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Staff Picks: Books

The Series Series: Saga

I feel a little late to this party, since the first volume of this series came out in 2013 and it has been recommended to me countless times since then. This month, I happened to see that all three of the volumes were on the shelf, so I picked them up. I loved them so much that I finished all three volumes over a weekend and have since started recommending countless times to other people. The series follows a young couple who were soldiers from opposite sides of an inter-galactic war. In the first pages of the book, their daughter is born. The existence of their new family is very politically inconvenient for both sides of the war, and the series shows the beginning of what is hinted at a lifetime of trying to find a small bit of peace for a world constantly at war.

What I liked best about this series was the portrayal of a young couple in love, but instead of the story focusing on how they fall in love, it is about how they work together to protect their family. It also features a great cast of well-written supporting characters, each one with a complex hopes, dreams, and fears. As a graphic novel, the artwork adds an extra level of enjoyment.


New Shoes

I think of shoes by season and in particular new shoes for Fall. In my family, my sister and I, would always get new shoes for the start of school. We did it all through my school years and we did it again when my daughter went to school. And yes, even throughout her college years. I still think of the beginning of September as shoe shopping time. When I read New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, it brought back those memories but instead of feeling my happiness it brought a sadness for the girls in the story.

In the 1950’s Ella Mae is getting new shoes, not hand-me down shoes from her cousin. On Saturday, Ella Mae and her Mom go to the shoe store but they have to wait for the little white girl to select and try on her shoes first even though Ella Mae was there before the white family. Ella Mae knows colored people always have to wait.

When it is finally her turn, she tells Mr. Johnson that she wants to try on a pair of saddle shoes. Mama sucks in her breath and tells Ella Mae that they’ll do something different. Instead Mr. Johnson points to the back where the paper and pencils are kept. Mama and Ella Mae draw a picture of her feet and Mr. Johnson brings back a shoe box. No trying on in the store is allowed for them. They purchase the shoes but on the way home Ella Mae realizes colored folks can’t try on their shoes and how unfair it is for them. Even though she has new shoes now, she feels bad. When Ella Mae tells her best friend Charlotte what happened, she said it happened to her too. Sometimes the shoes don’t fit and they hurt the children’s feet.

Ella Mae has an idea and Charlotte is eager to help. They both do chores and for pay they take 1 nickel and a pair of outgrown shoes. After a month, they line up the shoes. They get polish, they clean and shine the shoes. They wash the laces and the shoes are almost as good as new. “Ella Mae and Charlotte’s Shoes” opens for business – price 10 cents and another pair of used shoes. The neighbors line up and their children actually get to try on shoes. They are both proud – anyone who walks in their shoe store can try on all the shoes they want!

The author’s note at the end of the book describes Ella Mae as a fictional character but the discrimination that she faced was very real. Charming characters with a compelling experience compliment Eric Velasquez’s beautiful paintings. This is a story worth sharing and discussing.


Wicked Charms: A Lizzy and Diesel Novel

Wicked Charms is such a perfect summer read and in fact I spent several hours outside on my porch swing enjoying this light, fluffy read. Although it is in a series that Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton co-write about Lizzy and Diesel it can certainly be a stand-alone book.

Lizzy and Diesel are back in an adventure that has them searching for a famous pirate’s treasure along the New England coastline. There’s gold and silver coins, precious gems and the Stone of Avarice to hunt for. But of course they aren’t the only ones searching for the goodies.

Diesel and Lizzy both have enhanced abilities, special powers, and they are “called” on occasion to help save the world. They have been working together to locate seven ancient stones that hold the powers of the seven deadly sins. The stones are known as the seven SALIGIA stones. Lizzy and Diesel have to make sure the stones don’t fall into the wrong hands but of course there is lots of drama, adventure and a mixture of comical mayhem as the search goes forward. In the end Lizzy and Diesel accomplish their mission and save the Stone of Avarice. All is well until they get the next call.

If you enjoy Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series you will have fun with this one as well. There are a few warm beach days left – happy reading!


Little Black Lies

I admit to not knowing much about the Falkland Islands, the setting for the novel Little Black Lies. But the Falklands are a strong presence in this suspenseful story by S.J. Bolton, and I certainly feel as though I have a stronger sense now of the islands.

In the story, three children have gone missing in this wild and beautiful place, over a period of several years. Most of the islanders feel that accidents claimed the children- perhaps a fall, or swept away by a strong tide. As events unfold and the main characters and motives are revealed, it becomes apparent that certainly not all of the disappearances can be explained away by accidents.

Strong characters, a fast paced story, and a fascinating setting make Little Black Lies a winner. It was recommended to me by a co-worker, who said he feels it’s one of the best books he’s read all year, and I agree.


