The Whistler by John Grisham

John Grisham is an author whose name, when I was younger, always had me cowering because he seemed to write SO MANY BOOKS. He’s up towards the top of the famous author list in my head alongside Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and James Patterson. Those five authors are all ones that I never really felt the need to read when I was younger because everyone was talking about them or reading them. Now as a librarian, I’m making my way through the authors that I previously steered away from. Current author choice: John Grisham.

The Whistler by John Grisham is a darkly mysterious, dangerous, and suspicious read. We all expect our judges to be ethical and balanced, but what happens when one goes rogue? The Florida Board on Judicial Conduct is responsible for investigating complaints that deal with judicial misconduct. Lacy Stoltz has been an investigator for the Board for the last nine years, something that gives her great joy, but also can give her headaches. Lacy is a lawyer, not a cop. This distinction is key to her job. The cases reported to her usually end up on her desk due to sheer judicial incompetence, not actual corruption. One case, however, lands on her desk that is so corrupt and a bit convoluted that Lacy and her coworker believe it may be made up. Investigations ensue!

Greg Myers, a previously disbarred lawyer with a new identity, has dropped this bombshell case on Lacy. He alleges that a judge in Florida is stealing millions of dollars and is more corrupt than any judge in the entire United States. Lacy must figure out where that money is coming from. That investigation leads her to the shady dealings and construction of a large casino built on Native American land. The Coast Mafia helped to build the casino and, as a result, is skimming money from the till. The leader of the Coast Mafia felt it would be best to have a judge in his corner, so in return for looking the other way and making sure certain cases fall the way of the Coast Mafia, the judge is getting some money too. How Myers’s informant came to know this information is messy, but the informant is keen on the fact that under Florida law they can collect millions by being a whistleblower. Lacy and her colleague are immediately suspicious of this complaint, but once it’s filed, they must investigate. Full of dark twists and turns, this book had me on the edge of my seat a few times. I’ll admit that it took some time for me to get into the plot, but I’m pretty sure that’s because I had listened to a very light and fluffy read before this. Highly recommend.


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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

 

The second book by the author of the bestselling mystery The Girl on a Train will not disappoint!

Into the Water takes place in a rural Beckford, England. A river flows throughout the town; with so many twists and turns that one character comments that, “everywhere you turn, you run into the river”. But there is a particular place in the river that is famous in the town. The Drowning Pool. There is no mystery as to why it is called the Drowning Pool. The first page of the book introduces the reader to a young woman that is being tied up and forced into the water. We quickly learn about the latest victim of the Drowning Pool, Nel Abbott. Nel had been researching the former victims of the Drowning Pool for a book. It turns out that women have been found submerged in the river for hundreds of years. While it looks like a suicide some people wonder if there was foul play. Nel Abbot had made enemies.

Nel’s sister Jules comes to Beckford to take charge of her niece, Lena. Lena has not only lost her mother, but a few months earlier, she lost her best friend to the Drowning Pool. People are unsure why Katie Wittaker decided to commit suicide. Katie’s mother, Louise is having a terrible time coming to terms with her daughter’s death. Louise’s son, Josh, notes that the night that Nel Abbott went into the water, Louise was gone for most of the night. When detective Erin Morgan, who is new to town, asks people about Nel Abbot, it seems that no one really cares that she died. Except of course, her family, Jules and Lena. To complicate matters, Jules has been estranged from her sister for quite some time. So Jules and Lena do not know each other at all. Throughout the book, we learn more about Nel Abbott and Katie Wittaker and the people in their lives. The more that we learn, it becomes harder to trust anyone in Beckford.

If you listen to audiobooks, you will enjoy this one. Into the Water is read by five voice actors and they do a wonderful job. Read by Laura Aikman, Sophi Aldred, Rachel Bavidge, Imogen Church and Daniel Weyman.

 

 

Pogue’s Basics by David Pogue

Journalist David Pogue has written a series of books sharing some tips and tricks to make life easier.  I started with the ironically titled Pogue’s Basics. Life : Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Day.   Some critics say they already know this stuff. Good for those geniuses. As for the rest of us, there are some very useful things to pick up in Pogue’s books.

