Wednesday, June 29, 2016

SUMMER READING 2016: 5 Guest Reviews from Tweens & Teens

Summer Reading is on! We're having a great summer at BCPL with events ranging from fitness activities to a lab with the Kentucky Science Center to awesome magic shows. But the heart of Summer Reading will always be books and reading.

And we're so excited with the response we are receiving from the participants in our 2016 Reading Challenges. Here are just a few of the book reviews we've received so far; more will be posted here over the month to come. Thanks to all of our guest reviewers for sharing!

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson
Reviewer: Tyler W., Age 10
Tyler's Rating: 3/5 Stars
Genre: Graphic Novel/Mystery
Audience: Tween/Teen

Tyler's Summary & Review:  A boy and his mom move into a mansion only to find out weird things keep happening. It's ok. Kind of a long book.

Quarterback Sneak by Jake Maddox
Reviewer: Tyler W., Age 10
Tyler's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Sports Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Tyler's Summary & Review:  A quarterbacks suddenly starts acting very strange, which puts the team in major jeopardy.I enjoyed this book, I can relate to one of the characters because he wants to help his team. I also have a passion for football.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Reviewer: Katelynn W., Age 11
Katelynn's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/School Story
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Katelynn's Summary & Review:  A boy has a facial disease and has a hard time "fitting in" at school and out of school. I am here to tell you that I really think you should read this book. First, the book makes me feel like I'm in the story experiencing what is going on. Next, the book has really good detail to make me imagine everything that is going on. Last, the book has a really good story behind that and it has a good plot. That is why you should read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Enjoy!😊

EXTRA: Tracy's Thoughts: I couldn't agree more with Katelynn's rating and review! I loved this book back when I read it, hence its inclusion on our Best of 2012 book list for middle grade and tween readers and my whining over its exclusion from the 2013 Youth Media Awards. Here's my brief overview from one of our Book Picks lists:
Ten-year-old Auggie was born with extreme facial abnormalities. When he was younger, he used to wear a space helmet all the time just to hide from the stares. Now Auggie—homeschooled all his life—is ready to come out of hiding and is set to begin fifth grade at a private Manhattan middle school. Heartbreaking, funny, and simply wonderful in every way, Wonder is a must-read for book lovers of all ages. Ages 8 and up

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield
Reviewer: Katelynn W., Age 11
Katelynn's Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Animal Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade

Katelynn's Summary & Review: A zebra and other animals get captured and have to train to be gladiators. Once they train, they have to fight to earn their freedom.

I think you should read the book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield. First, this book has some great facts about the Romans and other things. Next, the book has really great humor. Last, the book has a lot of feeling in it. That is why I think you should read the book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Reviewer: Kaylee F., Age 12
Kaylee's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Audience: Teen/Young Adult

Kaylee's Summary & Review: The storyline is about a girl named Bella Swan and when she moves in with her dad at the town of Forks. I thought this book was a great start to an amazing series.The story itself was great because it explained how Bella felt at all times in amazing words and vocabulary. I loved the characters a lot because they all were a big part of an amazing story. I loved the setting because when the author wrote to explain the setting she made it feel like I was actually looking at it myself. I just enjoyed this book so much I couldn't even put it down. You should really read this book and fall in love with it just as I did.

EXTRA: Tracy's Thoughts: As Kaylee says, this book is compulsively readable. I couldn't put it down and read the entire book (about 500 pages) in a single night. I have a few issues with the book (Edward's stalker tendencies, for one), but nothing that prevented me from staying up till about 6:00 in the morning until I finished!

Are you interested in submitting a guest review? Use the submission form on our website to share your thoughts (positive, negative, or in between) about your latest read. And remember: eligible BCPL patrons earn an entry in our Summer Reading Grand Prize Drawing for each review they submit!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

REVIEW: Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers + Bonus Suggestions for Further Reading

Ever since the news about Harper Lee was announced last week, we've been a little sad here at BCPL. However, we've also been thinking about the contribution Lee's work and life have made to the literary world despite the fact that she only published two books during her lifetime. So in honor of that, Beth—Assistant Branch Manager of our Lebanon Junction location and a HUGE Harper Lee fan—is contributing her very first review here at Book News & Reviews.

