Posts Tagged ‘Best of 2013’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Heidi’s Picks

December 31, 2013

I love to read domestic/family fiction, thrillers, horror, and biographies and really, anything that is contemporary and realistic. Here are my picks for my best reads in 2013 – books that were new to me, and made an impact on me in some way or another.

Watership Down by Richards Adams
Somehow I made it through 16+ years of schooling without reading this gem. To say it is The Iliad and The Odyssey of rabbits is reductive but largely correct.  The novel follows a group of rabbits on the perilous journey to find a safe, new warren in a perfect society in the Downs of England. There are human-like factions, battles, friendships and alliances transferred to the rabbit world.  An excellent tale in which you quite possibly recognize  all of your family,  friends,  co-workers and supervisors in the well-drawn characters. I will never look at rabbits the same way again.   Enjoy a full-length review of this title.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
Sometimes we need a cozy read to remind us that the world is a good place. In A Week in Winter, the reader is welcomed to Stoneybridge, a tiny town on the western coast of Ireland where the cliffs are tall and the ocean is crashing. Meet Chicky Starr who buys an old stone mansion and turns it into an inn, renovating it with the help of bad boy Rigger and her business-savvy niece Orla. The first group of guests that stay at the inn – and their unique personalities and foibles – make up the plot of this nove. Characters were Ms. Binchy’s domain, and these characters are richly drawn and fully explored. The story line is not as strong as that in some of the author’s earlier works, but honestly it doesn’t matter – the characters make up for it.  Read my full review here.

Six Years by Harlan Coben
I am new to Harlan Coben, and as a suspense and thriller reader, I loved this novel. Jake Fisher is a slightly geeky political science professor at a rural, private college in Massachusetts. Six years ago he fell hard for Natalie, a young painter passing the summer at an artist retreat.  Jake and Natalie frolicked for a summer and then… BAM! Jake was jilted and jolted when Natalie suddenly married another guy and asked Jake to not contact her ever again. Jake upholds his end of the promise until six years go by, and he sees an obituary for Natalie’s husband Todd.  He attends Todd’s funeral in Georgia and gets the surprise of his life when Todd’s wife and widow is not Natalie.  Natalie was never married to Todd. But… wait! Jake attended the wedding, and saw with this own eyes Natalie marry Todd. So, what’s the story? Jake sets off on a semi-obsessive hunt for Natalie, and discovers that she never existed, at least on paper. No one seems to have any memory of Natalie.   The search becomes dangerous when Jake becomes the one who is hunted…but by whom – and why?  See my full review here.

The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik
Every American high school has a Kristi Casey.  A semi-sociopathic, popular, sexy woman-child who can get away with anything, with anyone.  Ole Bull High School (named after person, not an old animal) in suburban Minneapolis can barely contain Kristi, whose popularity shines like a twisted beacon. Who doesn’t love Kristi? Joe Andreson can’t get enough of her, although he has a love/lust/hate relationship with her that begins in high school and continues throughout his life. Landvik writes Joe convincingly, and his character is as solidly developed as that of Kristi, no small feat for a female author. Landvik develops her characters as do few authors, and her dialog? Funny, funny, funny.  I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories, and this one satisfied.  If you like this book, try her Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons if you want to laugh until you howl.  See my full-length post here.

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
I am fascinated by man versus nature for some bizarre reason. Anyone who has read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series might remember one of the titles in the series is The Long Winter where the Ingalls family almost starved and froze to death on the Dakota prairie during a winter of such monumental snowfall that the trains could not run. The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin is the non-fiction account of that infamous 1888 storm on the Dakota Prairie that left many people stranded – and dead.  Laskin’s ability as a storyteller keeps this book moving along at a brisk pace; what could have been deadly boring is alive with descriptions and characters. This is my book for a stormy day hunkered down with a cup of hot tea, paying homage to central heating. See my full-length post here.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Emil’s Picks

December 30, 2013

Here are some older books that made an impression on me in 2013. And I am, partly, what I read.

