True Stories of Justice

Sometimes attaining justice in real life is elusive, however, in the following recent nonfiction books which read like fiction, there’s a wonderful satisfaction in seeing people reach their goals. It’s also extremely disappointing to see others only receive minimal or no justice.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor. An American woman in New York, Maria Altmann, attempts to recover her Jewish family’s artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, especially a portrait the family commissioned of Gustav Klimt to paint of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer in 1910, a now famous painting called The Woman in Gold. The Austrian government refuses to return it and finally after a long court battle she triumphs. This book was made into an excellent movie starring Helen Mirren titled Woman in Gold, which is also available at some branches of the OC Public Libraries.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight For Justice by Bill Browder, is similarly about ultimately achieving justice. Bill Browder, one of the first and largest foreign investors in Russia after the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union and the country opened up its market to capitalism, exposes the financial shenanigans and corruption of the government and the oligarchs when they steal many of the shares in the companies his clients had invested in by splitting them and then making them unavailable for foreign investors to buy. They also accuse him of $230 million in tax evasion and his attorney determines that many civil servants and government officials siphoned the money. His attorney is imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately beaten to death. Browder is determined to get justice for him and gets a bill passed in the U.S. that further prevents the named people from using their ill-gotten billions to invest in U.S. markets and real estate. The justice, however, is bittersweet since in retaliation Putin restricted adoptions of Russian orphans to Americans.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson. Bryan Stephenson is a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama who fights for mostly poor, disabled African-American adults and children and the wrongly accused on death row. These cases will amaze you and make you question the American justice system.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. This is a book in which justice is a slippery slope. Imagine you are in a hospital during Hurricane Katrina and the doctors feel that it is more humane to euthanize you than be rescued by helicopter because they think you won’t get out of the hospital on time and will suffer in the process. Patients endured many hours in poor conditions without electricity and functional medical equipment before they were finally rescued. The second half of the book covers the trial in which the staff members responsible for the patients must defend their actions.

The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II by Jan Jarboe Russell. Many of us are familiar with the unjust treatment of the Japanese in America, most of them citizens, who were rounded up in internment camps for the rest of WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is certainly unjust enough since many lost businesses, land, and homes while they were away. However, many people would be surprised to discover that the U.S. also put many German Americans in internment camps and even gathered Japanese and Germans from other countries in North, Central and South America to stay at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas and then sent them back to nuclear bomb ravaged Japan and war-torn Germany during WWII in exchange for American POWs.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a story of medical ethics gone wrong and injustice that was never addressed. Henrietta Lacks, a poor sick woman and a Southern tobacco farmer who provided the HeLa cells for cancer research in the 1950s, never even knew that her cells were taken and used. Although her own children couldn’t even afford medical insurance, neither she nor her family ever received compensation for it. 


Best of 2015 - Our Top Three Teen Fiction

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Three Teen Fiction titles of 2015.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Another Day by David Levithan

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (audio)

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top teen title of 2015.


Best of 2015 - Our Top Three Children's Non-Fiction

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Three children's non-fiction titles.


Best of 2015 - Our Top Three Children's Fiction

Children's librarians and library staff throughout OC Public Libraries voted and here are our top three children's fiction titles published in 2015.

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (audio)

Did you love a certain children's book published in 2015 that didn't make our list? Leave us a comment and let us know!


Best of 2015 - Our Top Three Adult Non-Fiction

Here's a look back at some of the best nonfiction books of 2015, as recommended by OC Public Libraries staff. Have you read these top three titles?

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (audio)

Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling (audio)

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top nonfiction or memoir title of 2015.


Best of 2015 - Our Top Three Adult Fiction

All OC Public Libraries staff members were invited to vote for their top fiction titles published in 2015. Library staff voted and the results are in!

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Three Fiction titles of 2015.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (audio)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (audio)

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top fiction title of 2015.


Picture Book Month -- New Read-Alouds

November is Picture Book Month. Let's celebrate by highlighting some recent titles that are recommended for reading aloud. These have been tested on a "live studio audience" -- at a library preschool storytime!

