Staff Picks

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

July 11, 2016

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins
by Walter, Jess

This is terrible. I'm the person who schedules the adult Staff Picks reviews. Nobody is supposed to review books that are already at the center of attention, and I'm reviewing a book that is being made into a movie. Selector Jessica Lawrence included this title in a Before You See the Movie blog post back in 2014.

And the book is being discussed at the Irvington Branch on Thursday, July 14th. 

But I couldn't stop reading it, once I had started; and I'm vocationally incapable of reading a book and not yakking about it on the web. So here goes.

Beautiful Ruins begins in Italy in 1962, when the disasterous Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton film Cleopatra was being created there. Pasquale Tursi operates an unsuccessful hotel in an almost uninhabited fishing village, and a beautiful actress shows up, in flight from the Cleopatra set. She is ill, but the nature of her illness is a point of confusion.

The novel jumps in time to the recent past and the not so recent past, circling back regularly to 1962 and Pasqule's predicaments. One minute you're reading a chapter from an unfinished World War II novel, and the next minute you're reading a movie pitch about the Donner Party. Modern-day Hollywood hustlers interact with folks we've met in 1962. 

I love the time and format jumps, and I recommend the novel with all my heart.

If you're interested in the movie, here's a nice trailer. In fairness, I should say that it begins as a movie trailer but is really sort of a trailer for the novel. The movie advertised here was to have been directed by Ang Lee, but I don't think that's happening. 

Todd Field is directing the movie, now. Or maybe two different versions are being filmed, one by Todd Field and one by Ang Lee. I have no idea how either director will take the mash-up of novels, movie pitches, memoirs, plays, and straight narrative, and make it into a film.

And in fact another film called Beautiful Ruins was scheduled to be released back in March. I'm pretty sure that one has nothing to do with the Jess Walter novel.

Confused? Read the book. It's like having a bunch of movies showing in your head, and watching them come together gloriously.  

Beautiful Ruins is also available as an eAudiobook and an audiobook on CD.

STAFF PICK BONUS FEATURE #1 If you feel that author Jess Walter is having too much fun with the cross-eyed Italian priest in Beautiful Ruins, listen up here where Walter answers questions from GoodReads, and, when discussing his love of basketball, claims to be "the best one-eyed point guard of my size and age."

STAFF PICK BONUS FEATURE #2 "[Dick] Cavett's four great interviews with Richard Burton were done in 1980 . . . Burton, fifty-four at the time, and already a beautiful ruin, was mesmerizing." -- Louis Menand. That quote from The New Yorker appears at the beginning of Beautiful Ruins. Here are the interviews. I think all four are there.

              — Recommended by Glenn Halberstadt, Communications Department


July 4, 2016

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha
by Golden, Arthur

This is a beautiful tale of the life of a little girl named Chiyo, telling her story on growing up to become a Geisha. Chiyo gets sold to a Geisha house when she is very young, and she can either be working in the house like a slave all her life or take the chance and become a Geisha herself. Before, during and after World War II, she goes through her struggles with school, and with trying to make a reputation for herself while competing with the other Geishas in Kyoto. The saying “Pain is pretty” is an understatement when it comes to this story.

Memoirs of a Geisha is also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook.

         --Recommended by Mikaela Smith, Garfield Park Branch


June 20, 2016


Hoosier Public Enemy: A Life of John Dillinger
by Beineke, John A.
B Dillinger, John BEI

The Great Depression was a time of hardship and bleakness… except when America’s favorite criminal made news! John Dillinger’s swash-buckling ways, smooth good looks, and his care for the poor farmers – leaving their money on the counter when robbing the banks – won the hearts of Hoosiers and Americans everywhere. For a period of fourteen months, John Dillinger’s escapades lifted the average American from their despair.

This book, with historic photos generously splashed through the pages, gives us a fascinating look at Indiana during the Dillinger years (from Johnnie’s childhood through 1934). Fast-paced and full of Dillinger’s sparkling personality, it shows us Dillinger’s early childhood in Indianapolis and Mooresville, and escorts us through his escapades – and thrilling escapes – in a time when fast cars and new modern crime-fighting techniques were finding a place in current culture.

As a part of our Adult Summer Reading Program, this book will be discussed at the Sun King Brewery (135 N. College Ave.) at 5:30 p.m. on August 29th.

Hoosier Public Enemy is also available as an eBook.

             — Recommended by Deb Ehret, Spades Park Library


June 13, 2016

Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet

Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet
by Itzler, Jesse
613.7 ITZ

It’s not like he needed the money. Jesse Itzler is a former rapper, co-founder of Marquis Jet, partner in Zico Coconut Water. He’s also married to the woman who created Spanx (and is worth—literally—a billion dollars). So, no, it’s not like he needed the money. And he was already running marathons. So it’s not like he wasn’t already physically fit. But when Itzler ran in a 24-hour relay race and spotted a man running the entire race alone, he was curious. Who was this man running with such relentless determination? Displaying the curiosity and perseverance that had already made him a success, Itzler tracked the guy down, cold-called him, asked the guy to live with him for a month and take his fitness training to a new level. The guy—who turned out to be a SEAL—said yes, on one condition: “You do everything I say.” Itzler agreed. And then regretted it for almost every one of the 31 days they spent together. But he endured. And along the way he learned that he could do more than he would ever have believed possible. Itzler has accomplished that all-too-rare feat of relating a story that is funny as well as inspirational.

        --Recommended by Cheryl Holtsclaw, West Indianapolis Library


June 6, 2016

Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace
by Krueger, William Kent

Love, loyalty and understanding is the result of a tumultuous summer in 1961 that passively matures a young boy and his even younger brother as they process the impact of murder and the meaning of death in their small town of New Bremen, Minnesota. Written by New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace captures the journey from naïve country-boy towards manhood, and is rooted in the openness and forgiveness experienced by thirteen year old Frank Drum - the middle child of the town’s Methodist minister and a local would-be Hollywood starlet. Recognizing that life has a way of testing the boundaries of relationships and jeopardizing the lives of those striving to function within them, this story masterfully reveals the true essence of God’s love - Grace.

Truly a mystery novel at its core, William Kent Krueger provides the reader with an unexpected ride in the mind of a young boy who sincerely seeks to understand his surroundings, the people who he has grown to trust and his faith. This book is perfect for a reader who enjoys the long road to enlightenment with twist and turns along the way.

Ordinary Grace is also available as an eBook and in large print.

— Recommended by Tiffani Carter, Warren Library