Monday, August 31, 2015

August 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

August 31, 2015 

The Paying Guests
By Sarah Waters 

Having never read Sarah Waters before, I had no idea what I was getting into when I selected this book from the New Fiction shelves. The title was familiar, and I had heard it was good somewhere…however, YOU, dear reader, are being warned: it IS good, but once it gets going, you will not being able to put it down! 

Place in time: England, 1922. This book starts off as a cozy historical novel about an upper class widow and her adult daughter Frances pulling together to survive the post-World War I economy, the men in the family having deceased in or during wartime and leaving their finances ashamble. To preserve money, and appearances, they decide to take in lodgers or “paying guests,” and while both of them are uneasy about living with strangers in their home, they cheerfully put on a brave face (or a stiff upper lip) and welcome young couple, Leonard and Lilian Barber. Soon the awkwardness of having tenants transforms into a close friendship between Frances and Lilian, and Frances’s “interesting” past becomes the conduit through which this period-piece becomes both a love story and a thriller as well. 

Waters’ talents are many: creating care-worthy characters, setting a scene and building suspense. Also notable is her ability to convey the erotic without veering into the tawdry. Mystery, Masterpiece Theater, and Delta of Venus and more, consider The Paying Guests


August 24, 2015 

By Ferrett Steinmetz 

When you mess with physics, there are consequences. That is the premise of Ferrett Steinmetz’s stellar debut urban fantasy Flex. Some consider the existence of magic, or ‘mancy, an affront to the laws of nature and when nature is affronted She fights back. For every improbable act of ‘mancy, there is a price to pay, a stroke of bad luck that rebounds back onto the ‘mancer’s life. The cost is equal to the act. A bit of artificial whimsy might only get you a broken nail or a flat tire. But serious ‘mancy brings on serious blow back, or “Flux”. 

Paul Tsabo is an ex-cop turned insurance agent—the most unlikely mage imaginable. But one day his obsession with contracts, forms and obscure legal code turns into ‘mancy, bureaucromancy to be exact. His magic enables him to draw up top secret documents from blank pieces of paper. He can finagle rental agreements, target criminals by accessing police records; he can even send faxes back in time. What he can’t do is save his daughter, Aliyah, from painful and disfiguring burns that result from the massive flux of another magic user. The novel revolves around Paul’s mission to get his daughter the treatments she needs and also take revenge against the ‘mancer called Anathema who is flooding the city with unstable Flex, a drug made of distilled magic. It was Anathema’s Flex that caused Aliyah’s burns. Paul teams up with a spunky videogamemancer named Valentine to get the job done. 

What a page turner! Somehow a book about paperwork-magic is action-packed. Steinmetz’s humor is pitch perfect for readers immersed in nerd culture. The hilarious Valentine is a much needed foil to Paul’s drama and turmoil. Best of all, there’s a sequel coming out this fall! Don’t get left behind, this series is sure to be popular.


August 17, 2015
At just over 300 pages, Julia Pierpont’s debut novel, Among the Ten Thousand Things, is slim enough to take with you to the beach.  While the subject matter (the aftermath of infidelity) is a little bleak, the author’s lyrical yet sparse prose and vibrant dialogue make it a quick read. 
Jack Shanley is a respected New York artist with an ex-dancer wife, a teenage son and an eleven-year-old daughter.  He loses all of this through a chain of events set off by the arrival of a cardboard box full of printed e-mails between himself and his mistress.  The box is delivered to his apartment building and picked up by his daughter, Kay.  The remainder of the novel explores how this event is interpreted by each character and how they change as a result.
Most fascinating to me was the impact on the youngest child.  Kay can’t understand why everyone is so upset if, as her mother tells her, her father’s actions mean nothing.  Is this just how the grown up world works? Families are broken because it feels good for one person?  Kay’s attempts to incorporate this new information into her childish worldview make up some of the book’s most interesting scenes.  While Kay struggles to understand this new adult word, her mother battles doubt and guilt.  Can she really start over?  Should she try to make it work? She’d known for a while that Jack was unfaithful but having the dirty evidence thrown in front of her and forced onto her children is another matter.  Meanwhile the teenager, Simon, tries to experience the milestones of adolescence and struggles against the taint of his parents’ failing marriage.  Finally, Jack goes on a journey which leads him to his childhood home and a confrontation with his troubled youth.  Along the way he indulges in further infidelity, a proof that he perhaps never emotionally matured beyond his child years.
One troubling aspect of the book is the shadow-like figure of “the girl.”  Jack’s mistress is only named once and is never allowed to speak for herself on the page (except through her message to Deb and the correspondence with Jack).  As I read I couldn’t help but imagine something terrible befalling this young woman.  Among the Ten Thousand Things is a captivating novel dotted with moments of humor and grace. Recommended for fans of Meg Wolitzer and Tim Perrotta.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

