Hi there! These Staff Picks were migrated when this website went live in 2019. Enjoy the archive:
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-first Century by Jessica Bruder (2017) This is a compelling look at how people contend with loss and poverty and being “house-less” in the current times. How people manage while living on the road, moving from job to job, and avoiding conflicts with settled communities is clearly and honestly presented by Bruder, and lets one see how others live. The positive attitude of the central figure in the reporter’s narrative is both uplifting and disturbing. Well worth the time to read! Recommended by Hollis–Director
Touch: A Novel by Alexi Zenter (2011) is a beautifully told story of a man coming home for the death of his mother. Set in the northwestern woods of Canada and spanning three generations of a family, the narrator tells of us the mysteries and horrors and beauty of settling in the deep forests where native legends lead people down various paths in life. Recommended by Hollis–Director
Cannibalism : A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt (2017) is the study of why species eat others of their own kind. The reasons vary, and all the causes are as surprising as they are odd. An excellently well-written book about a very peculiar subject that spans insects, fish, mammals, and birds. Just amazing! And not gruesome (unless you are truly of the faint of heart). Natural history at its finest. Recommended by Hollis–Director
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (2015) is the first book in the Veronica Speedwell Mystery series. This historical fiction set in 1880s London follows an orphaned natural historian as she discovers her origins. I enjoyed the unconventional female protagonist and author’s writing style. I’m looking forward to reading more about Veronica’s adventures in the second book – A Perilous Undertaking (2017) and also reading her Lady Julia Grey series which starts with Silent in the Grave (2007). Recommended by Valerie–Youth Services
The Lake House by Kate Morton The Lake House (2015) involves a crime known only to those closest to the victim; not even the sisters of the family understand the terrible loss of their baby brother, Theo. In England, between the two World Wars, a family loses not only a child, but their entire way of life. It is not until many decades later that Sadie Sparrow sidles around the law to discover what Alice Edevane has wanted to know since she was 16 years old. A complicated plot, characters who struggle, and a fine resolution take the Lake House from its brilliant beginning to its quiet ending. Recommended by Hollis
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (2016) Oh, Lily. Such a little dog for so much love! This is a lovely, sweet book about how one can love a dog no matter what happens. The struggle for Lily and Ted (her person) is against the “octopus” that never ceases it campaign against them. A beautifully sad, incredibly compassionate book which offers hope for love, even in the face of sorrow. (If you don’t cry, there is something wrong with you). Recommended by Hollis
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (2017) A marvelous reworking of the Russian fairytales about Father Frost and his “bride.” Vasya, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, who is blessed with the sight for magical things, struggles with her rigidly religious step-mother whose fear the old ways endangers the village. The brothers who bring death and fear to all who live near the great woods are brought to task as only they can be in a fairy tale. Recommended by Hollis
Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas by Eleanor Rosamund Baraclough (2016) Beyond the Northlands is a marvelously well-written book about the Vikings and their many travels across the world. The span from Greenland and Iceland to the shores of Canada, and east to Russian cities, and south to Byzantium and Baghdad are offered with a balance of historical documentation and the sagas—which were the history of the time—to make the Vikings come alive again. If you have any interest in these intrepid travelers, do check out this book. Very readable! Recommended by Hollis
The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman: A Novel by Mamen Sanchez (2016) Britain and Spain meet in this delightful book about business deals gone wrong, love gone here-and-there, and happy endings found after tribulations. Who is bad? Who loves whom? Who went where? Where will it end? Sanchez brings a dry humor to all the carrying-ons that happen herein. Romantic comedy with a fine and well-laid plot done up with a light hand and a keen eye. Recommended by Hollis
The Vanished : The “Evaporated People” of Japan in Stories and Photographs by Lena Mauger and Stephane Remael (2016) The Vanished documents the Japanese way of avoiding dishonor by disappearing from society—husbands, children, mothers, even families may choose to disappear rather than face the shame of losing face. The “vanished” cross all lines of wealth, education, and status. This is an interesting and disturbing book about an entire group that exists within Japanese society. Recommended by Hollis
The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks (2015) Annabelle Aster accepts the 1890s Kansas wheat field that appears in her modern-day San Francisco garden. She is surprised that she cannot reach the house in the field. Elsbeth, the 1890s retired schoolmarm sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds, which Annie dutifully answers.
