Virgie's Staff Pick (October 2014): I missed this book when it came out last year, but decided to read it after the author was included in the 2014 Literary Sojourn. It was named a “Best of 2013” pick by: The New York Times Book Review, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Library Journal, BookPage and others. I’m glad I read it!
Rose, the tender narrator of the story, states; “The only reason I’m the one telling this story is that I’m the one not currently in a cage.” Many fascinating questions arise from her story: what is freedom, what is captivity, what is animal, and what is human. Where does science end and compassion begin? I found this to be a very thought provoking novel!
If you haven’t read other reviews, or the back cover of this book, DON’T! You will be completely surprised mid-book! The story is built around a secret, or more accurately, a revelation. Knowing the twist in advance doesn’t diminish the story, but I certainly WON’T disclose it here: no spoiler alert from me!
Virgie's Staff Pick (October 2014): This latest novel by Jodi Picoult, Leaving Time, strays from her previous books, and I loved it! This is a mystery of a teen searching for her missing mother, enlisting the help of a psychic and ex-cop. All I can say is that the ending is entirely unpredictable!
This book left me with much more than a good story! Through the fictional character, Alice, who studied the grieving habits, mothering skills and memory of elephants, I gained insight into the amazing cognition and emotional intelligence of these beautiful animals!
If I were an elephant I’d trumpet Leaving Time.
Virgie's Staff Pick's (September 2014): A Deadly Warning by New York Times journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning author Matt Richtel has changed my life … seriously! I think about this true story all the time, and I realize the impact it has had on me!
This non-fiction book is a riveting account of our country’s first texting-while-driving manslaughter case, a 2006 Utah double fatality. Richtel explores all the people and families involved – driver, victims, attorneys, investigative scientists – as he shows us the impact and the life changes this accident precipitated. He cites a vast amount of scientific data research presenting a fascinating look at the science of attention—and inattention. This account reads like a novel, full of vivid, heartbreaking real-life “characters”—to expose and objectively question our glorification of multitasking and tech-connectedness. Although Richter does not impose his own judgements related to this research, I finished the book with my own strong opinion! This is a must-read! It will absolutely change the way you think about the devices that keep us online.
Virgie's Staff Pick's (September 2014): “How can I speak if I’ve forgotten how to breathe?”
This is a love story set in Afghanistan, between a young man and woman who fall in love although their families are ethnic rivals. Author Atia Abawi is of Afghan origin and lived in Afghanistan as a news correspondent for five years. The story she tells is based on the people Abawi met and the events that occurred while she lived there. In other words, this story parallels the life and traditions of conflicting cultures, religious beliefs and the Taliban. The frightening, brutal novel depicts the violent realities of living in Afghanistan. I find it hard to comprehend that I live in the same world as the young couple and their affected families!
In my opinion, this book is appropriate for teens on up and for anyone who has lived during the time of America’s War in Afghanistan. You will never take love, or the quality of a free life for granted again!
Virgie's Staff Pick's (September 2014): Island of a Thousand Mirrors is a tale of the devastating twenty-five-year Sri Lankan civil war, told through the eyes of two women on opposing sides of the conflict; both women the eldest daughter of their family, one from the Sinhalese majority and the other a minority Tamil. The conflict is definitely told from a woman’s view, and at times it feels as if they are whispering their story.
This historical fiction novel was published in Sri Lanka and India several years ago, and will now be available in the U.S. in September, 2014. Since its first publication two years ago, it has won the Regional Prize for Asia and is currently nominated for another award. Although I have never been to Sri Lanka and knew little about it’s past, the author brought me there! The writing is beautiful and powerful!
Virgie's Staff Pick (August 2014): Pulitzer Prize writer Katherine Boo has written what I claim to be my favorite, must-read book of this year! Yes, it’s that good! For three years the author basically embedded herself in a slums of Mumbai, India, so readers could see, hear, and – to a degree – understand the lives of the residents who experience rampant corruption by those supposed to protect them, with little chance for upward mobility. Although the book is a narrative nonfiction, it feels like a favorite fiction read. The characters are real people you can understand even without having to live the terrible existence they take as normal.
IF YOU MISSED READING THE LOWLAND OR BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS IN THE HARDCOVER VERSION, I SUGGEST YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE AMAZING BOOKS, NOW AVAILABLE IN SOFT COVER! Read the following reviews which I am reposting!
What is most powerful is that this is not a book about India . . . it is also a book about America and India. Read between the lines and you see that Katherine Boo wants her reader to look at America to see the parallels that connect us. We like to think that America is better off than India. However, we live in the same world; only the names are different.
Virgie's Staff Pick (August 2014): The first lines of this story immediately captured my attention: “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.” How could I resist a book that starts like that?
This is the story of a “family” set in the 1940’s. The family consists of unique characters, some related by blood and others who just become family. The “baggage” of these characters makes them bond in memorable ways. It made me ponder the difference between the families we are born into and those families that we choose.
