Staff Recommendations

September 2020

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (as told to me) Story by Bess Kalb

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Bobby Bell is a direct, strong-willed, unapologetic, opinionated grandmother. Never one to hold her tongue, Bobby has imparted unsolicited advice and family history on her granddaughter, Bess, throughout her entire life. That is, until Bobby passed away in 2017 at the age of 91. Bess, an accomplished writer, pens Bobby’s memoir the only way she knows how: in Bobby’s own voice. You hear how Bobby’s mother, Rose, traveled from Belarus to America as a child, alone, and how Bobby’s four older brothers influenced her upbringing. Even though Bobby’s relationship with her own daughter, Robin, was difficult at times, she loved her fiercely and would do anything for her, including talking her way onto a sold-out plane the minute she found out Robin was in the American Hospital of Paris. Throughout the book, Bess provides photographs, telephone conversations and voicemail messages from her grandmother. Funny and poignant, one cannot help but hear Bobby’s voice lift off the pages. For anyone who has had a special relationship with a grandparent or grandchild, this book is for you. ~Sharon Long~  

The End of October by Lawrence Wright

The End of October Opens in new windowA deadly new virus ravages the world in this timely novel by a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Dr. Henry Parsons, an epidemiologist working for the World Health Organization, is sent on last minute trip to investigate a minor disease outbreak in an Indonesian detention camp. What he finds instead is evidence of an unknown, swiftly moving virus that causes its victims to hemorrhage internally. Parsons attempts to quarantine the area, but his infected driver leaves the scene and the virus spreads worldwide. Back in Atlanta, Parsons’s wife and children struggle to survive as the world begins to collapse around them. Looters have cleared the shelves in the grocery stores, bartering has become the only way to get necessary supplies, and all the while, the disease is decimating the population. Stranded on the other side of the world once a travel ban goes into effect, Parsons desperately searches for a way back to his family while trying to discover a way to slow down the disease. This novel is a look at how quickly the world can fall apart when faced with the unknown. The author’s background in nonfiction writing lends to the authenticity of the story with his explanations of pathogens, microbiology, and past pandemics. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson

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On a persistent recommendation from a trusted source, I recently read The Feather Thief despite its archaic premise (ostensibly, it’s about the theft of bird feathers from a British museum). Enthusiastically, I implore you to do the same! This book is endlessly fascinating and so entirely informative on subjects you did not even realize you wanted to learn about. Travailing several centuries and continents, this entertaining yarn is an historical and anthropological survey wrapped in a true crime package. Tag along on expeditions to discover rare insects and birds and the race to conceive the theory of evolution. Become immersed in the obsessive world of Victorian salmon fly tying, and follow the author on a determined quest to unearth the truth of an unbelievable heist and the mysteries left in its wake. If that all sounds a bit convoluted and contrived, then you’re where I was before I started this book. But if you enjoy absorbing stories with captivating insights, you will be thrilled by this resplendent tale. ~Noah Weckwerth~

Emma (DVD)

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A good story is worth telling again and again. Such is the case with Jane Austen’s story of Emma, the charming Regency-era 20-something whose favorite occupation is matchmaking. Thinking that her family and friends could benefit from her designs, lovely Emma meddles with matters of the heart that are better left alone. This recent DVD adaptation seems to take Jane Austen's subtle humor and turn it into a somewhat satirical presentation. It was entertaining but it prompted me to re-watch the 1996 adaptation, which featured Gwyneth Paltrow. To me, the casting and acting in this earlier version allow for more character development, making for a story of greater substance, one worth reading or watching again and again. ~Nancy Arevalo~ 

Nature: Remarkable Rabbits (DVD)

Remarkable Rabbits Opens in new windowWhether you see them as charming little fluff balls or annoying pests in your garden, there are no dumb bunnies in this captivating hour of NATURE on PBS. Masters of survival from the size of their ears to the color of their coats, rabbits the world over have adapted to their environments from the desert to the arctic to the world of show pets. Even their famous talent for reproduction is a survival technique, and some species have the ability to encode future “family planning” into the DNA codes of their offspring. So if like me, you’ve ever seen groups of rabbits hopping into the air like popcorn on an Elm Grove lawn on a Spring night (the highly scientific name for this is cavorting), or wondered about that famous photo of Jimmy Carter in a rowboat swinging an oar at a swimming hare, you’ll learn about it in this enchanting and enlightening program. ~Shannon McKeown~

The Hidden World of the Fox by Adele Brand

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This delightful little book is the equivalent of watching a nature documentary. The author is passionate about debunking the many misconceptions about this furry forager, and her writing style in doing so is straightforward and engaging. Along the way, you’ll learn everything you’d ever want to know about the genus vulpes along with many surprising tidbits (I did not realize foxes were so closely related to dogs). Though you rarely see them, foxes are everywhere, and they can adapt to practically any environment. Count me an admirer of this true survivor in the wild. ~Noah Weckwerth~ 

Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

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The title of this book intrigued me because it is what my friends call our own group of four women who vacation and commiserate together. Susan Mallery revisits Blackberry Island, continuing the series after a six year break. Three women who are actually cousins, but much closer, find life is not what they had envisioned. One, who has lost her cat product company in a fire, decides to start over on the island where she grew up. Being a super control freak is causing both business and personal issues. One wants to start her own bakery, but her husband and children are not being supportive, leaving her with many doubts. The third wants (needs) to escape a life of blaming others for her own issues, and not become like her mother. Can these three women overcome what life has thrown at them? Quick read. ~Sharon Passick~  