July 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

July 27, 2015 

Speak: A Novel
By Louisa Hall 

A reluctant young bride from the English countryside traverses the Atlantic with her new husband during the 1600s; Alan Turing, father of Artificial Intelligence, makes a penpal out of his lab mate’s mother; a long-married computer science professor and his Holocaust-survivor wife talk to their computers but not to each other; a little girl bonds with her BabyBot; a programmer reflects on his world-changing invention from the confines of a jail cell. What do all these people have in common? 

Through these five interweaving story lines, each presented in its own format, i.e., diary entries, interview transcript, Speak explores the idea summed up so succinctly by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Also questioned: Is it the speaking, the listening, or the compulsion to communicate in the first place that makes us human, even if we’re communicating with machines? A page-turning, poetic, brilliant novel, don’t be intimidated by literary fiction readers. 


July 21, 2015
Scent of the Missing
By Susannah Charleson
If you’re looking for some page-turning non-fiction to add to your beach tote look no further than Susannah Charleson’s Scent of the Missing, an account of life, love and work with a search and rescue dog.  Charleson works with her partner, Puzzle, as a member of MARK-9, a volunteer group based in Dallas, Texas.  Her memoir not only describes the ways that dogs help locate missing persons, it also illustrates the bond between humans and dogs and details the thrilling, dangerous work of search and rescue.
In addition to demystifying the workings of the canine nose, the book alternates between rescue missions and exploring the relationship between the author and her rookie search dog. Chapters that deal with individual search stories are thrilling.  In the first episode, Charleson recounts the adrenaline-fueled search for a missing woman, “Today we were sent to clear more ‘hot spots’—places where bodies have been dumped before.  Shrouded, ugly places…scarred from previous events, but not this girl, this time.  All day the dogs have been telling us: Not here.  Not here.  Not here.”  Charleson and Puzzle’s relationship evolves throughout the book.  The author admits feeling doubtful of Puz’s loyalty and affection in the beginning but by the time the dog matures, they establish a trusting bond through the work.  When Charleson is forced to train another handler to run Puzzle because of her own health issues, the reader feels her heartbreak over the decision.
Charleson’s writing reflects her life in search and rescue.  It’s a mix of urgent suspense and tender affection for her partner.  I couldn’t put this book down until I’d reached the last page.  I hope you’ll pick it up soon at the library!


Monday, June 29, 2015

June 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

June 29, 2015 

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War 
By Lynsey Addario 

Browsing our collection of new non-fiction, I opened a book at page 232 and landed smack dab in a riveting account of a fierce firefight in the Korengal Valley being covered by combat photographer Lynsey Addario. I did not recognize her name. I knew of the Korengal Valley; I knew of Sebastian Junger’s documentary about Restrepo, a Korengal outpost and had seen him speak at the Kennedy Library;I had read about a Captain Kearney in a New York Times Magazine article; so, I had a dim familiarity with the scene traceable to that 2008 NYT Magazine article written by Elizabeth Rubin. The pictures accompanying that article were photographed by Lynsey Addario. I had not paid much attention to the photographer’s byline. My mistake. 

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (Penguin Press: New York, 2015, ISBN 978-1-59420-537-8) by Lynsey Addario is a biography of Addario’s life with a large focus on her many years spent in places in the Middle East that, for most of us, were television news stories from areas such as Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Syria and others spots we would not want to be. It is also a story about how seeing a Sebastio Salgrado photojournalism exhibit while working for the Buenos Aires Herald affected her budding career. Addario was basically raised in Westport, CT by her hairdresser parents in a very free-wheeling extended “family” scene. After finally getting to work for the New York Times, her reputation grew exponentially as she went into some of the most dangerous turf of this century. It is also the story of her relationships with some men while chasing after pictures to tell the “real” story--the human impact--of these conflicts on women and families. Addario’s book is an intense, dramatic, and often suspenseful page turner. It is also an important mirror into events which still remain, unfortunately, quite current. She was shot at, kidnapped, escaped, and in the end, survived… 

I don’t want to tell any more. Her story is very well written. It is an important story. Personally, I feel that her book reaches the levels of some of the best combat photography reporting I have ever read. And one last thing – I read very recently that Steven Spielberg is going to make a film version of Addario’s book and that Jennifer Lawrence will play the role of Addario. I hope they do it justice. 


