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Staff Picks

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

May 2, 2016

Uprooted

Uprooted
by Novik, Naomi
SF NOV

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

 

April 18, 2016

Loitering

Loitering
by D’Ambrosio, Charles
814.54 DAM

In 2004, Charles D’Ambrosio had an essay collection published entitled Orphans. The collection was well-received, but not very many copies were published and over a decade later the book is out-of-print and hard to find. The problem of this scarcity was solved to some degree with 2014’s Loitering, which collects all of the essays from Orphans (some with new titles) along with several new essays.

The humor and intellect found in D’Ambrosio’s essays is reminiscent of the work of Martin Amis in The Moronic Inferno and of David Foster Wallace’s best non-fiction pieces. All three of these authors observe and report on contemporary life with keen eyes and impressive prose. However, D’Ambrosio’s work tends to be more personal and contemplative in nature. The book explores various subjects and topics, but the language is gorgeous throughout. The author is just as compelling when describing a police standoff or reporting on the Mary Kay Letourneau trial as he is when discussing his father’s mental illness or his brother’s suicide.

Loitering is also available as a downloadable e-book.

            --Recommended by Adam Todd, Decatur Library

 

April 4, 2016

Ingredients:  A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products

Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products
by Eschliman, Dwight, photography; text by Steve Ettlinger
664.06 ESC

Ingredients first caught my eye for the colorful photographs of food substances on the cover and inside. The authors selected 75 of the most common food additives listed on processed food labels, obtained samples of them and photographed them. From acesulfame potassium (a sweetener) to xanthan gum (a thickener) the book is a selective encyclopedia of their history, characteristics and uses. These days consumers are advised to eat lots of vegetables, fruit and whole grains yet not all additives are bad for us. For example, beta-carotene and chlorophyll used primarily for their color also play a nutritional role in foods. Myths, such as the one surrounding monosodium glutamate, are debunked: “Starting around 1968, there were reports that someone (literally just one person) had had a bad reaction to Chinese restaurant food… The reaction to the reports ballooned, and came to be called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”

The second part of the book analyzes 25 common processed foods breaking them down into their ingredients by listing and photographing them. Heinz Tomato Ketchup is made up of just eight fairly recognizable ingredients in contrast to the iconic Hostess Twinkie which is comprised of 42. An interesting and attractive volume to browse, the dedication reads: “This book is for anyone wondering what’s in their food.” Isn’t that most of us?

             --Recommended by Sue Kennedy, Irvington Library

 

March 28, 2016

Murder Past Due

Murder Past Due
by James, Miranda
MYS JAM

Murder Past Due by Miranda James is the first book in the Cat in the Stacks cozy mystery series. Cozy mysteries are leisurely-paced books that contain no profanity, depictions of violence, or sex, and Murder Past Due is no exception. Of course, there is a murder, but with its leisurely pace, this novel captivates readers while they, Charlie the librarian, and Diesel, the very large Maine Coon cat, get wrapped up in solving a murder.

Murder Past Due centers on Charlie Harris, a recent widower who has returned to his small hometown of Athena, Mississippi to work part-time as an archival librarian for the local college. He runs a boarding home that he inherited from his aunt after her passing. When Charlie’s school-time bully-turned famous author returns to Athena, Charlie and his companion cat Diesel are quite fine to leave well enough alone. But when this memorable bully, who appears to have many enemies, comes to withdrawn Charlie asking for guidance in regards to being related to one of Charlie’s boarders, Charlie gets swept up into the drama. When someone ends up dead, Charlie is compelled to investigate to clear the name of someone he cares for.

All of the characters are strongly written, including lovable Diesel, and it includes a light-hearted tone with mild humor worthy of a few chuckles. Readers can enjoy unraveling the mystery at their own pace, while following the steps of one of the genre’s few male protagonists.

Readers can enjoy this novel in paperback or e-book format, and if they enjoy it, there are seven more novels in this series as well as two spinoff novels.

--Recommended by Stefany Boleyn, Haughville Library