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.

Gone Girl

2012
Gone Girl

What do you get when a weak-willed compulsive liar marries a charming sociopath? You get Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. This gripping mystery begins on Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary, when Amy disappears. The narrative weaves between the present, as Amy's disappearance is investigated (Nick, as the husband, naturally becomes a suspect) and the past, where we see how both characters are experts at manipulating each other. It is a rare for me to enjoy a book when I don't like the characters, but this novel is an exception to that rule. Even though both Nick and Amy are pretty nasty human beings, their story is like a train wreck that you just can't look away from - I was constantly waiting to see what horrible thing happened next. The ending also surprised me. There were elements I expected, but a big surprise at the very end really threw me. If you like mysteries, especially more psychological ones, I highly recommend Gone Girl!

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The Immigrant Advantage

What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness, and Hope (2011)
The Immigrant Advantage

The Immigrant Advantage recounts 7 separate cultural traditions observed by some members of immigrant groups after coming to America: the Vietnamese Money Club; the Mexican Cuarentena; South Asian Assisted Marriage; Korean and Chinese Afterschools; West Indian Multigenerational Households; Barrio Stoops, Sidewalks, and Shops; and Vietnamese Monthly Rice. Traditions such as these, the author argues, comprise part of the explanation for “the ‘immigrant paradox,’ the growing evidence that immigrants, even those from poor or violence-wracked countries, tend to be both physically and mentally healthier than most native-born Americans” (inside flap).

 

A common thread through these traditions was the inherent practice of tapping into and relying on the resources and social support of personal relationships (friends and family) and community (online doesn’t count!). In addition to the overt, desired benefits that initiated observing such traditions, greater overall health, well being, satisfaction, and connectedness was a regular byproduct. I often have felt saddened that there are essentially zero cultural or ethnic traditions that were passed down through either my mother or father’s families. I found this most surprising on my father’s side, as he is 100% of his ethnicity but was raised only to ‘speak American.’ Perhaps because of that, I enjoyed learning about the richness of these selected traditions and how the author attempted to incorporate some of them into her own life.

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Amy and Isabelle

(1998)

This book was sitting on my shelf at home for quite a while after I picked it up at a book sale somewhere. I quite literally had to dust it off in order to read it! I am sorry I didn't pick it up sooner because I really enjoyed it. Amy and Isabelle are a teen daughter and her single mother living in a small town in rural Maine in the 1960s. As typical mother-daughter relationships go at this age, the two cannot relate to one another at all. Amy, of course, thinks her mother just doesn't understand her at all, while Isabelle feels that Amy is constantly judging her.

When Amy is seduced by a new teacher at her school, the aftermath is life changing for both of them. Though the scenes with Amy and Mr.Robertson are difficult to read (as a mother, I wanted to beat the hell out of him!), this coming-of-age tale is beautifully written and really makes you love the characters. I think it would make a great discussion book for book clubs - lots to talk about here!

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Happily Ever Madder

2012

When we last left Ace Jones (Diary of a Mad Fat Girl) and her adorable Chiweenie Buster Loo, she had decided that the love of her life, Mason just may deserve to be given the second chance he has asked for. In Happily Ever Madder we find that Ace is ready to leave Bugtussle, Mississippi and follow Mason to Pelican Grove, FL. If leaving her beloved home wasn’t hard enough, leaving behind her smart-mouth and sassy ways may be even harder. Once in Pelican Grove, the new civilized Ace opens an art gallery of her very own, where she will finally have time to nurture her own burgeoning art career. Life is good for Ace and it seems as if nothing can stop her from realizing all of her dreams. Well, unless you count Mrs. Lenore Krennashaw, a spiteful busybody, who for no apparent reason has it out for Ace.

 

Life is never dull when you are Ace Jones. Readers of Diary of a Mad Fat Girl will continue to be entertained by Ace’s maddening and crazy antics in Happily Ever Madder.

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Rage of Angels

(1980)

I read this book in 1980 when it was first published.  From the very first chapter, the story grabs your interest.  An envelope is given to a new district attorney assistant, Jennifer, to deliver to the star witness.  From there the story has twists and turns.  Every few years, I will read this book again.  This still is my favorite Sidney Sheldon book.  I am signing off now; I have to check this book out again.

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Gone Girl

2012
July 5th, 2012 was the fifth wedding anniversary for Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne.  They did not celebrate the day together.  In the bestseller "Gone Girl", author Gillian Flynn takes the classic elements of a good mystery novel and transforms the story into a psychological thriller by shining a provocative lens onto the intimate details of a fragile marriage.  Circumstances trigger that which once was meant to be private and between husband and wife into tantalizing fodder for a hungry public.      
 
