Tag Archives: book review

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

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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

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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

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Cover courtesy of Amazon

The Master and Margarita
By Mikhail Bulgakov
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“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.

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–Submitted by Kristina Howard, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Book Review

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By Matthew Desmond
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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

Alexander Hamilton Book Review

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Cover via Amazon.com

Alexander Hamilton
By Ron Chernow
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This hefty, yet well written biography tells the story of one of our lesser studied Founding Fathers.   Until this past year, when the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda became THE show to see in NYC and here in Chicago, most people recall Hamilton for two things: he is pictured on the $10 bill, and he was shot and killed by Aaron Burr in a duel.  But neither shows his true importance.

In Chernow’s gentle hands, Hamilton gains his place as one of the brilliant minds (arguably the most brilliant mind) that shaped this country, its policies, and its Constitution. In this account, Hamilton’s accomplishments are well-delineated (co-author of The Federalist Papers, founder of our US Treasury and monetary system, confidant of Washington, and immersed in just about every situation the country faced, from the Revolution and beyond.) His abilities were great, yet his time here was short.  Detailed in his descriptions, this biography takes the reader through his humble beginnings as a poor and illegitimate immigrant to becoming one of the most powerful men in the country.

As the country formed in the last 10-15 years of his life, Hamilton feared the despotism and terror that was happening in France, and worried that the new Republic would be undone. All this (plus his ego) caused him to make some grave errors in judgment (for example, his was the first political “sex scandal”, and his diatribes against President Adams) that ultimately ended up being his political undoing.

Although Chernow’s biography is definitely a sympathetic one, he does expose the flaws in his character and puts all the political machinations into context so the reader learns a lot about many political figures and why decisions were made on important topics such as treaties and the national debt.

In reading this work, I not only gained a whole new admiration for this individual who influenced what the U.S. has become today, but I also obtained a greater understanding of all the men who created a system that became something new and the difficulties and nuances undertaken to make a new and ultimately successful nation.Maria2016(2)

–Review by Maria Bagshaw, Reference Librarian

Age of Miracles Book Review

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Cover art via Amazon.com

The Age of Miracles 
By  Karen Thompson Walker
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I highly recommend this lyrical novel that details what happens when the earth’s rotation slows down and days become longer and longer. The story is told by sixth grader Julia, who is trying to navigate the tricky waters of adolescence while witnessing the slow, inexorable destruction of the world as she knows it. This is no one time cataclysmic event like an earthquake or a tornado, but a slow disaster taking place over time. Changes are happening on a global scale, but also to Julia’s small world, and both are equally perplexing. There is no sense of panic in the writing, just a permeating sense of dread as people try to adapt to the changing circumstances around them, while conditions continue to deteriorate. Beautifully written book.
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–Reviewed by Julie Keating, Reference Librarian

Station Eleven Book Review

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Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Station Eleven: A Novel
By Emily St. John Mandel

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Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed. (Summary provided by Amazon.com)

I loved this book because often post-apocalyptic stories are set farther in the future, but this is about the collapse of our current civilization. I think the most visceral moment for me in the book is when a woman is stranded in the airport, looking for her anti-depressant. It made me think about how I wouldn’t be able to access my asthma medicine if something like this happened in the real world. It made the whole idea of the collapse of civilization ever-present in my mind. One point that really effected me was the lack of antibiotics: there was no one to manufacture/ distribute them so they were no longer available. We don’t realize how dependent our current civilization is on the labor (and infrastructure) of people.

I also loved this book because it shows the way that the collapse of civilization affected different people from various walks of life, whether they were a child or an adult when the pandemic happened. So Kirsten is the main thread of the story, but it is punctuated by Arthur and people that touched both of their lives in various ways. I highly recommend this book.

Karen new pic–Submitted by Karen Klein, former Reference Librarian