Archive for the ‘Connie’s Picks’ Category

Flight of the Sparrow, by Amy Belding BrownConnie begins a week of posts from our Outreach Division:

I’m not sure why I picked up this book to read. I like historical fiction but I was never very interested in the Puritan era. The subtitle “A Novel of Early America” and the fact that the story was loosely based on a captive narrative written by Mary Rowlandson did catch my attention.

Mary Rowlandson, a Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritan, was captured by a local Native American tribe during King Philip’s War. As a slave, her story intersects with James Printer, a Nipmuc Indian who was raised in the Puritan culture, and apprenticed as a printer. James Printer belonged to a group of Native Americans who had converted to Christianity and were known as “Praying Indians.”

I found the story mesmerizing and along with the author’s note and reader’s guide at the end, I learned more about the Puritans, Native Americans and life in Colonial America. Without giving any more of the storyline away, this fast paced and compelling book made learning about a sad and difficult period of Native American and colonial history interesting. I would recommend this book to people who like to learn about other cultures and ways of life, as well as people interested in history. I think it would make an interesting book group choice as well.

Check the WRL catalog for Flight of the Sparrow

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04book "Contagious: Why Things Catch On" by Jonah Berger.We are ending the week with this sobering view of technology from Connie of the library’s Outreach Services Division.

I was watching a TV show called Blacklist when the main character started talking about “Big Data” and how someone with the right skills can find out just about anything about anybody and track them. I had only a vague idea what this meant.

What is “Big Data” and why should we care? I turned to the library for answers.

The authors of Big Data interpret this to mean processing vast amounts of stored data very quickly in a way that can’t be done on a smaller scale. Algorithms applied to this data have a predictive capability that will “change markets, organizations, the relationship between citizens and governments and more.”

This book develops that concept in a very understandable way with interesting examples of how our world had already changed by the large amount of data stored.

A positive example of the way big data has already helped consumers is Farecast, which predicts when air fare will be cheapest to buy. And future ways big data may benefit humanity is by predicting where outbreaks of disease will occur.

The negative implications of the predictive quality of “Big Data” are thought provoking (think of the movie Minority Report). Not only does everything we do on the Internet never go away, but that information can be analyzed over and over again for different purposes without our knowledge or consent. Even if the data is anonymized, it can still be traced back to a single individual!

The authors state that the amount of data will continue to grow along with our ability to process it. It is “the dark side of big data” that I found most alarming – more surveillance of our lives, less protection of privacy, and loss of anonymity. I found myself marking sections in the book and going back to re-read it. It also sparked a lot of discussion in my book group. Technology is a part of all our lives whether we love it or hate it and this book was a fascinating peek into our future.

Check the WRL catalog for Big Data

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shortguideThis week’s reviews come to you from the library’s Outreach Services Division, starting with a recommendation from Connie:

If you are interested in trying to live a healthy life, but are confused about the abundance of medical information out there, this is the book for you!

Dr. David Agus, a cancer specialist, is often seen on TV commenting and interpreting medical studies for the masses. He is also the best selling author of The End of Illness.

Agus attempts to distill the medical research from that book down to a prescriptive list of his 65 health rules, hence the title – A Short Guide to a Long Life.

Some of the rules seemed obvious like #11 Practice Good Hygiene or #16 Get Off Your Butt More.  Some rules are not always practical like #7 Grow a Garden, #47 Have Children, or #49 Pick Up a Pooch. Some rules are expensive (#20 Consider DNA Testing).

The book is compact and concise. The author’s goal is to give the average person a set of health guidelines based on the science available today. He feels everyone should really think about their lifestyle and the choices we make every day. Each of us, according to the author, has the ability to take more control over the future of our health. Dr. Agus suggests examining his guidelines and implementing the choices that match our own individual values, ethics, and situations.

In addition to his “rules,” he offers a decade-by-decade list of preventative steps to consider and discuss with your doctor. The key to a healthy life is prevention. Of course, the younger you are, the more impact these guidelines will have. However, it’s never too late to take more control of your life.  I can’t think of a more useful general health book.

Check the WRL catalog for A Short Guide to a Long Life

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This week’s reviews come to you from the library’s Outreach Services Division, starting with a recommendation from Connie: 

Amity & Sorrow is a fictional story inspired by the events surrounding David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Yearning for Zion religious splinter sects. The novel begins with a mother and her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, fleeing their home, until they crash their car and are stranded in rural Oklahoma. A farmer gives them aid, and the women stay because they have no way of getting anywhere else. The story of why they are fleeing unfolds in flashbacks, as the mother, Amaranth, fears her husband (who claims to be God) is pursuing them.

