02. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Claudia, Fiction

Out of my mind by Sharon Draper, 295 pages, read by Claudia, on 02/19/2013

After repeatedly hearing what a great book this is from several people, and most importantly my 10 year old son, I decided to read it out loud to my 8 year old daughter.  Neither of were prepared for the emotional impact his book would have on us and for me, it lingers in my mind to this day.  Meet Melody.  She is a 5th grader who suffers from cerebral palsy. Although Melody has never spoken a single word or walked one step, she is one brillant young girl.  Her mind is always working overtime! This book is about assumptions….the ones we make about people who are different than us, especially people with disabilites.  Everyone in Melody’s world assumes just because her body doesn’t work that her brain doesn’t either.  This book is told in Melody’s unsentimental voice, and she tells it exactly how it is!  With the exception of her parents and another caregiver, she is considered invisible and incapable of interaction, let alone actually being able to learn something or contribute in a classroom setting.  She is literally going “out of her mind” from boredom and frustration and the inability ot express herself.  She is wasting away in school classes that don’t even begin to quench her thirst for learning….until a special teacher sees her potential.  Soon after, with the help of her devoted after-school care giver, Melody acquires a medi-talker (a machine that gives her a voice) and a whole new world is opens up to her….but it isn’t necessarily an accepting one.  Melody still struggles against preconceived notions about her and her disability….even from teachers!  This book is a must read for 3-6 graders, and is a Mark Twain nominee with a strong chance of winning this year’s award.  My money is on Sharon Draper!  This is a great book with a tough, but realistic ending.

07. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, 328 pages, read by Claudia, on 02/19/2013

Mudbound is a modern classic in my estimation.  It currently resides in my top ten list, and Jordan is my new one-to-watch favorite author.  I am already trying to find out when her next book will be published!     Mudbound was Jordan’s 2006 debut novel  and it was honored with the Bellwether prize for fiction.  The book is about prejudice. The year is 1946 and Laura McAllan is struggling to raise her children on her husband’s muddy Mississippi Delta farm., a place she dislikes from the outset and grows to hate.   In the midst of the family’s farm struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura’s brother-in-law, who is everything her husband is not—-charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, who has come home a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its  heartbreaking conclusion. The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy we know was lived out by so many others years ago.

06. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction

When she woke by Jordan, Hillary, 344 pages, read by Claudia, on 01/01/2013

I had the great pleasure of discovering the writing of Hillary Jordan back in December when I read her first novel Mudbound (2006).  Mudbound received the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, and a heck of a writer was introduced to the world.  Her 2nd novel was highly anticipated, and I truly meant to read it long before I did!  It is an amazing read and incredibly hard to put down.  You just have to know what happens and the sooner the better!

When She Woke tells the story of highly likable Hannah Payne, struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been severed and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned.  Instead, their skin is genetically altered (chromed is the term the author uses) to match the class of their crimes-and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; she has undergone an abortion.  She has refused to give up the name of the Father and the man who performed the abortion.

Upon her release into a brutally hostile world, Hannah begins to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

04. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, 416 pages, read by Claudia, on 01/23/2013

The Thirteenth Tale is a true literary masterpiece in the Gothic novel tradition.  It is charming, yet equally mysterious and sinister.  Gothic fiction is a genre of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance.  It originated in England in the second half of the 18th century and had much success during the English romantic period with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and later Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  

The books begins as a reclusive young English woman, who spends her days working at her father’s antiquarian bookshop (and is a part-time biography writer), receives a peculiar letter from the most famous author of the day. Vida Winter (as she is known) has requested Miss Margaret Lea to pen the truth story of her life…her thirteenth tale!  And so our story begins.  This strange tale is complete with an eccentric family, love, hate, incest, twins, and of course… murder!  The reader fluctuates between repulsion and utter fascination. What is real?  What is imaginary? The reader won’t completely know until the very end.  The Thirteenth Tale is beautifully and cleverly written tale with an ending no one could ever imagine.

22. January 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: Claudia, Fiction, NonFiction

Christmas memory : One Christmas ; The Thanksgiving visitor by Truman Capote, 107 pages, read by Claudia, on 11/19/2012

I was fortunate enough years ago to help someone on the Reference Desk who was searching our shelves for these stories.  The patron explained to me she read them every year around the holidays.  I thought how special these stories must be for someone to make a point of reading them every year.  I decided to read them myself three years ago, and I can honestly say reading Capote’s stories is one of the best gifts I’ve given myself.  I don’t remember the patron who recommended them, but if I could, I would love to thank her for sharing her holiday tradition with me….which has now become one of mine.