You can count on Amy Krouse Rosenthal for clever, original concepts. (See Little Pea, in which a vegetable balks at eating candy.) Her latest, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, is called Friendshape: an Uplifting Celebration of Friendship. Four good buddies tell the tale: a yellow square, a green triangle, a red rectangle and a blue circle. By manipulating their positions and adding facial expressions, Rosenthal and Lichtenheld express simple truths about friendship, such as "Friends may quarrel... (angry faces and wavy lines) but they don't stay bent out of shape for long (back to normal)."

The next title reminds me of one of my favorites from the 1980's: Who Took the Farmer's Hat? by Joan Lexau. In Finders Keepers by Keiko Kasza, Squirrel leaves his hat to mark the spot he has buried a nut. But the wind blows it to a bird who thinks it's a nest, an ant who thinks it is a boat, and so on. The cheerful colored pencil and pastel illustrations are charming. What appealed to my "studio audience" was the chance to call out "Finders Keepers!" each time the hat changed hands.

Don't read this next one aloud unless you are prepared to really ham it up: I Will Chomp You! by Jory John with pictures by Bob Shea. It falls into the category of "metafiction," where the book is "aware" that it is a book. The narrator, a monster with a big blue head, addresses the reader directly, starting out by saying, "If you turn any more pages... I WILL CHOMP YOU, BUSTER!" After several failed attempts, he finally confesses that he was trying to scare you off so you wouldn't eat the cakes he has hidden in the back of the book. Silliness, indeed, but fun to act out.

Reading with your child is the single most important way to get them ready to read. And it's a blast! Find some picture books and get started with your own November celebration.


A Book Worth Sharing

The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder

Lauren arrives in the small town with a broken heart and a secret. She has temporarily moved in with her aunt and uncle and their three children after a traumatic incident with her mother and baby brother. She feels adrift and torn with guilt, fear, and worry.

Colby is a star on the town’s beloved football team with a secret of his own. He knows how much the town, his team, his best friend, Benny, and his father are counting on him to have a good football season. But he dreams of a future that does not involve football and he dreads telling his father and letting down his team. And then Benny has a terrible motorcycle accident and Colby’s world is turned upside-down.

Colby finds solace in Lauren, but promises his father “no girls” during football season. After trying to keep their distance, they decide to be just friends, and together they organize fundraisers for Benny’s care and begin to find happiness behind the sorrow and the secrets.

And then, on the night before the last big football game, Lauren’s mother calls and asks her to come home and be a family again. What will they do?

The chapters alternate between their two voices, Lauren’s told in verse and Colby’s in prose. I enjoyed both their stories and was eager to see how their lives unfolded and became one. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but found it very satisfactory. In all, a believable and absorbing read.


Author Visit this Thursday - Judith Ryan Hendricks

Author Judith Ryan Hendricks will be discussing her new novel Baker's Blues as well as her writing process on Thursday, November 12th at 11 AM at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library.

Hendricks is the author of book group favorites The Laws of Harmony and Isabel’s Daughter, and her new book Baker’s Blues, which completes the trilogy with Bread Alone and The Baker’s Apprentice.
This event is free and no advanced registration is required.  Copies of Baker’s Blues will be available for purchase to benefit the Friends of the Rancho Santa Margarita Library and the author will be available after the event for book signing. One lucky attendee will win lunch for two at Cinnamon Productions, courtesy of the Friends of the Rancho Santa Margarita Library.

Contact the Rancho Santa Margarita Library at 949-459-6094 with questions.


Author Visit - Judith Ryan Hendricks

Join us Thursday, November 12th at 11 AM at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library and meet author Judith Ryan Hendricks.

Author of book group favorites The Laws of Harmony and Isabel’s Daughter, Judith Ryan Hendricks will be talking about writing and her new book Baker’s Blues, which completes the trilogy with Bread Alone and The Baker’s Apprentice.
This event is free and no advanced registration is required.  Copies of Baker’s Blues will be available for purchase to benefit the Friends of the Rancho Santa Margarita Library and the author will be available after the event for book signing. One lucky attendee will win lunch for two at Cinnamon Productions, courtesy of the Friends of the Rancho Santa Margarita Library.
Contact the Rancho Santa MargaritaLibrary at 949-459-6094 with questions.


