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.

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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Bow Grip

(2007)
Bow Grip book cover

I came to become a fan of Ivan Coyote through seeing videos of her telling stories. My interest in reading her first novel, Bow Grip, comes from feeling connected to her as a person through her stories. You can have this same experience easily as she's got quite a few videos embedded on her site at: http://www.ivanecoyote.com/videos

But you don't need to know Coyote to read this book. Unlike her collections which contain autobiographical stories, this story is fictional. It centers around Joseph, a man in Drumheller, Alberta, who runs an auto shop and trades a car to a man called "The Cowboy" for a cello, the precipitating event of the story. Joseph feels it's a good trade as his mother and sister have been on him to get a hobby as a way to get his mind off his wife, Allison. She left him with the wife of another Drumheller man to live in Calgary, and Joseph has been understandably down about this.

Joseph winds up having a human adventure. The man he traded with disappears, and Joseph finds evidence of a woman he's connected to who may be living in Calgary. Also, while he's there searching for him, he might as well drop off the last of the books his wife left at their home. And why not seek out a cello teacher? No way is he going to find one in a little town like Drumheller.

In Calgary, Joseph befriends all sorts of people, and this connecting with others forms the heart of the story. At the beginning, I mentioned that I grabbed this book because I am a fan of Ivan, that I feel connected to her through her stories. Interestingly, this story is all about humans connecting with one another, and the ability to heal provided by these connections. And Joseph seems to learn about himself even as the reader learns how he interacts with and reacts to others. 

It took this book to make me realize how much other stories I've read lately amplify the human experience to an unnecessary degree, not to mention how aggressively they thrive on conflict and the negative aspects of life. This is an excellent, quiet, authentic story that can make you feel human, happy, and whole.

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Bakuman, volume 1

(2010)
Bakuman cover

Volume 1 of Bakuman introduces Moritaka Mashiro, an 8th grade student with decent grades and a habit of drawing in his notebooks during class. His drawing talent is noticed by Akito Takagi, fellow and best student in Mashiro's class. Takagi attempts to persuade Mashiro to join him in creating manga--he'll write and Mashiro can draw. Takagi's a skilled operator and manages to get Mashiro's crush, a classmate named Miho, involved, climaxing with a humorous scene in which Mashiro ultimately agrees to Takagi's plan. They know it will be grueling and require sacrifices, like giving up on any sort of elite schooling, but at the end of volume 1 they're dedicated to their goal.

This is an interesting story and I may grab subsequent volumes. The characters are enjoyably authentic, the artwork is high quality among manga, and the story is inspirational--how can I not pull for these young men facing terrible odds? The characters' view of the role of women is questionable, but growth in this area may be part of the overall story--they're in middle school, so I expect they'll grow over the course of the 20 volume series.

I'd recommend this to any teen or adult manga fan. I notice that this series is not as popular as other current manga titles at our library, but it might see more use if Death Note fans knew that Bakuman is by Death Note creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.

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Remarkable Trees of the World

(2002)
http://www.infosoup.org/search~S77?/Xremarkable+trees+of+the+world&searchscope=77&SORT=D/Xremarkable+trees+of+the+world&searchscope=77&SORT=D&Submit=Search&SUBKEY=remarkable+trees+of+the+world/1%2C4%2C4%2CB/frameset&FF=Xremarkable+trees+of+the+world&searchscope=77&SORT=D&1%2C1%2C
http://www.infosoup.org/search~S77?/Xthe+life+and+love+of+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ/Xthe+life+and+love+of+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ&extended=0&SUBKEY=the+life+and+love+of+trees/1%2C104%2C104%2CB/frameset&FF=Xthe+life+and+love+of+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ&1%2C1%2C
http://www.infosoup.org/search~S77?/Xmeaning+of+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ/Xmeaning+of+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ&extended=0&SUBKEY=meaning+of+trees/1%2C17%2C17%2CB/frameset&FF=Xmeaning+of+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ&1%2C1%2C
http://www.infosoup.org/search~S77?/Xseeing+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ/Xseeing+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ&extended=0&SUBKEY=seeing+trees/1%2C33%2C33%2CB/frameset&FF=Xseeing+trees&searchscope=77&SORT=DZ&1%2C1%2C

Perhaps it is the time of year, but I love reading books about trees, especially books that include awesome pictures of trees. One of my favorites is Thomas Pakenham’s” Remarkable Trees of the World”.  His previous book, “Meetings With Remarkable Trees” concentrated on trees in Britain and Ireland, but this book takes him all around the world. Each featured tree is illuminated with a large picture and a page or so written about why it is included in the book. I am hard pressed to pick a favorite.

