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Librarians

Fat Kevin Federline and a Creed Song

You're Not Doing it RightBest known for his absurdist comedy sketch shows, "The State", "Stella", and "Michael and Michael Have Issues", Michael Ian Black is probably the last person anyone would expect to have something to say about what it takes to be a husband and father.  However, in his latest book, You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations, the comedian takes a slight turn from his usual stream of sarcasm and delivers a touching and surprisingly personal memoir about these issues and more.

 

Nearing forty years of age, Michael Ian Black finds himself in constant state of ennui. Spending his days scouring the internet for pictures of fat Kevin Federline (Britney Spears’ notorious ex-husband) just isn’t entertaining him like it used to and he begins to question his own existence. Taking the reader with him, he explores his life up to this point.Beginning with his unusual childhood in New Jersey and continuing through his reminiscences as a married father of two, Black provides us with laughter and tears along the way. Readers who are familiar with Black’s comedy will perhaps be astonished by how frank and touching these confessions are. One of the best examples of this is when recounts a time while driving and thinking about his baby-to-be.  A  laughable song by the band Creed comes on the radio, and he proceeds to break down in sobs.

 

While this title will hold special appeal for first-time parents and newlyweds, You’re Not Doing It Right is a frank and humorous book recommended for anyone who’s survived an existential crisis.

 

Erin

 
 

Gypsy Secrets Revealed

Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of Romany GypsiesRomani gypsies are an insular people, and little is known of their culture.  They distrust outsiders and prefer to live among, work with, and marry within their own cultural circle. Enter Mikey Walsh (a pseudonym), one of the first brave souls to write a memoir about growing up in a gypsy camp. Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies gives the reader an inside look at Romani gypsies, who trace their origins to the Indian peninsula and through Eastern Europe. Gypsy men are masculine, tough and charismatic, living by their wits and usually finding work by convincing unsuspecting marks to part with their money. Gypsy women are expected to care for the home and the children and rarely interact with the men. While male gypsies are encouraged to have sexual encounters in the world with non-gypsy women, female gypsies are supposed to remain chaste until early marriage by age eighteen.

 

Revealing gypsy secrets can be a dangerous undertaking, and the author refuses to be photographed in order to preserve his true identity. Walsh grew up in the shadow of his father, a robust bare-knuckle fighting champion who tried to teach young Mikey to fight by knocking him across the room. As he grows older, Walsh realizes that he is gay, something that is so unacceptable to his father that he can only live his life in terror, hoping for some kind of escape.

 

The author reveals a bleak and dysfunctional childhood, but his determination and perseverance eventually pay off.  Although some of the stories are harrowing, the author intersperses some humorous anecdotes involving some very quirky relatives. Walsh manages to find a way out of the gypsy life, get an education and tell the world his story. A companion biography, Gypsy Boy on the Run was published last year in the U.K. Through it all, he remains proud of his gypsy heritage.  Gypsy Boy is a quick read, with a sympathetic and likeable narrator.  Pick it up for a fascinating look into another culture. This title is recommended for those who enjoy hardscrabble memoirs like Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt or Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. 

 

Doug

 
 

Dancing in the Street with Introverts

Dancing in the Street with IntrovertsMany introverts will rejoice, exult and maybe even (quietly) dance in the street after reading Susan Cain's thoroughly engaging new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. Far from being a self-help guide, Quiet celebrates introverts and the unique qualities they bring to their workplaces, classrooms, marriages and friendships. Combining fascinating anecdotes and extensive research from a variety of scientific fields, Cain makes a convincing argument for re-assessing the “extrovert ideal” in American culture.

 

In a society that increasingly favors “groupthink” or brainstorming sessions, Cain maintains there is also reason to value those people who prefer solitude, avoid social situations and prefer to express themselves in writing. Indeed, many of our greatest thinkers and artists have been introverts and have required absolute solitude to create, think and write. She shares fascinating glimpses into the lives of several famous introverts such as Warren Buffett, Albert Einstein and Dr. Seuss.

