Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I am among the many fans saddened by author Tony Hillerman’s death on October 26. New York Times reporter Marilyn Stasio wrote: “In the world of mystery fiction, Mr. Hillerman was that rare figure: a best-selling author who was adored by fans, admired by fellow authors and respected by critics.”
Tony Hillerman’s series about Navajo tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee is rich storytelling. Leaphorn and Chee are fully developed characters loved by readers. A strong third character is present in every book, too, and that's place. Mr. Hillerman captured so well the vivid culture and magnificent landscape of the Four Corners region.
The author’s eye for detail was no doubt honed during his years in the newspaper business. His sensitive and authentic treatment of Native American culture won him accolades and respect from their communities.
Tony Hillerman said his stories were “about morals,” universal themes that never get old. You can read his earlier works and never get the sense that it’s dated. If you haven’t read any Tony Hillerman, I hope you will.
The Shape Shifter
So many great books to read—so little time! How can you get through everything on your “to read” list?
I don’t want to read faster because I like to take my time and savor it. But I do want to read more efficiently so I can get more done. Here are two methods I’ve found useful.
First—try prescription reading glasses. If you have bifocals and you’ve been reading down your nose with your head cocked up in the air, let me show you a better way! With reading glasses, you can read “full face” to the book—so much more comfortable and natural. Plus, you may find they are much better than bifocals for computer work and for browsing library stacks—mine are.
Second—know your approximate reading rate. How long does it take you to read a page of your book? Get a stopwatch and time yourself, either one page at a time, or read a chapter and find the average rate per page. Don’t rush! Your rate will vary with the book, since some pages have more text on them or take more time to ingest. Test yourself on several types of books and you’ll find your range. Mine varies from about 60 to 90 seconds a page.
What will this do for you? For every book—or every stack of books—you want to read, you will have a pretty good idea of how many hours it will take you and you can plan accordingly, rather than just wonder if and when you will get them all read, and maybe give up.
For example, last month I had to read five books for work; I wasn’t sure at first that this was even possible. But then I added up how many hours they would take, set myself a schedule, and got them all finished by their deadlines.
I can also tell you how long it took me to read War and Peace—about 26 hours. How long will it take me to read Moby Dick for next fall’s Classics Revisited program? Looks like about 16 hours. If I read for a half-hour during lunch and another half-hour after dinner, I can finish in a little over two weeks.
Now, doesn’t that make reading Moby Dick seem more do-able? Hey, take a week’s vacation and you could finish Moby Dick and War and Peace both! Now that’s efficient!
Christina Meldrum blends many literary allusions and floral references in her debut novel, Madapple. Hints of The Scarlett Letter and The Crucible combine with the historical uses of various plants to create an interwoven story of loss, isolation, and deception. Issues of religion, homeschooling, and self-image also play a part in the complexity of the novel. There is even some courtroom drama as the story is told in a flashback method using a cross-examination dialogue every other chapter.
Nominated for the Best Book for Young Adults (BBYA) list, the story of Aslaug is a riveting tale for not only teens but readers of all ages.
This is my blog about a book about a blog. Make sense? Anyway, the book’s title Petite Anglaise comes from the author’s popular blog and refers to the nickname the author gained as a young British woman living in Paris. Author/blogger Catherine Sanderson (known in the online community as “Petite” for short), was a working mother in a stagnant relationship with a Frenchman, the father of her infant daughter, when she decided to start a blog as a diversion from the reality of her less-than-exciting life. As she began to pour her thoughts out to an eager online audience, it became increasingly impossible for her to hide feelings of despair about her romantically-lacking relationship from the blog’s readers. One such reader with online name “Jim in Rennes” particularly got her attention and the rest is history – all recorded in real time on the internet. The book is a memoir based on events described in the blog, with lots of colorful description of Paris built in. I am looking forward to Petite's second installment (Sanderson secured a two-book deal after gaining media attention for suing her employer for wrongful termination when they discovered her blog).
One of the fun challenges of working in the Teen Services area is matching up a patron's reading level with books that, based on content and themes, will be meaningful to them and to their everyday lives. Obviously, what is meaningful to a 12- or 13-year old is not necessarily what is meaningful to a 17- or 18-year old, and when those young people read above or below their age level, finding just the right fit can become even more complicated.