OC Public Libraries - The Big Read 2015

During the months of September, October, and November OC Public Libraries is participating in The Big Read. The Big Read is a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). As part of The Big Read, OC Public Libraries are sharing the experience of reading the same book. OC Public Libraries’ Big Read book selection is “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea. Readers throughout the County are invited to join together in reading and celebrating this book. Many branches of OC Public Libraries are hosting book groups focusing on the book if you’d like to join in the discussion.

“Into the Beautiful North” is the story of nineteen year old Nayeli. One day Nayeli looks around Tres Camarones, her small town in Mexico, and realizes all the men are gone. Her town has become a town comprised of only young women and older women as the men, including Nayeli’s father, have gone north and never returned. Since most of the men are gone, the small town has become the target of the drug cartels. When Nayeli attends a screening of the classic film The Magnificent Seven, she is inspired to build her own band of heroes who will defend Tres Camarones. Nayeli hatches a brave but somewhat naïve plan to go north to the United States and bring back her own band of warriors to defend and repopulate her town. Along with her best-friends, Nayeli ventures north where she encounters a variety of characters, some are potential warriors and others are brutal members of a society Nayeli is only just discovering. Readers fall in love with Nayleli’s spirit as we follow her on a journey of self-discovery as she strives to save her town and find her long lost father.

This book is part adventure novel, part coming of age story and partly a literary exploration of the unique world that exists on the border between Mexico and the United States. I highly recommend this book; there are so many themes to explore and characters to love. Read “Into the Beautiful North” and share your thoughts at a local book club meeting, with Book Talk, or with friends and family. Click here for more information about The Big Read and for a list of Big Read events throughout Orange County.

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest


More books to tickle your funnybone

A couple of years ago I wrote about some of my favorite funny books for kids (see What Tickles Your Funnybone).

One of my favorites,  The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, has since been made into an animated "major motion picture" called "Home," starring the voices of Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez and Jim Parsons. So I was not the only one to think it was a great story! Though the powers-that-be in Hollywood changed the narrative so much that you should still read the book.

Now Adam Rex has penned a sequel, called Smek for President. What a joy it is to revisit the intergalactic friendship of Tip Tucci and her Boov sidekick J.Lo. This time the duo travel to the Boov colony on one of Saturn's moons to try to clear J.Lo's name. He is being blamed for the Boovs' exile from Earth, which as we know from the first book was not his fault. Things get really sticky when ambitious leader Smek, plotting to win the election by any means necessary, labels them as public enemies instead of giving them a hearing. Comic action and dialog ensue.

I started looking for other funny books for intermediate readers that came out recently. Here are a couple of contenders:

Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly Burnham. As you might guess from the title, Teddy wants more than anything to get in the Guinness Book of World Records. A few obstacles stand in his way, such as his younger brother, aptly nicknamed The Destructor. Actually, his whole family is so zanily eccentric that Teddy ends up sleeping in a tent in the back yard to get some peace. It's not all bad. He ends up being friends with the Grumpy Pigeon Man next door and learning to truly appreciate the birds. Short, lively chapters broken up with well-labelled subheadings will appeal to readers who love Big Nate and Wimpy Kid.

Almost Super by Marion Jensen. Everyone in Rafter Bailey's family gets a superpower when they turn twelve. But something goes wrong for Rafter and his brother Benny. How are they supposed to battle their sworn enemies, the Johnsons, when all they can do, respectively, is light polyester on fire and turn bellybuttons from "innies" to "outies?" Yet they end up saving the day, when their plain old investigative skills lead them to the true arch-villains and persuade the grownups from both the Bailey and Johnson clans to call a truce. There is already a sequel, Searching for Super.

Have you read any funny kid's books lately? Add them to the comments below.


Family Vacation

“When people went on vacation, they shed their home skins, thought they could be a new person.”
                                        ― Aimee Friedman, Sea Change

What could be more blissfully relaxing than two weeks on the island of Mallorca? Unless you happen to be going with your family. And your husband is hiding a game-changing secret. And your son is a bit of a womanizer. And all the while you are just trying hold everything together and create the image of a “perfect” vacation. This is the set-up for Emma Straub’s The Vacationers. She takes an idyllic setting, throws in the Post family with all their troubles and idiosyncrasies and shakes them up.