For instance: you can tell whether your upcoming exit from the interstate will be on the left or the right by the placement of the exit number on the sign. If exit is on the left, the little sign displaying the exit number will be on the top left. If exit is on the right – you guessed it- the little exit number sign will be on the right. There is a helpful picture in the book that best explains this. This knowledge helped me navigate with aplomb on a recent trip to Chicago.

Another useful tidbit I took from it was the tip on placing my vehicle’s key fob up against my neck fat when attempting to unlock it from across the parking lot. It will unlock from a greater distance, and can be useful during those times when you forgot exactly where you parked. Pogue says this technique works because the fluids in the head act as a great conductor. I say it’s nice to know my neck fat is good for something.

Pogue’s suggestion for getting a lost dog back: place a toy and/or blanket with the scent of home on it outdoors, near where the pet was last seen. Leave it there for 24 hours. The pet will most likely follow his or her nose back toward it. I hope you never need this particular piece of information.

There are lots more suggestions that you’ll just have to check the book out to learn. If you like this book, you might also like Pogue’s Basics. Tech: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life. It will tell you, among other things, what to do when your cell phone falls into the toilet. You can thank me for this recommendation later. Preferably not with a handshake.

Author Name Pronunciation Guide

Let me introduce you to my FAVORITE library resource: TeachingBooks.net, particularly the section entitled Author Name Pronunciation Guide. This section has saved me multiple times! Have you ever wondered how to say an author’s name? Maybe you’ve been saying it one way, you hear a friend say it another way, and then you start second-guessing yourself? I do this all. the. time. So confusing. This problem is just like when you say a word out-loud that you have only ever read before just to have someone correct you and say that you’re pronouncing it wrong. Super annoying, right? Well, lucky for all of us the Author Name Pronunciation Guide at TeachingBooks.net exists. We’ll all become expert author name pronunciators and can spread our knowledge to others! Sounds perfect.

Now let’s find out where the Author Name Pronunciation Guide is! Go to TeachingBooks.net. On the home page in the banner bar at the top of the page, click Author & Book Resources.

That will bring you to a page that looks like the one below! Click on Audio Name Pronunciations.

Viola! Now you’re at the Author Name Pronunciation Guide which hopefully will start off with the following paragraph.

As you’re scrolling through that page, you’ll notice thousands of author names. My favorite one to have people play around with is Jon Scieszka because 1) I NEVER say his name right, even though I know about this guide and 2) kids ask for his books all the time and therefore are already familiar with this author. Anyway, scroll through the list and find his name (it’s alphabetical by last name). Once you click on it, a page with all his info will pop up! (Sorry for the tiny print.)

If you click on the orange play button, you’ll hear Jon Scieszka pronounce his name and talk some more. It’s awesome. It also connects you to author’s personal websites and their own page on TeachingBooks.net. Now play around and find out how to pronounce some author names! It’s definitely one of my favorite not-well-known librarian resources.

I also encourage you to click around the regular TeachingBooks.net site because there are a ton of other really good resources there. Who knows, maybe I’ll blog about them in the future!

Astronomy Photographer of the Year: Prize-Winning Images by Top Astrophotographers

Take a deep breath – then, open this book. Astronomy Photographer of the Year : Prize-winning Images by Top Astrophotographers will transport you.

Every year since 2009, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, England hosts an Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition. Entries are collected in the spring. Winning exhibitions are displayed at the Royal Observatory September to June. This book is a compilation of the best from the first six years of that contest.

It is hard to believe these images were not captured by the Hubble telescope, but rather by amateur astrophotographers on earth. Flip through the pages of this heavy book and find eyeball-shaped nebula staring back at you from a background of innumerable stars. Feel a shiver as you take in an image of a snowy night with Aurora Borealis coloring the sky in purple and green. Ponder how tiny you are compared to all the galaxies out there. It always fills me with wonder to see images of galaxies and nebulae that resemble eyes or other body parts. I think the one displayed on the cover of this book looks rather like a heart, don’t you?

Some photos, such as the ones tracing the sun’s position in the sky over nearly a year made me wonder aloud, “How did they capture that?!?” The collection is even more remarkable when you consider that some contest entries were submitted by people who have only been practicing astronomy photography less than a year. There are special categories for those who have not entered the competition before, as well as a youth category for ages 15 and younger. You can learn more about the contest at the Royal Museums website.