But can these two women solve the mystery of a dead man, the strange red door, and fix the lemoncholy lives of all involved? A novel in which time travel is vital and utterly incidental to the story. Recommended by Hollis — Director
When Calls the Heart: Lost & Found (DVD) Based on the Janette Oke series, big-city schoolteacher Elizabeth Thatcher travels by coach to a small mining town in 1910.
She has a rocky time both in the school and in making allies of the women who may be evicted from their homes after a mine explosion kills their husbands. Not to mention the newly appointed Mountie who clearly states that it is Elizabeth’s fault that he was not allowed to serve in the city as he’d hoped. Excellent beginning to a hopefully great series. Recommended by Jane–Cataloging
A Pitying of Doves by Steve Burrows 2015 In this second outing of the birder murder mysteries, Inspector Jejeune has to maneuver through both international politics and avian genetics to solve the murder of a young woman researcher and a diplomat from Mexico. Another thoughtful outing in the Norfolk birding community, with a cast of characters that are as hard to sort as a flock of flying birds. Recommended by Hollis–Director
Spinster : Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick 2015 This is a fascinating examination of the author’s life as an unmarried woman, seen through the lens of authors she has read. She considers what makes a spinster in the modern world—beyond the legal definition of an unmarried woman, and why this may be a good thing to strive after. But, she balances this insight with her honest appraisal of long-term relationships that have shaped her life so far. It would be a marvelous book for a book club discussion. Recommended by Hollis, Director
Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule: A Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini (2015) is about the wife of Ulysses S. Grant and her slave, called Jule. The characters come alive in this very interesting read set in the 19th century. The book follows the lives and difficulties encountered by Julia Dent Grant, her husband General Grant, and Jule, who was a childhood playmate and slave owned by Julia’s father. A very good read. Recommended by Kayleen, Circulation
Maid of Honor series by Jennifer McGowan Maid of Secrets (2013) is the first book in a YA series about a group of girls who serve Queen Elizabeth as spies. It’s historical fiction with just a smidge of magic and romance. I also enjoyed the second book in the series, Maid of Deception (2014). The third book, Maid of Wonder, will be out in September. Recommended by Valerie, Youth Services
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones ; illustrated by Katie Kath 2015
Through letters, written to those who shouldn’t ever reply, Sophie Brown, age twelve, seeks advice and sorts out conflicts in her daily life. An unemployed parent, an overworked parent, making new friends in the farmlands of California, and thieves are Sophie’s daily problems. And glass eggs??? Unusual chickens indeed! Really fun to read. Recommended by Hollis H., Director
I’m reading the series Chronicles of the Kings by Lynn Austin. My favorite so far is Song of Redemption. King Hezekiah must choose whether to follow the God of Israel or the practices of his contemporaries. Recommended by Jane S–Cataloging
Here are the 5 books in the series.
Gods and Kings
Song of Redemption
The Strength of His Hand
Faith of My Fathers
Among the Gods
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Juvenile Fiction) 2014 Milo, the main character, is the adopted son of the owners of the Greenglass House, an inn frequented by smugglers and other interesting characters. I don’t want to give away the story, but some items are stolen from guests and there’s a treasure map involved. Milo tries to solve these mysteries with the help of a friend. I was honestly surprised by the plot twists and think that adults will enjoy the story as much as children. Recommended for ages 10 and up. Recommended by Valerie—Youth Services
Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America by Glenn Beck 2013 The book covers twelve stories in our 250 years as a nation. Some are not well known events, and not all are about heroic deeds, but all have a message or lesson we can learn from today. These stories are told in an interesting manner and relate many happenings little-known about our history. A good read. Recommended by Kayleen–Circulation
Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger (Young Adult) Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies, Waistcoats & Weaponry A group of teen girls attend an early Victorian-age finishing school where they learn how to be proper ladies and assassins. There’s steampunk, werewolves, vampires, and shenanigans… what’s not to like? Recommended by Valerie–Youth Services (And by Hollis—Director, who says: These are witty and fun and a delight to read!)