June 15, 2015

God Help the Child 
By Toni Morrison 

“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” 

Because I loved Beloved, I periodically attempt Toni Morrison’s novels. Admittedly, some of them, like Paradise, are so thick with magic realism I feel like I need a machete to whack through the prose and figure out the plot (I suppose Cliff Notes would do). However, her latest work, God Help the Child, while still employing a small bit of magic realism, is blessedly readable. 

Unlike Morrison’s past work, this tale is a modern one, featuring an ad exec protagonist . Essentially, the story examines how adults display or deny the long lasting after-effects of childhood trauma. Bride, because her skin is “blue black”, is such an embarrassment to her light-skinned mother, she is raised to call her Sweetness, in lieu of any maternal assignation. Withholding and emotionally distant, Sweetness’s treatment of Bride, however well-intentioned, compels Bride, to take extreme action to win a morsel of her affection. Flash forward to Bride’s volcanic love affair with Booker, a mysterious loner with an equally painful past of his own, and the reader sees just how deeply the psyches and hearts of children are imprinted despite their often-noted resilience. 

Less than two-hundred pages, this slim volume is a relatively easy read. But Morrison’s trademark lyricism is showcased, as she tosses off phrasing like the master of the form that she is. And her characterization of seven-times married Queen is not to be missed. If you are a Morrison fan, check it out. 


June 8, 2015

By Naomi Novik

In my opinion, one of the most important elements of any fantasy novel is the seamless joining of plot and world building. Nothing irks me more as a reader than being taken out of the story in order to understand the background details. A good fantasy author will entwine these details into the tale without drawing attention to the effort. This tricky feat is beautifully accomplished by Naomi Novik in her newest novel, Uprooted

Agnieszka has lived in a small valley village all her life. And all her life she has lived under the shadow of the Wood, a malevolent forest full of dark magic and fell beasts. All that stands between the valley denizens and destruction is the protection of a powerful wizard, the Dragon. All he asks in return is one village girl every ten years. The girls he takes are not harmed. They only serve him for the agreed period and then leave the Valley forever. The book opens with the choosing and, predictably, our protagonist is the one. But Nieszka isn’t like the other girls. She has a spark of magic that the Dragon recognizes. He trains her as an apprentice and together they learn the secrets of the Wood’s origin and attempt to stop it once and for all. 

At first glance this sounds kind of familiar: the chosen one who discovers she has magical powers she never knew about. But the novel quickly deepens into a complex fantasy featuring court intrigue, highly developed characters and a fascinating backstory. Nieszka’s style of magic is earth-based. A spell is as simple as planting her feet in the dirt and speaking a single word with feeling. Novik’s writing is as simple and wonderful as this magic. She creates a truly terrifying villain in the Wood that can walk in the guise of loved ones and plant corruption abroad. The romantic tension between the Dragon and Agnieszka grows steadily and believably without detracting from the drama of the overarching story. 

The sexuality and dark themes in this novel mark it as adult fiction however there is sure to be a lot of crossover appeal with young adults. As far as I can tell Uprooted is a standalone novel with no sequel in the works. You might find this refreshing in these days of abundant trilogies. It’s nice to read a fantasy novel without feeling obligated to read its ten sequels as well.


