Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

Maybe This Time

Every so often I try a new author. This time it was Jennifer Crusie, a New York Times bestselling author. I thought the book might be a "chick-lit" sort of book, but I really liked the book. A little romance, some ghosts, some larger life lessons and all in all a satisfying read.

The story starts out with Andie Miller in her ex-husband's office trying to return 10 years worth of alimony checks. The marriage broke up because Andie, the free spirit, couldn't deal with the workaholic her husband North Archer had become. Flash forward 10 years and Andi is engaged to a man who is more her style. Hence the need for closure with North.

Before he lets her go, North asks Andi for a favor. Never one to refuse him, Andi agrees to help sort out North's niece and nephew who have been recently orphaned. After going through a series of nannies, the children are in desperate need of not only watching but schooling. Andi, a former teacher seems like the ideal candidate to North. Plus she might be able to find out about the ghosts that the children claim are haunting the house. The children refuse to leave the house in southern Ohio even though it's quite creepy to everyone else.
Andi agrees to help for one month. Off to southern Ohio, Andi quickly moves and starts to investigate things. The housekeeper has been there for 60 years and maintains the house is haunted. The house was brought over from England, stone by stone. And yes, people have died in the house.

So, is the house haunted? Is Andi really encountering North in her dreams? Who are the mysterious people roaming the grounds? When North arrives, alarmed by Andi's claim that the house is haunted things take a turn for the worse. Bodies start piling up, Andi starts rethinking her engagement, the kids are getting more and more withdrawn and a seance adds more to the mix.



New Book From a Fascinating Internet Thinker

Are you or any of your friends Grobanites? Grobanites are not space aliens, but rather fans of singer Josh Groban.  A number of Grobanites connected online, in order to run an auction that initially raised $16,000 in honor of Josh Groban, which led to the eventual creation of the Josh Groban Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation that has raised nearly a million dollars for a variety of charities.  None of these Grobanites had experience running a charity; nor did they have any goal of creating a new organization.  Instead, they had time, the means to connect (the internet) and most importantly, as far as internet guru Clay Shirky is concerned, they had passion and love for what they were trying to do.

Shirky's Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age offers many other anecdotes of people using their free time to create and share with no particular profit motive.  Contrary to what many assume, money is not the only thing motivating this type of behavior - Wikipedia, open-source software and the Grobanites are just three examples of sharing for a common good.  According to Shirky, there is a spectrum of types of sharing, from uncoordinated sharing based around common interests to sharing that helps communities or society as a whole.  There are various motivations for these types of sharing, and these motivations are explored in this book.

Clay Shirky is one of my favorite internet trendwatchers and his blog is a must-read if you're interested in the internet; in particular its effect on old media.  If you're looking for a business book that considers the psychology behind why people share, Cognitive Surplus is a good option.  It's a nice overview of participation on the internet, and it offers some tips for organizations looking to take advantage of these online social interactions.

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The Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass

CoverThe Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass, is a novel about class as well as family. Percy Darling, curmudgeon and patriarch, is a retired Harvard librarian living in a picturesque New England town. The town is surrounded by historic homes, not least of which is his own. But unlike some others, he has let his own fall to disrepair after the early and tragic death of his wife, Poppy.

The story begins as Percy recounts his barn's conversion into a preschool for "tiny perfect children, along with their preened and privileged parents." (p.1) The book proceeds from the alternating points of view of three main characters: Robert, grandson to Percy; Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool; and Celestino, a Guatamalan day laborer. Ira and Celestino are portrayed as outsiders looking in on this wealthy hamlet, both depending on the beneficence of its residents.

Sandwiched into this mix are Percy's daughters--Trudy, the successful oncologist, and Clover, the free-spirited teacher at the preschool. Like some other characters in the book, she has made youthful and impulsive choices, and now, bears the consequences.

The Widower's Tale touches social issues such as illegal immigration and conservation. Glass is never heavy-handed as she shows the inequities of the class system, shedding light on the lives of immigrant workers who tend the homes of the wealthy.



The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

This book has great promise. It is billed as "The heirs of Sherlock Holmes gather to solve the world's most perplexing cases." And they do solve them with a combination of great deductive reasoning skills, some artistic talent and some good old fashioned luck.

The book chronicles the story of the Vidocq Society, a group of men and women from all over the world and from a variety of professions. There are artists, police officers, pathologists, coroners, attorneys, and judges. Eugene Francois Vidocq was a scandal in France - a career criminal who went onto start what is widely considered to be the world's first detective agency.

The VSMs (Vidocq Society members) were originally Frank Bender, an artist who had an uncanny ability for facial reconstruction and creation of death masks, William Fleisher a police detective and Richard Walter a forensic psychologist. These three men gather, in Philadelphia to start investigating "cold cases." The first case was a decades old case of the "boy in the box."

They are very successful. From 1984 until the time of the book printing (2010), they had investigated more than 300 unsolved murders, solving 90% of them. They did it by simply taking a fresh look at the information the various police agencies had pieced together during the original investigations. The book chronicles the exploits of the group from their beginnings to the current time. It is relentless in it's descriptions of murders, crime scenes and snippets of the main investigators lives.



The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger


When I saw this book on the New Fiction Shelf, my initial reaction was "what is this  doing here? It's a graphic novel, it doesn't belong here!"  And then I opened the book, and was completely entranced. I could not do a thing other than be drawn in and compelled to read and look until the book was over, and if I have time today, I'll read it again.

This local author of The Time Traveller's Wife has created a beautiful tribute to books and readers and libraries, with an enchanting gentle plot that draws you through the artwork.  It is set in Chicago, so you will see familiar sites as you learn about a special bookmobile that appears to our main character only at night, and contains a very special collection.   Highly recommended!

Highly recommended!



Fall Into a Good Teen Book!

Check out some of these new YA books for fall:

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a futuristic world, teen Nailer scavenges copper wiring from grounded oil tankers for a living, but when he finds a beached clipper ship with a girl in the wreckage, he has to decide if he should strip the ship for its wealth or rescue the girl.

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