“The Library of Lost and Found” by Phaedra Patrick

There seem to be many books about libraries and librarians lately.  I wonder why that would be . . . perhaps it is because libraries are such wonderful places and vary widely, as do the librarians who staff them!

This book is a little different. Martha Storm works at a library part-time and has been applying for years for a permanent full-time position there.  Somehow, she is always over-looked.  She is so helpful and kind; people take advantage of her goodness, making unreasonable requests on her time and energy.

She shows up to work for a special library program, only to find it has been canceled and nobody thought to let her know.  But all isn’t lost, as she finds a mysterious package with her name on it.  She is stunned to find a book of tales inside the package, with a dedication from her beloved grandmother – to her!  But the inscription date is a few years after her grandma had died.  How can this be?

This begins a journey of discovery and transformation for Martha.

From our library online catalog:

“Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people–though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible. All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend–her grandmother Zelda–who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.”

As Martha tries to unravel the mystery behind the origin of the book of tales, she examines her family members and family history to look anew at what she thought was truth about them.  She looks at herself and thinks about how she can become more true to her self.  It is a growth experience for her, and for those she interacts with during her search.

This is a charming book with interesting characters that delves into uncomfortable family relationships and personal development. 

“Sometimes a book comes along at exactly the right moment. The Library of Lost and Found pulled me with a little family mystery, and filled me with warm fuzzies at the end–exactly what I needed. Phaedra Patrick’s characters are vibrant, quirky, and real, and you’ll be cheering for Martha as she discovers who she really is.” –Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake and The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go

I’m with local author, Amy Reichert!  This is a lovely little book to enjoy!

“Leonard and Hungry Paul: A Novel” by Ronan Hession

A co-worker at the library and I recently found ourselves loving the same books, without having suggested them to each other, so it was with great enthusiasm that I checked out one of her favorites, “Leonard and Hungry Paul”.

“What’s it about?”, I asked her, to which she responded that it was basically about two nice, content thirty-something men who live with their parents, are best friends and don’t do much of anything especially exciting (they do love a good game of Scrabble), but go about being decent human beings while facing challenges like the rest of us do.  They are not trying to be super-heroes, they are just living their lives without hurting anyone.  Nice guys.  Since my own life has been quite stressful lately, I decided to give this pleasant-sounding book a try.

Right off the bat, I enjoyed the writer’s style.  We are introduced to Leonard and Hungry Paul as they go about their lives.  Neither one is a super-spy.  Neither one has a “power job”, and they certainly don’t care about climbing the ladder to success for wealth and riches.  Leonard, for instance, is a children’s encyclopedia writer, and he loves it.  He really loves the idea of making history accessible and interesting for others, especially the next generation.  Although his name isn’t published on his books, but rather under the name of the man who he ghost-writes for, he really doesn’t care about the recognition, even when they’re quite successful.  He’s just thrilled that they are valuable reference books that he contributed (a lot!) to.  Leonard grew up without a father, and his mother (who he lived with all of his life) recently passed away.  He is aware that his world is changing.

Hungry Paul lives with his parents, who can best be described as kind people, generous of spirit.  It doesn’t bother him one bit that he is an adult who has never flown the nest. He really seems to have no traditional “ambitions” whatsoever, with the exception of getting to his very part-time, as needed, postal delivery job on time.  Hungry Paul’s older sister, Grace is about to be married.  She is well-liked, kind, and follows what society seems to view as the more traditional path of a young adult…school, career, marriage, etc.  She has always taken care of Hungry Paul, as have his parents, but she’s starting to worry about what will happen to him as her parents age.  Hungry Paul is never labeled with any kind of disorder, he just seems to have a very unique way of looking at life and has always been different.  During one early scene, when we are introduced to Hungry Paul’s home and family, his parents are enjoying their evening with a jigsaw puzzle, listening to and engaging in a television quiz show, and enjoying an early Easter egg treat (in my mind that Easter egg treat is a big chocolate egg!).  Perhaps this beautiful scene of contentment alone is what keeps Hungry Paul from leaving home.  I, myself, lost my parents a long time ago and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had dreams recalling simple moments like this with them and thinking “if only”.

I fell in love with this book during one scene, early on, when Leonard and Hungry Paul are playing Yahtzee, and the conversation turns cosmic.  Leonard and Hungry Paul are both intelligent men who are fascinated by the universe.  The writing that accompanies Leonard’s exit from the house, when it’s time for him to go home, is so simplistic, but so beautiful as the two friends gaze at the night sky.  It’s little touches like these that make this such a charming read.

