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Archived Staff Picks November 2013


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Archived Staff Picks - November 2013

Necessary Lies
By:  Diane Chamberlain
Recommended by Yvonne

First Line:  It was an odd request - visit a stranger's house and peer inside a closet - and as I drove through the neighbourhood searching for the address, I felt my anxiety mounting.

Like many of my favourite books, this newest Diane Chamberlain story is told from two characters perspectives.  There is Jane Forrester, a twenty-one year old newlywed, beginning her first job as a social worker and Ivy Hart; a fifteen year old living and working on a small tobacco farm.  It is 1960 in rural North Carolina when the lives of Jane and Ivy intersect and the story unfolds. The story is set in a time and place when simply being black or being a woman created tension and struggle.  Ivy tends to her sister, nephew and grandmother, while under the care of social assistance as they deal with their mental and physical challenges.  Jane works for Grace County Department of Public Health and struggles with the ethics of the state-mandated sterilization program.  "From 1929-1975 North Carolina sterilized over 7000 citizens as part of their Eugenics Sterilization Program" Social workers had the power to petition for the sterilization of individuals they felt were mentally defective or feebleminded. I thought this book was interesting on many levels - abuse of power, helplessness of the powerless, the cycle of poverty and of course - family secrets.  That combination usually leads us to a good read and this book delivers.  If you like authors Jodi Picoult and Heather Gudenkauf, I think you will enjoy Necessary Lies.

This title is available in Regular Print, Book on CD and Downloadable Audiobook formats.

A Marker to Measure Drift
By:  Alexander Maksik
Recommended by Marilyn

A young Liberian woman wanders on the Greek Aegean island of Santorini, clutching a pack holding a few possessions.  She ekes out a precarious existence doing foot massages for tourists, and at night takes shelter wherever the nooks of the landscape will allow.  She is in a dissociated semi-fugue state, her memories of the past incomplete.  Her mind can't distinguish between past and present, and certain images are burnt on her retina: her mother encouraging or chastising her; her pregnant sister, a ginger cat winding between her legs. Jacqueline is a refugee from Charles Taylor's Liberia, ravaged by civil war.  We are presented with her memories as fragments which gradually coalesce to form a halting narrative of her past.  Her father was Taylor's finance minister, her mother a religious alcoholic.  Cosseted by dirty money, Jacqueline went to school in Cheltenham and then returned to a job as a tourist minister manufactured by her father.  What happened between then and her arrival on Santorini is blurred, but we know it was catastrophic. Alexander Maksik succeeds in creating a dislocated character numbed by post-traumatic stress disorder.  Her father's adoration of the brutal Taylor, sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes in 2012, is cleverly used to create uncertainty: is his flirtation with Jacqueline unhealthy?  Who is the father of his younger daughter's unborn child?  Similarly, Jacqueline's fury at her ex-lover, Bernard, is used to reel us in: was he treacherous? Meanwhile, the volcano of Nea Kameni is a metaphor for Jacqueline's potentially explosive state as a broke, illegal refugee, at risk from a shifty Senegalese gang, the suspicion of locals, and dehydration and malnutrition.  The detailed sensations of every bit of food and liquid, each gruelling walk, cave or ruin slept in, and improvised mattress and pillow, can feel like refugee porn: gratuitous thrills at a character's barely clawed survival.  And while the brutal behaviour of the Liberian child rebel members of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy is chillingly portrayed in a horrifying late scene, there is very little mention of Taylor's atrocities in Sierra Leone.  But, niggles apart, this is a harrowing portrayal of the aftermath of war on a young woman. This was an excellent book which was well written.  You felt the hunger of Jacqueline and her desperation to find a place to belong.

This title is available in Regular Print, and Downloadable EBook formats. 

Stay Close
By:  Harlan Coben
Recommended by Anne

Megan is a suburban soccer mom who once upon a time walked on the wild side.  Now she's got two kids, a perfect husband, a picket fence, and a growing sense of dissatisfaction.  Ray used to be a talented documentary photographer, but age forty he finds himself in a dead-end job posing as a paparazzo pandering to celebrity-obsessed rich kids.  Jack is a detective who can't let go of a cold case - a local husband and father disappeared seventeen years ago, and Jack spends the anniversary each year visiting a house frozen in time, the missing man's family is still waiting, his slippers left by the recliner as if he might show up any moment to step into them.  Three people living lives they never wanted, hiding secrets that even thsoe closest to them would never suspect, will find that the past doesn't recede.  Even as the terrible consequences of long-ago events crash together in the present and threaten to ruin lives, they will come to the startling realization that they may not want to forget the past at all.  And as each confronts the dark side of the American Dream - the boredom of a nice suburban life, the excitement of temptation, the desperation and hunger that can lurk behind even the prettiest facades - they will discover the hard truth that the line between one kind of life and another can be as whisper-thin as a heartbeat.  With his trademark, combination of page-turning thrills and unrivalled insight into the dark shadows that creep into even the happiest communities. I love Harlan Coben's suspense mixed with everyday life, he just seems to suck me right into the lives of the main characters and not let me go until I am on the last page and I know how things turn out.  Everything is well-crafted and fits together very well.  And in the end you just go, "Wow."