I found the story interesting and repelling at the same time. I thought the author did a good job of making me think about why people are drawn to this religious lifestyle, how it provides a missing sense of community while isolating them from the rest of society, and how hard their day-to-day lives are. I think this would be a good pick for book discussion groups because it makes readers examine our thoughts and feelings about a part of our society that is outside the mainstream.

Check the WRL catalog for Amity & Sorrow

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echoThis week’s posts are reviews from the library’s Outreach Services Division.

This debut novel by Andrea Thalasinos attracted me for two reasons; it was about dogs and another culture that I didn’t know anything about.  For me, An Echo Through the Snow was a win-win!

The story alternates between two settings and characters.

In present day Wisconsin, a struggling young woman named Rosalie, rescues a Siberian husky, which profoundly changes the course of her life.  As she becomes more involved with dogs and the world of dog sled racing, her future looks brighter despite the odds against her.

Alternately, in 1929, a Siberian Chukchi woman, Jeaantaa, tries to
save her people’s Siberian huskies as the Russians force the Chukchi to give up their traditional lifestyle.

The story lines converge at the end, and I found both to be compelling.  The book left me wanting to know more about some of the people in Rosalie’s world, as well as Jeaantaa’s people.

The author has rescued and raised Siberian huskies, and learned how to be a musher training dogs to run a dogsled team, so she knows her subject well.  Her research on the little known Chukchi people and the history of the dog breed added to my enjoyment of the story.

Check the WRL catalog for An Echo Through the Snow

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Today, Connie from Outreach Services reviews a timely book:

The title of this book sums up its contents nicely.  If, like me, you know little about the Mormon faith, this book answers the basic questions in a very concise way.

Given the current presidential race, I thought it was about time that I knew something about Mormonism, apart from what appears in sensational news stories and cable TV shows. The author, Professor Richard Bushman, has written other, more in-depth books about the Mormon religion, but this little 100+ page guide is perfect for summarizing the history of the Mormons in America and the beliefs of its founder, Joseph Smith.

The book briefly describes how Joseph Smith’s doctrines formed the church and ultimately its followers.  It discusses the most painful period of the Church’s history in the 19th century, as well as the subsequent independent factions that have splintered off during the years, from the more progressive Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) radical groups.  However, the author mainly concentrates on the largest group of Mormons who follow the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).  He explains how the church is organized and operates worldwide with 12 million members and growing.

I found this little book easy to read and very informative.  It is part of Oxford University Press’ s Very Short Introduction series of books on history, philosophy, science religion and the humanities.  I can’t wait to try another!

Check the WRL catalog for Mormonism


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Connie shares this review of a mystery by Lisa Gardner.

I hadn’t read anything by Lisa Gardner in a while, and after listening to the audio of
this book, I am ready to pick up all the ones I missed! Love You More is #5 in the
Detective D.D. Warren series but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone mystery, as I did.

I have to say the story is a page turner and the audio version is outstanding. Read by two women, Kirsten Potter and Katie MacNichols, the story is told from alternating points of view.

The opening scene is of a murder, told from the alleged murderer’s point of view, followed by the detective’s hypothesis and investigation into what happened.  To add even more interest, the alleged murderer is a state trooper and her young daughter has gone missing.  Like a good mystery, information is slowly doled out, and the detective (along with the reader) continually revises what she thinks really happened.

The story is not only a mystery with plenty of suspense, twists and turns, but raises the question of who you love and just how far you are  willing to go to save or protect them.  Along with the murder investigation, we get glimpses into what is going on in D.D.’s personal life… but I don’t want to give anything away!

This book can be enjoyed as a quick beach read, but even book groups would find ethical and moral questions to discuss.

I recommend you check this book out, but don’t blame me if you get the audio version and are late to work because you just can’t stop listening to one more track…

Check the WRL catalog for Love You More

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Love You More



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Connie offers another great title for Thursday.

The author, Siobhan Fallon, started writing this interconnected group of eight short stories while living at Fort Hood, Texas, with her husband, who was between deployments to the Middle East. The characters and setting were so real and vivid that the book could have been nonfiction. If you haven’t had much exposure to military life, you will come away with a much better  understanding of the difficulties and peculiarities of this insular way of life.