From an interview with the author, Ronan Hession, (who is a successful Irish musician, by the way, which might explain his gentle spirit):  “Leonard & Hungry Paul is really a novel about gentle people finding their way in the world.  People who are uncertain about themselves, uncertain about the world, and who have spent a portion of their lives trying to stay out of trouble and stay out of engaging with the wider world – but then their lives change.  Leonard is a ghostwriter of children’s encyclopedias and when his mother passes away he has to come to terms with his place in the world.  Hungry Paul is his best friend who is happily part of a nice family but the family is going through change – his parents are getting older and his sister is getting married and that raises all sorts of questions for him”.

Change does come, indeed, but no worries … there are no zombie apocalypse issues to deal with here.  The changes are realistic, human issues that many of us face, and I only wish more of us could deal with them with the intelligence, strength and wisdom of Leonard and Hungry Paul.  As the book drew to a close, I wanted more of those quiet game nights with these two lovely men.  My wish for you is that you can feel the same.

“Jackie and Marie: a Novel of Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas” by Gill Paul

As a child growing up in the 1960’s, no one seemed to be more fascinating to my mom than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  Whether it be her intelligence, her fashion sense, her poise, her tragic story or her strong will to protect herself and her family after the assassination of her husband, I remember frequently seeing books and magazines with this intriguing woman’s face on them covering up my mom’s own face as she dove in.     

It was therefore with great anticipation that I checked out “Jackie and Maria”.  Although I had read extensively about Jackie Kennedy (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), I knew very little about Maria Callas, nor her own relationship with Aristotle Onassis.     

This is a novel, one of historical fiction, but at times it certainly felt more like an autobiography or at least a biography.  The author certainly did her research.  Of course the dialogue isn’t quoted, but the author stuck to the actual timelines and events of the day, which made the look back at history all the more appealing.   

“Gill Paul is always meticulous in her historical research for novels, and always brings the characters so vividly to life…This novel is simply stunning.” (Louise Beech, author of Call Me Star Girl and The Mountain in My Shoe)   

We see two very interesting and complicated women with greatly different backgrounds and stories fall for the same man, but for very different reasons.  Our hearts both flutter and break for these women, at different times, and for different reasons, but we feel the emotions nonetheless.  Gill Paul does a great job of letting us into their worlds and riding the roller coaster of life with them.  I must note that when she writes about the historic assassination of President Kennedy, she does so without sensationalizing it one bit.  It’s truly written from the point of a woman who was there, but instead of focusing on the details of the murder, Paul offers us a sensitive view of Jackie’s stunning experience and loss that day, and how it would affect her life forever.  That writing is beautiful.   

“Jackie and Maria is an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at the rivalry between two of the world’s most glamorous women, both of whom snared the attention of Aristotle Onassis, one of the world’s richest and most mesmerizing men. Fans of the Kennedys will love this introduction to Maria Callas!” (Stephanie Thornton, USA Today bestselling author of And They Called It Camelot)     

“Gill Paul weaves together the lives of two fascinating and flawed icons… A dishy and delectable novel, Jackie and Maria, is sure to please readers with its famous cast of characters from John F. Kennedy to Aristotle Onassis, its taut pacing, and a truly absorbing story.” (Heather Webb, USA Today Bestselling Author)     

“Glamorous and highly seductive, this compelling story explores the lives of two complex, powerful women complete with all their talents and flaws. Jackie and Maria is not just about their story; this novel also brings the 20th century to life in vivid, colorful detail. I loved it.” (Dinah Jefferies, #1 Sunday Times bestselling author)  

As Heather Webb wrote in her review, this novel is both dishy and delectable, and I’m happy to say that since I’m not a fan of dishy, I was glad that the scales were amply tipped to the delectable side.  This was an enjoyable read, a ride back into history, and a great peek into what it means to live and love, not only while living in the spotlight, but as a woman and mother in any circumstance.  If you’re looking for an enjoyable read with an intriguing backstory, “Jackie and Maria” just might be the book for you.

“Whistling in the Dark” by Leslie Kagen

While browsing the “Books for Sale” used book room at our library recently, I discovered a treasure.  I didn’t know it at the time, but when I picked up this book and read the back cover, I was intrigued: 

“It was the summer on Vliet Street when we all started locking our doors” …  Sally O’Malley made a promise to her daddy before he died.  She swore she’d look after her sister, Troo.  Keep her safe.  But like her granny always said, actions speak louder than words.  And Sally would have to agree with her.  Because during the summer of 1959, the girls’ mother is hospitalized, their stepfather abandons them for a six-pack, and their big sister, Nell, who was left strict instructions to take care of them, is too busy making out with her boyfriend to notice that Sally and Troo are on the loose.  And so is a murderer and molester.