This title is available in Regular Print, Large Print and Book on CD formats.

Where'd You Go Bernadette
By:  Maria Semple
Recommended by Rachel

I was lucky enough to find an advance copy from the publisher.  I read this book in a day and I simply loved how it was written and had to know what happened to Bernadette!  A light, fun, quirky read.  Written largely in correspondence in the form of letters, e-mails and notes.  I'm a big fan of humour and a touch of crazy in the books I read and this one is one of my top reads. The book opens with fifteen-year-old Bee trying to piece together the facts behind her doting but eccentric mother's abrupt disappearance.  Just before a family trip to Antarctica, Bernadette Fox disappears and her daughter 15-year-old Bee, must find out what happened to her.  Benadette is a former architect living in Seattle with her husband, Elgin Branch, a genius who works for Microsoft.  Their daughter Bee, after having some health complications as a child has grown to be extremely bright and is on her way to boarding school in the fall.  Bernadette is an agoraphobic who relies on a virtual Indian assistant for daily tasks and is always annoyed with the other moms (who she calls the "gnats") at Bee's school.  Amid petty squabbles, a possible affair and some truly heart warming moments we learn more about Bernadette's past and how she became who she is today.

This title is available in Regular Print, Large Print and Downloadable AudioBook formats.

The Law of Dreams
By:  Peter Behrens
Recommended by Robert

Many of us trace our ancestry to the Irish immigration of the 1840's, but few of us give much thought to the very difficult conditions that forced these Irishmen to find a way to the New World.  Peter Behrens, winner conditions 2006 Governor General Award, has recreated the odyssey of an ancestor who is thrown into the whirlwind of the Potato Famine.  His main character, Fergus O'Brien, is a teenager whose family has been destroyed by typhus and the potato blight.  Lease owning managers of unseen British land owners have ejected or killed those too weak to leave their hovels.  Fergus is sent to a workhouse, joins up with a group of young brigands who eventually attack the managers of his old farm and eventually finds his way to a Liverpool brothel.  By the time that he avoids becoming a "pearl boy", he has seen death, suffered disease and enjoyed his first sexual experiences.  Fergus travels to Wales, working on the rail lines and then plans an escape with the brutal shanty owner's wife.  Eventually Fergus and his Molly scrape up enough money to procure a passage on a steamer bound for Wales.  An arduous and eventful passage ensues. Peter Behrens melds the picaresque adventures of Henry Fielding with Dickensian social examination to create a novel which gives the reader a vivid picture of the horrid world many of our Irish ancestors came from.  Irish farmers were torn from their land, spit out upon an unforgiving land and pushed to sail away from their native land on ships little better than slavers.  They came to a land that often did not welcome the Irish with open arms and were obliged to find whatever they could to survive.  The author's portrayal of this great escape is done with a lot of grit and little sentimentality.  I do believe that this story could easily be translated to the screen.  It would make a great historical epic.  Recommended for those who enjoy absorbing historical fiction.

This title is available in Regular Print format.

 The Great Gatsby (DVD)
Recommended By Kathy

"The best attempt yet to capture the essence of the novel" - Richard Roeper

The classic novel comes to life for the fourth time, as Leonardo DiCaprio takes on the role of Jay Gatsby, in Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby."  Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925, The Great Gatsby has long been required reading and viewing for high school students.  Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) teams up again with Craig Pearce as co writers of this production. The most lavish production yet, this version of the classic also features Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go) as Daisy and Joel Edgerton (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) as her husband Tom Buchanan.  Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man) costars as Nick Carraway, Daisy's cousin, and serves as narrator for the film. Jay Gatsby, returning from the Great War as a penniless soldier, and finding he had lost his love, Daisy to a rich man reinvents himself as a member of the nouveau-riche society of Long Island, New York.  He purchases a mansion in West Egg, across the bay from Daisy and Tom's estate.  Obsessed with Daisy and hoping to capture her attention, Jay throws lavish, opulent parties, inviting the cream of New York society.  The gatherings are extravagant, fuelled by alcohol, music and fireworks.  Yet rarely does Jay make an appearance at his own parties, leaving everyone to wonder who he is and where he has acquired his wealth.  Eventually, Jay finagles his neighbour and tenant, Nick, to invite Daisy to tea.  Jay and Daisy's "accidental meeting" contribute to the several tragic events that follow. This cinematic rendering of The Great Gatsby, highlights the excess, splendour and moral decay of the New York social and business scene during "the roaring twenties" and the era of prohibition.  Although sometimes this film seems overly exaggerated, it emphasizes the decadence and corruption of that segment of American society during the second decade of the twentieth century.

This title is available in Regular Print, Book on CD, DVD, Downloadable EBook and AudioBook formats.

Code Name Verity
By: Elizabeth Wein
Recommended By Pauline

Oct. 11th, 1943 - A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France.  Its pilot and passenger are best friends.  One of the girls has a chance at survival.  The other has lost the game before it's barely begun. When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance.  As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare.  Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face grisly execution. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity, uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wreaked fuselage of their plane.  On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home.  But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called "a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel" in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Winner of 2013 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult A 2013 Michael L. Printz Honor Book A 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Fiction Honor Book

This title is available in Young Adult Fiction and Downloadable EBook formats.


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