Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
This title immediately piqued my interest, since it was about both Italy and train travel. The author Tim Parks is British, and he has lived in Italy for over 20 years. He regularly travels by rail from his home in Verona to Milan for his work, as well as having travelled to other regions of Italy by train, so he’s well placed to give his thoughts. Whether he’s commenting on the passengers or staff, the history of railroads in Italy, or his views of modern Italy and its politics, it makes for entertaining and informative reading.
If you’re planning a trip or just enjoy travel writing from the comfort of home, give this a try!
Italian Ways: on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo
Does my dog know what I’m thinking? It always fascinates me to ponder the possibilities of communication between animals and humans. That’s just one reason why I found “We are all completely beside ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler so mesmerizing.
When we meet eighteen year old Rosemary, she’s a college student drifting through life. Rosemary meets bad girl Harlow, and it forces her to confront events in her past. It’s only part way through the book that we discover Rosemary’s dad was a famous psychologist, and Rosemary’s twin sister was a chimpanzee named Fern. They were raised together as an experiment, along with older brother Lowell, and it profoundly affects all their lives, in ways none of them could have expected.
This book raises a whole host of unsettling and provocative issues, told in Rosemary’s words. The story is by turns funny, poignant and totally readable, and I really cared about the characters in this book. It's one of those stories that you find yourself thinking about later at random moments- it stays with you.
We are all completely beside ourselves
I’m very much enjoying a mystery by a new (to me) author, that a work colleague recommended. The title is “The Dogs of Rome” by Conor Fitzgerald. Actually, this is the first book in the series featuring Commissario Alec Blume. Set in Rome, Blume is an ex-pat American who’s lived in Italy for 22 years, long enough to understand its inner workings. When he and his department investigate the murder of an animal rights activist, it opens up possible connections to the Mob.
What I like best about this book is the setting, and the characters. Blume is something of a world weary loner, but he hasn’t entirely given up on the human race. If you like police novels, especially ones set in European locales, this provides a new series to look forward to. I’ll be reading the others when this one is finished, for sure.
The Dogs of Rome
Looking for a great audio book? I loved the audio version of “Dodger” by Terry Pratchett. On a dark and stormy night (what else) in Victorian London, a young 17 year old man named Dodger happens upon a young woman who is being kidnapped. He rescues her, and being a young man who makes his living from the streets, knows how to survive and protect her. It fast becomes apparent that some very bad men are trying to get Felicity back. Whirlwind action, mystery and history combine to make great listening. I’ve listened to lots of audio books over the years, and the reader can make or break a story. The reader here does a great job, and sounds as though he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.
Pratchett has some real life people make appearances, such as Charles Dickens as a sharp newspaper reporter, and also Sweeney Todd, the famous barber murderer. Dodger interacts with them, in what Pratchett calls “historical fantasy.” It’s so well done that it seems perfectly natural.
I really enjoyed this audio version from start to finish, and hope Pratchett does a sequel, preferably soon!
For the month of April, I chose a teen title to blog about, and the one I picked was a lucky choice.
“Ship Breaker” by Paolo Bacigalupi is set on the United States Gulf coast following an unnamed apocalyptic event. It’s pretty much every person for themselves, and life is hard and cruel, although small communities have sprung up. Nailer, a teen age boy, is a scavenger of huge cargo tankers, along with crews of other young people who can fit into the small spaces of the ships to search for prized copper wire. A devastating hurricane upsets the already delicate balance of life, and after the storm has passed Nailer and a friend find a large passenger sailboat that has been wrecked. Amazingly, one person has survived, a teen age girl who claims to be from a very wealthy family. She says they will pay richly for her return- but does she really want to go back, and is she telling the truth?
What I really liked about this book was the imagined look at what life could be in the United States if there was a total breakdown of modern life as we know it. It’s a world where living by your wits and skills are the main keys to survival, and trust is not given lightly. “Ship Breakers” is a National Book Award finalist, and fortunately there is a sequel, which I definitely am going to read.
A co-worker recommended the book A Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to me. What a great suggestion! In 1950’s era England, eleven year old Flavia de Luce finds a body in the family’s cucumber patch. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my entire life.” She attempts to solve the mystery ( sometimes to the consternation of the local police) using her intelligence, advanced knowledge of chemistry, and just plain persistence. A quirky family- two older, literary sisters and a widowed father who is an avid stamp collector-also figure in the story. Canadian author C. Alan Bradley won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for this delightful mystery, the first in a series featuring memorable Flavia.