 

One of the many strengths of Quiet is Cain's pragmatism. As a former corporate lawyer, she is no stranger to the highly social world of the American workplace. Introverts often prefer to work in a quiet environment, may find social situations draining, and usually prefer to work with few distractions. However, these conditions are simply not practical in today's workplaces and classrooms. Cain offers realistic, pragmatic solutions methods that allow introverts to be successful in the workplace and other social settings while remaining true to their own biological wiring. She also gives excellent advice to parents of young introverts. She advises parents to celebrate a child's true nature but also suggests useful navigation strategies for social situations in the classroom and playground.

 

Susan Cain has written a highly readable book. She manages to bring historical and psychological context to her subject while consistently maintaining the interest of the reader. Quiet is highly recommended not only to those who identify as introverts but also to parents, managers, and educators who want to develop a deeper understanding of the introverts in their lives.

Zeke

 
 

A Shimmering Lady Finds her Way

The Lady in Gold:  The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-BauerWhen Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Jewish salon hostess, sat for her portrait in 1907 by Austria’s most famous painter, Gustav Klimt, it is doubtful that either imagined the painting’s disturbing journey to come.  Washington Post journalist Anne-Marie O’Connor explores these realities in her well-researched book, The Lady in Gold:  The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

 

This story unfolds in turn of the century Vienna, where affluent Jewish families are lured by the city's sophisticated culture. Artists, led by Klimt, seek more freedom to express their "art of the soul."  They find support for their Secessionist movement from forward thinking patrons, like Adele and her industrialist husband, Ferdinand. When Ferdinand commissions Klimt to paint his wife, the result is a shimmering, gold mosaic of the dazzling, dark haired beauty. 

 

O'Connor frames the story in three sections, spanning more than one hundred years. While it can be challenging to keep track of all the Bloch-Bauer connections, the short chapters keep the narrative moving with poignant vignettes.  Much time is spent on the pillaging of the Viennese Jewish population by Nazi soldiers and theft of their art treasures. Even in post-Nazi Austria, stolen works with questionable provenance remained in Austrian museums. Adele's portrait was renamed The Lady in Gold, losing its Jewish identity. 

 

The author draws upon extensive interviews and correspondence with Adele's niece, Maria Altmann, whose successful legal fight returned the Klimt paintings to private hands, including Klimt's Adele.  While the painting today is at the Neue Galerie in New York, it may be impossible to gaze upon Gustav Klimt's muse without considering the human cost of war, the complexities of art restitution, and each stolen painting's story yet to tell.

Cynthia

 
 

Of Faith, Fate, and Devotion

Of Faith, Fate, and Devotion

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 11:28am

The Translation of the BonesMiracles and foundering souls aside, Francesca Kay's new novel, The Translation of the Bones, is not a religious story, nor does it answer big questions about faith and God. Rather, it considers why people believe what they do and the inextricable connection between love, sorrow, and solace. The story is centered on the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea, in urban South London, where a mentally fragile young volunteer, Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, mistakes a bad blow to the head for a personal message from Christ. When word of a bleeding statue spreads, the spectacle becomes an embarrassment to those connected to the church and its spiritually exhausted parish priest.

 

Kay limits plot development in favor of richly developed characters whose commonality is the church and aching motherhood.  There is Stella, the lovely cabinet official's wife and flower arranger, whose youngest boy is at boarding school; and  Alice, the church housekeeper whose son is in Afghanistan. Both are awaiting the return of their sons. There is also Fidelma, the obese, housebound mother of Mary-Margaret, whose childhood memories still haunt her. Whether or not a miracle has occurred becomes unimportant and unexplored as Kay's characters carry on with distracted lives until tragedy eventually unifies everyone and unhinging loss challenges the nature of belief.

 

The author's first novel, An Equal Stillness, won Britain's Orange Award for New Writers in 2009. Her new slim novel omits chapters and speech marks, but it doesn't matter. The story shifts seamlessly between different points of view with language, so lovely at times that it invites the occasional sigh, and the knowledge that passion, whether prompted by religious mania or devotion to loved ones is a complex emotion that human beings will forever be trying to define.

