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Kaarin's Picks

Book Cover for Here If You Need Me Braestrup, Kate
Here If You Need Me: A True Story

It's hard to explain how a book that features lost children, missing husbands, harrowing accidents and unusual death rituals can be uplifting, but, somehow, this book is. Kate Braestrup is a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, a job she got after she followed her dead husband's dream to become a minister. Between poignant anecdotes about her four children and imaginary explanations to her skeptical family as to how she even believes in God, she talks about her work, riding with wardens who have seen the worst that can happen to a family, listening to people tell her their views on religion, or praying over bodies found in the woods before they're taken to the morgue for examination. A gentle, funny, wry look at human suffering, this book is a comfort, written by a woman anyone would want to have around in a crisis.
Recommended August 2015

Book Cover for Beautiful Struggle Coates, Ta-Nehisi
The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood

Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor at The Atlantic, writes of his upbringing in inner-city Baltimore and his relationship with his former-Black Panther, vegetarian, disciplinarian father. He is one of seven children his father had with four different women, but unlike many of his friends and neighbors, his father was around for all of them. While Coates surely appreciates it as an adult, as a kid, he and his older brother Bill are torn between the siren call of the streets and their unusual family, that not only has a father around, but one who insists on having tofu for dinner and instilling pride in their African and African American roots. Their dad works tirelessly as a librarian at Howard University, referred to in this book as ďthe Mecca,Ē while also running a small press dedicated to publishing historical African and African American authors who might otherwise be lost to obscurity.
While I donít think I am the intended audience for this book, I enjoyed learning all sorts of cultural references I had never heard before. The rhythmic prose elucidates both Coatesí perspective and his fatherís. Coates struggles to uphold his fatherís academic legacy despite an utter indifference to school, while his fatherís perspective is one of a man trying to raise his children with a social conscience, an ability to make a living, and an understanding of right and wrong. The struggle, as told by Coates, is truly both beautiful and moving.
Recommended July 2015

Book Cover for The Shack Young, William P.
The Shack

Fiction (Inspirational)
A fictional account of a man, Mack, whose daughter disappears at a campsite. The initial hunt turns up only her red dress in a shack in the woods, and "The Great Sadness" descends upon him. When he receives a note, signed simply "Papa," inviting him to meet at the shack, he doesn't know whether to think it's a horrible joke or his last hope to find his daughter. What he finds there are three people, unlike any people he's ever met before, and they proceed to offer him a thorough picture of his relationship with God, one that had deteriorated in the face of his sorrow. What is most compelling about the story, aside from the fascinating and unusual way God is presented, is the time spent looking at suffering through spiritual eyes. Just when you think Mack has opened up to God more than anyone possibly could, Young gives you even more, and it is beautiful. To think of God as wanting, craving really, a direct and intimate relationship with each of us, is exhilarating and very moving. Highly recommended.
Recommended November 2009

Book Cover for The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs Page, Karen and Andrew Dornenburg
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs

Nonfiction (Cookbook)
This delightful book is a reference for anyone who likes to make up recipes as they go along and wants a starter for their creative juices. Organized alphabetically by ingredient, each item has a list of complementary flavors. Each list contains items in bold and in all capital letters, indicating the highest popularity of the pairing among chefs. For example, rosemary goes well with apricots, mackerel, and risotto (among many, many other things); combines particularly well with eggplant and roasted meats; its best friends include pork and potatoes; and both lamb and garlic are its perfect match. Quotes by well-known chefs about flavors and names of popular dishes are shared throughout the book, and with two introductory chapters, they are both inspiring and pleasurable to read. Whether you love to cook or love to read about food, this book is highly recommended.
Recommended October 2009

Book Cover for Goodnight Steve McQueen Wener, Louise
Goodnight Steve McQueen

For any adult who loved Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, I must heartily recommend Goodnight Steve McQueen. For anyone who enjoys sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, personally or vicariously, this novel is for you. If you want to read a story about a wanna-be rock star who's been given an ultimatum by the woman he loves - find a record deal in 6 months or find a job (and not just a part-time one in a video store where you help elderly ladies get their martial arts movie fix) - you've got to read this book. If you want to learn how to use "strop" or "git" in a sentence, or find alternative meanings for "bog" and "punter," borrow this novel. If you want to laugh out loud at the antics of 29-year-old boys who are fighting adulthood with all their might, click on the title above and request it immediately. The only risk is people looking at you funny while you're reading it on the bus.
Recommended by Kaarin, February 2008

