Our staff’s favorite books of 2017

What was the best book you read in 2017? This is the question I posed to my fellow staff members at CPL. Interestingly, I got no duplicate answers! We have a wide variety of reading preferences among our staff, which means there’s something for everyone in this list. Maybe your next great read is below:

Our Library Director Ramona  picked the audiobook edition of  News of the World by Paulette Jiles, read by Grover Gardner. In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction.

Teen Librarian Kelley really liked Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. In this urban fantasy, Jenna, who died  too soon, works to regain the years that were lost to her. But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Bill is our Head of Adult Services, and he picked the Bruce Springsteen autobiography Born to Run as his favorite read of 2017. In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s half-time show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it, which is how this extraordinary autobiography began. Springsteen traces his life from his childhood in a Catholic New Jersey family and the musical experiences that prompted his career to the rise of the E Street Band and the stories behind some of his most famous songs.

Children’s Librarian Lauren went with The Sun is Also a Star, a young adult novel by Nicola Yoon.  In this story Natasha, whose family is hours away from being deported, and Daniel, a first generation Korean American on his way to a prestigious college admissions interview, cross paths in New York. They unexpectedly fall in love during an intense day in the city.

 

More books our staff loved last year:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas,  Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Illusion Town by Jayne Castle,  The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, Border Child by Michael Stone, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas, The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Return Ticket for the Orient Express

  Sometimes a literary character – and an author – just doesn’t quit, staying popular generation after generation. Sometimes we call that a classic – Scarlett O’Hara, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Sometimes we call that Hercule Poirot.

Agatha Christie is the modern world’s most successful author (yes, even more than J.K. Rowling and Nora Roberts), third only to The Bible and Shakespeare, and has sold over two BILLION copies of her works (that’s 165 stories). Rowling only ranks ninth or so, with an estimated 500 million in sales. Sure, you can use the Gone With the Wind excuse that Rowling only hit big in 1997, while Christie’s first novel was published in 1920, so it has had a lot more years to gather sales (GWTW remains the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, due to its 1939 release date. Yes, more than Star Wars). Either way, there’s a reason for that.

Christie’s first and most popular detective is Hercule Poirot (the other being Miss Marple), a retired Belgian police officer with peculiarly meticulous habits and a brilliant mind for solving crimes, well-known for his thick black curling mustache – the only fictional character to ever have an obituary on the front of the New York Times. Poirot first appears in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)and goes on for more than 33 novels, 50 short stories, and a stage play. You may have heard of his most famous case: Murder on the Orient Express.

Originally published in 1934, Orient Express tells the story of a murder (obviously) that occurs on a train going from Istanbul to Calais, France, which Poirot, a passenger on the train, slowly unravels. The Orient Express is a real train service that began in 1883 and ran from Turkey to France, ending its official run in 2009 – operating in three centuries!

Numerous film and television adaptions of both Orient Express and Poirot’s mysteries have been made over the years, most notably the 1974 film adaption of Orient Express starring Albert Finney – the only actor to receive an Oscar Nomination for playing Poirot, though he didn’t win (Ingrid Bergman won as Supporting Actress for the role of Greta Ohlsson). The library has many volumes of television adaptions of Poirot’s mysteries. If comedy and spoofs are more your style, check out 1976’s Murder by Death, with James Coco as Milo Perrier (Poirot), Elsa Lanchester as Jessica Marbles (Miss Marple) and a host of top-name stars poking fun at all the famous detectives.

Low and behold, Murder on the Orient Express is once again returning to the big screen on November 10, 2017, with a – dare I say it? – killer cast. Kenneth Branagh, British superstar of myriad films including Henry V, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dunkirk, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and so many more, takes the lead as Poirot – not as short as Poirot is supposed to be, but ever since Hollywood ridiculously cast 5’6” Tom Cruise as 6’5” Jack Reacher, all rules are off. Add in Penelope Cruz, Dame Judy Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer and more, and it’s worth the price of admission just for the cast and the gorgeous period costumes and vehicles. Of course there’s already a furor raging among the purists about his mustache.

Kenneth Branagh is a superb actor but an even superior director, and with him in the director’s seat  and the blessings of Agatha Christie’s estate, the film promises to be everything we want it to be. So prepare by reading a couple of Poirot’s mysteries, or check out a couple of other adaptions, and then watch the film. Or, give the movie a shot and then follow up with a binge of Poirot stories. When you run out, there’s always Miss Marple.

