Recently, I met best-selling author Brad Meltzer in a Chicago book store.  Naturally, I picked up an autographed copy of his newest novel, The Inner Circle.  (He had a large following — I had to wait in line a long time!)

The book revolves around Beecher White, a young archivist who loves his job at the National Archives.  When his childhood crush, Clementime, shows up seeking help in tracking down the father she never knew, he takes her on a private tour, and even shows her the secret vault used only by the  President.  Within moments ( is it by accident or plan?) they discover a priceless artifact hidden under the President’s chair.  Minutes later, the security guard who admitted them to the vault is found dead.  In hours,  Beecher is on the run, unsure who he can trust,  yet frantically trying to stay one-step ahead of his pursuers by successfully decoding concealed messages.

This is a fast-paced read and those interested in political conspiracies or action-packed thrillers will be entertained with all the unexpected twists and turns.  Initially, I wasn’t certain about the ending, but then it made more sense when I read that  Meltzer has a sequel planned, using  Beecher again as the primary character.  He is a rather lovable archivist, after all.

For those who may be further intrigued by the mysteries of symbols and codes, check out the author’s show on the History Channel, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby starts off with the first of many top five lists.  Rob Fleming, the owner of a vintage record shop in London, has just been dumped by his longtime girlfriend Laura and is assuring himself that it will be okay because he’s been through at least five breakups in the past that were more earth-shattering than this one.  This leads to a sort of odyssey as Rob decides to track down these five women and figure out what exactly went wrong and what the meaning of it all is.  Along the way he finds a new friend (and maybe a bit more) in a sexy American singer, deals with his financially-struggling business, and generally spends a lot of time joking around with his friends in the record shop.

Hornby is great at writing about people who are passionate about music.  I’ve read two of his other books, About A Boy and Juliet Naked, and in each you can really feel how much music means to the characters, and it makes you care a little more about music as well.  There is a lot of witty banter between the guys in the record shop, and Rob has a very sarcastic sense of humor, so it’s definitely good for a laugh even if it has a lot of serious moments as well.  I found myself becoming very frustrated with Rob while reading this book because as he meets each ex-girlfriend to figure out why they broke up, it becomes increasingly appalling that he just doesn’t get it.  Nevertheless, you’ll be rooting for something to go right for him in the end.  Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, and I’m planning to take home the movie starring John Cusack tonight!

Columbian-born politician Ingrid Betancourt left the comfort of her Parisian life to run for political office in her home country with the hopes of ending government corruption.  In 2002, while running as a candidate in the newly formed “Oxygen Green Party,” she and her campaign manager were kidnapped by a terrorist organization in Columbia, the FARC.  She was held in the remote jungles of the country for nearly 6 1/2 years and, while a prisoner, Betancourt attempted numerous time to escape from her captors – just to be discovered and quickly recaptured.

Even Silence Has an End tells the harrowing struggle of her life during her years in captivity as well as her interactions with the countless other prisoners she encountered daily.  In the summer of 2008 while being moved from one location in the jungle to another, Betancourt and a small group of prisoners were loaded onto a helicopter and once airborn, they were told that they had been freed in a miraculous plan orchestrated by the Columbian government.  Her story of survival is inspirational!

All three locations of the Davenport Public Library will be closed today, Wednesday March 9 so that we can conduct a Staff In-service. We’ll be busy learning all the latest and greatest ways to serve you better and continue to be the best library possible.

We’ll be open again on Thursday as usual – the Main and Eastern Avenue libraries will open at 9:30am and Fairmount will open at noon.

Adrift after graduating from Harvard and rejecting the demands of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, Avi Steinberg stumbles into a job running the library in a tough Boston prison. Funny, heartbreaking, sometimes brutal, always human Running the Books is his memoir of his time spent among the inmates.

The criminals that Avi encounters are complex – many of them are cruel and dangerous, but there is also an undercurrent of sadness, of lives devastated by poverty, abuse and violence. Hope for redemption for most is slim. And although he is completely unsuited to prison life, Avi attempts to reach out and make a difference – with decidedly mixed results.

This book also works as an excellent memoir as Avi reflects on his own life and the choices he’s made. The humor is sardonic and Avi is not afraid to shine a light on his own failings. It’s also a great study of the library as central to a community and to the humans, imperfect and lost, that use it.

I have to admit that when I first watched the pilot of Parks and Recreation starring Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones back in 2009, I was not impressed.  I gave it up right then and didn’t look back until recently, when I heard great things about how much the show had improved.  Curious, I picked up seasons one and two from the library and decided to give it another shot.  The show follows the Parks and Recreation department of fictional town Pawnee, Indiana, led by Deputy Director Leslie Knope (Poehler).  She’s ambitious and overly-eager, trying to get things done  while dealing with the red tape so often associated with local government.  The show starts off with her big project:  trying to fill in a giant pit that local nurse Ann Perkins (Jones) complained about and turn it into a beautiful park.

