2014 Staff Picks: Nonfiction Favorites

We are featuring our thoughts on all of our 2014 Staff Picks for the next two weeks here at Read More!  But, if you have impatient streak (like me!) and want the list immediately, please check out our online list in two parts, 2014 Staff Picks for Adults and 2014 Staff Picks for Children list. Or you can visit any of our library locations for a handy paper list!

Here are our favorite nonfiction selections for 2014:

Animal Architecture by Ingo Arndt

Animal ArchitectureFilled with beautiful photographs of all sorts of creatures’ homes, this book further cements my long-held belief that the natural world is a strange and wondrous place, magical even. Close-up shots and cut-a-ways reveal hidden detail and repeating patterns. The photos are simply and dramatically spotlighted through the use of stark background and minimal writing. – Jenni


Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents by Brendan Powell Smith

Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US PresidentsThis odd, but fascinating, album of photographs features Lego tableaus of famous assassination attempts on United States presidents. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to how the idea for Assassination came about. Even in these days of “Lego” everything, it’s still surprising subject matter and may be the first history book which relies on classic children’s toys as teaching tools. I’d say this book holds more appeal for the adult history buff than for the typical Lego fan, but it certainly makes for interesting conversation no matter what the audience. – Jenni


Dead Mountain: The Untold Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident
by Donnie Eichar

Dead MountainIn 1959, nine young Russian hikers died mysteriously while hiking in the Ural Mountains. Author Donnie Eichar details his quest to find answers that make sense, bringing to life the lives of college students in cold war-era Russia, as well as his own obsession to find real answers among almost 50 years of speculation. – Jennifer



Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

Lawrence in ArabiaLively book about the fascinating life of T.E. Lawrence and the Middle East during WWI.  Very accessible reading for those unfamiliar with the history and it’s helpful in understanding current issues in the region. – Christy




Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Not that kind of girlI was not sure how I would feel about this book because I have a love/hate relationship with Dunham’s HBO series “Girls”.  I loved this book! It is an honest, painful, brash, warm and funny. If you like Caitlin Moran or Jenny Lawson, this is the book for you. – Lesley



The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I JumpConnecting with others requires communication, both verbal and nonverbal. What would happen if you couldn’t reliably speak or gesture in a way that made sense to the people around you? Naoki Higashida shares his unique perspective as a young person living with autism. Thirteen at the time this book was published, it is Naoki’s plea to be seen, heard, and valued as a human being. His writing exposes the raw vulnerability of a child struggling to connect with others and himself. There were times when I lost Naoki’s train of thought, but this only increased my interest. David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, and his wife, KA Yoshida, translated the book. Overall, The Reason I Jump was a fast, informative, and moving read. – Suzanne


Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen

Scandals of Classic HollywoodAnne Helen Petersen has a deep love and appreciation of Golden Age Hollywood that borders on obsessive, but it makes this collection of essays on the glitzy, messy lives of silver screen stars even more enjoyable for its readers.  Each chapter is both a glimpse into a world long past and an exploration on how media spin can make or break a star.  The tone of the book is chatty and casual – like you are reading an email from an extremely knowledgeable friend.  I highly recommend reading this book, then going and reading all of Peterson’s earlier essays online at The Hairpin so you don’t miss any of these entrancing, well-researched essays.  – Katie


Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherI wanted to read this because the Bellingham Public Library is collaborating with the Whatcom Museum to bring Timothy Egan to Bellingham in 2015; his appearance complements a display of Curtis’ photographs at the Museum, and Egan will speak about this book.  In addition to this upcoming program, Curtis’ photographs have been fascinating and mysterious to me so I was interested to learn more about him and how he did his work.  Curtis’ goal was to document as many Native American tribes as was possible before they were gone forever.  Egan details Curtis’ struggles to find funding to support his life’s work and the publication of his photographs into a twenty volume series.  This is both an adventure story and a biography about one of America’s most determined, famous photographers. – Pam

Stop by on Friday for our favorite graphic novels and dvds!


2014 Staff Picks: Fiction Favorites

2014 was a great year for books and the Bellingham Public Library staff had an amazing time reading, discussing, and debating their favorite titles of the year.  We sincerely hope that you enjoy what you see here in the next couple of weeks and use it to find a book for you or for a loved one during this winter season.

We will be featuring our thoughts on all of our selections for the next two weeks here at Read More!  But, if you have impatient streak (like me!) and want the list immediately, please check out our online list in two parts, 2014 Staff Picks for Adults and 2014 Staff Picks for Children. Or you can visit any of our library locations for a handy paper list!

