Beaver County Library System
Beaver County

Staff Book Reviews



A collection of book reviews written by library staff for the Beaver County Times "What's New on The Shelves" feature.


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Books that delight are fairly rare things. There are many books that are educational, entertaining, engrossing, amusing, scary, intriguing, interesting, or hilarious, but truly delightful books are few and far between. Of course, what delights one reader may bore another. However, any reader who loves books will be delighted with The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin's eighth book and only her third one written for adults.

A.J. Fikry owns a bookstore. He and his wife opened Island Books in her hometown because both of them loved literature. And they felt that any town without a bookstore isn't much of a town. When they opened a "provider of fine literary content," they were very particular about what they would sell in their store. They refused to sell anything they didn't like. After his wife's tragic death in a car accident, A.J. continued that policy. A.J. doesn't like "postmodernism, post apocalyptic settings, post mortem narrators or magic realism." Nor does he like genre mash-ups, clever form devices, multiple fonts, or fiction about any major world tragedy. He is repulsed by ghost-written novels, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-ins, and naturally, vampires. Rarely does he stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or children's books. He does like short story collections but admits no one ever buys them. A publisher's sales representative tells A.J., "this is a lovely store, but if you continue in this…backward way of thinking, there won't be an Island Books before too long."

A.J. had been extremely rude to that sales rep, mostly because she brought A.J. the news of the death of one of his few friends. The loss of his friend not only saddens him, but reminds A. J. of just how lonely he has been since his wife died years before. He spends yet another night in a drunken stupor, and on awakening finds the only truly valuable book that he owns is missing. Tamerlane, an extremely rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe that A.J. bought at an estate sale, was worth more than his store's entire inventory. He was planning to auction it off and retire on the proceeds. Its loss is a catastrophe to A. J. Police Chief Lambraise and his team find no physical evidence at the scene. No book dealers or auction houses report any copies of Tamerlane turning up. Throughout the weeks of investigation, Lambraise and A.J. form a friendship that will last years.

For a few weeks following the robbery, Island Books experiences an upswing in business. After one of the busier days, A.J. finds a surprise at closing time. Someone left a baby in his store. Actually, she is a two-year-old who tells A.J. that her name is Maya. Her Elmo has a note attached to him with a safety pin. Maya's mother wrote that she wants Maya "to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about those things." Chief Lambraise has no more luck finding Maya's mother than he did finding Tamerlane. From here A.J.'s life changes completely.

In The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry every chapter is preceded with a description about some well-known short story. These comments and recommendations are written by A.J. to Maya, each reflecting on a part of his life. Reading about A.J.'s life, all his thoughts on literature, and all the people who love him and his store is a treat for readers who love books and literature. They will find A.J.'s story to be endearing, moving, and yes, delightful.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls

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"Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel" by Chris Bohjalian was as wonderful as I expected it to be. I never cease to be amazed by Bohjalian's ability to speak in any voice, any gender, and any time frame. He did not disappoint.

Emily Shepard is 16 years old, and she and her friends are at school midway through a normal day, or so they thought. What they at first think is an emergency evacuation drill turns out to be a real emergency when the nuclear power plant where both of Emily's parents work has a meltdown situation. Emily's father is responsible for the plant and its safe production of energy. Unfortunately, he and her mother both drink and have been seen inebriated in the past by friends and neighbors. The general consensus is that the event has been caused by the drunken carelessness of her father.

This is the situation she faces. Since they lived in what has become the exclusion zone, not only has she lost her home and most likely her dog, but her father is being blamed for these terrifying circumstances. When she realizes what is happening, she first tries to go home and save her dog, but is turned back again and again. She finally has to abandon the attempt and hope that someone else will rescue him. Determined to make her own way, she has fled from the evacuation of the students. From the moment she realized what was happening, she began to hear the murmurs of blame for her father. Finding it difficult to endure, she changes her name and tries to become as invisible as possible.

The book is about the months following the meltdown and the ways that Emily finds to survive. First completely alone and then meeting up with young people in similar and even worse situations than her own, she finds a strength and determination she never realized that she had. At one point she finds a young boy who has fled his foster family and is trying to live on the streets as she herself is doing. She takes him under her wing, and things become even more difficult. Emily is determined that they will both be safe and find a way to make a life. Of course, things do not always go as hoped or planned, as is evidenced by the meltdown itself. She is tested on many fronts, over and over again.

I felt like I couldn't read fast enough to learn how the story would end. This book is another hit for Bohjalian. His subject matter is always fresh, and the pace of his stories is perfect. For me 4 stars means the book was very difficult to put down, and this was a solid 4 star book.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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I had no idea what to expect when I opened the pages of "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" written by Ransom Riggs. I did know that every single person I know who read it, loved it. Finally, I made time to sit down and start the journey.

Jacob Portman came from an affluent family, and he worked in the family business. To say that he wasn't happy with his situation would be an understatement. Jacob was however, very close to his paternal grandfather and always had been. From the time he was very young, Jacob listened to and was fascinated by the stories his grandfather told. The stories where sometimes accompanied by unusual and sometimes incredible photographs which you will find included in the book. The photographs are real vintage photos, and while this is absolutely not a graphic novel, the photos add a great deal to the story. They make an intriguing and fascinating addition.

Grandfather's stories were about a time before World War II when he lived in a home with several other children who were sent there to keep safe from the perils of the war. There were many children who were sent to strangers by their families during that time. But in the case of Miss Peregrine's home, things were far from usual. Many of his stories included references to monsters and children with unusual abilities. The photos convinced Jacob that the stories he heard were true. He always looked forward to the days when grandfather would pull out the box of photos and show them as he told the incredible tales.

As a young boy Jacob listened to the stories, believed them, and was frightened by them. As both Jacob and his grandfather grew older, there was less belief on Jacob's part. The fog that was encroaching on his grandfather's memory and thoughts made the stories seem impossible in fact. The dementia that his grandfather suffered from made Jacob more the caretaker than the child. One day while visiting, he found his grandfather in trouble, and what happened next would affect Jacob profoundly and change his life.

Jacob found something that he believed was a message from his grandfather, a message that was meant for him. He convinced his family that he needed to go to Wales where the home his grandfather spoke of was located and investigate the stories. For various reasons his father agreed to the trip and made plans for the two of them to go and find Miss Peregrine's Home. What they found there easily convinced Jacob that every single story was true. He finally had the proof that he sought. But now what? What will happen next? Was Jacob up for what was demanded of him?

I would give this novel four stars, as it is a great read. I hope you give it a try. And what makes it even better, the sequel is already out and waiting to be read! After finishing "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," you will want to look for "Hollow City;" second novel to "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. "

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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The first thing you need to know about this book is that the author is in his own words "a livelong space nerd and devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics." Knowing that a friend of mine who is a physicist working for NASA feels that its science aspect is well done, I feel comfortable saying that this is a great book! "THE MARTIAN" by Andy Weir is classic science fiction and a thriller. It's a book that is difficult to put down. I had no choice but to read it in one sitting, because I simply couldn't wait to see how it ended. I suspect that you will feel much the same.

Mark Watney is a member of a team sent to Mars for research purposes. Each team member had more than one skill set, and Watney is an engineer and a botanist. Why send a botanist to Mars? Who better can assess the potential of sustainable life on that planet? As it turned out, that skill set saved his life. He was generally a cheerful, fun loving guy who was able to find humor is some pretty grim circumstances.

