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!

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Hot Reads for Cold Nights

I can’t be the only one who feels fall in the air?

I am dreaming of hot cider, cooler weather, and a new book to curl up with. The hardest part of that fantasy scenario, naturally, is picking the right novel to read.

Two people reading and sitting

There are so many books, as the saying goes, but so little time.  And, if you are like me, you tend to read based on word of mouth and recommendations.  Hey, you are reading this blog after all…

Thank goodness, then, for the Bellingham Public Library’s upcoming Hot Reads for Cold Nights event.  On Thursday, September 19, David Glenn from Random House Publishing will preview some of his most anticipated new fall titles and present a selection of his favorite paperback gems starting at 3:00 pm at the Central Library (210 Central Ave., Bellingham, WA).  Copies of the suggested paperbacks will be available for purchase from Village Books after David’s talk.

But that is not all!  Katie and Suzanne, Read More! contributors and professional book pushers, will be talking a bit about how the Bellingham Public Library can help you find new reads, make personalized reading suggestions, and help out your book groups with kits and recommendations.  This event is perfect for all types of readers and will help you get your fall/winter reading lists in shape.

You know?  Fall is starting to sound really good right now.

Release Day Exclusive: Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

The Songs of Willow Frost book coverFirst Impressions
Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, simultaneously lifts your heart while it breaking it. The author writes, “I realized that beautiful melancholy will always be my writing partner, and that I will make a living by breaking my own heart on a regular basis.”

Drive-By Summary
William Eng, resident of a Depression Era Catholic orphanage in Seattle, clings to his hope that his mother will come back to reclaim him. However, years have passed since he has last seen or heard from her. Then, one day on a school outing, William thinks he sees her. Charlotte, his blind companion and best friend, encourages William to trust his instincts to seek out his mother. Together William and Charlotte escape from under the watchful eyes of the nuns to trace this elusive woman.

My Favorite Character
Charlotte. William notes, “For a girl without the benefit of eyesight, she was terrible perceptive.”

Favorite Lines
“We all have scars, William” – Charlotte

“I just want the truth” – William.

Who might like this book
Like interesting characters in complex social circumstances set in a specific time period? This story explores what it means to identify with multiple cultures, family relationships, orphanages, life as an immigrant, life as a single woman with a child, Depression era Seattle, and the societal expectations and norms of that period. Highly recommended for book groups.

Final Say
The literary equivalent of a matryoshka doll, Songs of Willow Frost successfully nests one storyline within another via William and Willow’s narratives. Ford builds a credible world and develops rich characters to populate this historical fiction. An engaging and satisfying second novel.

Want to read The Songs of Willow Frost?  Check it out at the Bellingham Public Library today!

— Suzanne

The Rope by Nevada Barr

First Impressions The Rope book cover
A fast moving plot, detailed descriptions of scenery, and a high body count result in a page turner with atmosphere. Hot, dry Utah heat radiates from the pages of The Rope, a prequel in Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series.

Drive-By Summary
The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on Lake Powell promises relaxation in a sandstone setting. Not true for Anna Pigeon, the newest seasonal park employee. Anna wakes at the bottom of a solution hole, a naturally formed dry well, with a dislocated shoulder and a killer headache. Stripped of everything, even her memory, Anna gradually recalls how she arrived at the bottom of both her physical and metaphorical well. Thanks in part to a skunk she survives in true Anna Pigeon style. Upon returning to the upper world, Anna struggles to identify who trapped her in the hole. Her ordeal isn’t over, it’s not clear who she can trust, and the body count is rising.

Nevada Barr spills the fictional beans on how and, more importantly, why a thirty-five year old woman from New York City with a background in theatre transforms herself into a gun toting powerhouse of a park ranger who’s freaky good at solving murders.

My Favorite Character
Anna Pigeon, of course, in all her tough-minded, tooshie-kicking glory. Anna’s drive to conquer her demons makes her unpredictable. She’s not fearless; she’s fearful. Yet she overcomes those fears, a feat made all the more admirable as she often risks her own safety in order to assist others.

Words to Live By
Who has the chutzpa to joke about the afterlife in the face of certain death? Anna Pigeon.

Upon waking up at the bottom of the solution hole: “This is not purgatory”, she assured herself, “They don’t let Protestants in.”
And
“Women need to come to think of themselves not as victims but as dangerous”

Who might like this book
Barr’s personal experience as a park ranger infuses her descriptions with authenticity. She excels at visceral writing. While exploring how individuals and society handles violence against women, Barr also touches on mental health, self-empowerment, and environmental issues. If you like plot-driven suspense featuring a strong woman protagonist, this is a book for you.

Final Say
This prequel works as a stand-alone story. You don’t have to read the first sixteen books in order to understand what’s happening. Interested in the series? Start with the first book, Track of the Cat, winner of both the Agatha and Anthony Awards for best first mystery. Barr’s stories get darker as the series progresses, with some of the latest titles being too dark for my taste. My personal favorites were Flashback and Blind Descent because Barr made me feel like I was right next to Anna during all the action, experiencing all the adventure with none of the risk.

Hunt down The Rope today at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Suzanne

Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano

First ImpressionsLotería book cover
I’m a sucker for good book covers.

I know, I know, authors have little to no say about this marketing aspect of the book and I shouldn’t (judge a book by its cover), but there’s no denying good visual impact. My version of Lotería shows a vibrant red rose on an azure background, but  watch out – this rose has thorns; the perfect metaphor for Luz Castillo and her story.

Drive-By Summary
Eleven year old Luz is refusing to speak to anyone. Something horrible has happened to her and she’s become a ward of the State. Parsed out in a series of memories triggered by images from a deck of Lotería cards, Luz’s narrative provide flashes of insight. As the pieces of Luz’s tragic tale fall into place, you realize you’re witnessing the devastating effects of racism and abuse on Luz and her family.

My Favorite Character
This book overflows with deeply flawed characters. I wanted to save Luz and her sister, Estrella, from the impending train wreck. I certainly rooted for Luz, hoping what few choices she could make would shift how her future would unfold.

Words to Live By
Luz while talking to her higher power: “I see You in people’s faces before they tell me something that means a lot to them. ”

Who might like this book
Lotería would work well for book discussion groups due to the dense layering of themes. Readers interested in understanding characters and how those characters develop will also enjoy this read.

Final Say
Zambrano sprinkles Spanish phrases throughout Lotería. If you don’t speak at any Spanish, grab a Spanish-English dictionary or use an online Spanish English Dictionary like this:

http://www.spanishdict.com/translation

You don’t have to understand the Spanish terms to understand the story, but understanding them will enhance your reading experience. And remember the rose on the cover? This book explores love in many forms, some of them darker than others. Be prepared for this story to draw blood.

Pick up Lotería, gently, at the Bellingham Public Library today.

— Suzanne