Monday, February 23, 2015

February 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

February 24, 2015 

Fourth of July Creek 
By Smith Henderson 

Smith Henderson’s substantive debut novel opens with the following epigraph from Henry David Thoreau: "If I knew for a certain’ty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life". Indeed, this quote encapsulates the central issue of Fourth of July Creek, which takes place in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the Pacific Northwest, a time and place renowned for rugged individualism. 

At the heart of this story is the heart of social worker Pete Snow. Employed by the Department of Child Welfare, it is his job to check on kids in unstable homes and decide on their immediate future. We meet several children with whom Pete gets emotionally involved, including Cecil, a teenage boy living with his drug addicted mother and terrified six-year old sister Katie, and ten-year old Benjamin Pearl, son of stridently anti-government, possibly insane Jeremiah. The Pearls choose to live off the grid in the woods despite malnutrition and medical hardships, and the elder Pearl may or may not be violent. These “work” relationships in which Pete attempts to protect and improve people’s lives are set against a backdrop of Pete’s tumultuous personal life: an estranged wife, a missing daughter, a fugitive brother, and a girlfriend who is a former foster child herself. Add to that his binge-drinking hobby and you have one very flawed hero. Questions emerge: Can you help others if you can barely help yourself? Can anybody truly help anybody else or is everybody more or less responsible for their own fate? Is Jeremiah Pearl paranoid or is he right to mistrust and avoid modern society? Is Pete's sympathy for him misplaced?

Much is being made of this book capturing a period in American history in which questioning authority and the virtue of self-reliance perhaps weighed more heavily on the collective mindscape than it does today. In concert with Henderson’s unerring ear for dialogue, picture perfect eye for description and impressive facility for creating page-turning suspense, this novel is a must-read for lovers of literary fiction. 


February 17, 2015 

Wayfaring Stranger 
By James Lee Burke 

I have been a fan of James Lee Burke for some time now, especially his Dave Robicheaux series, and while I don’t read all of his novels, I am always curious when a new one turns up. Wayfaring Stranger has proven to be a satisfyingly brawny story spanning decades and encompassing World War II, Louisiana, Texas, and Hollywood as settings. As usual, Burke’s characters are an interesting slice of social and moral strata. As usual, too, his descriptions of Louisiana are particularly a pleasure to read. Burke’s novels usually involve certain moral choices that his characters must rise or sink to and not often in simplified black and white distinctions. 

This most recent novel follows Weldon Holland from his teen years in the 1930s through the Battle of the Bulge into peacetime America. On this tense journey we meet Hershel Pine, Holland’s sergeant in combat and future business partner, and Rosita Lowenstein, a concentration camp survivor who becomes Weldon’s bride. The scope of this sprawling novel involves Hollywood, corruption on many levels, and a cast of very distinctive and unique characters which Burke is an expert at creating. It is Holland’s and Lowenstein’s fight for justice that creates the tension in this tightly drawn novel. 

An interesting sidelight is that while reading about Burke, I learned that the renowned Massachusetts writer Andre Dubus is Burke’s cousin and helped provide some of the inspiration for Burke’s decision to pursue literature as a career. That was a decision I, and many other fans, have enjoyed over the years. Wayfaring Stranger is a good solid entertaining read for these snowy winter days and we’ve certainly had many of those recently.


February 9, 2015 

Searching for Grace Kelly 
By Michael Callahan 

This debut novel by Vogue editor Michael Callahan sparkles with details of 1950’s Manhattan. Fans of Mad Men will be enchanted. It is a quick read, describing a formative summer in the lives of three young women staying at the Barbizon Hotel while they start their careers and search for husbands. The hotel sounds more like a dormitory by today’s standards. Men are strictly not allowed on the premises, a rule that is enforced with an iron fist by the no-nonsense Ms. Metzger. When Laura and Dolly first meet British, redheaded rebel Vivian, she is flouting this rule, and they lie for her without a second thought. They are an eccentric trio: Vivian introduces them to the city’s nightclubs, where she hopes to perform as a singer but is stuck as a cigarette girl; Laura in her turn is their ambassador to Greenwich village and literary life, while Dolly is along for the ride and often the voice of reason. Of course, they all meet men. Lots of men. The men they choose to spend their time with all end up being mistakes, with, at times, disastrous results. Searching for Grace Kelly is a light novel but makes up for a lack of substance with grace, wit and style. The three women are well-developed characters, and the reader is happy to be along for the ride.