On Heaven and Earth by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
When On Heaven and Earth was published in 2010, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a cardinal in Buenos Aires. In 2013, he became pope to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and On Heaven and Earth offered a marvelous opportunity to get to know the new Bishop of Rome. The book is a series of conversations between Bergoglio and his friend, Buenos Aires rabbi Abraham Skorka. In the book, the two Argentinians share their wisdom, and their dialogue often reveals applied faith. “Our true power,” Bergoglio says, “must be service. We cannot adore God if our spirit does not include the needy.” And his friend the rabbi agrees.

Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates
Some time ago, researchers asked about three hundred Moscow teenagers to name twenty famous people who had influenced the formation of their identity. Over thirty percent of the students named Aleksandr Pushkin, the most celebrated of Russian poets, as their first choice. But while the poetry of the Russian Golden Age continues to attract readers, it has been harder for contemporary Russian poets to reach an audience. Which is a pity, because for the first time in Russian history, Russian poetry is now free from censorship and stylistic restrictions, and these poets have a lot to tell those who will take the time to listen. Here is post-Soviet irony and the mesmerizing voices of poets like Marianna Geide, Anna Russ, and Maria Stepanova – young women just beginning to make themselves heard. And this anthology also reveals the revival of faith the country is going through, as in these words of Olesya Nikolaeva: “A fledgling winter flickers through me/ and the holidays of my Lord – Christmas, home,/ transformed into a manger. From there the word comes:/ you have everything that you yourself are/ you have that which you are!”

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Isserley motors about Scotland, looking for men. However, it can’t just be anyone – ideally, they need to be single and muscular to fit Isserley’s purposes. Her worldview in clearly unusual and Isserley – with an enormous chest, short legs, and thick glasses – is not what she seems. Neither are her co-workers at Ablach Farm. The men Isserley gives a ride are soon in the midst of horrors that outdo their worst nightmares – horrors that are not far removed from what is going on in the world today.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their compilation of folk and fairy tales. In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Philip Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” But how do you get at something that has already been done so perfectly? Pullman stays true to the spirit of the tales and finds strength in their immense storytelling power. Thus, he helps introduce this treasure to a contemporary audience that may be more familiar with Pullman than with these tales and their deep, deep Germanic roots.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
After spending four years in “the bad place,” a neural health facility in Baltimore, Patrick Peoples is back at home with his parents, living in their basement, and trying to get his life back on track. Pat believes that he has spent but a few months in the psychiatric ward, and his world view is dominated by magical and delusional thinking. He feels that he and his wife, Nikki, have been forced into “apart time” because he was a mean husband who got fat and made the wrong decisions. He has returned to New Jersey to make things right, become fit, and be “kind instead of right.” However, the people who surround him seem convinced that Nikki is gone for good, and instead some of them try to get him to spend time with Tiffany – a very strange girl, indeed. She’s obviously crazy; but then again, who isn’t?

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Kate B’s Picks

December 27, 2013

Though I haven’t reviewed a lot of books for the blog this year, I certainly have read many!  Although I read a broad variety of fiction, I tend to gravitate toward suspense and mystery titles, as well as any book that pays a lot of attention to the narrator’s thoughts and “inner life.”  I also enjoy reading nonfiction, especially memoirs and focused history.  My favorite “new to me” books of 2013 definitely reflect these reading preferences, and here they are in no particular order!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
One morning, recently-retired Harold Fry is surprised by a letter from a friend he hasn’t heard from in more than twenty years.  Queenie Hennessey, an old colleague, is in hospice care in Berwick-upon-Tweed – about as far from Harold’s town of Kingsbridge as you can get.  Touched by Queenie’s letter, Harold pens a reply and, donning a light anorak and his leather yachting shoes, sets off for the mailbox.  He passes two, then three mailboxes… and as he walks farther and farther from home and his wife Maureen, Harold wonders why he doesn’t just go to Berwick-upon-Tweed and deliver his letter to Queenie personally.  By the end of the day, Harold has convinced himself that as long as he keeps walking north to his old friend, she will survive her illness.  Joyce writes a sparse, allegorical narrative that is told almost entirely within the confines of Harold’s mind.  I listened to the audiobook on a six-hour road trip.  Jim Broadbent’s narration is top-notch, and the story itself is perfectly suited to a long drive.