The charming cover art drew me in immediately. I’ll let you decide for yourself which character is represented by the zebra, and the lion, but I can say for sure that the tightrope the animals are on is the taut tightrope of the characters’ life.
Virgie's Staff Pick (August 2014): CALLING ALL BEGINNING READERS, HORSE LOVERS AND KATE DI CAMILLO FANS!
Leroy Ninker was a small man (actually a boy) with a big dream. He dreamed of being a cowboy. It wasn’t hard to find the cowboy accessories, but to find a horse was another thing! Once he got a horse, a huge dilemma occurred! Leroy said, “If there is anything worse than being a cowboy without a horse, it is being a cowboy with a horse and then lost her.” How does Leroy solve the predicament he is in? Read to find out!
If the young readers who read this story are unfamiliar with giving compliments, they will certainly become pros by the end of the story!
Virgie's Staff Pick (August 2014): This is the reason I love reading historical fiction: I learn much more than facts about an era in history. Through the story line, I learn how people react, cope and survive the times they are living in! The End of Innocence took me to the Harvard and Radclliff Campus during World War I, when many of the wealthy students were being called to fight for their country. As the story unfolds, the elegance of Boston aristocracy contrasts harshly with the brutal realities of WWI. The story then flips to WWI Germany, where several Harvard students find themselves fighting on opposing forces.
In my opinion this is a well written novel, rich in historical information but with a story line that kept me turning the pages. The story allowed me to “feel” as if I was living this political dilemma!
Virgie's Staff Pick (July 2014): I’ve spent a lot of time with my 2 year old grandson, watching those stars appear in the summer sky, while singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This adaptation of the song is creative, fun and actually thought provoking. I loved it … and so does my grandson! Now we have a few new versions to sing while we watch the stars!
Virgie's Staff Pick (July 2014): This is a fun book for those little summertime entrepreneurs! Caterina wants to buy a scooter, but realizes that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” But wait … lemons do! From this point on, Caterina created her own lemonade stand, making it unique so it will “stand out” from all the other lemonade stands. The story and illustrations are the perfect celebration of summer!
Virgie's Staff Pick (July 2014): Geoffrey the giraffe is awkward, can’t seem to do anything right, and wants friends more than anything! Once he becomes more comfortable in his own skin, Geoffrey finally finds an abundance of friends, waiting for him high above the African savannah.
This story is a vocabulary delight! The illustrations are so beautiful that I just had to peruse the book several more times after my first reading! Loved it!
Virgie's Staff Pick (July 2014): This entire story takes place within 5 days, and I felt myself on the same roller coaster that main character Alma was on. When Alma gets a phone call informing her that her sister has died, possibly murdered, she immediately returns to her home place to take care of matters. Alma fears that by honoring her sense of duty to family, her life as she knows it will end. Within those 5 days Alma realizes that “… no matter how far you go, when your family goes back as far as yours, this land is like your mother.” Alma doesn’t know if this is a blessing or a curse!
I loved the rural Montana setting, the action and intrigue of the 5 days, and the perspective one gains when returning to a “loved” place!
Virgie's Staff Pick (July 2014): Narrator Frank Drum looks back 40 years to that devastating summer when he was 13 years old. That summer, in small town Minnesota, nearly tore his family apart and left his small community with pain, confusion and grief. Grief is a tricky thing because people endure their grief in various ways, but what does this look like when you live under the same roof? This is a tender, thought provoking mystery, whose ending is unpredictable! I loved it!
Virgie's Staff Pick (June 2014): This is the incredible memoir of 5 year old Saroo, who became “lost” from his family in India. He survived weeks alone on the streets of Calcutta, then entered an orphanage, was soon adopted, and moved to Australia.
This is also the story of 30 year old Saroo, living a successful and meaningful life as an Aussie, but desperately looking for the family he lost in India. Saroo wonders, “How could you possibly find 4 people in all of India, when all you know is where they lived a quarter century ago.”
Don’t miss this amazing true story, to witness how Saroo changed from being a little lost boy with no family, to becoming a man with two families!
Virgie's Staff Pick (June 2014): This is the story of Ernest Hemingway, and his wife … or should I say, wives! Throughout his adult life, from the 1920’s in Paris to the 1960’s Cold War America, Ernest had FOUR wives. What is interesting is how these wives became “a strange family … such unlikely sisters.” I find it sad to think that such a famous and dashing author, considered himself, at the end of his life, to be “just a desperate old man.”
I don’t want to ruin this story by telling too much, but I found it to be very interesting and captivating!
Virgie's Staff Pick (June 2014): “This life has so many lifetimes” … and so many possibilities to imagine.
Living in Steamboat, this story was appealing to me for it’s ski town setting of Breckenridge.