Novelist and playwright Truman Streckfus Person was born in 1924 in New Orleans to a salesman and a 16-year-old beauty queen. His parents divorced when he was four years old and was then raised by relatives for a few years in Monroeville, Alabama.  His mother was remarried to a successful businessman, moved to New York, and Truman adopted his stepfather’s surname.   Capote said that some of his happiest memories are of his childhood in Alabama and with his beloved Aunt Sook. This single volume gathers Truman Capote’s three most beloved holiday stories. These short memoirs and tributes carry the strong, delicious scent of holiday nostalgia.  When reading these short stories,  I felt as if I were literally  transported back in time when life was simpler and where people like my own grandparents lived their lives.  Truman is 7 years old in The Christmas Memory and shares an elaborate tale of his and his aunt and their holiday fruit cake making adventures.  One cannot help but laugh out loud when they contact the local moonshiner about buying whiskey for their cakes (instead of taking their handfuls of saved pennies he asks for “one of them cakes”) instead.  Another funny moment  is when Truman and Sook are making their recipient list and include President and Mrs. Roosevelt.  They muse about the possibility of their fruitcake being served at the White House Christmas dinner.  Thanksgiving Visitor is another delightful tale of the local bully being invited to Truman’s home for Thanksgiving and the drama that ensues. One Christmas is a more sobering tale of young Truman being forced to spend Christmas away from his beloved Sook and his Alabama clan and instead travel to New York to visit the Father he does not know.  It’s a heartbreaking story with moments of humor infused throughout.  These stories are among my very favorites, and I hope if you give them a chance they become part of your Christmas tradition as well.

09. January 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction

Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey, 390 pages, read by Claudia, on 11/12/2012

I discovered this book in an online interview with Gillian Flynn….the interviewer asked her to list the best books she had read so far in 2012.  This title topped her list, and did not disappoint!  Flynn is an amazing writer in her own right and Marcus Sakey looks like an author to watch as well.

A man wakes up naked and cold, half-drowned on an abandoned beach in Maine of all places…
The only sign of life for miles is an empty BMW. Inside the expensive car he finds clothes that fit perfectly, shoes for his tattered feet, a Rolex, and an auto registration in the name of Daniel Hayes, resident of Malibu, California.
None of it is the least bit familiar. How did he get here? Who is he? While he searches for answers, he is being chased to down too, but has no idea beginning with the cops who kick in the door of his run-down motel with drawn guns. All he remembers is a woman’s face and that face is the star of a very popular television show…  he leaves Maine for California in search of this strangely familiar face in hopes of uncovering his true identity. But that raises the most chilling question of all…
What will he find when he gets there?


06. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn , 257 pages, read by Claudia, on 08/20/2012

Camille Preaker has a  troubled past. She may have left her hometown as one of the seemingly popular beautiful girls, but Camille has a self destructive streak….and secrets.  Camille has been given a writing assignment from the second-rate Chicago daily paper where she works that ends up bringing her reluctantly (to say the least) back to Wind Gap, MO. to cover the murders of two preteen girls.  Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has had little to no contact with her neurotic, hypochondriac mother (Adora) or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with control issues. She is now a guest in her family’s Victorian (it’s creepy too) mansion and begins to relive a childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut (literally) from her memory. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these disturbing crimes, clues keep leading to dead ends and surprising discoveries, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. A reluctant heroine, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before she can move on.

Sharp Objects, was published in 2006 and won two Dagger Awards. Gillian Flynn is a Kansas City, Mo. native whose writing credits include Dark Places and Gone Girl.