Still Life by Louise Penny
I’m a sucker for a good detective series, and had been meaning to give Louise Penny’s Agatha Award-winning Armand Gamache series a try for a couple of years.  Three Pines is a sleepy town outside Montreal, unremarkable to all but those who inhabit it.  The police force doesn’t have much to do… until early one morning, the elderly but spry Jane Neal is found dead on a quiet path where she usually walks her dog.  Although it first seems that a hunting accident was the cause of her death, but the more Gamache and his team investigate, the less things add up.  The book is atmospheric with a flavor that is both autumnal and decidedly Quebecois, making it an excellent companion to a hot beverage and a warm blanket!

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Pots, pans, stoves, and ovens might seem like the most basic of kitchen equipment to us.  But after reading this history of kitchen technology, you’ll marvel at the ingenuity of the people who figured out that by putting something between food and flame, and by containing the heat, we can improve flavor and get different resulting textures.  This book is full of moments where the reader is invited to think about the origins of everyday kitchen objects that have shaped the way we cook, the way our homes are structured, and ultimately, how we live our lives.  For foodies, technology junkies, and history buffs alike, this is a must-read that’s divided into manageable chunks.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This is a classic in the suspense genre that somehow, I hadn’t gotten around to reading until this year.  It was well worth the wait!  The unnamed heroine has just married Maxim de Winter, a wealthy and kind widower with whom she is deeply in love.  Everything seems perfectly ordinary until she moves into Manderley and meets Mrs. Danvers, the rather sinister housekeeper who seems to spend the majority of her time ensuring that everything in the house is exactly as it was on the day Rebecca – Maxim’s first wife – died.  It’s not difficult to see why Alfred Hitchcock chose this book as one of his first film adaptations.  The book’s slow start and emotional climax are hallmarks of Hitchcock’s work and help add to the inherent creepiness of the story!

Mimus by Lillie Thal
As a young adult novel set in a Middle Ages without magic, dwarves, witches or unicorns, Mimus is unique from the start!  In a peace negotiation gone wrong, King Philip is kidnapped by a rival kingdom’s army, and later so is Philip’s son Prince Florin.  In a cruel act of humiliation, the enemy ruler assigns Florin to be a fool, studying under the court jester Mimus.  If Florin doesn’t perform the songs, jokes, and impressions his mentor writes, it will mean torture and punishment for him and his father – but every song mocks his father and every joke has his homeland as the punchline.  Can Florin let his guard down long enough to learn who Mimus really is – and how he can save his home kingdom?  Packed with philosophical conversations between Florin and Mimus, along with several action sequences, this book will appeal to adult fans of historical fiction as well as teenaged ones.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Travis H’s Picks

December 26, 2013

I’m the manager of the Zebulon Community Library and have a long tenure with the library system. I majored in English and have had my fill of “good books.” Since then, I read mostly nonfiction, techno thrillers and things I find funny.

The Lost Prince by Seldon Edwards  
Edwards’ first book, The Little Book, captivated me but left me unsatisfied. The Little Book had a great plot, likable characters and an interesting setting during interesting times. It lacked however a flow that compelled me to keep turning the page. The Lost Prince though, at least for me, was a page-turner. Both of the books focus on Eleanor Burden. In the first book, Eleanor has a life altering experience. In the second, we see how her experience plays out. Time travel and predestination are the respective devices in these two books.