The Summer We Found The Baby by Amy Hest

The Summer We Found the Baby

This simple, intriguing title wraps up the whole story, but of course, much more happened that summer. Julie and her little sister, Martha, are spending the summer in Belle Beach, Long Island with their father. Pop is a writer and he is interviewing the soldiers at nearby Camp Mitchel for his next book. The Ben-Eli’s live next door and 12-year-old Bruno becomes a friend to Julie and Martha. The story is told from three different viewpoints: Bruno, who is missing his older brother who is away fighting the war in Europe; Julie, who fills the role of mother in her family even though she is only 11; and Martha, who is surprisingly insightful for a six-year-old. Each narrator contributes details to the story from their own viewpoint, starting with Julie finding a baby in a basket on the steps of the library, and including everything that led up to that moment and the surprising resolution to it. And Eleanor Roosevelt might make a surprise appearance when you least expect it! Recommended for grades 3-5 or as a family read aloud. ~Sue Daniels~

Summer 2020

Do the Right Thing (DVD) and We Speak for Ourselves by D. Watkins

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In any time, in any situation…perspective

By any measure, Do the Right Thing is a seminal work. Deemed by the Library of Congress to be culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant, the film seamlessly blends comedy and drama with a searing lesson in culture and racism. You’ll meet Mookie (Spike Lee), who delivers pizza for Sal (Danny Aiello) in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn on a scorching summer day. As the temperatures rise, the tensions do too, culminating in an all-to-familiar display of violence, and an aftermath of ashes and hurt. This Spike Lee joint is 31 years old. Sadly, it’s not the least bit dated.

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D. Watkins, the author of We Speak for Ourselves, is a voice that needs a seat at every table. In this slim, engaging book, Watkins reflects his experiences living in a challenged Baltimore neighborhood, the many people he has lost, and the work he does to make a difference. Watkins’ writing style is acute and unapologetic, as he makes excellent point after excellent point about systemic racism, woke culture, and activism that actually works. I highly recommend this quick read that sticks, for the perspective it provides. ~Noah Weckwerth~

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

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In post-Civil War Louisiana, "Lost Friends" ads circulated as a way for freed slaves to search for loved ones who had been sold off. Lisa Wingate brings the tumultuous Reconstruction era to life as she tells the story of three young women setting off on a quest for family and survival. The year is 1875, and the unlikely companions each have their own reasons to look for the once-wealthy owner of the Gossett Plantation. Fast forward to 1987, a young, first-year teacher accepts a position in the small town of Augustine, Louisiana. Her enthusiasm to teach high school English thwarted at every turn by the indifference and poverty around her. A passion for books and fascination with the town’s history launch her into unexpected discoveries about herself, her students, and their connection to the Gossett Plantation of long ago. Another hit by Lisa Wingate, bestselling author of Before We Were Yours. ~Nancy Arevalo~

1776 (1972 movie on DVD) and John Adams (HBO Miniseries on DVD)

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I first saw this film version of the witty Broadway musical on an 8th grade class field trip and John Adams has been my hero ever since (and William Daniels my favorite actor). A view of a most tenacious, knowledgeable and, arguably the most irritating (yet effective) of our founding fathers, this is a clever retelling of the break from England and the creation of the Declaration of Independence. Politics abound, with regional and cultural concerns competing with morality and true danger through the actual words and experiences of familiar historical characters such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock along with the letters of John and Abigail Adams. Topical now as it was then, it is telling that the most controversial song in the show at the time was not Molasses to Rum, a brutal indictment of the hypocrisy of the Americans in regard to the slave trade, but Cool Cool Considerate Men – a perceived slam at conservatism which was said to have been deleted from the movie at the request of then President Richard Nixon. It is included on the DVD.

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Based on the outstanding biography by David McCullough, this celebrated HBO miniseries begins with Adams’ successful defense of the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre and ends with his death on July 4, 1826 at nearly the same time as his famous colleague, rival and friend Thomas Jefferson. With brutal realism regarding revolution, war, and world politics at the time, this version is no musical, yet its epic portrayals allows one to find more respect and even awe in what this man and his colleagues accomplished in such difficult times. ~Shannon McKeown~

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden and

The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz

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If your kids are bored and you are tired of the virtual entertainment that has become our main option now, these books may help. These are not new books, but when first published about a dozen years ago, they were immediately popular and it is time for another look.

Each of these books is a compilation of skills, activities, songs, stories and trivia collected over the years. Do not let the genders in the titles put you off either, because there is plenty in both books that will appeal to everyone. The Dangerous Book will teach you how to make a battery, how to juggle, how to skip stones, all about the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, and much more. The Daring Book will teach you about how to play basketball and double dutch jump rope, bird watching, first aid, how to be a spy, the words to campfire songs, and so on. Each book has a few sections designed more for one gender or the other, for example, in The Dangerous Book, the advice to boys on how to behave toward girls is sweet, humorous, and age-appropriate, and parents will get a chuckle out of it even if their kids roll their eyes. The Daring Book contains some unique fashion advice, such as “Putting Your Hair Up With a Pencil,” that will probably appeal to more girls than boys, but you never know when this skill will come in handy! These books are recommended for families with children ages 7-12 or anyone with a thirst for practical knowledge. ~Sue Daniels~