The mission was supposed to last thirty-one days on the surface of the planet. They had enough food, water, and air to last them nearly twice that amount of time. Even NASA likes to have just- in -case contingency plans. So when Watney was mortally wounded during a storm with incredible high winds and dust, his companions had no choice but to assume that he was dead. There was no communication from him and no information from his suit, He was seen blowing away by another team member. Under the circumstances, they decided to leave the surface and return to their craft.

It turns out that NASA did quite well with the just-in- case resources, because a kit meant to repair the suit came in handy, as did other supplies and back- up systems, except for the communication systems. There was no way for him to communicate with anyone on earth. But, not only was Watney alive, he meant to stay that way until the next mission arrived on Mars and he could hitch a ride home with them. But first things first, he had to find a means of communication. Despite the fact that there was plenty of food for a few extra days on the red planet, it wasn't nearly enough to keep him fed for years until the next landing. Let me tell you, if I ever find myself stranded on Mars or anywhere else, Whatney is the man I want to be stranded with. If you thought MacGyver had a bag of tricks, his was nothing compared to that of Mark Whatney. I promise that you will be astounded by his survival skills.

I don't want to spoil this for you, so all I can say is that you really need to read this book. It is as close to five stars as I have read this year. Don't be intimidated by its science fiction classification. It is as much a thriller and story of teamwork and friendship as it is science fiction.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are two of the old West's most famous characters. Their friendship, their sharp shooting skills, and their loyalty to family are all legendary. The incident at the O.K. Corral with the Clanton and Earp gangs has inspired many story tellers. There have been numerous books, movies, and television shows based on their lives and that event. In his newest book, The Last Kind Words Saloon, Larry McMurtry, the author of more than thirty books, has created his version.

Usually Wyatt Earp is portrayed as the upright moral lawman devoted to his brothers and deeply in love with Jessie, his second wife. He was one of the men who cleaned up the Wild West, making it fit for womenfolk and families to live there. Doc Holliday is most often shown as Wyatt's best friend and loyal sidekick. A gambler at times, he was a good man, always ready to stand beside the Earps in all of their endeavors.

McMurtry's version of the two men is different. They are compatriots still, but the author changes quite a few things. The book begins in Long Grass, Texas, a settlement nearly in New Mexico. Wyatt, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, his wife Jessie, and Doc Holliday are living there, having already made Dodge and Abilene civilized places. Neither Doc nor Wyatt shoot very well; they can't hit a snake but probably could hit a buffalo. Wyatt says he subdued more men with a mean look than with his gun. His brothers are the ones actually employed as sheriff and deputy. Wyatt is just the strong arm. His relationship with Jessie is tense and quarrelsome. She often throws him out of the bar where she works. Both Wyatt and Doc are big drinkers and spend more time in the saloons than anywhere else.

To celebrate the formation of the largest cattle ranch in the West, Buffalo Bill Cody comes to Long Grass. For a short time Wyatt and Doc join Cody's Wild West show. Their engagement doesn't last long, due to their lack of gun fighting skills.

So they travel down to Mobitie, Texas and from there to Tombstone where Virgil and Morgan are hired as lawmen again. Wyatt is once more the law without any official position. Jessie finds another bartending position. Doc practices dentistry but really supports himself as a gambler.

Always known as a man of few words, here Wyatt is taciturn and withdrawn. Jessie complains to Doc that Wyatt never says a word. When she complains to Wyatt, he starts drinking at a saloon that does not employ her. When he finds how much time Jessie has spent talking with a man he dislikes, Wyatt punches her in the mouth, then slaps her face, then bursts into tears. This is not the Wyatt Earp seen in the movies. In this book the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral was not a showdown between the evil Clanton gang and the righteous Earps. The incident started when the Clantons drove a herd of cattle into town, raising so much dust that Wyatt's eggs became inedible. That made him angry enough to run out into the street and pick a fight with the head of the Clanton clan. That particular temper tantrum led to deaths in both families.

Larry McMurtry has been described as "our leading unsentimentalist" (by the 'Texas Monthly') while he continues "demystifying the West" (Tim Gautreaux, 'Washington Post'). Of this book McMurtry wrote that he kept in mind the movie director John Ford who "...said that when you had to choose between history and legend, print the legend. And so I've done." The Last Kind Words Saloon is less than two hundred pages, divided into five sections, each with short chapters. With his wonderful writing the Pulitzer Prize winning author packs a lot of story into those pages.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian, Carnegie Library, Beaver Falls

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A journey that crisscrosses time and the sea is what you find between the pages of "The Rathbones" by Janice Clark. This is the story of a sea faring dynasty that is filled with both cruelty and wonder.

The tale is told by Mercy, a young woman of the Rathbone family. It is told as she herself discovers who her ancestors were and what they were. Not all of them gave her reasons to be proud of her name. Sons borne by women, many women fathered by ...well, that would be telling. But Mercy is a compelling and likeable character. We experiences her joys and her sorrows as she experiences them, and more importantly, we feel the magic

Mercy has a dim recollection of a golden brother with strong limbs and soft eyes who seems now to be only a dream.Her heart aches for him. Sadly, her questions go unanswered by her peculiar and solitary mother. Mercy's only other companions are two crows and Mordecai, a cousin who lives locked away in the attic and teaches her all she knows about history, whales, and navigation.

Whaling is what her family does, and they came to be the empire that was respected and perhaps hated along the coast of Connecticut. Their success came from their connection to the sperm whales, the very ones they killed in order for their family to grow and survive. The story is quirky, mysterious, and sometimes touched by magic. The tides of the sea seem to run through the veins of this family as they live and die by the water. Sailing comes naturally to them all, and in the end, it provides the answers to Mercy's past...and perhaps her future.

This was a good solid story, and one I am glad to have read. You will enjoy it too, if you like taking that half step outside the ordinary. And who doesn't? Recommended

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library



I received a complimentary copy of "Autumn in Carthage" by Christopher Zenos . I was moved to request the book by its description and the mention of Salem and Danvers in Massachusetts. Having lived near Salem, I enjoy books that take place in that locale, no matter what year the story occurs.

This book exceeded my expectations. Nathan is a likable, main character. He is a bit quirky and a bit flawed, like so many of us. His journey from Chicago to Carthage, Wisconsin was a bit out of character for him, and he wondered if he would live to regret it. He was unable to resist the pull, however, as his trip was inspired by some intriguing information that he received about a friend of his who had been missing for some time.

In preparation for what was to be a sabbatical from the University of Chicago, Nathan received a package from a student with papers he had requested from the Peabody Museum in Salem. While looking over the papers, he came across an unlikely reference to his missing friend. Not feeling particularly hopeful of finding Jamie, he decided to go to the town of Carthage and investigate. Once in Carthage, a small and insular community, his plan was to work on a book and to investigate Jamie's disappearance.

Nathan checked into a small, quaint inn, where he was at first welcomed by Gerry, the inn's owner and chief cook and barkeep. It was during his first meal at the inn that he mentioned to Gerry and Alanna, one of the locals who happened to be nearby, his reason for choosing Carthage for a visit. He instantly felt the original welcoming atmosphere change. When he looked up into their faces, he was certain it wasn't his imagination. Little did he know that this was only the beginning.

As the days went by, not only did he find himself attracted to Alanna, but he felt that he had stumbled into something more mysterious than his friend's disappearance. It was something that could completely change his life, if he let it.

