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.

Act One

An Autobiography (1959)
Act One

Moss Hart was an enormously successful playwright (“You Can’t Take It With You,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner”), screenwriter (“A Star is Born”), and stage director (“My Fair Lady,” “Camelot”), but this classic memoir deals not with those masterworks, but with his beginnings.  It tells the tale of his impoverished New York childhood and the steps leading to his first success, a collaboration with the legendary George S. Kaufmann.  This is one of the great memoirs of the era and a must read for anyone interested in theater.

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Thirteen Reasons Why

2007
Thirteen Reasons Why

You can’t stop the future,

you can’t rewind the past

the only way to learn the secret

…is to press play.

 

          Clay Jensen returns home from high school and finds a mysterious package waiting for him.  Inside there are thirteen cassette tapes made by Hannah Baker, his high school crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.  The package was sent with the tapes and a highlighted map of the town so the people on the tapes can relive her last days.  Those that have been chosen to receive a copy of the tapes are warned that they must pass it on to the next otherwise a second copy of the tapes would be leaked to the entire school.  If that happens some of the students could face ridicule or even jail time.  Clay’s journey to understand the whole story of Hannah’s death is a psychological ride that leaves you thinking about all the “what ifs” that happen in life. 

          This story has an interesting dual narrative that moves back and forth between what Hannah and Clay are doing and thinking at the same time.  It can be a bit confusing but that is what makes this book so interesting.  The story is a little dark but it is a fascinating journey that proves how everything that you do or don't do has a consequence.  

          Universal Films has bought the rights to the movie and is currently in the planning stages.  Selena Gomez has been cast to play the lead role of Hannah Baker. 

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The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door

(2013)
The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door

Oh I loved, loved, LOVED this book! Celia Door, aka Celia the Dark, is just starting high school after a horrific end to 8th grade...she loses her best (and only) friend, her parents have separated and the school mean girls, Sandy & Mandy, have targeted her to be their next prey. Needless to say, Celia is NOT looking forward to 9th grade. Then she meets Drake. Drake is the new kid, the super good looking, ultra-cool New Yorker who apparently hasn't received the memo that Celia is "Weird" with a capital "W" and the two develop a wonderful friendship.

Of course, there is A LOT more going on here, but I don't want to give anything away. There is a lot of humor and the characters are very realistic teenagers. In fact, the only thing I didn't like is the neatly packaged "After School Special" ending. Mostly, this book was a delight and I would like to comment on the amazingly perfect cover. So many YA covers don't capture the essence of their book --- this one does just that.

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Gulp

Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013)
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, by Mary Roach

I had long heard of Mary Roach's titles but never tried one. Gulp fell into my lap when a coworker heard about it and placed it on hold for me, figuring I would like it. I can see why Mary Roach's writing is so popular: she mixes great, science-y information with a fantastic sense of humor that is typically presented in tongue-in-cheek or dry asides as well as side-splitting footnotes. Gulp explores the digestive and excretory systems and some of the little-known research and researchers working in these areas. If you like science and also think a book like "What's Your Poo Telling You" is funny, chances are good that you will love this, too. I laughed and laughed and cringed and laughed.

 

Mary Roach's other titles are

She is also editor of The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2011

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The Apple Orchard

2013

Tess Delaney makes a living recovering precious artifacts and returning them to their rightful owners. Little does she know that when she reunites an heirloom necklace, stolen by the Nazis, to Annalise Winther, she has set in motion events that will turn her world on its end. Tess’s story unravels on an apple orchard located in the lush and beautiful backdrop of the Sonoma Valley. It won’t take long for the simple country lifestyle to begin winning over this workaholic, but will a loving family and a promising romance be enough to convince Tess to stay…?

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The Burgess Boys

(2013)

Family.  Few words evoke more emotion.  In "The Burgess Boys", Elizabeth Strout introduces a trio of siblings who wear the scars of unpleasant childhood memories.  Jim, Susan, and Bobby manage to keep the evidence of old wounds well hidden from each other by living relatively separate lives.  There exists an obvious pecking order enhanced by sarcasm and tainted with a profound sadness permeating all areas of their lives.  Change is put into motion when a nephew's unwise decision brings them together to solve a family crisis and confront the truth about the past.   

