Staff Recommendations

March 2023

undefined Opens in new windowEveryone In My Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson 

A great read for those who have been enjoying the recent Knives Out/whodunit renaissance. If you like tongue-in-cheek books where the narrator frequently breaks the fourth wall, then you’ll love this book. Ernie Cunningham has been a pariah in his own family ever since testifying against his brother Michael in a murder trial. Now Michael is out after having served three years, and the Cunningham/Garcia family is throwing a party at a snowy mountain resort to celebrate. What is already a tense event only becomes more fraught with the appearance of a corpse. With Michael named as the prime suspect, Ernie must get to the bottom of this very bizarre weekend. While Ernie works to solve the mystery in the present, there are sections detailing the history of the eccentric Cunningham family. Because, as the title says, although everyone in the family has killed someone, things are not always what they seem.  ~Jay Robillard~

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All the Beauty in the World: the Metropolitan Museum of Art and me by Patrick Bringley 

This is an elegant, thoughtful portrayal of what his work meant to the author during his decade-long tenure as an employee in one of the greatest museums in the world. He found himself at age 25 unable to cope with the normality of life after the death of his beloved brother, and took a job as a security guard at the Met. What started as an escape, developed into a bridge to return to the greater world. The author imparts on the reader not only how his favorite works of art helped to heal his soul, but why they should matter to us as well. At times funny, yet insightful and moving, this book discusses great art from a totally unique perspective.  ~Mary Hartwig~ 

undefined Opens in new windowThe Watchmaker's Daughter by Larry Loftis

Watchmaking was her grandfather's trade in the mid-1800's; he passed on what he knew to his son, Caspar ten Boom, who earned the reputation of being the best watchmaker in Holland. His daughter, Cornelia ten Boom, was his assistant and wanted to go beyond simple watch repairs. However, in 1920, watchmaking schools existed only in Switzerland. Therefore, Corrie went for schooling and was apprenticed to two Swiss watchmaking factories. In 1921, at age 29, she became the first licensed female watchmaker in Holland and came to handle the bulk of the business in the family shop. Fast-forward a decade to the 1930's, and the rise of Nazi movement. Suddenly, in 1940, Germany invades the Netherlands. Jews are targeted to be deported to prison camps and anyone helping them risks the same fate. Nevertheless, Corrie ten Boom and her family become active in the Dutch Resistance, using the upper levels of the watchmaking shop as a hiding place for Jewish refugees.

This amazing biography details the life-saving efforts of the ten Boom family, as well as their eventual arrest and imprisonment. I appreciated the way the author provides a parallel narrative in the book, intermittently explaining the key events of WWII, while at the same time detailing the way in which Corrie and her family are involved in the Resistance and their experiences in the concentration camps. They endure suffering with remarkable grace and courage, find ways to uplift their fellow prisoners and somehow bring light in the midst of darkness. Records of Corrie's experiences and those of other main characters exist today in letters, diaries and books written during and after the war, giving the author a wealth of information for conducting his research. Take note of his extensive documentation and the bibliography at the end of the book. The Watchmaker's Daughter reads like a thriller but is also an impressive work of scholarship. ~Nancy Arevelo

Tweundefined Opens in new windownties Girl: a novel by Sophie Kinsella    

Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl is just a romp of a good read! Something light, fun, and fast! Lara Lington is a young adult who, in the midst of her great-aunt Sadie's funeral, begins to receive visits by her great-aunt Sadie's ghost. Aunt Sadie may have died an old woman, but at heart, she's a feisty, sassy, energetic soul -- so energetic that Lara hardly knows what hit her! This story has a romantic element, but that is secondary to the themes of friendship and family. It also explores concepts of age and identity. So, while it's a rollicking good time, and very silly at points, it also has some deeper conversations that keep it grounded and give it more meaning.  ~Keegan Taylor~ 

Maizy Chen’s last chance by Lisa Yee

undefined Opens in new windowMaizy and her mom live in Los Angeles, so she has only met her grandparents from Minnesota once. But when her grandfather’s health declines, Maizy and her mom travel to Last Chance, Minnesota to spend the summer with Opa and Oma. Last Chance is a very small town where the Chens are the only Chinese family. They run a Chinese Restaurant that has been in the family for 100 years and has a notable history, and Maizy spends the summer absorbing that history as shared by her grandfather. The story goes back and forth in time between Maizy’s summer visit, and the life of Lucky, the relative who started the restaurant after coming to America during the Gold Rush. Lucky experienced discrimination throughout his lifetime but also helped where he could by harboring paper sons, a fact that Maizy explores throughout the summer. This is a heartwarming story about family relationships, but also about the history of Chinese people in America. Recommended for grades 4-6. ~Sue Daniels~ 

undefined Opens in new windowI have some questions for you by Rebecca Makkai 

A decades old murder becomes the subject of a true crime podcast, placing a thought-to-be-solved case under new light. Sound familiar? Rebecca Makkai, whose previous book The Great Believers was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, treads into mainstream territory with her latest, combining trendy hooks that check boxes with an incisive social critique of the very hooks themselves. It’s a tightrope, and though the result is more ironic than inventive, the book still delivers.  