Highly imaginative Sally is pretty sure of two things.  Who the killer is.  And that she’s next on his list.  If nobody will believe her, she has no choice but to protect herself and Troo as best she can, relying on her own courage and the kindness of her neighbors.

“Funny, wise and uplifting, “Whistling in the Dark” is a story of two tough and endearing little girls … and of a time not so long ago, when life was not as innocent as it appeared.” 

Born and raised in the greater Milwaukee area, the Vliet Street setting instantly caught my attention.  Thinking that there could be several Vliet Streets in our nation, I quickly skimmed through a few of the pages and found other clues that confirmed that this is a story that, indeed, takes place in the streets of Milwaukee during the summer of 1959.  I saw Washington Park mentioned, Samson, the beloved zoo gorilla, the Milwaukee Braves baseball team.  Now, even though I wasn’t born in 1959, I didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to realize that I had stumbled onto gold!

My mother moved from a farming community to Milwaukee when she was just a girl.  One of her most harrowing tales from that time was a story she shared with all of her own children, as a warning about “the friendly stranger”.  Back in those days, children were allowed to roam about more freely than they are today, and one day she and her friend went to the old Milwaukee Public Museum.  They were little girls.  They soon became aware of a stranger following them around the museum.  A tall man was lurking behind them, hiding in the shadows.  No matter where they went and how long they stayed there, there he was, hanging back behind them.  The girls were terrified, but true to so many bad decisions we make when we’re young, instead of telling an employee what was happening, they ran out together as fast as they could, fortunately leaving the man behind.  Children were brought up to not speak unless spoken to in those days and they were afraid a museum guard might not believe them.  My mom still got chills when she relayed the story as an adult.

Sally O’Malley faces very similar circumstances in “Whistling in the Dark”.  Although she’s only 10 years old, Sally has a lot of wisdom and a great heart, but she also has what is labeled as an overactive imagination and told by a doctor that she needs to stop “being that way”.  Medical advice was not the same back then!

So when, after a series of events, some heartbreaking, others scary and sad, Sally finds herself being followed by someone, she is afraid to report it.  They’ll say it’s just her wild imagination, which everyone in the neighborhood knows about.  Nevermind that two young girls about her age were found murdered and molested in her neighborhood recently.

This book combines intrigue, suspense, drama and even some humor in an easy to read, page-turning classic.  It’ll make you smile, it will make you angry, it will make you sad as well as sending chills down your spine.  It also challenges the labels we put on each other; Sally is afraid to share what’s happening to her because of her overly-active imagination “affliction”, Wendy has Downs Syndrome, so she’s written off by many in the community, Mary has told some lies and is a schemer, and therefore is never to be believed again.  The author, Lesley Kagen, does a beautiful job of compelling us to look behind the labels and discover some fascinating people.  I literally couldn’t put the book down and read well into the wee hours of the morning.  It should be noted that as of the time of the writing, this talented author was a local gal, living in Mequon, Wisconsin.  Although many times I don’t bother to read the conversation with the author at the end of a book, this time I did and was fascinated to learn about the inspirations behind the story and the characters, as well.

Admittedly for me the tie-in with my mom’s own experience in Milwaukee as a child, the fact that my grandparents lived near this neighborhood, my brothers grew up as huge Braves fans and I personally have fond memories of Samson, the powerful gorilla and his eyes that seemed to penetrate my soul, made this a must read. If you like suspense, and if you have ties to mid-century Milwaukee, this book is for you, too.  Even if you have no ties to Milwaukee, “Whistling in the Dark” is a great read and available in our library system.

“The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” by Eric Larson

“On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons (30,000 of them Londoners) and destroying two million homes. It was up to Churchill to hold the country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally–that she was willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinksmanship but also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country house, Chequers, and his wartime residence, Ditchley, where Churchill and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest. Drawing on a wealth of untapped sources, including recently declassified files, intelligence reports, and personal diaries only now available, Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family, and the cadre of close advisors who comprised Churchill’s “Secret Circle”.

What you’ve just read is a description of the book, “The Splendid and the Vile” taken from the website of author Eric Larson. If his name rings a bell, it may be because of his #1 New York Times bestselling books “Dead Wake” and “The Devil in the White City”. Though I have read neither of those, after reading The Splendid and the Vile, I’m excited to read “Dead Wake”, the story of the last crossing of the Lusitania next.

Although I’m usually more of a fan of historical fiction than actual history, I found this book fascinating. I do like to watch The History Channel, but most often, no matter how interesting the subject, reading a book full of historical facts and figures is not my thing. This book is different … it draws so much from the actual diaries of the people who were living through these experiences. Not only are you getting the facts and figures (some of which are startling), but the author’s clever approach of combining historical fact with actual personal accounts made this a true page-turner. I never anticipated this when I picked the book up, but I swear I couldn’t put it down!

