Greetings From Utopia Park by Claire Hoffman

I have always been curious about Fairfield, Iowa. I remember my parents would listen to the local AM radio station in Southeast Iowa and I would hear the Maharishi school mentioned.  It seemed that Fairfield and the Maharishi campus were always shrouded in mystery. No one seemed to know a lot about what was going on in Fairfield and there were whispers that it was a cult. When I was in high school, the Maharishi tennis team was very good. Members of my school’s tennis team told us about playing in Fairfield against the Maharishi school and that it just seemed “weird”.

In Greetings from Utopia Park, Claire Hoffman tells the story of her and her family moving to Fairfield, Iowa when she was in Kindergarten. The family had just moved to Iowa after her parents split up due to her father’s alcohol problem.  Her mother was looking for a fresh start and had already been involved in the Transcendent Meditation movement. Fairfield, Iowa was now the place to be if you were a follower of Maharishi. Claire and her older brother, Stacey, already meditated and chanted their Word of Wisdom. They were looking forward to meeting other kids that were like themselves. Unfortunately, their mother did not have the tuition money that was required to be a student at the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment.  So Claire and Stacey had to go to the local Fairfield Elementary School. Claire was warned by a classmate not to let kids know that she was a ‘ru (short for guru). Children at the public school did not welcome kids that were part of the TM movement. (Transcendent Movement).

Soon, an anonymous benefactor paid for the school tuition so Claire and Stacey could attend the Maharishi School. Life was better for Claire. She was surrounded by children that were a lot like herself. Children that meditated and that were vegetarians. The Transcendent Movement felt very important to her and she felt like a part of something big. Hoffman tells stories of what is was like to go to school; what her classes entailed, lunches at the cafeteria and meditations. There was even a special math course.

But as the years passed, life in Utopia Park became more and more expensive. Courses on learning how to “fly” while meditating became more expensive. Tuition at the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment more than doubled. Stacey was pulled out of school and went to the public high school. Later, Claire joined him. The “townie” kids were not always kind. Claire had mixed feelings about Maharishi, which is quite understandable. If you read the book, you will understand why.

 

See Me by Nicholas Sparks

It’s time for me to be honest. I have not read a Nicholas Sparks book since high school. The movies never caught my interest either, so I just steered clear. In order to become a more well-read librarian, I have decided to expand my comfort zone and read books I normally wouldn’t. See Me by Nicholas Sparks is my latest outside-my-comfort-zone read. I started reading See Me thoroughly expecting a flowery romance with some kind of damsel in distress scenario and a dashing male hero coming to the rescue. I. Was. So. Wrong. Well sort of.

Maria Sanchez and Colin Hancock are the two main characters in this book and while they fit into some stereotypes, in other ways they completely break them. Maria is a lawyer and daughter of two Mexican immigrants who came to the US with nothing and now own a thriving restaurant. She has worked very hard to better her career with the end result being that her social life and friend circle is rather lacking. She does have a very close relationship with her parents and her younger sister though. Maria’s life is not all perfect. She is haunted by events in her past, events that ultimately led her to leave her previous job and move to a totally new town.

Colin is a 28 year old college student who is struggling to get his life back on track. He works out religiously and is avoiding all the people and places that led him to destroy his life before. Colin has spent most of his life tangled up in the legal system, as a result of a major anger problem and a myriad of other issues. He worked out a deal at his last court appearance, a deal that says that if he stays out of trouble, his criminal record will be completely expunged, his felonies erased, allowing him to become a teacher. However, if Colin gets back into trouble, he will go to jail for ten years and his record will not be cleared. Colin has stayed out of trouble with help from his best friend, Evan, and Evan’s fiancée Lily.

