In the Library Recommendations

Reviews of a few new books, February 13, 2019

One nonfiction title:
Brain health As You Age: a Practical Guide to Maintenance and Prevention, by Steven P. Simmons, et al.  this is a nice volume to add to our collection, given all of the Aging In Place Committee work that is happening around town.  The authors discuss the normal, and the worrisome, aspects of cognitive function as we age, and how it affects safety and well-being in our homes.  The book gives helpful information on when we are going through a rather normal instance of forgetfulness or confusion (looking for your glasses, when they are perched atop your head) and when indications of cognitive impairment are more serious.  The authors devote a chapter to lowering risks for decline and dementia, and also include helpful tips for caregivers.  A good support resource for us all.  Call number is 616.8 SIM.

A few adult fiction additions:
Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata.  For such a small book, this one packs a wallop, using humor (somewhat ironic humor) and good character portrayal.  It is the story of a 35 year old single woman who has worked in a convenience store since she was 18, and who is quite happy in her life, but is faced with pressures to conform to societal norms.  The story portrays contemporary life, the constrictions of the economic system, and our own struggles with identity.  Murata is one of Japan’s most celebrated authors, and this is the first English translation of one of her works.

Simon Brett, Liar In the Library.  Brett is back with one of his British “cozy” mysteries, and how can you not read it – it is set in a library!  Jude visits the Fethering Library to support an old friend while he gives an author talk.  But of course, the evening ends with a murder, and Jude is surprised to find that she is the main suspect.  She seeks help to solve the mystery from her neighbor as evidence piles up against her.  A nice read for a wintry evening.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney.  On December 31st of 1984, Lillian, a woman in her mid-80s, is on her way to a party.  But she takes a detour and instead of winding up at the party, she takes a long walk around Manhattan – and in doing so, she takes us through the long history of America and NYC from the 1930s to the 80s, including the Great Depression, war, the AIDS epidemic, Jazz and hip-hop.  Lillian is an impromptu poet and a successful business woman who is a bit estranged from her family, but who appreciates the various characters she meets and those she remembers, on her 10 mile walk.  We get to witness it all as we join her on her journey.

Sophie Kinsella, I Owe You One.  Fixie is busy running the family housewares shop and keeping her quirky siblings somewhat in line.  She’s good at it, but maybe not so good at fixing up her own personal life and figuring out just how to develop her own relationships.  There are lots of fun secondary characters, and like much of Kinsella’s work, this is a light-hearted rom-com, with underlying themes of family, self-perception, and personal empowerment.

Reviews of recent additions to our collection, Jan. 24, 2019


We have two new books of poetry.  One is New Poets of Native Nations, an anthology edited by Heid E. Erdrich.  It is a collection of poems by contemporary writers from various Native peoples.  All of the work was written since the start of the 21st century.  The poetry encompasses a wide range of subjects and structure – social justice, connection with the world, traditional patterns of rhythm & repetition, some experimental verse, and narrative pieces.  Some of it is tough and raw, and taken together it is all beautiful and eye-opening.  I’ve re-read Diaz’s “American Arithmetic” and Westerman’s “Linear Process” numerous times.

Our current US Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, has just published a new volume of poetry, entitled Wade in the Water.  Her free verse is filled with spirit, pain, history, and truth.  Some of the poems are epistolary , set in and around the Civil War, based on real letters written back and forth between African-American soldiers and their family members.  Other poems are based on various news items about difficult real events.  Her poetry is straightforward, beautiful, and often heart wrenching.  The title poem is my favorite.

A couple of new NonFiction titles:
A good read – Jane Brox’s Silence: a social history of one of the least understood elements of our lives.  Brox’s research skills are remarkable, and she is able to bring history and insight together for creative, thoughtful nonfiction.  In her consideration of silence, she takes us from prison reform in early America to the silence of monasteries, and the impact of those environments on both men and women, throughout history and in our present day.  We have one other title by this Maine author, entitled Brilliance.  It would be a great read after finishing this story of silence and our struggle with imposing and embracing it within our own lives.

