Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

A Happy Marriage

I read a review of Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias in one of the many book review sources I skim. It wasn’t an author I had read but it sounded good and I put a “hold” on it.

Although fiction, it is an autobiographical account of his nearly 30-year marriage told in alternating chapters as Margaret succumbs to cancer. The novel opens in 1975 when Enrique Sabas, a high-school dropout who has become the darling of the literary world with his first novel, meets Margaret Cohen, a slightly older, beautiful, budding graphic designer who will become the love of his life. The novel moves through their three decades together as Margaret says good-bye to family and friends and prepares to die.

It is brutally honest as her health declines and her husband becomes her caregiver but a good balance between their young romance, raising a family, losing a parent, a brief affair, and ultimately her physical decline.

It’s heartbreaking, not depressing.


Happy Marriage

The Ice Princess

For those of us who can’t seem to get enough Swedish mysteries, this novel by Camilla Lackberg is a promising new writer for an American audience.

Successful writer Erica Falck returns from Stockholm to her small hometown on the Swedish coast, to discover that one of her best friends from childhood is dead, an apparent suicide. The more Erica investigates her friend’s death, however, long buried secrets are uncovered which seem to implicate a number of the town’s residents.

Setting plays an important part in this story, and though there are a number of characters, they aren’t overwhelming. A great summertime, or anytime, read for mystery fans.


The Ice Princess

The Hanging Tree

I’ve just finished reading Bryan Gruley’s newest mystery and I’m still shivering with cold! All the folks from Starvation Lake are back in this new book, still playing hockey, still making ends meet in small-town Michigan, still getting out the news whether it’s in the weekly paper or around Audrey’s diner tables.

The Hanging Tree hits bookstore shelves August 3, but if you wait a few days you can meet the author and buy your book in person. Bryan Gruley will be in Kalamazoo on Saturday, August 7, 2:00 p.m. at the Central Library to give us the backstory behind these two terrific mysteries.

When he’s not writing about Starvation Lake, Bryan Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal; he’s also a former reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette. Don’t miss this chance to meet Brian, buy a book from our good friends at Michigan News Agency, and hear all about our new friends in Starvation.


The Hanging Tree

Fur Person Tales

Weeks ago, a friend’s dog went missing in Mattawan. Many days later, he opened the gate and entered the back yard at another friend’s home in Kalamazoo. This sweet dog had lived there five years previously; in between, he lived two other places! Samuel was much thinner, and his pads were worn, but he made it home to his grateful owner.

We all said it was just like The Incredible Journey, the long-beloved children’s book by Sheila Every Burnford, about two dogs and a cat that travel together across the wilderness to reunite with their family. That got me thinking about other books written from the animal’s point-of-view:

The family dog, Enzo, tells The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Enzo’s ‘dad,’ Denny, loses wife, Eve, to breast cancer, and suddenly finds himself embroiled in a custody battle with Eve’s parents for their young daughter. This moving story is sprinkled throughout with insights Enzo has learned from Denny’s racing career, as metaphors for life. Enzo displays a wisdom many humans only wish we had.

The Fur Person (May Sarton) is a charming tale, written from the perspective of a stray ‘Cat about Town.’ This Gentleman Cat decides it’s time to adopt himself a suitable ‘housekeeper’ for a while and explore the comforts of an indoor home. He finds Gentle Voice and Brusque Voice – his name for the two women who inhabit the suitable home -- and to his astonishment, he transforms into a Fur Person, “a cat who has decided to stay with people as long as he lives.” I discovered this book in the Friends bookstore, not long before my ‘fur person’ adopted me.


The Art of Racing in the Rain

Chilling Debut

Stayed up way too late several nights reading Cold Earth! It's chilling, suspenseful, and all too plausible. Six young archaeologists on a summer dig in the west coast of Greenland face the possibility of apocalypse at home and being stranded close to the Arctic Circle as winter inexorably approaches. Moss tells the tale through each of the six voices; some better defined than others. At only 278 pages, I think Moss could have given some characters a larger voice and expanded the ending; I longed for more.


Cold Earth

Before you Rent...

It's the time of year when many college students are looking to rent. When entering into any legal situation, a basic understanding of your rights and obligations is your best protection. And with these awesome books by Nolo, it is very easy, interesting, and up-to-date. Learning before is always better than after some dispute comes along.

This book goes over the basic rights that tenants have in relationship to the lease and the landlord. Is this an illegal lease provision? Can the landlord raise my rent? How much can the security deposit be? What does the law say about discrimination? What happens if I end my lease? Can a landlord change my locks? How does the eviction process go?

Although this book is not a specific discussion of the law in Michigan, it does have an appendix in the back that references to various state laws. For much more information, come visit the Law Library.