06. September 2012 · 1 comment · Categories: Claudia, Fiction

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 496 pages, read by Claudia, on 08/06/2012

One of my favorite authors is Scott Smith, who is a New York Times bestselling author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn he is one of Gillian Flynn’s favorite authors too.  I have recently discovered Flynn is a genius of a writer. Don’t get me wrong, I’d heard of her and dismissed her (I know, crazy).  Several years ago, a library patron told me to read her debut novel, Sharp Objects.  I looked at it and didn’t think I’d I like.  Wrong! I couldn’t have been more wrong!  I’ve now read it and I’m currently on the waiting list for her 2nd book, Dark Places, and of course, I am already wondering when she’ll have another book out. Ok, back to Gone Girl….it’s number one on the NY Times bestseller list.  It’s impossible to put down.  It’s unpredictable.  It’s exhilarating!  This book is about a relationship that isn’t what it seems…Amy Dunne disappears on her 5th wedding anniversary.  Nick Dunne was tending bar….or was he?  What happened to Amy…..and so the thrill ride begins..

This is what Scott Smith says about Gone Girl:  If you aren’t sure you can trust me, trust him!

Set in Carthage, Mo, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is my pick for the suspense filled, page-turner. who-done-it psychological thriller of the summer–probably the year. “I cannot say this urgently enough: you have to read Gone Girl. It’s as if Gillian Flynn has mixed us a martini using battery acid instead of vermouth and somehow managed to make it taste really, really good. Gone Girl is delicious and intoxicating and delightfully poisonous. It’s smart (brilliant, actually). It’s funny (in the darkest possible way). The writing is jarringly good, and the story is, well…amazing.



29. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern,, 387 pages, read by Claudia, on 06/14/2012

While looking for a good book to read, I checked out our blog to find my co-workers couldn’t say enough wonderful things about The Night Circus.   I am here to tell you that EVERYTHING they said is TRUE!  I was not misled by their reviews in the least.  The Night Circus is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year!!!  I thoroughly enjoyed it and did not want it to come to an end.  This is the author’s first novel and all I can say is WOW!  I hope it is the first of many marvelous books to come. No pressure!  If you haven’t read it….you are missing out on one tremendous story  of magic and intrigue.  Celia and Marco’s story will stay with you for a long time after you’ve finished.  It’s the type of book that once you’ve finished, you really just want to re-read again.  You need to read this book!    I’m not kidding!

29. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction

The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton, 318 pages, read by Claudia, on 06/01/2012

I had the pure pleasure of reading The Moonflower Vine for the 2nd time recently.  Our Fiction at Noon group tackled it (and loved it btw) and I was delighted to have another opportunity to read this treasure from Missouri-born Jetta Carleton.  This book was written in 1962 and received a favorable response at that time, but was largely forgotten until Jane Smiley included The Moonflower Vine among the classics she read (or reread) and then discussed in her 2005 book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, and wrote of it:

“To my mind, this is a novel characteristic of its time, the 1950s, because it completely avoids all political themes. To read it you would never know that black people existed in southern Missouri, that the area was still a hotbed of Civil War resentments, that the Cold War was raging, and that World War II had taken place. The novel exists in a timeless world of seasons and of girls coming of age, love their greatest concern, with earning a living teaching school or giving music lessons a distant second. The Soames family thinks only of religion, love, nature, and sometimes music. They are American innocents in spite of their lustiness, quite untainted by the compromises of American history. The novel is neither liberal nor conservative — more, perhaps, tribal, in the sense that while the characters do make authentic connections, these connections are only within their own family rather than with anyone outside (except for Jessica, who moves away). In addition, the world is repeatedly redeemed, not by human action but by natural renewal, as symbolized by the nightly flowering of the moonflower vine (a relative of the morning glory).”

At its heart, it is a story of family…. the Soames family, and their life and all its complexities told from 5 points of view.  I considered this one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.  I enthusiastically recommend to anyone who will listen to me.  It is the type of book I know I will read more than twice in my lifetime, and I am confident with each re-reading I will discover something I missed before.  The writing style is unique and lyrical and as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing else quite like it in the world of fiction.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction, Historical Fiction

A Good American by Alex George, 384 pages, read by Claudia, on 04/01/2012

Alex George’s  novel A Good American has received a lot buzz since its’ publication date of February 7.  Alex George was featured in the February issue of Book Page….and this is where I learned he lives in Columbia and practices law.  According to this article, George had just moved to Missouri in 2003 when he was struggling to write another book, and got the idea that most people have never had the experience of moving to a new country.   The result is a lively story of the that begins in Germany in ends in the small fictional town of Beatrice, Missouri.  Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf. A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette’s grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors’ story, comes to realize he doesn’t know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James’s family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American.   A Good American is a novel about being an outsider—in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family.


28. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction, Literary Fiction

Cemetery Bird by Bridget Bufford, 258 pages, read by Claudia, on 02/18/2012

Cemetery BirdI recently had the good fortune of being introduced to Bridget Bufford’s latest book, Cemetery Bird.  Bufford was recently a guest at our library and because of that program, I had the privilege of meeting this fine author and listening to her talk about her experience writing this truly meaningful read.

At its heart, it is an exploration of one woman’s search for family and identity. It is the story of a young (half) Native American woman, Jay, who after an debilitating injury moves from Arizona to Missouri in order to help care for her autistic nephew,  Brandon, while his mother works and takes college classes.  This arrangement provides the opportunity for the development of  two surprising relationships, which have a profound impact on Jay…. the one is obviously with her nephew and other is with one of her nephew’s classmates, who suffers from a  severe brain injury. Bridget Bufford excels at giving the reader a realistic glimpse into the life of family members of people with autism and acquired brain injury at the same time writing in way about families all readers can appreciate it.   This book is beautifully written and incredibly descriptive…and I even would go so far as to say, poetic.  I would highly recommend to anyone who loves literary fiction.  It also had the great honor of being nominated for the 2012 Pushcart award.

28. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction, NonFiction, Reviewer, Travel

Fodor's Disney World 2011 Plus Universal Orlando and Seaworld by Fodor's Travel Publications, 451 pages, read by Claudia, on 02/01/2012

Fodor's Walt Disney World 2011: With Universal, SeaWorld, and the Best of Central FloridaFodor’s is one of the best known publishers of travel guides around.  I’ve worked in libraries for 20 years now and they are the mainstays of every travel section.  These guides are reliable, well organized, and a ratings system is used throughout the book to assist readers.  I appreciated this guide’s content, but the small type font of the book grated on my nerves before I was halfway through it it.  I missed the inclusion of photographs, but appreciated the maps provided of  each theme park.  The information on rides and restaurants was fairly consistent with what I found in other guides, I just struggled with the format.  For future trips to other destinations, I will continue to consult Fodor’s.  I respect the reputation it has and believe it is a solid source of information.  I simply think there are a couple of other guides, I will consult first when planning another Disney trip.

28. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, NonFiction, Reviewer, Travel

Official Guide to Walt Disney World 2011 by Stephen Birnbaum, 263 pages, read by Claudia, on 02/11/2012

Birnbaum's Walt Disney World 2011In preparation for my family’s first trip to Disney World, I had the opportunity to read this well known travel guide published by Disney Editions.   This guide originally came out in 1981, 10 years after the parked opened, and is known for being completely revised each year leaving “no attraction untested, no snack or meal untasted, no hotel untried!”  Of the three travel books I read about Disney, I preferred this one.  I really liked the format, the conversational tone, the details on EVERYTHING, and the nice color photographs.    I feel this guide fully prepared me to make some informed confident, decisions ahead of time….including making reservations at restaurants.  If I had to choose just one guide on Disney, this would be it!

09. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Contemporary Fiction

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, 301 pages, read by Claudia, on 01/15/2012

Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet has repeatedly been recommended to me on the Reference desk, and I finally had a chance to read it for our library’s Fiction at Noon book discussion in January.  Unfortunately, for me,  it did not live up to the reputation it had been given by many people….and I was frankly, surprised and disappointed.  Having said this, it’s not a bad story, it’s pleasant enough.  The author’s writing style simply struck me as emotionally flat and the characters did not continue to hold my interest throughout the novel.

The story that spans several decades and deals with Japanese families who were “evacuated” in 1942 from the West Coast after the bombing of 1942 and placed in internment camps for what was ironically called “their own protection.”  The story’s narrator is 12-year-old Henry, the son of Chinese immigrants. Henry’s father is an ardent Chinese nationalist who has long hated the Japanese….so it is no surprise, when Henry befriends and eventually falls in love with a schoolmate and Japanese American, named Keiko. Keiko’s family is inevitably evacuated to an internment camp in Idaho, and the book alternates between 1942-45 and the present day as Henry and Keiko’s story unfolds.  I did not find Ford’s writing particularly descriptive, but he does do a good job of creating the atmosphere of this historical time period and a highly emotional conflict between father and son.  Having said that, it’s predictable and thankfully short