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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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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A working definition of "Serendipity" is "a happy accident." Last week as I was walking through the stacks looking for a book by Roger Rosenblatt, I caught sight of the title Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith. Thinking it was a reference to Jane Austen's wonderful creation, I brought it home and found it bore no resemblance to Elizabeth Bennett Darcy.

The first book by Ms. Smith in thirteen years, this Mrs. Darcy et al is a collection of short stories set in Virginia and North Carolina with a cast of characters that amuse, irritate, inspire and endure. Ms. Smith has an ear for dialect and an eye for detail as she covers universal themes of death, desertion, old age and love in all its permutations with little asides that caused this reader to laugh out loud.

Some of her characters work at Lowe's, shop at the Food Lion and eat bologna sandwiches with Miracle Whip. Others, remnants of the Old South and usually interlopers from Alabama, tend to put on airs, drive Cadillacs and dance at the Country Club.

In "Tongues of Fire" Karen reflects on her Mama's bridge club lunches. They all "required gelatin or mushroom soup or pecans. This was Lady Food.". Karen loved the fresh flowers, the silver, the pink cloths on the bridge tables and how her Mama's dressing room smelled of loose powder, cigarette smoke (Salems) and Chanel No.5. The ladies wore hats, patent-leather shoes and dresses of silk shantung. The bridge club met every Thursday at noon and went on for years until its members began to die or move to Florida.

Jeffry, a character in "Toastmaster" would have loved serendipity. Jeffry inserts vocabulary words into his sentences and thoughtsnoting when they are a vocabulary word. Generally considered a misfit, Jeffry finds his redemption in telling jokes and performing.

"Fried Chicken" is a simple, yet exquisitely layered, story of a mother, Mrs. Royal Pegram, dealing with her son Leonard's transgression--a story of pride and heroic endurance.

The "Happy Memories Club" introduces a feisty, old, former teacher "who taught English in the days when it was English, not 'language arts.'" Alice Scully is now a resident of Marshwood, a "total" retirement community where she has fallen in love with another resident, historian Dr. Solomon Marx, to the dismay of her grown sons. She says that passionate love affairs are not uncommon at the community as "Pacemakers cannot regulate the strange unbridled yearnings of the heart." Solomon has recently had a stroke which has paralyzed him below the waist and disordered his thoughts so that he has trouble remembering things, especially nouns. Once an internationally known expert on the Holocaust, Solomon now cannot remember the name of it.

While peeling back the layers in Alice's life and in the lives of others in this collection, Ms. Smith lets the reader laugh at the way they express themselves and at the situations in which they find themselves. At the same time most of them have a certain nobility that tugs at the heart strings.

Ms. Smith is funnier than William Faulkner, kinder than Flannery O'Connor, more acerbic than Jan Karon and well worth a read.

By Doris Thompson
Beaver Area Memorial Library

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We have all seen the advertisements on TV to win your dream home. I'm sure we've all dreamed about winning that home as well! In this novel one Janine Brown of Cedar Falls, Iowa actually wins that dream home, located on Shipwreck Lane on the Maine coast. There is a slight problem though. There are TWO Janine Browns living in Cedar Falls, Iowa!

The first Janine goes by Janey. She lives in a small apartment and works as a seamstress at a bridal salon. She is so shy that it is crippling. She is perfectly content to merely go to work, come home and cook. She cooks huge meals for just herself, throwing out the leftovers each day. Her only family (or friend for that matter) is her rambunctious aunt Midge. Janey is perfectly content with her bland life in Iowa. Aunt Midge is the one who enters both of them into the drawing for the dream house.

The second Janine Brown goes by Nean. She grew up with a poor excuse of a mother, in and out of foster homes, sometimes in shelters, and off and on with boyfriends. She is young and working only dead end jobs that don't even pay the bills. Nean has entered for the house before, only to receive her entry back in the mail for insufficient postage. This year she mails in the postcard with extra stamps. She just knows it is her turn, and that good things are coming.

Announcing that she is the big winner, a camera crew shows up at Janey's house. At the same time Nean gets an email from the show giving her the details on how to claim her house. They both won! Only one Janine Brown could be the winner though. They both pack up and head across country to claim their house. Nean gets there first, completely unaware that someone else thinks they won the house. She breaks in and makes herself at home. A couple of days later, Janey and Aunt Midge show up, only to find someone squatting in their new house.

A comedy of errors ensues until it gets straightened out as to which Janine Brown actually won the home. The Janines live together for the time being and learn to deal with each other; each thinking the other has some odd qualities. Over time their relationship grows, comically at times. This is such a great, light-hearted read. You will laugh and cry with the Janine Browns of Cedar Falls, Iowa!

Kate Weidner, Director
New Brighton Public Library

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There is no greater form of fantasy that exists than that which is in our own world. It is so often that people yearn to read of an undiscovered race of people, of individuals who have special abilities, of anything so completely foreign that it can change the way the quotidian is seen. But perhaps all that one has to do is to look to the right or left to find the unknown.

The greatest well of mystery is the human mind. And with over seven million in the world today, one does not have to search too far to find the ultimate fantasy.

Naoki Higashida is a thirteen year old boy with a mind that will forever hold mystery for all around him. His is a mind governed by autism.

Autism is a condition that has been struggled to be understood since it was first termed in 1911. This can largely been attributed to the exclusivity of the autistic mind.

Naoki Higashida has accomplished an amazing feat in bridging the gap between the autistic mind and those that have been struggling to understand it.

Countless pieces have been published by doctors and caretakers and parents of autistic individuals that describe their struggles, their efforts, and their lives of "dealing with" a child with autism. These are wonderful resources if trying to understand the people in the lives of an autistic child. But they are no gateway to truly understanding the autistic mind.

It is by the efforts of Higashida that one can discover the reason he jumps; because, "The motion makes me want to change into a bird and fly off to some faraway place. But constrained by ourselves and by the people around us, all we can do is tweet-tweet, flap our wings and hop around in a cage."

Higashida worked with his mother to develop a system by which he could communicate his thoughts. Through much trial and patience, he learned to utilize a Japanese letter board to spell out his mind, to expose the world of "us" - those whose minds and bodies are ruled by their diagnoses.

Prompted by simple inquiries as to why he speaks peculiarly or why he repeats himself or why he so frequently runs away, Higashida offers a priceless sneak peek into the enigmatic autistic mind.

Translated by Cloud Atlas author (and father of an autistic child), David Mitchell, The Reason I Jump is presented in short responses and stories by Higashida. Readers will be left captivated not by prose or the twist of a phrase, but by the sheer immensity of what has been achieved by a collaboration of dedicated individuals.

Beyond his book, Higashida has become a speaker for autism awareness, and now independently writes a daily blog from his own computer. His book has served as a foundation for the individual he has become.

This is a book quickly consumed, but not quickly forgotten. The insight offered will stay with the reader - urging for understanding, changing interpersonal perceptions, and prompting for insight to his own mind.

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

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Thomas Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly are two authors who are husband and wife. He is the bestselling author of 2010's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. She is an award-winning poet who also penned a book of letters titled Great With Child. Together these talented writers teamed up to produce a beautifully written novel, The Tilted World that tells the story of people caught in a natural disaster. The book is set in Mississippi where unending rain makes the river rise until the levees break creating floods that cause wide-spread destruction and suffering. The President of the United States turns his back on every plea for help. This sounds like recent history, but the book is set in 1927 and the president who ignored the desperate people was Calvin Coolidge.

More than just a lesson in history, this book relates an unlikely love story. Dixie Clay Holliver is in a loveless marriage. Married six years ago at age sixteen to the best looking man she ever saw, Dixie Clay moved far from her family to her husband's home on the Mississippi River. Though the inside of the house was as nice as she could want, the outside surprised her by its shabby-looking appearance. She couldn't help noticing how the house was so isolated and hard to find. Throughout the marriage her husband never explained his long and many absences from home. More out of boredom than anything else, Dixie Clay went exploring and discovered the source of his income. Hidden in the woods on their property was a working still. In spite of Prohibition being the law, Dixie Clay decided to become her husband's business partner. She did the moon shining, while he did the selling. Dixie Clay found that cooking whiskey was oddly fulfilling. She experimented with recipes to make different flavors of moonshine. As time went on, she became quite successful in her endeavors, but her marriage languished. Her husband blatantly cheated on her, lied to her, and controlled all of their money.

Into her life comes Teddy Ingersoll. Raised in an orphanage, he returned from the war without education or professional training. So Ingersoll became a revenue agent. Over the years he and his partner grew to be very good at their jobs. The pair was sent to Mississippi to discover the fate of two federal agents who were missing for weeks. Shutting down stills and arresting moonshiners are, naturally, part of their duties.

Dixie Clay and Ingersoll meet and feel an attraction they try to ignore. She is a married woman. His job keeps him travelling. They should not have any feelings for each other at all. A revenue agent and a moonshiner ought to be enemies. Instead, they fall in love. The course of their relationship is not an easy one, what with criminals to catch, saboteurs to find, and being on the opposite sides of the law. Though her husband doesn't love her, he is not one to let go easily. Not only is Dixie Clay his wife, she is the source of his income. Then the river rises, breaks the levees, and drowns an area of twenty-seven thousand square miles. Destroying everything in its path, the flood threatens Ingersoll's and Dixie Clay's lives.

The authors have created fascinating characters living in a most interesting era. Dixie Clay and Ingersoll are both strong people who made it through some difficult times in their lives. Though largely forgotten today, the flood was a historical event that altered American politics. Based on true facts, The Tilted World is an engrossing and educational love story.

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

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If there was a literary genre called "Fiction Based Off of Non-Fiction with a Touch of Fantasy," it would be my favorite genre with banners waved by Stephen King, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and Kurt Vonnegut. Luckily, there is no such genre - so The People in the Trees is not a concomitant of my favorite works (works don't typically rank amongst my favorite if I cringe more with each page).

That being said, it is not often that I respect the content of contemporary literature more than I did in reading Hanya Yanagihara's debut novel.

Inspired by the story of Dr. D. Carleton Gajdusek, Nobel Prize winner for his discovery of a disease in Papua New Guinea indigenes, The People in the Trees is the memoir of Dr. Norton Perina.

The first milestone in Perina's tale - and the first inclination to the reader that he/she is in for a bumpy ride - is the completion of his education from Harvard Medical School, where his lab work allowed him to kill mice in the name of scienceand glean joy from doing so.

Perina is invited by renowned Stanford anthropologist Paul Tallent to embark on a study to the fantastic Micronesian island Ivu'ivu. It is here that they find a lost tribe of people, thousands of new plant and insect species, and individuals who have gained hundreds of years of life from the consumption of turtles. The "Dreamers," as the researchers called them, lived extensively, but had about as much neural activity as the maggoty fruits they so loved. And so the dwelling on the paradox of eternal life wed with exponential brain decay - "a parody of immortality," Perina calls it - begins.