Books-to-Movies : Fall 2017

I always anticipate movie adaptations of books I’ve read with equal measures of excitement and dread. Will the movie capture the spirit of the book, or bear little resemblance to the source material? Stephen King fans felt both ways this year with the well-received remake of the King classic It and the widely panned adaptation of  The Gunslinger from the Dark Tower series.

I usually like to read a book before I see the movie it’s based on, and there’s some kind of book-to-movie adaptation hitting theaters almost every week this fall. Here are the release dates for 10 of them – my reading list just got longer!

October 6

October 13

  • The Chinaman (movie title, The Foreigner) by Stephen Leather

October 20

October 27

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November 10

November 17

November 24

Reliability is Overrated – 10 Books With Unreliable Narrators

Recently, I was discussing two of my favorite television series’ of the past year, “Mr. Robot“, and “Legion“, when it occurred to me what I found compelling about both of them – they are both told by unreliable narrators. The narrative characters in each show have major difficulties perceiving reality, which means the viewer sees the story through their skewed lens, often having to puzzle out what is real and what is not.

It’s a challenging concept, relatively uncommon in television, but more often used in literature. In the literary device of the Unreliable Narrator, the character who leads the reader through the story cannot be taken at face value. The reason could be because this character is lying, insane, or simply seeing events from a very limited viewpoint. In every case, though, it leads the reader to form conclusions beyond what is being disclosed in the narrative. A puzzle of sorts, where questioning what everything really means becomes part of the reading experience.

As I thought about it, I realized that many of the novels that have stayed with me long after reading them have had some kind of unreliable narrator. I remember finishing some of these books, and immediately starting them over again, looking for the “tells” that would have clued me in to the real truth of the tale if I had recognized them the first time. Here, with as few spoilers as possible, are some of my favorite unreliable narrators, (and a few whose heads I could not wait to get out of):

1. Silver Linings Playbook – When we meet the  point-of-view character Pat,  he’s being released from a mental facility into the care of his parents. That’s the first indication that situations in the story may not be exactly as they seem. As Pat’s repressed memories start to come forward, we’re able to piece together exactly why Pat was institutionalized in the first place.

2. Flowers for Algernon –  Charlie Gordon is a learning disabled man who undergoes an experimental operation to increase his intelligence. The novel is told through entries in Charlie’s journal, and the reader is able to see the improvements in self-awareness and intelligence through those entries. Then, too, we witness his deterioration as the long-term effects of the operation make themselves known. Bring a hankie.

3. Life of Pi – A fantastical tale of a boy set adrift after a shipwreck, with a tiger sharing his life raft. It’s a beautiful and uplifting story, until it is revealed that it may be what the narrator’s chosen to believe rather than what actually occurred.

4. Room Told from the very limited point of view of a five-year-old boy, Jack,  who has spent his entire life in an 11-square-foot soundproofed room with Ma, his mother. When Ma devises a plan for Jack to escape, we experience the exhilaration and confusion the world for the first time along with him.

5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – The engaging narrator of this book is an autistic teen, so we perceive the events in the story the way he would. When he comes across a neighbor’s dog stabbed with a fork, his obsession with Sherlock Holmes takes over to help him solve the mystery.

6. Fight Club – Whether you’ve seen the movie or read the book, the twist that’s revealed about the identities of characters in this story packs a real punch (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

7. Shutter Island – In this gripping psychological thriller, nothing is quite what it seems. It starts out as an investigation into the escape of a mental patient, and well,  to say more  would be too spoiler-y.

8. Lolita – A compelling and beautifully written book told by a pedophile who is as charming as he is perverse. His justifications and attempts to win the reader’s sympathy are as fascinating to read as they are icky.

9 & 10.  The Girl on the Train  & Gone Girl – I’ve lumped both of these together even though they both contain different types of unreliable narrators (a blackout drunk and just plain liar) because they came out close together, are both murder mysteries, and if you’ve read one, you’ve probably read the other. I couldn’t wait to close the covers on both of them, though, the characters were just too unlikable for me to want to spend much time with.