February 2, 2015

Panic in a Suitcase
By Yelena Akhtiorskaya

This hilarious first novel by Yelena Akhtiorskaya is a must-read for Russian immigrants, Slavophiles, and the like. It is an immersive reading experience, and you will leave it missing the characters
 as if they were friends. The reader is first introduced to the Nasmertov family in July 1993, in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, often known as Little Odessa. Pasha Nasmertov is visiting from the real Odessa, as his mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer.  His family’s apartment, food, dialect, and overall way of life are emblematic of the larger Russian diaspora experience.

Pasha is a poet of reasonable renown, but also contempt in his home country, and his decision to stay there is a strong point of contention during his visit to the States. He ventures into Manhattan to see a childhood friend and attend a party of hip young ex-patriot poets, who wouldn’t be caught dead in Brighton. When they do visit Brighton, the following summer during Pasha’s second and last visit, it Is treated mainly as a quaint or ironic curiosity. This cast of characters adds richness and humor to the story, especially as Pasha, a sickly misanthrope, attempts to relate.

We switch gears in the second half of the novel, which takes place in 2004 and follows Pasha’s sister, Marina, and her daughter, Frida, now college-aged and still living at home in Brighton. She decides, much to the chagrin of her family, to travel to Odessa for her cousin’s wedding. (Among their numerous instructions: “For the feral dog situation, we recommend peppermint spray. Most of the time, they’re harmless.”) Her stay with Pasha and his new wife, Sveta, in their tiny apartment, enables yet another voyeuristic look into an unusual lifestyle. 

Akhtiorskaya is an accomplished author who can easily bring readers to laughter and tears within a few paragraphs. She uses inventive metaphors and punchy dialogue which is delightful to listen to; if you are a fan of audiobooks, Stefan Rudnicki, the reader, can help out with unwieldy names and mannerisms.  This family saga, while unique culturally, is moving for anyone with complex feelings about their own next of kin.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tax Season is Here!

Tax Season is here and we have the information you may need to obtain tax appointments and/or tax forms.

Tax Appointments are available at Worcester Public Library:

The Worcester Public Library is currently taking appointments for the annual free AARP tax preparation assistance. For an appointment, stop by the library or call 508-799-1655, ext. 3. Appointments are available on Saturdays ONLY beginning in February. 

Please read if you normally receive your paper tax forms from Worcester Public Library:
Congress recently cut monies sent to the IRS for federal tax forms. No printed copies of the instructions were sent from the IRS to any public library in the country this year, because of these budget cuts.

Unfortunately, only form 1040 will be available in paper format. Please go to the 2nd floor of the Main Library if you would like to acquire a paper version of form 1040.

To Acquire Federal Tax Forms, Patrons Have the Following Options:
Tax Forms and Instructions can be ordered by phone and sent to your home.   Call 1-800-829-3676

Tax Forms and Instructions can be ordered online and sent to your home.   Go to

Tax forms and Instructions can be viewed and downloaded to a printer.

The Worcester Public Library will have Reproducible Forms and Instructions that can be photocopied for .15 cents per page.

The Worcester Public Library has ONE copy of Pub 17. That copy can be viewed or photocopied from for .15 cents per page. Photo ID required at the 2nd Floor Reference Desk. 

If you have any questions about the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill passed by Congress that led to these budget cuts, please contact: 
Senator Edward Markey
Boston 617-565-3170

Senator Elizabeth Warren
Boston 617-565-3170

Representative James McGovern
Washington 202-225-6101

Massachusetts State Tax Booklets are available at the 2nd Floor Reference Desk. Due to the limited supply of booklets, only 1 booklet is allowed per patron. Additional copies are available for download from

Monday, January 26, 2015

January 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

January 26, 2015 

Guilty Pleasure: Reflecting on Paranormal Romance 

This month I’d like to talk about romance, specifically the paranormal kind. The romance genre is generally accepted as the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. It offers everything one needs for a carefree escape: familiar character types and plot structures, vicarious angst, steamy trysts, and, of course, happy endings. Paranormal romances have the added bonus of supernatural creatures and magic. In the last month, I’ve delved into the genre and I’m here to report on my findings. 

