Monday, January 1, 2018

Favorites from 2017

Many “Best Books of the Year” lists are available for enthusiastic readers in December. It is always fun to find out which titles are chosen and which appear on more than one list. Here are some of my favorite titles this year.

Stephanie Saldaña’s A Country Between: Making a Place Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide (956.9442Sa) is a sequel to her first memoir, Bread of Angels. Texas-born Saldaña opens her new book with the story of meeting a young monk, Frederick, in a monastery in the Syrian desert while she studied in Damascus. They marry in France and search for a home where they both feel comfortable. They settle in a large, old house in Jerusalem where they are embraced by their Palestinian neighbors, especially after the birth of two sons, the first of whom is born in Bethlehem. Saldaña vividly describes these neighbors, including the falafel vendor who keeps business on their front steps until a checkpoint is set up on the spot, and the French-speaking nuns from whom they rent their house. In spiritual rather than political terms, Saldaña’s hopeful story portrays life as it continues to happen in very difficult and dangerous circumstances.  

Gail Honeyman’s eponymous anti-heroine in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (fiction-Honeyman book and audio CD) survived a savage childhood. At 29, scarred, terribly lonely and socially inept, Eleanor lives a tightly controlled life, without joy or charm or friends, but with plenty of vodka laced weekends. The target of gossip and snide comments at work, some of which Eleanor agrees with, she is unsettled when Raymond, the new, unkempt IT technician actually speaks to her. One evening they leave work at the same time and save Sammy’s life when the elderly man falls to the sidewalk. Slowly, with a few setbacks, these gently developing friendships with Raymond, Sammy and their families, allow Eleanor the courage to confront the harrowing events of her past. Both a thriller and a comic novel, Eleanor begins to uncover a capacity for happiness she hasn’t felt she deserved and is, really, completely fine.

Henning Mankell, the author of the Kurt Wallander mystery series and other books, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Quicksand: What it Means to be a Human Being (921 Mankell) is a collection of 67 essays Mankell wrote in response to his diagnosis, treatment, and possible death. In the essays, Mankell reflects on his life from his youth through chemotherapy. His observations cover people he met, his relationship with his father, art, religion, his work as a theater director in Mozambique, mortality, the environment, and wondering what humans, 10,000 years from now, will think of us when they uncover buried nuclear waste. In his farewell, we realize how wide-ranging Mankell’s curiosity was and discover a great humanitarian.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw (fiction-Shaw) is an atmospheric mystery set on the English coast. William South is a policeman in a small town, a birdwatcher, and possibly a murderer. As a youth, William and his mother moved to coastal England after his father was killed. William has avoided taking on murder cases until his neighbor, a fellow birdwatcher, is found dead in his home. But, when another dead body turns up, this one from William’s past, William is taken off the case. He continues to investigate, however, amid flashbacks to his childhood in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The characters, plot, relationships, and sense of place all contribute to a heart-wrenching story.

From England’s coast we turn to the dry lowlands and mountains of northeast Spain in Matthew Carr’s Devils of Cardona (fiction-Carr). This historical mystery follows a lawyer, Bernardo de Mendoza, and his few hand-picked men who are sent to investigate the murder of a priest in Aragon, a small town whose inhabitants are mostly Moriscos, former Muslims who converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition. Clues left at the scene lead townsfolk and authorities to suspect the man known and feared as the Muslim Avenger to be the culprit. Soon more gruesome murders follow. In an electrifying quest for justice amidst danger, sex, intrigue, religion, and politics, Mendoza must uncover the murderer before ethnic and religious war breaks out.

We offer a huge selection of cookbooks at Peter White. Here are three new favorites. Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen (641.5977Do), Life in a Northern Town by Mary Dougherty (641.5977Do), and King Solomon’s Table by Joan Nathan (641.5676Na). The first two titles offer recipes and anecdotes from Northern Minnesota and Bayfield, Wisconsin, respectively. The last provides a history of Jewish cooking from around the world and across centuries. All three cookbooks contain luscious recipes and mouth-watering photos. Next week, Lynette Suckow will tell you about more new cookbooks.

We’ve just cataloged A French Village, a six-season DVD series set in a small village in central France during the Nazi occupation. The films follow the lives of the inhabitants and the occupiers as each person deals with the war. Townsfolk become collaborators, activists, traitors, or resisters as they live (or not) through five years of occupation. The characters are well drawn, the acting is excellent, and the scenery pulls you right into the village.

If you missed the fabulous Kardemimmit concert at Reynold’s Hall this fall, we now own two CDs by the Finnish women’s quartet, Omni Happiness and Autio Huvila (World-Kar). The four young women specialize in folk music and play the kantele, Finland’s ancient national instrument. 

Happy New Year to you and yours. 