Colin and Maria have a chance encounter one rainy night on a highway in North Carolina. Maria tells her younger sister, Serena, about the man who changed her tire and Serena realizes that Colin is one of her fellow students. She arranges a meetup between Colin and Maria, hoping sparks will begin to fly. They do. Opposites obviously attract. Everything is going swimmingly between the two until a person from Maria’s past pops up who may ruin it all. Their budding relationship is put to the test as Maria struggles to figure out who is doing these horrible things to her. Colin also has to work through his anger issues and his protective instincts to put Maria’s wishes and well-being first.

Despite my reticence, I actually enjoyed this book. The story pulled me in and I found myself rooting for the characters. I also was not able to predict how the story would end, which is a major positive in my book.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Favorite Books of 2016, Part 3

OK folks, here’s the last installment of our bloggers favorite reads in 2016.

As mentioned earlier, Stephanie cheated and sent me a list of nine favorite titles. I picked two that looked especially interesting. The first is Love Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey. Stephanie says “This young adult book takes place in the 19th century, but what appealed to me was that the main character, Juliana Telford, is not your typical “bow to the men and let them control my life” type of person. She is determined to get her scientific research published and if that meant she has to suffer through the London season, she’ll suck it up, but not form any attachments. Enter in Spencer Northam, a spy for the War Office and a gentleman who stumbles into Juliana’s company. He is more worried about his first mission than he is about meeting ladies to find a wife. This book cracked me up and had me wondering how Juliana and Spencer’s relationship with each other and their surrounding family and friends would really turn out.” 

Stephanie’s second choice is The Worrier’s Guide to Life by Gemma Correll which she blogged about earlier this year. Stephanie found that this book really hit home with her and did it with a lot of humor. “I am a perpetual worrier. If there’s a thing happening around me, I’m worrying about it. Gemma Correll’s graphic novel gave me advice and information (most-to-all of it ridiculous and frustrating, but incredibly funny) on how to deal with the many situations that leave me up all night worrying. Check this out to laugh your way through any horrifying situation.” Both titles sound intriguing, don’t they?

Finally, my 2016 pick is News of the World by Paulette Jiles which I blogged about last month. A compelling story line, dramatic landscape and vivid characters made this a story that is hard to forget. I loved Captain Kidd, his hard won wisdom, his unwavering belief in sticking to his principals and his compassion. I also loved the emphasis on education and knowledge. The books is based on real people and I found this slice of relatively unknown Western history fascinating.

So there you have it – some really excellent books, verified by our own in-house experts! What about you? What book did you read this year that stood above the rest? Please share in the comments – everyone loves a good book recommendation!

Favorite Books of 2016, Part 2

Here are more favorite books from our bloggers!

Brenda’s favorite has a great title: The Joy of Leaving your Sh*t All Over the Place: the Art of Being Messy by Jennifer McCartney. Brenda comments: I found this a hilarious answer to Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy. I almost breathed a sigh of relief to know that there are others out there who fail at de-cluttering and still manage to do all right at this thing called life.”

Lynn has chosen the fiction book We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Lynn explains “Rosemary tells the story of how she was raised to consider a chimpanzee her sister till there were both 5 years old and how it affected herself and her brother for the rest of their lives. The book is dense with insights into animal and human behavior and the protocols of scientific studies. Fowler causes you to feel such empathy for Fern, the sister who was a chimpanzee, that you’ll never look at non-human primates the same way again.”

There’s one more best books installment, heading your way tomorrow!

Favorite Books of 2016, Part 1

Hello! It’s the end of the year and you know what that means – lots and lots of “best of” lists. you won’t be surprised to hear that here at the library we’re especially interested in the books and that we have a lot of passionate readers on staff with a wide range of interests. Here are the favorite books of 2016 for some of our blogging librarians – you’re sure to discover something new and intriguing!

Valerie cheated a bit and gave me two titles (that’s ok, Stephanie gave me nine titles!) but I admit it’s hard to choose just one. Valerie’s first choice is Sea Level Rise in Florida: Science, Impacts and Options by Albert Hine. Valerie comments: “This title is full of scientific information presented in easy to understand text. It is chock-a-clock full of maps, charts and diagrams that help you understand the rise and fall of ocean levels over the millennia, as well as in the shorter term.”