Returning to teach at the New England boarding school of her formative years, journalist and podcaster Bodie Kane revisits the junior year killing of her former roommate Thalia, a case long closed but still niggling. Is the true culprit behind bars? Is there more to the story? As Bodie and her pupils dig in, old wounds are reopened, institutional negligence is explored, and the depth of memory mined, resulting in a twisty tale well told. Though this book contains everything but the kitchen sink thematically, there is more than enough substance for a wholly satisfactory read. Recommended if you are in the mood for a literary campus mystery and a social novel in one. ~Noah Weckwerth~  

undefined Opens in new windowSmoke gets in your eyes: and other lessons from the crematory by Caitlin Doughty 

While in her twenties, Caitlin Doughty took a job at a crematory. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory begins with anecdotes from that period of her life. I really appreciated how she merged her personal experience with her literary knowledge with historical and cultural perspectives on death. If you have any sort of fascination with the macabre, Doughty will meet you there and raise you one higher. However, her overall premise is relatable to everybody who has to face death one day -- i.e. all of us. Doughty asserts that Americans have a terribly unhealthy relationship with death. Her life goal is to help people prepare to have a "good" death, whatever that may mean to them. Throughout the book, she has some really practical advice, as she goes over what the different options are for people, as well as what is legal and healthy that people often may assume is illegal or unhealthy. This book really helped me develop some thoughtful ideas around what I would want my own death to look like, and it led to some helpful discussions with family members as well. ~Keegan Taylor~ 

Friends, lovers, and the big terrible thing by Matthew Perry

Immortalized and internationally famous as Chandler Bing from Friends, Matthew Perry accredits much of his success due to the fact that he was Chandler in real life. Shuttling between suburban Canada and Los Angeles to visit his separated parents, he always cracked jokes to keep the people in his life laughing. If everyone else was happy, then that meant he should be happy by extension. It would mean he was enough. Although the glitz and glamour of Hollywood concealing secret torments is nothing new, there’s something especially poignant about this story. Perhaps it’s because of what a relatable and lovable character Chandler was. Perry’s on-and-off struggles with alcohol and painkillers show that achieving sobriety is one challenge in and of itself, but maintaining it is another beast entirely. Addiction is not magically cured by attending a certain number of meetings or having enough breakdowns. And even with millions of dollars at his fingertips as well as family members and friends supporting him, Matthew repeatedly discovers that accepting help and manifesting change is a tall order. Could this book be any more eye-opening?  ~Jay Robillard~

February 2023

undefined Opens in new windowThe sun is also a star by Nicola Yoon

If you're in the mood to reminisce on young love, you might enjoy this young adult novel. Two teenagers cross paths for the first time on a fateful day in New York City. Daniel, a Chinese-American boy, is a dreamer, and Natasha, a Jamaican immigrant girl, is a pragmatist. The story is sped up by the looming pressure of Natasha's potential deportation with her family. Although the vehicle is a fast-paced teenage romance, the story manages to delve into some charged and chal-lenging themes like immigration and race. Some readers might not care for some of the language or some teenage intimacy. However, I really enjoyed the story and recommend it to young adult romance readers who want to remember the (sometimes complicated) thrill of young love. ~Keegan Taylor~

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Godmersham Park: a novel of the Austen Family by Gill Hornby   

County Kent, England, 1804. Thirty-one-year-old Anne Sharp is hired as the new governess for Fanny Austen, twelve-year-old daughter of Edward Austen, and now needs to earn her keep. Anne never imagined herself in these circumstances. While she's not quite part of the Austen family, neither is she part of the "downstairs" housekeeping staff. But she gives it her best as companion and teacher of Fanny, who is delighted to have her very own governess. As Anne instructs Fanny in letter writing, Fanny begins enthusiastic correspondence with her favorite aunt, Jane, brother of Edward Austen. Of course, Aunt Jane is told everything about the new governess, and when Godmersham Park receives a visit from Fanny's grandmother and aunts, Jane and Cassandra Austen strike up a friendship with Anne. They view Anne as an equal, include her in their activities, and find they have much in common. I enjoyed the author's ability to take the reader into the Regency time period in a believable yet humorous way. As I read the book, the author's writing style even reminded me of a Jane Austen novel. The main character, Anne Sharp, was an actual, little-known but historical figure. Hornby researched what limited information is known about her and allowed their own imagination to fill in the rest of the story in a delightful way. ~Nancy Arevalo~