The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (Young Adult) The Winner’s Curse is about a seventeen year old girl who has two choices: join the army or get married. Her father is a general and she lives in a land which was recently conquered by her father’s army. The natives are now slaves and play a major part in the story. I enjoyed the fast pace and the strong female main character. The sequel, The Winner’s Crime, will be available in March 2015. Recommended by Valerie–Youth Services
Here by Richard McGuire 2014 In one room, the tale of eons is told by McGuire. Here shows the single place where lives are lived, families grow (and shrink), forests exist, and swamps flood over as time passes. With the sparsest text, the changes that occur in one place are made incredibly clear through the drawings that tell you the years when each panel takes place. Recommended by Hollis–Director
Popular: A Memoir: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (Young Adult Nonfiction) 2014 Maya is an eighth grader who discovers a vintage guide to being popular, and she decides to follow the advice offered. The book is basically a journal of her experiences. I found it very interesting, and was impressed with how she was able to incorporate things I thought were strange – like white gloves (and a girdle!) into her life. Recommended by Valerie–Youth Services
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Young Adult) 2012 I loved this book! It’s about a girl named Blue who lives in a smallish town and a group of four friends who attend the local private school. Gansey, the leader of this group, is looking for the resting place of the Welsh kind Glendower. If you are interested in Welsh folklore, you’ll enjoy this book. You will also like the next two books in the series – The Dream Thieves (2013) and Blue Lily, Lily Blue (2014). Recommended by Valerie–Youth Services
Mermaids in Paradise: A Novel by Lydia Millet 2014 Can your average well-to-do (and rather shallow) young woman and her athletic new husband find honeymoon joy at the Caribbean island resort? To be honest, it doesn’t look very good for a happy time in paradise—not with the strange and the overbearing guests everywhere. But there are mermaids! And that just means trouble: kidnappings, flotillas of mobsters, and horridly healthy food to start. A delight. Recommended by Hollis, Library Director
A Siege of Bitterns: A Birder Murder Mystery by Steve Burrows (2014) has a murder even the celebrated Inspector Domenic Jejeune cannot solve. Set on the salt marshes near Norfolk in England, there are many candidates but no solutions. The inspector must focus on the discrepencies to find the answer. Birders and pollution, popular idols and development; they are all a part of this strange little mystery. Recommended by Hollis—Director
Memory of Water: A Novel by Emmi Itäranta (2014) This is an astonishing work that considers the world when water is controlled by the military. The focus is a young woman Noria Kaitio, who studies to become a tea master under her father. The secret of a hidden spring unfurls a revolution which is so quiet that even those revolting are unaware. Beautifully written, it has the depth and intensity of Ian McEwan’s or Kate Morton’s work. Recommended by Hollis–Director
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (2013) tells the story of timeless love between two young people who live on a Scandinavian island. Covering thousands of years, the two meet again and again to reenact the love they have for each other—against odds that are truly insurmountable. A ghost, a vampire, and a war are some of what they face, along with the dragon orchid that grows only on their island. It is beautifully written and stunning in its complexity, with chapters that are often only 3-4 pages long.