Her second choice also non-fiction, Atlas Obscura: an Explorer’s guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer. “The world is full of interesting places. This work strives to tell you about approximately 700 of them, some man-made, some natural wonders. Organized by regions of the world, summary maps pinpoint the location of these curiositieis. Hundreds of photographs help you imagine many of the locales.”

Our next blogging librarian, Bill, nominates NFL Confidential by Johnny Anonymous which he also blogged about earlier this year. “Johnny Anonymous’ unvarnished perspective of what goes on from week to week was pretty refreshing.”

Tune in tomorrow for more of our favorites in 2016!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols

If you have watched any of the Avengers movies(or any recent superhero movie), then you’re probably familiar with S.H.I.E.L.D, aka  Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols, Agent Coulson leads Melinda May, Agents Fitz and Simmons, Mockingbird, Quake, and Deathlok, as they battle someone in an Iron Man suit(who is not Iron Man!), multiple people who want to take over the world, and, of course, the evil Hydra organization. Coulson’s old love interest, Lola – not to be confused with his car who just happens to have the same name, has come to the team’s attention after her name is found to be affiliated with the tech that the person in the Iron Man suit blew up the Pentagon to steal. As a result, Coulson goes to meet her to find out what she knows. It turns out that Lola manipulated their previous relationship in order to steal precious superhero information from Coulson. She’s a psychic and can read his mind!

Coulson, being the giant superhero geek that he is, created scenarios in his head about how to take down any of the Avengers and also any of the other superheroes/agents that he knows. Lola then read his mind and stole that information. Those scenarios are now called the Coulson Protocols and fake Iron Man stole them from the Pentagon. That information is now up for auction to the highest bidder and the team must do everything and anything in their power to get that highly sensitive intel back. They battle a massive Iron Man army, throw down with some Hydra bad guys, rub shoulders with Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, and Tony Stark, and find themselves in a massive standoff with the New Avengers, all while trying to find the Coulson Protocols. Allegiances are tested and backstories are revealed as Coulson and his team work to save the world from a possible leak of this sensitive information.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols does a fairly good job introducing readers to who the agents are and how S.H.I.E.L.D. works. (I didn’t come into this graphic novel as a complete newbie, having watched the first season of the S.H.I.E.L.D. tv show many, many months ago, BUT I remember almost none of it, so don’t be afraid of reading this if you’re totally unfamiliar with any of the characters. You’ll be just fine.). Guggenheim also adds the characters’ names next to each throughout most of the comic, so you won’t have to flip back to the beginning to remember who’s who (That’s fantastic, btw, and way more graphic novel writers should take note). I thoroughly enjoyed this new graphic novel and can’t wait for the next volume to be released. In the mean time, I’ll have to settle for watching the two seasons of Marvel’s Agents of Shield that the library owns. Read this comic/watch the shows and let me know what you think!


Check out the television show, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (season 1 and season 2), to learn more about the characters and see more Agent Coulson. Click on the pictures below to

Conversations with Lincoln

I listen to a lot of audiobooks in the car. Sometimes when I am looking for a new audiobook to listen to, I look for something that is short. If you have ever listened to a 20 disc audiobook, you understand. As much as I love audiobooks, sometimes I need something short and  something different; something to cleanse my palate (or my ears).

While I was browsing the shelves, I noticed, Conversations with Lincoln and I am happy that I checked it out. One nice feature of this audiobook is listed in the title. They are stories. I did not have to pay a lot of attention to the book in order to keep up with the story because the story would end and another story would start! I also liked that this was nonfiction so I was learning something while I drove my car.

