Posts Tagged ‘Helen Y.’s Picks’

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

November 25, 2014

One thing that helps make my long commute bearable is a great audio book, and Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper certainly qualifies! I know the author best as the writer of the fantasy series, The Dark is Rising, but I think this historical fiction title is her best yet.

Ghost Hawk starts with the story of Little Hawk, an 11-year-old Pokanoket Indian boy being sent off to spend three months in the winter wilderness with only a knife, a tomahawk, and a bow and arrows. If he survives and returns to his tribe, he will be a man. Little Hawk battles starvation, bitter weather, and wild animals in his struggles to survive on his own. But when he finally returns home to find his village decimated by disease, Little Hawk faces his greatest trial yet.

In an attempt to ensure their survival, the diminished tribal villages negotiate a troubled relationship with the Pilgrim settlers. During a chance meeting between Little Hawk and John Wakeley, a Pilgrim boy from Plymouth, tragedy strikes, and the boys are bound together in a mysterious way. Through this connection, John begins to understand the pain of the Native Americans’ plight and assumes the guilt of their cruel treatment by European settlers.

As tensions between the settlers and the natives escalate, John’s sympathies put him in increasing danger, and he must decide whether to do what is safe, or to do what is right.

Ghost Hawk is filled with adventure, mystery, danger, and even has a little romance. The book is wholly engrossing– I could not wait to get back in my car to continue listening to it! Cooper’s writing is exquisite and her historical facts are accurate. Many of the major historical figures of the time appear in the story, helping create an air of authenticity.

The author reads a timeline of Native American history and talks a little about her sources at the end of the audio book. So, if, like me, you hate for a great book to end, Cooper gives you some great ideas for where to look next.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

February 10, 2014

Code Name Verity starts in the torture room of a Nazi occupied French hotel during World War II.  Beaten into submission by a cruel Nazi agent, a British agent known as Queenie writes down everything she knows about the allied war effort.  Queenie knows what will happen when she has revealed all her secrets.  Nacht und nebel, her captors call it, night and fog—an innocuous sounding term for the “disposal” of those no longer needed by the Third Reich.  So Queenie drags out her writing sessions, meting out Allied secrets piecemeal within the larger story of her best friend Maddie’s rise from working class motorcycle mechanic through the ranks of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

As each written word draws Queenie closer to her end, Maddie waits for her return near a secret landing strip in the French countryside.  Eventually, it becomes clear that her friend has been captured, and Maddie joins the group of Allied spies and couriers to rescue Queenie and salvage their mission.  But even in weakness, Queenie has not lost the craftiness that made her an ideal spy.  She may yet find a way to get her friends the information they need to complete their mission and to save her from her tormentors.

Elizabeth Wein’s well-researched novel arose out of the author’s curiosity about the options available to female pilots during World War II.  Though she admits to taking one or two liberties with the facts, Wein has created believable characters and a clever plot.  It is so clever, in fact, that when I reached the end of this book, I wanted to start at the beginning again to look for all the hidden secrets I had missed on my first time through.

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To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka

October 15, 2013

For years I have wanted to study abroad. I yearn to learn to speak a foreign language fluently from the natives, adopt their cultural habits, and become one of the local crowd. I imagine myself chatting with my new neighbors over tea, forming a bond, and proving that not all American travelers fit our boorish reputation. And when I have finally returned home, my new friends will tell everyone about their cool American friend.

Unfortunately, my study abroad days are behind me. But now I can live vicariously through Casey Scieszka’s journal describing her multi-national travels as a young college graduate.

Casey and Steven meet each other in Morocco during a semester abroad. They bond over their love of foreign travel and decide to spend six months teaching English in China after graduation. Now, you might be thinking (and rightly so), “What are they thinking—a year stuck abroad with someone you just met?” But this book has a decidedly playful tone.

In China, Casey and Stephen learn:
• how to live together (and how to enjoy time apart),
• the joys of haggling using a loud voice and lots of hand waving as a substitute for foreign language mastery,
• how to teach English to milk-throwing first graders when you have no plan and no prior experience,
• and much, much more!

Their adventure continues when Casey is awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study religious education in Mali, with a tour of Asia, France, and Morocco on the way. Throughout their travels, Casey journals cultural missteps, small triumphs, and poignant moments with honesty and humor. Hundreds of Steven’s quirky drawings pepper the book, adding comic-book appeal.

While the entire experience sounds pretty fabulous, Casey is honest about the dark moments, too: the weary battle against a mysterious illness that drags on and on; the inevitable strain of isolation on Casey and Steven’s relationship; and the terror of being jailed in a foreign land. But the joyful times far outweigh the miserable ones.

This book definitely helped this armchair tourist satisfy her wanderlust. And I predict it will leave every reader with a spirit of adventure and a longing for the freedom to act on it.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Killer’s Wife by Bill Floyd

September 16, 2013

I love books that give the reader an unusual point of view. When you hear about some heinous crime on the news, the focus is on the victims or the murderer—but don’t you always wonder what the axe murderer’s mother is thinking? Or his wife? That is what author Bill Floyd explores in his novel The Killer’s Wife.

Nina Mosley slept beside her husband Randy for years, never knowing of what he was capable. When Randy is convicted of a series of killings, Nina is both shocked by the depths of his depravity and ashamed of her ignorance that allowed the gruesome crimes to continue. Why didn’t she question Randy’s implausible explanations for the random scars appearing on his body? How could she ignore the strange coincidences surrounding the murders announced on the news?

In an attempt to escape public scorn and prying press, Nina changes her name and moves across the country to Cary, North Carolina, with her son Hayden. This is where Floyd starts his novel—six years after the court sends Randy to death row, and Nina, now Leigh Wren, is confronted in the supermarket by the father of one of Randy’s victims. “I know what the police said, how it was all your husband,” Charles Pritchett sneers, “But you were never cleared to my satisfaction, not by a long shot.” Nina panics that her identity will be exposed, just as her life has settled, and she is beginning to feel secure. Then Pritchett hits her where she is most vulnerable: “Where is Hayden tonight, Nina? You should keep a closer eye on him. I didn’t keep a close enough watch over Carrie, and you know what happened to her.”

Nina decides to lay low for a while in hopes that things will settle down. As mutilated murder victims start turning up in the news, however, Nina flashes back to Randy’s creepy fetish. Has Pritchett’s obsessive need for revenge brought him to Randy’s depths? Where is Hayden tonight?

Floyd spends some time getting into Nina’s mind at the beginning of the book, so the reader really understands the character. When the action starts, be prepared to set aside some time, because you will not want to put this book down.

Bill Floyd along with several other local authors will be at West Regional Library on September, 24th, please visit our website for more details.

 Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

God’s Hotel : a Doctor, a Hospital and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet

April 2, 2013

Victoria Sweet is one of those spiritual types. She’s a medical doctor and sure, medicine is a science, but that doesn’t mean it has to be heartless. It is the job of the doctor, Sweet believes, to get to know the patient—not just as a case but, also as a person.

Dr. Sweet first gets to know her patients by taking their medical history. Though she is lucky enough to live in the 21st century, when the medical field has a high-tech test to discover whatever ails you, Sweet would really just rather perform “the physical examination of the patient, on whose body [is] written, if [she] could only read it, the real diagnosis.” She takes a temporary position at the last alms house in America—Laguna Honda Hospital—where public funding allows staff to treat the poorest of the poor and high-tech medicine is yet to be discovered.

While at Laguna Honda, Dr. Sweet pursues a PhD in the history of medicine. She becomes engrossed in the experience of Hildegard of Bingen, who ran a monastic hospital in Europe during the Middle Ages. Hildegard based her diagnoses and herbal treatments on careful observation of her patients. Sweet recognizes the parallels between Hildegard’s patients and her own, and she gains an intense appreciation for the nun’s medical approach—and for the value of really knowing the patient.

So that’s why Laguna Honda Hospital is the perfect match for Dr. Sweet. By the time her patients make it to Laguna Honda, they are in desperate medical condition—so bad, in fact, that the county hospitals are sending them there to die. But, as Sweet works Hildegard’s “slow medicine” on the patients, thoroughly examining and getting to know them, she discovers what really ails them and how to cure it. And she discovers something else: that her patients are not so much victims of their diseases as they are victims of the high-tech, production-line medical care designed to save them.

Dr. Sweet is not the only one who feels this way. When the city’s political machine sets their sights on Laguna Honda, with the objective of increasing efficiency and bringing the hospital into the 21st century, the staff puts up a fight. They know the value of their cloistered space, their unique style of medicine.

