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2016 Staff Picks

March 2016

Book Cover for Almost Famous Women Bergman, Megan Mayhew
Almost Famous Women

Short Stories
What a great way to kick off Women's History Month! Almost Famous Women is a collection of thirteen short stories about fascinating fictionalized figures who did not quite make it to the grand stage of fame, but hovered in the peripheries of the limelight. Dolly Wilde (Oscar's niece) and Norma Millay (Edna's sister) prove that their world-renowned family members were not the only personalities in the gene pool. "Joe" Carstairs was an heiress and power boat racer who fearlessly and unabashedly lived her life on her own terms. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm battled racism and segregation to travel as an "integrated, all-girl swing band" through the South during the 1940's. This book also gave me my first introduction to the extraordinary Beryl Markham, whose fictionalized autobiography, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain, is the selection for our Books in the Afternoon discussion on March 17th at the Main library. Most of these stories will leave you wondering just how you've come this far without hearing about these risk-taking, ground-breaking, and independent heroines, but you'll be happy that you decided to spend some time with them.
Recommended by Sheila, March 2016

Book Cover for Last Bus to Wisdom Doig, Ivan
Last Bus to Wisdom

The title of Doig’s final novel (the author died in April 2015) is more than metaphorical. There really is a town in southwestern Montana called Wisdom, and the story of young Donal Cameron’s journey is part Forrest Gump, part Jack Kerouac, part David Copperfield, and perhaps part Don Quixote. It is 1951, and Donal is being raised by his grandmother on a ranch in Montana. When illness forces her to find a temporary home for him, she sends him to Wisconsin on the “dog bus” (that’s Greyhound to us tenderfoots) with a few dollars pinned to his good shirt and instructions to keep his head down and his fingernails clean. He meets an array of colorful characters along the way and documents their philosophies in his autograph book. Life off the bus is far less exciting as his domineering Great Aunt Kate and ineffectual Uncle Herman struggle to make room for him. As Donal plans his escape, the story takes a wonderful turn – it seems that Uncle Herman is ready to start a new chapter as well, so the two runaways get on the bus and begin their journey back to the wide open spaces of Montana. Rodeo stars, larcenous preachers, blowsy waitresses, and weather-beaten ranch hands share the trip. And unassuming Uncle Herman has some surprising secrets that put law enforcement on their trail. Their journey is poignant, exciting, hilarious, and ultimately totally satisfying. As Doig wrote in his novel English Creek, “Life is wide. There’s room to take a new run at it.”
Recommended by Jane, March 2016


February 2016

Book Cover for Skeletons on the Zahara King, Dean
Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival

Have you read the book Sufferings in Africa, Captain Riley's Narrative: an authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig Commerce, by Captain James Riley? If someone had asked you this question in 1817, the answer would probably have been a resounding "yes", as it was one of the most popular books of the day. Riley and his Connecticut crew aboard the merchant ship Commerce crash off the coast of Africa. Riley and his crew are sold into slavery and separated. Over the next two grueling months Riley would make it his mission to ensure that his crew and he would make it to Morocco to secure help in finding their way home. Riley would eventually seek the aid of two traders — Seti Hamet and his brother — by claiming that, if they took him to Morocco, he had a friend there who would pay for Riley and his crew, even though that was a lie. Dean King recounts the journey of Riley and the rest of his crew in his book Skeletons on the Zahara. The book reads like an adventure novel as it details the crew's harrowing account. King looks into the lives of the sailors and the different people they encounter on their journey. Once I started reading this book I could not put it down; I kept wanting to know: Who was going to make it home?, How would they get there?, and What would happen when they got to Morocco and discovered Riley’s lie?
Recommended by Katie, February 2016