Doesn’t sound like an exciting plot?  Well, it is made wildly entertaining by the cast of characters who work and volunteer for the Parks Department.  This includes the over-the-top womanizer Tom (played by hilarious comedian Aziz Ansari), office punching bag Jerry, apathetic intern April, and my personal favorite:  Leslie’s boss, Ron Swanson, who deadpans every line and almost makes the moustache cool.  It gets even better as we learn about the personal lives of each character (just wait until you see Leslie on a date and meet Ron’s evil ex-wife Tammy).  I am so glad I gave this show another chance because now into its third season, it makes me laugh every week.  If you like The Office, I highly recommend checking out this underrated and hilarious series.

Shades of Grey by Jasper FfordeIf you could only see one color, which one would you choose? Blue, so you could see the sky? Green, so you could see the fields? Purple, so you could see the bloom of a delicate orchid? Red, so you could see a person blush at the sound of your voice? Well, that is the world you would be born into if you lived in Jasper Fforde’s latest novel, Shades of Grey, only with one big difference: you wouldn’t get to choose what color you can see. Nope, that would all depend on your parents.

In Shades of Grey, Fforde creates a rather bright & colorful dystopian society where spoons are sold on a black market, doctors use color swatches for healing, and genetics determine one’s color vision which in turn determines a citizen’s place in society. Citizens are expected to marry within their colors, be obedient to the colors higher in the Spectrum and never ever go out after dark. Eddie Russett can see, and thus is, Red, and has always been satisfied with his lower place in the Spectrum. However, soon he finds himself in love with Jane Grey, a rebellious Grey at the lowest point in the Spectrum, who causes him to question everything he sees and doesn’t see. This novel is completely different from Fforde’s quirky meta-literary universes in his Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series, but it still contains his same nonsensical and snarky humor while addressing bigger issues of individualism, government/corporate power, and spoon shortages.

On a tangent: I experienced Shades of Grey in the audiobook format (although I may reread it in the text format–I wonder if there was any visual wordplay that I missed) and I tend to listen to listen to audiobooks while I wash the dishes, so I created a very, very complex formula to determine how much I enjoy listening to a particular book:

[(# of times I wash dishes) + 2(# of times I wash dishes despite it being my husband’s turn) – (# of times I listen to a Shakira playlist instead of audiobook)] / (# of weeks I listen to an audiobook) = x

if x < 1 then I probably never finished the book.

if x = 1 then the book was solidly good.

if x >1 then I enjoyed the book so much that I changed my dish-washing habits just to listen to it more often.

The audiobook for Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde was about a 2.25, thus I REALLY ENJOYED this book!

I feel a little guilty admitting this, but I literally could watch the Food Network all day long.  One of the shows I really enjoy is Ace of Cakes, where the folks at Charm City Cakes make the most unique desserts you can imagine.  So naturally when I was looking through the cookbook section of the library a few days ago and stumbled upon Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes by Duff Goldman and Willie Goldman, I had to pick it up.  I really just wanted to look at the pictures of all the amazing cakes they have made on the show, but I found myself really reading through the book because there was so much interesting information about how Charm City Cakes got started and what inspires the staff of bakers and decorators.

The coolest part of the book is definitely the pictures of all the crazy creations they have made over the years.  I wish I were as creative as these people!  Their cakes are like nothing I have ever seen before.  There are cakes to please every personality type and every interest you could have, and a lot of them don’t even look like cakes!  The full page of Star Wars themed cakes really warmed my little geek heart (though I was sad that they didn’t include my favorite Ace of Cakes creation, the cake in the form of Han Solo frozen in carbonite).  For the creative types, the book will inspire you to try out some new and cool things with cakes.  I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to bake or enjoys watching the Food Network.

February was Black History Month, but  March marks the transition into Women’s History Month.  If you didn’t catch our displays last month, stop by and see what’s new. 

One book in particular that serves as the perfect segue from one theme to the other is Sister Days by Janus Adams.  Subtitled “365 Inspired Moments in African American Women’s History,” the book is written in diary style, with short anecdotes for every day of the year.  For example, Philippa Schuyler, who was declared a prodigy at age 3, is featured on July 29th, while Era Bell Thompson, who was inducted into the Iowa Hall of Fame, is the woman of the day on April 30th.   Personally, I had not heard about either of these remarkable individuals! 

Another book that’s received a  lot of press lately is the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  It’s a true story of a poor woman who died of cervical cancer.  Before her death in 1951, a sample of her cancerous tissue was taken, but without her knowledge or consent.  Her cells, known as HeLa cells, not only survived in the lab, but thrived, providing scientists with a building block for many medical breakthroughs, starting with the cure for polio.

This is just a small sampling of a wide variety of materials celebrating women of achievement throughout the years.  Come check some out!