Visionary Women by Andrea Barnet is a well-researched account of how four women influenced the sea-change in American culture and thinking in the 1960s, and have since inspired an interconnected “green movement” of building culture, environment, and relationship.  We are led to see how Maine’s Rachel Carson, as well as Alice Waters, Jane Goodall, and Jane Jacobs introduced us to a holistic approach to building a sustainable & caring society.  There is much more than biography & history here.  Barnet’s book is a consideration of how we can be inspired to deepen our connections together.

For our young readers:

Author Lesa Cline-Ransome has won a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for some of her previous  fiction.  We’ve just gotten her juvenile novel, Finding Langston.  It is a story from the point of view of a young middle school boy named Langston, who had to move with his father from rural Alabama to Chicago in the late 1940s.  Because he is “too country”, he is rejected and hassled by other children, and as a way to escape, he starts spending all of his time in the library, where he discovers the glorious poetry of Langston Hughes.  He starts to build relationships with the librarian, a neighbor, and finally, one of the boys at school who also loves to read.  Meanwhile, he pieces together his deceased mother’s life, by reading her letters which his dad had hidden away since her death.  This is a quiet story that offers progress and hope in the face of difficulty.

Next up, The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, by Christina Uss.  Bicycle, the 12 year old girl who is the main character, gets up to all kinds of hijinks and adventures as she rides her old bike, Clunk, across the country in search of true friends.  Along the way she sends postcards to her guardian, Sister Wanda, back at the monastery where she grew up.  She finds plenty of companions as she travels – a ghost, bandits, and various animals – and she comes to understand the value of home, too.  Bicycle has an adventurous spirit, and it is wonderful to watch her piece together her understanding of life as it happens.

We had a good number of gorgeous picture books in the new book order, and all of them are lovely, funny, informational, and sweet.  These four are a good representation of the new additions:

Jacqueline Woodson is known mainly for her juvenile novels (we have a number of her books: adult, juvenile, and one other picture book), but her picture books are also compelling.  In her new title, The Day You Begin, she explores trying to find acceptance & figure out your own way, when you feel you are the only different child in a group.  Lopez’s graceful, colorful illustrations provide reassurance & are an intrinsic part of the storytelling.

Seth Fishman’s A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars (you gotta love that title itself) is such an amazing introduction to the immensity of the universe, and our place in it here on earth.  Isabel Greenberg’s illustrations are bright against the blackness of the sky (and the soil beneath us).  The book opens our eyes to the complexity & connectedness of life around us.  Beautiful.

Yuyi Moralex’ Dreamers is a quiet, simple story of a journey undertaken by a mother and her young child, as immigrants, and how they find a way to open their new lives to possibility at the library, where they rely on books and an open, nonjudgmental atmosphere so they can learn about their new life.  Morales uses a whole palate of shades of gorgeous color & detail & imagination (a monarch butterfly is there when they discover the library!), and all of it is supported by a quiet background of rich hues of pale browns  A truly lovely book.

Lastly, a sweet, colorful book that might be a good way to end a hectic day:  The Littlest Things Give the Loveliest Hugs by Mark Sperring, illustrated by Maddie Frost.  This story is a simple rendition of how we show love, and we get to see how all sorts of earth’s inhabitants hug & cuddle – bright insects, seals, foxes, koalas, nocturnal creatures, and yes, it ends with humans, at the end of the day.

One Adult Fiction

Leif Enger’s novel Virgil Wander: a novel is engaging.  Enger’s writing is whimsical and he tells a good story of all the characters in a failing small town in Minnesota. Virgil is well known in town, and is quietly supported by other townsfolk as he recovers from a bad accident and the resulting serious concussion.  As he recovers, not always safely or according to doctor’s orders, we are introduced to — among others — Nadine, a widow; young Galen, who loves to fish; Virgil’s good friend Tom; and Rune, a kite-maker and stranger in search of his disappeared son. While Virgil recovers, his language skills start to recover, and he is absolutely enthralled with adjectives!  Enger’s writing is understated and spot-on, and he brings the people of this town into clear focus. It might be a bit before I get this book back to the library, but meanwhile, we also have his Peace Like a River, also beautifully constructed, so you can start with that, and by then, I’ll have returned this great story.