Nora Roberts stands with a few others as a queen of the romance genre. She’s written over 200 novels without co-authors or ghost writers (!?). In Dark WitchRoberts introduces a magical world and cast of characters which go on to fill two more volumes in the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy. The novel follows protagonist Iona Sheehan as she discovers her magical family heritage in Ireland. She connects with distant cousins and becomes the third member of a prophesied powerful trio of O’Dwyer witches who must defeat the evil sorcerer, Cabhan. Along the way Iona finds herself falling in love with her boss, Boyle. She must learn how to accept love, both familial and romantic, and to rely on others in order to get through the trial of fighting Cabhan. The novel features an extended prologue which illustrates the history of the first Dark Witch, Sorcha, as well as some wince-inducing rhyming spells. I found the book to be very slow-paced. Roberts does a poor job of balancing world building, action, romantic suspense and the humdrum details of Iona’s daily life. If you’re willing to push through the sloggy parts, the novel does pick up pace in the end. Bonus features: horses and a certain resemblance to the TV show Charmed

If you’re looking for an author with a better sense of pacing and less painful exposition, look no further than Nalini Singh. Singh’s book Angel’s Blood (also the opener of a series) effortlessly intertwines plot, character development and world building while never letting up on its page-turning suspense. Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux is hired by the equally gorgeous and dangerous archangel Raphael. To spurn an archangel is to court death, which is why Elena is alarmed to learn that Raphael wishes her to use her vampire tracking skills to locate a rogue archangel. If she refuses Raphael, she’s dead. If she agrees to track down the other angel, she’s…also dead. In addition to the thrilling danger, Elena finds herself frustratingly attracted to her new boss. Featuring supernatural elements that don’t interfere with the suspense or the steamy romance, Angel’s Blood is a delight. It’s a quick, easy read that will appeal to both romance and fantasy buffs. 

And finally we come to the requisite vampire/werewolf cross species romance: A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole. A tale as old as time: Scottish werewolf Lachlain discovers that his predestined mate, the woman he has waited hundreds of years to find, is a vampire, i.e., his enemy. He must struggle with his desire for revenge against the vampires who captured and tortured him for over a hundred years and his overwhelming lust for Emma. Part kidnapping road trip adventure and part explicit romance, Cole’s book is light on atmosphere and myth development and heavy on action and sexual tension (seriously, you’ll blush). Fifty Shades readers who are able to look past the supernatural elements will find this a tantalizing read. The power dynamic between alpha male Lachlain and weak, insecure Emma is similar to the relationship found in the Fifty Shades books. 

Though we call romance books a guilty pleasure, we can’t deny their allure. Come peruse the romance stacks at WPL. You may be surprised at what you find. 


January 12, 2015

Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America 
By Davis Talbot
Illustrated by Spain Rodriguez

Devil Dog is a fascinating and adventure-filled story of an authentic American hero with the unlikely name of Smedley Darlington Butler. Before you think this is the beginning of a joke, be prepared for a story of a uniquely patriotic man in American history. He was born in 1881 into a prominent blueblood Philadelphia family of politically connected bankers and his father,Thomas Butler, was a powerful congressman. Smedley grew into a wiry, thin but muscled young man weighing 140 pounds and topped off at 5' 9". He dropped out of the prestigious Haverford School and enlisted in the Marines. The Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor and a young Second Lieutenant Smedley Butler began his career as a Marine officer but did not see much action in Cuba. Suddenly, he was in China for the Boxer Rebellion and saw firsthand the horrors of combat. Butler, a teenage leader of men, quickly commanded their respect through his bravery and level-headedness during the march into Peking. The fighting was particularly fierce and in the end, the allied forces, although victorious, were stained with excesses of rape, looting, and executions. 

By 1904, Butler was back in Philadelphia, twenty three years old, a veteran of three wars, and a highly decorated Marine officer. He courted and married society belle Ethel Peters and brought her and his children “Snooks” and Smedley, Jr. to the Panama Canal Zone in 1910. He was soon embroiled in an incursion in Nicaragua. His next duty station involved the occupation of Haiti, which was to last more than twenty years, and it was here that Butler’s cynicism of America’s motives started to reach maturity. He felt that his marines were being used as “a glorified bill collecting agency” in America’s colonial wars in the Caribbean. 

This narrative is just part of the life of Smedley Butler. His was a life of action, deeply felt beliefs, strong loyalties, and courageous battles, such as cleaning up bootleg Philadelphia, going against Presidential power to defend veterans, and most importantly, blowing the cover of a plot by wealthy American businessmen to overthrow the United States government and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

The historic facts in the book are fascinating, Butler is captivating, and the format of the book, to me, provides a satisfying balance between its graphics, text, sidebars, period photographs, poster reproductions, and newspaper reproductions to bring a contemporary feel to a fascinating era in American history and to the life of an important man who seems nearly forgotten. The book contains a bibliography for further reading for those who would like to learn more about this period of U.S. history. As for the title, Devil Dog, and what it means, well...just get the book and you can find out what’s behind that expression. You won’t be sorry. 