--Cathy Seblonka, Collection Development Librarian

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

New Teen Fiction for Teens and Teens at Heart

There is always something new and engaging to read on PWPL’s New Teen book shelf. Here are a few recent arrivals that come highly recommended for adults, as well as teens.
Philip Pullman fans are celebrating the long-awaited release of The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, a companion to Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, in which we first met the magnetic heroine Lyra. La Belle Sauvage, set both before and after His Dark Materials, offers a thrilling return to Lyra’s parallel Oxford, where eleven-year-old Malcolm’s father runs an inn on the banks of the Thames, and the relentless rain has become a deluge. A secret message about a dangerous substance called Dust propels Malcolm into an adventure that will test him in ways he has never imagined.

The Librarian of Auschwitz, by Antonio Iturbe, is based on the real life experiences of Dita Kraus, a fourteen-year-old girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust. Dita and her parents are taken from Prague’s Terezin ghetto to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, where a Jewish leader asks Dita to take charge of the eight books prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards for their “school.” Because knowledge is power, the Nazis forbid school or any other learning activities, but the prisoners choose not to abide by that rule. The eight precious books Dita fiercely protects, along with the “living books” - teachers who retell stories from past books they have read and reread – keep hope alive in a very frightening and uncertain world.

You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins, gives readers a fresh perspective on the challenges of immigration in our modern world. Five Bengali-American women, across three generations, struggle to find their identities as cultures blend and often collide – a funny, slice-of-life story that feels both personal and universal at the same time. You Bring the Distant Near has earned a place on multiple “Best of 2017” lists, including my own.  Check it out and become intimately acquainted with the remarkable Das women, in just 320 pages.

Turtles All the Way Down, by rock star author John Green, will likely fly off the library shelf. Go ahead and place that hold, because this book is worth the wait. Aza and her best friend Daisy set out to solve the mystery of a missing billionaire, motivated by the promise of a $100,000 reward. Along the way Aza collects a charming love interest. Davis Pickett, who happens to be the son of the missing man. This isn’t a simple mystery/romance; Aza is afflicted with severe anxiety and OCD, which sends her thoughts spiraling out of control.  In a press release, John Green said, “This is my first attempt to write directly about the kind of mental illness that has affected my life since childhood, so while the story is fictional, it is also quite personal.”

Sharon Huss Roat’s How to Disappear offers a somewhat lighter look at social anxiety, and the power of social media for good or ill. Vicky Decker has become a champ at remaining invisible as she navigates her high school hallways. After her lifelong best friend moves away, Vicky’s social anxiety is impossible to hide – so she applies her prodigious Photoshop talent to creating a secret alter-ego for herself on Instagram, #Vicurious. As Vicurious gains a following, and even inspires an anti-bullying movement at her school, Vicky realizes she is not the only person feeling all alone in the world. Vicky’s story is heart-wrenching, witty, and thoroughly engrossing. Plan to read this book in one sitting.

--Mary Schneeberger, Teen Services Coordinator

Books for Crafters

The holidays are looming and we are all looking forward to the perfect gift for that certain someone. The Peter White Public Library can help inspire you with the following new books which can be found on the main floor of the library in our New Nonfiction collection.
If you love to cook, Savory Sweet by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen has some wonderful suggestions for culinary gifts you can make in your own kitchen. Detailed recipes accompanied by mouthwatering full color photographs will help you prepare just the right preserves, pickles and chutneys sure to please the most discriminating palate. 641.5977 DO
Woodworkers looking for a new project that will make someone happy should check out Heirloom Wood by Max Bainbridge. Using only an electric jigsaw and drill plus some low-tech hand tools, the author describes the process of carving wooden spoons, bowls, cutting boards and other useful household items that will surely become family heirlooms. Many color photographs accompany Bainbridge’s instructions which also detail how to create unique but simple finishes. 736.4 BA
Knitters will have a field day with two of the library’s new books. The Knitted Hat Book features 20 different patterns and styles of hats that you can make to keep your loved ones warm and stylish. Cloches, tams, beanies and slouch hats are included for all genders and ages along with color photos and all the directions you need to make a variety of fancy toppers. 746.432 KN
Also on the new nonfiction shelf is You Can Knit That by Amy Herzog. This how-to book features directions for 24 different fabulous sweaters for all body shapes and sizes accompanied by, according to the author, foolproof instructions. Herzog is also the author of Knit to Flatter and Knit Wear Love both of which can be requested through the library’s online catalog. 746.432 HE
Switching to a different medium, do-it-yourselfers will be inspired by Folded Book Art by Clare Youngs which recycles used hardcover books to create unique home décor. The author showcases various techniques of folding and carving pages to create three dimensional sculptures of paper and the printed word. Other projects utilize individual book pages to create animals, villages, dolls, wall hangings and lampshades, and much more, to dress up your own personal space.  There is even a project that involves knitting with paper yarn-the possibilities are endless! 745.54 YO
If there doesn’t seem to be enough time left this season to make holiday gifts, keep these books in mind for fun winter projects during the short, dark days as we move into 2018.
Happy crafting and happy holidays!  
--Margaret Boyle, Circulation Services