Recommended by Hollis –Director
The Traitor’s Wife : A Novel : The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America by Allison Pataki (2014) is historical fiction about Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold. Shippen, a Philadelphia socialite, is half Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. This novel tells the story of America’s betrayal by the former Revolutionary War hero turned traitor and his wife Peggy Shippen Arnold, who was the mastermind and driving force behind the act of treason. Recommended by Kayleen –Circulation
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang 2014
This is a delightful book about a hen who named herself Sprout. She lives in a cage and lays eggs. From her cage she can see the barnyard animals roaming free. It is her dream to leave the cage for the freedom of the barnyard and one day hatch one egg and have her own chick to raise. It is a story of love, friendship, parenting, sacrifice, and self-giving. A very good read. Recommended by Kayleen—Circulation
A Fairy Tale by Jonas T. Bengtsson ; translated by Charlotte Barslund. 2014 This very well written novel of human affairs in modern times is astonishing in its clarity and insight. As a child, our nameless narrator, moves through the world of his father’s making; here and there, by chance and flight, the boy names himself so he may interact with others. By telling of his adventures, we learn about his family and we see his life develop. We cannot see the consequences of his lessons—and they are truly profound. A story as powerful as any fairy tale by the Grimms.
Recommended by Hollis H.–Director
Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr 2014
The latest book from Nevada Barr is called Destroyer Angel. Unlike her previous Anna Pigeon stories, Anna and friends have gone on a vacation – two women friends and their daughters. One evening while Anna takes some time off by herself canoeing, the other women/girls are taken hostage by several men who have obviously been hired by someone else to extort money. The entire book revolves around Anna silently stalking the group as they move from camp to camp and eliminating as many of the men as she can without them knowing she is out there. Her books are always “hard to put down” stories. Recommended by Kris—Children’s Librarian
I Don’t Know : In Praise of Admitting Ignorance and Doubt (Except When You Shouldn’t) by Leah Hager Cohen 2013
I Don’t Know is a short, interesting book about how we learn to pretend we know things when we don’t. At a very young age, people learn that showing ignorance is unacceptable. Why? Cohen takes us through the steps of this process, and shows us why this isn’t really in our best interests—except, of course, when it is. ocess, and shows us why this isn’t really in our best interests—except, of course, when it is.
Recommended by Hollis — Director
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini 2013
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker is an engrossing historical novel about a former slave, Elizabeth Keckley, who used her skill with a needle to purchase her own & her son’s freedom from slavery. Prior to the outbreak of the civil war Keckley lived in Washington, D C and sewed for such notable ladies as Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. After Lincoln was sworn in as president, she became the “modiste” for Mary Lincoln and spent much time in the White House with Mrs. Lincoln. The book brings the characters and times to life for the reader as it takes one through the War and shows its effect on the nation and the Lincoln family. A must read for anyone interested in the Lincolns and the Civil War.
Recommended by Kayleen–Circulation
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown 2013
Kidnapped and forced to cook for pirates does not sound like the beginning of a happy life. And perhaps “happy” is not the correct word to describe Owen Wedgwood’s experiences with Mad Hannah Mabbot, pirate of the oceans. Educational—exciting—exceptional. For a short time, Owen sails the seas aboard Mad Hannah’s ship, fixing one meal a week, planning to escape, and struggling to stay alive. Who will succeed? Will gunpowder or cinnamon triumph? A wonderful read, full of adventure and history.
Recommended by Hollis
The Seventh Trumpet : a Mystery of Ancient Ireland by Peter Tremayne 2013
Once again Peter Tremayne has written an interesting story of Sister Fidelma set in the 800’s in Celtic Ireland. This particular story deals with murders and conspiracies right in their own back yard, near Cashel, the home of the King. From the murder of an unknown official, to the murder of a new although strange local priest, to the murder of a young teen boy. As always, there are twist and turns and many interesting characters who may or may not have been involved. Sister Fidelma’s life is threatened as she is mistaken for one who is trying to stop the murder of the King and they must be careful in who they trust and ask for help from. We get to learn more about the King himself, Fidelma’s brother, than in previous books. All of Peter’s books are based on the history of this time.
