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.

Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life

1989

Around eighth grade Georgia O’Keeffe proudly proclaimed to her classmates, I’m going to be an artist. Robinson’s extremely detailed biography follows O’Keeffe through her youthful years in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin through her death at age 98 in New Mexico. Georgia is well- known for her large paintings of close up flowers, skulls, and magnificent skies. Her relationship with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz was integral to her success as he introduced her work to the public at his famous 291 Gallery located at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York City. There were 1800 letters and telegrams during their long time together. O’Keeffe was his lover during his marriage to his first wife and Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were married from 1924-1946. O’Keeffe’s personality was full of contradiction dating back to the strong influence of her family. There were many strong women yet O’Keeffe succumbed to the paternalistic influence of Stieglitz who was close to the age of her mother. He refused to allow her to have a child. In her later years she developed a strong relationship with a man 60 years her junior. He took advantage of her wealth and notoriety as she gradually lost her eye sight and became increasingly frail. In the end, O’Keeffe’s large body of work became her legacy.

View more by: 

Who is AC?

2013
Who is AC?

Is your best never good enough? Do you keep trying and trying and still the people you are trying to help trash your efforts? Then you might find accidental superhero Lin fascinating as she brings her writings to life with the push of a button when she becomes the hero from her books. With flash photography as her superhero weakness, Lin a.k.a. AC makes an interesting if unsure teen champion whose cell phone uses binary code to transform her into a superhero.

 

The manga style of the illustrations is fine but if the writer hadn’t explicitly told me that the superhero is constantly surrounded by flower petals, I would not have been able to tell what the white blobs were from the illustrations. The three color style is too simple and serves the storyline poorly. Purple is used both the hero and the villian which can be moderately confusing. Full color or black and white illustrations would have made the images sharper and easier to understand.

 

Although the ending is somewhat satisfying, this can only be book one of at least a two book series because there are so many unanswered questions at the end.

View more by: 

Jennifer Government

2004

If you are tired of dystopian tales read no further.

Still here? Good, I have a book that you may enjoy. Jennifer Government was released in 2004 though I think the content seems more relevant today than it did prior to the 2008 financial meltdown and its subsequent fallout.

The story takes place in the near future when the government has all but dissolved; at one point a character talks about how things were before taxes were abolished. In this world the corporations hold sway over most things; they run the schools, the hospitals and some of the government institutions that are left find themselves freelancing for big corporate.

The focus of the story is, you might have guessed, is Jennifer Government an FBI investigator who is on the trail of a corporate exec who thoughts his brand would gain street cred if a bunch of kids were shot while buying his companies shoes. Most the story is a cat and mouse chase around the world while our villain not only flees from Jennifer but actively works on consolidating his position in the market while evading his would be captor.

 

The book is admittedly over the top but there are so many little pieces that scream of the current state of things to make the premise feel almost plausible. I also found that the emotional rollercoaster the story puts you on is a little fractured. There were times I wasn’t sure if I should be laughing or horrified, of course that may speak more to my interpretation than any fault of the author. On the whole I would highly recommend this (mostly) fun, fast read to anyone who enjoys dystopian stories. 

View more by: 

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home

2013
A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home

This was not what I expected, but I found it to be a fun and uplifting read. The cover is what drew me in of course. I am a huge proponent of therapy animals in nursing homes, hospitals, schools; wherever there are hurting people. The star of the story is Pransky, a Labradoodle with a huge capacity for love and an unerring sense of the 'right thing to do'. Certainly we can forgive her chasing the lamb during the Easter service. She is, after all, a dog! But the real story goes beyond the visits and interactions with the residents. Halpern chooses a public nursing home as the place she and Pransky would work. That alone brings to mind a less than pleasant environment. Instead, we share unexpected depths of warmth, humor, compassion and joy. We accompany Pransky on many visits, meet many friends, celebrate accomplishments and mourn inevitable losses. But this is not a sad book. The dog goes through the training, but she is really the teacher. It is through her eyes that the author, and reader, sees the true nature of virtue and kindness.

View more by: 

Irving Berlin

A Daughter's Memoir (1994)
Irving Berlin: A Daughter's Memoir

At the time that Mary Ellin Barrett’s parents met, her father Irving Berlin was the world’s most popular, famous, and financially successful songwriter.  He had started as a penniless Russian Jewish immigrant, an uneducated child who had scrounged for a living by singing to the drunken wastrels of New York’s sleazy bowery.  A dozen years after the death of his first wife (who passed away just months after their marriage), Berlin met the much younger Ellin Mackay, daughter of Clarence Mackay, a fabulously wealthy businessman.  Ellin was Catholic, well educated, socially prominent, and an heiress, but she nonetheless fell in love with Irving Berlin.  Her father was appalled, and threatened to cut her out of his life and fortune if she married Berlin.  For the 1920s newspapers, the romance was a sensation and made headlines around the US and in Europe.  This is the starting point for Mary Ellin’s touching and charming portrait of her father and the family that supported and sustained him.