Book Cover for Unfinished Business Langhorne, Karyn
Unfinished Business

I have always been a sucker for a transformation story, and this romance, between a liberal, African American teacher and anti-war activist from Washington, D.C. and a conservative, Southern white senator and decorated veteran, does not disappoint. Sparks fly when she disrupts his committee hearing on education, and she invites him to visit her inner-city classroom. Not to be outdone, he invites her to visit his Southern state. With all that visiting, sparks are bound to ignite, but wanting to see how they could possibly get over their ideological aversion to each other kept me engaged to the very end.
Recommended by Kaarin, September 2007

Book Cover for The Omnivore's Dilemma Pollan, Michael
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

In this wonderful combination of science, history, economics and memoir, Michael Pollan traces four different kinds of meals back to their source. The first is from McDonald's, or actually, McDonald's is the last place it goes before it's served and eaten in the car. The second, industrial organic meal from Whole Foods, contrasts with the third, a local, small-scale organic meal grown on a "grass farm" in Virginia. Finally, Mr. Pollan himself hunts and forages for wild pig and mushrooms to create the meal closest to human's original ways of sourcing food. All along he is both entertaining and educational, one minute I would be thinking about how much smarter I was getting with so much new information, the next I would be pulled further into the story by a moving description of a meal shared with family and friends. This winning combination may just change the way you eat.
Recommended by Kaarin, August 2007

Book Cover for The History of Love Krauss, Nicole
The History of Love

Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you remember that all of humanity is connected, there are no accidents, and our lives intersect for reasons we are here to find out. The History of Love was one of those books for me. As a young man, Leo Gursky writes a book for the woman he loves. More than 60 years later, Alma Singer starts off looking for a new man for her mother, and ends up searching for something more for herself through her namesake, a character in a book called The History of Love, by Zvi Litvinoff. Learn how these unlikely characters are connected and discover how far beyond physical reality human connection can go.
Recommended by Kaarin, June 2007

Book Cover for Wee Free Men Pratchett, Terry
The Wee Free Men

Teen Fiction
From a book featuring 6-inch-high blue men (a.k.a. the Nac Mac Feegle) who wear kilts, and whose favorite activities are "stealin', drinkin', and fightin'," one might expect a certain kind of story, perhaps a silly story. But the Nac Mac Feegle are there to help the heroine of the book, Tiffany Aching, who finds herself protecting her world from the Queen of the Elves, using just a frying pan and her common sense. And it's Tiffany's story that brings depth to the story that's belied by its title, as she learns to trust her keen perceptions while she tries to rescue her little brother from Fairyland. Of course, since the Nac Mac Feegle escaped (or were banished, depending on who you ask) from Fairyland and have the inside scoop, plus Tiffany wouldn't be able to get rid of them if she tried, it all makes for a laugh-out-loud-funny reading experience.
Recommended by Kaarin, May 2007

Book Cover for Cancer Vixen Marchetto, Marisa Acocella
Cancer Vixen: A True Story

Nonfiction Graphic Novel
Marchetto was a newly-engaged 40-something without health insurance when she discovered that she had breast cancer. As a freelance cartoonist, her way of dealing with it was to document her experience in a comic strip, and the result is Cancer Vixen. From the story of her engagement to the hip Italian chef, Silvano Marchetto, to each trip through chemotherapy, Marchetto shares her life with us, and makes it all the more touching with her loosely-drawn, brightly-colored panels. Whether sheís talking about what she wears to chemo or her relationship with her mother, she manages to draw a personal, yet universal, story.
Recommended by Kaarin, April 2007

Book Cover for Remember Me Cullen, Lisa Takeuchi
Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death

Have you ever wondered what happens to a body thatís cremated? Or what alternatives there are to the big, mahogany caskets and ghostly make-up of a typical funeral? I hadnít, until Remember Me came across my desk. My curiosity piqued, I read on to learn about everything from green burial options, to plasticizing, to how to get your deceased loved one made into a diamond. If youíve ever thought about how we deal with death in our culture, or donít deal with it, as the case may be, this book is for you. Who knew that death could be so entertaining?
Recommended by Kaarin, March 2007

Book Cover Setterfield, Diane
The Thirteenth Tale

Margaret Lea works and lives in her father's antiquarian book shop, occasionally writing the biography of some obscure author who strikes her fancy. When she receives a letter from Vida Winter, England's most famous and reclusive contemporary author, requesting her as a biographer, she can hardly imagine why. Miss Winter is notorious for making up her life as if it's a novel, but now she's old and ailing, and appears to be ready to tell the truth. Margaret loses herself in the dark and brooding story of a disturbed, aristocratic family and it's dramatic decline. Whether she finds herself is a testament to the power of storytelling.
Recommended by Kaarin, December 2006