I loved this book, but many of the stories were heartbreaking to read. Most of the stories take place in Texas, where the entrance sign to the 340 square mile military base says, “Welcome to the Great Place, Fort Hood”. The stories here deal with the stress on the relationships between the deployed soldiers and their loved ones, where separations can last up to a year at a time. All the stories were told from the point of view of a male soldier or their loved one. My favorite story was “Remission” about a woman and her family dealing with her breast cancer. It was such a slice of family life in all it’s messy glory, and I couldn’t help but cry just reading it. Some are told from the point of view of the soldier in Iraq or having just returned home. Many of the characters’ stories intersect or overlap at different points.

You come away from reading these stories feeling like you visited this place and some of the people you’ve met you liked and a few you didn’t. But you also feel as if you have a greater understanding of some of the situations and pressures each character faced.  You have a sense of empathy for how each person has learned to deal with the life they are living. This book reminded me that we often think we know what someone’s life is like, but there is always so much more going on under the surface. And, I was impressed with the way Fallon captured a realistic view of both the effects of deployments on military families and the soldier’s wartime experiences. O country will be dealing with both of these long after our troops return home. As the base exit sign stated, “You’ve Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming”.

Check the WRL catalog for You Know When the Men Are Gone


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This week’s posts are from our Outreach Services Division, and we start off with one from Connie.

Andy Andrews has written several best selling inspirational books such as The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer, but this book (a reissue of one of his earlier books originally published under the title, Island of Saints) will interest people who enjoy history as well as inspiration.

The author maintains the story is essentially true with some of the locations and most of the names changed to protect those involved. Mr. Andrews, who lives on the Gulf Coast in Alabama, found a can buried in his yard with some personal items that appeared to be connected to a WW II sailor. He becomes fascinated with what he found and does some research. Then he begins asking around in his hometown and talks to some older people who relay bits and pieces of their local history.Now I was hooked and had to find out what happened!

Without giving the whole story away, the author reveals just how close the Germans got to the Gulf coast during WW II and how a chance encounter changes all  the people involved. I was fascinated by a period of history I knew little about and it’s the kind of story that makes you think about what you would do if you were in a similar situation. I also wonder how people of different generations feel about this story. The author has an easy-reading style and there are many situations presented that make you examine your own beliefs and how  you might have reacted. The Heart Mender has elements of suspense, mystery and romance. The book also contains a discussion guide at the end to foster group discussions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this story become a movie so you may want to read it first!

Check the WRL catalog for The Heart Mender


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My colleague Connie from Outreach Services provides today’s review:

As a born and bred Easterner, I find something alluring and mysterious about the American West. This book transported me there, with a look back at at the western home front during World War I.  Molly Gloss did a great job of capturing  small town, rural life in Oregon ranching country in 1917.

The story follows Martha Lessen, a 19-year-old horse wrangler, who travels a circuit  from ranch to ranch gentling wild horses. The reader meets and gets to know shy Martha as she uses her own sweet way of communicating with horses, and as time goes on, we get to know her neighbors’ stories, too.

It begins with Martha’s theories of how best to work with the horses, which stem mostly from her own rough childhood.  We see her slowly forming relationships with her horses, her neighbors, and finally with one man in particular.

Along with Martha’s story we learn about life out west during the early 1900s: the dangers of diseases that had no treatment, and societal problems such as abuse (of both animals and humans) and addiction.  Gloss also raises the issue of bigotry and prejudice against people deemed “our enemy” during times of war. There’s a lot for book groups to discuss.

I am not a “horse person,” but I enjoyed the sections of the book where we see Martha relating to and training her horses. And, I found it interesting that the main character, like many pioneering and rural women, followed her own path, and not the stereotypical one.

This story would be enjoyed by anyone who likes historical fiction, animals, and even a little romance.  I listened to the audio version and although some may not like the narrator, I enjoyed it more and more as the story went on.

I highly recommend this book.

Check the WRL catalog for The Hearts of Horses

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of The Hearts of Horses

Or place a reservation for the Gab Bag


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Connie from Outreach Services adds this review.

The title of this slim book caught my eye and I thought snails make sounds? I had never noticed. I leafed through the opening prologue and was captivated.

The author describes coming down with a flu-like illness while on vacation, which progressed into semi-paralysis with life threatening complications. She relates this terrifying circumstance in a very matter-of-fact way and I could imagine how we are all vulnerable to a situation like this. One day you are perfectly healthy… the next day you are not.

Too sick to do more than watch a snail in a terrarium next to her bed, her life slowed down to the role of observer. The author relates what she learns about her snail and adds in the research she was able to do later.

