Current Picks: Book Reviews

Betty Ford by Lisa McCubbin (2018)

bettyFormer First Lady Betty Ford thought her husband Gerald Ford was going to retire after his time in the U. S. House of Representatives, but instead he moved to a higher office, taking over the Vice Presidency when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign. He became president when Richard Nixon resigned, setting her husband up as one of the most powerful men in the world without even running for office. His demanding job made him a largely absent husband, forcing Betty to raise her four children almost as a single mother.

While her husband was in the White House, Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, it was like receiving a death sentence. She also suffered from an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol. In 1978, her family staged an intervention. Ford was open with the American public about her health issues and would go on to co-found the Betty Ford Center. Her outspokenness about her personal experiences put the focus on women’s health issues, alcoholism, and addiction, prompting many to seek treatment themselves.

You don’t need to be a fan of President Ford or Betty Ford’s politics to enjoy Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer by Lisa McCubbin. This is an inspirational and sympathetic portrait of a woman dealing with many issues while living in the political arena.

Series Spotlight: Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green

friend2Sophie Mouse, her family and friends live in Pine Needles Grove. Her mom owns a bakery, her dad is an architect, Mrs. Owl is her teacher – families gather for parties, children play together, everyone knows each other. In each book, along with her friends Hattie Frog and Owen Snake, Sophie has an adventure and a problem to solve. She gets lost in the forest, has to figure out what to do about a ruined dessert, and tries to find her lost scarf. With good thinking and the help of others, Sophie always figures out what to do.

The series should interest children who are ready for more complex, longer stories that relate to their lives. Fans of the Adventures of Sophie Mouse series are going to know exactly what books in the series they have read, what book they want to read, and probably will read many books in the series until they move on…to another series.

Do talk with readers about Sophie’s adventures. Sometimes things happen in Pine Needles Grove that probably a child living in the real world should not do – such as going into the home of a stranger to get help.

A New Friend is the first book in the series by Poppy Green. Each series title has 117 pages, 10 chapters, and black/white illustrations on most pages. Lexile varies between 430 and 600.
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All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (2016)

all_weThe September 11 terrorist attacks are one of those significant moments in history where you remember where you were and what you were doing when it happened. This novel is told from two teen girls' perspectives, fifteen years apart: Alia in 2001 and Jesse in 2016. Alia, a Muslim, going to the North Tower to see her father when the plane hit, and Jesse, whose older brother somehow ended up at the Twin Towers that day and lost his life, significantly altering her family in the process.

The two stories eventually intertwine, and if you are like me, All We Have Left will have you on the edge of your seat as piece by piece you learn how Alia's and Jesse's experiences are connected. All We Have Left by Wendy Mills is a nominee for the 2019 Lincoln Award (PDF), the Illinois teen readers' choice award.
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The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley (2018)

judgeThis read is a fun tour of the British and Dutch colonies of North America in the mid-17th century. The principal character, Balty, although young and inexperienced, is charged with finding the two judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I of England. Balty links up with Huncks, an experienced agent of the Crown, who guides Balty through the new world territories populated by Puritans, Quakers, Native Americans, and finally the Dutch.

Meanwhile, back in England, Balty’s cousin, Samuel Pepys, fears a war with the Dutch might be imminent and Balty might be in great danger. Almost miraculously, Balty survives and New Amsterdam gets a new name.

Check out The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley today.

Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis (2018)

not_our_kindIn 1947, an accident between two cabs brings Eleanor Moskowitz into the world of Patricia Bellamy and her family. Eleanor, who is Jewish, has just left a position at a prestigious school in Manhattan. Patricia offers her a job teaching her daughter, Margaux, who had polio, thus has trouble walking, and is very reluctant to go back to school—hence the tutor.

Margaux takes an immediate shine to Eleanor, but in the upper class New York society, Eleanor is encouraged to keep her religion a secret. Things get even more complicated when Eleanor falls for Patricia's older brother, Tom, and Patricia's husband, Wynn, becomes increasingly angry about Eleanor's presence. Told through the eyes of Eleanor and Patricia, Not Our Kind explores the two women's very different lives in a time of change. Check out this debut from Kitty Zeldis.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

senseI was looking for a short, yet thought-provoking audiobook to act as a sort of palette cleanse between two light-hearted, popular works of fiction, so I opted for The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It turned out to be the perfect choice.