View more by: 

Eleanor & Park

a novel (2013)
Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park are two high school misfits living in 1986, Omaha, Nebraska. Park is half-Asian, his mom is Korean and his dad American, and looks just different enough to stand out in his white bread community. Eleanor has long, frizzy red hair, is full-figured and lives in one of the saddest situations you can possibly imagine. She has recently come home to her 4 siblings, mother and no-good stepfather after having been away for over a year.

These two seem a very unlikely couple, but slowly develop a relationship through sharing a seat on the school bus. This book will suck you in and hook you to the characters right away. Rainbow Rowell skillfully tells a tale that is authentic, tender, and heart-wrenching at the same time. You will want to reach into the book and hug Eleanor yourself! Have some tissues nearby when you read this one --- your emotions will be doing a roller-coaster ride all the way through. The ride is totally worth it!

View more by: 

Gideon Smith & the Mechanical Girl

2013
Gideon Smith & the Mechanical Girl

This book was far outside my normal reading, and that novelty may be a large contributing factor towards how much I enjoyed it.  Gideon Smith & the Mechanical Girl is a Steampunk novel, set, of course, in Victorian England – specifically 1890.  The author, David Barnett, presents an alternate history that includes Pulp-Adventurers, Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Bathory, Frog-man Mummies, Jack the Ripper, an Automaton, and many more amusing or terrible characters.  

 

The story revolves around 20-something Gideon Smith who is trying to solve the disappearance of his fisherman father.  In the course of this, he is swept up into incredible conspiracies and he encounters fantastic Steampunk technology. This is definitely just a light albeit exciting read, and I easily imagined the exploits being put to film.  A word of warning, however: one character regularly engages in swearing, mock-swearing, and sexual language, so if that is a problem you will want to steer clear.

 

I will be doing a saved search with an email alert in InfoSoup for the words ‘gideon smith david barnett’ to make sure I don’t miss any other books that may likely follow in a series.

View more by: 

Necessary Lies

2013

Newly graduated Jane Forrester, is eager to begin her career as a case worker for the Department of Welfare. It is the 1960’s and times are changing in North Carolina and Jane is eager to make a difference. Jane is assigned to an area in rural Grace County and her clientele are poor laborers who live and work on the local tobacco farms. It becomes obvious that Jane is too tender-hearted for this job and she quickly becomes emotionally involved with one of her clients, Ivy Hart. Fifteen-year-old Ivy cares for her declining grandmother, her mentally ill older sister and her infant nephew. As the Hart Family’s deeply held secrets begin to surface, Jane quickly finds herself pit against the government’s Eugenics Sterilization Program. Jane comes to the realization that the program, which mandates sterilization for anyone deemed by the government as unfit to bear children, is not only flawed, but now also threatens Ivy. Jane struggles with doing her job and doing what she feels is right. Her job demands that she follow through on her orders, yet if she does what is expected of her, Ivy’s life and lives of countless others like her will be forever damaged.

 

I can’t help but compare this story to that of Winter Garden, by Luanne Rice. Both books are teeming with compelling characters and though both are fictional stories, they deal with real events from history. Not only are these books enjoyable to read, they are also giving you a glimpse of what life was like during turbulent times in history.

View more by: 

The Woman Upstairs

(2013)

Nora Eldridge dwells upon what she perceives as her unhappy, spinster life while she grieves the death of her beloved mother and teaches third grade at Appleton Elementary School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the woman upstairs in Claire Messud's "The Woman Upstairs."  The title of the book is actually a metaphor for a type of woman who, though she could live anywhere, is always there when you need her and is always there to help.  She is forever kind, quiet, tidy, trusting, dependable, and agreeable.  The woman upstairs is predictable and rarely deviates from the staleness of her routine.  Such a woman describes Miss Eldridge.   

When a young boy named Reza Shahid joins the third grade, his teacher is instantly under the spell of his charm and comes to think of him as the child she never had.  Ultimately, Nora is introduced to Reza's Italian mother Sirena.  The two women from different cultures embark upon a friendship cemented by their mutual love of the arts.  Together, they rent a studio where they are free to explore their artistic interests and feed what is missing in their lives.  For Nora, the "family affair" is complete when Sirena's husband Skandar enters the equation.  The Lebanese professor has brought his family from Paris for the school year while he conducts research at Harvard.    

The third floor art studio offers another translation for "the woman upstairs", and much of the story unfolds in this work space that comes alive with color, music, and light.  Nora comes to depend on the family to give her own life purpose and meaning when they make her feel interesting and important.  However, the fantasy she creates threatens to destroy the true version of her life as well as her glorified friendship with the Shahids.     

A secondary thread to the story is the life of Nora's mother.  While Nora admired her, she also pitied her for a failure to realize her own dreams due to more traditional life choices.  Through the subsequent relationship with her father after her mother's death, the daughter comes to understand her mother more clearly as a person who could still teach her some valuable life lessons. 

The strength of the story is in the telling.  Messud is a lyrical writer. She creates a story that is spellbinding and irresistible in an eerie way.  She does a masterful job exposing the raw emotions of Nora's character and making her loneliness palpable.  However, the weakness of the story is also in the telling.  The author's expression of the raw emotions is at times heavy, overwhelming, and redundant.  