Recommended by Kris
Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century written by Peter Graham 2013
Recently, I learned that the well known author Anne Perry had spent time in prison as a teen in New Zealand for the murder of her best friend’s mother. Her best friend was also convicted. It is quite a strange story of these two young girls – in the 1950’s, the homes they were raised in, especially Anne Perry whose real name is Julie Hulme. Julie and Pauline were obsessed with each other, and had decided the only way they were going to remain together, was to rid them of the one person they thought was trying to keep them apart. In actuality, it was Julie’s parents who were divorcing and her father was planning a move to South Africa with Julie, leaving Pauline behind. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century written by Peter Graham is well worth reading if you are a fan of true life mysteries.
Recommended by Kris
Simone St. James newest book, An Inquiry into Love and Death , is another wonderful “old-fashioned” Gothic novel. Like her first, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, it is set in rural England, but this book takes place in the 1920’s. Her uncle has died, and she must leave her very radical life as a woman student in Oxford to collect his belongings. But will the angry spirit that haunts the town let her do this? Will the people of Rothewell let her do this? Our heroine, Jillian Leigh, struggles with family secrets, frightening threats, and an inspector from Scotland Yard. A great novel for an afternoon read.
Recommended by Hollis–Director
The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig 2013
Manhattan lawyer Clementine Evans loses her grandmother Addie, and contends with her family’s secrets, while struggling with her business life and her crumbling personal life. In a radical change from her Pink Carnation series, Willig tackles 20th century life with all the complexities and confusion the modern world creates. If you like Kate Morton’s books, try Willig’s The Ashford Affair for an equally intriguing, but lighter, examination of who one’s ancestors really are.
Recommended by Hollis–Director
The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian. 2013
This is an interesting and disturbing look at how society works with governing powers to manage how people live. It seems a bit like Orwell’s 1948, or Huxley’s Brave New World, at times, but it takes the reader beyond both those works by considering the matter of compassion. Is it a greater love to destroy those who might suffer than to let them care for themselves? Does our judgment change if the same principles are applied to all societies? Philosophy abounds in this highly-readable novel.
Recommended by Hollis–Director
The Searchers : the Making of an American Legend
Glenn Frankel has written a comprehensive book about the making of the movie The Searchers, starring John Wayne and Jeffery Hunter to name two of the stars, and the story behind the original book by Alan LeMay. The book is based in part on the life of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by the Comanche’s in the 1800’s, in west Texas. She was later rekidnapped back to her white family leaving behind her two grown sons. She never made the adjustment and her white family regretted every bringing her back and separating her from her Comanche family. Her eldest son, Quanah, later became a wealthy man, straddling both worlds, but never getting to see his mother before she died. It is an interesting part of Texas history of families coming from the east to farm and raise cattle, and the conflicts they had with the Native tribes, and the Mexican settlers who were here much earlier. It is also an interesting part of director John Ford’s life and how he and John Wayne made the western come back to life in the 50’s.
Recommended by Kris F—Children’s Services
The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block 2012
Ariel Silverman loses her best friend, Jeni, just before college begins in Berkeley. She may lose others for whom she cares deeply. Have others lost as much? Have they lost more? Like all Block’s novels, the strange edges of life define Ariel’s experiences in her first year of college, and her continual search for answers. Realistic and magical; life collides and careens with dreams.
Recommended by Hollis, Director
The Orchardist: a Novel by Amanda Coplin 2012
This novel about an orchard-keeper uses a singular and unusual style which perfectly fits the beautiful and horrifying events that define the characters living in the turn-of-the-century Pacific Northwest. William Talmadge, the orchardist, and Caroline an herbalist and his friend, live their lives among the emotional shadows of the past. They are, therefore, the perfect individuals to offer sanctuary to the two starving sister who appear in the orchard. But, as in life, shadows grow in flickering, inconstant ways and they die only in pure light.
Recommended by Hollis, Director