This was a terrific story, and I hope that there will be a sequel. I would love to experience more of the adventures of the inhabitants of Carthage.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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What do you do when your dream job ends in unemployment and heartbreak? According to "The Last Enchantments," you pack up your life, leave your girlfriend in New York, and go to Oxford. And that is exactly what William Baker did.

William Baker grew up among the privileged. His family was older money. He had a slightly disturbing childhood, growing up with a stable mother and a drug addicted father whose family hid his problems with money. As a child he would dream up make-believe worlds to escape his young, sad life. After reading Holmes and C.S. Lewis, England became his dream world. And finally in England he had arrived.

England has never seemed like a magical place to me, but Charles Finch describes Oxford as if it were the Land Of Narnia. Everywhere you look, at an old building or a manicured garden, there was a magic of academia. There were bars at every college, dining halls built for kings, and punting on the river. Some of the best and brightest minds in the world, as well as some of the most powerful, had walked the lawns of Fleet, the college to which William belonged at Oxford.

If you ever have attended college, you know well the feeling of comfort that it provides. The world is not so scary on the grounds of a university. For a time everything is safe and happy in the land of learning. What is scary is the idea of what lays beyond. Will there be a job for me? Will love fit in the equation? Will I fit into the world? Will struggles with all these ideas. He wonders if there was even a point to getting a Master's Degree in English when his true love was politics. He wonders what will be left for him when he returns to the United States after his graduation. And, as we all do at some point, he questions whether or not he should even be there.

Charles Finch takes you on a ride with Will. You will feel his ups and downs, of which there are many. You start to question things right along with him. You love with him, and you mourn love lost with him. You meet exciting people who might remind you of ones you went to college with. Finch really has a way of writing that makes you feel like you are right there on the journey with William Baker and his friends. "The Last Enchantments" will leave you with a lasting impression.

By Kate Weidner, Director
New Brighton Public Library

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First, I have to acknowledge that I am a life- long admirer of Harry Houdini. When I saw his name mentioned in the description of this book, I just couldn't resist. I was prepared to enjoy The Confabulist, and I did. It was however, not quite what I expected it to be.

Many of us are fairly familiar with Harry Houdini who was first known by his family name of Weiss, Ehrich Weiss. He came from a family of immigrants and grew up to be one of the world's greatest illusionists. With his brother Dash at his side, he began his career as a magician in sideshows on Coney Island. It was while performing with Dash that he met his future wife, Bess, who spent many years working as his assistant. However, Bess remains well in the background of this story. The Confabulist goes into some detail about how some of his stunts and illusions were performed. Those of us who still believe in magic may decide to believe it, or not.

With the story being related narration style, this book covers a great deal of historical ground. The narrator is Martin Strauss who more or less begins by confessing to having been the one to cause Houdini's death. That this is an alternate history was what I found surprising and intriguing. Intermingled with the storyline of Houdini's life, is the rather convoluted and occasionally confusing tale of Mr. Strauss himself who receives an unlikely and disturbing report on his own health in the beginning of the book. We are carried back and forth in time and between the lives of these two men. Their connection is revealed slowly and with enough detail to inform, but not so much that it becomes tedious.

Included, although not in nearly the detail that I would have expected, is his crusade against Spiritualists and Mediums who professed to be able to contact those who have crossed to the other side. Many sources portray Houdini as conflicted about this, both wanting to find a true connection with his mother who died and wanting to expose those who were nothing more than frauds. In fact, this became something of an obsession of his, according to many sources. We are also led to believe, in this version of the illusionist's life, that he did work for the United States government.

The ending of Galloway's version of the story was not at all what I expected, but well worth the journey to get there. I'm not sure whether to recommend this book to fans of magicians, alternate history, or mysteries. I think that fans of all of the above genres will enjoy its mix of real characters and imaginary ones.

The author of The Confabulist also wrote The Cellist of Sarajevo chosen as one of the Washington Post's Best Books of 2008.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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To title a book The Enchanted suggests that it is about elves and wizards with a setting in a magical kingdom and science fiction or fairy tales as the genre. Instead, author Rene Denfeld set her novel The Enchanted in a state penitentiary with inmates, guards, the warden, a fallen priest, and an investigator for characters. The description of prison life fills the book with a gritty realism that takes it far out of the fairy tale genre.

The narrator describes in detail his death row cell with its stoned walls and no windows. When the river beside the prison floods its banks, all the cells on the row fill with water. The meals the prisoners are given in their cells are made from food that grocery stores have thrown away and have been rejected by soup kitchens. Usually, it is hard to tell exactly what the food is.

The visiting room for death row is small with a cage to hold the inmate during the professional visits. The lawyers think their clients want to see them, but the real reason the inmates go is to see out the window in that room. Once their visit is done, the inmate is returned to his cell with no window, no fresh air, a flat cot, and an open toilet. They can tell the other inmates about that scrap of sky they saw while in the visitor's room. No inmate ever lies about that.

The prisoners are criminals of the worst sort. "In the books, the baby killers and rapists are hated in prison. That is not the truth...You can be the worst baby killer or rapist and still beat and rape your way to power inside," according to the narrator.

This prison is a corrupt one. Though the warden is a good man, one guard in particular, Conroy, is crooked. Conroy runs a drug ring within the prison, bullies the inmates and guards alike, and even arranges to have an inmate kill a guard. In one heart-breaking situation Conroy uses a teen-aged inmate as a reward for a pedophile informant. The warden seems totally unaware, perhaps because he is absorbed by his wife's battle with cancer.

Super-imposed on all this misery is the story of the fallen priest and the lady. Neither character is ever named. The priest left the church but still serves at the prison. The lady is a death penalty investigator. She has been hired by the lawyers to find evidence to stay the execution. The inmate, however, does not want her help. In fact, he asked for all appeals to stop and for his execution to proceed. It is the first time the lady has worked for someone who does not want to live. Without his co-operation the lady looks into the inmate's background, a sad childhood that is eerily similar to her own past. As the fallen priest and the lady work together to try to save this inmate, they help each other. They slowly learn to accept themselves and their feelings for each other.

As grim as the setting is and as devastating as the inmates' stories are, The Enchanted is a beautiful and wondrous book. Rene Denfeld wrote three previous books of nonfiction and is a death penalty investigator herself. Her experience shows in this her first novel. When starting to read this book, be sure to have some time free. It is riveting, spellbinding, and nearly impossible to put down.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library, Beaver Falls

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Losing a sibling is tragic at any age. Being raised by a single parent of the opposite sex can be difficult for children. These combined hardships are part of the lives of the main characters in two books written for teens, Sure Signs of Crazy and Coaltown Jesus. Both of the teen-aged protagonists do find help, but in quite different places.

Walker, in Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge, lives with his mother in the nursing home that she manages. His father died years ago. His brother died recently, and his mother hasn't stopped crying. One evening Walker looks up at the sky and asks, "…if you are up there, help my mom, okay?" When he goes back inside, he finds Jesus standing in his bedroom. Though he is wearing robes and has the traditional look, Jesus is not the usual Messiah figure. He emails, likes Dairy Queen, and plays basketball. He and Walker develop a joking and teasing kind of relationship. His views on the Bible are rather irreverent. The whole damnation business gives God a bad name, according to Jesus. Also, the Gospel of Mary should have been included in the Bible since Mary had a wicked sense of humor. But Jesus is all-knowing and merciful. When Walker and he visit the nursing home's patients, Jesus tells Walker what to say to make each resident feel better. Most importantly to Walker, Jesus leads him to reconnect with his mother, which helps her as well as Walker. The message that love is everything is loud and clear. Writing in free verse, Ron Koertge humanizes Jesus while taking on some of life's biggest questions.

In Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington, Sarah Nelson lost her twin ten years ago when their mother filled the kitchen sink and tried to drown them both. Sarah managed to survive, her brother wasn't as lucky. Although her mother isn't dead, she may as well be since she's in a mental hospital that Sarah never visits. After her mother's trial and conviction her father was put on trial for child endangerment. In spite of the not guilty verdict, the extensive news coverage never stopped. Sarah's life is a series of moves as her father tries to avoid the continuing harassment by the press. A college professor, her father deals with the pain in his life by numbing it with alcohol. Sarah may not know her parents, but she knows the best cure for a hangover. Because of her need to keep her past a secret, Sarah won't allow herself to become close to any friends. Her fear of ending up like her mother makes Sarah constantly monitor her own behavior for signs of insanity.

Her English teacher gave Sarah's class the assignment of writing a real letter, not an email or a text, but an actual letter to anyone they chose. Fictional characters were acceptable since the lesson was on writing and no replies were expected. While most of the class wrote to Harry Potter, Sarah chose to write to Atticus Finch, the father in To Kill a Mockingbird. She enjoyed the assignment so much that she continues writing to Atticus through summer vacation. Expressing her feelings and putting down all of her problems on paper helps Sarah to know what she truly thinks. Eventually, she discovers a way to get the help she needs.

Both books take sad situations and have the characters find their way to a better place. Both use humor in their warm-hearted stories of growing up. Both books are worthwhile reading for adults as well as teens.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library, Beaver Falls

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The Plover: A Novel by Brian Doyle is a story as deep as the ocean and just as vast. Declan is a dreamer who is undeniably filled with both wisdom and whimsy. Off he sails on the Plover, headed west, west, west. He is going to sail alone and be alone and dream and observe and then, life begins to happen to him.

Declan's solo voyage becomes a bit crowded. He is joined by a somewhat motley crew. They all begin to rely upon one another in order to become a family. Their story is improbable, not impossible! But surely it must be true, because no one can make up characters like these. A novel it is!

Brian Doyle has written what amounts to be a masterpiece for those of us who read for the friendship of the characters, the love of the people within the pages. If I don't care about the characters in a book, I don't like the book. What's the point of it, I think? And even though I love the characters here, I strive to find the reason, the what is it and why of it?

Declan, Pico, Pipa...what kind of story are you in? Is this a story of the life of Declan? Is it a tale of life at sea? I don't think it is a mystery, but it is certainly mysterious at times. There is a soft spirituality in this tale and a grim darkness as well. Wait! I think that's it. This is an allegory of life, it's not about life, it IS life. That is my take on this story.

We are all in life alone, but not really. We face our ups and downs, our moments of brilliant light, and fathomless darkness. We need no one but ourselves, and of course all of the others. For me, that is what this story represents. For you? Who knows. But I know this, you NEED to read this book. I think that it is one of those magical, mystical, marvelous stories that has a different meaning for us all. I will certainly be looking by more books written by Brian Doyle, and soon. This one is highly recommended for all.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Separation of Church and State by Joseph Max Lewis is not an easy book to classify. To call it Christian Fiction doesn't do it justice, because although it might be that, it is a Political Thriller that can be compared to books by some very well- known authors. I would describe his work as similar to that by David Baldacci, Vince Flynn, and Tom Clancy. All of these authors and more have, over time, made it to my must read list. Now, I will be adding Joseph Max Lewis to that list as well.

Lewis' Amazon bio begins by saying that "Joseph Max Lewis served as a member of an Operational Detachment in the U.S. Army's Seventh Special Forces Group, the storied Green Berets". That and his other experiences and achievements have certainly added to his ability to write a gripping story. I promise you, when you read any of his books, that is what you will be getting, a nail biter, a gripping, edge- of- the -seat story.

Some people avoid Political Fiction which is a shame. In my opinion there are few things as entertaining as shenanigans in our country's Capitol. Sometimes readers find it difficult to put aside their own politics and opinions and just enjoy the ride. I hope this isn't the case with those of you reading this review, because you will be depriving yourself of a great read. The fact that Joseph Max Lewis is a local author who uses our own region and familiar locales adds to an already wonderful story.

Protagonist Tim Lewis is a journalist for a well- known news network. He landed a one- time shot at anchoring a popular inside the Beltway news program when the regular host was out with the flu. A last minute snag occurred when an expected guest had to bow out to illness as well. Lewis tapped Cardinal Guzzetti, a well- known figure and member of the Catholic church, to step in and round out his panel. He did this without realizing that Guzzetti was "persona non grata" in that particular news agency. He would come to regret his invitation even before the program was finished. In fact, it was altogether possible that he would pay for that invitation with his life.

Unfortunately for Lewis, his boss is a member of a murderous brotherhood called the Society of Human Enlightenment, a group that at the very time the program was airing, was plotting to assassinate a Supreme Court Justice. This plot was one of the steps the Society was prepared to take to achieve its own deadly, hate- filled agenda.

What follows in the hours and days after the airing of the show that Lewis thought was going to bring him to the attention of his boss and perhaps give a boost to his career, is fast- paced ,exciting and leads us with great anticipation to an unexpected ending that will leave the reader wanting more!

Highly recommended!

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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In this world of social media, of immediate gratification, and Facetime, individuality, and hoarding, it is hard to consider a time when sacrifice reigned supreme. A time when fathers and brothers bravely signed their lives to the service of their country, when women worked in factories, and children gave their tin toys up to become tanks.

There was a time that today will never know, that now will never understand. Despite our inability to empathize, we are fortunate for those that canonized. The soldiers of yesterday were scholars, were farm hands, were barbers, and were poets. They forever eulogized a generation.

"Most soldier-poets - like most soldiers - believed the War to be necessary, but wanted the costs acknowledged and the truths told" (Kendall). The truths these poets told were truths that no one else would ever understand. Richard Aldington noted that, "there are two types of men, those who have been to the front and those who haven't." These men had a ken beyond the reach of civilians, but they also reached out to civilians. They used their fierce patriotism and their poetic talent to write to their loved ones - pieces of beauty amongst the omniscient atrocity.

Poems were sorrows, were testaments of love, loss, and hope. Poems were moments in time that are solidified into eternity and give a glimpse into the depths of the human experience that we may never experience.

Kendall has collected these moments, written on bloodied pages, and comprised them into one collection. Poems are organized by author, allowing the reader to view the War from one man's eyes at a time, capturing entire experiences, rather than one subject at a time.

Each piece is supplemented by informative footnotes. These give context that offer insight to why each poem was written and the social impact that it had. Some pieces were love stories to a country, were odes to a fallen comrade, or odes to a fallen enemy. There were pieces of frustration, loyalty, and sheer wonder at the capabilities of man. But each piece is a moment, a synecdoche of a generation.

