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Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

Lady Bird and Lyndon : the hidden story of a marriage that made a president


While countless books have been written on both Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson individually, very little has been published about their relationship with one another and how it shaped American history. 

However, in her new book, Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President, Betty Boyd Caroli seeks to do just that, showing how Lady Bird’s charm and intelligence helped smooth over Lyndon’s rough edges, further his career in Washington, and even carve out one of the most substantial records ever for a sitting First Lady.

This book covers the time period from Lyndon’s birth in 1908 to Lady Bird’s death in 2007.  Caroli, who is the author of The Roosevelt Women and other biographical works on First Ladies, explores not only Lady Bird’s role in her husband’s career (she was instrumental in creating the environment in which he needed to thrive) but also her own personal achievements. Those accomplishments are remarkable on their own; Lady Bird oversaw massive land beautification projects and was also instrumental in the passing of conservation legislation. At the same time, she ran a multimillion dollar media empire that she created from a single unproductive Austin radio station that she purchased in 1943.

scarafile  lyndon johnson  lady bird  biography  adult


Saving Sophie By Ronald Balson

sophieThis is the newest legal thriller by Chicago trial attorney Ronald Balson, who wrote When We Were Brothers, a huge success at our library. I expect nothing less from Saving Sophie, which was published as a paperback original in September.
Main character Jack Sommers was one of two attorneys on a huge deal in which 88 million dollars of the clients money went missing. The client, a prominent manufacturer who dabbles in fixing sporting events, is furious – and wants his money! The other attorney in the deal was murdered, and Jack has disappeared. Where could he be? Enter the team of hunky Chicago Private Investigator Liam Taggart, and his love, beautiful Attorney Catherine Lockhart. They discover that Jack Sommer’s daughter, Sophie, has been taken by his late wife’s parents to live with them in Palestine, following a hotly contested custody battle. Jack wants his daughter Sophie back, and will stop at (almost) nothing to retrieve her from his evil father-in-law, a prominent physician who is head of a violent splinter group which is planning terrorist attacks on Israel. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this, as it is very different from my usual taste. Saving Sophie is fast paced, and had me on the edge of my seat as I cheered for the good guys, racing to reunite Sophie with her loving Dad. The romance between P.I. Liam Taggart and Attorney Catherine Lockhart, which began in When We Were Brothers, flourishes here and serves as diversion from some grim detective work. This will appeal to a wide audience, men and women alike. 


Saving Sophie  Ronald Balson  Nancy's Picks


The Mare by Mary Gaitskill

the mareWow!

I read the first 400 pages of The Mare in one five hour stretch – I could not put this novel down. But then I took an hour to read the final three dozen pages because I did not want the book to end.

Well-meaning Ginger and her husband Paul are a childless white couple who live in upstate New York. The pair volunteers to host an underprivileged child from Brooklyn for a few weeks in the summer as a way to “do some good.” Into their lives walks Velvet, the part Dominican daughter of an angry single mother who constantly berates the girl, and favors her brother.

Velvet lives in a bad neighborhood, attends a tough school, and has a hard time with adolescence. She at first is ill at ease with Ginger and Paul, but her awkwardness melts away when she enters the horse barn next door. She loves the horses and she seems to hear them speaking to her. Learning to clean, groom, and muck stalls gives Velvet a sense of purpose as well as an opportunity to learn to ride – which she does well.

The Mare  Nancy's Picks  Mary Gaitskill


The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Lake House by Kate MortonThis is a nice long (598 pages) saga from the author of previous favorites The Secret Keeper and The House at Riverton.

The book alternates between post war 1933 and the present, and is set in London and rural Cornwall. It is categorized as fiction, though much of the story is centered on solving mysteries.

In the contemporary story, Detective Inspector Sadie Sparrow has been hard at work investigating the case of a young London girl found abandoned, her mother missing. Sadie breaks two cardinal rules of police work - she gets too close to the child’s grandmother, and she talks to the press, saying the case was closed prematurely. Forced to take a month off work for her transgressions, Sadie goes to stay with her grandfather Bertie in Cornwell. There, she stumbles upon an unsolved mystery from 1933. The child of a prominent family went missing, shortly after the nanny was fired. On that same night, a dear friend of the family was found dead, and the gardener abruptly departed. With help from a heroic librarian, a celebrated local mystery author (the last living member of that prominent family), Sadie starts putting the pieces together.

Lush descriptions of the countryside, interesting relationships, beautiful old country houses and mysteries waiting to be solved keep you turning the pages. Throw in some clandestine romance, secret staircases, letters kept in triplicate, and you’ve got a great read. Everything is tied up neatly at the end, which will make readers happy.

The Lake House  Kate Morton


Barbara the Slut and Other People By Lauren Holmes

barbara the slutBarbara the Slut and Other People is a debut collection of 10 stories that capture the angst of adolescence and the passion and betrayal that often characterize young love. In the title story, Barbara is a smart, sensitive high school senior. Her grades are excellent, and she is awaiting acceptance into Princeton University. She is a loving and responsible sister to her autistic brother.

But Barbara also has a pair of qualities that other girls her age do not have—confidence in her body and a discerning eye when it comes to boys. She enjoys sex and has a one-time rule to avoid emotional entanglements. And for all this she is envied, ridiculed, and verbally abused. Author Lauren Holmes uses this tale to highlight the pertinent issue of bullying and its impact on young lives.

Another story, “Desert Hearts,” is about a recently graduated lawyer who moves to San Francisco with her fiancé. Brenda is ambivalent about her career choices. Having just passed the California Bar Exam, she says she “doesn’t have the heart” to join a law firm. Instead, she gets a job in a sex toy shop and pretends to be a lesbian. Despite stereotypic jokes, some parts of the story are laugh-out-loud funny. The humor camouflages the loneliness of the main character and the degree to which she is isolated and misunderstood by the man she loves.