This is a story of a mother dealing with the accidental death of her 22 year old son. It brings together a colorful cast of characters from this young man’s life, and views the variety of ways these characters grieve; how does one seek comfort from such a tragedy, and from whom?
Although it is a somber topic, I found much hope and humor within the pages. I’d call this a perfect vacation book to read if you are looking for warmth!
Virgie's Staff Pick (June 2014): I loved Nancy Horan’s first novel, Loving Frank, so I looked forward to read her next historical fiction novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky. She didn’t let me down!
This historical fiction is a complex love story between Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his forward-thinking American wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They were big-hearted people leading a life of adventure and travels, all the while being dominated by Stevenson’s incurable disease that debilitated him for much of his life.
I have to admit I knew nothing of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s life other than he wrote Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There was a real person behind that pen, and his supportive wife, people you will come to care for.
There is a saying, “behind every great man is a woman” and Nancy Horan has found a niche I love, telling us about the women behind the men. I loved this book and hope Nancy Horan finds another famous couple to introduce us to.
If you enjoyed reading Aviator’s Wife, Loving Frank, or Freud’s Mistress, then you will certainly feel at home with this story!
Virgie's Staff Pick (June 2014): I am a fan of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, a love story between two handicapped people. When I saw the sequel to this book come out, I couldn’t wait to read it!
A Well-Tempered Heart finds Julia, daughter of Tin Win, back in Burma to reacquaint with her half brother, U Ba, and to take care of some “personal business.”
Throughout this unconventional love story I witnessed the strength of survival amidst the struggles in war torn Burma, and the remarkable power of forgiveness. I was immersed in the Buddhist philosophy of living with simplicity. Maybe we should all stop long enough to hear heartbeats!
I actually feel calmer after having read this book. You will be happy to know that the two books are actually part of a trilogy. Oh, I can’t wait!
If you haven’t read The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, I suggest you start with that book. You won’t be disappointed!
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2014): I am so accustomed to reading stories about women and their relationships, that when I came upon this book I wasn’t sure of my overall reaction. Let me tell you … this is a great story about the ever changing relationship between four men, who have known each other since childhood, growing up in a midwestern town. Their friendship wavers at times for a variety of reasons, yet they maintain their commitment to the power of a long history together. The women in their lives are included in the story, but the men hold the stage. I loved it!
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2014): You know that feeling when you have a nightmare … nothing makes sense … events seem absurd? Reading this story gave me the same feeling! The life of celebrated painter, ardent fisherman and philosopher, Jim Stegner, is an absolute nightmare! The opening lines of the book set you up for a wild ride of a story; “I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea. As a child, you imagine your life sometimes, how it will be. I never thought I would be a painter.” As Stegner explores the emotion of art, violence and grief, one doesn’t know whether to love, pity or fear this vulnerable character! The plot is captivating.
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2014): This book has left me speechless! Where do I even begin? For one thing, this is a book not to be missed! It’s a book to devour, a page turner which I literally could NOT put it down!
The story allows you to view Afghanistan through the eyes of two young girls, related but living in different generations, both born into a male-dominated society that values males and scorns females. Rahima, living in modern day Afghanistan, hopes to figure out how to exist in a society full of constant turmoil, by paying close attention to the story of her great, great grandmother, Shekiba, who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. The chapters alternate between the characters, and one would think the modern day story would have more hope, but both are so parallel. Shekiba is beaten, abused, ridiculed, treated like dirt, given no rights…and so is the modern-day Rahima. It’s an eye-opening look at how very little has changed for women in Afghanistan in 100 years.
The stories of these two girls, turning into women, are brutally painful and disturbing. It’s difficult for me to believe that this way of thinking occurs in the same world I live in!
These three historical fiction books for kids and teens are my recommendations for April. The backdrop for each story is WWII Germany.
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2014): This story. taking place in World War II Germany, is told by DEATH.
It is the story of a young girl, Liesel, who has a life no one would wish on anyone, yet finds pleasure in the books she finds … actually steals! A horrible tragedy happens, and many people suffer because of it. Liesel begins to write her own book, The Book Thief: the story of her life.
This story, which has won numerous awards, is targeted to young adult readers, but I believe it is also an adult story about children who are doing their best to live a normal life in times of unspeakable horror.
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2014): Oskar Schindler courageously saved nearly 1200 Jews from almost certain death in Nazi Germany. This is the true story of one boy, Leon Leyson, who was the youngest survivor on Schindler’s list. He recounts the six year period in which he and his family struggled to survive each and every day under Nazi oppression.
Though there were many horrors endured during the Holocaust, nothing in the book is explicit or too raw for young readers.
I recommend this book as a great biography for children/teens because it carries a message of hope and humanity. This is a story of survival. All because of one man. Oskar Schindler.
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2014): This historical fiction story is told by Lizzie, an aging woman in a Canadian nursing home. Lizzie tells her nurse, and her nurse’s nine year old son, how her family escaped WWII Dresden, and survived, with the help of a zoo elephant named Marlene.