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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This much-anticipated prequel to the popular Hunger Games series follows a young Coriolanus Snow as he must serve as a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games. After the war that tore Panem apart, the Snow family has been left destitute and struggles to maintain the Capitol lifestyle to which they are accustomed. A chance for a full-ride scholarship to the university presents itself when Snow is chosen to serve as a mentor to the tribute from District 12, a girl named Lucy Gray. A scrappy musician with a beautiful singing voice, Lucy Gray quickly wins the hearts of both the Capitol and Snow. However, the struggle to keep Lucy alive and keep his social standing in high regard begins to twist Snow’s personality into something dark. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when the Hunger Games are over. Because this novel deals with some heavy concepts, including the personal responsibility we take for our choices and wartime violence, it would be best suited for older teens and up. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stadal

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This the story of Eva Thorvald and how she became a celebrated chef hosting pop-up dinners at $5,000 a plate with a waiting list rivaling Packers season tickets. Her story unfolds in stand-alone chapters filed with intriguing characters, sometimes focusing directly Eva while at other times Eva is a peripheral character. Stadal takes you from Eva’s infancy to the height of her fame and cleverly intertwines his large cast of characters into a satisfying conclusion. Food takes center stage as well with detailed descriptions and plenty of recipes. Adding to the appeal is the majority of the book takes place in Minnesota and highlights many familiar Upper Midwest activities: supper clubs, deer hunting, and county fairs to name a few. ~Sharon Long~

Playful Learning Lab For Kids: whole-body sensory adventures to enhance focus, engagement, and curiosity by Claire Heffron and Lauren Drobnjak

Playful Learning Lab for Kids

Need something new to do with your kids or grandkids this summer? The subtitle to the book says it all. From reading to art to music and more, this book provides fun activities to enhance the preschool and primary school-aged child with varied and physical ways to learn concepts. Includes both indoor and outdoor adventures. Each of the seven units also include explanations of the why of the unit and well as each activity has a list of materials, any preparation and the how-to’s for the child. Have fun! ~Sharon Passick~

June 2020

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

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Hanna and her father are restarting their lives in the Dakota Territory following the death of her mother. Her father hopes to open a successful dress goods store. Hanna hopes to go to school and to fulfill her dream of becoming a dressmaker like her mother. Settling into their new town is not easy for Hanna as she is half-Chinese. Prejudices run high and acceptance runs low in the small prairie town. This book is an excellent choice for fans of the Little House books. In her author’s note, Park acknowledges her love of the Little House books and her desire to tell a more complete story addressing the issues of racism in the 1880s. ~Sharon Long~  

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

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If you liked the book News of the World by the same author, you will love this book! Set in post-Civil War Texas, Simon makes his living by making music, in a land where music was scarce. His travels with a ragtag group of musicians take him towards the future he hopes to make for himself in the desolate, rough and wild land of early Texas. The author’s lyrical prose fits well with the musical theme of the story, and the audio book is very enjoyable. Since the titles of Simon’s fiddle tunes are mentioned throughout the book, I went a step further and looked for them online, and easily found recent recordings of many of the songs, listening to the music as I read the story. I later learned that the author herself is in a music group with fiddle, dulcimer, mandolin and tin whistle. ~Nancy Arevalo~

Just Mercy (DVD)

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This timely film, based on the memoir of the same name, tells the story of Walter “Johnny D” McMillan, an African-American man who was wrongly convicted of murder, and Bryan Stevenson, a driven young lawyer determined to prove McMillan’s innocence. In 1989, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) is a recent graduate from Harvard law school seeking some direction on how to use his knowledge for the betterment of mankind. He moves to Alabama to start the Equal Justice Initiative in order to help death row inmates who may not have access to better legal representation. He meets McMillan (Jaime Foxx), who claims he is innocent, but feels hopeless that anything can be done to help him. After reviewing the flimsy evidence of McMillan’s case, Stevenson is convinced that he did not commit the crime he has been sentenced to die for and sets out to have the conviction overturned. This movie is a powerful look at racism and the deeply rooted problems within the criminal justice system. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter

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The Winterborne Home is a mansion that has been empty since Mr. and Mrs. Winterborne died at sea and their only child, Gabriel, disappeared. The mansion is cared for by the Winterborne’s butler and by a family friend, Isabella, who has brought together some orphans with connections to the Winterbornes, to live in the mansion. When April arrives at the Winterborne Home, she has just discovered that the key she wears on a chain around her neck, bears the Winterborne crest and she hopes she will find clues about who her mother is and where she has gone. But the Winterborne Home is hiding several secrets, and as April and the other children begin to find answers, they also discover more questions. Popular author Ally Carter has been writing action/adventure stories for teens (The Gallagher Girls series) for years, but this new series is recommended for grades 4-7. ~Sue Daniels~  

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

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A wonderful new novel about second chances. All Adults Here is the story of the extended Strick family, their assorted plights, and the ties that bind them. It features fallible characters that you will still root for, and an interconnectedness between them that will keep you smiling as you read. At its core, it’s a lighthearted story infused with issues of parenting, community, gender, and sexuality. There are a few lines of R-rated adult content throughout, but overall, All Adults Here is a sweet story with something to say about love, family, and acceptance. Great as a summer read, or for your book club. ~Noah Weckwerth~

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

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Leave it to Stephen King to know what really scares us. His horror novels typically employ the supernatural to reflect our more primal fears, and in this 1999 story of a lost child he hits all the hot buttons: a parent’s greatest nightmare, the guilt of a sibling who wasn’t watching, a marriage in crisis, and the one we all forget – being young, inexperienced, and in a circumstance beyond our control that may cost our life, all alone.