As Perina watches Tallent examine the feces of these Dreamers, he steals away with the meat of the sacred and life-extending turtle. His extensive experimentation with the meat, and a few ancient Ivu'ivans that he smuggled away, was all but an open invitation to pharmaceutical companies to ravage the primitive island in search of the turtles, thus introducing the conflict of scientific advancement at the cost of the loss of a culture.

Many years of his life are spent furthering research on Ivu'ivu and its Dreamers; many returns are made to the island; and many Ivu'ivuan children are accumulated along the way. Perina spent the latter years of his life raising these orphaned, primitive children into over forty Westernized adults.

Following medical school, scientific research, and raising children, Perina reaches another stage in life: prison. It is from prison that Perina writes his memoirs, including an account of how he raped many of his "sons."

This point is the culmination of one of the primary questions presented by the book: at what point is achievement negated by character? Is there any respect for a man who was presented the Nobel Prize, who discovered the source of eternal life, who adopted and educated orphans, and who molested children?

Beyond questions that hit the core of humanity, Yanagihara presents true characters in the crafting of her work. The awful truth of Perina's person is exposed in his accounts of the world around him. The readers know he is a misogynist, misanthrope, and cynic before they even know he is a rapist. He expresses his disgust in the simplicity of the Ivu'ivuans, he notes every unattractive aspect of those around him, he doesn't even remember his "children's" names, and then there's the experimentation on and molestation of human beings. But another character weaves his sycophantic way into the text: Dr. Ronald Kubodera. Kubodera "edited" Perina's memoirs, sliding in the extensive footnotes that make the reader feel as though this novel was a part of a scientific journal. This characterization through construction, paired with a vocabulary that made me feel like I was studying for the GRE, and questions that still haven't left me is what I really love about this book that I so hate.

Jordan Watson

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Both The Fault In Our Stars and Somebody Up There Hates You are books for teen readers that have teens with cancer as their central theme. Grim as the subject is, neither book is completely somber or gloomy.

Although John Green's The Fault In Our Stars was published in 2012, it has received attention recently because it is being made into a movie. Speculation about the casting, the final selection of the actors, the filming in Pittsburgh have all been newsworthy items lately. It goes without saying the book will be better than the movie. In John Green's talented hands, the book is moving, entertaining and hard to put down. It was deservedly a Teen's Top Ten choice for last year.

New this year is Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon. Though the subject is similar, the books are very different. Interestingly, Ms. Seamon has a boy protagonist telling his story, while Mr. Green has a girl telling hers.

In The Fault In Our Stars sixteen-year-old Hazel's cancer started in her thyroid and colonized in her lungs. After taking part in an experimental drug trial, her health stabilized but she became so depressed her doctor sent her to Support Group. Once a week, six to ten teen-agers in various states of ill health meet with Patrick, an adult cancer survivor. They share their experiences, feelings, and fears. According to Hazel, "The Support Group was, of course, depressing as hell." The only reason she continues to attend is that she wants to make her parents happy. Hazel is aware that if there is anything worse than being a sixteen-year-old cancer patient, it is having a child who is a sixteen-year-old cancer patient. So even though she thinks Support Group is a waste of time, Hazel goes every week. It's there she meets Augustus Waters who had osteosarcoma over a year ago. In spite of having a prosthetic leg, he has a great attitude. Augustus says to Patrick, "I'm on a roller coaster that only goes up"

Hazel and Augustus's attraction is immediate and mutual. They can't take their eyes off each other. These two share a dry wit that makes their dialog hilarious at times. As their relationship grows, the funny scenes balance the serious ones. How this story will translate to the screen remains to be seen but the book version is wonderful. Read it now before the movie comes out.

In Somebody Up There Hates You Richard Casey, the seventeen-year-old narrator, has an lively sense of humor. Even though he lives in a hospice unit, his voice is so animated and amusing, it is easy to forget how ill he really is. Much of his behavior is like most teenaged boys. His thoughts often wander to the opposite sex. He admires certain nurses' physical attributes. Sylvie, the fifteen-year-old girl who lives across the hall, is often on his mind. Richie talks her into staging a Halloween stunt of questionable taste. His uncle springs him from the unit for a trip to a bar. Richie plays all-night poker with the other insomniacs on the floor. He describes the other patients and their visitors with smart-alecky comments. But even as he exasperates the nurses, he endears himself to them, too. He can be quite thoughtful and charming. Worried about his mom, Richie connects with his grandmother and persuades her to help his mom. Richie describes himself and Sylvie, "we're kids, hospice hostages or not." Really they just want to make the best of whatever time they have left.

In the author's blurb in the back of her book, Hollis Seamon wrote of being moved by "young people who remained teen-agers no matter how ill they were." In an interview, John Green talked of how lives can be meaningful no matter how short they were. Both books are affecting, touching and absorbing stories about living, dying, and loving.

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

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The title character in Peter Gethers' book, Ask Bob, is a veterinarian who cares for pets and writes a newspaper column as well. Bob became a vet because he wanted to help end suffering in the world, but he can understand animals, not people. He can translate all the different barks, yips, meows, chirps, and whines into what animals really mean to communicate. People are much harder for him to read. So he becomes a vet, practices in New York City, and answers questions from pet owners in his "Ask Dr. Bob" column.

Every chapter of Ask Bob begins with one of the columns that reflects the part of Bob's life that is chronicled in the following pages. Each column has the newspaper's heading describing him as "Dr. Robert Heller, one on New York's leading veterinarians" and lists his accomplishments. Bob starts out as a vet who "cares for cats, dogs, birds, turtles, frogs, and many varieties of rodents" with a once-a-week column. He goes on to write a book, become a regular on the 'Today' show, publish a second book, and add an e-mail advice column. The newspaper runs "Ask Dr. Bob" three times a week, all the while he cares for the animals that people love. His professional life grows very successful. His personal life is another story.

Bob's father left his family business to become an actor. He managed to remain an actor his entire life by playing the same role in a daytime soap opera for thirty-five years. This allowed him to move his wife and two sons to a small town in upper New York State. Bob's father spent four days a week in Manhattan and three days a week with his family. It is no wonder that Bob felt he hardly knew the man.

Bob's mother did not work outside the home. Instead, she managed the household and took care of her two sons. Keeping everyone as happy as possible was her life's work.

Bob's brother Ted is six years older than he. When Bob was ten years old, the sixteen year old Ted seemed to be the perfect brother, handsome, strong, a good athlete, and a hero to Bob. Ted would protect him, allow Bob to join in games with his friends, and teach him to play chess. But Ted grew resentful of his absent father and started to give his mother grief as only a teen can. The worse Ted behaved, the better Bob seemed to their parents. Ted couldn't get the approval and attention that Bob got from them. So the brothers grew apart, even though Bob still looked up to Ted. Eventually, Bob came to realize that Ted was a liar. Coming home from college, Ted would tell lie after lie, mostly to avoid punishment for his screw-ups at school. Their father became more controlling and angry with not just Ted, but the whole family. Since Bob had stopped caring about his father's acceptance of him, he escaped the brunt of his father's rage. Ted, though, continued to resist his father and to resent Bob. When Ted took his anger out on Bob, he could always make Bob feel he was the one to blame for Ted's actions.

With a family like this, it's not surprising that Bob became more comfortable with animals than people. A naturally caring and intelligent man, Bob does make friends and form relationships. When he meets Anna, Bob thinks he has hit the jackpot. Finally he finds someone who cares for him as much as he cares for her. He believes they will be together for the rest of their lives. Readers will cheer for this truly likeable character as he works to make a good life for himself, all the animals, and the people he loves.

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

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Reading Chuck Klosterman can often make a reader feel like a golden retriever chasing balls being shot from a tennis server on max speed, but in the case of his most recent book, "I Wear the Black Hat," we find some rhyme to his reason. Unlike others of his work, this book focuses on the singular topic of villainy, more specifically, what it means to be a villain.

Despite his focus on one question throughout the entirety of his book, Klosterman doesn't lose his signature of blending life experience, research, pop culture, and out and out diatribe. It is this signature that somehow makes the exploration of Machiavelli, O.J. Simpson, and Hitler compelling, relevant, and - believe it or not - funny.

Klosterman's voice is that which runs through each of our heads throughout the day, but Klosterman has made the move to write down his train of thought for the world to partake of. Reading "I Wear the Black Hat" is like reading your own thoughts on villainy; that is, if you were the one to initially realize that you even had questions of what it means to be a villain and the one to make everything from the Radiohead to Stalin lead toward answering those questions.

As always, Klosterman is impressed with his ability to share his thoughts on something that he has obviously researched extensively. What is more impressive than his extensive research, is his ability to exhibit his reasoning and reaction to certain events or information in a completely relatable manner. He does this through his endless willingness to share his own experiences, embarrassing and notable alike, in an accessible manner free of any pretension.

By the final page of the book, conclusions are reached. Many examples are given. Some questions are answered, but many more are raised. "I Wear the Black Hat" is an example of Postmodernism at its finest. It raises a question that has never been answered with a universal voice. It displays one man's opinion, formed as a collage of the opinions of others. And it leaves the reader thinking. It leaves the reader with prompts for his/her own thoughts, his/her own answers to the questions that have never been thought to ask. Who does wear the black hat?

It is common knowledge that Snidely Whiplash is a villain, but why is that common knowledge? Is it the mustache that gives it away? Is it that he literally wears a black hat? But what about D.B. Cooper? Was this man with his dapper bearing and daring plan also crowned with black? And how do Chevy Chase and rapper Ice Cube help to answer any of these questions?

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

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"The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells" by Andrew Sean Greer is a novel about heartache, loss, and the hope that the impossible will happen to each of us. "It's 1985 and Greta Wells is living in New York City in a little area no one knows called Patchin Place, tucked away in a long forgotten corner of Greenwich Village. Within a short period of time, Greta suffers the loss of a brother and a breakup with her boyfriend of ten years. She becomes depressed, inconsolable. Her only saviors are her dear Aunt Ruth, who lives downstairs, and a radical new therapy to help her with her depression.

After seeing psychologists and trying pills, she is left with, in her mind, only a last ditch effort to regain her happiness: Electroconvulsive therapy. The doctor says it might give her headaches, and she might suffer some hallucinations. What happens to Greta is far from a typical hallucination, however. She wakes up the next day in a completely different world. She awakes as the same Greta Wells, but in the year 1918. The cast of characters are the same: her brother Felix, his boyfriend Alan, her lover Nathan, and her Aunt Ruth. The times, however, are drastically different. She is thrown into a world at war for the first time. Her husband in this world, Nathan, is off to war. Her brother gets imprisoned for being "German." She has a lover, Leo, a young man who keeps her company while Nathan is away. The next day she wakes up still in 1918 and is set to receive another treatment. And what happens when she wakes up the following day is even stranger: It's 1941. Everyone is around again, except for Aunt Ruth. There had been an accident, apparently.