June 1, 2015
Jane Austen: A Life
By Claire Tomalin
Many Jane-ites share a sense of proprietary ownership over their favorite author.  Perhaps it comes from reading her novels over and over.  There’s an intimacy between the author and her devotees that exists in spite of the distance in time.  This can make the relative lack of information regarding Austen’s life incredibly frustrating to her fans.  We know that she lived a quiet country life that, according to her favorite brother, was“…a life of usefulness, literature, and religion, was not by any means a life of event.”  But we also know, from her own novels, that a quiet life can be just as full of sorrow, joy, disasters and miracles as even the most eventful one.  What every Austen fan yearns for is a candid glimpse at the author’s life unmediated by relatives’ foggy memories or well-meaning agendas.  Claire Tomalin attempts to provide this by presenting all the evidence and filling in the rest.
There are some points that most fans are familiar with: the youthful flirtation with Tom Lefroy, the famous one-night engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither.  We expect to find these--Jane’s only known real life romances--delicious.  But I was struck even more by her family relationships:  her brother Henry, the ambitious flirt, who just might have inspired Austen’s famous bad boys Wickham, Willoughby and Crawford; her exotic cousin, Eliza, to whom she dedicated one of her early works; and, always, her devoted sister Cassandra.  Cassandra was executor of Austen’s estate and responsible for burning most of her sister’s letters—presumably at Jane’s request.  It’s easy to feel outrage at this destruction, but consider that the author herself refused to attach her name to her novels, her “darling” children, because she did not wish to lose her privacy.  It’s impossible to stay angry with the sister who so touchingly described her loss on the occasion of Austen’s death,“She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”
Tomalin’s meticulous research and deep understanding of Jane Austen’s work and life make this an informative and fascinating read.  Highly recommended for all Austen fans.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Worcester Talking Book Library's Adaptive Technology Training Workshops

The Worcester Talking Book Library’s remaining two free adaptive technology training workshops will take place in the computer lab at the Worcester Public Library on Saturday mornings from 9:45 AM–11:45 AM. The next two sessions are outlined below.

Saturday June 6: Microsoft Word Basics
This session will cover navigating ribbon menus, the most important commands for reading existing Word documents, creating new ones, and saving them to your hard drive.

Saturday June 13: To Be Determined
The topic for this workshop will be decided by consensus of those who participated in the previous sessions.

To register for these workshops, as well as to seek any additional information, please contact Jim Izatt or call the Worcester Talking Book Library at 1-800-762-0085 or 1-508-799-1730.

The only prerequisite for participation is a minimum typing skill level of approximately 20 words per minute. Please remember to bring a pair of personal headphones so you can work on one of the lab computers.

Reminders and registration requests for subsequent workshops will be sent out shortly before each of those workshops.

Do not hesitate to share this message with someone whom you think might be interested in attending this workshop.

Thank you for your interest.

For information on the Worcester Talking Book Library and its free services to people who cannot read traditional print materials due to visual or physical disability, click on the following link:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

May 26, 2015

The Harder They Come: A Novel
By T. Coraghessan Boyle

The new T. Coraghessan Boyle novel, The Harder They Come (Ecco, 2015, 9780062349378) is a story set mostly in contemporary Northern California and involves the relationships between characters whose lives have evolved into extremist positions which they feel are patriotic and heroic and in keeping with America’s individualistic traditions. Boyle mixes these people into a society thrown on the defensive by drug cartels, robbers, and aggressive law enforcement agencies, and their own mental health and drug problems. 

Boyle begins the novel in Central America with a retired high school principal and Vietnam Marine combat veteran Sten Stensen and his wife on a tourist cruise. The tourists are robbed at one point and Stenson thwarts the robbery by killing one of the thieves with his bare hands in a sort of a combat flashback mode and becomes a minor hero and celebrity. He returns to his home in Fort Bragg, CA with his wife and soon his schizophrenic son Adam, who calls himself Colter after a legendary mountain man named John Colter, takes up with Sara, an older woman who is a social extremist. They both live outside social parameters with an intense dislike of government and law enforcement. Adam becomes increasingly deranged and kills two people, "aliens" he calls them, and then leads police on the most intensive manhunt in California history. 

Boyle’s characters are sharply drawn and very believable. Their survivalist social viewpoints create a natural tension with those in power. The fact that such people do exist in fringe America adds a dimension of reality that we have seen before on television news or read of in newspapers or the Internet. If Boyle is stating that America is unraveling as his characters have unraveled then this novel is a dark look at contemporary society. In spite of that possibility, Boyle has created a taut and suspenseful tale that becomes an addictive page turner. And for those who enjoy a research challenge, the book jacket claims that The Harder They Come is based on a true story. 

To wit, I did some digging on this and found this quotation from Boyle in a "Live Talks" Los Angeles interview with writer Susan Orleans on April 14, 2015: 
The Harder They Come was inspired by two stories reported in the news, which provided the germ of the idea of examining the anti-authoritarianism and violence that are integral to our character (as indicated in the epigraph from D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature: "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has not yet melted.") The first was the report of an elderly man attacked in Central America while on a tour with a busload of his coevals; the second was the case of a schizophrenic young man (a shooter) whose delusions caused him to murder two strangers and take to the wilderness around Fort Bragg, California, resulting in the biggest manhunt in California history. The research and writing, in toto, took just over a year and a half, and involved tramping the dense forests of the northern coast, in a location that reprises the setting of my second novel, Budding Prospects, which took place just up the road in Willits. While the earlier novel was comedic, taking an ironic (and zany) view of Lawrence’s proposition, The Harder They Come takes a darker, Faulknerian view.