undefined Opens in new windowThe Ingenue by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Burnt-out former piano prodigy Saskia always felt lost in the shadow of her mother Evelyn. You would too, if your mother was a bestselling feminist author and beloved UWM professor. Growing up in Evelyn’s palatial family mansion, known as the Elf House, has been a mixed blessing for Saskia. The house holds bittersweet memories, and the spirits of previous generations never feel too far away. When Saskia returns to Milwaukee for her mother’s funeral, she struggles to process her feelings over a relationship that never saw closure. The only bit of small comfort she can find is the knowledge that the Elf House will pass to her. But when the reading of Evelyn’s will reveals she has left the house to a man named Patrick Kintner, Saskia is floored. Not only is Patrick a colleague of Evelyn’s at the university, he and Saskia have their own history. Now Saskia has an objective: she wants the house, she wants the truth, and she wants what she is owed. But how much of her past is she willing to confront in order to get it? Peppered with familiar landmarks in the Milwaukee area, these little details make the dramatic events hit home that much harder.  ~Jay Robillard~

undefined Opens in new windowDeath Casts a Shadow by Patricia Skalka

The seventh and final book in the Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series finds our hero Dave once again investigating a suspicious death. On the surface the case looks simple: an older woman falls down the stairs after getting a foot caught in the wide leg of her pants. But something doesn’t add up in the Sheriff’s mind, so he further investigates. Of course we have another unusual death actually witnessed by our intrepid law officer. This time the body found in an ice fishing shanty is not the body that was supposed to be there, i.e. - the owner of the shanty. What is happening with the complicated lives of older rich women native to Door County?  Read the intrigue.  I highly recommend the entire series, especially if you like local settings. ~Sharon Passick~

undefined Opens in new windowThe Star that Always Stays by Anna Rose Johnson

Norvia Nelson has challenges in her life but fortunately, she has books to help her get through them. Set in the early 1900’s, Norvia and her siblings are Ojibwe and French on their mother’s side and Swedish on their father’s. Growing up on Beaver Island near her mother’s family, Norvia has learned traditions from her grandparents and can’t imagine living anywhere else. However, after her parents' divorce, Ma remarries and the family moves to a big house in Boyne City, Michigan. At first, Norvia is devastated by the move, and doesn’t get on well with new stepbrother Vernon. But she soon realizes that not all change is bad. Her stepfather is kind, encouraging her to attend high school, something her own Pa disparaged. He also lets her read the books in his library where she finds relatable heroines who inspire her to live her best life. Both Norvia’s Ojibwe heritage and her parents’ divorce cause some social exclusion, but she also finds some true friends. This upbeat story has been compared to Anne of Green Gables and is based on the life of the author’s actual great grandmother. Recommended for grades 5-8. ~Sue Daniels~

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The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond by Amanda Glaze

Set during the spiritualist movement in California when people were fascinated with the idea of communicating with the spirits of the dead, we learn about the inner workings of a traveling show of mediums, but with a fantasy twist. Edie and Violet are twins who inherit their mother’s ability to open the veil of death and communicate with spirits. After their mother’s death during a spirit encounter gone wrong, the girls flee their home and take refuge in a traveling show. They provide the kind of entertainment the public expects but hide their true abilities, knowing if they were revealed, they would be sent to an asylum. A newspaper reporter begins to investigate the show just when the girls have an opportunity to make enough money to leave and pursue a different life, presenting them with a difficult choice: safety or freedom?  This is fast-paced, suspenseful story also incorporates a look at the early women’s movement and chilling descriptions of treatment in an asylum. Recommended for ages 14 and up. ~Sue Daniels~

undefined Opens in new windowThe English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt

A teenage girl has been raised in Morocco with the best of everything, and greatly influenced by her mother’s good taste and manners. At less than 70 pages, this book is absolutely achievable reading by a busy person working full-time. The length is a breath of fresh air. The title and publisher’s description are appealing to an Anglophile. The narration is amusing. And the curveball thrown by the author to change the direction of the story is startling.  ~Sarah Muench~

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Adrift: America in 100 charts by Scott Galloway 