The Greta in 1941 quickly learns that she and Nathan have a child named Felix. At the time it is October, the United States not yet plunged into the throes of World War II. Greta realizes that it is coming but cannot say anything. She hesitates to do anything that will change the course of any of her lives at first. When she gets her next treatment, though, and wakes back up in 1985, she realizes that one of the other Greta's has been messing around in her world, trying to get Nathan back!

With every treatment and every morning wakeup Greta is flung from time period to time period. She grows more attached to the other lives and less to the one she was living in 1985. She knows her time is limited in each year, as there are only 25 total treatments. In the end Greta must decide what era she will stay in. There are so many twists and unexpected turns that make this novel unlike any other I have read. It makes you question what really is impossible, and it makes you think of all of the "what-ifs" in life. Andrew Sean Greer really makes you travel along with Greta and feel her pain. This novel will transport you, along with Greta, to her impossible lives.

Kate Weidner
Director, New Brighton Public Library

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According to Starla Claudelle's daddy, whistling past the graveyard is what you do to help keep your mind off of your 'worstest fears'. This poor nine-year-old girl has to do a great deal of whistling in Susan Crandall's novel, Whistling Past the Graveyard. Taking place in 1963, the book tells how Starla faces some very scary situations and changes in her life.

Starla is living with her grandmother, Mamie, in Cayuga Springs, Mississippi. Her father works down in the Gulf on an oil rig, so his visits home are as 'scarce as holidays'. Her mother left for Nashville to become a famous singer when Starla was three, so her visits home don't happen at all.

Since it is important to Mamie that Starla become a lady, Starla's daddy told her she has to try. That's not easy for Starla. Mamie makes it plain that Starla, with her red hair, sassy mouth, and way of leaping before she looks, is a trial. Starla had been on restriction twice already since school let out, and it's only the start of July. The Fourth of July, with a parade, fair, and fireworks, is the best part of the summer to Starla, so she's doing her best to behave. She knows if she does anything to make Mamie mad, she will be grounded, because Mamie knows that would be the worst possible punishment to Starla. She cleans her room with extra-care and bites her tongue while Mamie badmouths Starla's mother. But when twelve-year-old Jimmy Sellers starts picking on five-year-old Priscilla Panchella, Starla springs into action. She pops him in the nose, and before his blood reaches his upper lip, Mamie grounds Starla for the holiday. Starla just can't stand having to miss all the fun. Once Mamie leaves she slips out the back door, down the alley, and wiggles into a group of kids to watch the parade. Afterwards, Starla and her best friend Patti Lynn play for awhile at the playground. Jimmy Sellers' mother sees them and can't believe Mamie let Starla out of the house. Dragging Starla to her car, Mrs. Sellers tells her, "Your grandmomma is right, you're no-good, cheap trash, just like your momma." Starla's ears ring, her face gets hot, she shoves Mrs. Sellers, and races off as fast as she can.

Running until her lungs burn and walking until she is out of town, Starla decides to keep going until she gets to Nashville. Mamie would be thrilled Starla wasn't around to embarrass her anymore. Starla would live with her mother, her daddy would join them, and they would be a family again.

The trouble with this plan is that Starla doesn't know the way to Nashville. Hoping to find help, she trudges on with the sun beating down on her, no water, and her only food is the candy she gathered at the parade. Finally an old beat-up truck stops. The driver is a 'skinny colored woman' who Starla can tell is nice. On the floor of the truck is a basket holding a red-faced white baby wrapped in a pillowcase. The woman introduces herself as Eula, the baby as James, and offers to ride Starla part way to Nashville. As they travel, Starla learns Eula isn't the maid for baby James' family, as she first thought. Eula found the baby on the steps of a church and decided to keep him for her own.

Eula drives the three of them to her home, a cabin with no electricity or running water out in the middle of nowhere. There Eula lives with her husband Wallace, a huge foul-tempered man.

Soon Starla and Eula form a close bond that strengthens each of them. Starla helps Eula escape her miserable life with Wallace. Eula helps Starla find her way to a new life.

The appalling racism of the times plays a large part in the story. Told in Starla's colloquial language, Whistling Past the Graveyard is a poignant slice of history.

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

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I am always pleased to have the opportunity to read a first book written by a promising new author. The "Diaries of Pontius Pilate", by Joseph Max Lewis falls into this category. This is a thriller that takes place on the shores of the Dead Sea. As the story begins, a crack team of archeologists discover a collection of yet to be dated scrolls, as well as other small artifacts. And there are bones too, skeletal remains that appear to be victims of violence that occurred long ago. This discovery was made late one day, and the site was secured to be investigated further after the team had the opportunity to rest and prepare their find for transport. Tired people make mistakes, and this team felt that they found something of great historic significance. There was no room for mistakes. Unfortunately, the excitement of the team was dampened a bit when the morning after their discovery, a body was found floating in the Dead Sea near their camp.

Once the dead man is recovered and the police move in to investigate, work on the dig is slowed and workers are allowed only to make the most minimal attempts to preserve the scrolls. Even this effort is complicated by a strong storm rolling into the area overnight. Although the local police have agreed to help to guard the camp and the cave where the scrolls and the two skeletons were found, danger lurks. Each member of the archeological team is debriefed and their story subjected to scrutiny. The investigation pleases no one, not the police, not the team, and certainly not the as yet undiscovered observers. Even in the desert, it is nearly impossible to hide from prying eyes. The problem lies in the fact that no one knows about the danger, and no one knows who the power is behind it. Unfortunately, it doesn't take too long to find out that something has gone awry and that perhaps word of the discovery has reached the wrong ears. Suddenly, and without explanation more people begin to die. Some of them are very good people. Background, education, and ethnicity do not matter. People continue to die.

This book is somewhat slow in the beginning but that can be said of many of the best books that I have read. I hope that readers don't allow this to deter them. Some things are worth waiting for, and the story we find here in "Diaries of Pontius Pilate" proves this. All thrillers have a hero or two, but don't be too quick to assume you know who the hero or heroes are. Several of the characters are compelling, all are interesting, and some, even the "good guys" have secrets of their own.

Beware of jumping to conclusion! Just sit back and enjoy a good story well told. You will find plenty of action and adventure, interesting historical speculation, and possibly, a hint of something soft and tender lingering in the background. I don't want to give too much away, but I do want to recommend this to those who enjoy a good adventure story or a good thriller!

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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"How The Light Gets In" by Louise Penny is the most recent offering in the Chief Inspector Gamache series. It takes place in the well-loved village of Three Pines, that extraordinary place that appears on no map and can only be found by those who are meant to be there. Of course, the reasons for arriving in Three Pines are not always good, and sometimes, the visits end badly. This just adds to its charm.

We find most of the usual characters in "How The Light Gets In", including Rosa who was so dreadfully missed while she was away. The village is, as we so often find it, filled with snow and cold, and the season of Christmas has nearly arrived. Of course holidays mean nothing to most criminals. We are, as always, drawn into the story softly and gently, and by the time we near the end of this one, we become breathless. But isn't that the way we often find Three Pines?

There isn't much I am willing to share, because I wouldn't want to spoil it for those who are followers of this series or those who will become followers. My purpose is to assure you that this is, in my opinion, the very best of the books, so far. Readers will not be disappointed. The twists and turns and magic of Three Pines have once again woven a tale worth telling, and one well worth reading. Things at Surete du Quebec have gotten much worse. Inspector Gamache is distracted and feels quite alone.

This time in Three Pines we meet Constance, who has an air of mystery about her, but has been embraced by the village when she comes to see her long time friend Myrna. Even though her visit is a short one, everyone is looking forward to having her company for Christmas. Of course it's partly because they want to know more about her. Myrna is unwilling to spill Constance's secret. We do finally learn it, and what a secret it is! Most people have things in their life they prefer to leave hidden and choose not to discuss, especially those who find themselves in Three Pines.

The mystery in "How The Light Gets In" is just as intriguing and compelling as the mysteries in the previous books. But this one, as usual, is only a small part of what makes this particular story so important. All of the Gamache books have two tales to tell, the crime that calls him into the fray and what is happening beyond and behind the crime.

I highly recommend this to readers of mysteries and readers who love good characters and touching stories. In fact, I recommend Louise Penny's books to all of my friends and many patrons who visit the library. I urge you begin this series right away. I predict that you will fall in love with Chief Inspector Gamache, Clara, Myrna, Gabri, and all of the marvelous misfits of Three Pines.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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I find it hard to resist books about animals, especially dogs. But this time I found one about a cat that was irresistible. A small book called "A Street Cat Named Bob: and How He Saved My Life" by James Bowen caught my eye. The author was born in England, and when he was young his parents divorced. As a youngster he spent time travelling back and forth from Australia to England. As a result, he never made many friends, and he was a bit of a loner. At one school he was even bullied. To cope, James turned to drugs, including heroin. For a time he was even homeless and spent time on the streets in London.

In 2007 Mr. Bowen was living in a government subsidized apartment in north London and taking methadone to treat his heroin addiction. That's when he met a ginger tom cat who was suffering from an infected leg and was in need of a meal. But James was not in a good position to help. He was barely taking responsibility for himself, and the last thing he needed was a pet. The next morning, the ginger tom was still sitting in the same spot as twelve hours earlier. He took that as a sign that he should help.

James spent all the money he had to take the cat to the vet with the plan that he would do what he could to get the cat healthy again and set him free. He said to a friend "He's a bit like Killer Bob in Twin Peaks". Twin Peaks was an old favorite TV series of James. Killer Bob was a character in the show who was actually a schizophrenic, a kind of Jekyll and Hyde character. Part of the time he would be a normal, sane guy, the next he would be kind of crazy and out of control. The tom was a bit like that, so "Bob" it was.

At the end of two weeks, Bob was doing much better so James tries to set him free to live the life he had been accustomed to-back to the streets. But the cat had other ideas and doesn't leave. Mr. Bowen was a street musician, a busker who played the guitar for money. One day Bob followed him to work and sat in the guitar case. People walking by had a hard time passing by the adorable cat that was sitting in the case or perched on James' shoulder, and donations greatly increased.

This is a story about a young man who lost his way but then found his way thanks to a cat. Theirs is a loyal and loving friendship that has charmed readers from around the world. "A Street Cat Named Bob" has sold over 350,000 copies in the United Kingdom and has been published in twenty-five languages. In July of this year, it was published in the United States, and it is already a bestseller. If you liked "Marley and Me" and "Dewey the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World", you will like this book. Bob is a bit of a library cat also. James takes him to libraries when he uses the computer, and he also takes him to book signings. Be sure to check out videos of James and Bob on YouTube.

Diane Wakefield
Director of Beaver Area Memorial Library

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As a long-time fan of Chris Bohjalian, I was expecting a good read, and I was not disappointed. His style is so civilized, and his writing is so compelling, that even a grisly murder can be merely presented and not overdramatized. There is a thread of intensity running through this story that carries you along and won't let you go. It is all the more compelling when you find the bits of synchronicity and so called coincidence connecting people, places, and moments in time. In fact, it draws you in and makes you a part of the story itself. You can see the events through the eyes of the Marchese and Marchesa Rosati and their family. Francesca is the mother of small children and married to the older son of the family. Her husband Marco and his younger brother Vittore are off serving their country. The youngest of the Rosati children, Christina, lived there as well, little more than a child herself.