January 6, 2015

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel

Dr. Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan:  It was exactly like waking up from a dream.

This is the best book I’ve read in some time.  It’s one of those stories in which a disparate group of characters are woven together strand by strand and by the end of the story, their degrees of separation are magically reduced to a mere whisker of fate.

An addition to the rapidly expanding canon of dystopian literature, modern civilization in this novel is taken down by plague; specifically, a transcontinental flu. The plot opens with the unexpected onstage death of world-famous actor Arthur Leander and from there ripples back into Arthur’s formative years, and forward to Year Twenty after the pandemic. The action is propelled through the lives of a paparazzo-turned-EMT who attempted to save Arthur’s life, a child actor who happened to be onstage with him at that defining moment, Arthur’s three wives and old friends, and finally, a wandering troupe of surviving actors and musicians.

The point of the novel can be summed up in the Star Trek quote that is emblazoned on the Traveling Symphony’s caravan: “Because survival is insufficient.” In a world in which everything we know has been destroyed, what still matters?  The author’s answer: art and humanity. Emily St. John Mandel conveys this opinion through prose that is both rich and light at the same time, and even though it is clear that every character is doomed to premature death by modern standards, it is easy to be reminded of the possibility of experiencing and creating beauty in life, no matter how soon life may end. Indeed, the most lyrical, elegiac passages describe the alternate world of the titular Station Eleven, a comic book fantasy invented and escaped into by Arthur’s first wife Miranda. 

So far, my favorite book of the year!


Monday, December 22, 2014

If You Like Downton Abbey...

If you are a fan of Downton Abbey (like many of us librarians), you'll want to come to our Downton Abbey Tea on January 5, 2015 from 3-4 pm in the Banx Room (snow date is January 12, 2015). We will have tea, trivia, and more! We will be discussing the season five premiere and speculating about the upcoming season. Tea party attire or period costumes are optional. Thank you to the Friends of the Worcester Public Library for sponsoring this fantastic program! Free and open to the public.

If you are unable to wait until the next episode, here is a list of books and movies that may appeal to fans of Downton Abbey.You can get more of the gossip of life above and below stairs in 1920s England, discover the "Real Downton Abbey," learn proper etiquette, try your hand at tea time recipes, and more! All are available through the C/WMARS catalog. The covers of most of the books and movies are also available in our library's "If You Like Downton Abbey, You May Like..." Pinterest Board.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

December 2014 Staff Book Recommendations

December 20, 2014

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed 

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, details the author’s journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to walk herself back to “the woman [her] mother raised.” After her mother’s death, Strayed’s family drifts apart. At the age of twenty-six she is divorced, orphaned and overcoming a heroin addiction. The hike is a desperate attempt not to reinvent herself but to find her herself again. The book opens with a snap shot of Strayed in the middle of the hike resting barefoot near a ledge she watches in horror as one of her hiking boots topples over the edge. The absolute catastrophe of this is obvious: she is alone in the wilderness miles from civilization with only one boot. What next? 

There are two aspects of this story that Strayed excels in capturing. The first is the absolute shock of grieving for a parent at such a young age. Strayed describes feeling cheated and disbelieving when her mother dies before reaching the age of fifty. But she also touches on how grief can make us forget that our loved ones were not perfect. There is a moment while Strayed is walking the PCT when she realizes that she hasn’t cried once since starting. It’s the longest she’s gone since losing her mother. 

The second thing that Strayed perfectly depicts is the experience of hiking the PCT as a lone woman. While her male friends claim that she gets special treatment from strangers as a female, they are not aware of the constant threat of rape and violence that hangs over her with every step she takes. The most poignant illustration of this is the night that Strayed meets a pair of hunters in the woods. They enter her personal space, demand assistance with purifying their drinking water and then proceed to make lewd comments about her body. In this moment it is painfully obvious that the men could do anything they wanted to her. When she tries to move on and escape their presence one of the men becomes angry and claims that she should feel “complimented” by their attention. Rather than walk she runs as far as she can to get away from them. 

This memoir is compelling, heart wrenching and thought provoking. Strayed’s tone is alternately gritty and lyrical. She describes the realities of long distance hiking in unflinching detail while also using beautiful language to evoke the memory of her mother. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone who’s ever lost someone or felt as if they’d lost themselves. 


