Staff Picks for Adults and Teens

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All the Light We Cannot See


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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The Obamas


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

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":




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The Good House

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



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

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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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" 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


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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