May 18, 2015

Bernie and Chet Mysteries
By Spencer Quinn

I can’t think of a better beach read for an animal lover than a Bernie and Chet mystery. Have you ever found yourself narrating your dog’s thoughts or wondering what was going on in there? Spencer Quinn’s mystery series, told from a dog’s point of view, is the closest thing to what might actually be going on in a dog’s head.

Chet, or Chet the Jet if you’re feeling fancy, flunked out of K-9 school on the last day. Was there a cat involved? Hard to say. But Bernie Little took Chet home with him and they started the Little Detective Agency. Ever since, they’ve been taking down perps and sending them to wear orange jumpsuits and break rocks in the sun. Chet speaks using the phrases he learns from Bernie, although there are a few he can’t seem to get his head around, like “wild goose chase”…a goose has yet to turn up for Chet to chase, but he hasn’t given up hope.

Quinn’s books are mystery stories but they aren’t cozies, as Chet doesn’t narrate while remaining apart from the action and danger of chasing criminals. He experiences pain and fear and rises above it. Dog on It is the first in the series and a good place to start!


May 12, 2015 

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma 
By Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

For anyone interested in the subject of trauma and how it impacts all body systems, this is one of those books worth purchasing, to highlight, ponder and study. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, world-renowned psychiatrist and pioneer in studying the effects of psychological and physiological stress and PTSD, does a wonderful job of conveying a ton of clinical information in context and language that laymen can easily understand. Replete with case histories, personal anecdotes and well-developed reference lists, Dr. van der Kolk makes an inspiring case for the viability of healing by presenting a whole new paradigm of looking at trauma.

As the medical director and founder of the Trauma Center in Brookline, MA, the experiences of victims of childhood sexual abuse, war veterans suffering from PTSD, and survivors of accidents and natural disasters, are his main focus. This book first introduces and defines stress and trauma and then delineates its effects on the brain, mind and body. Particular attention is paid to the psyches of children, as studies show developing brains and bodies are susceptible to trauma in a different way than those of adults. The section entitled “Paths to Recovery” discusses therapeutic benefits of using language, theater, yoga, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to reclaim overall health.

Despite the seriousness of the subject, this book offers substantial hope on topics that have historically been in short supply of hope, and Dr. van der Kolk writes with compassion, curiosity and tremendous respect for his patients. Consider checking it out.


The common name for Neanderthals is exactly that, neanderthals, from the Latin Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, but is sometimes spelled and pronounced neandertals. Neanderthals have gotten a bad rap over the years and have been portrayed as both brutes and also as a stupid species. However, recent evidence has proven that the Neanderthals were just as intelligent, sensitive, and cultured as homo sapiens. The question has lingered about their extinction and different theories have been proposed. Pat Shipman's new book proposes a new theory which she believes was a catalyst in their demise.

Neanderthals had flourished for 2000,000 - 300,000 years in Eurasia. About 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals became extinct. That is about the same time that humans, an “invasive species” according to Shipman, came into contact with Neanderthals. This contact set in motion a "classic trophic cascade caused by the appearance of an apex predator" – homo sapiens.  Shipman’s basic premise is that intraguild competition between the two species resulted in a diminution of Neanderthal populations and a rise in modern human populations followed by a corresponding rise in modern humans geographic range and a shrinkage of Neanderthal geographic range. She also postulates the theory that apex predators often lower the reproductive rate of their prey. Shipman, to her credit, explores major theories that have some validity such as major climactic changes, and violence between the two species or subspecies, depending on what genetic theory you believe in. Shipman’s rather revolutionary theory is that the decimation of Neanderthals coincided with the domestication of dogs which were  eventually used by modern humans to hunt and that this advantage coupled with other factors led to the extinction of the Neanderthals.  

Shipman’s book is interesting if you can understand her scientific arguments and have an interest in anthropology. This is not a “popular” treatment of the Neanderthals but neither is it a scientific treatise. The book will reward the reader with insight into standard and emerging theories on this question about the extinction of what some scientists refer to as our “cousins”. For a very interesting article about Shipman’s book subtitle and her response to the article go to and remember that these theories are all evolving.