Jim, the revered brother who has attained a notoriety of sorts, leaves the small, picturesque Shirley Falls, Maine for the vastness and opportunity in New York City. Bobby soon follows so that he may continue living in his brother's shadow.  Meanwhile, Susan plants her timid roots in their hometown of Shirley Falls where immigration is changing the environment and giving rise to a growing racism.   

The Burgess family embarks upon a journey towards self discovery and personal growth.  A secret once held close is revealed, relationships are forever altered, and wounds of the heart are healed.  The three face the reality that though impossible to change life left behind, it is possible to change the direction of the future with its moments waiting to be enjoyed.    

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Significant Objects

"100 extraordinary stories about ordinary things. A literary and economic experiment." 2012
Significant Objects
Significant Objects (image in catalog)

I picked this book off the shelf without knowing the back story on it. I thought it odd that is was in the fiction section, as it seemed to be a book that might be connected with Antiques Roadshow.  I opened it up to a page with a wine glass that had a Women & Infants logo. Wondering what the story was behind that I started reading and found myself pulled into a story about  family lies, abandonment, reunion, understanding and forgiveness. This, along with some great wine reviews. All on a single page!  (Tasting Notes, by Jeff Turrentine). Next I started reading a description of a pink horse toy with marabou feathers for its mane and tail. Whoa-within the page, there was child neglect, an addict mother and the death of her daughters, or did the lady with the pink hair take them somewhere better? She remains haunted by all things pink. (Pink Horse, by Kate Bernheimer).

The premise behind this book is that stories give objects value. The editors (Joshua Glenn & Rob Walker) collected items from garage sales and thrift shops and gave them to various authors (some more well known than others) to create stories about them.  They then put the items on e-bay, using the stories as descriptions. They were upfront about the descriptions being fictional. All of the items sold for more than they had been purchased for, many significantly more.

Some reviewed this book as a cynical marketer’s scam. Ad Week pointed out that objects can obviously have their value increased through a robust back story-it’s called advertising. But what was for sale in this instance was more than just the objects, it was the stories themselves. One could “own” a story written by a favorite author, along with the object that inspired it.

While I feel no pull to buy any of the objects, I am enjoying the stories. The hard part is taking my time to savor them, when what I want to do is keep reading through to the end. As stated on NPR, what is fun about this book is finding magic in unexpected places.

 

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Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society

(2012)
Miss Dreamsville

Jackie Hart, transplanted to small town Florida from Boston, decides she needs to be more than just a wife and mother to three children.  She creates a radio persona who has a late-night show, and soon the whole town is talking about the mysterious Miss Dreamsville.

She also decides to start a literary society and invites all women in the town to join.  At the first meeting an unusual combination of people nervously introduce themselves—the librarian, a divorced woman who works at the post office, a young black maid, a poet, an old woman who is a convicted murderer, and a young man who is questioning his place in life.   As they discuss books, then their lives, they began to see beyond the face each presents to the world and to overcome the differences between North and South.  Naples, Florida, has left its small town roots, and will never be the same.

Delightfully quirky and peopled with unforgettable characters, this first novel is inspired by a real person—the author’s mother-in-law.  There are laugh-out-loud scenes—one of which made me long for this to be made into a movie.  The author is a former journalist and author or coauthor of seven nonfiction books.

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Tragedies and Mysteries of Rock ‘n’ Roll

2012

Primi’s large coffee table book is chock full of impressive profiles and photographs of “rock” legends who were “done to soon.” The common denominator and real tragedy is the lost of talent that emanated from these musicians during their lifetimes. The author introduces the profiles with stories of the “rock curse” or the 27 Club where well-known artists such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison all passed away at age 27. Amy Winehouse recently passed away at age 27. Each story varies and some of the text is not meant for the faint of heart. Some of the musicians came from dysfunctional families where divorce and drug abuse were prevalent, some died in accidents, many of them died from heroin or cocaine overdoses or they drank themselves to death. Some couldn’t cope with the media pressure and the grueling touring schedules and some of the deaths remain a mystery. John Lennon once said, “We’re going to live, or we’re going to die. If we’re dead, we’re going to have to deal with that. If we’re alive, we’re going to have to deal with being alive.” Engrossing and heartbreaking.