Nine-year-old Trisha is on yet another weekend adventure with her recently divorced and overcompensating mother, and her sullen and argumentative teen brother. This time, it’s a hike on the Maine-New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Trail. Partly to take a break from their bickering, Trisha hangs back and steps off the path for a quick potty break. Before she realizes it, she takes a wrong turn and becomes lost in the woods. As night falls and panic begins to set in, Trisha imagines her baseball hero Tom Gordon as a guide as she faces more real than imaginary threats well beyond hunger and thirst. This is one intense survival tale, a typical King page turner in an atypically compact 219 pages. ~Shannon McKeown~  

Hinterland (DVD)

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Pretty much the only thing cheering me up during the Coronavirus quarantine has been the time spent solving baffling crimes in faraway lands with seasoned detectives who know how to work a case. Hinterland is a beautifully filmed Welsh series and another sterling example of why the best mystery shows come from Great Britain. I have heard this series described as “gritty noir,” and I couldn’t say it any better myself. DCI Tom Mathias leads a team of cabable colleagues as he fights his own demons whilst battling decades-old secrets in an attempt to unearth truths and gain closure for the victims. Pair this sparse depressor with cockles and laverbread for an authentic Welsh experience. ~Noah Weckwerth~   

Good Old Days (Magazine)

Good Old Days Opens in new windowOkay boomers, here is the magazine for you! Good Old Days is the magazine that remembers the best of times. Readers contribute all the feature stories and photos of the good old days of 1930 through 1970. This is an easy-to-read collection of memories will fascinate the young and the old alike. The Elm Grove Library only recently added this magazine to our collection, and it has been a popular and nostalgic trip! ~Noah Weckwerth~

Caribu (app)

Caribu My granddaughters and I have had a fun time with this app since we can no longer (at least not yet) meet in person. Caribu is a family video calling app that integrates children’s books and activities. Available across many formats, it is a fun way to interact with youngsters. My personal recommendation is to choose the largest device you have available unless your vision is perfect! Security is accomplished by the parent having control over who can access the app. Lots of fun! ~Sharon Passick, grandmother of a 7 and 5 year old~

May 2020

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

undefined Opens in new windowEleanor Oliphant lives a solitary, orderly, and predictable life and that is just fine with her. She is unconcerned about what her co-workers think of her and has no need for friends. She is content with her routine. Then one day, she sees a musician and falls instantly in love. However, before she can act on her feelings, Eleanor realizes that she has to make some changes, especially if she will be dating an up and coming rock star. Her mission gets sidetracked when she witnesses a stranger collapse in the street. In a complete deviation from her normal routine, she is walking with Raymond, the new IT person from work. Raymond insists they seek medical attention for the old man who is unconscious. This chance encounter sets in motion a series of events that disrupts Eleanor’s order. We soon learn that there is much more to Eleanor and her past begins to surface. Eleanor’s path to re-inventing herself is equal parts wickedly funny and heartbreakingly sad. A hard to put down book that will appeal to fans of Fredrik Bachman novels. ~Sharon Long~ 

The Cactus League by Emily Nemens

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Get ready for cut grass and bat cracks with this winsome new interconnected novel. As another season beckons, spring training gets under way in Arizona’s sweltering cactus league, and everybody’s wondering what’s going on with Jason Goodyear. The star outfielder for the Los Angeles Lions, Jason is handsome, famous, and super talented, so why is he sleeping on a cot in the stadium supply shed?

Told through a series of entertaining interconnected short stories, The Cactus League explores the downfall of baseball’s golden boy through the peripherals of those at the fringes of the action. You’ll meet an unknown sportswriter looking for the spring’s big story (our narrator), a washed-up batting coach just looking to hang on, an aging would-be paramour looking for one last spring romance, and a host of other fully drawn fascinating characters. Read this book if you enjoyed Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks or Beartown by Fredrik Backman. And also to find out what happened to Jason Goodyear! ~Noah Weckwerth~

Sanditon (DVD)

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Based on Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon follows the story of Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) who is invited by the Parkers to stay in the village of Sanditon with them for the summer. Tom Parker is seeking to turn the small beachside village into a destination resort for well-to-do Londoners with the monetary assistance of the irascible Lady Denham (Anne Reid) and the social assistance of his dashing younger brother Sidney (Theo James). When Charlotte meets Sidney, a misunderstanding leads to a contentious relationship that, of course, thaws over time. The supporting cast of characters includes a young heiress with a forbidden love, a laborer who aspires to be something more, and a pair of conniving step-siblings who seek to have Lady Denham’s fortune all to themselves. Fair warning, the ending of the show, much like Austen’s original novel, was left unfinished, so it may not quite be the conclusion you would expect. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~

Fried Green Tomatoes (DVD)

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Escape to the past twice in this treasure from 1991, which brought to life the clever novel by Fanny Flagg.  Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) is an unhappy housewife in her 40’s along for a visit to her husband’s aunt in a nursing home when she comes across a talkative resident (Jessica Tandy) whose intriguing memories of a colorful southern past inspire her to face her problems and change her life. The story told in flashback is a vivid and complicated tale of courage, love and friendship, loyalty and justice including a murder mystery and some great food. The perfect movie for a long and rainy day; a joy to rediscover. ~Shannon McKeown~  