A book I have been waiting to hold in my hands is Lewis Blackwell’s “The Life and Love of Trees”.  It is on order for the library, and has been for a few months now. I decided to buy it myself, and found out why it may be taking so long. This book was published in 2009 and very well received, but for some reason, it is out of print. Existing copies are selling for over $100.00. I thought I’d found one for $35.00 through an online seller, but when I didn’t hear anything about my order after a couple weeks, I inquired and found it had been cancelled. I could re-order at the higher price.  

The book has very beautiful images. Even if we never get the book in, I encourage you to look it up and browse the images that are online. Here is a link to some good ones:

http://www.oprah.com/spirit/The-Life-and-Love-of-Trees-Photo-Slideshow

 While waiting for this book to arrive, I looked through the catalog to find more tree books I might like and found one called “Seeing Trees” by Nancy Ross Hugo. The sub title-Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees-hints at the wonders inside. This book concentrates on glorious close up shots of leaf buds and flowers and seeds that are often overlooked when observing the whole tree. There is a lot to see and it is worth seeing. Robert Llewellyn’s photography  is stunning.

Another tree book that I have on hold is called “The Meaning of Trees: botany, history, healing, lore/by Fred Hageneder. In addition to 70 pictures, the book includes botanical qualities, medicinal uses and cultural symbolism.  I can’t wait to read it!

 

 

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The light between oceans: a novel

2012
The light between oceans

Wonderful book.   The lighthouse captivated me right from the start.  Seeing them in New England when I was a child gives them a special place in my imagination.  I have always wanted to stay in one.  My mother has told us only recently that dad actually thought about chucking it all and buying one.   But back to the book.  I loved it and had a hard time putting it down.  The characters were alive, and every single thing felt real.  There is much pain and sadness, but you feel it inside yourself without actually having to wade through depressing text.  Very artfully written, hard to believe this is a first novel.  Yes, I cried. 

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Team of Rivals

The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005)
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005)

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was a former one-term congressman and two-time failed senate candidate from Illinois. Despite this feeble resume, he managed to outmaneuver the top leaders of the Republican party—all far more experienced and better known than Lincoln—and win the nomination for president. Once elected, and as the southern states began pulling out of the Union, Lincoln selected these same political rivals as the members of his new cabinet.

In this best-selling history, Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the story of Lincoln’s relationship with these men and how their struggles to work together (or against one another) influenced the course of the Civil War. Goodwin writes with style and vigor, providing riveting portraits of all the main characters, with a novelistic tone. Team of Rivals is also the source for Steven Spielberg’s coming film biography of Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field.

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Broken Harbor

2012

Tana French is a master of tension and mystery. Her latest novel, Broken Harbor, tells the story of Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, one of Dublin’s top murder detectives, as he attempts to solve the murder of a young family in a largely abandoned new housing development. Only the mother has survived, and she is in the hospital in critical condition. Although Brianstown, the location of the murders, is the site of a major trauma from Kennedy’s youth, he feels like the case will be a simple solve that will make him untouchable on the murder squad. As he and his young partner investigate, Kennedy slowly realizes that the case is far deeper and murkier than he expected. At the same time, his younger sister (who has had mental health problems for most of her life) starts to go off the deep end again, adding an extra layer of stress for Kennedy. Tana French does a wonderful job creating characters that are very real, flaws and all, and she provides plenty of twists and turns throughout the novel. Broken Harbor was a very entertaining read. If you like police procedurals or a good mystery of any kind, I would also recommend her earlier novels, In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place.

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The Mind

leading scientists explore the brain, memory, personality, and happiness (2011)
The Mind, edited by John Brockman

The Mind is very similar in structure to one of my earlier staff picks: Future Science. Editor John Brockman presents contributions from some of the world’s leading scientists on the workings of the brain and aspects of human consciousness, development, memory, and learning.

 

In one of my favorite essays -- You Can’t be a Sweet Cucumber in a Vinegar Barrel -- Philip Zimbardo discusses what happens to people in toxic environments, and also the shared qualities of “heroes” who demonstrate an ability to rise above toxic, abusive, or unjust environments and actively work to stop them.

 

Another favorite is Amazing Babies by Alison Gopnik -- a researcher I had already discovered in a TedTalk titled “What do babies think?Amazing Babies does include some of the same information presented in her TedTalk.

 

Other favorites from The Mind are

 

I highly recommend this book to those interested in neuroscience, and developmental and behavioral psychology.