The story begins in New York City where Nick and Amy work for different magazines, Amy as a quiz writer and Nick as an editor.  A decline in the economy leads to the loss of their jobs.  This event coincides with a change in family obligations, and the couple moves their lives to Nick's hometown of North Carthage, Missouri.  Nick partners with his twin sister to open a bar, and Amy settles into the role of reluctant housewife governed by Midwest values and traditions. 
 
The "normalcy" ends here when a single event catapults husband Nick into a dark journey of suspicion, fear, and uncertainty.  As his life unravels, and boundaries of truth and fantasy are tested, the audience is left to wonder if Nick is actually the victimizer or the victim.   
 
Readers are introduced to a colorful cast of supporting characters including eccentric parents, a faithful twin sister, old flame, new flame, a nosy neighbor, a flamboyant lawyer, and two "cops" borrowed from a formula detective novel.  The media also steps in as a main character to manipulate public opinion based on perceptions of the present without any knowledge of the past.  Lines of guilt and innocence are blurred by flashing cameras, waiting reporters, and daily news updates.  The resulting headlines are recognized as being eerily similar to those highlighting actual events of today or those in recent memory.  The power given information to put Nick and Amy's future in jeopardy is nothing short of scary.   
          
The most intense lens of scrutiny is shined into the marriage.  The layers of love between husband and wife are put on trial well outside of a courtroom, and many questions beg to be answered.  How well do spouses actually know each other before committing a remaining lifetime to one another?  Do men and women present a true self or assume a fictional identity for personal gain?  Does love morph into something unrecognizable over time?  When is the actual moment that stops the clock and ignites change?  One can lift up the kitchen blinds each morning to the same landscape until one morning the view out the window may look different.  What happened during the night?   
 
"Gone Girl" assembles a collection of short stories and holds them together tightly with two well-developed characters in Nick and Amy.  The "he said, she said" format is very effective as it builds towards a wild conclusion that keeps the reader turning the pages in anticipation.  The novel is a true reading maze, and amidst each twist and turn, one fact remains crystal clear: the honeymoon is over! 
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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

(2012)
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore cover

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore mixes books and research with romance and friendship to make a fun, light story. Pop culture references make this book feel a bit like Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, but the prevalence of Google and ereaders ground the story in the present.

Robin Sloan's narrator, Clay, is an employed designer, thanks to the most recent market bubble bursting. Desperate for a job and passing a narrow, tall bookstore with a hiring sign, he pops in and speaks with the owner, Mr. Penumbra. He gets the job, but wonders at the small selection of books that are for sale and would appeal to the general public versus the more obscure books that are borrowed by members. How does the store stay afloat if they sell so little?

Another fortuitous event, aside from employment, occurs at the bookstore. Clay meets Kat, an ambitious designer and programmer at Google, who found one of his ecoupons and is cute and may be interested in him. Not many new visitors came as a result of his coupons, but Clay talks up the place to his friends and roommates in order to get some of their business. These friends are unique and make great characters to fill out a cast of what eventually becomes something of a small adventure.

I'm being vague to avoid spoiling anything. I can safely say, however, that fans of the fore-mentioned Ready Player One or Douglas Coupland's JPod will likely enjoy Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Like those books, Penumbra presents a young male protagonist and the relationships and friends that keep him afloat. Honestly, though, I'd recommend this to any fiction reader.

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Luck or Something Like it: A Memoir

2012

Kenneth Ray Rogers traveled a long way from roots in the “projects” of Houston Texas. He knows what it is like to eat beans and rice for dinner, father a child while a senior in high school, suffer through multiple divorces, feel guilt over estrangement of his older children, and he was downright broke when most of us would think he was living well. His is a true rags to riches story of overcoming adversity with a lot of bumps along the road. Rogers got his start performing in a high school band called The Scholars, even though the band members were all C students.  Then it was on to LA and Nashville with the First Edition’s smash psychedelic hit, Just Dropped in to See What Condition my Condition Was in to mega-stardom with Ruby, Don’t Take your Love To Town, Lucille, Coward of the County. His duets with Dottie West, Lionel Richie, and Dolly Parton are part of his best work as an artist. Through it all Kenny said the most important things to him were family, friends, and memories. He has amassed a life time of experiences. A breezy read.