Gold Rush Girl by Avi

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Avi is known for writing excellent historical fiction for younger readers and this is no exception. This adventure story is told from the perspective of 13-year-old Tory who longs to be set free from her boring, restrictive life in 1849 Rhode Island. When her father loses his job and decides to try his luck in the gold fields of California, Tory refuses to be left behind. She stows away on the ship that is taking her father and brother to California and stays hidden until it is too late to send her home. When they arrive in San Francisco, Tory is dismayed to discover it is not the beautiful land of promise she expected. The prospectors who are pouring into San Francisco have created a camp that is primitive, dirty and dangerous. It is no place for a proper young lady, so Tory exchanges her dresses for trousers, works odd jobs and begins to meet people. But when her brother disappears and it is up to Tory to find him, she realizes she may have found more adventure than she can handle. Recommended for grades 4-6. ~Sue Daniels~

The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L’Engle

The Moment of Tenderness

The subtitle of this book is "Stories by the author of A Wrinkle in Time." This collection of eighteen sketches and short stories was compiled by one of the author’s granddaughters. In her introduction, this granddaughter (Charlotte Jones Voiklis) recalls being a curious nine year old, poking around in her grandmother’s manuscripts while her grandmother was writing. Over the years, she unearthed scraps and stories written in the 1940’s and 50’s. Many of these were never published. The earliest were written for college creative writing classes, others were scenes which later found their way into fully developed novels. Madeleine L’Engle passed away in 2007 and her granddaughter gave much consideration as to which of her lesser known writings to share with the public. The results are found in this compilation. I found the characters and narratives in these stories to be thought provoking, with a complexity not lending itself towards neat resolution. ~Nancy Arevalo~ 

The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

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Margot is an etiquette coach who teaches her clients to fit in, but Bianca is one of a kind. Rich enough to get whatever she wants she convinces Margot to move in with her and her hermit like son so she can learn not be an embarrassment to her diplomat fiancé. But secrets abound in the household. Will Margot success? Sunshine, the good-time sister has vowed this time she will be an upstanding person and not abandon her new job (as a nanny) by falling for the wrong man again. In spite of usually being estranged the sisters find an eerie connection this summer. Fun story that fans of Susan Mallery will enjoy. ~Sharon Passick~


Shetland (DVD)


Another winner from ITV Studios! If you are a fan of the series Vera, consider Shetland a close relative. Both based on mystery novels from Ann Cleeves, they feature dogged detectives solving crimes in remote locations: in this case the ruggedly handsome Shetland Islands. DCI Jimmy Perez is easy to root for, as he is humble, perceptive, and a great leader of his team. Each case is broken into two 60-minute episodes, plenty of time to chase leads, uncover secrets, and take in the wonderful Scottish scenery. A great series for mystery fans that continues to gain in popularity. ~Noah Weckwerth~

April 2020 - Part 2

Unknown Valor by Martha Maccallum

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In honor of the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, Martha Maccallum starts with Pearl Harbor and takes readers through the progression of World War II as it was fought in the Pacific. She introduces several of the young men, including her mother’s teenage cousin, who enlisted, were in basic training together and were shipped out to the Pacific theater as Marines. The book is well-researched and detailed while doing a good job of capturing the personal stories of these young Marines and the families who loved them. ~Nancy Arevalo~

The Stand by Stephen King

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If you are anxious about the Coronavirus and “exposure therapy” is your thing, then I highly recommend this 1978 epic horror classic about the accidental release of a weaponized super-flu virus that wipes out the majority of the human race. If that isn’t scary enough, those who survive the pandemic to rebuild this post-apocalyptic world are threatened by a demonic entity which is forcing the ultimate showdown between good and evil. One of Kings early novels, this is still considered by many – including me - to be his best work. The uncut new edition that was published in 1990 weighs in at a whopping 1152 pages, each one of them a fast turner. ~Shannon McKeown~

As Time Goes By: The Complete Seasons 1-9

As time Goes By Opens in new windowThis sweet little British sitcom, which originally ran from 1993-2005, is about finding a second chance at love. Jean Pargetter (played by Judi Dench) and Lionel Hardcastle (played by the gruffly loveable Geoffrey Palmer) met in 1953 and fell quickly in love before Lionel was shipped off to Korea. After a letter goes astray, Jean mistakenly thinks that Lionel has lost interest in her and stubbornly chooses to move on rather than seek him out. 38 years later, Lionel is writing his memoirs and hires a typist from an agency that is owned by Jean. In the years they’ve been apart, Lionel has since married and gotten divorced and Jean has been widowed. Their reunion is full of awkward moments and misunderstandings, but eventually their love is rekindled and they pick up where they left off. Jean and Lionel navigate their old-but-new relationship with the encouragement of Judith, Jean’s adult daughter, and Alistair, Lionel’s smooth talking publisher-turned-confidant. This heartwarming series is the perfect remedy for days fueled by anxiety. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~ 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

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This would have been a frustrating read under normal circumstances, but to read it in 2020 is frustration baked with perspective and sadness. Matthew Desmond spent a long time researching this book, in the field and out, and the result is a portrait that explores humanity and humility from all sides. There are no good people or bad people in Evicted. There are only those who try to survive (with whom you’ll feel equal parts sympathy and apathy) and those whose living is made renting to these folks. This is an unforgettable book that literally hits close to home; a gut-wrenching window into a misunderstood epidemic with no end in sight. These are our neighbors. ~Noah Weckwerth~