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Rules of Civility

(2011)
Rules of Civility
The "Rules of Civility" is a delightful tale that parachutes the reader straight out of the Manhattan skyline into the lives of three friends poised to resurrect leftover dreams placed on hold during the era of the Great Depression. Author Amor Towles begins the story starring two best friends and one wealthy, eligible bachelor by igniting the promise of a hopeful future on the eve of New's Years 1938. While secretaries Katey Kontent and Eve Ross compete for the attentions of of the enigmatic Tinker Grey in the first months of 1938, fate intervenes to give Eve a grand opportunity to experience the oppulence and privilege of a new social standing. Meanwhile, Katey continues to represent the challenges of the twenty-something, unmarried working girl trying to make it in the Big Apple.
 
 
In Eve's land of opportunity, cigarettes are lit with silver plated lighters, olive studded martinis are refreshed breakfast through dinner, women in pearls enter limosines with doors held open by white gloved drivers, and elevator operators escort the social climbers up into Manhattan's skyscrapers.
 
 
In Katey's land of no opportunity, members of the hard working class chain smoke cigarettes in back alley jazz clubs, watered down drinks are ordered with greasy burgers, women in worn high heels run to hail taxi cabs, and at the end of the day, they drag their tired bodies home to tiny apartments.
 
 
Towles effectively captures the culture of the time period with references to Central Park, Madison Avenue, smoky jazz clubs, and the national past-times such as betting on horse racing, reading Manhattan society magazines, or collecting modern art. And as morning moves into night, he paints the picturesque image of a power grid illuminating a Manhattan sky at dusk.
 
 
The title of Towles' tale is no accident. A young George Washington, future first President of the United States, wrote "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation." The morsels of advice become a textbook of sorts for Tinker Grey; especially as he applies Washington's rules to complex relationships he enjoys with the women in his life. While he confidently wears expensive suits and dines in French restaurants, the future waits patiently to reveal the consequences of his choices. The reader soon realizes that, ultimately, Tinker Grey has been keeping the secret of his own success.
 
 
Little fault can be found with the story, but the author does interject various characters who make a brief appearance before inexplicably disappearing from the storyline. Though he uses these brief encounters to more clearly illlustrate the multi-faceted aspects of American culture in the late 1930's, it seems a shame that these cameo characters are eliminated before we get to know them more intimately.
 
 
In spite of its few shortcomings, "Rules of Civility" treats the reader to a wonderful palette of characters set against a canvas of well spoken words. Towles effectively provides a vivid portrayal of a late 1930s New York. The pages come alive with the voices of the haves and the have nots along and destinies decided by opportunities taken and opportunities lost. One can only think that within the setting of such a tumultuous decade in American history, the title could have more aptly been called breaking the rules of civility.
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The Diviners

(2012)
The Diviners book cover

Libba Bray's The Diviners mixes mystery and supernatural horror and sets in Prohibition Era New York. The effect is excellent--if I were a wine connoisseur and this book were a wine, I'd note hints of HBO's Carnivale, Stephen King's novels, and a liberal peppering of 1920s slang. I'll hold back from getting cutesy using the slang in this review.

Evie lives too fast. This leads to her using her unique ability to learn about people from their objects, publicly while drunk, and causing a scandal in her Ohio hometown. Her parents send her to live in New York with her uncle, Will, who runs a museum of folklore and occult curiosities, and his assistant, Jericho. Evie's thrilled to be there--she goes out with her friend and neighbor, Mabel, to speakeasies and films, and meets Theta, a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies who gives them free tickets and joins them in their partying.

Other characters are woven into this story, including budding poet Memphis Campbell and his brother, Isaiah; Theta's piano-playing roommate Henry; and, of course, the murderer.

Evie bullies her way into joining her uncle when the police seek his assistance in investigating the first murder. Arcane symbols on the victim's body require the expertise of someone knowledgeable in the occult. But then, there's Evie's ability to see and learn things about people by touching their belongings--is she brave enough to touch a corpse? Would her uncle, if he knew about her ability, let her? And if he does, can they catch the killer before he strikes again or does something much worse?

This is the first book of a series, and I'm looking forward to the next book. I enjoyed the suspense and adventure of the story, as well as spending time with each of the well-defined characters and exploring Evie's, Memphis's, and Theta's New York. I'd recommend this story to fans of Stephen King, fans of supernatural mysteries, and any reader (teen or adult) undaunted by thick books.

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Tiger Lily

(2012)

Okay, I'll admit it, I've never actually read J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, so I began reading this only knowing the Disney movie version of the story. This is Tiger Lily's story as told from Tinker Bell's point-of-view and it works marvelously! Folks expecting a nice, neat Disney tale are in for a rude awakening. Anderson doesn't pull any punches in describing the events taking place in Neverland - there is plotting, scheming, violence & prejudice, yet beneath it all is a beautiful story of young Peter Pan and Tiger Lily finding love with one another and shaping the people that they become. Tiger Lily is a unique retelling of a favorite tale that solidly stands on its own. I would definitely recommend this to both high school and adult readers.

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