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s Three Men, Five Great Wines, and the Evening That Changed America by Charles A. Cerami
Thomas Jefferson fascinates me. Discovering Cerami’s book was exciting. I did not get what I was expecting however, as the evening referenced in the books was just a small part of it. By serving as Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson, the agrarian anti-federalist, found himself in an administration trying to establish a Federal Government. Key to these efforts was Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who Jefferson thought might be a closeted Royalist. No wonder, the author explains, that Jefferson was a migraine sufferer and postulates that he also suffered from depression.  The dinner that the book’s title references was Jefferson’s way to hammer out a compromise between Hamilton and Congress (represented by Madison) over Hamilton’s Report on Public Credit. Hamilton wanted the federal government to assume the various states’ Revolutionary War debts, to the detriment of those states. The lasting impact of Jefferson’s dinner is why Washington DC, carved out of Virginia and Maryland, is our seat of government as opposed to New York City, or Philadelphia. By centering this history on such a pivotal event, the author gives us a focused and revelatory exposition of the key players and times. The included recipes are interesting as well.

Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became an American Icon by Howard E. Covington Jr.
Biltmore always seemed to me to be a rich man’s folly, like Hearst Castle in California. Hearst’s folly is owned and run by the State of California. Biltmore is still in the hands of Vanderbilt’s descendents. I’ve long be interested in historic preservation and what drew me to this book was the struggle Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, Sr., has had in keeping the property private. Ultimately, to keep family control, it seems national inheritance tax law would need to be amended. Nonetheless, as the book details, the Cecil family has skillfully managed to make Biltmore relevant, productive and viable as a privately held venture. This accomplishment mirrors the skill it took to build the Vanderbilt fortune in the first place.

Outlaw by Angus Donald
This retelling of the Robin Hood saga is in the voice of Alan-a-Dale, the Merry Men’s minstrel. Donald’s realistic and believable Robin is a leader and provider of those wanting their freedom from various injustices. Donald set his tale, earlier than most retellings, during the reign of Henry II, an unsettled time a few generations after the Norman Conquest. Outlaw is the first of five novels featuring Robin Hood. If you like Bernard Cornwell’s books, you’ll probably like this.

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippy Dream by Neil Young
Young writes in his autobiography that he wrote his autobiography to cash in.  At age 66, Young seems to have had a wakeup call. He gave up cannabis and alcohol, fears dementia and writes about some projects he wants to pursue that do not relate to music. Young has yet to give up on the promise of the sixties; long may he run.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Amy W’s Picks

December 24, 2013

My name is Amy and I am a read-aholic. Seriously, I read a wide range of genres and I will read it any way I can get it (e-reader, traditional book, audio book, etc).  Here are some pleasant discoveries from my year of reading. I hope you can include some of these books in your 2014 reading list. Enjoy!

crossingThe Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
This first in the Dr Ruth Galloway mystery series has everything including a sassy, smart  female protagonist, a mysterious atmosphere, a colorful cast of characters, history and mythology. Dr Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist—to put it more directly, she is a bone expert. Her quiet academic world gets turned upside down when she is asked to examine bones at a local archaeological dig. Bones? At an archaeological dig? Big deal! Well it is a big deal when a local girl has been missing for nearly ten years and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson is committed to closing the case and putting her family at ease. To complicate matters, another girl goes missing. This is a fun page, intelligent page turner that will send you running to the next book in the series.

victorianInside the Victorian Home : a Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders
This book is delightful! It is one of those books you want to tell people about constantly but worry that they will roll their eyes after the sixth or seventh Victorian life fun fact. But it is packed with interesting tidbits at every turn of the page and you cannot help but be aghast at some of the details. Artfully constructed, Judith Flanders moves room by room through the Victorian home describing not only the practical uses of the room, but also closely examining Victorian society in its most intimate setting. This book is well written and supported by diaries and journals. So if you often find yourself at a loss for something interesting to say at a party, read this book and you will be the life of the party.

financialThe Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter
If you enjoyed the show “Breaking Bad,” you would probably enjoy this book about Matt Prior, a nice guy saddled with debt after following his ill-conceived dream. He is struggling to support his family and his marriage is falling apart. So one night at the 7 Eleven he falls in with some real losers in an attempt to keep his home out of foreclosure. Hijinx ensue, more bad decisions are made. You never stop rooting for Matt in this funny, fast-paced and heartwarming book.

wolfWolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Today’s scandals have nothing on Henry VIII and his henchman Thomas Cromwell. Wolf Hall takes place from the point of view of Englishman, Thomas Cromwell.  Cromwell was the son of a drunken blacksmith and rose from those humble beginnings to be the king’s right-hand man. This book is a challenging read everyone seems to be named Thomas, John, Henry, Harry, William, Mary or Anne. But it is very worthwhile to read this award-winning book, a historical look at the complexities of power that still rings true today.

attachAttachments by Rainbow Rowell
Alright, this was not my favorite book this year but this is one of my favorite contemporary authors and I am dedicated to reading anything she writes. My colleagues will have raved about a couple of her YA books published this year (Fangirl and Eleanor and Park) and I agree. Written for adults, this book is fun too! And the dialogue is witty and the characters are likeable. Lincoln O’Neill is kind of at a standstill and he takes a really boring, go nowhere night job monitoring email at a local newspaper. Things start to look brighter when he falls in love; unfortunately, he falls in love with Beth while reading her hilarious and honest email exchanges with her best friend and co-worker, Jennifer. Oh, and Beth does not know he exists and he knows the intimate details of her life which would be kind of creepy. Earlier I used the phrase “funny, fast-paced and heartwarming book”, it applies here also!

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Sharon S’s Picks

December 23, 2013

One of the reasons why I like to read is for inspiration and instruction on how to live a better life. Here are the “new to me” books that inspired me most this year.

Healing Through Exercise by Jorg Blech
We all know that exercise can help prevent illness, but Jorg Blech provides well-documented evidence that exercise also promotes healing from existing illness. That means it is never too late to start. Even moderate exercise can have profound effects. The body atrophies more and more the longer we sit or lie in bed, so Blech urges us to get moving in whatever way we can to improve our health and extend our range of motion. Read my full review.

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
First-time novelist Mayhew has crafted a wonderful tale of growing up in the South in the 1950s. The story is told by 14-year-old Jubie, whose unjaded point of view enables her to understand many things the grown-ups around her fail to notice. In the face of tragedy, Jubie finds the courage to act on what she knows to be true, even though it goes against the grain of her society. Read my full review.

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard
Is America still a place where you can make a life for yourself with very little besides hard work and gumption? Shepard decided to find out by starting a new life as a homeless man in an unfamiliar city. What he was able to achieve and how is a fascinating and thought-provoking tale. Read my full review.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho’s characters are afraid of happiness; after all, it might be better to keep on dreaming than to realize your dreams and be disappointed in them. This story of a young shepherd who dared to pursue his dream in the face of many obstacles has inspired countless readers. It is a good place to start if you want to read the works of this internationally acclaimed author.

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett
Jake Barnett is a 14-year-old genius who is working on a new theory of relativity which is expected to put him in line for the Nobel Prize. However, this biography is his mother’s story of how she brought out the best in a child who was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and unable to learn. It is a story of courage and creativity which is my favorite true story of the year. Read my full review.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 20, 2013

I read a wide variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction. Ask me for a suggestion and I most likely have read something that would appeal to you. But I still enjoy wandering the library stacks. Stumbling across a fabulous book is like finding a gem in a pile of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry is fun and fleeting, but some books are treasures that become friends for life. These are some of the new friends I made this year. Some have been out there a long time, others are more recent arrivals, but they are all worth checking out and passing along for more to enjoy!

When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home by Erma Bombeck
I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson. One day while lamenting I had read and reread all his books the title of this book caught my eye. Intrigued, I picked it up. I am so glad I did! I laughed so hard I was sore the next day. I found out Erma Bombeck had a syndicated newspaper column and was a well known humorist. Somehow she had flown under my radar. But no more! In this collection of humorous writings she describes her travels around the world with her family.  And a word of warning: I had this on audio book and had to pull over because the tears of laughter were blinding me.