As the author explains, “Although at times it may appear to be otherwise, this is a work of nonfiction. Anything between quotation marks comes from some form of historical document, be it a diary, letter, memoir, or other artifact; any reference to a gesture, gaze, or smile, or any other facial reaction comes from an account by one who witnessed it.” The book is a plethora of eyewitness accounts from very unique perspectives, and all from real people who lived during these days.

By reading about what was going on in Churchill’s life at the time he was making some of the biggest decisions of his life, one feels a personal connection to historical events. When things aren’t going well for the British at some points during the war, the author’s writing makes one forget that you already know the outcome, and instead you feel the tension in the room. Although I’ve seen a lot of footage about The Blitz, while reading this book I personally found myself cowering in a London bunker, hearing the terrible screams of the bombs falling through the sky. The writing was so clear and specific that I often found myself, after finishing a chapter, pausing to quickly go online to find pictures of exactly where a town is located, photos from the time of war, and what that town looks like today. I was totally immersed. I really felt like I was living in this world, and I wanted to know more. It was fascinating to read about some behind the scenes events during Churchill’s Christmas visit to America, for instance, and then watch a video of the actual event.

My husband was chuckling because I had my nose buried in this huge book (the large print version ends with a single word, “Finis”, on page 831!). His curiosity was piqued when I reported that, for probably the first time in my life, I went on to read the entire “Sources and Acknowledgements” section, which ended on page 925. THAT’S HOW INTERESTING THIS BOOK IS!

Due to the authors brilliant talent for immersing you into life in and around London in that dark year, had I not known the outcome of the war, I honestly don’t know if I could have continued reading this book. The continual tension of the bombs being dropped every day during the blitz had me on edge in the comfort of my home. Erik Larson starts the book with the following Winston Churchill quote, delivered in the eulogy for Neville Chamberlin, November 12, 1940: “It is not given to human beings – happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable – to forsee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events.” Winston Churchill certainly had his quirks, but his eloquence and perseverance kept a country together in the most uncertain times. Read this book!

P.S. Due to my new habit of spouting facts about eight thousand pound bombs, aerial mines and such, my husband recommended we watch “Danger UXB”, a British program about the men who were assigned to defuse unexploded bombs dropped by the Germans during the blitz. It is, indeed, a great companion to The Splendid and the Vile and covers the blitz from yet another human perspective. (The 10 hour DVD set is available through our Bridges Library System at www.townhalllibrary.org.)

“One by One” by Ruth Ware

Isn’t it fantastic when a book grabs you from the moment you see it, and as you dive in, it doesn’t disappoint? Such was the case for me as I plowed into Ruth Ware’s wintery wonder “One by One”.

From the author’s website: “A LUXURY CHALET. AN OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME. UNTIL GUESTS START TO DISAPPEAR… Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong and an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?”

If you’re a fan of a good mystery, you’ll love this book. It’s very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s famous “And Then There Were None”, with a modern twist. A couple of the characters are so very trendy, self-absorbed, caught up in today’s social media world and the fight for outwardly visible “success” over everything else, that if they weren’t already in peril, I might have dove in there and done that*, myself! This is not a criticism of the book…rather a comment on how through Ware’s articulate writing we can partner so many of the characters with people we know, whether we’ve met them in person or observed them on television, making the book very relatable and even more interesting. The fact that I was reading about a group of snowbound people while the Wisconsin snow was flying added a special charm, as well!

This is a very well-written book. I am quite often disappointed when reading suspense, in that either the answer is too obvious, or the author quickly wraps up the book at the end, almost as if they just wanted to get it done. Sometimes this happens in an unbelievable, clownish or unsatisfying way. Suspense novels are human interest stories, so please let us know why people do what they do. Backstories count. Ruth Ware recognizes that and writes accordingly.

“A real spine-chiller that confirms Ruth Ware as the true heir to Christie’s crown. Ingenious plotting sees the body count rise and multiple suspects eliminated until we’re left with breathless game of cat-and-mouse’ – ERIN KELLY, author of HE SAID, SHE SAID”

‘The sense of dread deepens as the snow falls in Ruth Ware’s tensely plotted and deliciously cast alpine thriller. Seriously, you will never want to go skiing again.’ – LOUISE CANDLISH, author of OUR HOUSE

“One by One” is a quick, satisfying read. Although I disagree that you’ll never want to go skiing again, I’d imagine that you may find yourself more closely examining just who you’re sharing your adventure with! Don’t flake on this one; check out “One by One” today.

*The author of this blog does NOT condone putting anyone in actual peril. The statement was made simply to convey how very frustrating some characters can be. Yikes!