Book Cover for Wild Swan Cunningham, Michael
A Wild Swan and Other Tales

Short Stories
We all know the story of Hansel and Gretel, and the evil witch whose gingerbread house was designed to lure those darling little children into her lair. But perhaps things are not exactly as they seem. Who is that woman in the woods, and how did she come to live alone in the forest? And do Hansel and Gretel deserve their fate, or worse? These questions, and many others, are given a Pulitzer Prize winner’s reimagining in this delightful collection of updated and tweaked fairy tales. Beautifully illustrated by Japanese artist Yuko Shimizu, I was reminded of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s "Fractured Fairy Tales" or Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone teleplays. Snow White and her Prince manage to live happily ever after but only after slightly altering their evening ritual. W. W. Jacobs’ classic story “The Monkey’s Paw” is turned inside out when the mangled son returns and stays. When Beauty breaks the spell and releases the Beast from his enchantment, will she live to regret it? What truly makes a man a beast? But there are sweet and tender tales here, too: a dwarf who will sacrifice anything to have a child of his own, and a couple who figure out the secret to living happily ever after. Highly recommended for the young at heart.
Recommended by Jane, February 2016

Book Cover for No Better Friend Weintraub, Robert
No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival In WWII

There are many stories that commemorate the trials, courage and heroic acts of our war veterans, but occasionally even those stories have a twist. No Better Friend details the story of not only our human soldiers, who faced horrible circumstances living as prisoners of war in internment camps during WWII, but also of a POW of the canine variety. Judy, a purebred liver-and-white pointer, gave hope and love to the soldiers she lived with, and, in return, they cared for her. The bond created between the men (particularly Flight Technician Frank Williams) and this dog helped them all survive these dangerous and dismal times. Judy’s devotion and courage was officially recognized when she was given the designation of being the only canine POW of WWII. We salute all of our Veterans. Thank you for your service.
Recommended by Kristine (downtown), February 2016


January 2016

Book Cover for Notorious RBG Carmon, Irin & Shana Knizhnik
The Notorious RBG

Carmon, a national reporter at MSNBC, and Knizhnik, a NYU School of Law grad and the creator of The Notorious RBG Tumblr blog, have crafted an endearing account of the influential life and times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or, as the cool kids say, RBG). Even if you’re like me—a little detached from current events and pop culture, and only vaguely remember RBG as a vocabulary term from 8th grade civics—you’ll enjoy cozying up one evening with this playful and illuminating chronicle of a most unexpected internet celebrity. RBG is an enigmatic, persuasive force who has been methodically and persistently fighting to influence the legal system to be less concerned with established gender roles and more fair to all people since her early beginnings in the male-dominated law programs of Harvard and Cornell in the 1950s. In addition to her relentless success in the judiciary world, the 82-year-old has fought cancer and the death of her beloved husband Marty, and has developed a habit of performing 20 push-ups a day (for the curious: RBG’s daily fitness routine is included towards the end of the book, alongside a favorite recipe from Marty—the only cook in the family). Entertaining yet exhaustive and fact-checked, The Notorious RBG is sure to delight, inform, and inspire.
Recommended by Rita J., January 2016

Book Cover for Fates and Furies Groff, Lauren
Fates and Furies

How well do you ever really know your spouse? Are you absolutely sure that events have happened the way you think they did and for the reasons you believe?
There are two sides to every story and this is the story of the marriage between Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder. On the surface, they seem to have it all. They’re an attractive young couple, very much in love at the beginning of their life together. But under it all, they both have a past filled with events and secrets that continue to haunt them. The couple’s actions, decisions, and future are ultimately shaped by their past. But while Lotto is an open book, Mathilde keeps everything to herself. You don’t know this for the first half of the book, Lotto’s story. You’ll get to know the real Mathilde when you read her half. But you’ll end up loving them, and their marriage, just the same.
Just FYI, President Obama named Fates and Furies his favorite book of 2015.
Recommended by Melissa, January 2016

McElhenney, Rob and Glenn Howerton (creators)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

After watching the first two seasons of this television show (now in it’s 10th season), I declared “WHERE HAS THIS SHOW BEEN FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE!?!” This is a show for those of us looking for something other than the regular wholesome family sitcom — it’s actually the polar opposite of that.
A group of friends own and run a bar in Philadelphia. Hmm... this might sound familiar. Remember the long-running, much-loved show Cheers? Well, It’s Always Sunny... is like Cheers, with the exception being that the actors are completely and utterly depraved, self-absorbed losers. I mean this show “goes there”. After watching a few short episodes, you will find yourself asking: “What is wrong with these people?”, “Who would do that to someone?”, “Did he really just say that?”, and so on. Okay, so it’s really nothing like Cheers. This is a show about severe degenerates who get what they deserve; truly, a recipe for laughter.
Recommended by Mel, January 2016


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