Moving forward in time to ten years after the war, we meet up with this family again. Their lives, like the lives of all who lived through WWII, were affected or perhaps even shattered. This family was forever changed by events that occurred in the days before the end of the war. Some members were affected more deeply than others for reasons that will be obvious as you read.

Another revelation will be the synchronicity of the stories of the Rosati family and another family. A position she earned through her own wartime experience, Serafina Bettini is working as the only woman detective with the police department in Florence, Italy, a job at which she appears to excel.

The events that occur at the Villa Chimera, the estate that the Rosati family called home and the place that one sunny day was the destination of two soldiers, one German and one Italian, are the core of this story. Their arrival set in motion events that would affect lives of all those who lived and worked on the estate and even those who were merely there by happenstance. Even Bohjalian's soft touch with a story cannot feather away the horrors of WWII and the atrocities that occurred. Also, we would do well to remember that not all deaths are caused by war, that not every wound is healed by time, and that we are all connected in some small way to each other.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Elizabeth L. Silver's first book, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, is a well-written, hard-to-put-down, thought-provoking puzzler. Unlike most mysteries, the question isn't "Who did it?" since Noa states in the first chapter, "I know I did it," and has spent ten years in the Pennsylvania State Penitentiary awaiting execution. The question is "Why did she do it?" The story is told by Noa as she writes a manuscript for her lawyer, with letters from her victim's mother to her dead daughter ending each section.

The victim's mother, a high powered attorney, reversed her pro-death penalty stance, formed an anti-capital punishment organization, and hired a new lawyer for Noa. Since Noa had refused to testify at her trial or any of the appeals, the lawyer believes that the governor would grant Noa clemency if he heard her side of the story. Though Noa instantly regrets it, she agrees to write an explanation of her actions. With musings and asides, Noa presents her answer to "Why did she do what she did?"

Her single mother was a self-centered aspiring actress. She named her daughter Noah because she wanted a boy. (Noa dropped the 'h' in high school to be more original.) When Noa was ten months old, her mother dropped her and allowed her to fall down a flight of stairs. After calling 911 her mother quickly staged a break-in so she wouldn't be blamed for Noa's injuries. Once the paramedics arrived, she flirted with one and ignored her child.

Graduated as her high school class salutatorian, Noa won a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and moved to Philadelphia. Two months later she suffered a miscarriage that ended both her education and her ability to have children. She stayed in Philadelphia where her father happened to live, a coincidence according to Noa, but an obsession according to her prosecutors. When she did meet him, Noa discovered her father to be a former convict who now owned a bar. At his request they met at his bar once a month, and slowly they became acquainted. Noa believed he was more anxious to build a relationship than she was.

Then Marlene Dixon, her victim's mother, entered Noa's life. It was from the very controlling Marlene that Noa learned that her father was dating Marlene's daughter, Sarah. Marlene thought her college-educated daughter could do much better than an ex-convict for a lover. As Sarah was ignoring her, Marlene felt desperate enough to enlist Noa's help to break up the relationship. Though Noa was hurt that her father hadn't told her about Sarah, she saw no reason to help Marlene. Marlene tried persuasion and then blackmail, but neither convinced Noa. Bribery did. Ten thousand dollars was a great deal of money to Noa. She agreed to try to talk her father into ending the relationship with Sarah. In what Noa called information-gathering, but her prosecutor called stalking, Noa shadowed Sarah. While following her, Noa saw Sarah and her father leave a Planned Parenthood office with happy faces. Noa was positive Sarah was pregnant. Later her father confessed that he actually didn't want the baby. Of course, Marlene didn't want the baby either. She devised several different methods to end the pregnancy. Between Noa's account and the revelations in Marlene's letters, the cause of Sarah's death becomes clear.

As Noa tells her story, she includes thoughts on prison life and her approaching execution. While she ponders what her last words will be, she reviews famous last words. After expounding on the death penalty through history and in other countries, Noa proposes pay-for-view executions with the proceeds going to charity. She describes the class system that exists in our judicial process. Since some people are more valuable to society, their killers are automatically executed. "Kill a police officer, get the needle. Kill your husband, get twenty-five to life." She explains how extenuating circumstances can affect a trial's outcome. No matter how readers feel about the death penalty, they will have plenty of food for thought in The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

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

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Craig Johnson has written nine books with Sheriff Walt Longmire as the hero. A&E television network developed the series "Longmire" based on these books. Fans of the show should be warned that the newest book, A Serpent's Tooth, has some big differences in it: (1) No deputy named Branch exists and runs against Walt in an election. There is no election either. (2) Walt's wife died of cancer, period. There is no mystery surrounding her death. (3) Walt's daughter lives in Philadelphia. (4) Vic is divorced and her relationship with Walt goes way beyond the workplace. Vic is edgier and more profane than on the show.

Walt's character, though, is the same in both the book and the television show. He has principles, integrity, a strong sense of responsibility, an unfinished cabin, and best friend Henry Standing Bear by his side. The always honest Henry is the first to let Walt know when he is making a mistake, but also the first to help whenever needed.

In A Serpent's Tooth Henry's help is needed when Cord Lynear appears in Wyoming County where Walt is the sheriff. Cord is a teen who was banished from his church, his home, and believes that his mother is dead. Otherwise, she would come looking for him, he figures. While hunting for the truth in Cord's story, Walt discovers that an off-shoot sect of the Mormon Church has established a compound in his county. Sect leader, four hundred pound Roy Lynear, is both Cord's father and the man who banished him. Lynear teaches different doctrines than those of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, including polygamy and death for traitors to the church. His brothers are leaders of sects that have compounds in neighboring counties. This group controls thousands of acres of land and the people who live there.

The compounds have walls with locked gates and gun towers. The gun towers are called observation posts, but the observers are armed with rifles. The children don't attend school, and thirteen year old girls are 'sealed' to fifty-year- old men. Since the sect hasn't been caught breaking any laws, law enforcement officials can do nothing.

Walt hopes investigating Cord's mother will give him a chance to get into the compound and find enough evidence to make some arrests. Driving there for the first time, Walt and Vic stop in the town nearest to the compound. In the town's general store they meet Eleanor Tisdale who, it turns out, is Cord's grandmother. Eleanor's daughter ran away seventeen years ago, never once contacting her parents in all those years. Her father quoting King Lear, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child" gives the book its title.

While Walt is out working, Cord leaves the jail where Walt had let him bunk with an older man who claimed to be Orrin Porter Rockwell. Since Orrin Porter Rockwell was the right hand man of Brigham Young two hundred years ago, it's no wonder Walt thinks this man is an escapee from a mental hospital. Orrin claims to have been sent to protect Cord but won't say who sent him. The mysteries just keep piling up.

During a visit to the compound, Walt notices a drilling rig. Lynear claims it's there to drill for water, but Walt worked on an oil drilling crew years ago and knows better. Researching backgrounds of various suspects leads Walt to CIA connections. With spies, big oil, off-shoot cults, a runaway teen, and people with questionable sanity, Walt has his hands full. Throughout, Henry's wry observations and quips add humor to all the situations.

All the Longmire books deal with a crime that is solved at the end. They also have ongoing background stories about Walt's private life. Occasionally, characters refer to something that happened in previous books. Reading the series in order to discover how all the plots develop adds more entertainment. With new twists to Vic and Walt's relationship, A Serpent's Tooth is a well-written book with great characters, witty dialog, and an engrossing mystery.

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

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Once in a very long while, we readers come across a gem of a book, a real treasure that we want others to savor as well. Such was my encounter with A Month in the Country by James L. Carr. A small book, a novella really, it can be read easily in one sitting, but small refers only to the number of pages, not to Carr's monumental effort to create an homage to much that we love about England.

The story is a simple one. A young man, Tom Birkin, returns home after serving with the British in Flanders during WWI to learn that his wife has deserted him. His experience in the trenches during some of the worst fighting of the war has left him with a stammer and a facial tic. He has, however, a degree in art restoration and has been hired by a struggling Yorkshire church to uncover and perhaps restore a mural that was rumored to have been painted some 600 years before in the apse of the church.

Because Tom has no money, he lives in the belfry of the church whilst he works on the project. He gradually becomes immersed in the life of the country folk as they reach out to him and, even as he is restoring the masterpiece in the church, he also becomes restored.

Other characters as clearly and vividly drawn as any by Charles Dickens are returning veteran and archeologist, Charles Moon, who has been hired by the same person as Tom to locate a distant ancestor of hers, Piers Hebron, who had been excommunicated around 1373 and buried outside the church pale. If he is located, the fence is to be moved so that his grave will be on church property.

Moon had been a captain and was a genuine war hero, having been awarded the Military Cross for bravery for rescuing a comrade out on the line, then returning to fetch another who was screaming in pain even though that fellow was past saving. Moon is working while waiting to go to Basra in modern day Iraq to work on uncovering a ziggurat. He has an ulterior motive in digging for Mr. Hebron: he knows there are remains of an Anglo Saxon place of worship there with lots of cemetery jars...presumably filled with valuable artifacts.

We have the Ellerbeck family, consisting of the father, a stationmaster, who also serves as a Methodist minister, his wife, who feeds and nurtures Tom, 14-year-old Kathy Ellerbeck who comes frequently to the church to play hymns on a gramophone and keep Tom company.

Then there is the vicar, Arthur Keach, and his lovely wife, Alice, whom Tom compares to Botticelli's Primavera.

There is much history contained in this brief love story. There is also a touch of mystery as well as subtle humor. At one point, Tom admits to being in love, and we readers think at that point, it's the lovely Alice, but, no, it's the fellow who 600 years earlier had painted the mural he was uncovering painstakingly inch by beautiful inch. He's in love with the painter's knowledge, his technique, his creativity, the splendidness of his creation.

It is a love letter to the sturdy workers of earlier generations who carefully built sturdy churches which lasted hundreds of years, who built stoves which could endure a direct hit from a shell burst and still work, to the gentle folk of good humor who welcomed a stranger, fed him, included him in their church activities and it's a love letter to the English language. It's beautifully written with allusions, alliteration, sensory details, etc.

My favorite passage, written 50 years after the idyllic title month, occurs at the end:

"We can ask and ask, but we can't have again what once seemed ours forever-the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They've all gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass."

Doris Thompson,
Beaver Area Memorial Library Board member and member of The Book and Play Club of Beaver

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Making its debut in the United States, Snow White Must Die is a #1 International Bestseller. Nele Neuhaus, the German author, has a unique writing style that keeps the reader intrigued.