Cynthia

 
 

A Binocular Vision of History

The Company of the Dead The improbable history of the sinking of the Titanic is legendary. The “unsinkable” ship’s maiden voyage was favored with the advantages of an experienced captain, a capable crew, and peerlessly clear weather. She had every probability of reaching her destination unscathed. Yet despite the clear night and the watchful lookout, a looming, unseen colossus was destined to sink her. Of course, even the smallest twist in the kaleidoscope may produce chaos. It is on this premise, embodied by the mysterious, anachronistic presence of a pair of 21st century night vision binoculars, that author David Kowalski launches his epic exploration of “what if?” What if the Titanic hadn’t struck the iceberg? Or, what if she had, but on a different side? Who lives that night, who dies and how - these subtle changes will reshape history as we know it in breathtakingly plausible ways. That is, unless one man’s profound sacrifice in 2012 can reset the Titanic on its original date with destiny.

 

At just under 750 narrative pages, The Company of the Dead is a tome to be sure, yet not a page in its composition is superfluous to its intricately-woven plot and character development. Throughout the story, Kowalski demonstrates compulsive attention to historical detail and lyrical language. These elements serve to draw the reader ever further into the author’s ambitious yet startlingly realistic vision of a world reshaped and on the edge of the apocalypse.

 

The Company of the Dead is broadly recommended for readers of any genre who are prepared to invest time in an absorbing adventure. Technically a secret rather than an alternate history, The Company of the Dead nevertheless plays on the same “what if?” element characteristic of so many alternate history titles. It will therefore strike a particular chord with devotees of alternate history and historical fiction. Readers beguiled by alternate histories involving familiar historic figures and locations may also enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series as well as a smorgasbord of series and standalone titles by Harry Turtledove.

Meghan

 
 

Loving the First Scoundrel

Loving the First Scoundrel

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 11:02am

A Rogue by Any Other Name Bestselling Regency romance author Sarah MacLean’s new Rules of Scoundrels quartet will follow the four charming rogues who own the Fallen Angel gambling club.  Each has fallen from society after a scandal but will find love strong enough to redeem him.  The series is off to a great start with A Rogue by Any Other Name.

 

MacLean’s first scoundrel is the Marquess of Bourne who gambled away his inheritance when he was 19 years old.  The scandal left him penniless and exiled from society, but he has built a new life and fortune for himself as one of the owners of the most notorious gambling hell in London.  The only thing that he hasn’t regained is Falconwell, his ancestral estate.  When he finds that Falconwell is now part of the dowry of his childhood neighbor Penelope Marbury, Bourne traps her into marrying him.  Penelope has always loved her childhood friend Michael (now Bourne) but the man she has married bears little resemblance to him.  Bourne doesn’t expect marriage to change his life, but Penelope is not at all the woman Bourne expected her to be.  In the end, he has to choose between the revenge that he always wanted and the life he never knew that he could have.

 

MacLean has an extraordinary ability to create characters who readers love, and she injects a modern sense of humor into her historical setting.  Old letters between Penelope and Bourne open each chapter, giving their relationship history and depth.  The epilogue of A Rogue by Any Other Name has a tease of the next novel, and it will definitely leave readers wanting more. Readers new to Sarah MacLean should also try her Love by Numbers series, where Penelope makes her first appearance.   

Beth

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Get to know Detective Alex Morrow

Get to know Detective Alex Morrow

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:59am

The End of the Wasp Season The End of the Wasp Season is the latest novel by Denise Mina and the second featuring Detective Inspector Alex Morrow. Morrow was introduced in the novel Still Midnight, in which she was trying to solve an attack on a family while wrestling demons of her own. In the current novel, Morrow is heavily pregnant with twins and trying to unravel the mysterious death of a woman who was thrown down a flight of stairs and stomped on. As in the previous novel, Morrow is also dealing with sexism within the police bureau and trying to ensure that male officers treat the victim with respect.