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris first came to my attention on a “Best Mystery” list. It is a mystery, and much more. Set in modern day Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Nayir al-Sharqi is asked by his friend Othman to go with him into the desert to try and discover the whereabouts of Othman’s sixteen year old fiancé, Nouf. The young woman has disappeared into the desert three days before their wedding, seemingly without a trace. Nayir tries to discover what has happened to Nouf, with the help of Katya, a young woman working in the state medical examiner’s office.
What I found particularly fascinating about this book was the glimpse into modern Saudi Arabian life. The author has lived in Saudi Arabia and so has a unique perspective and insight into the lives of both men and women living and working there. I recommended this book to a friend. Her book group chose it as their monthly read, and she said it resulted in a lively discussion.
If you’re looking for a mystery with a different slant, give this a try!
It’s winter, and though there’s no snow on the ground right now in late December, we can pretty much assume that it will get cold and snowy sometime soon. Why not check out some of these new children’s books about winter, get cozy with a cup of cocoa, and read?
I See Winter by Charles Ghigna and Henry Goes Skating by B.B .Bourne both celebrate winter activities—snowmen, sleds and skates. In more of a folktale vein and for slightly older children is The Wind that Wanted to Rest by Sheldon Oberman. Lovely illustrations complement the story.
A chapter book and part of a series is Good luck, Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. Young Anna goes from her native Africa to Canada to visit her grandmother. It’s cold and snowy there, and new adventures and experiences await Anna.
Spring, summer, fall and winter—your library is a great resource year round!
I See Winter
I’ve been a children’s librarian for a lot of years, so am always on the lookout for new children’s titles. One that definitely caught my eye is Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer. One of the most requested topics we get is “princess books” for kids. This book is certainly that, but with a twist. Princess Viola loves to skateboard, karate chop and jump in the moat- not your traditional princess activities. The king and queen send Viola to princess school, with hilarious results, and an ending that is totally satisfying.
I love dogs, and in Boot and Shoe by Marla Frazee, two canines from the same litter, Boot and Shoe, do everything together. They eat together, they eat out of the same bowl, they sleep in the same bed. But Shoe is a front porch kind of dog, and Boot camps out on the back porch all day, which is perfect until a pesky squirrel throws their ordered world into disarray. Wonderful, expressive pictures add a lot to the story, and it’s perfect for new readers.
Dog in Charge by K.L. Going has some of the funniest pictures I’ve seen in a quite a while. Illustrator Dan Santat captures dog and cat personalities to a “T”. Dog is given the task of keeping the family cats in line while their family is gone, and the wily felines prove to be a challenge for somewhat clueless Dog. All is well in the end, and peace reigns.
Check out these and other new kids’ titles just for the fun of it, and to keep kids reading!
Princess in Training
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the event, which this year is celebrated September 30-October 6. According to the American Library Association website, Banned Books Week brings together booksellers, libraries, publishers, journalists, and readers of all types in “shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Banned Books Week draws national attention annually to books that communities or organizations have attempted to restrict access to, or remove from libraries and schools.
Here are a few of the titles on this year’s list: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer; Nickel and Dimed: on (not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich; and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Teen and children’s titles are not immune to challenge, either. Some examples are: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Stolen Children by Peg Kehret.
You can read more about Banned Books Week, and view annotated lists explaining why the books were challenged, at the American Library Association website. Don't miss the Banned Books Readout at Central Library on October 4th, 7 pm.
Banned Books Week
An avid history fan, I’m listening right now to a wonderful audiobook version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. It’s a look at the England of Henry VIII, when Henry decided to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, and marry Ann Boleyn. Mantel portrays these turbulent political and religious times through the life of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was very much behind the scenes, and powerful. He came from humble beginnings. But he contrived to know the right people and got things done, first for his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, and later for Henry VIII, when Wolsey fell out of favor with the king. Cromwell is not always portrayed in a favorable light; here Mantel has made him a wholly believable and not unsympathetic figure.
Wolf Hall was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and it’s well deserved. Mantel is historically accurate, and the characters and times are fascinating in their detail. Library Journal’s review says, “There will be few novels this year as good as this one,” and I would concur. Author Hilary Mantel was born in England. She studied law at the London School of Economics, and has lived and worked in Botswana and Saudi Arabia, before returning to live in England.