Staff Picks

Don't forget to check out our staff picks for kids!

May 30, 2016

Crooked Heart

Crooked Heart
by Evans, Lissa

In bombed and war-ravaged London, Vee takes in orphaned 10-year-old Noel, whose godmother Mattie has died suddenly. Vee is not driven by generous impulse; she wants the allowance that comes with caring for Noel. Disappointed by men and love, Vee's tumultuous life has given her a tough shell; her elderly mother is mute by choice and her shiftless son Donald is a pillar of immorality. Into the lives of these misfits stumbles poor Noel - bookish, awkward,and desperately missing the anchor of Mattie and their Highgate house.

The characters are bewitching. Brusque and hardened Vee, possessed of the proverbial heart of gold and poor little Noel, old beyond his years and wanted by no one, with his sticking-out ears and difficult ways. They are a glorious combination, with a story that will grab you and never let you go until you turn the last page. The supporting characters are just as engaging: Vee's mother, who has lost the power of speech but writes admonishing letters about the war effort to everyone from Winston Churchill to Arthur Askey; Vee's son Donald - delighted that his dicky heart has allowed him to dodge the draft; and Noel's atheist godmother Mattie, a former suffragette who appears only in the prologue but makes an indelible mark on the plot.

Greater events of wartime Britain are the background, often in the hilarious epistles to Churchill. The impact of this “moral war” on the home-front is to suspend peacetime ethics. But in the end, there is redemption for nearly everyone, and perhaps a journey toward love.

Lissa Evans is a wry and gifted voice - and Crooked Heart is a true tour de force of modern literature.

Crooked Heart is also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook.

          --Recommended by Emily Talbott, Nora Library


May 16, 2016

Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse

Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse
by Hutton, Robin L.
951.9042 HUT

This adult, non-fiction title chronicles the exploits of a small horse who accomplished great things. It will appeal to military history buffs and to those who enjoy true stories about exceptional animals.

The Korean Conflict, often called America’s “Forgotten War,” was fought on treacherous terrain that sometimes rendered mechanized transport useless. Reckless, a small Mongolian mare, was purchased by the soldiers of the 5th Marines Recoilless Rifle Platoon to carry the 24-pound rounds for the 75 mm recoilless rifle, a potent weapon capable of accurately firing the heavy rounds several thousand yards under ideal conditions.

While a fully-outfitted Marine could carry two or sometimes three rounds in addition to other essential battlefield supplies and encumbrances, Reckless learned to carry six rounds regularly and up to ten at a time during a fierce battle. Accustomed to the noise and chaos of the battlefield and bonded to her platoon-mates as to an extended family, Reckless made the perilous journey from an ammo supply to the front-line gunners time and again. Frequently, Reckless made the journey alone.

The book details Reckless’s adventures as a Marine from late 1952 through her retirement at MCCS Camp Pendleton, California in November of 1954 following a national call to bring her to American soil. Reckless earned two Purple Hearts for her service, and was promoted to Sergeant following her heroic efforts in the savage Battle of Outpost Vegas in March, 1953. No other animal has been awarded such an honor.

Author Robin Hutton makes excellent use of archival photographs of Reckless and her platoon-mates, detailed maps and descriptions of battlefield conditions, and interviews with veterans who served alongside the brave little horse. Hutton was herself involved in the successful efforts to commemorate Reckless with a monument and memorial at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. The Indianapolis Public Library maintains five copies of Hutton’s book, which was originally published in 2014.

               --Recommended by Todd Gilbert, Pike Library


May 9, 2016

A History Of The World In Six Glasses

A History Of The World In Six Glasses
by Standage, Tom
394.12 STA

I wish history class was taught in this style. Maybe it was the topic or maybe it was the style of writing but it is amazing how history becomes more interesting when focusing in on a specific topic. With chapters covering beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola, we get a history lesson and a greater understanding of how these drinks affect our culture and everyday lives. I found that the spirit chapter the most interesting and really hitting aspects of American history that I never learned in school. Tom Standage writes nonfiction like a novel, interesting yet factual; best of both worlds.

             --Recommended by Megan Ferguson, Outreach Services


May 2, 2016


by Novik, Naomi

This is a fantasy novel, a wonderful mix of regular fairy tale tropes and Russian folklore, with surprising female-driven twists. When a young woman, Agnieszka, is chosen to be the lone attendant for an angry and self-focused sorcerer, she finds that life with him is unlike anything she imagined. The sorcerer, Dragon, is obsessed with his magic work, spending his time fighting off the creatures and evil that live in the forest on the town’s border. He barely gives Agnieszka a thought and makes no move to comfort or welcome her. She suffers humiliation and rejection, but then embraces the peace of his neglect, until a surprising event changes his estimation of her worth.

As a reader, I expected this novel to follow a sort of Beauty and the Beast storyline, and it took me about half the book to get my literary footing. Novik has blended the Beauty and the Beast tale with Baba Jaga folklore and given it a heavy dose of feminism, and the results are gripping. The villain of the story is not Dragon, or the infested wood, or even the creatures that live in the darkness there. It is the more invasive threat of the twisted growth that comes when bigotry and fear are allowed to flourish.

Novik, while nodding to fairy tale tropes, doesn’t bow to them, and writes an original story, where our heroine learns to make strong choices and stand by the consequences of them. The book is beautifully written, a fantasy story in a folklore-rooted world both familiar and new.

Uprooted is also available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook.  

       --Recommended by Jeni Newswanger-Smith, East Washington Library--which, we should say, is closed at the moment


April 25, 2016

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606
by Shapiro, James
822.33 D SHA

William Shakespeare died 400 years ago, on April 23, 1616. Greeting cards for the occasion were hard to find, so don't worry if you forgot to send me one. I observed the quadricentennial by reading Robert Shapiro's 2015 book about the year 1606, in which Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and Macbeth.

It was a wild time. There was fallout from the Gunpowder Plot--an attempted assassination of King James I; there were demonic possession trials; there was at least one wedding that was politically arranged by James; there was always fear of the plague; and Will Shakespeare was writing plays that to some degree reflected the goings-on around him.

I enjoyed Shapiro's 2010 book Contested Will--in which he made an excellent case for Shakespeare's having actually written his plays and poems--and I wrote a Staff Picks about it (click here and scroll down if you're interested). The Year of Lear is just as entertaining and enlightening as that earlier book.

— Recommended by Glenn Halberstadt, Communications