It is important to remember the past in order to create a brighter future. It is important to know our predecessors to unify as a people. It is important to recognize the significance of art to a culture. "Poetry of the First World War" is an opportunity to indulge of each of these responsibilities.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left to grow old/Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn./At the going down of the sun and in the morning/We will remember them." - "For the Fallen", Laurence Binyon

Jordan Watson
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls Library
New Brighton Public Library

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It seems as though just about any book that is set in the South with a preteen girl as one of the main characters will be compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winner. With this standard of excellence being used, it is a wonder that any author has the courage to place a young female protagonist in that setting. Wiley Cash did just that in This Dark Road to Mercy, his newest novel. However, the differences between the two books are pretty significant. As author Jess Walter described it, This Dark Road to Mercy is "Harper Lee by way of Elmore Leonard." It is certainly more modern, taking place during the summer of the McGwire-Sosa homerun record derby. Cash's heroine, Easter, does not have an older brother to help her. She has a younger sister, Ruby, who relies on Easter. Their mother died recently of a drug overdose, which made for the heartbreaking scene of Easter finding her body. Their father is not the wise and admirable Atticus. Instead, Easter and Ruby have Wade, an exconvict who signed away his parental rights years ago. But like Atticus, Wade does love his children very much.

Without any next of kin nearby, the two girls are placed into foster care. Their maternal grandparents who live in Alaska are trying to get through all the legal hoopla to claim custody. This is taking quite some time, but Easter and Ruby are in no hurry to move in with the grandparents they hardly know. Their mother left Alaska in her teens and had nothing good to say about her home state. So when Wade crawls through their bedroom window at their foster home to talk the girls into leaving with him, Easter decides it is the safe thing to do.

Once on the road Easter reconsiders that choice. They have the law looking for them. After all, Wade has no legal claim to the girls, even though he is their father. Technically, he is kidnapping them. The court appointed Brady Weller to be the girls' legal advocate. When he hears they have disappeared from their foster home, Brady takes up the chase too. And then there is Robert Pruitt, a former baseball player who played in the minors with Wade. He blames Wade for his baseball career coming to an early end. When he gets wind of Wade being on the road, Pruitt is on their trail also.

Told by Easter, Brady, and Pruitt in rotation, the story of this road trip makes for quite an adventure. Eventually, Wade decides to take his daughters to St. Louis to see Mark McGwire hit a home run. As they travel, Easter begins to forgive Wade for his earlier desertion, creating some touching scenes. As Pruitt closes in, the story grows as suspenseful as any thriller. As Brady tries to rescue the girls and do the right thing for them, the story has some thoughtful parts.

Best-selling author Christopher Moore wrote about This Dark Road to Mercy: "A 'little Southern girl' meets both creepy and loveable ne'er-do-wells. One of the best books I've read in the past year." Now, just because Christopher Moore writes good books doesn't mean that he reads good books. And who knows what else he has read in the past year? But he is right about this: This Dark Road to Mercy is one of the best.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library, Beaver Falls

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In her first novel, Loving Frank, Nancy Horan tells the story of the complex relationship of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. In this novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, based on the lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osborne, she continues in this vein. The theme of both novels depicts how these women defied society's conventions to be with the men they loved. The title of the book originates from the poem, Requiem, written by Stevenson.

This second novel is an intimate portrait of the lives of Fanny and Louis, as she calls him. Based on actual facts there is much emphasis on the effect Fanny has on Louis's life, personally, medically, and creatively.

Their life together begins with their meeting at Genz. Louis goes there to meet his bohemian friends. There he meets Fanny, 10 years his senior, and is almost instantly smitten. Fanny, who is there to paint and escape the unimaginable loss of her young son and her marriage to a philandering husband, is much more reticent.

Eventually, she and Louis do fall in love and live together for a time. Fanny decides to give her marriage another chance, although she loves Louis. She returns to America, and much to her dismay she finds her husband has not changed.

Louis, determined to win Fanny back, travels on a tramp steamer despite his chronic illness. He arrives in America, his health broken by the arduous journey, near death. Eventually, he reunites with Fanny who had also been very ill. Fanny is now divorced, and she and Louis are finally married.

So begins their nomadic existence. This marriage of opposites is full of love, inspiration, and eventual loss. Fanny subverts her own creative existence to help her husband's creativity. Often she nurses him back from his many close calls with death. Despite the hardships of Victorian Age travel, they go from place to place searching for where Louis can regain his health, live more comfortably, and continue to write. Their search takes them from America, Switzerland, England, Australia, and finally to Samoa. Through much of their travels they are on a boat, and Fanny, who has terrible bouts of seasickness, is violently ill.

In Samoa Louis seems to be happy and leads a most fulfilling life. He begins a frenzy of creativity often working long hours. Fanny, who herself wanted to be a writer, is often relegated to nursemaid. She is instrumental in his success as she reads and critiques his writing and often gets him to make changes.

Marge D'Eramo
Friend of the Beaver Library

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In the recently published novel, Starter House by Sonja Condit, Lacey and Eric Miszlak are house hunting. The couple has a limited budget and very strict criteria for the woman showing them available homes. After showing them many homes in the specified area, they accidentally end up with their realtor in front of a home that is clearly undergoing renovations. Lacey has fallen in love with the place and is sure that this is where her family will live and grow, but Eric isn't so sure. He has no time, no energy, and no money for a fixer- upper.

The owner of the home happens to live next door. He is a seemingly nice man, but he seems very anxious to sell. Even though their agent tries to discourage them, all she will say is that people died in that home. Lacey rationalizes that people die everywhere, and any house that has been standing for a while probably has had a death. When an offer that they really can't refuse comes from the seller along with a handy excuse regarding why he is willing to let it go so cheaply, the deal is sealed. Before the Miszlaks are even moved in, the house begins to affect the young couple. To be more specific, Drew, a child on a bike, appears. He does actually appear, but only Lacey sees him. It takes her a while to realize that she is the only one who sees him. From her first contact with the boy, things begin to go wrong. This is especially frightening, because Lacey is pregnant with their first child.

She begins to investigate the history of the home and finds that there have indeed been deaths there. Not only have children died, but families have been torn apart. Eric becomes concerned when Lacy continues to insist that she sees a ghost, one that appears to her not just in the home but in other places as well. The tempermental Drew is able to do more than just appear. He causes damage to the home and is threatening toward Lacey. Eric becomes increasingly concerned and irritated with his wife. He calls in his flakey mother-in-law, Ella Dane, to help him watch over his wife. She arrives with her little dog and is prepared to do spiritual cleansing and watch over her daughter. Problems only increase.

This is a good solid read which is not too spooky, but just about right for those who enjoy a light read.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Books have a tendency to follow a person, as if the characters' experiences actually belonged to the reader. This phenomenon trickles into motives, beliefs, and thoughts. Books are how recluses can become public figures, the frightened become knights in shining armor, and anyone can find their way into Andrew's brain.

Renowned author E.L. Doctorow has crafted another masterpiece, though on the scale nearly that of a short story. Known for his historical and political pieces, Doctorow has taken us to the head of the present man in "Andrew's Brain."

With a limited cast of characters, Doctorow explores questions of humanity from the inside out. The entire book is a running inner dialogue from Andrew, occasionally with brief interjections by an apparent psychoanalyst.

Andrew lives the life of one of Rosten's schlemiel - a man plagued by bad luck at the expense of others. At the time of his dialogue, he has caused the death of four individuals, including a wife and two daughters. A cognitive scientist, Andrew tackles the emotions of his mind with the science of his brain.

The danger of this piece is that it can be taken as the superficial drivel of a man with too many college degrees. But in classic Doctorowian style, he invites the reader to explore between the lines to discover, hypothesize, and assume.

In his soliloquy, Andrew leads the uninvited reader through strange experiences that are as tragic as the death of each person he's chosen to love, as odd as working for George W. Bush out of a converted broom closet in the White House basement, and as unexpected as meeting the dwarf family of Andrew's second love.

Doctorow has provided the catalyst for the deep thoughts of the reader, but in a manner that allows enough space between the lines for conversation with the characters. In this way, the reader is able to jump into the head of Andrew, join his query of the difference between mind and brain, and walk away from a story with questions.

Jordan Watson
New Brighton Public Library
Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls

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When a novel is well written, readers and characters build relationships. Each seeks more from the other and neither can truly be known. Novels provide questions and room for the imagination to elucidate. These are the questions that are asked generation after generation and connect today's readers to those in the 19th century.

Charles Dickens, one of the great authors of our times, provided us with beautifully complex characters and an opportunity to get lost in a world today's readers could not otherwise know. Such is the world of Miss Havisham.

A spinoff, "Havisham" by Ronald Frame, is one man's interpretation of what made Miss Havisham into the character that haunts the pages of Dickens. Frame provided a past for who readers only knew to have a present.

Dubbed Catherine, the young Miss Havisham lived a childhood that we now know was full of learning, expectations, and scandals. Sent from her father's brewing company to a well-to-do family to learn to be a lady, Charlotte found herself amidst classic novels, masquerades, and constant lessons.

This is the world into which she was pushed, but was never fully accepted. This is the world where she could escape her sadistic half brother. This is the world where she met the young man who would inspire the infamous Havisham craze.

Worlds collide within "Havisham," but the largest collisions take place without of the book. Though an admittedly creative venture, "Havisham" does not meet the expectations of a "Great Expecations" spinoff.

The scale of the book is far more surmountable than that of "Great Expectations," but is so at great sacrifice. Gaps exist in the narrative where elucidation should occur and finalities are hastily met.

Though enjoyable to meet familiar characters in a different context, Frame's and Dickens' writings are so vastly different that being reintroduced results in meeting characters that aren't true to their original selves.

When approached as a separate entity from "Great Expectations," the reader finds an enjoyable read in "Havisham." Dialogue largely carries a flowing narrative that creates for an opportunity to spend an afternoon in an 1800s world of dances, betrayals, and lost love.

Jordan Watson
New Brighton Public Library
Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls

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'Neglected children' is a popular theme in books these days. Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but children whose parents, for one reason or another, ignore or abuse them are characters in many novels and memoirs. Whether the cause is their own bad upbringing, their addictions to any of a variety of substances, or plain narcissism, these parents' behavior evoke disgust, anger, or sometimes, pity. However, the father in The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson deserves gratitude, even admiration. Andy Kincain is a war veteran who served several tours of duty in the Middle East and has a bad case of post traumatic stress disorder. He is a single father who wants to do right by his teen-age daughter, but the ugly thoughts in his head get in the way. So PTSD affects not only Andy, but life for Hayley too. Any father can have a tough time raising a teenager. In Andy's case, there are times when it is Hayley who is doing the parenting.

When Andy failed to hold a steady job, he took to life on the road as a truck driver. Hayley went along, with Andy doing the homeschooling. That her education consisted of games and quizzes in the cab of a big rig bothered no one. Then Andy's attacks grew worse. It was as if all he could see, hear, and feel were scenes from the war. So he suggested that he quit driving and they settle into a 'normal life' where Hayley could go to a regular school for her senior year. Hayley agreed, because she thought this would make life better for her dad. But she was secretly and completely terrified by the thought of high school. They moved back to the town where Andy grew up, and Hayley enrolled in the public school.

Because of her unusual lifestyle, Hayley had no real friends or even any prolonged interaction with people her own age. She feels socially clueless. A girl in the neighborhood, Gracie, takes Hayley under her wing before school starts. At least Hayley has one familiar face in the halls and someone to sit with at lunch. She can't seem to stay out of trouble, though.

Hayley dozes in classes, corrects her teachers, and racks up detention time, eleven times in twenty-four days of school. Like most people in a new situation, Hayley doesn't understand all the unwritten rules of life here. When she becomes attracted to Finn, Hayley is even more confused. He seems to like her, so is it okay to call him? Should she stop at his locker? She doesn't know what to do. Gracie's no help since she is submerged in her family's drama. Her father moved out, and Gracie's mom isn't coping. Hayley's father is in no shape to answer questions. He doesn't want to talk, eat, or do anything but sit in front of the television. Gradually he grows even worse, using both alcohol and drugs to get through a day. Hayley becomes afraid to leave him alone and starts missing more and more school. Finn tells Hayley, "You take care of him more than he takes care of you."

A gripping and suspenseful occurrence brings the situation to a satisfying conclusion. Though Laurie Halse Anderson writes for teen readers, she has dealt with such serious problems as date rape and eating disorders. In this book she writes effectively about PTSD, a problem that isn't going to go away. With pages of Andy's thoughts interspersed throughout, the book shows how badly the disease affects the minds of its victims. The Impossible Knife of Memory gives insight and understanding to people who have PTSD and the members of their families who suffer with them.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls

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"The Lost Girls of Rome" is a thrilling murder mystery that takes place in Rome. A young widow, who works as a forensic photographer, is grieving the loss of her husband. He died just months earlier in a freak accident while on assignment as a photojournalist. A phone call to Sandra, the widow, late one night reveals that maybe David's death had not been an accident at all-it was murder.

Sandra begins a chase that takes her from Milan to Rome. A series of clues left by her dead husband will guide her from historic location to location, revealing the secrets of an age-old sect of priests. These men work under the guise of the Vatican, but in truth were banned from their positions years earlier. It is during this time that we are introduced to Marcus, a penitenziere, a member of the secret group. This group is so exclusive that the members don't even know who the others are, or even if there are any. Marcus is suffering from amnesia as a result of a traumatic injury. The truth behind this injury unravels as the book progresses. Is Marcus really who they say he is? He is on a mission to find out.

During Sandra's travels to Rome, a serial killer is uncovered. He is to blame for the death of at least four women, and another one is missing. Marcus has been charged with finding her. Sandra is in danger, having been shot at in a chapel where a clue was hidden. Sandra meets a handsome Interpol officer, the one who leads her to believe her husband was murdered. He is handsome with a slight German accent. He insists that Sandra give him any information that she may have, and in turn Sandra insists that they work together to solve David's murder. The one problem that Sandra doesn't know is that Schalber, the Interpol officer, had disappeared a year ago. Who really was this man?

In the meantime, you are introduced to someone called "The Hunter." His identity is never revealed and neither is the name of his "prey." He travels around the world looking for something called the "transformist." His travels take him to Mexico, France, Canada, Vienna, and Prypiat (the town next to the ill-fated Chernobyl Nuclear facility). His prey was a serial killer, leaving faceless bodies all over the world.

Donato Carrisi brilliantly works the story lines behind all these characters into one novel. Every twist and turn neatly brings the story into focus. Carrisi will bring you to the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next. You will not be able to set this book down until it is finished and all your questions are answered.

Kate Weidner, Director
New Brighton Public Library

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Still Life with Bread Crumbs, a novel by Anna Quindlen, is a beautifully written story about the unwinding of a woman's life. Rebecca was an only child. She married and became the mother of an only child. She made a good living for a fairly long time as a photographer, but that nearly happened by accident. It seemed that not many things happened in Rebecca's life, but the best things and the most important things were accidental.

At a point in her life when Rebecca began to feel that her life as an artist was waning, she decided to take some time for herself. She found and rented, sight unseen, a small cabin outside of a small town in a remote but lovely area. She expected to spend a year alone, secluded with her thoughts and her camera. She never expected this experience to change her life in every possible way.

Rebecca's necessary trips into town for supplies introduced her to the locals, and to her surprise they became friends. There was a special closeness that they offered to each other and extended to Rebecca. She began to enjoy her trips to town more and more. She also began to hike the woods and find opportunities to photograph the sorts of found art that had once made her so renowned. Rebecca began to hope that she might once again make a living for herself with her camera. Little did she know that this found art would help to create a connection for her that she never again expected to have in her life.

During her sojourn she still had the responsibilities of her aging parents, and seeing to their care took her back to the city to visit with them and see to their needs. While she loved them, she was always anxious to return to her small cabin in the woods and the life she was creating there.

This book was so filled with hope and joy and feelings that sometimes, some of us who have reached a certain age, feel will never be part of our lives again. It is a strong reminder that grown children and changes in a way of life can bring us to a time of contentment and pleasure that we thought we had left behind.

I always knew that all good things had to come to an end, but it never occurred to me that an ending would become a good thing and not an ending after all. Perhaps it is true that each ending is nothing but a new beginning in disguise. Anna Quindlan never lets me down. This book draws the reader in and gives pleasure, just as all of Quindlan's books have done for years.

Very Good Read.
Recommended.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Written by J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter series, under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, "The Cuckoo's Calling" suffers being judged by many of its readers not for its content, but for its author.

Readers are shamefully spending more time noting the differences between "The Cuckoo's Calling" and Harry Potter, rather than engrossing themselves in Rowling's first attempt at mystery literature.

With all of the whodunit of Gillian Flynn and all of the gritty realism of Rowling's "Casual Vacancy," "The Cuckoo's Calling" exhibits the Rowling's laudable knack for characterization. She creates personalities that you can sometimes love and sometimes hate, but that you can always believe exist.

These characters function within beautifully parodic pages: a burly has-been PI, accompanied by his smart, beautiful assistant track down the killer of the world's favorite supermodel. Our protagonist faces his past while chasing the present down winding trails of lies, evidence, and intuition. The narrative is given a soundtrack of jackhammers and flashbulbs and screams and the stage is set with all of the damp streets, drawn blinds, and tense conversations of a film noir.

To read "The Cuckoo's Calling" was to be a part of a classic tale of motive, mystery, and murder. It joined the worlds of the celebrity and of the layman in a way that anyone could relate to. It kept the reader guessing, no matter how sure they were of who committed the crime. It made the reader want to read more about characters with "face[s] the colour of corned beef" being chased by "long-snouted cameras." It combined all of Rowling's ability to paint a picture, to create a person, to engage a reader with her desire to discover new genres of her writing.

"The Cuckoo's Calling" was no Harry Potter saga, it was no "Casual Vacancy," and for that, Rowling is to be kudized. It is an entity in and of itself that deserves as much recognition as the exposure of its author. Set Potter aside and give Cormoran Strike the chance to draw you in.

Jordan Watson
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls
New Brighton Public Library

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When the wind is howling and the temperature dips into the single digits, few things are more satisfying than settling in with a good book and a warm beverage. When the book is about a walk through the English countryside in the spring when the flowers are just emerging, the satisfaction level rises accordingly.

Such was the case with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by first-time novelist Rachel Joyce.

Harold has recently retired from a desk job at a brewery and lives with his wife Maureen in Kingsbridge, a village in the south of England. In the first few pages we see that Harold is ill-equipped for retirement and irritates Maureen as his presence interrupts her routine. One day, after he rests from mowing their small yard, he receives a letter from someone he worked closely with many years ago. The someone is a woman, Queenie Hennessey, and she writes that she is in a hospice dying of cancer and wants Harold to know that she has been thinking of him. Harold is nonplussed and sets about penning a note in return. After several false starts he finally is satisfied with his effort and strides off to post the letter to the hospice in Berwick on Tweed in Scotland. As he passes post box after post box, he can't seem to part with the letter. He keeps telling himself he'll just walk to the next one.

At the edge of town he stops for a snack and tells the young girl at the counter about his friend who is dying. The girl replies that her aunt had cancer, but it is important to stay positive. "You have to believe. That's what I think. It's not about medicine and all that stuff. There is so much in the human mind that we don't understand. But..if you have faith, you can do anything."

Thus the seed was planted. Harold ponders her simple statement and decides that he is going to walk to the hospice to deliver his letter. He tells the nun at the hospice to tell Queenie to hold on until he gets there. So this unlikely knight, wearing his light windbreaker and yachting shoes, sets off on the six-hundred-mile quest to bring hope to an old friend. (A comparable feat would be walking from Beaver County to the Poconos and back.) When he phones to tell Maureen what he's going to do, she scoffs and says, "I'd like to see you get past Dartmoor."

Along the way, of course, things do not go smoothly. Harold has a lot of trouble with blisters-he ends up wrapping his feet in blue duct tape-but he meets many interesting people and he also has time to think, to ponder the direction his life has taken and to confront ghosts that have haunted him. At home, Maureen also reevaluates what her life has become.

Ms. Joyce's background spans more than twenty years playing leading roles in the English theater as well as writing plays for the BBC. This experience shows in her creation of Harold and Maureen. Other characters seem as familiar as those on the Saturday evening PBS shows. Ms. Joyce includes a great deal of typical British humor, and she delights in skewering the types of people who leech on to any kind of celebrity. The novel isn't perfect; she has a tendency to repeat a bit much. Perhaps a TV writer must do that to keep an audience focused.

She does a good job, though, of keeping to her Pilgrim's Progress motif and Harold certainly suffers some existential alienation toward the end of his journey. "No one could imagine such loneliness. He shouted once but no sound came back. He felt the cold deep inside him as if even his bones were freezing over. He closed his eyes to sleep, convinced he would not survive, and having no will to fight that."

A word not often used any more to describe people is "pluck" as in "He was a plucky chap" meaning he had the will to persevere when everything seemed to conspire against him. Harold was plucky and you'll want to read about his unlikely pilgrimage to see if he was lucky as well.

Doris Thompson
Beaver Area Memorial Library Board Member

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"Someone" by Alice McDermott is a tale that spans the life of Marie Commeford. It opens to find Marie, then an inquisitive seven year old, waiting for her father on the stoop of their Brooklyn row house. It is from this stoop that we are introduced to quite a few characters from Marie's predominantly Irish neighborhood. What often seems like a chance and flippant encounter always stays with little Marie. As the story progresses with Marie's age, the cast of characters from her stoop and her street continue to entwine in her life.

At the beginning of the story, Marie lives with her parents and her brother Gabe who is preparing for a life in the priesthood. Marie's father has a drinking problem, and her mother often has to go into the city to retrieve him after an afternoon binge. He was a nice and gentle man, however, and Marie loved him. Her best friend Gerty lived just down the street, and she spent a lot of time there as well. Gabe goes into the seminary, but shortly after having his own parish he leaves the priesthood under mysterious circumstances.