Together, we've also compiled a list of related readings we think will appeal to Harper Lee fans. The list includes titles by and about Harper Lee as well as those inspired by her work and life. We've also included several "read-alike" titles that we feel reflect similar themes or characters as Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Beth's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction/Paranormal Mystery
Audience: Adult

Summary: A fictional tale of the friendship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote with a twist. Here, after a decades' estrangement that followed the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, the former friends are drawn together again when Truman fears he is being haunted by the Clutter family.

First Lines: "She's back. She's after me."

Beth's Review: Author Kim Powers takes the story of Truman Capote and Harper Lee and spins a tale full of mystery and haunting memories. Is it the past that comes back to haunt you; or ghosts of those who have touched your lives, revisiting you in your aging years? Or is the ghost regret for what once was? What really happened to end the friendship of Capote and Lee?? A story based on facts will take you back to 1959—the true story of the murder of a Kansas family of four that took four years to become Capote's In Cold Blood—and to 1960 and the book that took the world by storm, To Kill a Mockingbird. Can someone tortured by the past atone in the present?? A great read that makes you feel like you're watching a movie as it unfolds.

Check for availability in the library catalog.

Related Readings

By Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird - Check Library Catalog | Read C.W.'s Guest Review
Go Set a Watchman - Check Library Catalog | Read C.W.'s Guest Review

By Truman Capote
In Cold Blood - Check Library Catalog

Nonfiction about Harper Lee & her work
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee - Check Library Catalog
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee - Check Library Catalog
I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee - Check Library Catalog
Scout, Atticus & Boo - Check Library Catalog

Fiction inspired by Harper Lee & her work
Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story - Check Library Catalog
I Kill the Mockingbird - Check Library Catalog
In Search of Mockingbird - Check Library Catalog

Recommended for To Kill a Mockingbird fans
The Dry Grass of August - Check Library Catalog
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter - Check Library Catalog
A Land More Kind Than Home - Check Library Catalog | Read My Review
A Lesson Before Dying - Check Library Catalog
Mudbound: A Novel - Check Library Catalog
Revolution - Check Library Catalog | A Best of 2014 Selection
The Secret Life of Bees - Check Library Catalog
A Time to Kill - Check Library Catalog
The Undertaker's Daughter - Check Library Catalog
Whistling Past the Graveyard - Check Library Catalog

Related Films
Capote - Check Library Catalog
In Cold Blood - Check Library Catalog
To Kill a Mockingbird - Check Library Catalog

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Love Stories We ♥

Happy Valentine's weekend! In the spirit of the holiday, we wanted to share with you some of our favorite love stories. Some are straight-up, happily-ever-after romances while others are heartbreaking tearjerkers and genre-bending dramas. Below, I've listed a few of my all-time favorites. Joining me is Stephanie from our reference department, who is making her first contribution here at Book News & Reviews.

We hope there is a little something here for everyone who loves a good love story! All titles are available from BCPL, either in print or in e-book format from Kentucky Libraries Unbound,

Steph's Picks
 The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
When her family leaves for a week-long trip to the state fair, Francesca cherishes the peaceful view from the farm's front porch. The sojourn ends when a stranger, asking for directions, shows up at the family farm. The two are immediately attracted to one another and find joy and comfort in each other’s company. When her family returns, Francesca must make a decision: Leave her family for the only true love she’s ever known or be a dutiful wife. Heartbreaking and hopeful, this is a love story to cherish again and again!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Genre: Fantasy
When a young scholar inadvertently summons an ancient magical text, her world changes forever. Diana Bishop has always been a loner, but that life is over. Strange creatures start to come out of the woodwork, and who (or what) is that tall dark stranger following her!? Diana flees to her childhood home, and her Aunt/Surrogate Mom, where she learns a surprising truth about herself and her past. Although I was sometimes distracted by the scientific jargon, it is a fascinating read. This is the first book in a series.
First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh
Genre: Historical Romance
The first book in the Huxtable Quintet, this historical romance series focuses on three sisters and their younger brother. When the Huxtable clan are lifted from obscurity by the younger brother’s elevated status the title of Earl of Merton, the hunt for love begins. Each volume focuses on how each sibling finds love among the scandal and seduction of Regency England. Sure to keep you smiling with her witty banter and steamy love scenes, Balogh will have you cheering for the Huxtables.