Cozying Up With New Cozy Mysteries

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It seems that in November and December, our feet don’t stay planted in one spot for too long.  Be sure you take some time to put your feet up and take a step away from all the hustle and bustle by picking up a new cozy mystery to read!

twice-told-tailTwice Told Tail (A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery) – Ali Brandon – While being suspicious of an anonymous online bidder who is offering a lot of money for one of her antique books, Darla Pettistone is roped into helping bridezilla Connie Capello get ready for her big day until their shopping excursion ends in murder.

deck-the-hallwaysDeck The Hallways (A Fixer-Upper Mystery) – Kate Carlisle – While trying to transform a Victorian mansion into apartments for homeless families in time for the holidays, contractor Shannon Hammer must pull-off a Christmas miracle to save her father from prison and find the real killer of a miserly bank president.

hooking-for-troubleHooking For Trouble (A Crochet Mystery) – Betty Hechtman – When she believes she has witnessed a murder, Molly Pink, the founder of the Tarzana Hookers Yarn University, calls in her ex, homicide detective Barry Greenberg, who reports that nothing is amiss, forcing her to unravel the clues herself to find the truth. Includes recipes and crochet patterns.

we-wish-you-a-murdWe Wish You A Murderous Christmas (A Year-Round Christmas Mystery) – VIcki Delany – When the son of Jack Olsen, who owns the Yuletide Inn, decides to no longer celebrate Christmas at the Inn, sending the local shopkeepers into a tizzy, Merry Wilkinson is faced with a holiday homicide when he is found stabbed to death.

the-goodThe Good, The Bad, And The Guacamole (A Taste of Texas Mystery) – Rebecca Adler – When her best friend, Patti Lopez, is accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend, smooth-talking country crooner Jeff Clark, Tex-Mex waitress and part-time reporter Josie Callahan must put her sleuthing skills to good use to serve up the real killer.

shadesShades of Wrath (A Caprice De Luca Home Staging Mystery) – Karen Rose Smith – Hired to decorate a run-down mansion, which will now house Kismet, Pennsylvania’s women’s shelter, home stager and stray animal rescuer Caprice De Luca must instead design an investigation that will expose a crafty killer after the shelter’s director is murdered.

firstFirst Degree Mudder (A Pacific Northwest Mystery) – Kate Dyer-Seeley – An outdoor writer, Meg Reed, deciding to take her job to the next level, trains hard for Mud, Sweat & Beers, an extreme 5K mud run, only to find herself getting down and dirty in a murder investigation when her coach, Billy the Tank, is found dead.

crime-and-catnipCrime and Catnip (Nick & Nora Mystery) – T. C. LoTempio – Agreeing to look into the disappearance of a museum director’s niece, caterer Nora Charles and her faithful feline, Nick, are plunged into a world of coded messages, false identities and murder where they must solve this mystery in order to survive. Includes sandwich recipes.

prose-and-consPros and Cons (A Magical Bookshop Mystery) – Amanda Flower – When she finds one of the members of the local writing group dead right before the annual Food and Wine Festival, Violet, after the shop magically tells her she will need to rely on the works of Edgar Allan Poe to solve the murder, must act fast before someone else’s heart beats nevermore.

better-off-threadBetter Off Thread (An Embroidery Mystery) – Amanda Lee – While playing elf to Captain Moe’s Santa for sick children at a local hospital, embroidery shop owner Marcy stumbles upon the dead body of the hospital’s administrator and must, with the help of her police officer boyfriend and her Irish Wolfhound, find out who is trying to pin this murder on Moe.

frosty-the-deadFrosty The Dead Man (A Snow Globe Shop Mystery) – Christine Husom – When she finds Mayor Lewis Frost, Frosty to his friends, dead, apparently struck by the snow globe she sold him earlier that day, curio shop owner Camryn Brooks must shake things up to find a killer who is cold as ice.

ghostsThe Ghosts of Misty Hollow (Ghost of Granny Apples Mystery) – Sue Ann Jaffarian – While visiting a best-selling crime writer who needs her input as a medium, Emma Whitecastle is immediately contacted by a family of ghosts who originally owned the historic Massachusetts farmhouse and need her help in locating the spirits of their two children who disappeared, which results in the appearance of a dead body.

spouseSpouse on Haunted Hill (Haunted Guesthouse Mystery) – E.J. Copperman – When the cops show up at her doorstep, searching for her ex-husband who, owing some scary people a lot of money, has disappeared and left a body in his wake, Alison Kerby, with the help of ghosts Maxie and Paul, sets out to find her ex and clear him of the murder before the bad guys get to him first