Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November 2014 Book Recommendations

November 18, 2014

Murder 101: A Decker/Lazarus Novel 
By Faye Kellerman &

Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot 
By Reed Farrel Coleman 

If you are a fan of Faye Kellerman and have followed Rina Lazarus and Peter Decker throughout the years, nothing I say is likely to stop you from reading Murder 101, the latest installment in the series. Nonetheless, I would recommend skipping this title. 

Why? In a word: bor-ing. Kellerman has moved Rina and Peter to a fictitious upstate NY hamlet from the mean streets of LA, which is a bummer. Part of the magic of the Decker/Lazarus team was the contrast of Peter’s gritty work requirements contrasted with Rina’s cozy domesticity. Further, the plot centers on the theft of Tiffany glass panels from a mausoleum. Yawn. A few murders ensue but rather than this picking up the pace, the author gets bogged down in minutiae about Russian art, etc. I don’t know about you but when I read a mystery novel, I’m just in it for the sheer entertainment of a whodunit. Brain candy, take me away. 

Which brings us to Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot, the latest in the Jesse Stone mysteries, a far more satisfying read, despite the fact that the author is dead. Well, Robert B. Parker is dead, but his ghost writer, so to speak, has picked up the pen right where Parker left off without sacrificing anything in tone, character development or plot. Jesse Stone, a detective transplanted from LA like Decker, faces a demon from his past when an old rival in both baseball and love comes back to town at the same time a local rich kid is kidnapped and his girlfriend murdered. Unlike Decker, Stone is a lone wolf still trying to figure out how to get along with others, despite his full roster of female companions. Although this story also plays out in a sleepy hamlet, discovering how all the pieces fit together engages the reader enough to make even the characters’ forays into Lowell intriguing. 

If you’re a mystery reader, Robert B. Parker, dead or alive, rarely disappoints, but stick to Faye Kellerman’s less recent work for page-turning fun. 


November 10, 2014 

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
By Margaret Atwood 

Short stories. I know a lot of avid fiction readers scan right past short story collections on their way to novels. This would be a mistake, though, in the case of Margaret Atwood’s latest offering Stone Mattress. Every tale reveals Atwood at the height of her powers, seemingly effortlessly spinning yarns with confidence and self-assurance. You can almost sense cockiness amid the darkly humorous prose. After publishing over fifty novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, and non-fiction works, this writer knows what she’s doing. 

The first three stories of the nine feature the interior lives of different participants involved in a multi-faceted love triangle, at least fifty years after its painful unraveling. The conclusion of this drama is simple, sweet, and profound. While the rest of the stories all contain elements of the macabre, Atwood’s keen insights into human nature are just as present. “Lusus Naturae” was written for Michael Chabon’s project McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories; “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” provides a phantom-filled follow-up to Atwood’s 1994 novel The Robber Bride; “The Dead Hand Loves You” is a spooky tale about fate, and “The Freeze-Dried Groom” leaves you wondering where the next body will turn up. The title story, to me, was the most interesting, as it methodically outlines how to cover up a murder on a cruise ship in a truly engaging tale of well-deserved payback. “Torching the Dusties,” while disturbing in its premise of young radicals terrorizing nursing homes in a misguided effort to balance the environmental scales, is a fine finale. 

Short stories don’t get much press, but as writer Neil Gaiman says, “The short story is a very underrated art form.” If ever there was a reason to read short stories, Atwood gives you nine of them here. 


November 3, 2014 

John Singer Sargent and His Muse: Painting Love and Loss
By Karen Corsano and Daniel Williman 

In the end, this is three stories: a love story, a war story, and an art story. The cast in this story are famous, in some cases, and wealthy, educated, and talented in most other cases. John Singer Sargent, the famous American painter, was raised in Europe, and constantly crisscrossed the European continent as did most of his extended family. Sargent made his mark early as a great painter. He often summered in the Swiss Alps and invited family members to join him and he would paint and use family members as models dressing them in Asian and Middle Eastern fashions which reflected Western artistic interest in those cultures in the early 20th century. 

His favorite model was his niece Rose-Marie, an educated, vivacious, and attractive young woman. She is the lead model in many of his famous watercolors from those vacations in paintings such as The Brook, Simplon Pass: Reading and The Pink Dress, which is reproduced on the cover of the book. Rose-Marie met and fell in love with Robert Michel, a young and rising historian, and the son of famous French art historian, Andre Michel, whom Sargent knew. The background of these families is explored in detail to demonstrate the idealism of the young couple as they united. The authors follow their lives and reactions to the war once it breaks out. Robert is activated and is an officer. He writes letters and entries in his journal which reflect incredible idealism, which did not seem to diminish even after he experiences the carnage of some of the war’s battles. We as readers know in advance what will ultimately happen. That does not, however, reduce the terribly tragic impact of his fate. Rose-Marie decides to serve as a nurse in a rehabilitation unit for blinded soldiers. We know what will happen to her, too. That tragic impact is not reduced either. 

The author’s chapter, “The Paris Gun”, reads almost like a technical bulletin in describing the weapon that the Krupp foundry created to fire long-range into Paris. It is harrowing to read knowing what its firing mission will do. As mentioned earlier, this is a war story and war stories are tragic. It is also a love story, and in this case, a very moving one. The apt subtitle, Painting Love and Loss, perfectly describes, in a poignant and profound way, the rest of the book, a story about art and how a work of art came to be painted. 


Thursday, November 13, 2014

LearningExpress Library

Need to brush up your math, grammar or science skills? Eager to practice for the HiSET, SAT, GRE or LSAT exam? Preparing to become a U.S citizen? Need information about a career? Try LearningExpress Library! This online database provides a wide variety of career and educational resources that will help you build the necessary skills to achieve your goals. 

Here you will find practice tests, ebooks, interactive tools, strategies, advice and much much more, all designed by experts. 
Take a practice test, and review the results to see how you did. You can also create a personal portfolio page to review your progress. 

Check out the entire list of featured resources here: 

For convenience the database is broken into several centers depending on the topic of interest.

  • Adult Learning Center – Math, Grammar, Writing, Citizenship Exam 
  • Career Center – Occupation Exams, Entrance Exams, Information about careers 
  • College Center – Advanced Placement, TOEFL, PSAT, SAT 
  • High School Equivalency Center – Basic Skills, HiSET, GED 
  • College Preparation Center – College Placement Exams, Graduate School Exams, Reading, Math and Science Skills 
  • Recursos Para Hispanohablantes – Resources in Spanish 
  • School Center – Elementary, Middle and High school skills 

For more assistance, you can navigate through the helpful User Guides section. Instructional videos are available here, if you are interested in learning more about the database.

Access: Go to our homepage, click on Online Databases, then select Education, K-12 & Test Prep. Click on LearningExpress Library. Create your free account with a Worcester Public Library card and email address. It's as easy as that!

Monday, November 3, 2014

October 2014 Staff Book Recommendations

October 28, 2014

Consumed : A Novel
By David Cronenburg 

If you're a fan of director David Cronenberg’s horror films from the 1980s, you will not be disappointed by his debut novel. Never seen any of his movies? Here's a sampling: 1981's "Scanners" is about a new race of humans with telekenetic powers, reminiscent of X-Men; 1983's "Videodrome" follows the president of an underground TV station who discovers an international broadcast of snuff films with subliminal messaging that cause strong hallucinations and lead him to coin the phrase "long live the new flesh!"; 1986's "Dead Ringers" is about experimental twin gynecologists, both played by Jeremy Irons. Consumed delves into the most bizarre of human behaviors, including graphic depictions of auto-cannibalism and self inflicted amputations. This means that, like his movies, it is not for the faint of heart.