The Guardian Duke by Jamie Carie
Genre: Christian/Historical Fiction
The Forgotten Castles series tells the story of a strong independent girl, Lady Alexandria Featherstone. When her parents go missing and an arranged marriage is at her doorstep, Alexandria flees the only place she’s ever known. Part romance and all adventure this fun romp through Ireland is full of intrigue.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Fantasy
Trained since birth to compete, illusionists Celia and Marco, are adversaries. Without knowing, the two fall madly in love and the fate of all involved hangs in the balance. Brimming with mystery and magic, a feast for the senses. The Night Circus, will pull you in and leave you wishing you could go to Le Cirque des Rêves.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
Genre: Fiction
Follows the lives of two women, decades apart, struggling with love. One is in a loveless marriage, possibly pregnant with another man’s child. The second may have lost her one true love and consoles herself helping others celebrate their loss. A fantastic read, one of my top ten.
The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
Genre: Biographical Fiction
In his memoir A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway writes of the regret he suffered losing his first wife and his “one true love.” The endearing, hopeful and ultimately heart-breaking tale of Hadley and Ernest’s marriage is palpable. Set in the Roaring 20s, the book is filled with unforgettable characters, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and brimming with an array of emotions.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Genre: Fantasy
Sisters, Gillian and Sally, are sent to live with their aunts after a tragic accident. They soon learn the meaning of the word “different,” and both sister begin their journeys to find love and normalcy. But, family has a funny way of pulling you back and soon the sisters find themselves living the lives they tried so hard to escape. Full of magic, tragedy, and love (both familial and romantic,) Hoffman’s lyrical prose will haunt you long after the last page is read.
Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love & Tragedy at the Circus by Dean Jensen
Genre: Biography
Sometimes a true story is better than fiction, thus is true of “The Queen of the Air. “At the turn of the 20th century, Leitzel is a household name. Sold to a traveling circus at a young age, she overcame adversity and tragedy to become the star of the trapeze. Unfortunately, celebrity and riches cannot protect us from disaster and heartbreak. Leitzel will fly into your heart with the greatest of ease, just as she did mine.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Genre: Fantasy
Take Pride and Prejudice and throw in a little magic and you would have the Glamourist Histories. Set in Regency England, this series is about two sisters searching for love, before they become spinsters at the age of twenty-eight!

Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis-Higgs
Genre: Christian Fiction
Do not let the “Christian Fiction” label fool you. This series is full of passion and heart ache, deceit and jealousy. Based on the biblical characters of Esau and Jacob and set in Scotland the series centers on a love triangle, the likes of which you have never seen, nor are likely to again. Higgs is a master of the human condition, ensuring you will become emotionally attached to these characters. Lucky for you the entire series is available, no waiting for the next volume. You’re Welcome!

My Picks
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Bet Me is a modern Cinderella story of mistaken impressions, chaos theory, and doughnuts. When Min overhears a bar bet—involving her!—between her ex and another man, she responds with her own simple plan for revenge. But thwarted by fate, which seems determined to throw her together with Cal—acknowledged player and participant in the infamous bet—Min finds herself falling for the enemy. This is a smart and funny romantic comedy that ranks high on many romance aficionados’ all-time favorites lists. The repartee between Min, Cal, and their friends, the subtle Cinderella allusions, and the sizzling chemistry easily makes it one of my favorites.

Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction
When her live-in boyfriend takes her new puppy to the pound, it is the last straw for high school art teacher Quinn McKenzie. Tired of always doing what’s expected of her, Quinn decides it’s time to shake things up a bit. Pretty soon, the entire town is in an uproar, including Nick, Quinn’s good friend—and ex-brother-in-law. I tried to pick just one Crusie novel for this list, but frankly I have a tough time choosing between Bet Me and Crazy for You, although I think I love Crazy for You just a tiny bit more. I love Quinn's sudden bid for independence and enjoy every moment of craziness her change of heart creates.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Genre: Literary Fiction/Modern Classic/Love Story

When people ask me that awful, impossible question—What is your favorite book?—this is the book I most often settle on. William Faulkner called it “one of the most true and moving novels of [his] time.” I think the themes of this book transcend time, and I discover something new each time I read it. This tragic story, set in World War II–era London, recounts the adulterous love affair and the ideological struggles of its protagonists. The End of the Affair is haunting as it questions what constitutes love—jealous passion and obsession vs. spiritualism and self-sacrifice—and hate. For those who are a bit skeptical about love or looking for something a little more philosophical than sentimental, this is a must read.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
Genre: Psychological Fiction/Love Story
This is a book that I simply can't stop thinking about. The Gargoyle is the story of a severely burned man and the woman—who may or may not be insane—who shows up in his hospital room claiming they loved each other in the past. The unnamed narrator is cynical and jaded, but eventually he finds himself enthralled by Marianne Engel’s stories of her life in a medieval monastery as well as tangential tales of a widowed Victorian lady, plague-stricken lovers in 14th-century Italy, a young maiden in feudal Japan, and Vikings in 9th-century Iceland. It's ambitious, hypnotic, and often horrifying in in its absolute rawness. The writing is stunningly visceral, with just the right measure of caustic humor, and the love story uniquely captivating. This book has everything: adventure, romance, history, humor, and drama—all served up in a literary masterpiece that is anything but dull.

Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
Genre: Regency Romance
I'm a total sucker for the brother's best friend romance trope, and this fabulous regency romp delivers perfectly. The set up of Tessa Dare’s debut novel is nothing out of the ordinary: Lucy, our headstrong, tomboyish young heroine is in love (or so she believes) with her brother’s roguish pal Toby. Toby is toying with the idea of marrying Sophia, whom he believes to be the perfect, ladylike ideal. So in order to convince Toby that she’s his perfect match before it’s too late, Lucy naively decides to hone her seductive skills on Jeremy, another family friend whom she has always gotten a kick out of needling due to his somewhat distant demeanor. Throw in a few more characters, set them all up at a house party in pastoral England, and stir. Goddess of the Hunt could so easily have become a mess of romance clichés, but thanks to Dare’s deft writing it is one of the freshest, most enjoyable romances I’ve read in years. I loved watching Lucy’s gradual realization that Toby wasn’t the right guy for her, and I was impressed with Dare’s ability to keep Lucy’s maturation completely in-line with her stubborn character rather than relying on some sudden epiphany simply to move the plot along. Lucy and Jeremy are truly endearing and multidimensional characters, and several of the secondary characters are equally surprising and delightful. And the writing, from the humorous dialog between characters to characters’ inner dialog, is nuanced, believable, and (please forgive the cliché) utterly captivating. Seriously, if that wardrobe scene doesn't take your breath away, I can't believe you have a single romantic bone in your body.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Genre: Literary Fiction/Psychological Fiction
Less a love story than an examination of the emotion, this imaginative literary mystery follows a Polish octogenarian who escaped the Nazis and is now reflecting on his past losses, a young teen seeking to cure her mom’s loneliness, and a very special book that connects them.

A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
Genre: Medieval Romance
Judith McNaught romances tend to be hit and miss for me, but Kingdom of Dreams is a MAJOR hit. In this beloved medieval tale, an enterprising Scottish beauty is abducted from a convent and forced to marry her family’s enemy, the Duke of Claymore, aka “The Wolf.” This is a perennial favorite of romance readers, full of heart-twinging moments before reaching the requisite happy ending. On a personal note, I have to admit this is a book that makes me smile, makes me mad, and makes me tear up every darn time I read it.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Genre: Play/Romantic Comedy
The focal romance plot is a bit Romeo and Juliet, only with a happier ending, but it is the love-hate relationship between Beatrice and Benedick that makes this story memorable. Have I mentioned yet that I love the build-up of witty back-and-forth repartee? Beatrice and Benedick are the gold standard of sexual tension presented in the form of competitive banter, and I love every moment of their fiery exchanges.