Readers will grow to love Dr. Sweet as they share her hopeful journey through the hospital’s slow and painful transformation into a “modern medical facility” and come to know the patients that defy the current logic that new means better. And while Sweet doesn’t always manage to persuade hospital administrators of the benefits of “slow medicine,” she does a heck of a job convincing the reader.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Helen Y.’s Picks

December 21, 2012

I just started contributing to the Book-a-Day Blog this year.  I work in Children’s Services, so my reading history is heavy on children’s lit.  But I do love to curl up with great adult historical fiction, books with international settings, and non-fiction.  Here is a sampling of some I discovered this year — five oldies but goodies. – Helen Y.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Marion and his twin brother Shiva are born in an Ethiopian mission hospital, the sons of an Indian nun who dies in childbirth and a troubled doctor who abandons them.   Left to be raised by the caring hospital staff, Marion is constantly haunted by the mystery surrounding his birth and his missing biological father.  As the Ethiopian revolution ramps up, Marion must leave his country and the girl he loves to finish his medical education in America.  There he must continue his search for self and cope with the heartbreak of betrayal.  The character development in this book is expertly handled, and I loved the details of Ethiopian culture.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
It is the Great Depression, and Jacob Jankowski’s parents die, leaving him penniless.  In his grief, he runs away from veterinary school and joins the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  There he meets the freaks, grifters, and misfits of the circus — and the beautiful  Marlena, star of the show.  When Marlena’s cruel and unpredictable husband forces Jacob into service to train a seemingly untrainable elephant, he unwittingly sets off a series of events that bind Jacob and Marlena together and set the circus on the road to disaster.  This is a well-researched peek into a fascinating piece of history — a great setting for a love story.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Set in 19th century China, this novel follows Lily and Snow Flower , two young girls pledged to each other as friends for life. From different villages, the girls share their hopes and dreams through notes written on a fan in a secret language.  They grow closer as they share the trials and joys particular to Chinese women of their era—foot binding, arranged marriage, childbirth, and the hardships of civil unrest.   Then Lily learns that Snow Flower has been keeping a secret that threatens to break the bonds of their friendship.  The descriptive cultural details and surroundings of Lily’s life and times make this book a feast for the imagination!

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell  
Through thorough research, Gladwell examines the (often uncontrollable) factors that lead to personal success, focusing on intriguing questions like:  Why are most professional hockey players born in January, February, and March?  Why are many of the most successful New York law firms run by Jewish men?  Why did the richest men in history all live during the same time period?  Gladwell discusses how luck and timing can be powerful determinants of success, but also considers how cultural legacies affect human behavior and influence our drive to achieve.  I read through this book in a couple of days, and read many sections aloud to my husband—it is a great conversation starter.

A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House
This is one of my favorite books of all time!  A Cherokee woman named Vine leaves her family to marry a gentle, reserved white man named Saul.   It is 1917 in the Kentucky mountains, and Vine feels the isolation of racial prejudice.  Eager to be accepted by Saul’s family, she welcomes the friendship of his younger brother Aaron, who is clearly infatuated with Vine.  When Saul leaves to work at a mill, Aaron grows bolder in his attentions, and Vine realizes she is in danger.   This a beautifully written book by a NC author, full of character, mystery,  and interconnected stories of Vine and the other families living on the mountain.

Paris, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin

September 21, 2012

Book CoverI had to read this memoir of Baldwin’s time working at an advertising firm on the Champs Elysees in Paris, since I visited last year and vowed to go back. Reading Baldwin’s book was better than a couple of weeks touring the arrondissements (well, almost). Paris, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down is filled with humor and poignancy and reveals the challenges of staying excited about living your dream when it becomes a part of your day-to-day grind.

Baldwin shares the foibles of the French–both friends and strangers–but with a fondness that demonstrates that it is often their idiosyncrasies that endear them to him. Along the way, the reader learns the truth of the modern Parisian–they work long hours, serve commercially-prepared gourmet hors d’oeuvres from the freezer section, and think of “”liberte, fraternite, egalite”” as situationally applicable.

Baldwin’s hilarious human commentary includes self-deprecating look at his own difficulties adjusting and acquiring a mastery of the language and culture, with plenty of hilarious verbal blunders and only-in-Paris moments. Connoisseurs of the TV show Mad Men will appreciate the quirky office politics and peek into the world of luxury advertising as Baldwin stumbles into the choice projects at his advertising firm.

If you can’t love it for all this, you have to at least enjoy Paris, I Love You as a masterpiece of anthropological study. Just remember to remove your rose-colored glasses before reading.

 Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

August 2, 2012

This is a masterfully crafted novel that reveals the evolution and demise of a relationship through the mementos saved.

The book begins with 16 year old Min dumping a box of items she collected throughout her relationship with Ed Slaterton, a known womanizer. From the bottle caps she snuck into her pocket when they first met, to an expensive vintage cookbook Ed bought her, Min releases them all, chapter by chapter, as she recalls the circumstances under which they came to her.

