Books we love

Ros, Evergreen Library

In this latest novel by Michael Chabon we meet Archy and Nat. They are co-owners of a vinyl record store along Telegraph Avenue, a commercial strip in a run-down part of Oakland, California. The two face bankruptcy with the impending arrival of a music megastore. Wives Gwen and Aviva have their own set of problems as practicing midwives dealing with snooty doctors and a lawsuit. Other characters barrel in and out of the novel. There’s Archy’s father, a former drug addict and 70’s kung fu movie star, and Titus, Archy’s illegitimate teenage son who shows up unexpectedly. Nat’s son Julie, a budding artist and gentle soul, loves Titus. Archy considers Cochise Jones, a minor musician, to be the real father in his life. Gwen is eight months pregnant with Archy’s child. A theme emerges of fathers and sons, intertwined with descriptions of food and jazz music and a vibrant neighborhood that moves to its own beat. Telegraph Avenue is an exuberant, character-driven story filled with colorful descriptions of culture and family, sure to keep you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

Judy, Belmar Library

God's Hotel: a Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet

Wrap up in this engaging memoir about a doctor whose passion to learn the best way to practice medicine has taken her on some interesting journeys.  When Dr. Sweet takes a position with the last almshouse hospital, Laguna Honda, in San Francisco, it is just temporary and part-time so that she can pursue her dream of studying medieval medicine.  However, she ends up staying for 20 years at this old hospital that was initially for very sick people that had nowhere else to go.  She finds the “slow medicine” practice at the hospital intriguing. Her compassionate tales about patients and the staff that work at the hospital and what she learns from them are fascinating.
Along the way, she achieves her dream of studying the famous nun, Hildegard of Bingen, a healer and mystic of 12th century Germany. Hildegard practiced a “garden model” of medicine which looked upon the body as a garden to be tended as opposed to the modern medicine model which views the body as a machine to be fixed.  This study and her experience at Laguna Honda would transform the way Dr. Sweet practices medicine.

Those interested in health care and practice of medicine or anyone just looking for a unique memoir will find this an enjoyable read.

Katie, Arvada Library

From time to time, I’m sure all of us have wished for our own far away island where we could escape.  If you’re looking for a virtual escape to some really, really remote places, Judith Schlansky’s book the Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty islands I have never set foot on and never will is just the answer.  Schlansky profiles fifty of the most isolated pieces of land on Earth, discussing their historical, geographical and maritime significance (or lack thereof).   Hand-drawn maps accompany each island’s entry adding to the mystique of the remote and uninhabited.  A must-read for armchair travelers, map nerds or those planning a VERY adventurous vacation!

Sunshine, Columbine Library

Tim Hetherington was a photojournalist who died in 2011 while covering an uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.  His book Infidel is a poignant photographic look at a small battalion of US soldiers stationed in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.  Tim Hetherington was a well-respected photographer because he used his lens to reveal the humanity of his subjects as well as the historical significance of the moment.  The pictures are allowed to speak for themselves since they are the only thing you see until the back of the book, where there is commentary describing each picture.   In addition, some of the soldiers write about their experiences themselves.  The introduction is written by Sebastian Junger, the author of The Perfect Storm and War, among other books.  Junger worked with Tim Hetherington on the documentary Restrepo, which looks at the same outpost in the Korengal Valley.  Restrepo was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Best Documentary. 

Jill, Arvada Library

Book of Killowen is the newest installment in Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series of archaeological crime novels set in modern Ireland.  She is a pathologist, he is an archaeologist and together they find themselves investigating cases built around bodies found in bogs of Ireland.  Book of Killowen came out in March and offers up more than a few surprises, chiefly, the discovery of not one but two bodies in a bog, one ancient and one modern!  If you like a good blend of history, archaeology and forensics, check out this series.

Haunted Ground (2003)

Lake of Sorrows (2004)

False Mermaid (2010)

Book of Killowen (2013)

Erin Hart has a wonderful, informative, official website, and writes a fun blog, which includes a lot of background on the research she does for her novels.

Another great resource is the glossary she created to help readers learn how to pronounce things properly.

Happy reading!