On the Way to the Wedding by Julia Quinn
Genre: Regency Romance
Combining the best elements of Shakespearean comedy with The Graduate (the interrupt-the-wedding-of-your-true-love part, not the seduced-by-an-older-woman part), Julia Quinn’s final installment of her popular Bridgerton series is a must-read for fans of historical romance. Gregory, the last of the eight Bridgerton siblings, finally meets his match in Lucy Abernathy, a practical, slightly obsessive compulsive young lady who definitely doesn’t believe in love at first sight, who scarcely believes in romantic love at all. While Gregory, having grown up surrounded by his siblings’ happy marriages, is a self-described hopeless romantic who has been waiting for the day when he will fall in love. The twist is that when Gregory is finally hit by the thunderbolt he has been anticipating, the object of his affection is not the heroine but Lucy’s best friend, Hermione. But Hermione has her sights set on someone else and, in their combined attempt to get Hermione to fall for Gregory, Gregory and Lucy discover one another. Of course, a few more obstacles pop up—most notably Lucy’s own engagement to the unusual Lord Haselby and the interference of various family members. Lighthearted and spiced with Julia Quinn’s cheeky style and witty dialog, On the Way to the Wedding is a delightful read and a worthy conclusion to the Bridgerton saga. I'm a big fan of the entire Brigerton series, though I'm a bit less enthusiastic about some that others (ahem...To Sir Phillip with Love) and have a hard time choosing a favorite, but On the Way to the Wedding is the one that I can read over and over.

A Place to Call Home by Deborah Smith
Genre: Women's Fiction/Contemporary Romance
Smith is a master writer when it comes to Southern women’s lit, and with A Place to Call Home she is at her best. As children, Claire (the feisty, protected daughter of the town’s first families) and Roan (the withdrawn son of the town drunk) had a bond that no one else in their small town understood. When they were separated by a near tragedy, neither was able to let go. Twenty years later, they are reunited, but family obligations and secrets from the past threaten their relationship. This novel has all the hallmarks of a dramatic family saga, but there is also a healthy dose of laugh-out-loud country humor. If you love this author as much as I do, you might also want to try one of my other Smith favorites, On Bear Mountain or Stone Flower Garden, next.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Those who love the movie but haven't read the book are missing out. If you haven't seen the movie OR read the book? Bump it to the top of your to-read pile right now. Here's the basics: A former farm boy in disguise must rescue his true love from a handsome (but evil) prince in this timeless twist on the traditional fairy tale. Along the way, he acquires the help of two unlikely allies, a drunken swordsman, and a gentle giant. Maybe it sounds a little silly, but only in the best possible way. Brilliantly combining adventure, fantasy, romance, and humor, The Princess Bride is a swashbuckling fable for all ages.

Thief of Hearts by Teresa Medeiros
Genre: Historical Romance
After being kidnapped by Captain Doom, admiral’s daughter Lucinda Snow remains fascinated by her father’s mysterious nemesis. Combining regency ballrooms with high-seas adventures, this is a wonderful historical romp featuring secret identities and laugh-out-loud humor. It's a little cheesy and over-the-top, but wonderfully fun.

This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Genre: Contemporary Romance
After Molly Summerville gives in to one of her rare (usually disastrous!) impulses, she finds herself stuck at a run-down resort with footballer Kevin Tucker for the summer. The impulsive action that begins Molly and Kevin's romance is epically messed up, but the book is so funny and the characters so likable despite their flaws that I love this book anyway. Phillips tackles some seriously touchy ethical and emotional issues in this one, but her deft humor and strong characterizations make for a fun, often hilarious read.

