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Staff Picks: Books

Monopoly and Musicals and Mysteries Oh My

Here are some books that have caught my eye over the past two months as I read reviews to decide what to purchase for the library:

The Monopolists by Mary Pilon
When an economics professor, Ralph Anspach, in the 1970s invented an anti-monopoly game, he is threatened by Parker Brothers, which leads to a lawsuit and research into the origins of the game. Anspach uncovers that the game goes back to the early 1900s and that it was invented by a woman, not the traditional story of the inventor being an unemployed man during the Great Depression. The reviewer in Booklist states, “The book abounds with interesting tidbits for board-game buffs but treats its subject seriously. After reading The Monopolists —part parable on the perils facing inventors, part legal odyssey, and part detective story —you'll never look at spry Mr. Monopoly in the same way again.”

Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil
Kurzweil was bullied while at a Swiss boarding school by a twelve year old native of Manila named Cesar Augustus; once being whipped to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar. Yes, truth is stranger than fiction. The reviewer in Library Journal wrote, “It moves like a thriller, is very funny, and in the right hands, would make a great movie.”

By Book or By Crook by Eva Gates
Former Harvard librarian, Lucy, finds her dream job in a lighthouse library on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and can’t believe her luck, until a priceless Jane Austen first edition is stolen and people start getting murdered. For some, I’m sure combining libraries and lighthouses in a mystery is like combining horses and mermaids in an adventure tale for my daughter. Can it get any better?


Every Day He Fought

For those of you who loved ESPN’s Stuart Scott, may I present to you his autobiography, finished shortly before he lost his battle with cancer in January of this year, at the age of 49. Scott's legacy included becoming the most popular and recognized sports anchor of his generation, coining terms such as "cool as the other side of the pillow" and of course, "Boo-yah!" 

Every Day I Fight chronicles Scott’s childhood, career, and his 8-year fight with cancer – fighting every day to stay alive because he could not leave his daughters. Through his memoir we learn that behind the face of SportsCenter was a true family man, who felt being a dad was the most important thing he’d ever done.


Another One from Anne Tyler

I always look forward to a new novel from Anne Tyler and put it on hold as soon as announced. Spool of Blue Thread, her 20th novel and published in early February, has received strong reviews. I agree.

Once again, the setting is Baltimore and the characters are an ordinary family. Like most families though, there are back stories, history, celebrations, family dynamics.

The overarching theme is the uncomfortable shift that occurs in families as the parents decline and the grown children and parents begin to exchange roles. The story follows three generations of the Whitshank family centering on the stately home which has become part of the family lore.

Tyler’s manner of storytelling and her insight into the ordinariness of family life always results in a satisfying read for me.


Do Bears and Libraries Mix? Silly Question. Of Course, They Do!

 A Library Book For Bear by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton is a humorous picture book about a bear who had never been to the library.

 

One morning, Bear hears a tapping at his door. He sees the bright-eyed face of his fervent  friend Mouse who is excited to take Bear to the library to show him around, and because he thinks that it’s just a doggone fun place to visit. While previously Bear did promise to accompany Mouse, today he thinks that this expedition will be a complete waste of his very precious time. After all, he already owned a grand total of seven books and believed that this private collection would more than adequately cover his needs for the foreseeable future. But a promise is a promise, so off they go.

 

Upon their arrival, a very grumpy Bear is once again quick to criticize. In his estimation, the library building is much too big and contains “far too many books”. All this, he declares, is nothing more than pure excess.

 

But enthusiastic Mouse persists with positives, pointing out that the library is quite exciting and declares that he will find Bear a perfect book about pickles, since pickles is the one topic that Bear seems to find most intellectually stimulating. But no matter which title Mouse suggests, Bear is dismissive of the selections and voices his displeasure in a very loud and disruptive manner.

 

Before long, he is shushed into quiet by two mothers (one squirrel, the other raccoon), whose youngsters are gathered around a smiling librarian conducting story time. Bear is upset at being told to quiet down and wants to leave the library pronto.

 

However, on his way to the exit, he overhears the librarian read a story about a very brave bear and a treasure chest filled with very special pickle slices. Oh my, Bear becomes entranced, and it is now he who quickly tells Mouse to quiet down!

 

After story time, Bear checks out a number of new books including one titled “The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island”, which Bear reads to Mouse back at his home that very same day.

 

Wonderfully expressive illustrations compliment this top notch choice for young children, that gently promotes libraries and all that they offer!

 

And it’s a great selection to celebrate “Read Across America Day”, March 2nd, 2015.


Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Here's a 2014 book that I probably would have passed by if I hadn't seen a review of it which told of the author's connection to Michigan. Subtitled 'A Memoir of Food & Love from an American Midwest Family,' it's a collection of brief stories and recipes by Kathleen Flinn, who grew up near Flint. The stories are about her rural upbringing as half Irish and half Swedish, but the food descriptions and recipes she includes would transcend several nationalities. Some of the recipes are for foods I grew up with as well, such as the apple crisp and oatmeal cookies. For a retrospective on Michigan rural culture and cuisine, try this one.


Hoot Owl, master of disguise

 Hoot Owl is hungry. He is also clever, and a self proclaimed master of disguise. This wonderful new picture book, Hoot Owl by Sean Taylor, shows Owl first disguising himself as a large carrot to catch an unsuspecting rabbit. But Rabbit, not fooled, hops on by. Owl devises costumes as a birdbath, and as a sheep, with no success. How he manages to snag a tasty meal of pizza makes for a clever solution.

Illustrator Jean Jullien has perfectly captured the spirit of the story, and his large, colorful pictures add to the silliness. This is a wonderful book for sharing with a child!


Americanah: Leaving Home Behind

Americanah, which refers to a person who returns to Nigeria after time abroad, is a 15-year saga centering on Ifemelu, who grew up in poverty in Lagos, but managed to come to the US. Culture shock, poverty, and racism leave her feeling as if she has “cement in her soul” and she defines herself as a “Non-American Black.”

This is a novel about leaving home behind, independence, integrity, not being sure where one “fits,” both in the US and back home in Nigeria.

Its inclusion on many “best of” lists for 2014 and significant media attention is well deserved. One reviewer considers it a “world-class novel.”

 


Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes

Juan Felipe Herrera is the California Poet Laureate. He has collaborated with Raúl Colón, the award-winning illustrator of many books for children, to create Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, the 2015 Pura Belpré Author Honor book. The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. There are also Illustrator and Author Honor books, like this one. It's nice to have a high quality, beautifully illustrated book like this that can also be used for help with homework reports about famous Americans.


Night of the Gun

New York Times journalist David Carr died yesterday at the age of 58. His critically acclaimed 2008 memoir Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life, His Own shined a light upon his struggles with addiction. Even as he rose through the professional ranks as a feisty and hard-nosed reporter, Carr’s life spun out of control, leading to homelessness and eventually to recovery. Carr was also prominently featured in the 2011 documentary film Page One: Inside the New York Times, a portrait of a year in the life of several New York Times reporters.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

After seeing first-time novelist David Shafer’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot on a few Best of 2014 lists, I finally found a gap in my ‘must read now’ list of books and picked it up last weekend. I’m happy to report that it deserves its place on those best of lists. The book is hard to pin down. It is part hyper-paranoid techno-thriller (think late William Gibson) and part smart literary fiction with a sarcastic bent (think Dave Eggers), but it certainly qualifies as a page-turner and I found it to be a fun read. At least as fun as up-to-the-minute plausible fiction about a looming shadow digital oligarchy can be.