The story begins as thirty year old Tobias Sartorius is released from jail after serving ten years for a crime he can't remember committing. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence of murdering two seventeen year old girls, one who was his girlfriend and the other an ex-girlfriend he dumped for the new girlfriend. The bodies of the two girls were never found, but Tobias served his time. Tobias is met at the prison by his best childhood friend turned famous actress, Nadia von Bredow. Upon his release he returns to Altenhain, the town in which he grew up and also the place where the horrific murder and disappearance of the two girls took place. Upon his return he is confronted by the grim news that his parents are divorced, his father lost the family business due to the scandal, and the townspeople of Altenhain were very hostile towards him and his family. Ten years is not enough time for the townspeople, most of whom were his close friends, to forget what happened or for Tobias to remember the events of the past.

The investigative team of Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are introduced when their investigation of a woman being pushed from a pedestrian bridge leads them to the town of Altenhain and the conspiratorial townspeople. It soon becomes apparent that the townspeople are hiding something. Their strange behavior begs the reader to ask "Does it take a town to cover up a murder?" As more crimes take place and another young girl disappears, the townspeople are convinced that Tobias is repeating his past crimes, so they begin to take matters into their own hands. Kirchhoff and Bodenstein have to use every crime solving technique to uncover the truth before it is too late for everyone.

Snow White Must Die is as intriguing a book as the title suggests. The pace of it was a bit slow in the beginning. However, once the action picked up, I found it hard to put the book down and could not read fast enough to find out what would happen next.

After doing some research on Nele Neuhaus, I discovered that this is the fourth book in her German murder crime series featuring the police crime team of Bodenstein and Kirchoff. I found it interesting that this is the first of Neuhaus' books to be translated from German to English. The translation by Steven T. Murray is a little uneven at times but definitely does not take away from the intrigue of the storyline. I certainly hope that more of her books are translated to English.

Neuhaus' German mysteries have the international crime appeal similar to, but not as dark as Swedish novelist Steig Larsson, while maintaining a crime mystery series similar to Michael Connelly's Harry Botch series. I found myself getting a little confused by the large cast of German names in the book, just like reading Larsson's book, "The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo.". However, the story line and plot twists were well worth learning all the names of the key players in this very intriguing page-turner. Fans of Steig Larsson and Michael Connelly will find Snow White Must Die a fascinating crime fiction read.

Bernie McKean, Librarian
Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls

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Angelina Jolie's announcement of her double mastectomy made All You Could Ask For quite the timely novel. What makes it such a surprising book is that it is ESPN sportscaster Mike Greenberg writing about women's health. So often when authors write about the opposite gender, they get it wrong. Women writers can make their male heroes unrealistic and one-dimensional, and men have done the same with their female characters. In this book Mike Greenberg gets it right, creating not just one, but three interesting and believable women. Written in the first person, the short chapters rotate among the three protagonists, allowing each to tell her own story. In the first half of the book, they establish their backgrounds, show their personalities, and seem to have nothing in common at all.

Brooke is a happily married mother of twins. She and her husband met while in college, and twenty years later Brooke thinks marrying him was the best decision she ever made. He still has the ability to make her feel like the super-cute co-ed she was on their first date. Now his job requires him to be away from home for weeks at a time. Brooke works hard to keep him faithful and as happy in their marriage as she.

Samantha is a newlywed. She met an older man, and after a whirlwind courtship, married him over her father's objections. On the second day of her honeymoon, she finds proof that her husband is having an ongoing affair with another woman. So Brooke runs away, literally. She goes on a run that takes her eighteen miles down the beach to another hotel. There she calls her father, checks in, starts annulment proceedings, and begins training for a triathlon.

Katherine is a successful business woman. Her personal life is a mess, but she has money and lots of it. She has a personal driver, a therapist, two homes, an assistant, and a boss who broke her heart nineteen years ago. That he created Katherine's position for her, making her the highest ranking female executive on Wall Street, does not make up for the fact that he dumped her all those years before. After going on a disastrous blind date, Katherine decides it is time to take the first vacation of her life. Off she flies to Aspen, Colorado to climb mountains, breathe fresh air, and to relax. Not only does she do all that, but Katherine meets a man, falls in love, and finally gets over her boss.

Part I ends with Brooke, Samantha, and Katherine all declaring, for their differing reasons, that they have had the best day in their entire lives. Part II introduces the common denominator for the three women, breast cancer.

Samantha decides to take her doctor's advice to have a mammogram. Though feeling strong from all her training, she thinks it would be a good idea given her family history. Her mother died of ovarian cancer, and her aunt had been diagnosed with breast cancer when she was thirty.

Brooke takes the suggestion of her children's pediatrician, a doctor she sees more often than her own. Partly because he is so cute, she schedules a mammogram.

Katherine comes home from vacation, quits her job, and starts packing to move to Colorado. She decides to see her doctor about a recurring back pain, so she can start her new life without anything hanging over her.

They all discover they have breast cancer. With shock, heartbreak, and fear, they explore their options and make difficult decisions. Eventually, they all reach out to an online support group where they meet. Their conversations as they travel different paths in their treatments, show there is no single easy right answer. With help from each other, the three women deal with their miserable situations. While moving and sensitive, this book is also upbeat, entertaining, and even funny in places. On the subject of women's health, Mike Greenberg has written a novel that is All You Could Ask For.

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

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The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley is a debut novel. It is one of those rare books whose characters stay with you and haunt you long after the last page has been read.

The main character is Evelyn Roe, a teenager as World War II comes to a close. She and her family, like so many others, are struggling to make ends meet as the war ends. They live in a small town where the main employer is a mill, at which many townsfolk make a living. Unlike so many others, Evelyn's family has the good fortune of having a family member who owns a farm, and the crops they grow help the Roes make it through the year.

The aunt who owns the farm has always been very special to Evelyn. When she was a young child, she would find her way to the farm and work beside her cousins and aunt. There is something in the soil that draws some to work it and witness the magic of plants growing to become delicious fruits and vegetables. There is a strong satisfaction in working in a steamy kitchen for hours and then standing back to admire the food that has been prepared with the help of family members. A sense of satisfaction is gained knowing that your efforts, together with the generosity of Mother Earth, will nourish those you love throughout the cold months of winter. Magic happens when those jars are opened and suddenly everyone catches a whiff of summer or fall from the apples, tomatoes, and berries.

After losing her sons to the war, her aunt passes away and the farm is placed into Evelyn's capable hands. She moves into the farmhouse, a place she has always loved. The work on the farm is difficult, and many today would find it overwhelming. But Evelyn seems to manage well.

Then one day during a downpour, she goes out to investigate where the runoff was headed. It was then that she found what at first glance seemed to be a lifeless body. But soon she realized that there was still life in this person, naked and covered in mud. She thought this was a soldier, badly burned, naked, bald, and cold. But with good care and food, healing was quick.

This is when we are introduced to Addie who seemed to have a mystical connection with animals and who developed a deep connection with Evelyn. Sharing the chores of the farm became more than hard work, and the charismatic Addie clearly had a connection to the family which anyone could see. Life was good.

But the mystery about life is that it quickly changes. It has ups and downs, good times and bad. One day Addie left the farm and never returned. But soon after this, Adam Hope turned up at the farm. Adam might be described as the silver lining following the cloud that the loss of Addie left behind.

Then things get even more interesting.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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When I received an advance copy of The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett, I expected it to be similar to other books written by parents who found various ways to conquer the limitations of their autistic children. I have read many of these books, and all of them have been both interesting and inspiring.

But this book is more. If it were in my power to put it into the hands of every person on the planet, I would do so. Parents, children, teachers, neighbors, friends, and families who have received this daunting news need to know about Jacob and his family. His mother was told by professionals to take away his alphabet cards and concentrate on teaching him to learn to tie his shoes and even to speak. Sadly, I have known families who received similar news.

Even more sadly, I have seen educators buy into the myth that children with autism are unteachable. I have even heard of teachers who expect children with autism to "get over" their individual sensitivities and "get used" to teaching methods that would put many normal children into a tailspin such as bright flickering lights, loud voices in the classroom, and the expectation that all children learn in the same way. We are individuals and we have individual ways of learning. This small detail eludes far too many experts and educators. And therefore, we are often failing our children.

One extraordinary woman from an extraordinary family was able to look at her own small child and know in her heart that the experts were wrong. She pulled her son from the special needs classroom to which he was assigned. And this brave move changed Jacob's world forever. This also changed the worlds of many other children who faced similar obstacles.

Kristine Barnett is just a mom with passion, love, and great expectations. She and her husband and family are not wealthy people, and they didn't even have much help with Jacob, particularly at the beginning of his diagnosis. But they did have passion, and they believed in their son, their family, and in each other. Kristine also had good instincts and enough faith in herself to follow them. And as a result, she made miracles happen!

Not every child is a Jacob Barnett with an IQ that is higher than that of Albert Einstein. So, not every child with a diagnosis of autism will reach the same heights as Jake. But Kristine has the unique ability and empathy to find passion in others, the spark that will set them on their own path to success. Also, she has the wisdom to know that love, family, time, and play are vital to every autistic child.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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"The Obituary Writer" by Ann Hood is a novel that connects two time periods, two women, and two seemingly different worlds. It bounces effortlessly between San Francisco in 1919 and Washington, D.C. in 1960. San Francisco is still recovering from the earthquake of 1906, and Washington, D.C. is anxiously awaiting the inauguration of John F. Kennedy.

The first character, Vivien, is an obituary writer in San Francisco, but not in the typical sense. She doesn't write dates of birth or death, but instead writes about who the person really was. She focuses on the things that made a person memorable and comforts her clients in ways that most people could not. She knows the tricks of the trade to calm a person, to make them speak to her and open up through their loss to describe their loved one. She knows that everyone grieves differently and eventually works through it. She does this because she also is grieving for the love of her life who was lost in the earthquake. She spent years searching for her David, refusing to believe he was gone, but feeling the loss all at the same time.

Washington, D.C. in 1960 introduces us to Claire, a young mother and housewife who is stuck in a hum-drum life and wishing for some excitement. She will teach us that excitement might be more than we bargained for. Politics, a torrid affair, and a lack of passion will change her forever. She also experiences loss, but in a much different manner than Vivien. When a child goes missing in their neighborhood, Claire's happy world crashes down around her. She starts to question everything, including her marriage to Peter. They were a typical couple, but not an overly happy couple. We feel the tension in their relationship, the anger in his voice, and her sadness. Claire's mother-in-law senses her unhappiness as well. We get the feeling that Birdy wants Claire to know that everything will work out, but she never says so.

Ann Hood shows the difference in the time periods in subtle ways. She reminds us, gently, how things were supposed to be in bygone times. We learn about how women struggled, even then, with their roles in society. Claire took a job as a young woman working as an airline stewardess for the sole purposes of getting to travel and finding a husband. Vivien had a lover, not a husband, which was quite looked down on in 1906. In 1919 she was considered an old maid, a spinster.

The author subtly leads us in a direction, but when we reach the point when the two women's lives intersect, we are surprised nonetheless. It flows together perfectly and seamlessly. And we learn that two women from two time periods and two far away cities are more alike than we could ever imagine.

Kate Weidner
New Brighton Public Library

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Christopher Davis has published eleven novels, three books of nonfiction, some short stories, and articles as well. Some of these have appeared in foreign publications. The Conduct of Saints is his most recent novel.