A fiction series that I frequently recommend for teens who are not accustomed to reading a full-length book is the Orca Soundings series by Orca Book Publishers. According to the publisher's website, "Orca Soundings are short high-interest novels with contemporary themes, written expressly for teens reading below grade level." These trim paperbacks are approximately 100 pages each, and can easily fit into a back pocket. Some recent titles acquired by KPL include: Learning to Fly by Paul Yee, dealing with such themes as drug use, bullying and racism; and Lockdown by Diane Tullson, which addresses school violence. Other titles in the series address themes common to contemporary young adult fiction such as relationships, body image, music, and sexual identity.
Gary Schmidt, professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the author of a number of what I consider compelling and “reach out and grab the reader in” fiction titles for upper elementary/’tween/teen readers. His most recent title, Trouble, is set in Blythbury-by-the-Sea near the Massachusetts/Maine border. Trouble is a story of acceptance, of courage, and of forgiveness. Bravery comes in, too, as the main character, Henry, climbs Mt. Katahdin and reaches its summit, which is a most difficult trek. Henry’s older brother, Franklin, had been killed by a Cambodian refugee in an old pickup truck early in the summer…the summer that Henry and Franklin had planned to make the Mt. Katahdin climb together. As I began to read Schmidt’s latest novel, I was drawn in by the end of the first chapter, and I stayed “in” until the very last page.
Other Schmidt novels, The Wednesday Wars, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, and First Boy (there are others!), are just as compelling as Trouble is. Schmidt has won several Newbery Honor awards and a Printz honor award for his work. I’m looking for Trouble to get at least another honor medal, if not be a winner in either the Newbery or Printz contests…or maybe even both! As an added note, First Boy is set on a New Hampshire dairy farm in a political election year!
“In the tradition of the ‘First Wives Club’, New York Times best-selling author Fern Michaels delivers a slam-bang, take-no-prisoners tale of survival, sweet revenge, and the healing power of friendship between seven women who call themselves the Sisterhood.” (Kalamazoo Public Library catalog)
With deceptively peaceful looking book jackets, the Sisterhood series has nine titles beginning with Weekend Warriors and ending with (so far, anyhow) Final Justice. “Michaels’ newest series is based on the premise that if a crime victim is not protected by the legal system, it is her right to seek revenge through whatever means she finds.” (Library Journal review) Some compare the Sisterhood to the ever-popular “Charlie’s Angels” television show. The women of the Sisterhood are spectacular: educated, artistic, creative, sensual, and clever. Lead by heiress Myra Rutledge and her long-time lover, Charles Martin (a former M16 British operative who calls the Queen ‘Lizzie’); the girls accomplish paybacks for all types of crime from rape to false accusation. Their solutions are carefully planned and executed, and some may make the reader a bit squeamish.
“Fern Michaels’ writing is as intriguing and fast paced as ever,” (Booklist review), and the end of each book will have readers eagerly waiting for more. Words like “delicious”, “highly imaginative”, and “entertaining” come to mind when I think of the titles in the Sisterhood series. Of course, there are snags along the way in each book, and the women overcome them with a little help from Charles and with their own ingenuity. Add in Michaels’ gift of romance to these already exciting titles, grab a cup of hot something, and settle down to enjoy! I hope Fern Michaels is not done with this series!
Hands down, the best baseball book right now is We Are The Ship: The Story Of Negro League Baseball, by Kadir Nelson. Stunning illustrations and first-person narrative by an unnamed "Everyman" player combine to tell the story of the men who overcame whatever was in their way so that they could simply play ball.
We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware is back on the hunt as he delves into the mysterious death of a brilliant young musician from the East Coast. This victim doesn't seem to have much in common with the other dead women's bones that are discovered in L.A.'s Bird Marsh preserve. You won't be able to predict the outcome of this twisting and turning thriller, Bones.
This I Believe is the title of several books, a website, an NPR program, and a podcast. It is a series of essays about faith, beauty, hope, belief, and perspective. It is a view into the souls of persons who have felt immense heartache, stunning joy, and calm solitude. Started in the 1950’s as a radio program hosted by Edward Murrow, the need to speak of faith continues today. This I Believe gently and confidently brings the ideas of such people as Eve Ensler, Albert Einstein, Carl Sandburg, and Confucius together in a collective expression of personal philosophy.
KPL has all of the editions: 1952, 1954, and 2006 (in audio version as well). We are also in the process of acquiring the very newest version: This I Believe II.
Each essay is brief: no longer than two pages of a 4 x 6 book (approximately 600 words). Each takes just a moment to read and in that moment, you will feel as if you have been reading chapters of the lives of some of the writers. Their profound candidness and commanding expression will leave you pondering what you believe.
This I Believe