In less than five hours, we journey through the life of the narrator, Tony, and the story of two relationships from his youth, one a friend and one a lover. Now in his sixties, Tony is confronted with the truth of those relationships and forced to reevaluate his past behavior and his own carefully curated story of self. The audiobook narration (by Richard Morant) was terrific—the voice you hear becomes Tony, which really brings the story to life. This character-driven book examines the importance of memory in shaping self and questions what we remember as truth. I recommend it for fans of Kazuo Ishiguro and Marilynne Robinson.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)

educatedTara Westover’s Educated is the fascinating true story of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in the southern mountains of Idaho. Throughout her childhood, Tara’s father uses end-of-days fear, isolation, and the threat of eternal damnation to maintain control over his family. Every decision the family makes is informed by their father’s religious doctrine, so formal education is out of the question. Tara’s interest in the outside world combined with a desire to escape a life of working in the family’s scrapyard leads her to challenge her father’s ideas and, eventually, the lifestyle her family leads.

This compelling book is at times both heartbreaking and horrifying, but Westover’s matter-of-fact style of storytelling makes the reader feel right at home in this extreme, unfamiliar world.

 
 
 
 

Zugzwang by Ronan Bennett

ZugzwangZugzwang by Ronan Bennett (2007)
In German, zugzwang is a term used in chess to describe a position in which a player is reduced to a state of utter helplessness. The action is set in pre-Revolutionary Russia: St. Petersburg, 1914. Dr. Otto Spethmann is a psychiatrist who is drawn into a murderous intrigue and an intriguing romance. It’s a deadly game, but good read.

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

Making MoneyMaking Money by Terry Pratchett (2007)
As one of the Discworld series, the book follows the continuing adventures of Moist von Lipwig, “reformed” con man, as he takes over Ankh-Morpork’s banking industry. With his usual flair for sadistic characters and dry humor, Pratchett has produced another book that makes you laugh out loud!

Also check out the author's website for a Discworld travel guide, characters and themes by title, and miniseries information.

Limitations by Scott Turow

Limitations by Scott Turow (2006)
For the uninitiated, once again Turow delves into the mystery of how the law works. George Mason is judge of the Court of Appeals in Kindle County. He is faced with three problems: his wife has cancer, he receives threatening e-mails, and finally, he must decide the outcome of a horrific case of sexual assault. Turow ingeniously resolves these issues, especially the case of sexual assault. A fascinating book.

Check out the author's website for biographical information, a reading group guide (pdf), and the author's backlist.

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I’ve Learned by Alan Alda (2005)
Entertaining, revealing, but not about his career on MASH. This is a poignant story of an eccentric life with his Dad, a vaudeville performer, and his Mom who struggles with mental issues. Alda’s story is funny, conversational, and a great read. And, yes, they really did stuff his dog!

Also check out Alda’s 2007 biography: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.

The Legend of Fire Horse Woman by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

The Legend of Fire Horse Woman by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (2003)
Sayo, born under the disastrous sign of the Fire Horse, comes to California from Japan for an arranged marriage and years later during World War II is imprisoned with her family in a Japanese internment camp. A story which skillfully re-creates the limitations and loneliness of life in the Manzanar camp.

All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock

All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock (2002) This is the story of a young girl who finds a friend and a family with the Japanese American Hatsunes; however, they lose touch when World War II breaks out and the Hatsunes are interned. Years later she is reunited with her friend while working for the civil rights movement. The story is a clever juxtaposition of the social issues—the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the 1940s.

Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox

Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox (2002)
This book shows a Michael J. Fox you don’t know. Fox was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth but took his charismatic personality to Hollywood and almost destroyed himself in the process. Even after early onset Parkinson’s disease, he still considers himself a "lucky man." Read it and see why.

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

The Innocent Man by John Grisham (2006)
This is John Grisham’s only nonfiction book and proves he can still write a good story. This well-researched book tells the gripping story of Ron Williamson, ex-baseball hero of Ada, Oklahoma, and how injustice lands him on death row and on the brink of being put to death. This book reads like fiction.

Tell us what you think! Join us on Wednesday, February 27 at 7:30 for a librarian-led discussion of The Innocent Man.