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Joy of Cooking

(1975) (2006)
http://www.infosoup.org/search~S75?/Xjoy+of+cooking&searchscope=75&SORT=DZ/Xjoy+of+cooking&searchscope=75&SORT=DZ&SUBKEY=joy+of+cooking/1%2C83%2C83%2CB/frameset&FF=Xjoy+of+cooking&searchscope=75&SORT=DZ&12%2C12%2C

This is a very worthy reference text for cooks at any level. Yes, you can now “Google” white sauce, etc and get any amount of suggestions, but this book was my go to place for all things cooking before that option was available. And it still holds.

Did you read about a cooking method that you have questions about? Have a recipe with an ingredient you have never heard of? Need to know what, if anything, you can substitute for an ingredient you do not have? Need some measurement equivalents? How about conversions? Nutritional information of ingredients?  A picture of the fish called for in a recipe, as well as a detailed description of the same? Information about poultry production? Obviously I am just scratching the surface here, but there is a lot of useful information in this cookbook.

My favorite edition is the All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking that came out in 1997. The 2006 75th Anniversary Edition has a lot of new and updated recipes. It is edited by Ethan Becker, Irma Rombauer’s grandson. He applies his “cooking school pizzazz”, but when I compare recipes side by side, I find the recipes from the 1997 edition more to my liking.  (My all time favorite pumpkin pie recipe, which includes a whipped cream with brandy topping, is from that edition).

In addition to the wealth of information within, the book is a joy to read. There is much humor, as well as explanations for why they do things the way they do, and how they came to that conclusion. These are woven seamlessly into the recipes. The authors are not the stars of the books, nor were they ever really celebrities.  (I remember a contest question asking “who was the author of Joy of Cooking”. Few knew the answer at the time).

While Joy of Cooking is not they only cookbook I use, it is the most indispensable cookbook that I own. If you have never experienced the joy of Joy of Cooking, I highly recommend that you take a peek.

 

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Plutocrats

The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012)
Plutocrats book cover cover

The short version: This informative book should appeal to supporters of both wealthy job creators and 99%-ers, as well as anyone interested in current events or the way money shapes our world.

Chrystia's Freeland's Plutocrats surprised me--I was fascinated by her analysis of how the super rich came to be, how their actions are shoring up their position, how they think about wealth and the less wealthy, and how they affect the rest of us. But I was most impressed and surprised by Freeland's commitment to producing an unbiased text. That's not to say there isn't a bias--a major point of the book is that the growing income inequality in the US is bad for the US, especially the middle class--but this isn't an opinion piece. She neither mocks the wealthy, nor plays the part of Robin Leach taking us into their fabulous lives.

Freeland pulls a wealth of history (US political and economic policy history, global economic development history, etc.) and economic theory (everyone from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman and current academics) into the story of how the global super rich came to be. And it's not just the risky entrepreneurs who were in the right place at the right time, like the Indian founders of InfoSys who were faced with a growing class of English-speaking educated people who could provide over the phone tech support for a much lower price than workers in developed countries. One chapter covers superstars, including investors, musicians, and chefs, and the premiums they command from those who can afford hiring them for private party performances (like the banker birthday party appearance by Elton John).

As I mentioned, her commitment to balance is amazing. She includes quotes from plutocrats arguing that the outsourcing of American jobs to developing countries is a good thing because it will help create a global middle class, while maintaining in her conclusion that income inequality--both in the US and overseas--is harmful politically and economically to those at the bottom. This timely, well-researched and expertly written documentary of a global movement would appeal to anyone interested in current events and economic issues. Readers looking for a partisan piece--supporting the job-creating super-rich or struggling 99%-ers--could learn quite a bit from reading this, but be disappointed in its lack of evidence-less claims and charged rhetoric.

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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

(2011)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Jacob Portman loves his grandfather, who tells him fabulous stories about his childhood adventures and kids he once knew.  As Jacob gets older, and his grandfather disappears on mysterious hunting trips, they start to grow apart.  Jacob begins to doubt the truth of his grandfather’s stories, and asks him  whether they really happened.    His grandfather pulls out some faded photos of childhood friends, and they are very peculiar.  After this Jacob begans to doubt the truth of the stories.

 

When Jacob is 16, the mysterious and sudden death of his grandfather causes him to imagine things—or are they real?  He finally decides to follow the clues his grandfather spoke with his dying breath.  His quest to discover the truth takes him on a journey he could never have imagined.

 

This atmospheric debut novel features good writing, well-drawn characters and a twisting and turning plot.  The haunting photographs add depth to the story.  This book should be especially attractive to middle school and older students who have already read books such as the Lemony Snicket series.  There are mild horror aspects, as the story does have monsters and descriptions of violence.  Adults and older teens will enjoy the imaginative story and unique photos.

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