Variant by Robison Wells
If you thought surviving high school was hard, then this book takes it to a whole new level. Benson Fisher thought he was escaping an intolerable foster care system when he made it into the elite Maxfield Academy. He arrives excited for his new future, but something just seems not quite right. And then students start to disappear.  At this boarding school breaking the rules can literally kill you and escape is impossible.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
When I think of dragons I imagine powerful creatures to be admired or possibly feared. This is the first of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles, and these dragons are pathetic and sickly. They cannot survive without their human keepers and as sentiment grows against them they are driven out on a perilous journey. But will they reach safety? Or will the enemies surrounding them doom the dragons forever?

High Country Fall by Margaret Maron
Since I was heading into the mountains for a vacation, I thought what better book to take along then one set in the North Carolina Mountains. And I fell in love with Judge Deborah Knott. Not just because the books are well written, or because the setting was so perfectly described I felt I was there, but because she is so ordinary and believable I felt I was her as I was reading. Judge Knott escapes the pressures of a recent engagement by subbing for a fellow judge in Cedar Gap. There she stumbles into a murder mystery and danger, and what about that handsome DA Lucius Burke! This book is the perfect mix of action, mystery, humor, and romance.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
If you thought writing restaurant reviews was easy, just wait until you read this biography!  Ruth Reichl was the New York Times restaurant critic for most of the 1990’s. With humor and wisdom she draws you not only into the restaurant world, but into her world as well. This book is so well written you will feel you can close your eyes and be sitting in a top steakhouse, or a tiny Chinatown sushi bar, eating along with her.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Farida B’s Picks

December 19, 2013

I love a variety of books in the adult and children’s collection, including Fantasy, Mystery, Humor, Romance, and gentle clean reads. My picks for the 5 best new to us books in 2013 – presented in no particular order, certainly reflect my reading tastes.

The Innocent by David Baldacci
The Innocent is David Baldacci’s first novel in Will Robie Series. This is a fast paced, plot driven suspense story. Will Robie is a stone cold ruthless hit man. He always kills his given targets without asking any questions.  The story starts with Robie traveling to Scotland to kill his assigned target. On each job he has to plan and memorize each step he will have to make to do his job and stay alive. If he makes one mistake, he will lose his life.  When he gets his target, he heads back home.  Next Robie is assigned to eliminate a target close to home, which is unusual – normally he has to travel far away to do his job. When he enters the home of the target at night, he finds that it’s a woman, who is sleeping with a small child.  Unable to shoot the woman with the child so near, he defies orders and leaves without completing his mission.  He has just made the biggest mistake of his life. Now, he is the target and has to escape from his own people.

Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
Mythical and mystical, Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realistic and fairy tales. The story Divakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe, you feel like you are involved with the characters, its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. It revolves around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Tilo. Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Nayan Tara (“Flower That Grows by the Dust Road”) is virtually discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Nayan Tara throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into a priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses sent out into the world to help others, offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc.  Read my full review.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
Fannie Flagg takes readers to Elmwood Springs, Missouri, where the most unlikely and surprising experiences of a high-spirited lady Mrs. Elner Shimfissle inspire a town to ponder the age-old question “Why are we here?” If you have read any of her books, they are full of southern warmth, emotion and funny episodes. She is the author of the famous book turned into movie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Elner is up on a ladder again picking figs when she accidentally pokes a wasps’ nest in her fig tree and falls down.  Waking up in the hospital emergency room, she wonders how she got there. Elner’s nervous niece Norma faints when she hears of Aunt Elner being in hospital. This is not the first time that Aunt Elner has fallen from the ladder. Now Aunt Elner is worried about facing Norma since she had promised not to climb the ladder again.  But what can she do? All she wanted was to make a jar of fig preserves for the nice woman who had brought her a basket of tomatoes.