The conversations that people had with Abraham Lincoln took place while he lived in New Salem, Illinois, Springfield, Illinois and while he was President in Washington, D.C.  Over and over again people talk about how kind Lincoln was to people. He was especially fond of children. One tale speaks of his time in Illinois and how he allowed the neighborhood boys to go fishing with him. They all had such a good time that no boy would dare miss another fishing trip. Many of the stories that occurred while Lincoln was President involved women asking for their fathers, husbands and sons to be released from duty from the Army or transferred somewhere else. One such woman lost her husband in the war and asked President Lincoln if one of her son’s could be released from duty so that he could come home and take care of her and her farm. Another woman asked for her father’s life after he was sentenced to be executed. President Lincoln had a difficult time executing young boys that deserted from the Army. Many of them were too young to serve in the first place. Of course the Army disapproved of his leniency and claimed that he undermined their authority.

While I was listening to this audiobook, I kept marveling over the fact that people were actually allowed to have conversations with the President of the United States. If you were willing to wait a few hours, it was possible that President Lincoln would invite you into his office to tell him your trouble. As you were waiting, you could be sitting next to a U.S. Senator or an Army General who were also waiting their turn. They would have had preference over you, but an ordinary person had the chance to speak to the President. The theme of this book is how kind Abraham Lincoln was. He genuinely cared about people’s troubles and he did his best to fix the problem. If he was unable to fix the problem himself, then he would refer the person to someone who could do something about it, with a note bearing his signature. He had a soft spot for children and always made a point to speak to them while they were in his presence. And he tried to do his best to reunite women with the men in their lives. Clearly, he hated that the war was destroying families. While listening to this book, it was hard to not wish an audience with Abraham Lincoln in order to speak with this intelligent and overly kind man.

In the Unlikely Event

In The Unlikely Event is by the author, Judy Blume. Yes, that Judy Blume that wrote, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Freckle Juice.  But this time, Blume wrote a book that is for adults.

The year is 1952 and the place is Elizabeth, New Jersey. The reader is introduced to several members of the community throughout the book. Sometimes, it could be hard for me to remember which character was which; I would have to read a couple of paragraphs to remember. From what I have read in online book reviews, I am not the only person that has had this difficulty. There were times while I was reading the book that I wished that Blume had not included so many different characters. However, by the end of the book, the character’s stories did come together and it did make sense. Still, I wish she would have cut out a few of them.

Nevertheless, I do not want to deter you from reading this book! It is a wonderful story otherwise I would not write about it. Our main character is fifteen year-old Miri. She lives with her single mother, Rusty. They live in house that has been split into two apartments. Miri’s grandmother, Irene lives on the first floor while Rusty and Miri live on the second floor. Miri also has an Uncle Henry that acts like a father toward her. Miri does not know who her father is and when she asks her family about it, they will not tell her anything and she has given up on learning anything about him. Miri’s closest friend is Natalie and she spends a lot of time at Natalie’s house so we get to know that family quite well. Miri also has a boyfriend, Mason. There are quite a few other characters that all make sense when you read the novel. Judy Blume did a wonderful job with intertwining the characters so that they all have a connection with someone that can be connected back to Miri.

The story is based off real life events. Judy Blume lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950s. During that time, there were three plane crashes in Elizabeth. The first plane crash was December 16, 1951. The second crash was January 22, 1952 and the third crash was February 11, 1952. Blume has done an excellent job recreating the scene. Residents are on edge. Children are frightened, teenagers are coming up with conspiracy theories as to what is going on. People are anxious. Elizabeth is being called, “plane crash city”. Residents have died or been injured in the crash. Natalie’s father, a dentist, has had to identify bodies with their dental records. A girl that Miri used to babysit died when the second plane crashed in the neighborhood and their building caught on fire. Her sister was severely burned. Miri’s boyfriend helped rescue people from the third plane crash. Other characters volunteered with the Red Cross. The residents of Elizabeth want Newark airport to be shut down. And it is temporarily and reopens in November, 1952. After that, flight patterns were rerouted so that they did not fly over Elizabeth.