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I spend a lot of time reading review journals, magazines, and online blogs about books. This helps me to order the most current books for my sections and keeps me aware of other books that are coming out across the whole library. The Hate U Give came across my radar as a book to recommend to teens about gun violence. Based on all of the talk going around about this book and its relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement, I knew I needed to read The Hate U Give if just to try to understand the power this book has.

The Hate U Give is a MASSIVE New York Times and Amazon bestseller. If the title drives you grammar nerds a little crazy, Thomas has reasons for it. The Hate U Give comes from the acronym THUG LIFE that Tupac Shakar had tattooed across his abdomen. It stands for “The hate u give little infants f**** everybody”. (If you’re offended by that word, I strongly suggest you don’t read this book. It doesn’t shy away from violence and language.) That acronym runs rampant throughout The Hate U Give and the main characters keep returning to it. It’s important. Now let’s get down to what this book is about.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr.  By the time she is sixteen, Starr has seen both of her best friends die as a result of gun violence: one by a gang drive-by and the other just recently fatally shot by a cop. Starr was out at a party, something she never does, when shots rang out. She and her friend Khalil took off running to his car. On their way home, they are stopped by the police, pulled over, and Khalil is shot and killed. (Obviously there’s more to the story, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers!) Starr is the only witness to Khalil’s fatal shooting by that police officer. This fact causes her a great deal of agony. Does she speak up? Obviously her parents and the cops know that she witnessed his death, but does she tell her friends? How will she react when the story is plastered all over the news? What will she do if the district attorney contacts her or if the cops want to interview her? Starr wants to stand up for Khalil, but she is afraid. How will she react if people start telling lies about Khalil? She just doesn’t know what to do.

Starr has grown up in the rough area of Garden Heights, but with a solid family backing her up. Her mother works as a nurse in a clinic and desperately wants to move away to protect the family. Her father, known as Big Mav, is a former gang-member who took the fall for King, a notorious gang lord in the community, and spent three years in prison when Starr was younger. Now Big Mav owns the local grocery store and is working to make the community better. Starr doesn’t go to the local high school; instead she goes to Williamson, a private school in a more affluent neighborhood where instead of being a black majority, she’s one of only two black kids in her school. Starr constantly talks about her Williamson self and her Garden Heights self. They’re kept separate and each Starr acts different. Her Williamson friends and her Garden Heights friends hardly ever mix. This is a life that Starr has kind of adjusted to, but the slightest bump to her normal life could cause her world to come crashing down. Khalil’s death rocks her world and Starr soon finds herself and her family the target of the police and King, the local drug lord, as everyone puts pressure on her and intimidates her in order to figure out what really happened the night that Khalil died.

The author, Angie Thomas, began writing in response to the fatal shooting in Oakland, California in 2009 of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. She quickly found the subject too painful, so Thomas set the book aside. After the stories of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice broke the news, Thomas knew she had to start writing this book again. Thomas had to voice her opinions, had to acknowledge the neighborhood where she grew up, and needed to shine a light on Black Lives Matter. The themes of social justice, opinion, responsibility, existing in two worlds, and violence are so prevalent and deeply explored in this book because Thomas knows what she is talking about. She lived it.

This book has been optioned for a film and is in development. I can only hope that the movie is just as moving as the book was. The movie has the opportunity to further change the world.

Black Irish by Stephan Talty

I have a fascination with serial murderers, the grislier the better. I snatch up books about them as quick as I can, but veer away from television shows because they seem too formulaic and predictable. The books that I have read/listened to recently have all been reliably gritty and suspenseful. I stumbled upon Black Irish by Stephan Talty a week ago and loved it.

Black Irish is delightfully gruesome and mysterious. Absalom ‘Abbie’ Kearney is a detective in South Buffalo. Even though her adoptive father is a revered cop, Abbie is considered to be an outsider in this working-class Irish American area because of her dark hair, druggie mother, mysterious father, Harvard degree, and a myriad of other reasons. Her troubled past makes her current life in South Buffalo difficult as she works to earn the trust and respect of everyone in ‘the County’. The County is full of fiercely secretive citizens who look out for their own and shun outsiders. Digging for the truth or trying to find out about her past is nearly impossible for Abbie without the help from accepted local Irish good-ol’-boy cops and detectives. Because of this, Abbie works even harder to prove herself to be more than capable and worthy of her badge, much to the chagrin of the locals.