Franny Post has a pretty good life in New York. She may have put on a couple of extra pounds over the years, but she’s a food writer and that’s to be expected. Her husband, Jim, was recently forced to resign from his position at Gallant magazine for reasons that throw a wrench into Franny’s world. Their daughter, Sylvia, is going away to college in the fall and her main goal for the summer is to lose her virginity and get it over with. Their son, Bobby, brings his girlfriend and it soon becomes clear that all’s not well between them. Franny’s best friend, Charles, has his work cut out keeping her sane, but in the process, neglects his husband, Lawrence, who is preoccupied with adopting a baby back home. Oh, and don’t forget to add a sexy Spanish teacher to the mix. The antics of the Post family will allow you to forget, for just a little while longer, that summer is almost over.


A Historical Fiction Novel Worth Talking About

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

In 1929, the United States Congress passed legislation funding travel to Europe for mothers of fallen American soldiers. By 1933, 6,693 Gold Star Mothers had made the pilgrimage.

April Smith tells the fictional story of five Gold Star Mothers as they travel to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Her story centers on Cora Blake, the librarian in a small town on an island off the coast of Maine. Cora’s only child, Sammy, was killed in the final days of the war, and she chose for the government to bury him in France, because she wanted him to be in the field of honor, surrounded by his brothers in arms. Her Gold Star group is made up of a granddaughter of a railroad tycoon, a Russian immigrant chicken farmer, a tennis star with unstable mental health, and an Irish housemaid. They come from many different backgrounds and live vastly different lives, but their shared journey and loss unite them. Along the way, they encounter a tin-nose expatriate journalist, two deaths, and a secret.
This is a segment of our history that I was not familiar with, and April Smith’s depiction of the times and the women’s travels is captivating. I grew to be fond of the Gold Star Mothers and I wanted to find out more about their lives, both past and future. This is a beautifully written historical fiction novel that will surprise you, entrance you and stick with you long after you finish reading it.


We'll Never Be Royals

“I'm going to marry Prince William! I'll get all Kate Middleton's cute coats!”
            ― Claudia Gray, A Thousand Pieces of You

If you want to read something completely fantastical, something that could never happen in real life, read The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. It’s the story of a young, American college student, Bex, who goes to England to study abroad and ends up marrying the British Prince. (How many college girls have swooned at that thought!) As a former English major and all-around Anglophile, this is the alternative history that I’ve been waiting for.

The Royal Family in the book is loosely based on the current Royal Family. The Queen, much like Elizabeth II, is always in control and always gets the last word. The Prince in question is obviously the stand-in for Prince William and his red-headed, mischief-making brother for Prince Harry. The Prince’s father is distant (though I’d like to imagine that Prince Charles isn’t as unkind as his literary substitute in this book). The depiction of the Prince’s mother is handled tastefully. (I’ll make you read it to find out what the authors did with this delicate situation.)

I enjoyed watching Bex develop in her relationship with Prince Nicholas from girl-next-door to keep-it-a-secret girlfriend to hide-from-the-paparazzi fiancé. It gave me a new respect for Kate and how she deals with the cameras with such aplomb. With all the craziness that Bex has to deal with once she comes into the paparazzi’s crosshairs, it makes me wonder: If the truth can be crazier than fiction, what must poor Kate go through that we never even hear about?

Fellow royal watchers might also like Kate: The Future Queen by Katie Nicholl, Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess by Jerramy Sage Fine, The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, and The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne.


New Year, New School: Great Choices for the Upper Elementary Set

It’s back-to-school time!  If you haven’t returned to the classroom already, you will very soon.  Here are some intermediate fiction suggestions for children in grades 4-6 to make the school year even more fun.  In each book, the main character is starting a new school.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
In 2015, with this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, author Cece Bell earned Newbery Honors and an Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids.  Bell relates her personal experience as a deaf child in first grade joining a classroom of children without hearing issues.  She wears a hearing aid strapped to her chest which opens up her auditory world, but makes her feel awkward socially and hampers her quest to find a true friend.  Interestingly, the hearing aid also allows her to hear her teacher’s conversations wherever she is in the school.  This becomes Cece’s “superpower”, and as a result she dubs herself “El Deafo”.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
In this graphic novel, Roan is just starting middle school.  His application to pilot school was rejected and instead he has accepted a surprising invitation to attend the mysterious Jedi Academy, where he finds he’s the oldest student.  Apart from Yoda, many of the characters in this new series are entirely unrelated to the cast of the Star Wars films, but are equally intriguing.  Much more than a take-off of a popular franchise, this novel/comic diary tackles some important school-age issues, such as friendship, bullying and perseverance.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
The experiences that eleven-year-old Ellie encounters as she starts middle school include more than just friendships ending and beginning, awkwardness and discovering new academic interests.  She also gets to know her grandfather, Melvin, who has figured out how to reverse the aging process and is now a thirteen-year-old enrolled at Ellie’s school.  This unique novel is a wonderful blend of fantasy and realistic fiction and exhibits an enthusiasm for science that should inspire any reader.  We also offer this book in compact disc and eBook formats.