 

Morrow is a complex character. She is methodical, organized, and truly desires justice for the victims. She finds herself in an uncomfortable situation when she runs into an old school friend named Kay whose previous employment was caring for the victim’s mother. Morrow wants to reconnect with her, but realizes that Kay and members of her family may be suspects in the crime. Kay is still living in semi-poverty and has a strong mistrust for the police. Morrow represents all the things that Kay dislikes.

 

The novel is set in Glasgow, Scotland and Mina really creates a strong city atmosphere.  For a reader that prefers audio editions, the work is read by Jane MacFarlane who has a delightful Glaswegian accent that lends to the enjoyment of hearing the novel. Mina describes police procedures in realistic detail, from evidence collection to suspect interrogation. But the greatest strength in her novels is her insight into the psychology of the main characters. The story is as much about those who commit the crime as those who solve them. The reader gets caught up in the story and it becomes impossible to stop reading. Both Still Midnight and The End of the Wasp Season are wonderful novels and Detective Alex Morrow is a character every reader should discover.

Doug

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An Unconventional Page-turner

An Unconventional Page-turner

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:54am

HeftHeft by Liz Moore is a confessional novel about loneliness, human fragility and hope. From the very beginning, Arthur Opp confides, “the first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat.” By his estimation, he probably weighs between 500-600 pounds and has not left his home in Brooklyn since September 11, 2001.  He has no contact with family or friends. If he needs anything from the outside world, he simply orders it online.

 

Out of the blue, former student Charlene calls Arthur to find out if he might consider tutoring her teenage son, Kel. Although Charlene was Arthur’s student over twenty years ago, he still thinks of her often. For him, Charlene represents a life that might have been.  Meanwhile, Charlene is a struggling single mom raising her son in Yonkers. Wanting more for Kel, she has managed to get him into a better school in an affluent neighborhood nearby by working at the school as a secretary. Kel is a gifted athlete and is interested in pursuing a career in baseball. Charlene is concerned that he’s more interested in sports than in his academic future. A firm believer in higher education, she hopes Arthur Opp may be able to help. Readers will stay up way too late, temporarily neglect chores and relationships just to see how this story unfolds.

Heft is a heartfelt novel that never crosses into sappy sentimentalism. With Moore’s keen attention to detail, deeply compelling story and all too human characters, Heft is destined to land on many of the “Best Of” lists this year. Adult and teen readers who enjoy coming of age stories should not miss out on this lovely book.

 

 

 

Zeke

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Ghosts, Mysterious Doors, and…Herbalists? Oh my!

The Night StrangersHalloween is long past, but readers can recreate the ambiance with Chris Bohjalian’s (Midwives, The Double Bind) new book The Night Strangers.  Set in a small town in upstate New Hampshire, a community’s sinister secrets are gradually unearthed, creating a satisfyingly creepy tale. 

 

The setting says it all.  An isolated town with spotty cell phone reception.  A spooky Victorian house with a mysterious door in the basement.  Disturbing rumors about the former owners.   Enter Chip, who moves his family to this house after a passenger plane he was piloting crashes and kills almost everyone on board.   As they settle in, the family discovers unnerving elements about their new home, including hidden weapons and a heavily bolted door in the basement.  They also meet some unsettling townspeople, the “herbalists”, who have taken a special interest in the twin daughters.  As the story further unfolds, the reader follows Chip in his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and his slow descent into a world of ghosts and voices from the beyond.

 

This is a refreshing read because it is, simply, a ghost story with plenty of psychological terror (think Stephen King’s earlier books like The Shining) and a subtly frightening cast of side characters.  And like any good horror story, the family doesn’t see the danger until it’s too late.  All the signs are there, questions are raised, but (sigh) the family stays.  Although this book is a departure from Bohjalian’s usual style and lacks any real shocking twists or mind-bending ending, it is still a mature tale with a conclusion that leaves much room for discussion.  Interestingly, the author himself lives in an old home with a strange door in the basement…

Melanie