The Wallflower by Jan Freed
Genre: Category Romance
Sometimes I just want a short, old-school category romance, and Freed's The Wallflower is a classic of the subgenre. The plot is a little bit like Never Been Kissed, though this book actually came out the year before the Barrymore rom-com. Our heroine here is a professional woman on the run from a bad guy who already hunted her down once while she was under witness protection. Since Sarah barely escaped with her life, she's afraid to trust in the cops' protection again—so she turns to an old college friend, who just happens to be a high school principal. So Sarah ends up posing as a high school student—and of course falls for the hot English teacher with no patience for the cool new girl's refusal to kowtow to his authority. It's funny and chock full of forbidden-romance tension, but my favorite part may be the way Sarah dives into her new identity and ends up helping her less popular classmates find themselves and stand up to the high-school bullies. Though poor Jack's turmoil over his attraction to his "teenage" student is pretty darn compelling.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

BEST OF 2015: Our Favorite Nonfiction for Adults

Sometimes, choosing the "best" of anything can feel like comparing apples and oranges. This was the case for our 2015 Adult Nonfiction committee. This year, we read books on a variety of topics—from mathematics to social justice to historic disasters to celebrity memoirs. Some were entertaining or made us laugh while others impressed us with beautiful writing or startling insights that left us rethinking our perspective on the world around us. Others were just plain good reads. In the end, we believe the books to make our final list of favorites are all good reads—and some of them just might make you laugh or broaden your perspective on the world as well.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, the author, an award-winning journalist, examines American culture and the social construct of race. Through stories of his own life and other factual events, he explores what it means to be black in modern America, with due attention paid to both the past and the present. In a  small, slim volume of just over 150 pages, Coates's meditation is poetic, candid, and powerful. Winner of the National Book ward for Nonfiction.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
Part memoir and part writing guide, this laugh-out-loud book from a New Yorker copy veteran is a must-read for serious readers and self-proclaimed grammar geeks. From musings about Moby-Dick (why the hyphen?, she wonders), to anecdotes about famed writers like Philip Roth, to rants about common language and usage errors, Norris never fails to entertain. 

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
Timothy Snyder's history of the Holocaust implores the reader to see afresh the people, ideas, forces, and ideologies that led to the industrialized slaughter of millions of innocent human beings while much of the world found ways to avoid involvement. Snyder's in-depth research includes records only recently made accessible to the public and his strong perspective—that the Holocaust is relevant to the world and events playing out in the 21st century—is one worth considering, however difficult the subject matter.

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Move over Joy of Cooking and Martha Stewart, and say hello to The Food Lab! Five years in the making, this new culinary classic from the Serious Eats "nerd-in-residence" provides recipes for a number of American staples and other fantastic meals. Even better, colorful sidebars explain the science behind the varying techniques in layman's terms and the included test experiments help amateur cooks understand why certain techniques make a difference.

The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman
An exhaustively researched history of the modern era of the LGBT Civil Rights Equality Movement, Lilian Faderman's book will likely become a primer on the topic. One of our committee members suggests that Faderman's history if a must-read for all who "care about the LGBT struggle for dignity and equality under the law."

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Levoy
This absorbing story of social justice (or injustice) centers on the murder investigation of Bryant Tennelle, a young black man shot down on the streets of South Los Angeles in 2007. In a culture where "just another black man down" was a common refrain, solving  homicide cases wasn't a priority for a police department focused on prevention over "reaction," but Tennelle's case was different. First, he was the son of a detective. Second, there were dedicated homicide detectives who thought the department policy of elevating patrol over investigation was "dumb-ass" and were tireless in their pursuit of truth despite a lack of support from the "brass" and the "ghettoside" communities. In simple yet startlingly effective prose, Levoy paints a vivid picture of the ghettoside culture and those who inhabit it. Yet, more than a one-case true crime story, this is an examination of the epidemic of black-on-black murders and (according to the author) the lack of proper police and legal response that helps to create such a vigilante culture. Informative and thought-provoking, Ghettoside brings to light a serious problem that deserves more attention than it gets. 

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
In this absorbing tale of nature and grief, a woman recounts her attempts to train a goshawk predator while struggling with the death of her father.

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
The author tells her family's history in photographs and words, after sorting through a box of old papers that revealed scandals, alcohol and domestic abuse, affairs, family land ownership, and racial complications.

