Tag Archives: book review

Race and Police Brutality in YA Literature: A Review

HateUGiveNothing kicks off a book like a well-made movie of the book.  But Angie Thomas’s first novel, The Hate U Give – title derived from a Tupac lyric – also places a harsh light on reality in many young adult lives.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.

What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.  But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Thomas is not the only YA author to use police brutality as a theme.  Jason Reynolds, who has been called the new Walter Dean Myers, objects, “This isn’t a literary trend. This is an issue of our time.”

All AmericanHis All American Boys, written with Brendan Kiely, features an African-American teenager who is assaulted by an officer who mistakes him for a shoplifter.  A classmate, who is both white and a close neighbor of the officer, witnesses the incident. Will he tell what really happened?

Alter, Alexandra. “New Crop of Young Adult Novels Explores Race and Police Brutality.” New York Times, 19 March 2017, p. A1.

Police violence against unarmed African-Americans has also been well covered through nonfiction, in books like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Award, and Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All.

Between the WorldWhat is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.

LoweryThey Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery

A deeply reported book that brings alive the quest for justice in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, offering both unparalleled insight into the reality of police violence in America and an intimate, moving portrait of those working to end it.

Conducting hundreds of interviews during the course of over one year reporting on the ground, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled from Ferguson, Missouri, to Cleveland, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland; and then back to Ferguson to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.

–Written by Mary Spevacek, Reference Librarian
*All cover art courtesy of Amazon.com

The English Assassin Book Review

silva.jpgHave you read or watched the movie the “Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown?  If you liked this author, then you may like Daniel Silva, who is consistently on the New York Times bestseller list. Like a James Bond movie, Silva’s books are fast-paced, based in European countries, and full of compelling characters, including a hero fighting to “right wrongs.”

“The English Assassin” is about the looting of Jewish paintings during WWII and a provocative historical view that Swiss bankers traded hard currency for Nazi gold. As compensation, these bankers received thousands of paintings taken by the Nazis from Jews during the Holocaust. Our hero is Israeli spy and art restorer, Gabriel Allon. Allon goes to Zurich and discovers the body of Augustus Rolfe, a prominent Swiss banker murdered when his conscience gets the better of him. His daughter, Anna Rolfe, a renowned violinist becomes Allon’s key accomplice, and the two dodge the English Assassin in order to uncover Rolfe’s hidden past and the secrets of a hidden Swiss banking aristocracy.

Silva’s books, while fiction, focus on history, art, and religion, and in this book, Swiss culture and music. If you are like me, you may want to follow-up with some fact checking of Silva’s historically based storyline. Daniel Silva with his Conspiracy/Espionage Thrillers is currently one of my favorite authors. Let me know if he becomes one of yours.

jana–Submitted by Jana Porter, Reference Librarian

Summer Reading Suggestions from the ECC Librarians!

Summer reading

Each year we do a post on books we have enjoyed and suggest for summer reading. Items available in the ECC Library collection are noted.

*The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
When 15-year-old Maribel Rivera sustains a terrible injury, the family leaves behind a comfortable life in Mexico and risks everything to come to the U.S. so that Maribel can have the educational resources she needs. Henriquez’s novel focuses on a small community of immigrants from all over Latin America and their struggles, triumphs, and generosity in supporting each other as they build their lives here.–Mary Klemundt, Adjunct Technical Services Librarian

The Monk of Mokha by  Dave Eggersmonk.jpg
This is the fascinating story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, an American of Yemeni descent.  Alkhanshali was working a a doorman after his hopes of attending college were dashed by financial difficulties. When he learned that Yemen was once a premier coffee producer for the world, Alkhanshali became interested in the coffee industry, and thought there might be an opportunity for a business.  Over time though, the quality of the methods for producing the coffee had deteriorated to the point where most growers in Yemen had switched to another, more lucrative crop. He decided to try to revive the coffee production business in Yemin.  The story of how this non-connected, young entrepreneur started from nothing and built his business from sheer determination and will is interesting enough. But when Alhanshali visited Yemen right as civil war broke out, his story became one of survival against tremendous odds. The danger and perils of trying to get home with the precious coffee beans read like  a suspense novel.–Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Never let me goI read two classics by Nobel Literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro: * Buried Giant and * Never Let Me Go. If you haven’t read this author yet, you will be entranced by his use of language and his storytelling. —Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Dark voyage : a  novel by Alan Furst. One book in Furst’s series of spy novels set in World War II, the story follows the Dutch tramp freighter “Noordendam” as it takes on a false identity and attempts a dangerous, clandestine voyage to transport detection equipment that may help turn the tide of war in favor of Britain against the devastating U-boat attacks in 1941. The novel may be a bit frustrating for you if you need everything neatly tied up at the end, but it’s full of fascinating characters and great tension. ECC doesn’t have this one, but does have Furst’s *Spies of the Balkans.–Mary Klemundt, Adjunct Technical Services Librarian

Flesh and Blood (Frank Elder series #1) by John Harvey.  Although this is an English detective series, this detective, Frank Elder, and the story are far from typical. Frank is slowly pulled out of retirement to deal with the unsolved disappearance of a sixteen year old girl. As he has a daughter of about the same age with whom he has a distant relationship, Frank follows his heart and gets drawn further and further into the case.  This book is hard to put down! At the end, you’ll be seeking out the other two books in the series. Number two, *Ash and Bone, is owned by the ECC library. A fourth book is due out this fall. The author won the Sherlock Award for best detective created by a British author.–Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The Immortalists by  Chloe Benjamin. At the opening of this novel, the four Gold children visit a psychic, and one by one are told the date of their death. The rest of the novel focuses on the lives of each of the children, and how this knowledge affects their lives as they grow up and go out into the world. Each one is affected differently, and deals with this knowledge in their own way. The novel raises some interesting questions about how you would live if you knew when you were going to die.–Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

*White Trash by Nancy Isenberg. Isenberg’s thesis is excellent and important: much as we like to think we’re the land of mobility and “everyone is equal”, the truth is class has been and is still kept track of in the U.S. Four hundred years of history is condensed into 330-ish pages, so be prepared for abrupt jumps in history and for periods in that history to be glossed over or absent all together. Still, a well-researched book that will teach readers a good amount.–Jennifer Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarianwhite trash.jpg

Fallout (V.I. Warshawski series #18) by Sara Paretsky.  Don’t be put off by the #18. These mysteries can be read as stand-alones. Featuring a physically and mentally strong women detective, V.I. Warshawski, the setting is usually Chicago. However, in this latest book, the case leads V. I. to Kansas. She is pushed into the past as it holds the answers to help her solve the crimes of the present. This book is fast paced and will have you on the edge of your seat. The *ECC library owns 7 books in the series.-Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

*Nobody’s Girl by Antonya Nelson. I was surprised by this book. The author’s gift for storytelling and description grabbed me and didn’t let me go until the end. The main character, Birdy, is very flawed which makes her very relatable. At some points in the book I felt frustrated with her decisions, especially when it seemed like she was giving up on herself, an experience very much like we can all have with friends and family in real life. The quality of the characterization and description in Nelson’s writing was so good that I went on to read two of her other books and some of her short stories.-Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

*Living on the wind : across the hemisphere with migratory birds by Scott Weidensaul. A very readable look at the amazing phenomenon of bird migration. The threats facing migrating birds have only increased in the years since the book was published, which will only increase your awe and wonder at the feats accomplished by creatures weighing only a couple of ounces.–Mary Klemundt, Adjunct Technical Services Librarian

hidden life*Hidden Life of Trees  by Peter Wohlleben. From the book summary: Are trees social beings? This book makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. The author draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers.–Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice
by  Bill Browder. Bill Browder was once one of the richest men on earth, having started an investment fund in Russia after the Soviet collapse. As Browder became part of the Russian business world, it was hard for him to overlook the corruption in business, and after he exposed the corruption he saw, he was expelled from the country. After his business was raided by law enforcement, he and his attorney Sergei Magnitsky began to investigate. Magnitsky was subsequently arrested and died in prison, from injuries stemming from terrible treatment by the government, ending in a brutal beating that killed him. Browder has devoted the rest of his life to see justice served for Sergei Magnitsky, and seeing that the people behind the corruption are punished financially for their actions. Browder was successful in persuading governments to get behind the Magnisky Act, an act that freezes the assets of Russian oligarachs that profited from these actions. By crossing the Kremlin in this way, Browder’s life is in peril from retaliation by the Russian government. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in international politics, human rights issues, financial dealings, and current events..–Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

If you are looking for dystopian literature, try  *Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (reviewed by former ECC librarian Karen Klein) or End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker. Although tragic in theme, both have somewhat hopeful endings and really make you think about what would happen if circumstances beyond our control disrupt our societal norms.–Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian


*Prisoners of geography : ten maps that explain everything about the world by Tim Marshall. An insightful, sometimes eye-opening, look at how geography drives politics, even in an age of sophisticated technology and globalization.–Mary Klemundt, Adjunct Technical Services Librarian

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith. We all sweat when we have to rent a car. The details of the rental agreement may not be crystal clear and once we sign we hope we’ve understood all of the implications. For Paul Stuart, a Scottish food writer visiting Tuscany to write his latest book, his expectations of receiving the car his editor reserved  soon evaporate. The reservation is lost and there are no cars to be had due to the upcoming holiday weekend. After an altercation with the rental agency clerk, Paul spends a brief stint in jail. He’s saved by a local magistrate and taken to an equipment rental agency to rent a van. As you can tell from the title of the book, Paul does not end up with a van. The bulldozer that Paul does end up driving to Tuscany is just the beginning of his adventures in Italy. Paul’s romantic life becomes complicated when an attractive art historian he meets in Tuscany, Anna, his ex-partner, Becky and his long suffering editor, Gloria all end up in town at the same time. At one point, the bulldozer is stolen. It’s put to good use and ends up helping to solve some local parking, zoning and land dispute issues. As many of the Italian characters in the book quip, “it’s Italy”.  This is a light hearted, warm and very fun escapade and would make a great summer read on the beach, on the patio or on an adventure in Italy! The ECC library owns *many titles by this prolific author.Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian.

Thick as thieves by Megan Whalen Turner. From the book description: “Kamet is a slave poised to become one of the most powerful men in the Mede Empire thanks to his master’s close relationship with the Emperor.  While he knows the limitations of his life as a secretary and slave,  Kamet is ambitious and eager for the chance to help shape the Empire and  wield his influence until one whispered conversation changes  everything. No longer safe, Kamet embarks on a journey that will take  him farther than he once thought possible. Traveling away from the seat  of the Mede Empire, Kamet finds an unlikely ally in an Attolian soldier  far from home and realizes that sometimes choice and freedom can be much  more important than power or influence.” Simultaneously billed as the 5th book in Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” fantasy series and as a stand-alone novel, it actually works as both. If you haven’t read any of the others, you can read this one and, without knowing the background, still the enjoy the adventure and the characters. Hopefully, you will be interested enough to go back and start the series with The Thief (2005). If you are already a fan, you will have fun fitting the details and information in this story into the whole world of the “Queen’s Thief” books.--Mary Klemundt, Adjunct Technical Services Librarian

incognito.jpg*Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susan Cahalan. This is an incredible book about a rare inflammation of the brain (Anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis) in a young woman and her fight to regain her former self. An accessible discussion of physical and mental illness and how the brain works. Another good book that discusses how the brain works and describes brain science in an engaging way is *Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman. –Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian.

*Other summer reading suggestions can be found here under the Book Review tag, or view the 2016  and 2017 Summer Reading posts for more titles.

–Contributions by librarians Barb Evans, Mary Klemundt, Jennifer Schlau, Julie Keating & Maria Bagshaw

Never Let Me Go Book Review

Never let me goNever Let Me Go Book Review
By Kazuo Ishiguro
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Ishiguro, 2017 Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, creates a world that seems like a nightmarish mirror of our own. Told from the perspective of Kathy, the novel traces her relationship with both Tommy and Ruth through school and into adulthood where they are groomed to fulfill a special purpose. Although you learn about this purpose fairly soon in the book, the focus here is on the characters and how they react to the future and to their circumstances.

As with The Buried Giant, Ishiguro evokes an atmosphere that is at once realistic and dream-like. This work will make you think about ethical questions and what makes a person human.

There is a movie from 2010 that dramatizes this book, starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightly as the main characters. Although I haven’t seen the movie, I would suggest reading Ishiguro’s work first, as there cannot be a replacement for the way he writes, nor for the atmospheres he creates through his words and descriptions.

–Written by Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Stay With Me Book Review

stay with me

Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Stay With Me
By Ayobami Adebayo
Fic A228s

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo  is one of Sarah Jessica Parker’s book Club picks.  I love to get a heads up on a book and am happy to pass along my take on it!
There are a lot of subjects covered within the pretty Matisse inspired cover….
Political activism and protest, family pressures, polygamy and betrayal…  It’s all here.  It is heartbreaking, funny and hard to put down.  It’s definitely worth a look!
This work as also shortlisted for 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for FictionFor more information, customer reviews, and editorial reviews, see this page on Amazon.
–Review by Kristyn Yemm Pemrick, Library Clerk

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes Book Review

81iybqipdilSmoke Gets In Your Eyes
By Caitlin Doughty
 363.75 D732sm

Imagine your eventual death….what feelings run through you? Mortician Caitlin Doughty hopes some level of peace and acceptance accompanies the sadness and the anxiety. As a child, watching another child fall to her death in a Hawaiian shopping mall, Doughty began her path as a death expert and funeral director. Doughty didn’t agree with the commercial death industry for several reasons, including the potential to up-sell to grieving families, its unnecessary procedures (embalming and its environmental impact), and its dynamic of removing corpses from the view of society (which only elevates our death anxiety). Therefore, she decided the best way to educate society was to go from the inside: enroll in mortuary school. Doughty has since been busy working at her non-profit L.A. funeral home, blogging at her website The Order of the Good Death, and creating an “Ask a Mortician” podcast and video series all in the name of making our culture more death positive. This book is fascinating, creepy, humorous, and well-written. Doughty is a great storyteller: irreverent, witty, smart, and has found her calling. Doughty is very descriptive and leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to dead bodies, decomposition, and funeral home procedures. Educational and engaging, this work is highly recommended! She also has recently written a book called From Here to Eternity which is another page-turner about worldwide death customs.

Jen photo-Submitted by Jennifer Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The Buried Giant Book Review

buriedgiant.jpgThe Buried Giant
By Kazuo Ishiguro
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This work by 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Ishiguro is an immersive, engrossing fantasy about an old couple on a journey to discover the unknown. Taking place around the time of King Arthur, Axl and Beatrice strain to remember their pasts, coping with brief flashes of uncertainty that threaten to upend their progress while traveling to reach the neighboring village of their son. They encounter various characters along the way that assist them in understanding both their own quests and pasts, and the quests and pasts of others.

Throughout the work, Ishiguro writes of the “fog” that encompasses not only the couple, but many others in their village and the surrounding countryside. His writing encapsulates that fog for the reader; we are drawn in by the descriptions and the conflict but are not quite sure how each piece fits into the puzzle until the very end.

Lavishly written and heart-wrenching, this book is not necessarily something that gives the reader a “good feeling” when reading it, but it is definitely a book that is lovely to read and whose themes stay with you long after you have finished. As this is my first Ishiguro novel, and because I have read that Buried Giant is a departure for him, I am looking forward to reading more by this novelist.


–Submitted by Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian