Monday, March 23, 2015

March 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

March 30, 2015 

Master Thieves 
By Stephen Kurkjian 

Certain subjects can be assured of a bankable audience at almost all times and, at least in the Northeast, books dealing with the March 18, 1990, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s theft of thirteen works of art valued at millions are certain to be in demand. Master thieves : the Boston gangsters who pulled off the world's greatest art heist by Stephen Kurkjian, an award winning Boston Globe writer, has landed with a “bang” on top of the pile on this, the 25th anniversary of the simple but most successful of art heists. 

Kurkjian’s book contains a list of characters, which is very useful in following the various theories, claims, and counterclaims of who may or may not have been involved. The story can get very complicated but the theft itself was not. The key to understanding how the theft was pulled off is security, or lack thereof; the Gardner had minimal security. The museum was almost looking to get mugged. The plan? Two men disguised as police lured a young night watchman to open the door and let them in during the early hours after St. Patrick’s Day, and then taped the guard and the only other security guard to chairs in the basement and went about their work. That was it…a minimum of drama to engineer this historical art theft. 

All avenues are explored: theories, linkages, possibilities, and relationships in the murky Boston underworld which, at times, can make for a labyrinth of connections and conjecture. One important point is that there seems to be a persistent belief that the paintings are being held as “collateral” to possibly reduce mob prison sentences. However, after 25 years with no paintings appearing on the horizon and more and more of the cast dying off, perhaps the theory that the paintings were hidden and someone took the secret of their whereabouts to the grave is the most plausible. Or, the paintings were stored improperly and somehow destroyed by the elements. In any case, the mystery still exists. Each reader will likely develop their own list of possible theories and scenarios. Mr. Kurkjian’s book is a very thorough overview of key players in the Gardner theft. 

The book can be frustrating in the sense that no answer to the mystery exists, but we know that in advance. As Kurkjian states, after 25 years “…the biggest art theft in world history is still an open case”. Let’s hope that the next Gardner theft book is the story of the paintings’ return to the famed museum, but until that time, this fascinatingly frustrating and complicated work will have to satisfy. 


March 23, 2015

By Christopher Fowler 

Houses aren’t haunted…only people are.

Thus begins Christopher Fowler’s twisting, mind-bending, dream-like thriller, NyctophobiaNyctophobia, the title of the story, and the name of the condition from which the main character Callie suffers, follows the life of Callie, a newlywed, and her husband and stepdaughter as they move into their new home. Hyperion House, which is a magnificent find built in the cliffs of a secluded area overlooking the coast of Southern Spain, is an architect’s and homeowner’s dream: “In the hall of midnight blue Castilian tiles, sunlight bounced off every surface. All around me, motes and midges glowed golden in the angled geometries of four great stained-glass windows. It seemed as if brightness was filtering in from everywhere; it flowed in pools across the floors and cast chromatic diagonals on the walls, so that they appeared to be lit from within” (p. 49). 

However, even though Hyperion House is bathed in sunlight, the back of the house which lies against the cliffs and is cast in constant darkness holds many sinister secrets. In one gripping scene for instance, a spool of red thread that Callie is using unravels out of her hands and rolls under a locked door of one of the rooms at the back of the house. Frustrated, Callie attempts to pull the thread back onto its spool when suddenly “the thread stopped and tightened. Dropping to my knees, I tried to see under the door, but there was only blackness. I pulled again. Something pulled back. I rose with a start. Wrapping the thread around my fingers I pulled hard, but whatever was on the other end pulled harder still” (p. 113). 

While Callie continues to uncover the secrets of Hyperion House, Fowler drops kernels of doubt throughout the pages, in the guise of Callie’s sanity level, making the reader wonder if Hyperion House is really haunted. Fowler orchestrates this doubt to such a peak that by the end of the story, I could no longer trust that the light is safer than the darkness, something I’ve always believed. 

As I flew through this story I could not help but think about what purpose our shadows serve? If we could hide behind them and somehow have a shield from the sickness, loneliness, and death that lurks in and around us all, would we? Should we? And if so, at what cost? One thing is for certain: Fowler’s Nyctophobia may have an ending, but the haunting questions it leaves behind are just the beginning. 