The chapters are short and filled with lots of interesting information that must have taken a lot of very patient observers a long time to record. You’ll learn that, yes, snails do indeed make sounds as they munch away on their favorite plants.

This book reminded me of how we tend to rush through our day and that there are probably millions of things happening around us of which we are totally unaware. In contrast, the author was totally incapacitated for so
long that watching a snail was really all she could physically and mentally handle. And her glimpse of that unknown world is fascinating. I’ll never be able to look at the snails in my garden the same way again!

Bailey’s story is taken from the first year of the last 20 years she has been ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Her year observing the snail mimicked her own search for answers about
her disease.

This book is interesting on many different levels: how we deal with illness; the science of the snail species; the hidden worlds that exist around us to which we are oblivious; and the author’s particular situation. Although the book contains more science than memoir, book groups may enjoy discussing the many layers. I admire the author’s ability to take a horrific situation and write about what she gained from that  experience.

Check the WRL catalog for The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating


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Connie from Outreach Services ends the week with this review:

I think just about everyone has had Regina Brett’s list of “50 life lessons” forwarded to them on the Internet.  But in case you haven’t (and even if you did), you should check out this wonderful little inspirational book. You, like me, will be hooked after just reading the introduction.

Brett, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and a weekly radio show host, candidly talks about the difficulties she has overcome. She matter-of-factly addresses the challenges of single motherhood, cancer survival, and alcohol abuse. As a result of her life experiences, she has developed into a very spiritual person who has learned to rely on her belief in God to move past the painful parts of her life and to look forward to every day with hope and appreciation.

This book devotes a few pages to each life lesson. Some of the “lessons” are ones you’ve probably heard before, like #5: Pay Off Your Credit Cards Every Month, or #35: Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Really Does Make You Stronger. Some are more lighthearted,  such as #10: When It Comes to Chocolate, Resistance Is Futile or #23: Be Eccentric Now– Don’t Wait for Old Age to Wear Purple. And many will touch your heart, like #27: Always Choose Life, or #13: Don’t Compare Your Life to Others’– You Have No Idea What Their Journey is All About.

Ms. Brett not only relates bits of her own life, but also adds touching stories of others to illustrate her ideas, many of which follow themes of acceptance, tolerance, gratefulness, personal responsibility, and living in the present. The book can be skimmed or read cover to cover, and referred to again and again. The lessons will resonate with people of many different age groups.  I think that anyone who reads this book will find some lessons will speak to them more strongly than others.  Book groups may find a lot to discuss here as well.

Check the WRL catalog for God Never Blinks


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Connie in Outreach Services ends this week’s posts with a change of pace:

It’s been a while since I read a book that kept me thinking about it long after I turned the last page.  One Second After grabs you in the first chapter and never lets go.  In the tradition of Nevil Shute’s classic On the Beach, Forstchen presents a catastrophic event that changes our world forever.

The author, who has co-written several historical fiction books with Newt Gingrich, set the story in his hometown, and where he currently works as a professor of history at Montreat College.

The book is told from the perspective of a small-town college history professor.  One or more atomic bombs are set off in the atmosphere, creating an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that fries everything containing microcircuitry.  The book describes in terrifying detail just what that means to everyone in this country, as we are thrown back to life without electronics and most machinery.

This is a book you’ll want to discuss with others.  And you’ll certainly be paying attention to what our government may or may not be doing to prevent this from happening!

Check the WRL catalog for One Second After in print or as an audiobook


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My colleague Connie from Outreach Services kicks off the week with this review:

The Sweet By and By explores the relationships between five very different Southern women and the lasting effect they have on each other.

Lorraine is raising her daughter, April, while working as a practical nurse in a North Carolina health care center. She is especially close to Margaret, a woman who is trying to cope with all the attendant aspects of aging, and Bernice, a woman who is living in her own world.  Enter Rhonda, a young hairdresser who gets to know these women as she earns extra money on weekends working at Ridgecrest Nursing Center.

We learn a little about each of their lives, and a lot about how we live and die… and the impact we can have on one another. I listened to the audio version of this book and enjoyed hearing each woman speak in her own dialect. I slowly got into the characters, and by the end, I wanted to keep them around to enjoy a little longer. I think you will, too.

Book clubs will find it reminiscent of other selections like The Help, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, The Friday Night Knitting Club, or The Persian Pickle Club.

Check the WRL catalog for The Sweet By and By.

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of The Sweet By and By.