Reviews of Some of Our New Items, December, 2018

Alexander McCall Smith departs from his usual two mystery series with his newest title, The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse.  He tackles the time and challenges of WW2 in rural England, and its impact on the characters by giving a sort of panoramic view of their lives from the end of the war through several decades beyond.  Val is a Land Girl (farm worker) who meets an American Air Force pilot, and we see the daily impactof the war on both her community and the soldiers at the military base – rationing eggs, limited access to transportation, and meager income.  She falls in love with Mike, who is subsequently stranded in Holland and is presumed dead.  He is aided by Resistance workers and a German officer, Ubi, who continues to figure in their lives for years after. We follow the stories of Val, Mike, Ubi, Val’s small family, and – the adventures of Peter Woodhouse, a border collie who goes from herding sheep to flying with the airmen as their much-loved support.

The Rain Watcher, by Tatiana de Rosnay, the author of Sarah’s Key, The House I loved, and The Other Story (we have each of those), is a story told with the author’s usual depth.  This is a poignant story of a strained & damaged family, coming together across continents, to celebrate the 70th birthday of the patriarch of the family, Paul Malegarde, who is a renowned  arborist living in Paris.  Paul’s son Linden comes from the US, reluctant to address family strain, and convinced his parents still won’t recognize his own successes in life.  While various family members try to avoid their pain and conflict, they also face the natural catastrophe of the rising levels of the Seine and flooding of Paris.   The family must work through their years of pain together and perhaps find redemption in the face of a natural calamity that threatens to truly tear them apart.

John Connelly’s new novel, simply entitled He, is historical fiction told in lyrical prose, conjuring the story of American comedians Laurel & Hardy.  We see the Golden Age of Hollywood through the personal, sometimes poetical, voice inside Laurel’s head.  The novel is well-researched, but puts its own spin on what the comic’s life was like.  Reflective and sometimes poignant, the novel considers the musings o Laurel late in his life.

Reviewers are calling Nick Dybeck’s The Verdun Affair a literary romance.  This story follows two Americans, Tom and Sarah, whose paths cross after WWI in Verdun, France.  Their complex relationship takes them across a damaged Europe, as Sarah searches for her husband who was injured in the war.  Over the following years, Tom cannot forget his time with Sarah.  Dybeck studies love & consequences, and delves into who we really are in the face of a shattered world which we can no longer know or understand.  The NYT calls this a novel of “operatic complexity”, and the Seattle Times says it is “wistfully noirish”.

Louise Erdrich doesn’t pull any punches, and her last fiction Future Home of the Living God, continues her hard-hitting exploration of the human condition.  This is dystopian fiction, about a society that is disintegrating due to fear and authoritarian rule put in place because of a cataclysmic reversal in evolution of all species, including humans.  The protagonist is Cedar, a young Ojibwe woman who had been adopted and raised in Minneapolis.  Cedar is pregnant, and is desperately trying to connect with her birth mother, hoping to find a way to protect her child and herself from the increasingly toxic powers that trap all women and deny all individual agency.  Tough and relevant, Erdrich brings us to the brink of absolute change and devastation, while trying to keep hope alive.

Another dystopian novel, The Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates, gives us a spirited young woman who resists the constraints of her life in a future oppressive society, and is therefore sent back 80 years to a seemingly ideal small town in Wisconsin, in order for her to begin rehabilitation.  But she and a fellow time traveler find ways to resist even in this all-too-perfect environment.

Two new NonFiction titles:

We have a bit of a wait list on Michelle Obama’s Becoming, a much admired memoir of the former first lady, covering her childhood in Chicago’s South Side, as well as her personal and professional challenges as a lawyer, wife, & mother, and occupant of the White House.  Reviews were enthusiastic, calling her work inspiring and powerful.  Our readers so far have loved this memoir.

In her latest treatise, Leadership in Turbulent Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin considers the qualities and impact of leadership by studying 4 US presidents – Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and LB Johnson.  She covers both the recognition of their abilities as leaders, and also reflects on the times they stumbled and were lost in regards to their next steps.  We see both their accomplishments and their own ambitions, as well as the personal & political challenges they faced.  They each showed a great deal of resilience & persistence throughout their lives, a lesson Goodwin feels is a basic tenant of authentic leadership.