Frankly in Love: A Novel by David Yoon

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It is Frank Li’s senior year of high school and his life is getting complicated. His parents immigrated from Korea before he was born but have never fully integrated into American life. Frank feels torn between wanting to honor his parents and wanting to be an all-American teen. This becomes a big problem when his white classmate, Brit, shows interest in him and they start dating in secret. Frank’s parents will not allow him to date someone who is not Korean, so as a cover, he begins fake-dating his Korean friend, Joy. Joy is also secretly dating someone who is not Korean, so they begin a complicated strategy for getting what they want while fooling their parents and the people they are actually dating. What could go wrong? While this may sound like just a light teenage romance, it is actually much more. Frank is a very reflective narrator who gives the reader much to think about on the subject of immigrants in America. Why did his parents come to America if they want to stay completely Korean? How can he process the racism he has experienced as well as the racist comments he hears his parents make? Is there a point where he can no longer honor his parents’ rules? And is it possible for families to change? This humorous, engaging debut novel is recommended for ages 16 and up. ~Sue Daniels~

Hidden Figures (DVD)

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Watching this movie with an avowed space addict was quite the experience. As much as my husband knows about NASA and the space program, even the early years, many “hidden” things came to light. The first computers used in calculating trajectories and other data were a roomful of African-American women. Remember this is Virginia in the early 60’s and segregation is in full swing as the law of the state. This is the story of three extremely brilliant women who through grace and determination bucked that trend. The prejudice and demeaning behavior of some of the scientists at that time was both sad and hard to understand. My favorite line was one of the main character’s response to a white woman who said she really didn’t mean any harm, but this is just the way it has always been, I bet you don’t. Until we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, their life is impossible to understand. Wonderful movie about amazing women. Even the credits are powerful. ~Sharon Passick~

Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family’s Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue and Redemption by Vinh Chung

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Not a new book, I had seen this book circulated within the library system for years and finally got around to reading it when traveling (before the shutdown.) I saw it was available on "Libby" the app for Overdrive, the Wisconsin Digital Library system, so I could read it on my phone in the plane and then finish it by checking out the actual book when I got home. It is the true story of a family living in Viet Nam before it fell to the Communists, and their desperate escape by boat in 1979. The experiences of Vinh Chung and his family are, at the same time, both harrowing and uplifting. ~Nancy Arevalo~

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams

Genesis Begins Again

Life is complicated for Genesis Anderson. Her parents are fighting, they have been evicted again, her grandmother is always making things worse, and she has to start a new school again. Genesis keeps track of all this on her list of 100 reasons why she hates herself. Her top reason is her skin is too black. If it was lighter, like her Mama’s, her father would love her and she would have friends. Williams debut book addresses tough issues of colorism, alcoholism, bullying, and self-esteem with honesty and hope. Genesis finds her strength and begins to accept and even like herself. This middle grade novel is a great read and relatable to anyone who has struggled with acceptance from within and with others. A 2020 Newberry Honor Book and Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent. ~Sharon Long~

April 2020 - Part 1

When Life Gives You Pears by Jeannie Gaffigan

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Since Jeannie is a comedy writer as well as the wife of stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan, she has the unique ability to humorously describe her own experience with a life-threatening brain tumor. Diagnosed in 2017 with the pear-sized tumor, she undergoes surgery and a long hospitalization while Jim, her Milwaukee parents and her eight siblings step in to care for their five children in their New York City apartment. She writes a deeply personal story of faith, family and recovery. (On a lighter note, the Gaffigan family is now offering some humor during this lock-down by way of You Tube episodes called "Dinner with the Gaffigans," an impromptu invitation to their nightly suppers shared in their New York City apartment.) ~Nancy Arevalo~

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi


Why is America a racist place and how do we change it? Reynolds and Kendi address this huge question by tracing the history of discrimination against Black people in America over the last half-millennium. Reynolds spends more time on some political movements, ideas and notable figures than others, but he finds plenty of blame to go around. Fortunately, he also believes that there is reason for hope. Written in Reynolds recognizable, active voice, it is easy to imagine much of the text as a spoken word presentation. He emphatically states that this work is not a history book, but rather a rallying cry for young people to examine their ideas about race, where those ideas come from and whether they are true. This book will inspire some readers and irritate others, but it is impossible to feel indifferent to it. Described as a remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Kendi, this version is for younger readers. Recommended for grades 7 and up. ~Sue Daniels~

Richard Jewell (DVD)

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If you think the media has a reputation now as perpetrators of justice before due process, take a trip back to ’96. The Atlanta Summer Olympics, crown jewel (pun intended) of the 1996 TV schedule, are marred just days into the games when a bomb goes off in Centennial Park, where revelers had gathered for live music and celebration. Two died and more than 100 were injured as a result of the bombing. However, it would have been many more if not for the heroism of park security guard Richard Jewell, who spotted the suspicious package and acted swiftly. But his discerning eye, dutiful nature, and colorful background also made him an easy suspect, lack of evidence be damned. In this film, Clint Eastwood directs the story of Richard Jewell and his fraught ordeal, a somber reminder of media responsibility and its substantial impact. ~Noah Weckwerth~