When a mangled corpse is found in a local church’s basement, the very church that Abbie herself attended, the County finds itself unnerved. A message seems to sweep through the area. While Abbie is the lead detective on the case and is running the investigation, she finds that other detectives, and more importantly the locals, are taking it upon themselves to solve the case. The code of silence and secrecy that began in Ireland still exists in the County, making Abbie’s search for the killer even more difficult. This secrecy stonewalls her everywhere she goes, even at the Gaelic Club which her father frequents. Shaking down leads is difficult and Abbie soon finds herself receiving vicious threats and warnings.

The killer has a clear signature and with each passing day, Abbie thinks she is getting closer. With more people murdered, Abbie finds this case consuming her. While working to solve these crimes, the killer is slowly circling closer and closer to Abbie, until finally dropping into her life. Abbie is left to dig into her own past, her family’s past, how everything is related to the County, and also how the County’s secrets just may end up destroying everything in which the whole community believes.

This book hooked me from the start. The narrator uses different accents for each character which made them all easy to follow. Stephan Talty has woven a masterful examination into the cone of silence in closed off neighborhoods, even when that code hides dangerous, murderous pasts and people. I greatly enjoyed this book and can’t wait for more.


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We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter is the story of the Kurc family and their experiences  during World War II. This novel is actually the story of her family, and she uses the real names of her grandparents, mother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

I was struck by the similarity of phrase, when reading an account in the April 24th issue of The Dispatch  and The Rock Island Argus  of a speech by Doris Fogel.  During Holocaust Remembrance week,  Ms. Fogel, a Chicago resident who spent years in a Shanghai ghetto during World War II, said: “No one could have foretold the horror and hardship the coming years would bring to millions of Jews and others,” … “Every day, I realized I was one of the lucky ones.”

The Kurcs are from a small town in Poland, and as the war goes on they see their lives and homes disintegrate. Some are forced to live in ghettos and  concentration camps, some are sent to a Siberian gulag. The “luckiest”  is Addy who is living in Paris when the war starts, and he cannot get back home to Poland, and he can’t let them know where he is. Finally, he gets a visa to Brazil. After the war, the Red Cross is able to connect those who survive and the extended family emigrates to Brazil, where Addy can help them rebuild. They’ve lost their homes, identities, friends, belongings, savings, and occupations, but in the end they still have their family and faith.

Survivors were left in limbo after the war. Hunter describes in realistic detail the rules, regulations and laws involved in getting visas, and the rigors and dangers of travel – both during and after the war. I was unfamiliar with the level of atrocity in Poland and how, even after the war, Jews were still  persecuted in Germany.

Hunter personalizes the horror of what so many suffered. It’s hard to comprehend the scope of what happened and how many millions of stories there are that have been lost. The reader gets a small sense of this by following the members of the Kurc family as they, incrementally, have everything taken from them. Another tragedy is losing so many stories – as the last several generations pass away, along with their first-person accounts.

 

 

 

 

Woman of God by James Patterson

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I’m slowly making my way through big name authors in adult fiction. There are so many books available to read that I know I will never have time to read them all, so I have been utilizing my driving time by listening to audio books. By doing so, I can listen to one book while I’m driving and read another one when I’m not! Two books at once!

Woman of God by James Patterson was my latest listen. I checked this book out based primarily on the description that I read in OverDrive. The summary listed details the selection of a new Pope in Rome, an occurrence that would normally garner major attention on a normal day, but this time there are rumors that the new Pope could be a woman. This news rocks the world as the woman candidate is not like any other priest in the Catholic Church’s history. Sounds interesting, right? I thought so and then promptly checked it out.

This book made me cry and I’m not talking about little tears escaping from the corner of my eyes. I’m talking about crocodile tears and heartbreak. Woman of God begins with a prologue. Brigid Fitzgerald is rumored to be the new pope, a fact that has led dozens of reporters and thousands of people to descend on her doorstep and her church. She is worried about the safety of her daughter and given her tragic past, Brigid knows that people are capable of anything. Weaving her way through the massive crowds and to her church to do Easter mass, Brigid mentally prepares herself to speak to everyone. Once before her congregation and after her initial talk, a man shouts at her from the crowd. Brigid feels sharp pain across her body and her world goes dark.