A Quick Synopsis of a Few New Titles, 11/19/18:

We just got two new Richard Paul Evans Christmas novels, if you want a cozy holiday read.  The titles are the Noel Diary and The Noel Stranger.  And, we just got the newest title in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith!  The Colors of All the Cattle sees Precious running for City Counsel when a big developer plans to put a hotel near a local graveyard, and her husband Charlie is meanwhile investigating a case that causes him a lot of trouble.  Elizabeth Berg’s latest, Night of Miracles, takes up where her previous book about Arthur Truluv left off — a baking class instructor, along with the entire community, faces the challenges of an inadequate economy, and the small town pulls together to support each other.  There are also new novels by Tana French (The Witch Elm)  and Lee Child (Past Tense).  Come take a look!

Early November reviews of new books:

Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart: Poems, by Alice Walker.  Walker always packs a wallop, whether she writes fiction, essays, or, in this case, poetry.  One of the beautiful aspects of this book is that every one of the poems is translated into Spanish, on the facing page.  My favorite quote from “The World Rising” is “we must be done, with cruelty”.  And so far, two of my favorite poems in this collection are “Lodestar” (about inner spirit) and “The Circle” (how we learn from our ancestors and elders about how to come together).

These poems are tough, filled with the suffering of traditionally powerless people.  She focuses on their historic struggles.  But then she reminds us that we are all in this together, we can share hope and wisdom and a way forward in the midst of pain.

We have some of her fiction and essays also in our collection, you can check them out.

The Mermaid, by Christina Henry.  This general fiction title is a bit of a fairy tale, and a bit of history.  A mermaid leaves the sea behind, but then meets up with PT Barnum, and is convinced to join his circus so he can make lots of money.  But meanwhile, she forges relationships with others and wonders about  living her own life – and if she wants to leave the show, can she?  And how will her own life unfold?  Reviews call this “magical” and “original”.  It is a nicely written, wonderful story.

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela, by Nelson Mandela, edited by Sahm Venter.  We get small summaries of relevant history from the editor, by way of introducing particular letters or periods of Mandela’s incarceration.  Mandela’s correspondence reflects the strength of the human spirit through his straightforward persistance.  In the midst of his own painful struggle throughout his many years in prison, he became an advocate for prisoners’ human rights as well as his own rights, he comforted others while they grieved over loss, and he offered so many moments of hope and belief that we can all come to a better place personally and as members of society.  There is something about reading people’s correspondence that is so appealing and heartening, it brings clarity somehow.  Now, when I finish this, I will re-read Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”.

The Quiet Side of Passion, by Alexander McCall Smith.  Here is the latest Isabel Dalhousie mystery set in Scotland.  Isabel is at it again, in between juggling her many roles in life, looking into a many-faceted scenario of family relations around a single mother who has taken up with a possible con artist and whose claims about her son’s paternity might not be truthful at all.  Isabel unravels the troubles with her usual kindness and insight, while she keeps up with family responsibilities.  I especially appreciate that she still writes for the scholarly journal, Review of Applied Ethics.

Ann Rice.  Blood Communion: a Tale of Prince Lestat.  It’s been a few years since Rice has updated us on Lestat and his dark world.  In this tale, Lestat narrates his own convoluted rise to power, as well as his struggles  with a particular powerful demon in his court who threatens everything Lestat has carefully assembled.

The Book of Hidden Things, by Francesco Dimitri.  Here is an intriguing fantasy read, with the alluring setting of southern Italy, about a group of friends searching for their dear friend Art and delving into various clues they find, including an odd manuscript of a book of hidden things that was stashed in his cluttered house.  It is all complicated because they can’t call the police to help, since Art apparently grew marijuana in abundance, and there are stories of his amazing magical healing powers.  This book is about friendship, and leaves us wondering if we can ever get to the heart of someone’s life mysteries, regardless of love and commitment and acceptance?

New titles from some of our popular suspense writers:

James Patterson’s Ambush is another episode in the Michael Bennett series.  The mystery strikes too close to home, one of his own children is injured when a killer goes on a spree, and it begins to look like Michael might actually be the intended target.

Holy Ghost by John Sanford takes place in a tiny remote town in Minnesota, where town members are intent on creating some attention and a new economy based on religious pilgrimages.  But their plan is waylaid by the discovery of a dead body.  Here comes Virgil Flowers to investigate and set things to rights!