The book is inspired by a true story about an elephant rescued from a zoo during WWII.
This is a tender story of aging wisdom connecting with inquisitive youth.
In my opinion, reading poetry is a fine way to fall in love with language. Children’s poetry tickles the funny bone, and encourages children to experience humor. Some of my favorite poetry books for children are:
Virgie's Staff Pick (April 2014): I read this book to my children before they could read for themselves, and to this day they have never “outgrown” the rhymes and poems, songs and riddles, with zany illustrations which taught them to use their imagination, and encouraged them to laugh out loud! Here’s just a sample; Teddy said it was a hat, So I put it on. Now Dad is saying, “Where the heck’s the toilet plunger gone?” Yes. It makes you laugh out loud!!!
Virgie's Staff Pick (April 2014): Check out this new poetry book for kids: Karma Wilson’s collection of more than 100 poems are humorous, anything-can-happen, and “outside the box.” I especially enjoyed the illustrations, and the creative way he uses his words on a page.
“I have a little brother,
and I’m not a fool.
I know why it’s warmer
in the kiddie pool.”
Virgie's Staff Pick (April 2014): It’s impossible for me to choose my favorite Dr. Seuss book, because I have to admit I love them all. Seuss books encourage imagination like no other! Just imagine if you could build your own zoo, create each animal, and gather them in your own way! This is what happens in If I Ran the Zoo. Join in the fun!
Virgie's Staff Pick (March 2014): In my opinion, reading historical fiction is a great way to learn about important events in history. August 2014 will mark the nine-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which is the subject of this gripping novel.
Twelve year old Zane Dupree happens to be in the worst place at the very worst time. He has traveled alone from New Hampshire to New Orleans to meet the great grandmother he didn’t know existed just a short while ago, Miss Trissy. During the hurricane he becomes separated from his great grandmother, but is taken under the wing of a jazz musician and a young girl, Melvina. Within the safety of a canoe these three characters manage to save themselves not only from the hurricane, but also from the rising floodwaters.
In addition to the story, this book includes a Katrina Timeline, map and interesting facts about New Orleans and the Great Flood. I highly recommend this action=packed novel for kids!
Virgie's Staff Pick (March 2014): This peculiar novel is narrated by 39 year old Bartholomew, who has never had a job, suffers from Aspergers Syndrome, and has lived with his mother until she dies … and this is where the story begins.
The story has its fair share of quirky characters, all present to support Bartholomew define his life without his mother: a self-defrocked Catholic Priest, a Girlbrain, who has been abducted by aliens, a cat-obsessed friend with Tourettes Syndrome, and last but not least, Richard Gere and the teachings of the Dalai Lama. Unbelievably, this cast of eccentric characters comes together in a “good luck right now” manner.
If you liked THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME, then I think you’ll enjoy this crazy but soulful book! I did!
Virgie's Staff Pick (March 2014): I just finished reading this book and I have GOOSEBUMPS!
Welcome to The Circle, a social media mega company on the brink of achieving a complete monopoly of Google, Twitter and Facebook, where all government and all life would be channeled through one network … a totalitarian nightmare!
When Mae Holland began her “dream job” at The Circle, her employment appeared harmless, but as the company proceeded to become more invasive of personal freedom and information, Mae had huge decisions to make!
This book made me wonder how electronic connectedness can redefine communication and relationships. It is eerily plausible … and frightening!
Virgie's Staff Pick (Febraury 2014): The 2014 Newbery Award winner, identifying the book with the “most outstanding contribution to children’s literature” has been announced! … and the winner is:
Oh how i love this book!
Flora & Ulysses is a refreshing story about an unexpected superhero, a squirrel. After ten year old flora rescues the squirrel, ulysses, from a vacuum cleaner incident, the squirrel suddenly has amazing talents and powers. Flora befriends the squirrel and helps him with his newfound powers.
This book features an exciting format — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations. The story is full of laugh-out-loud scenes. I recommend this book for mid-elementary children, or as a read-a-loud to younger children.
Kate Dicamillo, one of my favorite children’s authors, wrote Because of Winn Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux.
Virgie's Staff Pick (Febraury 2014): This 2014 Newbery Honor Book by Kevin Henkes is a delightful story about Billy, a second grader who is spunky, but also worries a lot! In this story you get to meet Billy’s family, his best friend and his new 2nd grade teacher. Watch Billy as he learns how to become more mature, deal with pushy classmates, and find his own special talents during 2nd grade. There are many times throughout the book that I think you will laugh out-loud!
This is the perfect book for beginning readers who want to read a good chapter book. Try it! I don’t think you will be disappointed!
Virgie's Staff Pick (Febraury 2014): We all know the facts; many military personnel do not come home alive from their duties abroad. What happens to the widows of these men? How do they react … cope … survive?