The Man You’ll Marry by Debbie Macomber
Debbie Macomber writes Contemporary romance which is heartwarming and engaging. If you like to read some clean cozy romance than this is the author you should pick. This title contains two different stories of the Wedding dress. The first part is called “The First Man you Meet.” The second part is called “The Man You’ll Marry.” The wedding dress was made many years ago, and it came with a promise: “The First Man You Meet will be the Man you will Marry!” Shelly Hansen did not want to get married to anyone. She was happy to stay single and work on her career.  She was horrified when her great-aunt’s wedding dress arrived, according to family legend, she was destined to marry the next man she met. On the same day when she tripped on an escalator and fell into Mark Brady’s arms, she told him and herself that she wasn’t interested in marriage. But then she started seeing him everywhere. She met him at a lawyer’s office, at the beach. It was almost like she was following him. Read my full review.

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
The Surgeon is a top-grade thriller from Gerritsen, a former internist who gave up the stethoscope to raise kids and chills. ER trauma surgeon Catherine Cordell first met the killer, called “The Surgeon” by Boston newspapers, down in Savannah, where she was his last victim. Luckily for Catherine, after being raped she got a hand free from the cord binding her to the bed, cut herself loose with a scalpel, reached under her bed, grabbed a pistol, and seemingly killed Andrew Capra, the inept medical student about to pluck out her womb. Unable to bear Savannah, where everyone seemed to know she’d been raped, Catherine transferred to Boston, holed up for nearly two years, then took a job as a trauma surgeon without disclosing her past.  Good grief! More wombless bodies start showing up in Boston. Did she really kill Andrew? This is the first book in Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. Read my full review.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Stephen B’s Picks

December 18, 2013

My name is Stephen Bank and I have been working in Wake County Public Libraries for over 12 years. My favorite genre is mysteries, but I also like Historical Nonfiction and sometimes human interest stories as you will see from the following 5 short blogs.

Snow in August by Pete Hamill
Having been raised in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in New York City, I have found no one who captures the essence of the Big City like Hamill. This touching story takes place in Brooklyn just after WWII, where an extraordinary relationship develops between 11 year old Michael Devlin and Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a Polish refugee. Michael’s Dad was killed in the war and he and his Mom are just surviving. The relationship between Michael and the Rabbi teaches us how all people can live together in all types of circumstances.   Read my full-length post here.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
It’s 1890 and Chicago politicians will do anything to bring the next World’s Fair to their city. As various factions battle against other sections of the United States for the Fair, something very diabolical is going on. Chicago wins the rights to the World’s Fair and now there will be the infighting from those factions who want to profit from producing the Fair. There is also a serial killer loose, but at first no one realizes that the dead women have not died of natural causes! We are really dealing with the two stories, the Fair and the murders.  Larson’s unbelievable research makes you feel like you are there, living in Chicago. And this is a true story!  Read my full-length post here.

The  Informationist  by Taylor Stevens
In this book you will meet one of fiction’s most interesting leading protagonists, Vanessa “Michael” Munroe.  Abandoned in darkest Africa by her missionary parents as a teenager, Vanessa has to learn every possible survival skill…which she does. As an adult, she is self-sufficient and capable of anything, including killing to save herself and her clients. She is not evil and she hires herself out to secure information for clients.  She is fascinating and if you become “hooked” as I did you will seek out Stevens’ two successive novels with ‘Michael’ as the main heroine. If you do some research on author Stevens and her background, it may become clearer to you how she arrived at this talent and the development of ‘ Michael ‘ as a leading character!  Read another review here.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
This was a new discovery for me. This book is the first in a series of books where our main protagonist is Kate Burkholder, the chief of police of Painters Mill, Ohio. I always thought that the main Amish community was in Pennsylvania but there is a strong Amish community in Ohio. The Amish and English residents have lived besides each other for years but not entirely peacefully! Although they were peaceful, there always was some resentment of the Amish.  Kate was brought up in the Amish community but a series of brutal murders convinced her that she didn’t belong there.  Despite that, she returned to Painter’s Mill after some big city training to be the new Police Chief. A new murder and Kate is convinced she must find the culprit before there is another murder. Castillo has followed this initial story with several other books with Burkholder as her leading protagonist. Not only is this a solid read but you will learn some things about the Amish communities.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
This is the different selection, one I would not ordinarily select but it was suggested by a fellow librarian I trust. Samuel Lake is preacher, a good one but one who has alienated his parish enough that they don’t renew his contract. Now it is time for Samuel and his wife, Willadee and their three children to return to her family’s farm in south Arkansas and the annual reunion of the Moses’ family. And that is the catch…!  You will fall in love with Samuel and Willadee’s precocious eleven year old daughter, Swan. And as you get to meet and know the rest of the Moses clan, you will see the good and the bad. If you have an extended family as I do, you will understand their trials and tribulations.  Samuel has to face his own demons … why can’t he hold on to a congregation? Plus there certainly are members of the Moses’ clan that will present their own challenges. This book will touch your heart, I promise.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Dan B’s Picks