Renters' Rights: The Basics

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy

Even though I haven't read this book, or seen the movie Alice in Wonderland yet, I know that these "Blackwell philosophy and popculture series" books are excellent ways to dive into the deeper themes of the movies and shows that we love (see also Matrix and Philosophy, Terminator and Philosophy). This books seems to focus on the following philosophical topics: the nature of language, the problem of induction, perception vs. reality, and Nietzsche on perspective. Tell me what you think!


Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy

To Kill A Mockingbird Turns 50

 The treasured American classic To Kill a Mockingbird just turned 50! Author Nelle Harper Lee’s book was published July 11, 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Lee grew up next door to Truman Capote in Monroeville, AL, which was the model for the town of Maycomb in the book. Lee, who is 84, is extremely reclusive and still resides in Monroevill, spent four years penning this powerful literary work about the Deep South and searing racial injustice.
To Kill a Mockingbird is the coming-of-age story of Scout Finch and her brother Jem, whose father, Atticus, is an attorney who defends a black man in a rape trial. I won’t give away anymore than this basic outline of the book, you just must read this richly layered masterpiece that can be read on so many levels. It is all at once a story of the microcosm of small town life, hatred, courage, morality and tolerance. Please take the time to step back this summer and read about this book and author Harper Lee. You will be glad you did. Happy Reading!


To Kill A Mockingbird


Cooking for baby : Part deux

As a follow-up to a blog that Lisa Williams wrote last year, I would like to share my personal experience cooking for my lil' bun the past 6 months since she started on solid foods.  I have never been much of a cook, but the recipes have taught me lots of basic skills and babies are gentler critics than adults – no anxiety there!  Lisa highlighted the book Cooking for baby by Lisa Barnes.  One of my little one’s favorites from this book (that doesn’t even involve cooking) is the blackberry & ricotta parfait. I’ve also appreciated the many finger foods suggestions on p. 68 as my daughter has begun to feed herself. Fortunately, KPL just added Top 100 finger foods by Annabel Karmel to the collection, which I am going to check out next!

On today’s lunch menu is chicken with brown rice and peas, from Blender baby food by Nicole Young.  While it may sound time-consuming and impractical to spend a lot of time cooking such meals when a baby eats only a tiny portion, the great thing is that most recipes can be frozen (i.e. into 1 oz. ice cube tray portions) for up to 3 months, and most recipes make between 5-20 servings.  Saving money has been a plus—from my experience, store-bought baby food fruits & veggies run at least 40¢ per serving on sale, whereas my homemade purees cost 10¢- 15¢ (4 large apples on sale cost about $3.00 and make about 30 servings of applesauce).  As far as time spent, I usually make more than one type of food at a time – fruits and veggies (which mainly involve just steaming and removing skins when necessary, then blending) take less than 1 hour to make multiple servings of 2-3 different items, and recipes involving meats and grains usually take a few hours to make 3-4 different dishes, so you’re only cooking once a week or every other week, and once you build up a nice inventory, you’re golden--right now my freezer is full and I haven’t made anything new in several weeks.

For more books on this topic, check out the KPL catalog using subject search “Baby foods.”


Top100 Finger Foods

Does Your House Have Sixty-Eight Rooms?

Well, mine doesn’t either. But, I know one that does! Carry yourself to Chicago, and then to the Art Institute of Chicago, and then to the exhibit of the “Thorne Rooms”, which is a collection of dollhouse-like rooms that is a permanent part of the collection at the Art Institute. Page 10 of the book describes this exhibit as “better than any crummy dollhouse by far.”

Ruthie and Jack, BFF, and in the same sixth-grade class at one of Chicago’s private schools (Oakton), are the central and most believable characters in this story called The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone. As part of a class visit to the Institute, Ruthie and Jack discover the Thorne exhibit and become enthralled and even entranced by it. The dollhouse includes American and European-themed rooms that portray daily life with extreme detail. Enough detail that, when Ruthie and Jack are transported “back in time”, they even find beds with sheets and blankets, and desks with quill pens and tablets, and more. The children find a key (they snooped behind the exhibit to see its inner workings!) that, when held, will take them on a time-travel adventure beyond anything they can imagine. This key allows them to shrink small enough to sneak inside and explore the secrets of the rooms, as well as become a part of the world of the time. The same key transports them back to the present day.

Other characters in the story are Mrs. McVittie, an antiques shop owner; Mr. Bell, a museum security guard and former portrait photographer; Lydia, Jack’s mom; Claire, Ruthie’s older sister; and Mrs. Biddle, the sixth-grade teacher at the Oakton School.

A quote from the book jacket says “Housed deep within the Art Institute of Chicago, they are a collection of sixty-eight exquisite—almost eerily realistic—miniature rooms. Each of the rooms is designed in the style of a different time and place, and every detail is perfect, from the knobs on the doors to the candles in the candlesticks. Some might even say the rooms are magical.”

Similar in scope and content to Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer, The Calder Game, and The Wright 3; Malone’s Sixty-Eight Rooms is an “I can’t put it down” read! It would make an excellent read-aloud for older elementary students, too.


The Sixty-Eight Rooms
Share RSS