Book Cover for Eat, Pray, Love Gilbert, Elizabeth
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
G154.5 .G55 A3 2006

After a long and messy divorce, Elizabeth Gilbert gets the chance to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia over the course of a year. She begins this personal journey in Italy, moves on to an ashram in India, and ends up in Bali, with the intention of experiencing both pleasure and prayer, and finding a balance between the two. Much of the pleasure takes the form of pasta and gelato, along with loving Italian friends, and much of the prayer is in the struggle to quiet her mind through chanting and meditation in India. At one point in the book, she tells the reader that one thing she has always been able to do is make friends, and with her intimate tone and self-deprecating sense of humor, you can easily see why. I found that I would be laughing one minute and crying the next, which for me, made this a most satisfying read.
Recommended by Kaarin, November 2006

Book Cover for Undead and Unwed
Davidson, MaryJanice
Undead and Unwed

In this hilarious take on the afterlife, Betsy Taylor wakes up after getting hit by a truck and finds herself being sought as the vampire queen. Just trying to get used to being dead, and craving blood (yuck!), she has no interest in vampire politics, but some vampires just canít let you live, or die, in peace. Horror, romance, and comedy all come together for an enjoyable and original adventure. And if you enjoy this one, you can go on to read the next one in the series, Undead and Unemployed.
Recommended by Kaarin, October 2006

Book Cover
De los Santos, Marisa
Love Walked In : A Novel

In alternating chapters, we get the story of Cornelia, a cafe manager who's trying to figure out what to do with her life, and Clare, an 11 year old whoís trying to keep her life going as her mother experiences a breakdown. Their lives are connected by a Cary Grant look-alike, who walks into the cafe one day and offers to take Cornelia to England. While Cornelia wonders if Martin is too good to be true, she comes face to face with his daughter for the first time. The sweetness of that relationship is the beauty of this book, which is filled with characters who come to feel like your own friends.
Recommended by Kaarin, September 2006

Book Cover Cleage, Pearl
Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do

Regina Burns is a recovering addict who has to straighten out the mess she made of her life. The first order of business is to make enough money to save her family home, and the opportunity she canít pass up involves working for her former employer, idol, and almost-mother-in-law in Atlanta. When she arrives she finds a formerly run down African American community called West End, whose complete transformation is credited to her new landlord, the mysterious Blue Hamilton. As she falls in love with her new community, she also falls for the man who saved it, but she has to delve into the painful past in order to have a future with him. For me, Pearl Cleage writes strong, passionate, and socially conscious women like no other, which is the joy of reading this book.
Recommended by Kaarin, September 2006

Book Cover for Practical Demonkeeping
Moore, Christopher
Practical Demonkeeping

Catch, the human-eating demon has arrived in Pine Cove, California, along with his reluctant demon-keeper, Travis. Augustus Brine, owner of Brine's Bait, Tackle and Fine Wines, has just been informed by a tiny, wrinkled genie that he's the only one who can send the demon back to hell. As Travis tries to keep Catch's appetite in check, he's distracted by a beautiful waitress who looks vaguely familiar. Meanwhile, a hilarious cast of characters is in danger, including a witch wanna-be and an occult-obsessed owner of the local diner. Together they have to save their sleepy town from Catch's voracious hunger for people and power.
Recommended by Kaarin, October 2005

Orgill, Roxane
Shout! Ten Girl Singers Who Shaped a Century

Teen Nonfiction
Going decade by decade through the 20th century, Shout, Sister, Shout! offers brief but compelling biographies of female singers who represent their decade musically and historically, and, with the exception of Judy Garland, women who have controlled their own careers. Starting with Sophie Tucker, who started off singing in her parents' restaurant, and ending with Lucinda Williams, this book tells the compelling stories of some of the musical greats of the past 100 years.
Recommended by Kaarin, October 2005

Moore, Terry
The Collected Strangers in Paradise, Volume One

Graphic Novel
Francine and Katchoo are old friends and roommates who could hardly be more different: Katchoo is a blond, man-hating lesbian with anger issues, while Francine is a beautiful brunette carpet - as in "walk all over me, please." When Francine catches her slimy boyfriend cheating on her, the tale of revenge, complete with guns, blackmail and a hilarious scene involving a department store window, is ever so sweet.
Recommended by Kaarin, August 2005