This story takes place in Vatican City in 1945, after the Germans left the city. Brendan Doherty is an American lawyer as well as prelate in the Vatican. He is investigating two crimes, one of which is the murder of a child and martyr by Allessandro Senelli. It has been forty years since the crime, and Senelli has spent much of that time in prison.

Doherty is the main character, a drinking man who seems to be as much at war with himself as with his interest in solving these cases. He is seemingly cruel and heartless to Senelli in particular, but it serves only to remind us of the stabbing death of a fourteen year old girl whose last cries were heard by the killer who remained unmoved as she was pleading for her life. Is Senelli the one who committed this heinous crime? Claiming to love her, he watched her die. Or did he? Senelli claims not to remember, and this is why Doherty is involved. He is looking for the answer to this question. Why does Senelli not remember? Is he truly the murderer, or is there something that has gone undiscovered for all of these years?

Besides the mystery of the young girl's murder, the death of a Jewish family weighed heavily on Brendan Doherty's mind and heart. The Ferri family consisted of Dr Ferri, his wife Giulietta, twin girls named Caterina and Letizia, and the young son David who applied to the Vatican for instruction that would enable them to be baptized into the Catholic faith. While Doherty suspected that this family, like so many others, was seeking safety from the anticipated occupation by the Germans, he undertook the teaching of the Catholic Catechism to them. The family soon became friends of the prelate, and he was eager to not only have them baptized into his own faith, but to see them safe from harm. Despite the fact that he was uncertain of their fate, the eventual outcome left Doherty feeling as if he had failed his friends.

It isn't any wonder that Doherty felt himself to be a failed man, but he was hardly alone in those feelings after such a devastating and ugly war. What becomes of this sad and broken group of people makes for an unsettling read filled with heartbreak and desolation.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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While most libraries and bookstores will shelve Eleanor & Park in the Young Adult section, it is a book that will captivate adults as well as teens. Author Rainbow Rowell has created two likeable misfits who form a relationship in spite of the obstacles between them. Not just a teen romance, this book shows the problems and difficulties that life can throw at young people.

Eleanor's family is barely functioning. She lives with her mom, her four siblings, and her stepfather, an abusive drunk. A year ago he threw Eleanor out of the house, leaving her to outstay her welcome with a friend of her mom's. While she was gone, the family moved to a different neighborhood. Now that Eleanor is allowed to rejoin her family, she finds life to be difficult. The new house has only five rooms with a bathroom that has no door. The children must eat their dinner early and be in bed by 7:30 so they won't bother their stepfather. Eleanor grows to hate Saturdays, because it means being stuck at home. On Sundays she can at least look forward to being out of the house and in school on Mondays.

At school though, Eleanor has problems as well. As the new girl, she gets off to a rocky start. Her clothes and even her red curly hair are the wrong style in this school. The first time on her bus she finds that all the seats had been claimed back on the first day of the school year, and no one wants to share, especially with a girl looking like Eleanor. Finally Park takes pity. "Just sit down" he tells her, and they ride to school in silence, which is how Park likes it.

Park thinks he has enough problems of his own without becoming friends with the new weird girl. Being the only Asian-American in his class and on the small side, Park feels like a target for ridicule. A karate student who loves comics, Park does have some friends. Still he wants to avoid the attention of a certain group of students, many of whom ride the same bus as he does. Therefore, he keeps a low profile and never speaks to the ridiculous-looking Eleanor.

Then Park notices that she is reading his comics with him. While Park always has a comic to read, Eleanor never brings anything to read for the thirty minute bus ride. Even though he wants to avoid Eleanor, Park shares his comic, first by opening it wide enough for both of them to read and then by silently lending her some old ones. Eventually, they exchange a few sentences. Next, they share Park's Walkman, and they begin to talk. Conversations about music and comics lead them to discover that they actually like each other. Of course, they have problems. Eleanor feels uncomfortable around Park's family. Park gets suspended from school for fighting with a boy who was teasing Eleanor. Even with these difficulties, their feelings for each other grow. But while life with Park gets better, the rest of Eleanor's life gets worse. The girls in her gym class play nasty pranks on her. Her home life becomes worse with her stepfather's increasing harassment. This poor girl bounces between fearful misery and the joy of being with Park.

Rainbow Rowell captures all the ups and downs of the teens' lives. Quarrels with parents, bullying, and insecure feelings balance with the picture of first love. Eleanor and Park go through the constant wondering about each other, the amazement of the first kiss, and the excitement of the first touches. Early in the book their English teacher asks their class why Romeo and Juliet survived for four hundred years. Park answers, " because people want to remember what it's like to be young? And in love?" That is why readers will enjoy Eleanor & Park. Teens will like the book because it is an honest picture of their lives and feelings. Adults will like it because the book reminds them of what it was like to be young and in love.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library, Beaver Falls

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In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that I am an ardent admirer of both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Each of them during their time spent in office have done much for our country: Bill, during his years as President of the United States, and Hillary as First Lady, Senator, and then as Secretary of State to President Barack Obama.

I was sorry when Hillary decided the time had come for her to leave the office of Secretary of State to spend some time as an ordinary citizen. Although, neither of these individuals can be described as ordinary at any time.

I was delighted to read about the days that Hillary Clinton spent traveling the world in service to her country through the eyes of one of the journalists who accompanied her, Kim Gjattas. Gjattas was raised in Beirut while the civil war there was raging. This gave her a unique perspective during her time as the BBC's State Department correspondent. Her credentials include reporting on her own country's affairs for both American and British newspapers and then serving as BBC's Radio and Television Correspondent beginning in 2008. She paints a compelling picture of those days and nights traveling the world in the company of one of the most powerful American women ever to serve her country.

We begin this journey with Gjattas on the very first day of Hillary's term as Secretary of State. From those first moments of taking office, Hillary and her team began traveling the globe immediately and meeting with not only the powerful leaders of countries, but often with their families and ordinary women everywhere. Part of her own agenda was that women be recognized across the globe for the important and influential roles they played, whether they were in government or just raising families.

After her time spent as First Lady, Clinton had the advantage of being a well-known figure throughout the world. She was far from reticent even in those days and was certainly a working First Lady with her own office and staff. This however, was a whole new situation. As Secretary of State of the most powerful nation in the world, she not only had to step into an unfamiliar job and learn it from the inside out quickly, but she had to forge a working relationship with a man who was once her opponent in the race for president. But if any two people could do that, it was Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They became quite a team over the four years that they worked together.

The effects of WikiLeaks is covered as is the effect it had on Hillary's relationships with leaders across the world. As I watched the news on WikiLeaks, I was unaware of just how much fallout had occurred affecting the office held by Hillary Clinton. This informative book helps us to understand that in order to repair some of the damage done, a talented negotiator was needed, and Hillary was up to the task.

In fact, this book gives us a look at high level diplomacy as performed by a powerful woman in modern times. I have a feeling that we haven't seen the last of Clinton. She has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in American politics.

This book was a fascinating and easy read. The author takes us along with her as she spends several years covering this major political figure. This is far from being a dull recounting of the events which occurred during the time Clinton spent as Secretary of State. In fact, it was hard to put down. I recommend it, and would call it a 4.5 star read!

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Flavia de Luce is back. Alan Bradley's preteen chemistry-loving detective makes her fifth appearance in Speaking From Among the Bones, the newest book in the series that started with 2009's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Set in post World War II England, the books chronicle the life and adventures of Flavia and her family. Her mother, who inherited the family home, died in a mountaineering accident when Flavia was only a year old. To make matters even worse, there was no will which made the taxes so high that the family almost went broke. The house is falling apart, and the staff has shrunk. Flavia's father, a prisoner-of-war survivor, seems to be in denial and only interested in his stamp collection. Her two teen-aged sisters, wrapped up in their own concerns, either mercilessly tease or totally ignore Flavia. The aging cook is incompetent, and her husband is the overworked handyman. Colonel de Luce's general factotum served in the war with him, which left both plagued by horrific memories. Though he is devoted and hard-working, his capabilities waver according to the workings of his mind.

Years ago Flavia discovered her late uncle's first-rate chemistry lab in the uninhabited wing of the house. Since commandeering it for her own, Flavia runs experiments and indulges her interest in concocting poisons. Curious and intelligent, Flavia has unusual interests. Her latest is to witness the opening of Saint Tancard's tomb in the local church. In observance of the five hundredth anniversary of the saint's death, the church is opening his tomb to recover the relics. Flavia is determined to be there to see it all. She does manage to be in the crypt when the lid is removed from the tomb. Everybody is shocked to find, not the saint's remains, but the body of the church organist.

In spite of the efforts by the police to stop her, Flavia starts her own investigation. After interviewing all of the witnesses, Flavia decides that she needs to talk to a distant neighbor. Riding Gladys, her trusty bicycle, to his home, she finds no one answering her knocks and the doors locked. Does that stop Flavia? Of course it doesn't. She locates the key hidden under a flowerpot, enters, and searches the house.

Naturally, Flavia wants to visit the scene of the crime when it is deserted. Getting up at two o'clock in the morning, riding Gladys through the night, and climbing into underground tunnels, Flavia does all her detection with enthusiasm.

To her dismay, Flavia finds that there are others besides the police who are interested in the case. One of them is an acquaintance of her father. From him Flavia learns that a diamond was reportedly buried with the saint, adding more angles to the mystery.

Meanwhile, family life is getting difficult. Her beloved home has a "For Sale" sign on it. Her oldest sister is planning to be married but wants it to be kept a secret. Her other sister rages at Flavia and then breaks down sobbing in her arms. Her father, in their first ever heart-to-heart conversation, tells Flavia that she is exactly like her deeply mourned mother. Even with all this emotional turmoil, Flavia perseveres with her investigation.

By bending the truth a bit Flavia gets past the landlady and into the victim's room. There she finds a tin, overlooked by the police, that holds an envelope full of money. Back in her lab Flavia's experiment proves whose initials were engraved on that envelope. But does that prove who murdered the organist?

With shrewdness and spirit Flavia puts the clues together, finds the diamond, and solves the mystery. Over tea in the drawing room, she proudly explains everything to the police and her family.

With this charming character these books never fail to entertain. Though it is fun to read the series in chronological order, each book has a complete story that is enjoyable on its own. Speaking From Among the Bones is an engaging addition to this quite original series. However, the last sentence of the book drops a bombshell that will leave readers frantic for book six.

Kathie Groves
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls

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Louder Than Words by Laurie Plissner is a fun and fast paced read. To call Sasha, the main character in this story, a sassy young girl would seem somewhat unusual, considering that she is unable to speak. We begin the story when she turns thirteen and awakes in a hospital with her Aunt Charlotte at her side. As hard as she tries, Sasha can't remember why she is in the hospital. Her main concern in those first moments are for her family. She senses that something has happened, but she can't remember what. To find her mother's sister at her bedside instead of her mother is somewhat alarming to her. Sasha wants answers, and she wants them fast. At this point she discovers that she is unable to speak. She opens her mouth to question Charlotte, and nothing comes out. The inability to speak is a shock to Charlotte as well, as she hurries to find paper and pencils for Sasha. A doctor comes in, and things begin to happen in a hurry. There is no time for Charlotte to explain to her niece that she is the only survivor of a car crash that took the lives of both of her parents and her older sister. Inadvertently, one of the doctors investigating her muteness lets this bad news slip.

Sasha is devastated. But there is no way to turn back the clock and make the accident not happen. Her only choice is to move forward. Because she suffered no apparent physical injury to her throat, vocal chords, or larynx, Sasha's inability to speak was diagnosed as Hysterical Mutism. This disorder is most commonly found in children and adolescents after a traumatic event. In some cases, like Sasha's, the young person is unable to speak at all. In other cases, it is possible for the affected person to speak to a specific and well-trusted person within their circle of friends or family. Sasha learns to communicate with a voice synthesizing device, which she calls her Hawkie Talkie, the same type of machine that the famous physicist Stephen Hawking uses.

Charlotte and her husband Stuart welcome Sasha into their family. They love and cherish her and do everything in their power to help her find her voice again. According to all the experts, it is simply a matter of getting past the traumatic moment in whatever way possible. But for Sasha, with no real memories of the accident, and not feeling the need to seek those memories, four years pass with no success. She is a studious and quiet girl with a best friend named Jules, who has stood by her side from the days when they were toddlers, through the accident, and beyond. But Sasha does have a difficult side, and this emerges through inappropriate behavior at school. This lands her in the midst of what might be called a bad crowd. Unfortunately, it is in detention that she comes in contact with some unruly jocks who learn her after school routine. Despite her school time behavior, Sasha's favorite place to spend her time out of school is at the library. One day she is joined in her little corner of the library by a good looking boy, and that moment has a momentous affect on the next part of her life.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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This week, not by any planning on my part, I read two books about life after death, one fictional and one a personal account of a near-death experience. It was rather odd to read two such different treatments of the same subject back-to-back.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me (Jess Rothenberg, 2012), a Young Adult novel, is technically a romance that culminates after death. Brie Eagan, age 16, dies of a broken heart in the first few pages. Her boyfriend Jacob, who is her first love, tells her that he doesn't love her anymore, upon which she keels over into her pasta as her heart literally rips in half. After observing her own memorial service and her grieving family and friends, she is transported to an other-worldly pizza restaurant where she is met by Patrick who becomes her guide and teacher through the afterlife. Patrick advises her that she must work through the five stages of grief before she can pass on. As she experiences denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, ultimately, acceptance, she discovers that her boyfriend and her best friend were keeping a secret from her. This discovery and Brie's subsequent revengeful attempts to sabotage their lives forms one of the major plot threads. The second one is Brie's connection to Patrick which Brie almost misses in her search for revenge.

This after-death romance was fun to read. The characters were well written and engaging, and the story moved quickly. The subject, death of a teenager, is a difficult one, and a potential reader must not look to this book to provide comfort or to seek understanding. One must approach this book as simply a good read. Yes, there are many places throughout the book that are profoundly sad, but the author handles them with sensitivity. To my disappointment she used the "gay" card way too easily making the suspense too predictable. Sometimes the plot is a bit convoluted. But overall, if you are able to suspend your beliefs and expectations about life after death, you will enjoy this book.

To Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels and Life Again (Mary C. Neal, 2012) is the author's account of a near-death experience while kayaking with friends in Chile. Deprived of oxygen for more than 15 minutes while trapped under a waterfall by the cascading water and the subsequent resuscitation attempts, she experienced a reunion with friends and a journey to what she can only describe as "heaven's gate."" She reluctantly returned to her body to begin a long painful journey home and a months-long recovery from pulmonary stress and serious injuries to her legs. During this period she experienced other-worldly consciousness, half in and half out of her near-death experience. Even though she was surrounded by relieved family and friends, she was overwhelmed by sadness at having to return to this world.

Ultimately, as a practicing Christian, she was able to reconcile her return with a growing conviction that God had more work for her to do on earth before her final return to heaven. This is a story of hope for this life that we live day to day on earth. She does not claim that her experience exempted her from life's struggles and tragedies, but that her experience prepared her for some incredibly painful events and counts them as part of her journey and a divine plan for her life. This book is not a theological treatise on the afterlife. The writing style is simple and forthright, often lacking in nuance. But the sincerity of the author is apparent and overcomes a number of flaws.

While wildly different in intent, both books will appeal to many readers, and hopefully, the reader will appreciate a good reading experience.

Sue Ann Curtis
Reference Librarian
B. F. Jones Memorial Library

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I thought Angelology by Danielle Trussoni was a wonderful read! As soon as I reached the last page, I became impatient for the next book. It was well worth the long wait for book two in the series, Angelopolis . According to her own tweets, the author attended a convent in order to research a nun as a possible character. She left there instead with the idea of writing a book about angels. This series is rare in its sophisticated and well-researched subject matter.

Although many of us have heard since childhood of good angels and bad ones, few of us have given much thought to the different kinds of angels. I have to think that few among us have considered that there are different classes within those good and bad angels, and that many of them are living among us unknown and unseen by most, but not all of mankind. Those who hunt and study are the Angelologists and those who are hunted are the Nephilim, the lowest and most evil of the hierarchy of angels.

The first book, Angelology, introduced us to Evangeline, the fascinating main character we meet again ten years later when Angelopolis opens. We last saw her spreading her wings and leaping into the future that begins in The First Circle. Near the Eiffel Tower we find a broken body of an angel, lying in a puddle of blue blood. Two gifted Angelologists, Bruno and Verlaine, have been searching for years for Evangeline. Verlaine carries within him the secret love he feels for her. While looking down on the body before him, he realizes that he is surrounded not only by humans but by many of the various types of angels, the Mara, the Gusian, Rahab, Anakin, and more. There are so many, and all are standing in the open. He looks at the identification his partner is showing him with the face of Evangeline, the angel he seeks and the woman he loves. This Identification had been taken from the dead angel.

With twists we have never imagined, Angelopolis retells the story of the tortured Romanov family. Rasputin, could he be more than we ever imagined him to be? And the question of the Faberge eggs and their possible connection to angels is brought up and investigated. We are taken from the heights of beauty, perfection, and love to the very depths of humankind and the earth itself. We are introduced to miracles and moments of inconceivable evil. We meet members of Evangeline's family and find friends and enemies that she was unaware of. And this book, like the first, has a dramatic ending. As with book one, we are left hanging and wanting more. The ending leaves us breathless and feeling the anticipation of what is to come. Trussoni has a gift for writing a good ending. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who loves an exciting thriller, a mystery, a bit of religious spice and controversy, and most of all a good compelling story! I look forward to reading the next book in this series.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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The Water Witch is book two of the Fairwick Trilogy. Even though I have not yet read book one, The Demon Lover, this did not affect my enjoyment of Water Witch. I found this story to be both entertaining and light and sometimes even a little silly. I don't often read a novel described as a romance, but will take a chance if it is a paranormal romance.

This story begins in Fairwick, an enchanted little town that is populated by Witches, Vampires, the Fey, and many more unusual residents. For the most part it is a peaceful and quiet town that operates much like any other small college town where the residents, nearly all of whom come from various magical backgrounds, live and work like the rest of us. They only break out their magical powers when they are under attack by a succubus, a demon, or some other nefarious creature. They sometimes do this with the aid of Aelvestone, a gold substance found almost exclusively in the land of the fairy. It is quite rare to find the substance on this side of the magical door that separates the land of Fairy from the world of humans, regardless of how many fey or fairies happen to inhabit the area. Aelvestone is helpful in healing, preventing aging, and in the boosting of any magic that happens to be cast. In this story the supply is running short.

Members of a witches circle called The Grove have been closing the doors to Fairy all around the world. This drastically affects the supply of Aelvestone. Near the beginning of the book we find that it is sorely needed to bring Brock back from the Shadowland after he takes a serious fall. Will the combined powers of the magic wielders be able to find the last spark of what is left of Brock and bring him home to his body?

An inordinate amount of the responsibility for many of the events that take place in Fairwick seems to fall on the shoulders of Callie McFay, a powerful but untrained witch who only recently became a resident of this unusual small town. Can she measure up? That is a question asked by many of the magical townsfolk, as well as by Carrie herself. While her powers are vast and strong, her inability to focus, and control them could be more of a liability than a help. Can she learn to control it in time to save the town?

In my opinion, there is a small amount of gratuitous sex at least hinted at and sometimes described with a fair amount of detail in the Water Witch. I won't go so far as to say that it ruined the story, but I will say that I am not sure that it added to it. What can you do when your home harbors a succubus? Here is just the book to tell you. This is a good, fun, read, and I would recommend it to any fan of romance or magical realism.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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The Elephant Keepers' Children are not the offspring of zookeepers. Instead they are the children of a preacher and his wife. The elephant is not an animal. It is a symbol for the things that people keep inside themselves, things that are much bigger than themselves. Author Peter Hoeg's elephant keepers lead the only church on Fino, a fictional island off Denmark. Their children, Peter who is age fourteen, his sixteen year old sister Tilte, and their nineteen year old brother Hans are in that stage when teens do not always trust adults. These teens have good reasons to be suspicious of their parents.

Peter, Tilte, and their constant-companion, the fox terrier Basker, are visiting Hans who is at school in Copenhagen. Bodil Fisker, the municipal director at Fino, calls Hans to ask about their parents who are supposedly on vacation in the Canary Islands. A call from Bodil can mean only bad news. Tilte says out loud what everybody else is thinking, "Mother and Father have disappeared!"

They had done this in the past. Just leaving with no warning and not telling anyone of their destination or return, these are not reliable parents. In fact, they even act like con men. To increase their congregation's faith, the pastor and his wife have faked miracles several times. They have been jailed for fraud and only set free because of a lack of evidence. Assuming the worst is best with parents like these, Peter, Tilte, and Hans need to find their parents and find them before anyone else does. Hans stays in Copenhagen in case he is needed there while Peter, Tilte, and Basker make their way back to Fino.

Once there, the three find themselves pursued by the police, their school's principal, and the church's bishop. Each has his own reason for wanting the teens in custody. With help from friends like Count Rickardt Three Lions and Leonora Ticklpalate, Peter, Tilte, and Basker do get into their home to find clues to their parents' whereabouts. Taking the ferry back to the mainland, Peter and Tilte have to use a variety of disguises (and hiding places for Basker) to escape capture.

The clues lead them to Copenhagen where the leaders of the world's religions and governments will meet at the Grand Synod. This would be the perfect setting for one of their parents' stunts. The police fear that these two are involved with an international terrorist group. The bishop fears that they will embarrass the church. Peter, Tilte, and Hans fear that their parents will end up in jail, and they are determined to stop this from happening.