This is a welcome and easily digestible examination of how the United States presently stacks up against the rest of the world and its own past. Through 100 simple charts and a brief analysis of each, Galloway presents the data for readers to assess and judge for themselves. The charts are taken from credible sources (Pew Research Center, U.S. Census Bureau, World Bank, etc.), and cover a wide range of subjects, from the decline in friendship, to the evolution of the tax code, to globalization and trade. Is America in a good place? Very much up for debate. ~Noah Weckwerth~

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Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney 

Whoever first said, “money can’t buy happiness” must have done so after meeting the Darker family. Daisy Darker was born with a weak heart, a heart that was broken over and over as she grew up in the wealthy, eccentric, and dysfunctional Darker clan. Decades of resentment and bitterness bubble between family members over the years, although an uneasy peace endures due to matriarch Nana controlling the purse strings. Everyone grits their teeth and tries ignoring their grudges (some more successfully than others) as they gather at Nana’s island manor for her eighti-eth birthday celebration. A storm rages outside, trapping them on the island until low tide. When Nana’s body is found shortly after midnight, her death is the first of many. Someone is killing them one by one, leaving sinister mementoes behind. With each new body, scars of old secrets reopen. Who is doing this? Has some unseen murderer broken into the house? Or is the killer a lot closer to home? Combining family drama with the encroach-ing dread of And Then There Were None, this book keeps you guessing until the very end.  ~Jay Robillard~ 

January 2023

The It GiThe It Girl Opens in new windowrl by Ruth Ware | When Hannah and April arrived at Pelham College in Oxford, they couldn’t have been more different. April was everything Hannah wasn’t: confident, stylish, and rich. Yet the two forged a fast bond and maintained a close-knit circle of friends. Ten years later, the tables are turned and now Hannah is everything April isn’t: alive. That same circle of friends was devastated by April’s murder at the hands of John Neville, a former porter at Pelham. When Neville’s death in prison is announced, the scars of Hannah’s traumas rip open anew. She knows the journalists and true crime podcasts will be hounding her for comments and interviews, dredging up the whole story again. After all, she was April’s closest friend, she found the body, and she testified during the trial. But what Hannah doesn’t expect is for a reporter to approach her with new evidence suggesting that Neville may have been innocent all along. As Hannah reconnects with her old college friends and begins piecing together memories, ugly questions start to arise. If John Neville didn’t kill April, who did?  ~Jay Robillard~

undefined Opens in new windowHaben: The Deafblind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma I had been following deafblind activist Girma on social media for a while before picking up her eponymous memoir. I admired her zest for life, her kindness, her brilliance, her sense of humor, and her courage. I also admire her conscious choice to participate in the world around her, not allowing her disabilities to hold her back. All of those qualities come through in her memoir! I love her storytelling, and her gift for bringing others into her unique worldview as a deafblind daughter of immigrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The title speaks to one of her most prestigious accomplishments so far, but it's fascinating to learn about her journey to get to Harvard, including attending summer camp for the blind, traveling to several countries in Africa, and acquiring her guide dog. After reading this book, I feel like I can do better at being aware of and more accommodating to the special needs others around me might have. For all those qualities I admired before I read the book, afterwards, I feel even more sure that I would love to be more like her! ~Keegan Taylor~ 

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The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold | I didn’t know. I just didn’t know. I mean, conceptually I knew women had difficult lives in the past, but this idea was just words on paper to me. If you want to actually feel what life was like for women in the late 1800’s you need to read this book. When I was taught history in school, it was a done deal – it was an unquestionable fact, and what you read was the truth and exactly what happened and that’s all there was to it. This is a lie. Read this book and it is immediately clear that that the history we’ve been taught is only a narrow, keyhole view of the past – a past from which the perspective of women is largely invisible. I hope this book will be taught in schools. Thank you, Hallie Rubenhold, for connecting me to these long gone women; for filling me with emotions – awe, incredulity, empathy; for the tenacity of your research and your life-giving words which expand our view of the past from keyhole view to window seat. ~Elizabeth Glaser~

The Jesus Music Opens in new windowThe Jesus Music: The Soundtrack of a Movement (DVD documentary) | In the world of music, it is not uncommon for one style of music to morph into another. However, the transition from the countercultural music of the sixties to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is astounding as chronicled in this documentary. Beginning with musicians in the sixties who wanted to express their new-found Christian faith through the rock music they loved, it was initially denounced as “Devil music” and banned in churches.  After evangelist Billy Graham included this new type of music in his stadium events, attitudes began to change, so that by the 1990’s CCM was a multi-billion dollar industry and it is still going strong. Interviews with musicians such as Amy Grant, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Lauren Daigle, reveal an industry that has been troubled but also inspiring. Recommended for fans of Christian music or anyone with an interest in the history of music in America. ~Sue Daniels~