Daughters of the dragon : a comfort woman's story

If you liked The kite runner and Memoirs of a geisha, you may be interested in Daughters of the dragon by William Andrews. This historical fiction book set in 20th century Korea follows the life of a fictional Korean "comfort woman," Jae-hee. During World War II, thousands of young women in occupied territories were forced to be comfort women (sex slaves) for the Imperial Japanese Army. Jae-hee and her sister were two of them, ripped from their happy family farm in 1943. The book details Jae-hee's escape and attempt to return to a normal life while keeping her secret.

 
This book unveils a dark side of history that is not well-known, but deserves to be told.

 


The Nightingale

The World War II time period with a European setting is a particularly popular fiction genre within the past two to three years. I have read many of them, but my favorite to date is Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

The story focuses on two sisters set in a French village beginning in 1939. Both are overcome by the death of their mother and the abandonment of their father. One remains in the village which is ultimately taken over by the Germans, the other joins the French underground.

One of the sisters narrates the story from the present, but the reader doesn’t know until the end which sister is telling their shared story.

As expected from a novel of this time and setting, Hannah examines life, love, the ravages of war, and the different ways people react to unthinkable situations. It is well-written and a good read.


Requiem

Fifty years later and after the sudden death of his wife, Bin travels across Canada to find his biological father who was lost to him during the Japanese internment camps in World War II. He is running both to and from his profound grief.

I have read many books about Japanese internment camps in the US, but didn’t know that Canada did likewise; about 22,000 Japanese Canadians were interned and 120,000 Japanese Americans. Requiem is set in the 1940’s camp, the late 1990’s with memories of his wife and son, and today with Bin’s drive across Canada to the camp area he vowed never to visit again.

This sobering story is well written and moving. It may well be one of my favorite fiction books of the year, although published in 2011.


One Family

Families come in many configurations. And what better way to celebrate families in all their individuality and complexity than this wonderful picture book One Family, by George Shannon.

Simple enough for even very young children, One Family has charming illustrations by Blanca Gomez. Cheerful looking families (and their pets) are shown going about their daily activities. This title has the added benefit of being able to be used as a counting book. I love the little details in the pictures that add to the overall theme- one world, one family.


The Orchardist

The Orchardist is set in Washington State at the beginning of the 20th century, where William Talmadge lovingly cultivates his orchards of apples and apricots. Talmadge, a reclusive and sorrowful man, unexpectedly becomes a foster father of sorts to two adolescent girls who escape from a brothel owner who has enslaved them.

This novel, a favorite of many book groups with much to discuss, explores the human character, what makes a family, and to a lesser extent, the history of the region.

Many reviewers consider this a strong debut novel from Coplin, with hopefully more to follow. I agree.


Hope Was Here

Joan Bauer writes a fast-paced realistic story about Hope Yancey, she is 16 years old and travels the country with her Aunt Addie who adopted her when she was just a baby. Hope has already attended six different schools and has lived in five different states. Why all the moving? Addie is a cook and all the diners where she’s worked go belly-up. Hope is an excellent waitress, a good waitress has to be ready for anything. Sweeping through the counter, getting orders. Adrenaline pumping. If you want a thrill there’s nothing like in-the-weeds waitressing. You never know what’s coming next. You could wait on a mainiac or a guy passing out twenties.
The story begins with Hope and Addie traveling to Mulvaney, Wisconsin, to begin their new jobs at the Welcome Stairways Restaurant. G. T. Stoops, the owner, has leukemia and he needs help, fast! Addie answers his ad for a cook and professional manager to run his diner.
Hope’s biological mother is Deena, her Aunt Addie’s sister, who didn’t want to be saddled with the responsibility of a baby. Hope’s never met her real father, but she keeps thinking he’ll show up someday, she even keeps scrapbooks of her adventures in anticipation of showing them to her dad… will she ever have a father?
G. T. Stoops is a great guy, so much so that he joins a mayoral race against the corrupt mayor. Hope is a busy teen. She and the staff of the Welcome Stairways get involved in the campaign. There is excitement when the diner fills with customers day by day eager for delicious meals.
The name of the Welcome Stairways diner name is explained on the menu: From early times, the Quakers had welcome stairways built in front of their homes in Massachusetts. These double stairways descended to the street from the front door and were symbols of Quaker faith and hospitality—constant reminders that all guests were to be welcomed from whichever way they came, and,My mother always said that the stairways symbolized how we must greet whatever changes and difficulties life may bring with firm faith in God... Welcome, friend, from whichever way you’ve come. May God richly bless your journey.
Hope Was Here is a refreshing story of loss and triumph.