Even with the terror of the planes falling from the sky, this book was fun to read. Blume is able to paint a vivid picture and I felt transported back to the 1950s. There are moments, such as when Miri gets an “Elizabeth Taylor haircut” that are sweet and reminded me of being fifteen years old. Or when Miri and Mason are dancing for the first time in Natalie’s basement. Or the conversations that Miri has with her girlfriends. The characters in the book continue to live their lives, even though they do not know if and when a plane will crash again. Blume has an amazing ability to create characters that are so relatable; you feel that her characters are your friends and family.

The book is named In the Unlikely Event after the instructional speech that flight attendants give before a plane takes off. “In the unlikely event of a plane crash…”  You can find it in print, large print and audiobook

 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley deals with tragedy and its aftermath. On a warm, foggy summer night, eleven people board a private jet heading from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. Sixteen minutes later, the plane plunges into the ocean, breaking apart. Two people survive: Scott Burroughs, a down-on-his-luck painter who was invited to fly by the wife of a wealthy media mogul, and a four-year-old boy J.J., the media mogul’s son. Scott swims in freezing cold water to save himself and the boy, his only thoughts on their survival.

Scott is hailed as a hero, but mysteries surround his background and news stations can’t find much information about him. The bodies of the other people on the flight are still missing as news reporters struggle to get the real story and government and investigative officials work to recover the plane’s wreckage. Family, media, money, and conspiracy drama galore rampage through this book, leaving readers on the edge of their seats wondering what really happened and wondering what people’s real motives are.

This book alternates between the present and past, highlighting each person who was on the plane, from the security detail to the pilots, the flight attendant, the media mogul, his wife, and young daughter, as well as a money launderer and his wife. As each character’s introduction and background story are revealed, a web of intrigue, lies, deception, and mystery comes to light. A conspiracy seems to unravel, only fueled by the 24-hour news cycle and the way the media has sensationalized this catastrophe. Everyone is drawing their own false conclusions with what really happened on the plane remaining a mystery as the book goes on.

I listened to this book through OverDrive and greatly enjoyed it. I stayed up way past my bedtime and woke up very early on the weekend to finish it, which is something I only ever do if a book has really captured my interest. The narrator had me hooked by adding in voice inflections and nuances that brought eash character to life. Add in a captivating story and a mystery I didn’t figure out until the very end and I was fully drawn into the world Hawley created from the very beginning.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Jughead: Volume One

I love Archie comics. Every time I went to the grocery store with my mom, I begged for the newest Archie comic and would begin reading it as soon as I got in the car. Archie was my first graphic novel crush and the whole gang at Riverdale High did things that I expected to do in high school. (When I reached high school and it wasn’t anything like Riverdale, I was more than a little disappointed.)

When I realized that Jughead was going to be given his very own comic, I was ecstatic and knew I had to read it. Jughead: Volume 1 gives Jughead the attention he always deserved in the classic Archie comics. Zdarsky and Henderson expand upon the current Archie volume to give Jughead his own up-to-date background.

In Jughead: Volume One, we meet Forsythe Pendleton Jones III, aka Jughead. He plays videogames, tries to keep Archie out of trouble, skates by in school by just following the rules, and spends his afternoons at Pop’s diner inhaling burgers and milkshakes. Everything is happening like normal until Riverdale High gets a new principal. This new principal institutes new changes on all levels: in the classrooms, in athletics, and, most concerning to Jughead, in the cafeteria. Once he gets rid of all the good food in the cafeteria, Jughead loses his cool and seeks vengeance. This graphic novel is full of gags and antics by Jughead and his friends as they try to oust the new conniving principal from his current position and, in the end, discover his dastardly plot to take over the school for nefarious reasons! This graphic novel had me laughing throughout and was a fantastic trip down memory lane to the classic Archie comics.