Daniel Handler ( aka Lemony Snicket, author of the children’s books A Series of Unfortunate Events) does an excellent job of creating an authentic voice for his characters. With so many young adult novels creating unrealistic, overly mature situations for teen characters who seem to lack any parental controls and have bottomless pits of money and resources, I began to think all the teenagers I know had ended up with a really raw deal. Handler brings us down to earth again with characters that have the typical meddling parents and transportation woes. Min and her crowd speak like real teenagers–trying to be independent and testing their boundaries, while still suffering from the lack of experience that defines immaturity.

I love the way Min is completely duped by Ed’s charm (which, in addition to his good looks, is obviously what gets him a steady stream of girlfriends), and even convinces the reader that he’s very sweet–Min’s friends must be wrong about him. The reader and Min together struggle to accept Ed’s shine wearing off as the novel progresses, with each artifact of their relationship serving both to reveal Ed’s “love” and to explain why the relationship cannot last.

Min’s relationship with her friends is also authentically handled–as commonly happens when a girl begins dating, her friends are left behind. Of course they remain loyal, though their influence over Min is negligible, since she rarely even speaks to them anymore. And though the reader sees friendship complications develop over the course of the novel, Min is too blinded by her obsession with Ed to pick up on them. The suspense of what will happen when she finally “wakes up” carries the reader through to the end.

Handler has created an authentic novel with a fresh format. And, though it was written for teens, its quality appeals to adult readers, too. As a matter of fact, every book by Handler I read is better than the last–can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

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How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

May 15, 2012

Dr. Groopman is the chair of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The idea for this book came to him when he realized his interns, residents, and medical students did not readily think deeply about their patients’ symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis. Frequently, the students’ conclusions were correct, but when they weren’t, there was potential for things to go terribly wrong.

Using real-life examples, Groopman explains a physician’s thought process and how it may be flawed. As patients, we expect our doctors to be infallible. We want to believe that each illness presents in a very precise way that is easily recognized by our doctor, and our physician wants to earn our trust by being quick and decisive. Of course, not all symptoms are easy to diagnose and not all patients respond to an illness in the same way.

Add to this the fact that medicine is a business.

To be profitable, a doctor must see more patients in less time. “On average,” the book jacket reads, “a physician will interrupt a patient describing her symptoms within eighteen seconds.” This doesn’t give much time to hear the whole story, and, much as we don’t like to admit it, doctors are human. Feelings, first impressions, and assumptions can affect their diagnoses.

So what can the reader do to ensure their doctor considers all the possibilities and comes to the correct diagnosis? In an entertaining and highly readable way, Dr. Groopman gives specific advice on how to communicate with your physician and advocate for yourself (or a family member) without putting your doctor on the defensive.

And, while I consider this book an essential read for patients, How Doctors Think is also directed (perhaps mostly so) at doctors. Groopman knows the challenges of working in the medical field—he himself has made some of the same errors he examines in his book. The author approaches each example with sensitivity and explains how successful physicians have learned to adapt their methods to minimize errors. The best doctors, he shows, have learned what guides Dr. James Lock, chief of cardiology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, through the diagnosis process. “What we know is based on only a modest level of understanding,” says Lock. “If you carry that truth around with you, you are instantaneously ready to challenge what you think you know the minute you see anything that suggests it might not be right.”

Lock’s philosophy is the basis of Groopman’s thesis in How Doctors Think, and the first step for patient and doctor as they start on their journey to wellness.

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NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

January 24, 2012

So, you had your 2.2 kids and read all the right books, listened to all the right experts, and now you’re an expert too, right?  Think again.  After raising four children (only one left to put through college) and sitting down to read an adult book or two, I thought there would be nothing new for me to learn about the joys and tortures of parenthood.  And then I read NurtureShock by Po Bronson (author of What Should I Do With My Life?) and Ashley Merryman.

This book will challenge everything you thought you knew about raising children.  This is not a book that proposes the “right way” to raise a child, but rather presents the facts about how the current school of thought on child-rearing actually works (or doesn’t).  And just as Steven Levitt accomplishes in his book Freakonomics, which challenges commonly held beliefs on economic issues, Bronson and Merryman support their assertions with reams of research and the results of studies conducted world-wide.

Who would have thought that the more you praise a child, the lower their confidence level?  Or that an extra hour of sleep may be better for your kid’s IQ than an extra hour of studying?  And if your argumentative teen makes you want to pull your hair out, don’t—the alternative is even worse.  All this, and more, is waiting for you inside the covers of this intriguing book.

The issues covered in NurtureShock concern children at all stages of development, from infancy to the teen years, so all parents are sure to find these insights interesting.  But even non-parents will be fascinated by the science behind the information—think of all the fun you’ll have advising your parenting friends and family on what they are doing wrong!  Parents love advice from their childless friends . . . Don’t they?

Find and reserve this book in our online catalog.


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