Now, without further ado, here are our favorite fiction titles:

California by Edan Lepucki

CaliforniaA couple leaves Los Angeles to live off the grid in a post-decline America. This survivalist, end of the world novel, has an interesting plot and gives insight into the unraveling of civilization. – Madeline




Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth of July CreekPushcart Prize-Winner, Smith Henderson, has written a spectacular first novel.  Social worker, Pete Snow, serves the working poor of rural Montana; overworked and underpaid, Pete struggles with his client’s desperate lives while dealing with his own troubles.  He’s left his adulterous wife and angry teenage daughter to live in a remote cabin with no electricity.  His dedication to his job helps him ignore his own unraveling life.  “I take kids away from people like us,” he tells his ex one drunken night. Pete’s life intersects one day with an eleven year old boy whose father is a tyrannical survivalist awaiting the “End Times”; whose harsh life and treatment of his son reels Pete into their world. Full of complicated, sympathetic and realistic characters, Fourth of July Creek is a home run.  More please, Mr. Henderson. – Linda


Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Goblin EmperorLooking for a fantasy title free of horrifying bloodshed, vampires, or zombies?  The Goblin Emperor is the story of a half-goblin, half-elven prince; the result of a political marriage of the Elven Emperor to his despised fourth wife, a goblin princess.  Raised in seclusion away from the byzantine elvish court, Maia suddenly ascends the Emperor’s throne after an ‘accident’ kills the emperor and existing heirs.  Maia struggles to retain his crown in a hostile court where everyone wants something from him (no matter how formal and politely they may ask). Written from Maia’s perspective, I found him to be utterly likeable and charming.  And while there is some bloodshed, there is also a thread of hope throughout the book. – Deborah


If Not for This by Pete Fromm

If Not for ThisIf Not for This by Montana author, Pete Fromm, is an amazing, heartfelt love story filled with characters you cheer, laugh, and cry with. Maddy and Dalt meet as rafting guides on the Snake River, fall in love, marry, and lead and adventurous, active life together.  Economic realities force them to leave their beloved river and move to the suburbs of Ashland, Oregon.  There, Maddy’s dizzy spells and weakness morph in a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis – at the same time she learns that she is pregnant.  Written in Maddy’s voice, If Not for This, is filled with wit, poignancy and heart-breaking sadness.  Have the Kleenex handy. – Linda


Maid’s Version
 by Daniel Woodrell

Maid's VersionFrom the author of Winter’s Bone this short novel reflects on a mysterious explosion at a dance hall in Missouri in 1929. The author paints a vivid scene and uses capturing language to tell this non-linear story. – Madeline




One Kick
 by Chelsea Cain

One KickThis is from the book description on Amazon: Meet Kick Lannigan. She’s twenty-one. She can pick any lock. She knows five ways to kill you with a jacket. Get ready to fall in love.” Five ways to kill you with a jacket? I’m in! One Kick is the first book in a new series written by local author Chelsea Cain. I really like the Archie Sheridan series by Cain and I really like this one too, though there are parts that are difficult to read. But Compelling storyline, characters, and lots of action will keep you riveted. Kick Lannigan has been through a horrific childhood and she gets caught up in solving a case similar to her own. Warning: this book is not for the faint of heart. – Lesley


The Painter
 by Peter Heller

The PainterA story of loss, injustice, and morality – with splashes of love and beauty – as seen through the eyes of renowned, yet reclusive, artist and fisherman Jim Stegner. After fully absorbing the shock of the death of his teenage daughter and sinking in a mire of self-recrimination, alcoholism and impetuous action, Jim is on a path back to life when he encounters Dell Siminoe brutally beating a horse on a back road. His actions, right or wrong, set the pace for the rest of this emotional suspense story. A highly compelling book – it had me shaking my head and exclaiming “no, no, no,” over and over again.  – Jenni


The Queen of the Tearling
 by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the TearlingThe Queen of the Tearling was my favorite discovery of 2014. The main character, Kelsea, is complex and relatable and the book is full of interesting characters. There is lots of action and adventure. If you like Game of Thrones you will like this book! – Lesley


Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Winter PeopleA haunting ghost story set in early 19th century and present day Vermont. Creepy characters and an exciting plot make this a novel a beautifully written page turner. – Madeline




Check back on Wednesday for our 2014 nonfiction selections!