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa

In the year 2000, 15-year-old loner Vanessa is starting her sophomore year at a boarding school in Maine. Determined to add an extracurricular activity to her resume, she joins the creative writing club and catches the eye of her English literature teacher, 42 year-old Jacob Strane. He makes quick work of wooing her, and before long they are engaged in a clandestine sexual relationship. Fast forward to the year 2017 and #MeToo is bringing powerful men who’ve abused women to the forefront. Another student from the same boarding school Vanessa attended has accused Strane of having a similarly inappropriate relationship with her. Vanessa is contacted not only by this other student, but by a journalist as well, which forces her to reevaluate her entire relationship with the man she considered to be her first, great love. My Dark Vanessa is a powerful look into the long-term effects of sexual abuse from the complicated perspective of the victim. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~

The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs

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What happens when you are from a small town in Washington and have ambitions to become a famous fashion designer? Always seen as the misfit in a loving family of five, Caroline finally was able to take her talent to New York. But life doesn’t always work out like it should. The tragic death of her fashion model friend left Caroline with the guardianship of her two young children. Never having wanted children Caroline comes back to Oysterville to start life over again. With the support of her family, she helps the children cope with the death of their mother and she creates a group to assist women who are affected by domestic violence. The Oysterville Sewing Circle is not only a support group but it also becomes a way for Caroline to restart her fashion career and provide jobs for many of these women. Life isn’t easy, but her summer friend from childhood is now living in Oysterville, married to her best friend from school. As usual, life takes some unexpected turns. Great story about the power of women working together. ~Sharon Passick~

Octopus: Making Contact (DVD)

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Several years ago I reviewed the wonderful book The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, a fantastic peek into the world of the extraordinary and otherworldly creature that we are only beginning to understand. This mind-blowing episode of Nature on PBS takes it one step further as Dr. David Scheel, a professor of marine biology at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage observes an octopus in a large aquarium in his home. Watch as “Heidi” changes colors, solves problems, plays games, recognizes faces and even develops a relationship with Scheel’s teenaged daughter as they witness and document the incredible capabilities and behaviors of this intelligent cephalopod. ~Shannon McKeown~

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

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An old brownstone townhouse on 141st Street in Harlem, New York City, is home to the Vanderbeeker family. They have lived here for as long as any of the kids can remember so it comes as a shock when their parents tell them that their landlord, Mr. Beiderman, will not renew their lease and they have to move by the end of the year which is ten days away. Since they are out of school for Christmas vacation, the five siblings launch a campaign to persuade Mr. Beiderman to let them stay. At first they hope to win him over with kindness but Mr. Beiderman is both reclusive and unfriendly and the children have a daunting task. Add in a colorful cast of neighborhood friends, both children and adults, an assortment of family pets, and the usual shenanigans that go on in a large, active family and you have this funny, heart-warming tale that is the first in a series. Fans of The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall will enjoy getting to know the Vanderbeekers. Recommended for grades 4-7. Available on Hoopla and Overdrive. ~Sue Daniels~

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

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Amid Knives Out fandom and COVID-19 panic, a good old-fashioned murder mystery is a welcome ticket to escapism! Here I could tell you all this book is about, lest it’s already there in the title. Needless to say, it’s a classic British mystery: quaint village, plenty of suspects with various motives, and a quirky, mustachioed genius of a detective, slowly ferreting out the truth. This was my first Agatha Christie mystery, and I can say it makes a great entry point for anyone who has yet to read her. An enjoyable puzzle indeed! ~Noah Weckwerth~

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

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World War II has just ended and Hanako is traveling to Japan with her parents and younger brother to live with her grandparents. Her parents have renounced their American citizenship, an offer they felt they could not refuse following years living in Japanese internment camps. Hanako’s grandparents are tenant farmers outside of Hiroshima and have offered to share their small home with Hanako’s family while her father looks for work. Kadohata’s middle grade novel tells a story rich with human spirit, but also the realities of the devastation of post-World War II Japan and the plight Japanese-Americans. Hanako is resilient and in some ways is mature beyond her years. Yet, she still finds her little brother annoying and worries about fitting in and making new friends at school. Despite some of the heavy themes, this is an uplifting read with likeable characters and told from a unique perspective. ~Sharon Long~

March 2020

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

undefined Opens in new windowIn the wake of the potato famine in Ireland, Clara Kelly is sent to America by her father to earn money for the family. After a difficult ocean passing, Clara finds herself in a lucky spot of mistaken identity that leads to her employment as a lady’s maid to Margaret Carnegie, a position she retains through wit and perseverance.  Clara’s position isolates her from other house staff. When her mistress’ son, Andrew, strikes up a conversation with her, Clara is eager to have someone to talk to. Not surprising, Andrew and Clara develop feelings for each other. Clara is conflicted about the “lie” she is living and her duties to her family in Ireland. It is Andrew’s relationship with Clara that is the catalyst turning him from a cunning businessman into a generous philanthropist. Of note, while Clara Kelly is a fictional character, many historians believe it was a romantic involvement that lead to Andrew Carnegie’s rapid transformation. Fans of Downton Abbey will greatly enjoy this book. ~Sharon Long~ 

Jojo Rabbit (DVD)

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Oscar winner for the Best Adapted Screenplay, Jojo Rabbit is equal parts black comedy and serious drama. Johannes “Jojo” Betzler desperately wants to be a member of Hitler’s private army, but when the older kids at his Hitler Youth training camp order him to kill a rabbit, he refuses, earning him the nickname Jojo Rabbit. After a botched attempt to prove his manhood leaves him scarred and crippled, Jojo finds that the only way he can serve his country is to distribute propaganda. One day when he is at home alone, he investigates a noise coming from late sister’s bedroom and discovers his mother has hidden a teenage Jewish girl named Elsa in the wall of their house. With encouragement from his imaginary friend, an over-the-top version of Adolf Hitler (played by director/screenwriter Taika Waititi), Jojo decides to interview her in an attempt to collect information that will help Germany’s cause. However, the more he gets to know Elsa, and the more erratic and angry his imaginary Hitler becomes, the more he questions his beliefs. Ultimately, a tragic incident forces Jojo to confront the horrifying realities of Nazi Germany and learn that playing war is not the same as living it. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~  