In his newest title, Dark Sacred Night, Michael Connelly brings together two favorite characters from other series, Bosch and Ballard.  This is the start of a brand new series.  It involves an unsolved murder of a teen runaway, which brings retired Detective Bosch and LAPD detective Renee Ballard together to find the killer and bring him to justice.  As the case progresses, they forge a partnership that faces its own trials.  This might be a good development to follow for these two characters!

Desperate Measures is Stuart Woods’ new title in the Stone Barrington series.  It is always fast moving, as Barrington tries to protect a new and intriguing acquaintance from some dark intrigue happening on the streets of New York.


Reviews of a Few New Books, October 18, 2018

Eliot Coleman, The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.  This is the 3rd updated edition of a classic how-to book by one of Maine’s premier organic gardeners. It will help you build the skill set for small-scale growing. His info is always relevant and easy to follow.  We’ve gotten it just in time to get you started on your plans for next year’s garden!

Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered.  One of our beloved authors is back with another thoughtful work.  This one covers characters across time – from a science teacher who admires Darwin’s controversial work in the 1800s, to the financial crisis of a family currently facing great hardship and uncertainty in spite of hard work.  The stories are all about resilience and caring in the face of tremendous change and controversy.

Kate Morton, The Clockmaker’s Daughter.  Morton is so good at capturing mood and time, while carefully building her stories.  Here, we see the stories of characters, from the late 1800s to the early 21st century, all set in the same house by the Thames.  It includes a murder and mystery as well as the connections & betrayals between people over time, and all the stories are told by the various characters.  Always it harkens back to one forgotten woman, Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendatore.  Reviewers call Murakami one of the most imaginative of the 21st century writers, and it is easy to see why.  His complex story includes magical realism (including the physical representation of an idea) as well as intrigue, mystery, and many-layered adventures – often told in a rather understated tone, when he isn’t leaving us with a cliffhanger.  His writing is called eccentric, wild, masterful, and thrilling.  We also have his 1Q84 in our collection.

Sonya Sones, the Hunchback of Neiman Marcus.  Sones is best known for her YA fiction, but she departs that genre here.  This is a verse novel about a hectic life of marriage, parenting, and caretaking, for an author suffering from writer’s block in her mid-life years.  It is a quick contemporary tale, filled with wry (sometimes cringe-worthy) humor, a few bad choices, and the angst of middle age life.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Labyrinth of Spirits.  We have five of his books, some of which are earlier parts of his Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  This is the finale in the series.  It introduces new characters, brought together to solve a web of mystery and danger that has developed over time – and of course it involves rare books that have vanished under dark circumstances.  The characters are capable of such treachery and underhanded acts, they can’t trust each other, and must keep each other at a distance, doe to their own pain and loss, while trying to save others.  The stories deepen and connect as Alicia, our main character who had been seriously injured as a child in Barcelona, pieces it all together with the help of policemen she can’t wholly trust and a family of booksellers.  Zafon’s writing makes you slow down to take in detail and mood and nuance.

Two new books by agrarian writer Wendell Berry, August 28, 2018:

The World-Ending Fire:  the Essential Wendell Berry

The Art of Loading Brush

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer, college professor, and writer extraordinaire.  His essays over the years have provided inspiration to the national farming, environmental, and local economy movements.  The World-Ending Fire is a collection of writings selected from his earlier books, and The Art of Loading Brush contains current writing.  His essays are always thoughtful meditations on rural community and the stunning web of life.


Online Recommendations

Just read something you liked and want to read something similar? Try The Book Seer.

Looking for something new and exciting to read? Want to keep track of what you like and what you have read? Try going to GoodReads and exploring this very useful site with many book descriptions and recommendations. If we don’t have the book here in the library we may be able to get it for you via Interlibrary Loan!

The Greatest Books of All Time: This list is generated from 107 “best of” book lists from a variety of great sources. Find both fiction and non-fiction lists here.

New York Times 100 Notable books of 2015The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. This list represents books reviewed since Dec. 7, 2014. 

LibraryThing – The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time Mystery Writers of America. LibraryThing is another site that will let you catalog the books you have read.  Enter what you’re reading or your whole library. It’s an easy, library-quality catalog.

National Geographic’s List of All Time Best Adventure Books  – Extreme Classics: The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time

YALSA 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults – Young Adult Library Services Association a division of the American Library Association selects best fiction for young adults each year.