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Madame Tussaud book cover First Impressions
My passion as a Francophile led me to read this fascinating novel about the incomparable Madame Tussaud.

Drive-By Summary
Marie Tussaud comes from a long line of artists and has a natural talent for sculpting.  Sadly, her meager earnings are barely enough to pay the rent much less for food.  Until one day she is asked by the French Court to teach the Princess Elisabeth her unique gift of sculpting.  Suddenly Marie finds that her popularity is encroaching in on her ability to create.  Neighbors and fellow tradesman line up to pay any amount just to see her latest creations.

Meanwhile, French politics are beginning to heat up which causes Marie to doubt her relationship with the royal family.  It is too late to just be a regular Parisian?  Should she give up her talent and marry the love of  her life?  Marie must come to terms with many demanding issues of her time.

My Favorite Character
Marie Tussaud; she has an enviable talent, she has a level-headed opportunity to face the political issues of her time without offending the masses, and,  mostly, she is just a woman who loves her work, her family and the royal family.

Words to Live By
“Man was born free and everywhere he is in shackles.” – Jean-Jacques Rosseau

“Man’s natural character is to imitate: that of the sensitive man is to resemble as closely as possible  the person whom he loves.  It is only by imitating other’s vices that I have earned my misfortunes.” –  Marquis de Sade

Recommended For
Francophiles, artists, and lovers of historical fiction.

Final Say
The author, Michelle Moran, has a writing style that breaches time and space without sacrificing what it means to be an individual whose voice makes a difference during a lifetime of political upheaval.  She tells this story with such force that it was hard for me to put Madame Tussaud down.

You can pick Madame Tussaud up at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Keyla

Staff Picks of 2013: Non- Fiction

For those readers that like facts more than fiction, here are the Bellingham Public Library’s favorite non-fiction titles of 2013:

500 Paper Objects - New Directions in Paper Art

500 Paper Objects : New Directions in Paper Art by Gene McHugh
Filled with gorgeous photographs of fantastical paper art – this book fills me with inspiration and wonder each time I crack it open. A mind-blowing showcase of variety and ingenuity on display.  –  Jenni


The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown.
This book has everything: a fast paced plot, a well-described, local and historical setting, interesting characters and one of those fun come-from-behind underdog wins stories – a winning combination! I couldn’t put it down. – Georgi


Bloodlands - Europe between Hitler and Stalin

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
There has been much written about the Holocaust, somewhat less about Stalin’s starvation and execution of millions, but Timothy Snyder does something new by treating the murders by the two dictators as one history. He tell the larger story of what happened in Eastern Europe from 1930 to 1945, but also tells the stories of individuals caught up in the horrors of that time. Much of what happened disappeared behind the Iron Curtain after the war, but Snyder, with access to recently declassified Soviet and other archives reveals new facts and perspectives about that harrowing time. This is not an easy book to read, but a brilliant history of an almost unbelievable period. – Beth


Dad is Fat

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
I’ve always enjoyed listening to Jim Gaffigan’s comedy routines. I think his observations are sharp and clear-eyed, but based in humility and understanding. Plus he is hilarious. Dad Is Fat is a series of short essays on life with a wonderful wife and five young children living in a 2 bedroom apartment in New York City. I had to stop reading it on the bus because it was too difficult to suppress my laughter. – Deborah


One Summer - America 1927

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is one of the leading popularizers of science, nature, and history. In his new work, Mr. Bryson focuses on a few famous characters (Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth) and events of 1927 to create a readable but fact-filled story of that pivotal year. While we may know the story of Lindbergh flying the Atlantic and the Babe setting a home run record, Bryson also cover less known history. That was the year that the federal reserve made the fateful decision that led to the depression, and the explosion of tabloid journalism and radio marked what could be considered the birth of modern popular culture. A fine way to painlessly swallow your history lesson. – Beth

Join us tomorrow for our favorite Teen picks of 2013!

Small Scale History

History is a broad topic with many avenues for study.  Why not scale history down a bit with these micro-histories?  They are guaranteed to make you think a little bit more about the every-day objects in your life!

Banana: the Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan KoeppelBanana Book Cover
In this fascinating and surprising exploration of the banana’s history, cultural significance, and endangered future, Koeppel gives readers plenty of food for thought.



Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon GarfieldJust My Type book cover
The history of typefaces from the early days of Gutenberg to the modern applications of digital fonts, tracing the impact of font usage in business and pop culture while explaining what favorite fonts reveal about personality.



Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria FinlayColor book cover
Discover the tantalizing true stories behind your favorite colors. Finlay examines the physical materials that color the world, and explores the social, political, and cultural implications of color throughout history.



The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History by Katherine AshenburgThe Dirt on Clean
Ashenburg searches for clean and dirty in plague-ridden streets, medieval steam baths, castles and tenements, and in bathrooms of every description. She reveals the bizarre descriptions of history’s doctors as well as the hygienic peccadilloes of kings, mistresses, monks and ordinary citizens, and guides us through the twists and turns to our own understanding of clean, which is no more rational than the rest.


A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom StandageA  History of the World in 6 Glasses book cover
An offbeat history of the world traces the story of humankind from the Stone Age to the twenty-first century from the perspective of six different drinks–beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola–describing their pervasive influence during pivotal eras of world history, from humankind’s adoption of agriculture to the advent of globalization




Jane Austen: Adapted

Jane AustenJane Austen is having a great year.

Pride & Prejudice just celebrated the 200th anniversary of its printing , book and movie adaptions of all Austen’s works abound, and the author herself even made it on to Great Britain’s ten pound note (though that was not without some controversy).   Austen, and her books, are more popular than ever.  This is good news for those of us that just can’t get enough of her plucky heroines, dashing romantic leads, and biting social commentary.

The most noteworthy of recent adaptations is the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and it’s (brand-new) successor, Emma Approved.  These adaptations, like the film Clueless, take place in the modern day.  The characters, while familiar, have updated concerns, careers, graduate degrees, cell phones, and cars. But more importantly, both these series were developed for YouTube.  Lizzie is a relentless vlogger (video blogger) getting a graduate degree in communications.  Emma owns her own life-coaching business and is keeping a video diary to document her “greatness”.  Both characters, their family, and friends tweet, create Polyvore albums, and post on Facebook.  The stories are not confined to just one internet medium and that makes for a lot of interesting, interactive story possibilities.

It is a strange, but wonderful day, when you realize you are following Jane Bennet on Pinterest.

It is exciting to see literature engaging people in new ways.  And more interest in reading is never a bad thing . . . speaking of which, if you are looking for other Jane Austen adaptations check out our Happy Birthday Jane Austen! list.  It is sure to please event the most die-hard Austen fan.

Not Just for Teens: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy book coverFirst Impressions
I’m trying to read all the books that are possible contenders for the Printz Award (the award given by the American Library Association for the best fiction book for teens). Out of the Easy is one of those contenders and has great-word-of-mouth buzz, so I picked it up.

Drive-by Summary
Jo, daughter of a prostitute, named after a madam, is coming of age in post-World War II New Orleans. Finding herself caught in two worlds, she is as comfortable reading poetry and working in a book shop as she is firing a shotgun and cleaning the brothel where her mother works. Desperate to get “out of the easy” and go to college, Jo goes up against obstacles including gangsters and her own mother, and finds help in unlikely places.

My Favorite Character
Willie, the madam who has a huge impact on the person Jo becomes, is fascinating. I wish she had her own novel so we could read her story.

Words to Live By
“I no longer wondered why Ray and Frieda were afraid of the dark. I was too.” – Jo

Recommended For
Anyone wanting to read a rich coming of age story with strong, believable characters. Anyone wanting a change of pace from teen fantasy and dystopia.

Final Say
Jo’s New Orleans is richly drawn and filled with multi-faceted characters. The author does a good job of not creating caricatures, but rather well fleshed-out people whose presence makes Jo’s story come alive.

Extra CreditWant to know  more about Out of the Easy?  Here is author Ruth Sepetys talking  about the world and people that inhabit her book:


You can find Out of the Easy at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Jennifer

Summer Reading Reviews, Week 8

Whitey Bulger book coverWhitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice
By Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy
By the middle of the book Whitey has admitted to killing 26 people; this is the mid-seventies. He only got bumped from law enforcement’s cross-hairs by 9-11. When Bin Laden was eliminated (remember Osama?), Whitey once again became Public Enemy Number One.

What I can’t quite figure out is why this rabid killer seems so sympathetic in this masterful biography spanning his childhood through final incarceration.

Rabid killer is putting it mildly. On the other hand he was a guy who was so tuned into the ethos of family he insisted on sitting down to dinner with his (girlfriend’s) family every night for a quaint, traditional meal. He gave advice to young people on right living, like loyalty and thrift and the value of education. He was terribly good at what he did for a living, describing himself as a “good bad guy.” Except he meant good as in “virtuous, right, commendable.”

The authors are to be credited with crafting a story about a persona whose actions are usually associated with madness or psychopathy; yet, the picture of Whitey’s life painted in prose is of a regular guy, intelligent, health conscious, well-read (a redeeming virtue in itself) and “successful.”

Whitey is no Jekyll and Hyde, however. He is something else. Literally.

11 Birthdays cover11 Birthdays
By Wendy Mass
11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass, is a very cute story that I enjoyed reading. It reminded me of the movie Groundhog’s Day except 11 Birthdays deals with the lives of two 11 year olds, who share the same birthday, who must discover why time has stopped and their 11th birthday continues to repeat itself. They learn more about each other, their friendship, their family history, and love and appreciation for life. It was a very heart-warming short story with a pure, simple message.



Maps and Meaning

Isn’t it funny how maps can provide so much meaning to all the random data that drifts around in our heads and on the internet?

Recently both the Washington Post and a cool blog, Twisted Sifter, both put out 40 maps that will change the way that you understand the world.  These maps are both visually stunning and a bit emotionally shocking.  For example:

Map of highest paid employees by state

Map created by http://deadspin.com/

The map certainly makes a statement and gives context to facts–which is AWESOME in this librarian’s opinion.

If all these maps have got you hooked (and you want to know more about maps and their meanings), take a look at these books that are available at the Bellingham Public Library:

Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking
By Jill Berry
You don’t have to be a world traveler or a professional cartographer to embark on a grand journey of self-discovery through map-making. Personal Geographies gives you the tools and techniques you’ll need to create artful maps of yourself, your experiences and your personal journey.

On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
By Simon Garfield
Imagine a world without maps.  How would we travel?  Could we own land?  What would men and women argue about in cars? Follow the history of maps from the early explorer  maps and the awe-inspiring medieval Mappa Mundi to Google Maps and the satellite renderings on our smartphones, Garfield explores the unique way that maps relate and realign our history and reflect the best and worst of what makes us human.

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
By Ken Jennings
Ken Jennings takes readers on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth.

The Art of the Map: An Illustrated History of Map Elements and Embellishments
By Dennis Reinhartz
This lavishly illustrated history of the golden age of cartography, from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, explores not only the embellishments on maps but also what they reveal about the world in which they were created. Here there be monsters real and imagined; ships actual and archetypical; newly discovered flora such as corn and tobacco; fauna ranging from buffalo to unicorns; godlike beings and fantasy-like depictions of native peoples.

Cartographies of Time
By Daniel Rosenberg, and Anthony Grafton
Cartographies of Time features a wide variety of timelines that in their own unique ways, curving, crossing, branching, defy conventional thinking about the form. A fifty-four-foot-long timeline from 1753 is mounted on a scroll and encased in a protective box. Another timeline uses the different parts of the human body to show the genealogies of Jesus Christ and the rulers of Saxony. Ladders created by missionaries in eighteenth-century Oregon illustrate Bible stories in a vertical format to convert Native Americans. Presented in a lavishly illustrated edition, Cartographies of Time is a revelation to anyone interested in the role visual forms have played in our evolving conception of history.

July Staff Picks

All month the librarians at Bellingham Public Library share with each other what they are reading, watching, and enjoying.  Here’s our staff pick round-up for July.

Dark Places

Blonde Bombshell book cover


She Left Me the Gun book cover

Rainbow Troops book cover





She Left me the Gun by Emma Brockes
After her mother’s death, a daughter researches the secrets from her mom’s childhood.
– Beth

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Horror/fantasy, a very personal story of a character remembering a long forgotten adventure from childhood. (For the full review, click here.) – Katie

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
A dark story that follows a young woman after her mother and siblings are murdered.
– Madeline

Winger by A Smith
A teen rugby player at a boarding school in Oregon must grapple with some frightening dorm-mates. – Jennifer

Blonde Bombshell by Tom Holt
A funny and clever science fiction novel. – Deborah

Misfortune by Wesley Stace
A wealthy young man finds an abandoned baby in a rubbish heap.  He believes his long dead sister has been replaced only to discover years later that the child is actually a boy. – Judy

Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata
Biographical novel about a class of misfits in the poorest village school on Belitong, an island in Indonesia. – Diane