The New Kid by Mavis Jukes
This novel is also about starting a new school, but with the added challenges of doing this in the middle of the school year and switching from an intimate private school to a large public school.  Eight-year-old Carson has just moved with his dad to northern California, leaving behind his grandparents and familiar places and faces.  Although at first not completely comfortable in his new surroundings, the love of his father and the acceptance of his classmates smooths the transition.  Author Jukes shows true empathy for Carson’s experience settling into a new environment and tells her tale with humor and understanding.


This Is Character Building

“Anyone who has grown up in Delhi knows it's horrible.” – Upamanyu Chatterjee

Idha, the narrator of Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character, is seventeen when her mother dies. Her father, who has been away working in Singapore, comes back to India for the funeral, but goes right back to Singapore afterward—without Idha. She is sent to live with an aunty in New Delhi, whose main goal is to get her married. But Idha is humored and allowed to go to college. They even give her a car. Somehow, this is not enough. She is not looking for the college-husband-kids progression. This is what leads her to the “bad character” in the title. She never gives his name and much of his life remains a mystery to us. But what we do know is that he shows her parts of the city and parts of herself that she had previously only guessed at.

She is in a café in Khan Market, avoiding the “indestructible” Delhi heat, safe in the air conditioning.
Safe until she looks up and finds him staring at her. She, however, is not completely innocent. She says, “But in the café I’m looking up at him. I am pretty and he is ugly. And the secret is this turns me on.” He takes her, literally and figuratively, on a ride through the city. Delhi, itself, is like a character—dark, menacing, dangerous. Delhi is “no place for a woman in the dark unless she has a man and a car or a car and a gun,” she says.

I enjoyed how the novel is a Bildungsroman, but also has dark undertones. Growing up and learning about the world is not always easy and sometimes there is more at stake. If you like Kapoor’s book, you might also enjoy reading Green Girl by Kate Zambreno and A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride.


California Young Reader Medal Nominee Part III

I have been dragging my feet on writing a review about this book. I really wanted to love it. It is nominated for the California Young Reader Medal, it has great reviews, it is a New York Times bestseller, and the kids rave about it. It has everything going for it – adventure, suspense, a believable magical world, a plucky heroine and a determined hero. The author, Colin Meloy, is the lead singer and songwriter of the popular indie folk rock band The Decemberists, and the illustrator is the amazing Carson Ellis. I took the book home full of excitement and eagerness to start reading. And then I just couldn’t get into it. I am not a lover of fantastical worlds, and Wildwood is nothing if not fantastical. I did try. I made it halfway, and then had to skip to the last chapter, to read what turned out to be a rather satisfying ending.

Prue McKeel lives an ordinary life in Portland. Until the day her baby brother is kidnapped by a murder of crows and taken into the “Impassable Wilderness” – the impenetrable forest world called Wildwood on the outskirts of Portland. Prue and her friend Curtis set out to rescue her brother. On the way, they get separated and the book follows their stories alternating chapter by chapter. There are magical creatures, warring armies, dark magic, and a battle for the survival of Wildwood itself. 

The story does wrap up nicely with lots of room for a sequel. Actually, there has been not just one sequel, but two. Wildwood continues to entrance readers of all ages. I do encourage you to read this book. There is a reason it is so popular and is nominated for the California Young Reader Medal Award. It just didn’t resonate with me. So give it a go and let me know what you think.


Read to the Rhythm - Older Teen Music Themed Books

This year's "Read to the Rhythm" music themed summer reading program is nearly over. But the music themed fun doesn't have to end; this list of older teen music themed books will guarantee great reads all year long.