This memoir is the story of a woman who faces this tragedy, when her husband was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. To further complicate this tragedy, the author uncovers the raw, vulnerable feelings of her 5 year old self, who accompanied her father on a flight that took his life. Simply put, this author has her fair share of tragedy!
I am fortunate to say that I have not lost a loved one to war, but this story gave me a deeper awareness of the long-term difficulties and sadness caused by such a tragedy.
Virgie's Staff Pick (December 2013): I’m sure you’ve heard Malala’s story in the press; a 15 year old girl from Pakistan, who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she campaigned for the rights of girls to proper education in Pakistan. This book provides much more than the headline story. It sets a backdrop for the headline event, beginning with Malala’s birth and continuing beyond the tragedy. I learned what it was like to live under the de facto rule of terrorists. It was chilling.
I recommend this inspirational read, for everyone, but particularly for women and young girls. It made me appreciate my life as an American woman, and caused me to be thoughtful concerning my complaints about life in general! In my opinion, it is a must-read!
Virgie's Staff Pick (December 2013): This is a great story for those little girls who love pink, princesses and like to SHINE in the spotlight. Geraldine may not look like a princess, but inside she knows that she is a fairy princess, and she can do anything! This is a delightful story, with an irresistible sparkly cover, told by Julie Andrews and her daughter.
Virgie's Staff Pick (December 2013): I have to admit, I am a huge Nancy Tillman fan, and her latest book just reinforces the power of her message for young kids. This book is simple … tender … heartwarming … and repeats the message “you are special.” I became lost in the gorgeous illustrations, each page making my smile brighter. Take a few minutes to peruse this book, and then ask yourself if this is just the perfect gift for that someone special in your life!
Check out my other favorite Nancy Tillman books; Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You and On The Night You Were Born.
Virgie's Staff Pick (October 2013): Dr Orion Oh ponders the question, “Who among us is immune from family pain?” Yet, his family is dealing with an abundance of issues; racism, homophobia, child abuse, parental regrets, religious turmoil, and pedophylia, to name a few! Author Wally Lamb (one of my favorites) tells the story in such a realistic way that I felt I was in the midst of the family, wanting to “weigh in” with my own opinions. As I neared the end of the book I took my time reading because I just did not want it to end! I highly recommend this captivating novel! Buckle yourself into your seat for this new Wally Lamb book, out in November!
Virgie's Staff Pick (September 2013): This is a delightful story about Billy, a second grader who is spunky, but also worries a lot! In this story you get to meet Billy’s family, his best friend and his new 2nd grade teacher. Watch Billy as he learns how to become more mature, deal with pushy classmates, and find his own special talents during 2nd grade. There are many times throughout the book that I think you will laugh out-loud!
This is the perfect book for beginning readers who want to read a good chapter book.
Virgie's Staff Pick (September 2013): I have often wondered what it is like in the mind of a person with Schizophrenia. Author Kristina Morgan takes us inside her head to experience the chaos and fragmented thinking she endured. Written in the form of a private journal-like entry, she leads us from her childhood to her teen years when hallucinations began to hijack her mind and into adulthood where she began abusing alcohol to temper the punishing voices that only she could hear.
After reading this brutally honest memoir, I can only begin to understand this affliction. It is amazing how one can survive day after day, unable to distinguish between one’s inner nightmares and the everyday realities that most of us take for granted. The resources and support systems she learned to use have helped her to find relative peace and stability while managing her chronic illness. Very interesting!
Virgie's Staff Pick (September 2013): Newbery Award winner Sharon Creech’s new novel tells the heartwarming story of a young couple who discover a boy fast asleep on their front steps. This boy is old enough to talk but won’t … or maybe can’t , so John and Marta do not know what to do with him. Days go by and no one comes for the boy or even indicates that they have lost a child. Soon enough this trio slowly bonds as a family and I began to hope that no one will come to claim the boy. I believe the suspense and kindness in this story will appeal to readers of all ages. The short chapters also make this a perfect read for reluctant readers.
WOW! What a story! Pulitzer Prize Winner Jhumpa Lahiri does it again!
The story takes place during the late 1960’s in India, a country torn by revolution. I thought hard about the statement: “Those who don’t stand up to a problem, contribute to it.” It seems that there are many strategies to consider, but it all comes down to perspective.
Virgie's Staff Pick (September 2013): The characters are strong, and all connected, but I loved following Gauri, a young woman whose role changed from wife to widow, sister-in-law to wife, and mother to childless woman. I learned a lot about the history of India. If this is your interest, you might also want to read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Catherine Boo, which refers to current day India. Both books are excellent!
Virgie's Staff Pick (July 2013): I know this book has been out for awhile, but I am compelled to review it in case you haven’t read it yet. It is a great summer read! Not only is this memoir an adventure story of a young woman who travels solo on 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, but it is also an inspiration, as she struggles to find her own peace. I LOVED this book!