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Connie in Outreach Services shares this review:

Mudbound is set in the deep South after World War II.  It is the gripping and heartbreaking story of what happens to Harry McAllen, a Mississippi cotton farmer, and his city-bred wife, Laura, as they settle on a farm with their children and Harry’s father, Pappy.

After the war, Harry’s brother, Jamie, comes to stay with them as he tries to deal with post-traumatic stress from his years as a bomber pilot.

Also returning home from serving as a Sergeant in the Black Panther Division is Ronsel, eldest son of the McAllen’s neighbors and tenant farmers, Hap and Florence Jackson.  What happens as Ronsel tries to reenter a bigoted society after fighting patriotically for his country is the heart of the story.

The story unfolds from the point of view of several characters, each telling his or her version of events in alternating chapters.

Despite how descriptive the novel is of rural life in the post-War South, I imagine that it only begins to touch the horrors suffered by many inhabitants.  This story will stay with me a long time, and is one that I highly recommend.

Check the WRL catalog for Mudbound


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And a second post from Connie in Outreach Services.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this little gem of a memoir. It reminded me of Rick Bragg’s or James Mc Bride’s  beautiful tribute (or what I like to think of as a love letter) to their parent. In this case, Myron Uhlberg describes the unique position of growing up as the eldest hearing son of two deaf parents. He recalls most vividly, his father’s hands…”He spoke and the language I heard was the language of his touch.” At a time when fathers were not openly demonstrative with their children, Mr. Uhlberg’s father held him often. The author also describes how people who were deaf were raised and treated by society in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Mr. Uhlberg had a loving and close relationship with his family, but also relates the difficulty of being a child that was thrust into the adult world as his parent’s translator and bridge to the hearing world. To further complicate matters, the author helped care for his younger brother who suffered with epileptic seizures, and had to provide translation during numerous medical emergencies and appointments. It’s hard to imagine today, a young child being asked to do so much for his family. This is a wonderful memoir that offers  a glimpse of what life was like for a special family as well as a look at the difficulties faced by people who are deaf.

Check the WRL catalog for Hands of My Father

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Next up is Connie from Outreach Services.

I have always loved postcards and collected them from a young age. Mr. Butler shares my interest but with a creative twist that I found very interesting. He collected postcards from the early 1900’s, based on the intriguing messages written on the back. The book, a collection of short stories, is set up with each story beginning with a newspaper clipping from the period, followed by the postcard and note. Mr. Butler then composed a story about the note’s author, imagining what life must have been like in this time period. I was amazed at the detail about historical events of the time, and the way he managed to compose each story in the voice of different characters. The stories ranged from a bellhop unhappy with waiting on rich people, to a mother who follows her son to the battle front in WW I, to a fiance dying of consumption. I loved the story, “Twins” about two twin sisters in quarantine on Ellis Island. One was not allowed to enter the country because her eyes became infected with trachoma, so both were going back to Ireland. The book ends with the one postcard picture of a group of people in the ocean at Coney Island, N.Y. The only note written was the date, “Sunday, Aug 7th 1910”. From this open canvas, Mr. Butler imagines a young woman enjoying the day at the beach with her 48 year old husband, who dies of an apparent heart attack, unnoticed by the crowd. If you like historical fiction, you’ll enjoy these stories.

Check the WRL catalog for Had a Good Time

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Here’s  a recent find by my colleague, Connie:

My book group decided to revisit some of the classics. I picked My Antonia to read. This story by Willa Cather is about a young immigrant girl and her family who settle in the American plains during the Western Expansion a century ago.

While I was debating whether to read or listen to the book, I stumbled across a series of audio guides called “The Big Read.” The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and is designed to get people reading and discussing the same book within their community. (See The Big Read web site for more information.)

These audio guides are approximately 30 minutes long and include recordings of well-known personalities discussing a particular title. In An Introduction to My Antonia by Willa Cather, Garrison Keillor reads some beautifully evocative passages from the book, and Gen. Colin Powell and author James McBride share the impact the book had on their lives. I also enjoyed listening to the granddaughter of the immigrant that Antonia is based on talk about her grandmother, Anna Sadilek Pavelka.

I used the guide as an introduction before I read the book, and I played portions of it during my book discussion meeting.

The library currently has 14 of these wonderful guides for such books as The Great Gatsby, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Grapes of Wrath, Fahrenheit 451, and The Joy Luck Club.

Check out the Big Read series — it just might inspire you to read or reread one of these classics.

Check the WRL catalog for My Antonia.

Check the WRL catalog for An Introduction to My Antonia by Willa Cather.

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