A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power by Paul Fischer
Before becoming the world's most notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea's Ministry for Propaganda and its film studios. Conceiving every movie made, he acted as producer and screenwriter. Despite this control, he was underwhelmed by the available talent and took drastic steps, ordering the kidnapping of Choi Eun-Hee (Madam Choi)—South Korea's most famous actress—and her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok, the country's most famous filmmaker. Fascinating, illuminating about one of the world's most secret places, and undeniably entertaining to boot.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
In a memoir capturing definitive moments in her career, the feminist activist reflects on events including her time on the campaign trail, interactions with key political leaders, visits to India, and her anecdotal encounters with "civilian" feminists.

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport
Drawing on personal writings and private sources, this book disproves common misperceptions about the sisters, uncovering details of their daily lives and vibrant personalities and revealing their awareness of family turmoil and the approach of the Russian Revolution.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson
Based on correspondence, entries in Rose Kennedy's diaries, and family interviews, describes the plight of a woman who was intellectually disabled and kept hidden by her family after she received a lobotomy at age twenty-three.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
We've all seen it happen -- someone makes a bad decision in the public eye and people pile on in judgment. His interest piqued by a takeover of his own Twitter account, journalist Jon Ronson dove deep into an exploration of human nature, technology, and humiliation via social media. Interviewing both those famous for being shamed and those doing the shaming, Ronson discusses motivations, consequences, and recoveries. -- Description by Shauna Griffin.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think? The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques.

The Stranger She Loved: A Mormon Doctor, His Beautiful Wife, and an Almost Perfect Murder by Shanna Hogan
Recounts the murder of 50-year-old Michele MacNeill at the hands of her husband, a doctor, lawyer and Mormon bishop who, upon further investigation by his daughters, had multiple marital affairs, a past criminal record and conned his way into medical school.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Chronicles the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the Wright brothers, sharing insights into the disadvantages that challenged their lives and their mechanical ingenuity.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

BEST OF 2015: Our Favorite Fiction for Adults

Too many books, too little time. 

It's a common complaint among avid readers and always an unfortunate truth for me as we are wrapping up our annual Best of the Year lists. Especially when so many of 2015's notable titles are sooooooo long. For those who thought Fates and Furies—at 400 pages—was long, what about Atkinson's A God in Ruins (480), Franzen's Purity (563), Yanagihara's A Little Life (720), or Hallberg's City on Fire (927)? Honestly, I am still working my way through City on Fire and have yet to get my hands on A Little Life (though I am finally next in line for BCPL's e-book!).

But I digress. For all those (maybe) wonderful 2015 titles I haven't yet read, our 2015 Adult Fiction committee has read numerous noteworthy titles that we just didn't love quite enough to give them a Best of the Year title. Other books greatly enjoyed by committee members (and other library staff) this year include the aforementioned A God in Ruins and Purity, twisty thrillers like In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Luckiest Girl Alive, and the latest books by reliably great authors like Toni Morrison and Harlan Coben. As for those 2015 gems we haven't yet discovered? We'll add them in later. For now, here is our current list of our favorite books of 2015:

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
In this compelling biographical fiction, Pataki brings to life the 19th Austro-Hungarian empire and the scandalous love story of  Emperor Franz Joseph and "Sisi," the daughter of a Bavarian Duke and younger sister of the Emperor's fianceé.
All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer
Nine years ago, terrorists hijacked a plane in Vienna. Somehow, a rescue attempt staged from the inside went terribly wrong and everyone on board was killed. Members of the CIA stationed in Vienna during that time were witness to this terrible tragedy, gathering intel from their sources during those tense hours, assimilating facts from the ground with a series of texts coming from one of their agents inside the plane. So when it all went wrong, the question had to be asked: Had their agent been compromised, and how? Two of those agents, Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison, were lovers at the time, and in fact that was the last night they spent together. Until now. That night Celia decided she'd had enough; she left the agency, married and had children, and is living an ordinary life in the suburbs. Henry is still an analyst, and has traveled to California to see her one more time, to relive the past, maybe, or to put it behind him once and for all. But neither of them can forget that long-ago question: Had their agent been compromised, and how? And each of them also wonders what role tonight's dinner companion might have played in the way things unfolded. All the Old Knives is Olen Steinhauer's most intimate, most cerebral, and most shocking novel to date from the New York Times bestselling author deemed by many to be John le Carrâe's heir apparent. –Provided by publisher

American Meteor by Norman Lock
A scrappy Brooklyn orphan-turned-assassin comes of age, befriends Walt Whitman, apprentices under William Henry Jackson, and stalks General George Custer as railroad construction advances the nation's expansionist goals. 