Ros, Evergreen Library

Ever heard of Minority Report, Blade Runner, or Total Recall? These are movies based on novels by Science Fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Writing mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, this prolific author has had ten novels and short stories (so far) turned into movies. He’s received a number of Science Fiction writing awards as well. PKD’s works often deal with the idea of reality. Protagonists are faced with determining the true nature of the world in which they exist. Memory is suspect; assumptions turn out to be wrong. The author’s common man hero must work his way through a morass of obstacles to arrive at the truth.  Here are three good introductions to his work:

Selected Stories of Philip K Dick 
This book is a good introduction to the author and his works and the stories are arranged in order of when they were first written. In the third story, “Paycheck,” PKD hits his stride and keeps on going. Read “Autofac,” “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” and “Imposter” to get a sense of the author at his best.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The question here involves what it means to be human.  If androids can pass as humans - and not just in the way they look - does that make them the same as flesh and blood people? PKD paints a world destroyed by war, where live animals are rare and precious, and most people have left Earth to colonize other planets. This is the novel on which the movie Blade Runner is based.

The Man in the High Castle
A Hugo award winner, this novel postulates an alternative world, circa 1962, in which Germany and Japan won World War II. America has been split between those two countries. Slavery is legal, the few remaining Jews are hiding, and the two former Axis allies are not too happy with each other. A complex and thought-provoking book in which the I Ching figures prominently, PKD creates a vision of America as a third world country struggling to find its way.



Susannah, Standley Lake Library

If you’ve ever eaten a garden-fresh tomato, you know that there’s a world of difference between home-grown and store-bought. While you’re waiting for those home-grown tomatoes to show up in your garden or at your farmer’s market, we offer you three books about growing tomatoes – as a commercial crop,  in a backyard vegetable garden and on an organic farm.

Tomatoland : how modern industrial agriculture destroyed our most alluring fruit - Barry Estabrook. The author sees several round green ‘apples’ falling off a truck in Florida. When he discovers that the ‘apples’ are in fact tomatoes and just fine after falling 10 feet and hitting the pavement at 60 miles per hour, he decides to find out just how we got to this point.

The $64 tomato : How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden - William Alexander. The author wonders why the neighbor doesn’t mow the field where the kids play softball. Learning that the land belongs to him, not his neighbor, he decides to plant the ultimate vegetable garden. He soon learns that having a garden may produce wonderful vegetables but costs him more than he anticipates.

It’s a long road to a tomato : tales of an organic farmer who quit the big city for the (not so) simple life - Keith Stewart. For the first 40 years of his life, the author had no idea that he wanted to be a farmer, but in 1986 he traded his office job in New York City for a farm in upstate New York. His essays over the next 20 years range from the specifics of growing vegetables on his farm to agricultural issues that should concern all of us.


And while you’re reading, keep in mind that old John Denver song:

Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes
What would life be like without home grown tomatoes
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.


Bonnie, Lakewood Library

The Red House by Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon, world-famous author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, crafts a new novel about two families who join together for a week-long holiday in a Wales country house. Brother Richard and sister Angela are estranged, with issues about the care they each gave in the last years of their recently deceased mother’s life. The siblings each have spouses and children, distinct personalities who come on vacation with agendas and personal troubles of their own. Haddon narrates the novel from all eight characters' perspectives and skillfully embodies them all, from the adolescent and insecure girls to 8-year-old Benjy who is confused about the fluctuations of emotions in the adult world. Isolated in the countryside, the characters have time to ponder and experience the truths about themselves and their family in this lyrically-worded and memorable novel.

Marie, Columbine Library

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

In 1911, a brutal murder takes place in a small town bordering an Ojibwe Indian reservation in North Dakota.  Some innocent Indians are hanged for the murder by whites from the town of Pluto. The unsolved murder haunts both the white and indian inhabitants  for generations. In a style similar to that of Barbara Kingsolver, Erdrich alternates the narrative between descendants of the whites and the Indians through the voices of Evelina Harp, Marn Wolde, and Judge Antone Bazil Coutts.  Small bits and pieces of each individual story unravel to show the common threads of them all.

Christina, Lakewood Library

Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

Ptolemy is 91, a recluse living alone and falling fast into dementia when this story begins.  Confused and scared, his apartment is filled with filth and bugs.  A family friend, Robyn Small, 17 years old, comes into his life and both find needed friendships.  Robyn helps Ptolemy clean up his apartment.  A reinvigorated Ptolemy volunteers for an experimental medical program that will restore his mind, but at hazardous cost: he won't live to see 92.  Mosley's depiction of the indignities of old age is heartbreaking and Ptolemy carries off these indignities with grace and decency.


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