December 16, 2015 

Broken Monsters 
By Lauren Beukes 

This literary thriller by accomplished author Lauren Beukes starts off weird, and gets weirder. Dedicated Detroit cop Gabriella Versado finds the body of a dead boy, dumped under an underpass, but she only finds part of him. His torso has been brutally severed and stitched onto the legs of a deer. She has very little to go on…consult taxidermists? Voodoo experts? Could it be gang related? While she investigates, we also follow the stories of others in Detroit: the detective’s teenage daughter; a hipster ‘journalist’, recently displaced from New York by heartbreak; a man called the “Homeless Hero” who works at the shelter and looks out for everyone around him. We hear from each of these characters every day as the tension builds. How will their lives intersect? The journalist, Jonno, gets an in to the Detroit art scene from an attractive female DJ, who shows him the secret world of graffiti around the city. He decides he is a video journalist and begins documenting everything he sees, eventually capturing footage that may greatly help the police. The detective's daughter and her best friend stumble into vigilantism as they convince an online pedophile to meet them in real life. Meanwhile, he body count grows. The characters daily lives fit together like a puzzle, which converges one night at a wild warehouse party/art installation where the serial killer is trying to showcase his morbid masterpiece. 

Broken Monsters is well-researched, and the characters ring true, from the detective to the “Homeless Hero.” The internet could be said to be another main character in this book, as we are given chat records, Youtube video play-by-plays, and even a Reddit AMA. As a reader who knows little about Detroit’s culture and only of its financial trouble, this was an illuminating read and piqued my interest in learning more. The grotesque nature of the crimes, especially the final scenes in the killer’s bizarre hideout nest in an abandoned factory, are very reminiscent of the TV show "True Detective".


December 9, 2014 

Fireball: Carole Lombard and The Mystery of Flight 
By Robert Matzen 

This is an ebook downloadable from Overdrive on the Worcester Public Library website. Matzen's book explores the violent crash of Flight 3 into Mt. Potosi, Nevada on the night of January 16, 1942. Lombard, at the height of her immense popularity, died, along with twenty one other people, including her mother. 

 Fireball scrutinizes, in alternating chapters, the life of Lombard and Hollywood, and the events leading up to and the aftermath of the terrible crash. The events in these alternating chapters leave one with a powerful sense of fate at work, a tragic fate that could have no other ending. Lombard was married to the legendary actor Clark Gable at the time of the crash and Lombard was barnstorming America to sell War Bonds when she refused to disembark the plane for servicemen who were a priority at the time. She had been barnstorming by rail. The irony in this is that at one point she nearly gave up her career due to an accident but tenaciously fought her way back through recovery. 

Matzen's book is very thorough in its details. To his credit, he tells the stories of all the victims even though the focus is on celebrities. He also analyzes the investigations into Flight 3 by government agencies and even sabotage theories. The book is a look at Hollywood, a country at war, soldiers, pilots, and the mystery of the tragedy. Readers should be braced for some graphic passages. However, when all is read, Matzen's book is an honest and very empathetic page turner of a famous actress's life in the golden age of film and her untimely death. This book is highly recommended for movie fans, aviation history buffs, and anyone interested in American social life in the 30's and 40's. 


December 1, 2014 

By Meg Wolitzer 

Take a group of troubled teens, a Vermont boarding school, and journals which when used pull the writer into a time warp where he can re-live and re-experience a part of his life, and you have an interesting concept for a novel. Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel Belzhar is taut story about a group of emotionally traumatized teens in a private Vermont therapeutic boarding camp named The Wooden Barn. 

The novel focuses on a female student Jam and her relationship with a British exchange student, Reeve, with whom she has fallen in love. The group is selected to participate in a prestigious class called Special Topics in English led by the reclusive and strict teacher Mrs. Quenell. She assigns a journal writing task to the group, and eventually, each student is pulled back into the netherworld of their respective trauma whenever they start writing in their journal. Wolitzer’s students and the specific traumas they must deal with to overcome the psychic paralysis in their lives give the story a strong sense of suspense and other worldliness as each student, under the mentoring of Mrs. Quenell, resurrects their former self in dealing with their past trauma. A sub-plot in this story features one student’s refusal to be released from her past and this drama leads to the climax of the novel. 

Wolitzer’s novel is entertaining, suspenseful, and deals with gaining emotional and psychological maturity in a context to which many young readers will be able to relate. Additionally, her ear for teen dialog, school social scenes, and relationships between teachers, parents, and siblings flow realistically and flesh out a novel which, in less talented hands, could have veered too far into the weird.