In addition to being a great gross-out horror novel, Consumed is a brilliant depiction of "the way we live now" in the Digital Age. The main characters, poly-amorous Naomi and Nathan, are journalists who spend their time Google/Youtube/Wikipedia'ing everything around them as they also record it with the best equipment money can buy. Their experience of this mediated reality is told in striking detail. Naomi is investigating a French man under investigation for the murder of his wife, a famous intellectual, and it leads her through a shadowy network to Tokyo, where he both seduces and confides in her. It turns out he has an acquaintance in common with Nathan's current investigation, of a decertified doctor in Budapest who practices an experimental form of mastectomy on movie stars. The couple keeps in close touch with each other as they follow these stories around the world. If you can stomach what these characters can, you will follow them with baited breath and you won't be able to put this book down. Recommended for fans of David Lynch, J.G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon and others who show us a secret world hidden in plain sight. 


October 14, 2014

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife 
By Mary Roach 

Mary Roach once again tackles weird science with her trademark hilarity and attention to detail. In Spookwe encounter families brought together by reincarnation, scientists obsessed with measuring the physical dimensions of the soul, fraudulent mediums and much more. Roach explores the various ways that science has attempted to explain the afterlife throughout history. After reading this book you may have an alternate answer to that famous question, “Who you gonna call?” Perhaps a university researcher and author of peer-reviewed literature on paranormal phenomena.*

While the author is clearly a skeptic, her curiosity and open-mindedness prevent the book from feeling condescending towards its subject matter. Roach pokes fun at the paltry tricks employed by early mediums (including swallowing lengths of gauze for later regurgitation as “ectoplasm”), but at the same time she is genuinely interested in research on reincarnation and out of body experiences. Her book is a fascinating journey through historic scientific approaches to abstract concepts like the soul, ghosts and the afterlife. Whereas these days it is more common to think of something like the soul as existing outside the laws of science, at the turn of the century this was not the case. Scientists attempted to measure, capture, and observe the unknown in order to prove its existence. 

Roach’s anecdotal style entertains while her meticulous research provides substance and reliability. Like all of Roach’s books, Spook is divided into chapters which can stand alone, as each one deals with a different aspect of the larger subject. Though Roach doesn’t provide a cut-and-dried conclusion on the existence of paranormal phenomena, she does state that after a year of research she believes that not everything we experience in life can be explained by science. And, if you really want to push the subject, “The debunkers are probably right, but they’re no fun to visit a graveyard with. What the hell. I believe in ghosts.” 

*N.B. Actually, Dr. Venkman of Ghostbusters is a Ph. D. in “parapsychology and psychology” and has published work on the paranormal, though this writer doubts any of it was peer-reviewed. 


October 6, 2014


By Paul Coelho

In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal  refers to the Brazilian-born Coelho as a “66-year-old writer, a self-styled spiritual guide who has sold more than 165 million books in some 80 languages”. He also handles his own publicity and maintains a very active and large social media presence with over 25.6 million fans on Facebook and nine million followers on Twitter. Mr. Coelho is a busy man. If you are curious about just how busy, you can read all about it at this link http://online.wsj.com/articles/paulo-coelho-digital-juggernaut-1408055080.
Adultery is a novel about a female journalist, Linda, married with two children, and her financier husband who are well off and live in Geneva, Switzerland. Coelho does a nice job of describing and creating Geneva's atmosphere. Linda is a respected journalist and is prone to philosophical bouts of introspection, especially about her marriage and her life. As part of her profession, she receives an assignment to interview a rising politician, Jacob, who was a former boyfriend of hers. This meeting, as one would guess, ignites old passions and sets of a chain of events between Linda, her spouse, and Jacob and his spouse, that pushes Linda onto a very dangerous marital ledge. I do not want to say much more…that might give something away in a story of quick turns and twists of plot. The story is a rather quick read with often very short chapters or sections. Coelho writes very lucidly and philosophically. Linda, and others, can be very annoying or liberating characters depending on how you interpret their motives. Interpretation, reader interpretation, is, in the end, what will determine the rise or fall of this novel. It is an interesting novel and one in which the reader cannot help but be judge and jury.