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories by Stephen King
From a master of the short story, a collection that includes stories never before in print, never published in America, never collected and brand new- with the magnificent bones of interstitial autobiographical comments on when, why and how Stephen King came to write each story. –Provided by publisher

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
I couldn’t stop reading this fascinating portrayal of Beryl Markham, a complex and strong-willed woman who fought to make her way in the world on her terms. McLain paints a captivating portrait of Africa in the 1920s and the life of expats making their home there. Highly, highly recommended. -- Halle Eisenman for LibraryReads.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Fates and Furies is a modern portrait of marriage. Lotto Satterwhite is the center, the hub around which all the characters revolve in the first half of the book. In the second half of the book, the lens turns to Lotto’s wife Mathilde, and her side of the lopsided partnership gives us a totally different view. Groff is a master of language. It’s not a gentle read. But it’s magnificent. –Kelly Currie for LibraryReads.

Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson
This short story collection by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson features only six items, but they're full-fledged doozies that demand careful reading. Despite differences in plot and setting (like Silicon Valley and North Korea), what they all have in common are realistic characters enduring tragic events and challenges. Taken together, they give the impression that these stories could very well be about real people (one, "Interesting Facts," has some similarities to Johnson's own life).
–Description by Shauna Griffin 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel is a washed-up thirty-something who creates a fantasy about the seemingly perfect couple she sees during her daily train ride into London. When the woman goes missing, Rachel manages to insert herself into the investigation of the woman’s disappearance. In the vein of Gone Girl, this dark psychological thriller is fast-paced and features some very unreliable narrators. –Andrea Larson for LibraryReads.

Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman
An Afghani orphan loses everything when his village is attacked by militants and must join a U.S.-funded militia to try to save his injured brother, who fell victim to a marketplace bomb. 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Reunited when the elder's husband is sent to fight in World War II, French sisters Vianne and Isabelle find their bond as well as their respective beliefs tested by a world that changes in horrific ways.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Beautiful, elegant and poignant, this novel is a distilled experience of Haruf’s writing. The story of how two elders attempt to poke at the loneliness and isolation that surrounds them will stick with me for a long time to come. I’m amazed at how Haruf says so much with such spare prose. He will be missed. -- Alison Kastner for LibraryReads

Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen
Discovering an old and strikingly unusual musical composition that causes her to black out and has a violently transformative effect on her daughter, Julia Ansdell travels to Venice to find the man behind the music and uncovers a dark secret dating back to the Holocaust.

Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler
After eight-and-a-half years and three hundred twenty-three pageants, Miranda Miller has become the ultimate stage mother. Her mission in life is to see that her nine-year-old daughter, Bailey, continues to be one of the most successful child pageant contestants in the southern United States. But lately, that mission has become increasingly difficult. Bailey wants to retire and has been secretly binge eating to make herself "unpageantable;" and the reality show Miranda has spent years trying to set up just went to their biggest rival. But Miranda has a plan. She's seven months pregnant with her fourth child, a girl (thank God), and she is going to make damn sure this one is even more successful than Bailey, even if the new girl is a little different.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
Follows the continuing story of the friendship between fiery Lina and bookish Elena, now grown with children and successful in their chosen careers, and both again living in Naples, the city of their birth.

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens
Those Girls follows the lives of the Campbell sisters. After running away from their alcoholic father, they find themselves caught in a worse situation when they are kidnapped. As events spiral out of control, they manage to escape and create new lives. This is a tale that will captivate readers and show just how strong the bond between family members can be. -- Annice Sevett for LibraryReads.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
Learning after a half-century of family life that their house on Detroit's East Side is worth only a fraction of its mortgage, the members of the Turner family gather to reckon with their pasts and decide the house's fate.

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