With slapstick action scenes and whimsical names for his characters, Peter Hoeg displays his sense of humor. The children's adventures are amusing and light-hearted. However, there are serious issues in the book as well. His fourteen-year-old protagonist is a football (what he calls soccer) star who uses his sport as life lessons. By having all the teens fall in love at some point, the author includes ideas about relationships, families, church, government, and education all of which are themes in the book. Thought-provoking and cheerfully absorbing, The Elephant Keepers' Children is a worthwhile and fun story.

Kathie Groves
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls

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The first book in a new mystery series by Mary Lou Kirwin, Killer Librarian, introduces us to librarian protagonist Karen Nash who is employed at the Sunshine Valley Library located in a small town in Minnesota. At the beginning of the story, Karen is getting ready to embark on a much anticipated two week trip to London with her boyfriend Dave. Hours before they are scheduled to leave for London, Dave telephones Karen and informs her that he is breaking up with her and is no longer taking her on the trip.

After despair and hate set in, Karen decides that the best revenge is to explore London without Dave. After all, she has her passport and reservations at a bed-and-breakfast, not to mention her planned itinerary for the whole two weeks. At the airport Karen realizes, unbeknownst to Dave, that he is taking a nice looking young lady on the trip with him in her place. This is when Karen starts to think of ways to get back at Dave.

While in London Karen tries to reinvent herself and poses as an author writing a murder mystery. This cover story allows her to explore various ways to get revenge on Dave without bringing attention to herself. Caldwell, the charming and currently unattached bed-and-breakfast owner, seems to show Karen some extra attention that is above and beyond that of being a good host. But then again, he doesn't really know the real Karen .

After having a few pints one night while at a Brit pub named the Cock and Bull, Karen realizes that she has been fantasizing about killing Dave. She comes to this realization after discussing Dave dumping her for a younger woman with a total stranger. She also begins to worry that she unknowingly sent an assassin to fulfill her fantasy of getting even with Dave. To make matters even worse, that very same night Karen discovers a dead body at the bed-and-breakfast where she is staying.

Between exploring many fascinating tourist attractions in London and trying to stop a possible assassination plot against Dave, Karen starts to develop feelings for Caldwell. She also utilizes her research skills to piece together clues that lead her to believe the dead body that she discovered was the result of murder.

Unable to keep up the pretense any longer, Karen confesses her true occupation to Caldwell. "I bet you make a killer librarian" is the compliment that she receives from him. Karen fears that "killer librarian" may be a truer description of her actions throughout the past two weeks, only not in a complimentary way.

Killer Librarian is a fast read that is highly enjoyable. Although it can be predictable at times, it shows the camaraderie of women who work together in a library. It also gives a little insight into the research abilities of librarians and shows the less austere side of their personalities.

Karen Nash always told her librarian friends: "You can make anyone a reader if you match them up with the right book." As a fellow librarian, an avid gardener, and a bibliophile, this library science murder mystery had enough substance to keep me entertained.

Bernie McKean
Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls

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Elizabeth Strout's second novel, The Burgess Boys, was offered to me through the Amazon Vine Program. Immediately, I was sure that it was a book that I wanted to read. I haven't read her first novel, Olive Kitteridge, though I am now looking forward to it.

This is a story of Bob and Susan Burgess, who as youngsters were known within their family as The Twins, and their older brother Jim. It is really a family like so many, where things do not work out quite as expected.

First of all, an accident that occurred when they were all children, they had been left in the car for a moment, while their father did a quick errand. As children will do, one of them pretended to be driving, and suddenly the car rolled backward killing their father. This of course had a profound effect on the entire family.

The family lived in a small town called Shirley Falls in the state of Maine, known for its no nonsense approach to most things. Their mother, who was left to raise her children alone, did the best she could.

Susan was left to feel as if she were floundering in the wake of her brothers, simply because they were boys. She had many of the same opportunities as they, but was left with the lasting feeling that she was somehow less, because she was female. Her mother's attitude contributed much to these feelings.

Even though she fell in love and married, things did not improve for Susan. First, she lost her much anticipated first child to miscarriage. The birth of a boy not long after didn't give her the joy and happiness she hoped for and craved. He seemed to be an odd child, often bullied and very quiet. Her marriage fell apart, and her husband left the family, as well as the country.

Jim and Bob Burgess were both attorneys. They left Maine as soon as they possibly could and settled in New York. Through a quirk of fate, as well as a bit of talent, Jim found himself the more successful of the two brothers, working in a prestigious firm. Bob was a legal aid attorney who idolized his brother. They both did their best to stay away from Maine and their sister, who still lived there with her son Zach.

Life can turn on a dime as we all know, and one evening a phone call from a frantic Susan sent Bob on a rescue mission to Maine. Nineteen year old Zach had been arrested. Rumor had it that his prank would be prosecuted as a hate crime, and Susan, who was as guilty of avoiding her brothers as they were of avoiding her, needed their help.

Jim and his wife Helen were scheduled to leave for a trip with another couple, and Jim chose to go on his planned vacation, rather than help his sister, from whom he was all but estranged. Bob was the one to step up and try to help, even though he doubted that his skills would be sufficient under the circumstances. Bob often compared his life and his decisions to those of his brother and found himself lacking.

Throughout this story there are many turns, many twists, and not a few surprises. I felt that this was an engrossing and interesting read. I also felt that the ending was one of the surprises.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Seventh in a series of Payne and Jones thrillers, The Death Relic by Chris Kuzneski was a fast paced and entertaining read. The two main characters, Jonathan Payne and David Jones, are both former members of a special forces unit known as the MANIACs. I enjoyed them and their very amusing dialogue which was evident throughout the book.

Payne and Jones began this adventure in a small town in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Their mention of the town of Ambridge and other locales near the Pittsburgh area were the first thing to draw me in. Soon, I became completely absorbed in the story and the characters populating it.

During an exercise related to their own business located in the Pittsburgh area, Payne and Jones received a phone call from Maria Pelati, an old acquaintance, and off they went to her rescue.

Dr. Maria Pelati had been flown to Mexico to meet with Mr. Hamilton, a prospective employer. She had agreed to the meeting as much for the long weekend in Cancun as for the possibility of employment. Maria was in the midst of a meeting with her interesting, good looking, and somewhat enigmatic new employer, when he vanished. Telling Maria he needed to bring in some documents from the car, Hamilton left the table of the fine dining restaurant where their meeting took place, and he simply never returned. After waiting for Hamilton for some time, Maria left the restaurant. Remembering that he told her the make and model of his car, she found what she suspected was Hamilton's car in the parking lot. Returning to her room to find it had been tossed and her passport stolen, Maria did the only thing she could think of and called an old flame who had rescued her once before when she was in a difficult position. The next order of business was to find Hamilton, the man who invited Maria to Cancun in the first place.

I enjoyed the historical information and descriptions of the Maya and their culture that were a large part of the story. I was also quite taken with the characters who were well defined and appealing. The "good guys" and the "bad guys" were all interesting in their own way.

I admit to being a huge fan of this genre. I am also a fan of Mayan history, and this added to my own personal appreciation of this story. The fact that parts of it occurred locally had a hand in it, as well. I will certainly read whatever books, new and old, that I can find in this series, as well as any other titles by Chris Kuzneski.

Chris Kuzneski attended the University of Pittsburgh where he received an undergraduate degree in writing and his master's degree in teaching. He honed his writing skills as a contributor to several newspapers, including one in the Pittsburgh area. After spending some years teaching, he was included in Who's Who Among America's Teachers. Eventually, he left teaching to pursue his dream of becoming an author.

I would recommend this author to those who enjoy reading a good thriller or adventure novel.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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We all hope the gray days of winter are coming to a close. But it is not too late to settle down with a good absorbing novel. ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes is just the ticket.

Other then the fact that they both reside in the same small English village, Louisa and Will have nothing in common. Louisa is an ordinary girl, from an ordinary family, with a steady ordinary boyfriend and a job in the local cafe. Will is the "Master of the Universe"--wealthy family, big deals, world-wide traveler. Their lives intersect when misfortune steps in to alter their circumstances in unimaginable ways.

Will's life as he knew it ends when a horrendous accident confines him to life in a wheelchair with necessary round-the-clock care to look after his every need. Even with all the help his wealthy parents can provide, Will can't be shaken from his deep belief that his life is no longer worth living.

When the cafe where Louisa works is closed, she is forced to look for a new job. Her only qualification is an inborn optimism that makes her "good with people".

Louisa is hired to be a companion to moody, bossy Will, and tries earnestly each day to find ways for him to find some enjoyment in life, an almost impossible task. In dealing with Louise each day, Will comes to see potential for her to elevate her expectations and not to continue being satisfied with her ordinary uneventful life.

The relationship between Will and Louisa changes over time, which is the substance of this novel. The reader will be caught up in their efforts to change each other for the better. There are moral quandaries to be faced too. When does a person stop thinking about me, me, me and instead start thinking about what's best for you? Are we courageous enough to do whatever it takes?

ME BEFORE YOU explores the families of both Will and Louisa, the importance of money in our decision-making, how or should we try to change other people. It is also a great love story, even with a bit of heartbreak. Treat yourself to a good read-- what better way to spend a gray day or two in winter!

Margaret Pauley
Book and Play Club of Beaver
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"Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever who Saved Him" by Luis Carlos Montalvan is a very personal story about one man and his dog. It will change your way of thinking.

Luis is a seventeen year veteran of the U.S. Army who served multiple combat tours in Iraq. This highly decorated soldier has written an inspirational memoir that was voted the 2012 USA Best Award in the autobiography/ memoir category.

Tuesday, the golden retriever therapy dog, was born in 2006. It took two years and $25,000 of training to turn him into a life-changing companion. The book imaginatively recreates Tuesday's training, which began when he was only three days old. Interesting tales follow of the Puppies behind Bars program where rough prisoners are softened by their companionship and intense training of the dogs.

Next is Montalvan's story; how he was a Captain in the Army leading men in combat and training Iraqi soldiers and police. He was confident and strong-willed until the war got the best of him. He suffered from traumatic brain injury and psychological wounds. Getting over his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder isn't something he is able to readily overcome. We learn a great deal about the invisible wounds of war.

When Luis discovers the Wounded Warrior Project, he knew it was for him. The anticipation of a service dog already had saved him. The story of Luis and Tuesday is a touching, heartwarming saga. Tuesday is no ordinary dog. We follow the ways in which he gives Luis freedom from his worst fears. They aren't just service dog and master. They are kindred souls-made for each other. But their relationship isn't without problems. It is disturbing to read about the existing discrimination against service dogs.

The book's pace is easy, and the tone is conversational. There are many playful romps but also dark tense moments. I highly recommend this book. It is a well written story about hope and encouragement.

Being a dog owner, I thought I understood unconditional love and the bond between humans and dogs. But this book made me realize what a powerful bond exists between Tuesday and Luis. "Until Tuesday" will sometimes make you cry -- at other times bring a smile to your face. I look forward to seeing the movie that is scheduled to be released this spring.

Diane Wakefield
Beaver Area Memorial Library

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