December 17, 2013

As the saying goes, “so many books, so little time” – and that is why I’ll never run out of great things to read. My picks for the best new-to-me books that I discovered this year include a classic, a kids book, an Urban Fantasy novel, and two very different science fiction novels. Three of my picks were published just last year, and I’m sure there’s a few books that came out this year that I won’t get to until further down the road, ensuring my continued reading pleasure for years to come.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
I am so glad that I finally read this classic novel, which was published almost 50 years ago. It’s the story of Charlie, a mentally deficient man who is given an experimental drug to make him smart. Charlie turns into a genius very quickly, but has not developed the social skills he needs, and encounters awkward situations. The experiment was also conducted on mice, and one mouse, Algernon, is showing signs of regressing and losing his intelligence. This emotional story is made even more powerful because it is written in diary form by Charlie, and his writing and language skills tell the story as much as the events do.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
This touching kids novel is one of those books that everyone – adults included – should read. Auggie Pullman has always been homeschooled, but is about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep and he’s understandably nervous. He has a severe facial deformity and kids can be cruel, especially in middle school. Auggie says to us, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” A few kids help Auggie out as gets used to his new school, but its soon evident that most kids are uncomfortable around him, and several are downright mean. In turns funny and sad (yes, I cried), I highly recommend this poignant book!

The Taken by Vicki Pettersson
“Grif” Shaw is a Centurion, an angel who helps souls cross into the Everlast, especially those who died violently – just as he did fifty years ago. One day he comes to collect a soul and inadvertently puts another life in jeopardy. Now Grif must interfere with mortal events and help “Kit” Craig, a newspaper reporter who lives the rockabilly lifestyle. Together Grif and Kit track down who is kidnapping young women and forcing them into prostitution, and it looks like the culprits may be some of Las Vegas’ most powerful movers and shakers. Pettersson gives us a fresh, fun take on a noir mystery blended with urban fantasy and a love story.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Pratchett and Baxter have come up with an intriguing sci-fi concept: what if people were able to “step” across to innumerable, parallel Earths on which humans never developed? Now we have infinite room for humankind to spread out, to explore, and to begin again. Iron can not be stepped, so each new world has pre-industrial technology once humans settle. Some people can “step” naturally, many more can with a small machine, but some can not step at all. A great story with very real characters and truly infinite possibilities; be warned, though that it ends on a cliff-hanger and you’ll need to continue with the sequel, The Long War.

No Going Back by Mark Van Name
I don’t usually review later books in a series, and you really should start with One Jump Ahead, but this fifth novel in Van Name’s Jon & Lobo series is his best yet. Jon is a mercenary and the only survivor of an experiment infusing humans with nano-technology. His partner Lobo is an A.I. enhanced warrior class vehicle suited for space, land, or water. When a mysterious woman from Jon’s past contacts him with a job stealing from his quarantined home world, he accepts, but after this mission there truly is no going back. Jon’s secret is revealed and we learn much more about how he came to be who and what he is.

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