As time passes, some of the people in Marie's life leave also. She tries to learn how to cook, but finds she is quite a failure at it. She meets a boy and plans to marry once she finished school. Suddenly one day, her boyfriend tells her is going to marry someone else. So once she finishes her schooling, her only option is to get a job. She looks and looks and finally gets hired at the local funeral parlor, where once again the lives of everyone in the neighborhood meet. Her job there is to be the "consoling angel." She greets mourners, takes their coats, and directs them to the appropriate room. It is here that she meets a string of beaus.

Marie meets a man named Tom at a party. They get married, move into an apartment, and have a child. The birthing process almost kills Marie, but through the course of her life she will have three more children. They age, move to the suburbs, and raise their children in a fairly normal fashion. At one point after the death of Marie's mother, her brother Gabe has a mental breakdown. After treatment he goes to stay with Marie, and it's just like the old days of Brooklyn.

Alice McDermott has woven a tale so thickly intertwined. The characters come and go, but they are so memorable, and they each leave a little something with Marie. The book is so detailed that you can follow the decline of their Brooklyn neighborhood and envision each room in the funeral parlor. You felt the emotions, as had Marie, the feeling of awkwardness at your first kiss, the first night as a married couple, the pride in your child. This is a fantastic novel.

Kate Weidner, Director
New Brighton Public Library

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J. J. Abrams is a creative soul. He has written over a dozen movie scripts, was the producer for five of them, created about a half dozen television series, was the producer for fifteen shows, wrote the scripts for and directed several of those, composed theme music for three programs, and acted in five movies as well as a television show. His work has been nominated for and has won numerous awards, including five Emmy's. Clearly this is a talented man. Now he has conceived a novel entitled S. The writing credit is listed as Doug Dorst, but it is Abrams' name on the spine label. With Abrams involvement, it is not surprising how very inventive the book turns out to be.

When purchased, the book comes in a cardboard slipcover. But once that is removed, it appears to be an entirely different volume entitled "Ship of Thesus" written by V. M. Straka. The cover, the spine, the title page, and all the copyright information indicates that this book is "Ship of Thesus", published in 1949 by Wing Shoe Press. The pages are even yellowed. Included with the book are twenty-one additional items: maps, postcards, photographs, letters that are two or three pages long, and more which supplement the story of the book.

When the book is opened, there is a huge shock for anyone who cares about books. The margins throughout are covered with handwriting. Some of the lines in the book are underlined. There are even doodles in several places. Making for colorful pages, some of the writing is in red ink, some in orange, some in blue, some in black, and some in pencil-lead gray. The handwriting is in two quite distinct styles: one is a flowing script and the other a block print.

So, besides the actual printed text of the book, there is the handwritten story in the margins to read. The written notes consist of a conversation between two college students who are studying the text. Eric was the first to make notes in the book using a pencil. Jen found the book, became absorbed in it, and wrote replies to Eric in blue ink. She challenged him by writing, "you totally missed something important." He continued the dialog in black ink. At first they choose not to meet but instead leave the book in a designated spot in the library and write messages to each other inside it. As their relationship changes, so does the color of their inks. They go through the book at least twice, and their later notes comment on the earlier ones. Confusing? Yes, at first, but it's all very entertaining. Even when the messages are ordinary, like when Jen and Eric complain about professors or tease each other, their conversation is fun to read. The notes grow engrossing as the two students try to discover the true identity of V.M.Straka, a writer who reputedly worked in the resistance during WW II. "Ship of Thesus" is the last of Straka's nineteen novels. Eric and Jen believe it is full of clues to exactly who he was and to his wartime activities.

For readers who like straightforward stories with all questions answered by the end, this book would be a nightmare. Just the layout can be difficult to follow as the plot trickles through the pages in different colors and handwriting. However, it is a book that is as intriguing as it is different. Abram's creativity and originality is on display. The entire story is never told, but there is enough to spark curiosity and to be thought provoking. In S, it is not the destination but the journey through it which makes the book worthwhile reading.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls

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Nineteen year old Matthew Homes received a writing assignment that he is determined to finish. The person who gave him this task was not his teacher or professor, but his doctor. Matthew was a patient in a mental hospital, and even after his release he continued his story. This homework is what makes up Where the Moon Isn't, Nathan Filer's first novel.

Matthew has a distinctive voice, and his story rambles around as different thoughts occur to him. He describes his life from elementary school to the psych ward. Working up to relating what happened the night ten years ago that changed everything, Matthew introduces the reader to his parents, his extended family, and his brother. "His name is Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that."

Not only was Simon not the same, neither was Matthew. The family was on vacation at the Oceanside Holiday Park. The boys went out to play late one night, and only Matthew came back. Though the police called it an accident, the family's reactions make that finding suspect. Matthew talks about the details, but not until the end of the book does he explain exactly what happened to his brother that night. Instead, he talks about his life. Immediately after the family returned home, Matthew's mom decided to take him out of school to teach him at home. That decision not only isolated Matthew but gave him a less than ideal education. Matthew was a clever child at nine years old and passed the curriculum easily. Soon he realized that his perfect test scores made his mother feel useless. He began to make mistakes on purpose, so she would have something to teach him. It became obvious that Mum was using homeschooling Matthew to avoid her own problems.

According to Matthew, he did make a friend immediately once he returned to school. But Jacob came from a troubled family, and there were problems. As his illness grew worse, Matthew could barely function, and he ended up in the hospital. His description of living in a mental health facility is very detailed. He tells his readers exactly what it is like to be kept on an acute psychiatric ward for day after day after day after day. The pills he takes with their common side effects, the injections he has, the tests he takes, the tedium of the everyday schedule, and the meetings where everyone talks about him make Matthew feel everything he does is decided for him. The one thing he thinks he has any control over is the way he chooses to tell his story. He keeps on writing after he is allowed to move into an apartment on his own. Through his relapse and return to the hospital, then back to independent living, Matthew continues with his story.

As his mind moves in and out of madness, Matthew's story gets so dark it is difficult to see any happiness for this character. However, Where the Moon Isn't shows Matthew's resiliency, his strength as he deals with his illness, and most of all, his love for his brother and his family. Moving and memorable, this book is well worth reading.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library, Beaver Falls

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Jhumpa Lahiri has given us one of the great fiction reads of the year with her book The Lowland that begins with the lives of two brothers born fifteen months apart in India. Although opposites they still have a very close relationship as they are growing up, but their lives take them in radically different directions.

The younger Udayan is charismatic and impulsive. He remains in India and is drawn into the militant Naxalite movement which originated in the 1960s, the period of Udayan's involvement. He is passionate in his beliefs and very willing to take risks. The older Subhash on the other hand is more serious and cautious in life, and he does not share his brother's political passion. Subhash moves to America and pursues an academic life in scientific research while Udayan becomes increasingly involved in the tactics of guerilla warfare against his government.

Character development in The Lowland is impeccable, and the description of life in Calcutta is vivid. The book is both historical and suspenseful and revolves around a tragedy with one brother and the life changing consequences to the other. The title of the book refers to a piece of land between two ponds in the neighborhood where the brothers grew up, and it figures prominently in the story line.

Spanning fifty years, two continents, and two generations Jhumpa Lahiri describes commitment to honorable intentions and endurance to the rejection of those intentions. The Lowland is an engrossing and complex read with revelations that continue right to the end.

The author won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her debut collection Interpreter of the Maladies written in 1999. The Lowland is her fourth book and should appeal to many readers.

Diane Wakefield






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