The book then flashes back to the beginning of Brigid Fitzgerald’s remarkable adult life. She graduated young from college and headed to the front lines of Sudan to work as a doctor in refugee camps. Working there earned her the adoration of her coworkers and the refugees, but also targeted her as the enemy of many powerful people. The Sudan was the first in a traumatic series of trials that prove to test her faith in humanity and in God at every single turn. Just when her life seems to be going well and God has decided to bless her, Brigid is tested again and again in a number of ways that had me wondering where she even found the strength to get out of bed every day.

Brigid began life as the daughter of drug-addled parents and her childhood was rife with drama. Going to the Sudan and then traveling around the world helping others gives meaning to her life. Brigid’s own convictions and callings differ from those of the mainstream Catholic Church, a fact that puts her at odds with and makes her a target of those who believe adherence to tradition is of utmost importance. Despite the threats and the immense loss she goes through, Brigid is forced to rise above and find a way to rally people behind her, so she doesn’t lose her faith or her life.

I greatly enjoyed this book, even though it made me a bucket of emotions at times. There are so many intricate pieces that fit into making Brigid the woman that she is.  10/10: would recommend.


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If Not for You by Debbie Macomber

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber was a delightfully powerful read. Beth Prudhomme has been living under her mother’s thumb in Chicago for the last 25 years. Her mother has decided what she wears, who she dates, where she works, and frankly, Beth is beyond tired of this. After squirreling away money to run away, she finally talks to her father (the more level-headed parent in her family) and he agrees to talk to her mother. Beth’s mother is broken-hearted to find out her daughter wants to move away and to Portland, no less! Portland is where Beth’s aunt Sunshine lives. Sunshine and Beth’s mother don’t get along, the result of a massive fight over thirty years ago. Beth doesn’t know the reason for their fallout as neither sister will discuss it. Nevertheless, Beth decides to move to Portland to restart her life after securing a promise from her mother that she will not contact or visit her for six months after her move. It sounds perfect!

In Portland away from her mother, Beth finally lives the life she wants. She lives close to her aunt in a one bedroom apartment that she is paying for herself by working as a music teacher at a local high school. Through her job, she meets Nichole Nyquist, a teacher who quickly becomes Beth’s friend. The two begin hanging out and Beth quickly finds herself absorbed into Nichole’s family. Nichole decides to set Beth up on a blind date and invites Beth over to dinner where she meets Sam, one of her husband Rocco’s friends. Sam is a tattooed mechanic who is guaranteed to send her severely conservative mother over the edge. He curses, has long hair, and a big bushy beard. Sam and Beth could not be more opposite. Beth has no desire to anger her parents more after her big move away, so she decides to steer clear of Sam. Sam is completely fine with that because the minute he sees Beth, he decides he wants no part of that prissy music teacher. (Kinda obvious where this is going to go, right? I thought so too.)

After their blind date, Beth gets into a horrible car accident and Sam visits her in the hospital at first because Nichole can’t come and because he doesn’t want her to be stuck there alone with no family or friends to visit. Sam soon finds himself unable to stay away, but there are barriers to the two getting together. Sam has massive skeletons in his closet that have proven to be huge trust barriers, Beth’s mom is largely against their relationship, yet the two of them are drawn together. In the end, Sam will have to figure out if he really fits into Beth’s life, whether or not he feels worthy/is wortty of her love. and if he is willing to fight for the two of them to be together.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It wasn’t as fluffy and formulaic as I was expecting, which I really appreciated. Each character had their own separate backstory and concurrent running story that fit in perfectly with Sam and Beth: Sunshine and her art, Beth and her volunteer work, Sam and his past, Sunshine and her sister’s messy separation, Nichole and Rocco’s relationship, and so so much more. I highly recommend this.

(Side note: This book is actually part of Debbie Macomber’s ‘New Beginnings’ series, a fact I didn’t realize until after I read If Not for You. All of these books read perfectly as standalones. I wasn’t left wondering about any plot point in If Not for You, so go ahead and read it by itself.)


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