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The Shadow of the Wind

(2001)
The Shadow of the Wind book cover

In Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, a book seller takes his son Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where he finds among its labyrinthine stacks a book by Julian Carax called The Shadow of the Wind. It's the best book he's ever read and he wants to learn more about the author and read more of his books, but he discovers that not much is known about the author and that copies of his books are notoriously difficult to find. Daniel isn't satisfied with this and endeavors to learn more.

And from here the story plunges into depths I cannot hope to adequately describe with any conciseness, nor would I want to deprive you of discoveries you would make diving in yourself. Zafon's set his story in a post-civil war Barcelona that's so real--not that it's endlessly described, but that all of his characters have been influenced by it. The characters and setting are so expertly entwined together.

Speaking of the characters, they form this amazing web of connections and parallels. The cast is enormous (at least to my reading habits) and I would occasionally forget who someone was, but my confusion wouldn't last long--the relationship of a forgotten character to another easily placed him/her in context. I'm very impressed at the distinctiveness of all of these characters, and the clever parallel relationships Zafon created between them.

I've heard that this is a book for book lovers, and I would second that. I've heard that this book has a little bit of everything--mystery, horror, adventure, fantasy--and while I may agree with that, I would not use it as a selling point for this book. I wouldn't want to send anyone into this story looking for elements of those genres. I would want to send them in knowing that they will be engrossed by a fascinating plot, engaged by human characters, and thrilled to see the treasure at the bottom of the deep, dark story.

This book was recommended to me by a teen, but isn't a young adult novel. I'd recommend it to any reader who likes finding treasure in this reading hobby.

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Unlikely Friendships

47 remarkable stories from the animal kingdom (2011)
Unlikely Friendships

This sweet, sweet book is aimed directly at people like me who like pretty much anything with fur, feathers, or four feet.  Written by National Geographic  magazine writer Jennifer Holland, it was suggested to me after a co-worker --who also has a menagerie of cats (and birds) at home-- happened upon it one day while perusing the New Books display shelves.

 

Unlikely Friendships: 47 remarkable stories from the animal kingdom, is a collection of short entries, each with beautiful color photos.  Koko the gorilla and her kitten, All Ball, is probably the most familiar story that so many of us fell in love with: Koko asks for a kitten (in American Sign Language), proceeds to care for it, mourns its loss, and learns to love again. This was nearly forty years ago, and it doesn't seem unusual anymore.  The pairings and stories presented here go well beyond what could be considered simply instinct.  Some are long relationships, some are very temporary, but all show compassion, empathy, and friendship on a level many only attribute to humans.  If nothing else, they are beautiful pictures with nice, happy short stories.

 

There is certainly no question that animals make emotional connections with people.  This has been proven by more than anecdotal evidence.  Studies show that encounters with pets can lower blood pressure, ease depression, and soothe mental and physical pain.  The next question is if, and how, they connect with each other and their world.  Are they able to problem solve?  Do they socialize? Do they play?  Several studies address this, but they are likely rather dry reading; here are some other books that I think you will find very readable. 

 

   First, from Marc Bekoff, The emotional lives of animals.  After a forward by Jane Goodall, Bekoff presents stories of animal joy, empathy, grief, embarrassment, anger and love along with the supporting scientific research. 

 

  Next try  Bats sing, mice giggle by Karen Shanor and Jagmeet Kanwal.   I haven't seen it happen, but don't question their abilities. Then again, I was raised on Disney cartoons!

 

  Most recently, Virginia Morell brings us Animal Wise: the thoughts and emotions of our fellow creatures.   As a science writer, not a scientist, Morell brings the most recent animal cognition research to life.

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