Under Currents by Nora Roberts

Under Currents Opens in new window Under a veneer of family perfection, Zane and his younger sister know otherwise. But one fateful night that veneer is peeled away. Eighteen years later Zane returns to his hometown to reconnect with the people and the place that meant so much to him as he was growing up. He meets Darby, a gifted landscaper who has a past and secrets of her own. Can they surmount issues and dangers that crop up in their current lives? Nora Roberts tackles a sensitive topic and handles it with grace and love. ~Sharon Passick~ 

Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido

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Emmy is longing for belonging. Her family has just moved to San Francisco from Wisconsin so she is the new kid in a new place. She is also the only child in a family of musicians and while she loves music, she’s not a gifted musician like her parents. Emmy ends up in a computer coding class at school and realizes that most of what she loves about music transfers to coding and she’s good at it! With a possible new best friend and a teacher who inspires her, life begins to look better. But will it stay that way? This novel is written in verse with liberal use of coding terms and formatting. Recommended for students in grades 4-6 who want to sample coding along with Emmy. ~Sue Daniels~

Harriet (DVD)

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While Harriet Tubman may be a prominent historical figure, this is the first feature film to be made about her life. This is the extraordinary tale of her escape from slavery and her transformation into an American hero. In 1849, at age 27, she escapes from a slave owner on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland. After tasting freedom in Philadelphia, she secretly returns to the Eastern Shore to rescue family members and carries out as many as 13 similar missions over the next 11 years. I thought the movie was beautifully made, suspenseful, and the acting was excellent. In 2018, I visited a new museum on the Eastern Shore called the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, built near Harriet’s birthplace. I was impressed that, in her lifetime, she led over 70 enslaved individuals from Maryland to freedom in the North as an operator on the underground railroad. She also served as a nurse and spy during the civil war, fought for women’s rights, and eventually made a home for her aging parents in upstate New York. You may not want to make the drive to the museum in her honor, so just check out the DVD to gain a whole new appreciation of Harriet Tubman, whose life changed the course of American history. ~Nancy Arevalo~

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

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Ronan Farrow is as famous for his exposé of systemic sexual abuse in the news and entertainment industries as he is for his well-known pedigree as the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen… and brother of Dylan Farrow, who has brought charges of sexual abuse against their father. No ordinary journalist, he was a college graduate at age 15, then earned his law degree at Yale before continuing his education at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. His article in The New Yorker, which lead to the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and reignited the #MeTo movement, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. This book is the factual and detailed account of his efforts to navigate a labyrinth masquerading as a maze of dead ends and ominous threats; a tapestry with threads that once pulled, proved to be connected to not only Weinstein, but ultimately to Matt Lauer and NBC, the other major news outlets, the National Enquirer and multi-national spy organizations as well as both candidates for president in 2016. It’s hair-raising stuff, full of complex and harrowing accounts, often disturbing, but courageously told. NOTE: the audio book is narrated by the author, and is a superb and compelling presentation. ~Shannon McKeown~ 

Lovely War by Julie Berry

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This YA novel has great crossover appeal for lovers of historical fiction and magical realism. The story is framed by a World War II update on the Greek myth involving Hephaestus’s plot to use a gold mesh net to catch his wife Aphrodite with her lover Ares. Once caught, Aphrodite sets out to exonerate herself by telling a story that proves that the men in her life truly know nothing about love. She jumps back to World War I to narrate the story of four interwoven lives: Hazel, a naive British pianist; James, a soldier heading to the front; Colette, a jazz singer who’s suffered loss; and Aubrey, a musician with the infantry band. James and Hazel meet at a parish dance and fall instantly in love shorty before he has to report for duty. Wanting to be of use, Hazel volunteers with the YMCA, where she meets fellow musicians Colette and Aubrey. Aubrey is instantly smitten with Colette, but has the war taken too much from her for her to ever open her heart again? As Aphrodite continues to tell their tale, the strength of love and friendship endures while the monstrosity of war leaves scars both physical and mental. I’ll confess that this novel has a bit of a slow start, but I promise that if you stick with it, you won’t regret it. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~

Wild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett

Wild Berries

In this simple story, Clarence and his grandma share an afternoon picking blueberries. As we tag along with them, we learn a little bit of the Cree language because every page contains both the English word and the Cree word for their activities. Notes at the back include an explanation of the language and a pronunciation guide, as well as a recipe for blueberry jam. Picture book recommended for one-on-one sharing. ~Sue Daniels

February 2020

Parasite = Kisaengch’ung (DVD)

undefined Opens in new windowOut of curiosity, I saw this picture with no knowledge of what was about other than this: it’s a Korean movie with English subtitles concerning a wealthy family and the lower income people who work for them; a cultural class-warfare conflict kind of thing. So why did this unlikely foreign film win the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year? No one who saw it will doubt the reason why and to describe it further would ruin the myriad of surprises in a multi-layered prism of twists and turns that make this original and profound examination of social inequity one of the most unexpected masterpieces in film history. ~Shannon McKeown~

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall