Chicago in the 1890s was a place for dreams. Daniel Hudson Burnham was one of the architects that dreamt of bringing the world to Chicago for a World’s Fair to celebrate Columbus’s discovery of the New World. Henry H Holmes, on the other hand, dreamt of bringing death to pretty young ladies attending the fair. Both of their stories are told and intertwined by Larson with his deft storytelling and extensive research. This book bounced between these and other major players of the World’s Colombian Exposition, but I did not find that distracting. Instead, it was a very smart way to allow readers to have a rest from the trickery and death of Holmes so they are not overwhelmed by him.
My favorite bit about this book was learning a lot about the challenges and wonders of the Fair, including the creation of the original Ferris Wheel that stood 264 feet in the air and allowed for 2160 people to ride at any given time. Of course, I was also fascinated with the story of Holmes and his self-designed “castle”/hotel that had airtight rooms, a crematorium, and multiple other macabre mysteries.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in American History or just like a well told story. Holmes’s story and methods are told in a manner of fact fashion and is not gory. You can find our copy in the Large Print section of the library. It’s call number is LP 364.15 LAR.
While I have not read the Iliad, I am almost knowledgeable in the ins & outs of the Trojan War…after all, I’ve see Troy! Madeline Miller tells the story in Song of Achilles, from a slightly different view of this chaotic time in history – we see it through the eyes of Patroclus, Achilles’s lifelong companion and lover. The novel starts with Patroclus’s unhappy childhood. He is awkward and not the son his father wanted. The anthesis of Achilles who was a lovely demigod who was the gold standard of being the perfect son – he was musical, a fierce warrior and a good scholar. These 2 young, 10 year old boys meet and become friends when Patroclus is exiled for causing the death of a powerful nobleman’s son. Achilles takes him under his wing as his father takes Patroclus on as a foster, as he did for many many other boys. As his chosen companion, Patroclus is given pretty much the same privileges as Achilles himself – including the same education and training. Their relationship blossoms and becomes a true love story that is treated with respect by Miller. They later go together to Troy to “rescue” Helen from Paris, which ended poorly for both young men.
The characters come to life in this novel and I had no trouble believing them and believing in them. I was pulled in by them, and really wanted to know how they would turn out, even though I have seen Troy. Another aspect I really enjoyed about this is the fact that it deals with the mythical and realistic aspects of the story in the same matter of fact manner. Miller describes very real battles and school-aged angst in the same way she deals with the boys being taught by a centaur and Achilles’s mother being a sea nymph.
You can find this book in our adult fiction section with the call number F MIL.
Gwendolyn Gray lives in a predictable, gray world. Everyone wears gray uniforms, the sky is always overcast & cloudy, everyone conforms to the social norm and no one has any imagination. No one, that is, except Gwendolyn. Not only can Gwendolyn imagine the world as a different, more colorful place, but sometimes the things she imagines come to life like an emerald green leaf and a pair of bright birds. This unique trait of Gwendolyn’s gets her in trouble, as you can imagine, and she gets to meet pirates and dirigible captains and scary creatures that try to erase her and everything else that has a spark of creativity in them.
This is a YA adventure book that has good adult crossover appeal. You can find if on our shelves downstairs in our Youth Library in the J section. It’s call number is PPB J WIL.
Three strangers from very different backgrounds travel the United States together in America for Beginners by Leah Franqui. Pival is the rich Indian widow who booked a trip to California via New York, Las Vegas and many other American cities in between. Satya is her tour guide, although this is his first tour and doesn’t know much more about America and the sights they’re seeing than Pival. Rebecca is the female companion hired for the tour at Pival’s request. Each of them is running from suffocation, shame, or fear in their lives; until, without realizing it, they all start running towards something more.
This is a character driven story that pulls at the heartstrings without being sentimental. I’d recommend it for anyone want to reading travel fiction, but also for anyone looking for a character-centric narrative. This is our book club selection for August. You can find it on our shelves both in our regular fiction at F FRA and also in Large Print at call number LP F FRA.
This classic novel takes place during the French Revolution. An English nobleman is rescuing French aristocrats from the gallows under the noses of those who want to execute them. Sir Percy Blackeney is known for his realistic disguises and for the small red flower, a scarlet pimpernel, left as a signature after of his rescues. He appears to all to be a fop, dandy and fool, and this disguise suits his purpose well. His wife, Marguerite, was a famous actress on the French stage. She is accosted by the French Envoy to help him unmask the Pimpernel – if she does not help him, her brother faces the guillotine. After doing so, she realizes who the Scarlet Pimpernel is, and she sails to France to warn Sir Percy before he is snared in a neck-severing trap.
I recommend this book for anyone liking action, adventure and intrigue. Its characters have wonderful character arcs, and the villain is the only one that is not fully rounded and complete. You can find The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy in our adult classics, on the window shelves on our west wall. Its call number is F ORC.
Picnic season will be here (eventually) and what could be more perfect than impressing your friends and family with a lovely cake? Beautiful Bundts by Julie Anne Hession has many options for a show-stopping cake! Do you like Boston Cream Bundt? Take a look at the recipe on page 100. Maybe Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bundt is more your speed. Page 148 is your stop. There are savory recipes as well like Southwestern Mac & Cheese Bundt (p 246) or Crispy Parmesan Hash Brown Bundts (p 262).
The great thing about this recipe book is that it has a beautiful picture of a beautiful bundt for each of its recipes. You can also get bundt basics like greasing the pan, testing for doneness, or making a filled cake.
The recipes are easy to follow and go step by step, so this could be good for bundt beginners, but there is enough variety in the techniques it covers that a more advanced baker might also enjoy it.
Look for Beautiful Bundts along the back wall in the non-fiction books at call number 641.86 HES.
What happens when a beauty queen and a school librarian are twins and the beauty queen has an allergic reaction that makes her entire face swell up? You guessed it, the librarian helps her out and takes her place for the preliminaries of a national pageant. Oh, and she falls for one of the judges!
This is a very fun book that I will be recommending to friends who like books that reference other books, and friends who like modern takes on Pride & Prejudice, rom-coms, etc. Wilson wrote a couple of movies for the Hallmark Channel (Unleashing Mr Darcy & Marrying Mr Darcy), and I can see this being made into one as well.
This is a fun summer read sure to leave you with a smile on your face. You can find it in our paperback shelves with the call number PPB F WIL.
Christopher Skaife has worked at the Tower of London for many years, working his way up to being in charge of the Tower’s Ravens. In this short book, Skaife talks about the history of the birds, about his history at the Tower, and about the ravens that currently live and “work” there. He is an excellent storyteller and tells his story in a no-nonsense manner.
This book is not is a scientific study of ravens and their behavior. Instead, it is a very readable memoir of both Skaife and his feathered companions. I recommend this for Anglophiles, bird lovers, memoir readers and anyone in search of an interesting book about a little known (at least in the US) topic.
You can find this book in our nonfiction section. Its call number is 942.1 SKA.
SELCO staff along with librarians around the region are reviewing all 36 of the titles up for this year’s Minnesota Book Awards. You can see what they’re saying about each of them on SELCO’s page for these awards.
These reviews are not all posted at once, so come back and take a listen to their thoughts on these home-grown books! (The books with reviews state who the reviewer are under the book cover. Click on the cover to hear the review!)
I was born in 1974. I was happy to search the catalog for this publication year and find a Nancy Drew book in our collection – The Strange Message in the Parchment by Carolyn Keene. I was a bit disappointed in this one.
The story takes place at the sheep farm of one of Nancy’s friends, June. June’s family has a parchment that has a mystery behind it that Nancy is invited to solve. In the process of investigating this mystery, Nancy is attacked by a flock of birds, a ram and an intruder. She also gets to show off her amazing art skills and gets a tour of a slaughterhouse and parchment factory.
I was disappointed at the obvious villain of this story – it is obvious from the first time you meet him that he is behind all the strife and chaos in the book. The Strange Message… seems to be written by a staff writer as quickly as possible in order to cash in on the Nancy Drew craze. It’s plot is much more linear than other Nancy Drew Mysteries I’ve read. It is also bit more political in tone and specifically seems to be pro-vegetarian and anti-labor unions.
Nancy got the bad guys in the end, of course, but I will not be returning to read this book again.