

 

Pretty Deadly has a lot going on.  It’s a rich, complex western narrated by a duo of mysterious creatures—a talking butterfly and skeleton rabbit—starring Death’s daughter and a cast of intriguing characters with uncertain pasts.  But while there’s a lot to balance, it’s all done expertly.

 

The tale of “death-faced Ginny”, the daughter of Death himself, is presented as just that—a tall tale for the purposes of entertainment, play-acted for the residents of a town in the beginning of the story by a young girl named Sissy to make a living.  But as the story continues, we learn that in this world, magic is real, it’s very dark stuff, and there is an unbalance in it threatening to up-end everything.

 

Pretty Deadly juggles gritty magic realism along with some interesting genre blending of classic westerns with dark, ancient fairy tales and a sprinkle of Japanese manga and maybe even a touch of French comic art.  Additionally, this is one of those rare comics that is attractive to both male and female readers alike due to its strong, multicultural female characters who never shy away from a fight.  Another welcome pro: the writer and artist of this series are both female—a rarity in comics.

 

This is hands-down one of the best comics I’ve read in years.  There’s a reason its first print run sold out—this is a must-read!

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A Man Called Ove

2014
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a 59 year old grump with very strong ideas of what competence and a job well done mean; he also knows when someone isn’t capable of either.  His wife has passed away within the last year and now he no longer can find a reason to continue. His reluctant, growing relationship with his new neighbors, however, keeps interfering with his plans and expanding his world. (“Considering how they are constantly preventing him from dying, these neighbors of his are certainly not shy when it comes to driving a man to the brink of madness and suicide. That’s for sure.” 160)

 

Despite his idiosyncrasies and gruffness, Ove is a very enjoyable character with numerous admirable and lovely traits. This is Swedish author Fredrik Backman’s first novel; it is a beautiful, humorous, inspiring, bittersweet-yet-feel-good read.

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Attachments

(2011)
Attachments

Rainbow Rowell has effectively cemented herself into my list of favorite, must-read authors. Her characters are so authentic and likable that reading this book is like spending time visiting with old friends. The premise of this novel involves 3 characters working at an Omaha newspaper in the midst of Y2K. Lincoln is a shy, 28 year old going through a rough patch in life. He is living at home with his mother and doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. He takes a job working nights at The Courier in the IT department where one of his main duties is monitoring employee e-mail for appropriate use. Enter Jennifer, a copy editor, and her best friend Beth, a movie critic.

Jennifer & Beth's e-mails frequently end up in the "flagged" folder, but Lincoln can't bring himself to give the women a warning because they seem like such genuinely nice people. Over time, he finds himself looking forward to finding their messages in the "flagged" folder and realizes that he is falling in love with Beth sight unseen. Rowell makes references in the book to the Meg Ryan & Tom Hanks film You've Got Mail and there are similarities. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to read a book that is not overly complex or emotionally and/or mentally taxing, yet has fabulous characterization and enough guts to be much more than "fluff". In a nod to the late film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, I heartily give this book "Two thumbs up!".

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Unbroken

(2010)

"Unbroken" is the story of an undaunted human spirit presented by author Laura Hillenbrand; who chronicles the extraordinary life of Olympic runner, Louis Zamperini.  When faced with supposed insurmountable obstacles, Louie proves to be a survivor and an example of the power one person can have over his own destiny.  

The young Italian boy, growing up in Torrance, California, is rebellious, fiesty, and obstinate.  Louie is saved from himself by his older brother Pete who sees talent and promise within his tenacious sibling and directs Louie's boundless energy towards competitive running.  After breaking school, state and national records, Louie competes in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and is poised to return in 1940 when World War II cancels those plans.  The Olympics known to unite nations was in sharp contrast to the spiraling events that would place those same nations against each other in war.     

Louie is drafted into the War after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  His unlikely odyssey continues as a member of the Army Air Corps when he climbs into a B-24 and assumes the role of bombardier.  His resilience will be tested many times over whether he is inside a military airplane, drifting on a life raft in the shark infested Pacific, or subjected to relentless cruelty as a Prisoner of War captured by Japanese soldiers.  Louie's frail body and nimble mind fight off starvation, disease, physical abuse and psychological torture to return home in a time of peace more than two years later.     

In addition to being a story of survival under the worst of circumstances, "Unbroken" is also a story of forgiveness.  Upon his return to Torrance, Louie finds himself battling demons still haunting him from the War, and he struggles to transition into a life beyond hatred and recurring nightmares.  During his journey to reconcile the past, he seizes opportunities to reunite with fellow POWs, speaks to captive audiences about his experiences, and visits the scene of war crimes committed so many decades before.  After imparting his lessons, Lieutenant Louis Zamperini passed away on July 2, 2014 at the age of 97.       

The author paints a vivid picture of the recklessness of war and what it steals from the hearts and souls of its survivors.  The book is a stunning tribute to not only the unbroken spirit of Louis Zamperini, but to all of those brave soldiers who came home and to the many who died trying. 

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The Beekeeper's Ball

2014

The Beekeeper’s Ball brings us back to the beautiful Bella Vista, the apple orchard we last visited in Susan Wiggs’ novel The Apple Orchard. The dramatic story of newly united sisters Tess and Isabel, along with their grandfather, Magnus, continues to unfold. In The Apple Orchard it was revealed that Magnus led a secret life, fighting against the Nazis with the Danish resistance in WWII.  In The Beekeeper’s Ball, Magnus is ready to reveal his secrets to the famous war-time biographer, Cormac O’Neill. As Cormac delves into Magnus’ past and the secrets Magnus long ago buried, he uncovers much more than Isabel may be ready to hear.  There is plenty of history buried within this heart-warming story but those of you who like a good romance will not be disappointed either.

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The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

(2012)
The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

If you think all Scandinavian writing is dark and and depressing, try reading The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  It may be dark humor, but it is immensely entertaining.  Allan could be Forrest Gump with more IQ points and a Swedish accent—he moves around the world stage in his long life, meeting world leaders and leaving a trail of destruction (both accidental and purposeful) behind him.

 

Allan Karlsson does not want to be in a nursing home ruled by enjoyment-squashing Director Alice.  He is 100 years old and okay with dying, but he’d rather go get a drink of vodka than appear at his birthday celebration.  So he climbs out his window into the flowerbed and makes his escape.

 

Military establishments, political systems and police procedures are gently lampooned by a cast of eccentric characters, both fictional and real.  This imaginative book is both endearing and quirky.  If you liked Where’d You Go, Bernadette? you should read this.

 

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Unruly Places

lost spaces, secret cities, and other inscrutable geographies (2014)

If you like pouring over old atlases or scrolling though Google maps, you will probably like this book. The author is a geographer, not a travel guide, and this comes through in the tone of the book as well as subjects covered.

The connection of what makes each of these places so strange is human intervention, either through physical occupation or mapmaking.  The book’s first entry is about Sandy Island, which was neither sandy nor an island. But it was on maps for centuries.

Bonnett divides his entries into various themes. Hidden Geographies includes a labyrinth subterranean city under Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as Hog’s Back Lay By, which is a spot in the English Countryside reserved for public sex.

Lost places are include cites that have been changed and therefore hidden by the current party in charge. These include Leningrad/St. Petersburg and Mecca, which is now basically big shopping mall.

There are floating islands like the country called Sealandia, which is built upon an oil rig. There are dead cities like Pripyat, which housed 30,000 people before the tragic events at Chernobyl.

Krasnoyarsk 26 remained populated, instead of emptying out, after the fall of the Soviet Union. It was built as a community to service a top secret nuclear reactor. Now it is a gated community. The people preferred staying anonymous. Other cities, sometime called “ghost cities” were built to house communities in areas of new growth that turned out to not attract people. China has numerous examples, including Ordos, which was built for one million people, but remains nearly empty.

Another empty city is the fake city of Kijong-dong in North Korea. It was built on the fringe of the DMZ and always has lots of lights blazing to lure those in the south to the “luxury and prosperity” of the north.

These are but a handful of the places the author brings to light. Each chapter is only about 5 pages long and so the book can easily be read in “chunks.” The geographical coordinates of each location are included above the title of each chapter for the cartographically inclined.

This book is more than a collection of conversational trivia, although it is that too. It is “human geography”- looking at the relationship between place and the human psyche.

 

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Airborne

A Sentimental Journey

 

Ever dream of sailing across the Atlantic?  Me either.  And reading this book didn’t make me want to—although I sure enjoyed the vicarious journey.  William F. Buckley was best known as a political commentator, but he was also a novelist, an editor, a skier, a harpsichordist (yes, really), and an enthusiastic sailor.  Not that this cruise was a great hardship; Buckley traveled in luxury, with the best food and wine, music, movies, and books.  He was also accompanied by good friends and—though he was in charge—a crew.  What makes the book such a pleasure is Buckley’s descriptions of the people and places, of the sea and sky.  Buckley was a skillful stylist, and some critics have acclaimed this his best book.  I agree.       

 

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