Similarly, “My Humans” looks at another unraveling relationship through the eyes of a shelter dog named “Princess.” The unquestioning devotion of a dog is juxtaposed with the infidelity of her human counterparts. And the dog’s fondness for messiness mirrors life itself.

Sara's Picks  Lauren Holmes  Barbara the Slut and Other People


The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

story hourMain character Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant, is despondent about her marriage and the work she is forced to do in her husband's grocery store. A desperate suicide attempt brings her to the hospital and to the attention of Dr. Maggie Bose, a psychologist. Maggie is African American, and, like Lakshmi, is married to an Indian man.

Moved by her patient's plight, Maggie agrees to provide therapy privately, and at no cost. The doctor/patient line becomes blurred, and perhaps unethical. Each woman has her secrets, which the author reveals only toward the end of the book, and to great effect.

The narrative point of view switches back and forth between Maggie and Lakshmi. Lakshmi's story is told in broken English - in sharp contrast to Maggie's educated voice.

This is a good read (by the author of The Space Between Us) that will keep you thinking long after you have finished it. 

Thrity Umrigar  The Story Hour  Nancy Buehler


The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

the japanese lover 9781501116971 lgIn The Japanese Lover, Chilean author Allende analyzes the themes of love, loss, prejudice, and age. The novel’s main protagonist, Alma Mendel, arrives in San Francisco in 1939 at the age of eight. Her parents have sent her from their home in Poland to live with her wealthy Uncle Belasco and his family. Alma befriends her cousin Nate Belasco and the gardener’s son, Ichimei Fukado. These two will play pivotal roles in Alma’s life for many decades.

Alma is an amazing character—kind yet toughened from her early experiences with loss. She is also self-centered and somewhat haughty. By the time she reaches her mid eighties, she resides at an assisted living facility where she has befriended one of its employees—Irena. Both women have secret pasts, the memories of which continue into their present lives.

Allende’s first novel, House of the Spirits, published in 1982 to critical acclaim, won her international fame and has been translated into 37 languages. It ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Here, Allende fictionalizes the turbulent history of post-colonial Chile after the overthrow of her uncle, Salvatore Allende, in 1973. Like House of the Spirits, many of Allende’s books are family sagas and offer sociopolitical commentaries of the times in which they are set.

Allende has written nearly 20 works and has garnered many awards. In 2004, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2010 she received Chile's National Literature Prize. President Barack Obama awarded her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Japanese Lover  Sara's Picks  Isabelle Allende


City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

city on fireCity on Fire is an amazing first novel that has been compared to the work of Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Franzen, Don DeLillo, and Richard Price.

Hallberg said the idea for the novel came to him when he heard Billy Joel’s Miami 2017: Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway. The song references New York City’s Blackout of 1977, as well as the economic devastation, crime, and drug scene that blighted New York City in the 70s.

Over the course of the book’s 900+ pages, the reader meets people from opposite ends of the social strataindividuals whose lives converge over the mystery of who murdered a 21-year-old girl and the possible connection of the crime to an abandoned East Village property. Old money rubs shoulders with mercenary and sinister forces, relationships (gay and straight) are explored, and the tragic effect of loss on children’s lives is seen in the main protagonists. Meanwhile, fires are being set throughout New York. Are they just outgrowths of economic inequalities? Or is something else something far bigger afoot? Hallberg’s novel includes numerous sympathetic, larger-than-life personalities, but perhaps the biggest character in the book is New York City itself.

If you are seeking a novel in which you can immerse yourself a book that contains not just straight narrative, but also letters, magazine clippings, handwritten and typed coffee-stained notes put yourself on hold for this literary fête. City on Fire is sure to be one of the most talked about books for fall, and probably short-listed for a literary award. Hallberg has written a tour de force not to be missed.

Sara’s Picks  Garth Risk Hallberg  City on Fire


Killing Reagan by Bill O'Reilly

Killing ReaganWhile it’s obvious that the latest entry in Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing” franchise, Killing Reagan, doesn’t end with a titular death like the other books in the series, it is nonetheless a page-turner. Following Reagan’s life from his breakout in movies in the 1930s to his death in 2004, Killing Reagan can be described more as a biography of our 40th President than a chronicle of John Hinckley Jr.’s assassination attempt on the President in 1981.

With this book, O’Reilly seems to be giving up on detailing famous killings to jump into the genre of creative non-fiction (the assassination attempt only takes up about 40 pages). His writing style, however, remains the same. The author interweaves the story of Reagan’s life with a series of interesting anecdotes about the man, his family, and his entourage to present what reads like a suspenseful historical novel.

Even though this book doesn’t present any new perspectives on Reagan’s life, and the accuracy of some of the research is under question, Killing Reagan succeeds in its main purpose, which is to entertain. Reaching nearly 300 pages, but feeling much shorter, this book presents a vivid picture of Reagan’s career, personal life, and legacy. Although Killing Reagan probably isn’t the best book for the avid scholar, it’s perfect for anyone who wants to brush up on his or her knowledge of Presidential history, or for someone who simply desires a light, quick, fun read.


Killing Reagan  Bill O'Reilly  Andrew Scarafile


National Book Award Shortlist 2015

Last week the finalists for this year's National Book Awards were announced and there is no better place to find all of them in your format of choice than the library! 


refundRefund: Stories by Karen E. Bender

In Refund, Bender creates an award-winning collection of stories that deeply explore the ways in which money and the estimation of value affect the lives of her characters. (Review from Amazon.com)




Tracy Smith  Ta-Nehisi Coates  Sally Mann  Lauren Groff  Karen E. Bender  Hanya Yanagihara  Carla Power  Angela Flournoy  Adam Johnson


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