Virgie's Staff Pick (July 2013): This story takes you back to 1963 Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. Travel with 9 year old Starla as she runs away from home and befriends a young black woman. Take a glimpse of 1963 Mississippi through her innocent eyes, and experience her wisdom which seems to surpass the thinking of many adults around her. Learn first hand, what it means to “whistle past the graveyard.” As I finished this captivating novel, I begin to wonder if it was Starla’s maturity … or innocence … that allowed her to have such perceptive thinking, far wiser than other adults in the story.
Virgie's Staff Pick (June 2013): I find it shameful how far Americans went in the name of fear and suspicion after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Americans of Japanese descent were sent to internment camps, and that is where this story takes place! Through the story of Miyako and her daughter Lucy, I learned much about that time in history, and pondered how far a mother would go to protect her daughter. The novel is engaging, even though I find this chapter of our nation’s history disheartening.
Virgie's Staff Pick (June 2013): This novel, written by a veteran of the war in Iraq, is the unbelievable story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive. It provides insight about war and its effects on the men and women who take part in it. Powers compares rushing into battle to the moment before you collide with another car in an accident. There’s that same feeling of helplessness – the knowing that you may very well die in a mere second.This short novel is engrossing, had an immense impact on me and will stay with me for a very long time. I will never look at a veteran with the same eyes again! Powerful!
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2013): I am a Khaled Hosseini’s fan, who has been waiting five years for a new story, since Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I can truthfully say that this is certainly worth that very long wait.
This is the heart-breaking story of an Afghanistan family split apart by poverty and desperation. The story takes you on a journey spanning over 50 years and across multiple countries, yet starts and finishes with the same characters.
What more can I say … just read this book! You won’t be disappointed!
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2013): The scene for this novel is set; a dinner for four in a Dutch restaurant. The characters; two brothers with their wives. The dilemma; a terrible crime which both sons within each family hold equal responsibility. It made me think about how far we’ll go for those we love, particularly our children. The story is uncomfortable and although the plot captured my attention, I began to squirm, hoping, for the sake of the characters, for this dinner to finally be over!! I think this creative novel, written in Amsterdam, could possibly be the European version of Defending Jacob.
Virgie's Staff Pick (May 2013): This insightful, heart wrenching story is about an abandoned child and the mother who abandoned her at birth. It toggles between the mother’s story (from the past) and the young girl’s story, as she searches for her mother, her family, her identity. Both pain-filled stories are narrated by the young abandoned girl. My heart ached for the plight of both characters! It made me take a hard look at foster kids as well as parents who choose to give up their child. There is no easy answer!
Virgie's Staff Pick (February 2013): ATTENTION! This has just been named the 2013 Newbery Award Winner for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature!This touching book, based on a true story, is told through the voice of Ivan, a silverback gorilla. I just loved every character—both animal and human; Ivan the artistic gorilla, Stella the stoic mother elephant, Bob the tough on the outside but not so tough on the inside dog, and of course Ruby the baby elephant who just wants to be loved. And the humans: George the sympathetic caretaker and his daughter Julie, a bit like Fern in Charlotte’s web because she can almost understand Ivan—or at least understand his art.The book makes the reader both sad and happy at the same time and has a fantastic ending. It teaches compassion towards animals in the same way that Wilbur did in Charlotte’s web.
Virgie's Staff Pick (February 2013): I absolutely loved this book from the moment I started reading it. The story is told through two women traveling together to a funeral; elderly Isabelle who recalls her life through flashbacks to the late 1930s and her African-American hairdresser, Dorrie, who is dealing with her own life issues. The story is a mixture of historical romance, a contemporary romance, civil rights and women’s rights all tied up in an emotional page turner that will keep you hooked until the last page and leave you wishing it hadn’t ended so soon.
Virgie's Staff Pick (February 2013): What does it take to be a hero? What does it take to be a hero’s wife? This historical fiction offers the reader a glimpse into the complex life of Anne Morrow Lindberg, wife of aviation hero Charles Lindberg. In my opinion, Anne is the hero of HER life! Not only does the author reveal the complicated marriage of Charles and Anne Lindberg, but also includes interesting information that revolved around WWII Germany.
After reading the account of Anne Morrow Lindberg’s life, I couldn’t wait to re-read her book Gift From the Sea, written 50 years ago. Considering her life dilemmas, this book gave a new meaning to her philosophical writing. Trust me … you will not want to miss this book … and trust me again … you will need to read Gift from the Sea once you finish Aviator’s Wife!
Virgie's Staff Pick (January 2013): I have to recommend this book once more, since it won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction! The story reads like a novel. The author immerses herself in the slums of Mumbai and takes readers to the hidden world of those who live there. Heartbreaking and beautifully written! This is a book NOT to be missed!
