Tag Archives: book review

Between the World and Me Book Review

Between the world

Cover via Amazon.com

Between the World and Me
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
305.800973 C652b  

Coates writes a series of essays addressed to his son about the state of race relations in America and how this will impact his son’s life. He describes his upbringing and his intellectual development, fostered by  deep reading and exposure to new ideas and people at Howard University; he was also changed by becoming a husband and father. He gives historical context to the black experience in the United States, and then gives us his personal experiences and views. This book is an important contribution to the conversation about race in America.


–Submitted by Julie Keating, Reference Librarian

Tree of Smoke Book Review


Cover art courtesy of Amazon.com

Tree of Smoke
by Denis Johnson

Fic J66t

With the onset of PBS’s broadcast of the Ken Burns film series, The Vietnam War, it’s a good time to revisit some of the novels written about the war. Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke is one of the great ones. Winner of the 2007 National Book Award, the novel follows four main characters through their experiences in the war from 1963 to 1970, with a conclusion which takes place in 1983. Two of the characters are brothers of low rank in the military. The other two are high ranking: an uncle and nephew involved in the secret service. Although the book does a good job relaying the wartime atmosphere, especially the constant uncertainty, it does a great job of relaying the sense loss and grief. This book is not for the timid and it took me awhile to get through it, but it is definitely worth the effort.  Denis Johnson was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction this past July. He passed away on May 24, 2017.

Barb Evans Photo 11-20-13

–Submitted by Barbara Evans, Reference Librarian

Online Teaching Survival Guide Book Review

Online teachingThe Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips by Judith Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad
371.3344678 B783o

Although published in 2010, this useful guide is a great option for anyone looking to set up an online course from scratch, or for an instructor implementing an online curriculum.

Boettcher and Conrad provide a general overview of best teaching practices in Part One, including guidance on creating a supportive community, providing a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities, asking for feedback, and wrapping up in a meaningful way. Part Two divides the course into various phases of the class, including “course beginning”, “early middle”, “late middle” and “closing weeks” so the reader can easily use the tips and tools that most match the phase he/she is teaching. The authors give thought-provoking questions throughout that the teacher can think about as part of the course, or use in the class to spur on critical thinking and creating community.

Having taught online classes, I can say that the advice, tips, scholarship, and focus are all useful from day one and many of the items that I have used within my classroom have worked well and have added value and to the students’ successes.

—Submitted by Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Summer Reading–from your ECC Library staff & librarians!

Each year we do a post on books we have enjoyed and suggest for summer reading.* Here are some old and new favorites! Items available in the ECC Library collection are noted.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. It is a graphic novel memoir that is both funny and sad about the challenges of taking care of aging parents. I was surprised at how much it made me laugh considering the topic.–Stacey Shah, Distance Learning Librarian. Available at ECC Library811CNUyahEL

LaRose by Louis Erdrich. A tragedy almost destroys neighboring families but an arrangement based on Ojibwe tribe tradition acts as a catalyses to help them heal and come to a new appreciation of each other.  Rich storytelling from a renowned Native American author. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Ficton. –Barb Evans, Reference Librarian. Available at ECC Library

 The Girl Before  by JP Delaney. In my constant search for reading all books with “girl” in the title, I just finished this fresh thriller. It takes place in a minimalist, state of the art, high tech smart house built by an eccentric architect.  The occupants have to agree  to some unusual rules to be able to live there.  Throughout the history of this fabulous   home a few unexplained deaths have happened. The story keeps you guessing until the end!  –Kristy Yemm Pemrich, Library Clerk.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson.  A fateful summer in his youth colors the rest of Trond’s life in this memoir-like story of life and loss by Norwegian author, Per Petterson. A short but powerful story.   –Barb Evans, Reference Librarian. Available at ECC Library

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. This seaside tale features several women who are amateur scientists in 19th century England.  One particular woman, poor and uneducated Mary Anning, has a unique gift to spot fossils no one else can see.  When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton, she causes major upsets in the religious and scientific communities of the day. –Barb Evans, Reference Librarian. Available at ECC Library


Cover from Amazon.com

Design for Dying and Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick. Totally frivolous and an easy read, but a decent option to take to the beach if you like mysteries, strong female characters, and 1930s Hollywood. —Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The Portable Dorothy Parker. Containing poetry, articles, stories, and letters, this collection still resonates as snarky and caustic today. My favorite collection is the poetry missive Enough Rope, which was published in 1926 and is both hopeful of love and yet aware of the pain it inevitably had caused.  –Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian. Available at ECC Library

Lab Girl  by Hope Jahren. From the Amazon description: “In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.”Jen Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian.

Hillbilly Elegy  by J.D. Vance. A great memoir/insight into working class culture, particularly those in Appalachia who ended up in what is now the Rust Belt (Ohio, Pennsylvania, some Michigan)–Jen Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian. Available at ECC Library

Homegoing – A work of fiction about how slavery altered the course of two family lines.–Jen Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian


Courtesy of Amazon.com

The Nix by Nathan Hill. This sprawling novel grabbed me from the beginning. Hilarious skewering of higher education, and lots of heart to boot! I loved this book. –Julie Keating, Reference Librarian. Coming soon to ECC Library!

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. I was emboldened by Shonda Rhimes’ journey to embrace herself while she tackled motherhood, anxiety, feminism, weight issues, work, and marriage. Sometimes, as women, our hardest challenge is learning to say “yes to no”. –Kristina Howard, Reference/Instruction Librarian

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. A beautifully written account of a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced to house arrest in one of the most glamorous hotels in Moscow. –Julie Keating, Reference Librarian.

American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White, Jr A new biography of our 18th President.–Julie Keating, Reference Librarian. Available at ECC Library

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. This work “takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge.”-Julie Keathing, Reference Librarian. Available at ECC Library

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin BoysinBoatOlympics by Daniel James Brown. From Amazon: Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.–Julie Keating, Reference Librarian

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. A heartbreaking story about music, language, and love. A group of terrorist hold their hostages for several months. Many of them do not share a language, but they all share a love for Roxane Coss’s (a famous opera soprano) singing. It is her music that creates a space for compassion and love.–Kristina Howard, Reference/Instruction Librarian. Available at ECC Library

*Other summer reading suggestions can be found here under the Book Review tag, or view the 2015 and 2016 Summer Reading posts for more titles.

–Contributions by Stacey Shah, Maria Bagshaw,  Jennifer Schlau, Barb Evans, Julie Keating, Kristina Howard, Kristy Yemm Pemrick

The Master and Margarita Book Review


Cover courtesy of Amazon

The Master and Margarita
By Mikhail Bulgakov
FIC B933m

“Once upon a time there was a lady. She had no children, and no happiness either. And at first she cried for a long time, but then she became wicked…”

Poor Margarita. She loved the Master, but he left her in the night. She didn’t know where he went, and spent her days tormented. Was he even alive? Where had he gone? Only the devil knows. Luckily, the devil happened to be visiting Moscow and needed Margarita to help host the Satan’s Grand Ball.  And Margarita wanted to find her Master.

But, Margarita and the Master are only a small part of this story. This is a story about a time in Russia when people were not free to speak, were suspicious of foreigners (and not allowed to keep foreign currency), could not believe in God (forced atheism), and it was damn near impossible to get an apartment in Moscow. The author, Mikhail Bulgakov, couldn’t even publish this story during his lifetime. He started writing the novel in 1928, but it was not published until 1969.

Despite being written almost 90 years ago, it is still relevant to our time. We have a President that believes in “alternative facts” and censors information. Are we that far from 1930s Russia? Only the devil knows.


–Submitted by Kristina Howard, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Book Review

41w2bkx63tul-_sx304_bo1204203200_Evicted : poverty and profit in the American city
By Matthew Desmond
339.46 D464e

Matthew Desmond examines the role of insecure living situations in the cycle of poverty. I used to think that education was the magic bullet that would allow children to rise from poverty, but after reading this book, I have changed my mind. Without secure housing, every other aspect of life suffers.

Desmond follows several poor Milwaukee residents in their travails to find and keep housing in the inner city. He also reports on two landlords who have made a specialty of renting to the extremely poor. Evictions are common. Rents often take up to 50% of income, or more. It doesn’t take much of a calamity to put the poor behind in their rent, and catching up once behind is unlikely. Once someone has been evicted, their housing options are much restricted, and they end up in a downward spiral of increasingly horrible living conditions, as they are forced to live in apartments that are far from meeting building codes. If they report violations, such as a sink or bathtub that won’t drain, they will be evicted  and the cycle begins again. Even calling 911 for a sick child or domestic abuse can result in an eviction, as landlords do not want to become know as a nuisance building. Landlords know that their tenants are in a very vulnerable position, and can slack off on maintaining their buildings, knowing tenants will not file complaints because of fear of eviction.

Desmond also details the industries that have spring up around the poor. In Milwaukee, the landlords profiled make large profits by renting substandard housing to the poor, as do storage locker businesses, payday loans, and credit card companies. Getting ahead of the game is nearly impossible.

This book stressed that the importance of secure housing plays a key role in ending the cycle of poverty. Children were changing schools five times in one year because of frequent moves. Substandard living conditions spawned sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression in those forced to be constantly on the move, looking for some kind of stability in their lives.

Desmond got to know many of these people, and we are introduced to the wide range of people he met while researching this book. Poor choices,  drug addiction, a struggling economy, and mental illness all played roles in contributing to the housing crisis faced on a daily basis by these poor Milwaukee residents. Desmond does propose a few solutions at the end of this book. There are some success stories on a very small scale, but most of the people we meet in this book will continue to struggle in their search for a stable home.

keathing–Submitted by Julie Keating, Reference Librarian

Feel good books

Feeling like you need a distraction and something to make you feel optimistic or good about yourself?  Here’s a couple places to get you started:

Goodreads has a shelf for Feel Good books, rated by its users. It includes works like Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, Wonder, Eat, Pray, Love, and other great titles.

World of Wanderlust has 10 Books that Make You Feel Good About Yourself. This eclectic list includes Wild, #Girlboss, and the Happiness Project.

Check out our Recommended Reading Guide, or our list of Book Reviews for other great titles that you can find in the ECC Library.

Finally, from BookRiot comes a list of quotes to give you hope, courtesy of Dumbledore:

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”(Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”(Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

“It was important, Dumbledore said, to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated. . . .” (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

–Submitted by Maria Bagshaw, Reference Librarian