March 19, 2015 

The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel, The Goldfinch, is an epic bildungsroman that shines with languid, lyrical language and a plot which propels the reader through its 700+ pages with ease. Tartt combines elements of the thriller with philosophical introspection and the result is a page-turner that also inspires metaphysical questioning. Theo Decker is 13 years-old when his mother is killed in a terrorist attack in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Theo survives and spends the rest of his life struggling with his guilt and sorrow. It wasn’t his fault, that’s what the adults around him say, but the fact is Theo and his mom were on their way to a school disciplinary meeting when the rain forced them to seek shelter in the museum. In the days and weeks following the event Theo moves through the ordinary world in a fog, thoughts haunting him. If only…if I hadn’t done…I wish … It’s some time before practical considerations sink in. Such as what to do with the painting, the picture of the shining little yellow bird, that he carried out of the rubble. 

The painting and a signet ring given to him by a dying old man lead Theo to strange places: a curious old antiques shop where he meets the love of his life, Park Avenue and a family of selfish modern aristocrats, the desert of Las Vegas where he’s neglected by an alcoholic, gambling father and where he begins a life-long drug habit. Brushes with the Russian mafia and an introduction into the criminal underworld of art theft and forgery further Theo’s moral descent. The whole rushing, whirling thing leaves the reader to decide: Do good outcomes justify bad means? Was Theo selected by fate on the day of the explosion or was it just “rotten luck”? Is there inherent value in art, beauty? Or is it the human lives and stories attached to these objects which make them special? 

This book is required reading for literary lovers; a rewarding experience that’s not for the faint of heart. 


March 6, 2015

Humans of New York
By Brandon Stanton

By now you’ve probably heard of the Humans of New York phenomenon.  It has been on the New York Times bestseller list nearly every week since its publication in 2013; the website, updated daily, is wildly popular.  Its inception?  Brandon Stanton, a bond trader in Chicago, was downsized out of his day job.  He soon decided to expand what had been a weekend hobby of photographing interesting urban sites into a new career. As he states,“It felt like a treasure hunt. And that seemed like a pretty good way to spend my time.” Add a fateful trip to New York City during which Stanton discovered New Yorkers and Stanton’s idea to create a photographic census began to take shape.  

Flipping the pages of Humans of New York (or HONY as it is referred to online due to the overwhelming popularity of its original Tumblr page and then makes you feel like  you are walking the streets or chillin’ on a park bench.  If you are a city person, you will feel affectionate nostalgia.  If you are a country person, you are invited to view the bizarre, the beautiful and the surreal from a safe distance.  Each photo is accompanied by a brief explanation, sometimes just a word or two, sometimes a mini essay. Regularly featured are residents of all boroughs. Most neighborhoods are represented, as are all ages, gender expressions, and a wide variety of ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The wonderful thing about both this book, and the fact that it is so successful, is that the audience can sense the love with which Stanton photographs his subjects.  In the introduction, he thanks each one of them for willing to be photographed and you can really feel his appreciation in the image and the words he chooses as accompaniment. If you have not looked at a photography book or visited New York City lately, this is the book for you. If you love people watching, this book is for you.  And if you need your faith in humanity restored, this book is for you.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Big Library Read is back!

We’re excited to announce the return of the Big Library Read, OverDrive’s global digital book club where millions of people from around the world have the ability to read the same eBook at the same time. This time around, OverDrive users will be able to read Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, by Laura Bates, without any wait lists or holds.

The book is Bates’ autobiography about working with inmates in solitary confinement, teaching them the works of William Shakespeare. Her fascinating life’s story is sure to captivate you as she shares the unlikely friendship she formed with Larry Newton, a convicted murder with multiple escape attempts to his name.

The title will be available from March 17 through April 1 simultaneously for users who would like to join. All you need is a Worcester Public Library card to access the book! On our website, click on digital download, then OverDrive to go to the digital catalog and check-out the book.

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!