According to Messud, the "woman upstairs" is also invisible and does not make mistakes.  However, Nora Eldridge is determined to make herself visible to the Shahids, and in the process, she makes some unforgettable mistakes.         

 

 

        

View more by: 

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson

(2013)
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson
1955 wedding
Cousin Joann, maternal grandmother and Charlie

The author of “Manson: The life and times of Charles Manson” brings us a life story, rather than the history of the Manson murders.

Charles Manson was born in 1934 to a teenaged mother. He often said that his mother was a prostitute, but here was no evidence of that.  She did get pregnant at 15 and when the father didn’t want any part of the baby, she somehow talked William Manson into marrying her before Charlie was born. Kathleen Manson was a party girl who liked a good time and drinking and dancing, which her Nazarene mother strongly objected to.

When Charlie was 5, his mother and a couple of her friends cooked up a spur of the moment plan to rob a man who wanted to party with them. This led to a 5 year prison sentence.  Charlie went to live with his Uncle Bill, Aunt Glenna and his cousin Joann. Joann said Charlie lied about everything.  He had many setbacks, but others have managed to overcome even worse situations.  Manson was a tiny child with an oversize sense of entitlement and a habit of blaming others for the things he’d done; he soon wore out his welcome with those who took him in.

At 12 he went to the first of 6 reform schools. He got out at 19, got married and became a father. They were soon divorced.  By 21, he was in prison for car theft. He then re-married, had another child and divorced once again. While in prison, he attended a class in which he studied Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, which he claimed had a huge influence on him. He also picked up a key bit of information from the pimps in jails: “You had to know how to pick just the right girls, the ones with self-image or Daddy problems who’d buy into come-ons from a smooth talker…You wanted girls who were cracked but not broken.”  In 1967, he walked out of prison at 32 and began trolling for such women in Haight-Ashbury. He became a “guru” who would take care of his “family” of young women.

Guinn chronicles the first girl, a library assistant at UC Berkley, who let Charlie live with her and who supported him, even when he started to bring other women into the “family”. One recruit was a 14 year old girl whose parents let her go with Manson.  He immediately made her his main lover. Soon he moved them all down to LA, where he lived off the charity of others.  Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, let Manson and his “family” crash at his house, where they ran up huge tabs on his credit cards.

Charlie wanted to be a rock star and believed he would be, once he was discovered. Wilson got Tony Melcher to listen to Manson’s music, but it went nowhere. (The house Tate was murdered in was the house Melcher was living in at the time Manson knew him). Most of the attraction Manson had to those he wanted charity from was his group of sexually compliant women. They had to have sex with anyone he told them to and had to do anything the person wanted. If they balked, they would be publicly humiliated until they lost their “inhibitions”.  Eventually Wilson kicked them all out and the “family” moved to the desert.  

Manson had an ideology that featured a race war that Blacks were going to win. Once they won, they would realize they didn’t know how to run things and that was where Manson and his family would come in and take over.  The “family” had to spend part of everyday walking about in the hot desert looking for the opening to a bottomless cave where they would all live during the coming race war. They would not age while living in this cave and would be strong and healthy when it was time for them to take over. In reality, they were starving, dirty and isolated. Women were not allowed to use birth control, as it was “unnatural”. Likewise, hospital births were “unnatural”. Daily Bible readings were mandatory. (Manson thought he was Jesus Christ). After the murders, some tried to escape, but ineptitude and confusion brought most of them back.

The murders were meant to lead police to believe they had been committed by the Black Panthers (hence the slogans written in blood, etc). Manson was hoping to jump start the race war he prophesied, and also to make it look like a similar crime that one his friends was in jail for had been committed by the Black Panther’s. The police never considered this, as Black people did not frequent the areas the murders occurred in during the late 60’s. Someone would have noticed.

Charlie Manson and some of his “family” were consequently arrested for car theft. They might never have been implicated for the Tate/LA Bianca murders if it wasn’t for a couple women from his family, who were in prison, were willing to talk and who actually found someone to believe them.

There was nothing mystical or heroic about Charlie, he was an opportunistic sociopath. How is it that people like Manson (others who come to mind are David Koresh and Jim Jones) can have so much influence over others?  Reading about his life in the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s helps us see who the Manson of the 60’s really was.

 

 

 

View more by: 

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe

(2013)
Super Graphic

Comic books, especially superhero comics, are not a part of my daily life, but I couldn’t resist the lure of the infographics in this book.  Once I started looking at the charts, I had to read every page, despite not recognizing many of the characters—especially the villains.

 

It was a delight to see such visually attractive design highlighting facts in ways I had never thought of:  villains or superheroes in order by weight, for example.   If you grew up during the 60s you know that the Batman TV series theme song only had 2 words in it:  “da” and “Batman”.  Did you ever wonder whether “da” was used more times than “Batman”?  This book shows you!

 

Tim Leong, one of Wired magazine’s art directors, has done a wonderful job of making statistics interesting with visual impact.  If you have an interest in comics you will surely find something new about your favorite comics.  Even if you don’t, this book is an amazing experience.

View more by: 
AddThis