Virgie's Staff Pick (January 2013): Learning of the holocaust which took place during WW II, it is hard to imagine that another genocide could occur in our “modern, informed” world. Yet 50 years later, 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis were slaughtered by machetes in only 100 days … as the world watched and did nothing. Running The Rift is a readable story about a very difficult subject. Told through the eyes of a young Tutsi man, hoping to run in the Olympics, the story shows us the human face behind the statistics. I highly recommend this moving book.
Virgie's Staff Pick (January 2013): Calling all women! Think about your girlfriends from pre-school, grade school, teen years, motherhood years, and more. What have these girlfriends taught you? How have they made you the person you are today? This book includes 20 short essays, reflecting on girlfriends at various stages of the author’s life. What I treasure about this book is that it caused me to reflect on my own girlfriends, and KNOW the importance of them in my life! This is a reflective read for women of all ages!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This is the brutally honest, and hard to imagine story of Phiona, a young girl from the Katwe slum in Kampala, Uganda, who, at the age of 14, becomes the youngest ever competitor at the International Olympiad Chess Tournament. This is also the story of Robert Katende, who in my opinion is the real hero in this story. He grew up in Uganda’s slum himself, and it was his job was to institute a program to help the kids in the Katwe slum. Katende was a slum kid working with slum kids … and he knew what they needed to help them succeed in all areas of their life. This is the story of Uganda NOW! It is powerful! It is a reality check to appreciate all the things we have in our life, the same things that others are denied!This true story is an amazing inspiration! Although I’ve never been a chess fan, it makes me want to go out and buy a Chess set for every classroom and every home in my community!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This novel is about a young woman who’s trying to keep her family together in 1957 China, at the beginning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. At this time in history, Chairman Mao Zedong invited intellectuals to speak their thoughts for the good of the country. Kai Ying’s husband spoke his thoughts and as a result was left to raise their young son on her own, all the while wondering what had become of her husband and when, or if, he would ever return.
On a recent trip to China, I discussed this historical time with a man who was a teacher during the revolution. This powerful novel helped me further understand the dramatic change that took place in China.
Virgie's Staff Pick: This is a story about 5 generations of first born women, four of whom live under the same roof of their family olive farm. Anna, the matriarch of this Keller family, who at 112 years old, is determined to become the oldest person in the world. She attracted the attention of a geneticist who believes that the strong and hearty Keller women might hold the secret to slowing down the process of aging. As the geneticist digs into the Keller DNA, the Keller women dig deep down inside themselves to try to keep their secrets hidden, but powerful emotions are stirred up!
I love generational stories, and this is one that develops the characters and their long term relationships. It gives one much food for thought – why IS it that some people age so gracefully?!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This story takes place in the modern-day slums of Mumbai, India, where the author lived for 3 years, embedding herself in the slum culture. Although the book is a narrative nonfiction, it feels like a favorite fiction read, allowing readers to see, hear, and – to a degree – understand the lives of the residents who experience rampant corruption by those supposed to protect them, with little chance for upward mobility. This book was a real eye-opener for me!
Virgie's Staff Pick: Never Fall Down is based on the true story of an 11-year-old boy who survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia by playing music for the Khmer Rouge. The author creatively exposes the ugliness and brutality of this genocide, while leaving a beautiful tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit. I found this to be a powerful and inspiring book, which appeals to teens as well as adults.
Virgie's Staff Pick: When Simran Singh advocates for a young girl accused of murdering her family in her home town in Northern India, she finds herself drawn into family secrets, and hidden shame. As she struggles to discover what really happened that night and why everyone seems so quick to assign blame to the girl, she uncovers some pretty troubling truths about the murdered family and the social standards for women in the province. Although this book is written as a gripping crime novel, it also reveals the intense social issues in modern India; prevalent sexism, female infanticide, and police corruption. It’s a heartbreaking book.
Virgie's Staff Pick: If you enjoyed reading Bridget Jones Diary and are looking for a light, fun summer read, then I suggest you consider this book. This is the story of Alice Buckle, who is going through her own mid-life crisis, and identifies her true feelings as she participates in an anonymous study about marriage. She develops a quirky relationship with her “researcher.” The story is told through an unconventional structure; Facebook and Twitter updates, text messages, e-mails, Google searches, and even playwriting scenes.
I grew to love the character of Wife 22 as she uncovers her thoughts about marriage, trust, betrayal and midlife.
Virgie's Staff Pick: The best thing about Only One You is that it speaks to readers of all ages. A small fish, ready to explore his world, is given advice and words of wisdom from his fish-parents. Their words are simple, yet powerful! Both wise elders as well as first-time readers will all find that this small yet powerful volume speaks directly and lovingly to them in uniquely personal ways. I consider this to be a great book to give anyone experiencing a crossroad in life; graduation (from nursery school, elementary, middle school, high school or college!)
Virgie's Staff Pick: This is the story of two sisters, young girls, who are abandoned by their mother in British Columbia after their father dies. The girls, left to grow up in the home of a childless (and not very happy) couple, never lose the longing for their lost mother and the hope that she will return. As the girls enter their teen years the effects of abandonment begin to grow, as their own questions arise. This story celebrates the love between two sisters and the complicated bonds of family. It generates thoughts about a woman’s responsibility to herself and to those she loves.
Virgie's Staff Pick: Never Fall Down is based on the true story of an 11-year-old boy who survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia by playing music for the Khmer Rouge. The author creatively exposes the ugliness and brutality of this genocide, while leaving a beautiful tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit. I found this to be a powerful and inspiring book, which appeals to teens as well as adults.
Virgie's Staff Pick: This is the story of Jane Goodall as a young girl presented in a way that is sure to appeal to the targeted age group of 4 to 8. It features Doctor Goodall as a little girl and her stuffed chimpanzee as they begin an adventure which will take her on an amazing life adventure in Africa, far from her home; an adventure that is continuing to this day.
Me … Jane is the 2012 Caldecott Award Honor Book. I cannot think of a better book to inspire young readers, both girls and boys, to dream and more importantly, reach for their dreams.
Virgie's Staff Pick: Inspired by the author’s own childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam as a refugee and immigrating to Alabama, this novel, told in verse, is sure to capture young readers’ hearts and open their eyes. The insights into the struggling, confusing life of immigrants serves as an inspiration for main-stream Americans to do all they can to make this country a more inclusive, welcoming place for them.
It is beautifully written and the sparseness of the verse makes the story that much more moving. It moved me to tears!
Virgie's Staff Pick: Middle graders, boys or girls, will be captivated by this book, but readers in that age range who like fantasy and magic, will simply love this story. This clever tale hits the ground running and never lets up.
The reader follows the adventures of Stuart Horton, a 10 year old boy who has just moved to a new town. Stuart explores his Great Uncle’s abandoned house and is surprised to find that his dad’s uncle is a famous magician who has left a mystery for the right clever young boy to solve. Stuart finds clues left behind by his great-uncle which leads him on a treasure hunt looking for the hidden workshop.
It is a magical blend of mystery and just the right amount of magical adventure to keep young readers glued to the pages. The thrills and action are age appropriate for preteen readers.
Virgie's Staff Pick: This powerful novel is about the intersection of two lives: Jonas, a young Muslim war orphan whose family is killed in a military operation gone wrong, and Christopher, the American soldier to whom Jonas’ fate, and survival, is bound.
The author creatively weaves together the connected stories and emotional state of Christopher (from the words of his left-behind journal), Jonas, who cannot find himself after his world has been devastated by war, and Rose, the mother of Christopher, who longs for the son she lost.
It makes one wonder if there ever really could be a “winner” in a war.
Virgie's Staff Pick: Pulitzer Prize writer Katherine Boo has written what I claim to be my favorite, must-read book of this year! Yes, it’s that good! For three years the author basically embedded herself in a slum of Mumbai, India, so readers could see, hear, and – to a degree – understand the lives of the residents who experience rampant corruption by those supposed to protect them, with little chance for upward mobility. Although the book is a narrative nonfiction, it feels like a favorite fiction read. The characters are real people you can understand even without having to live the terrible existence they take as normal. What is most powerful is that this is not a book about India . . . it is also a book about America and India. Read between the lines and you see that Katherine Boo wants her reader to look at America to see the parallels that connect us. We like to think that America is better off than India. However, we live in the same world; only the names are different.
Virgie's Staff Pick: This amazing, yet unconventional love story between Tin Win and MiMi lasts for over 50 years. The story begins when Julia Win travels to Burma to find her father (Tin Win) who disappeared 4 years ago, after living with his US family for 35 years. Once in Burma the love story unfolds. Without giving away the plot, let me say that Tin Win’s story makes one think about the essence of true love and the importance of each day of your life. Step into the shoes of a blind man to “see” how he experiences the world. Follow a couple to observe deep love in action. Then, look at your own relationships, your own life, with a new perspective!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This touching book, based on a true story, is told through the voice of Ivan, a silverback gorilla. I just loved every character—both animal and human; Ivan the artistic gorilla, Stella the stoic mother elephant, Bob the tough on the outside but not so tough on the inside dog, and of course Ruby the baby elephant who just wants to be loved. And the humans: George the sympathetic caretaker and his daughter Julie, a bit like Fern in Charlotte’s web because she can almost understand Ivan—or at least understand his art. The book makes the reader both sad and happy at the same time and has a fantastic ending. It teaches compassion towards animals in the same way that Wilbur did in Charlotte’s web.
Virgie's Staff Pick: As parents, don’t we all want to do what’s best for our children? This thought-provoking book reveals that the Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions and providing a nurturing environment. The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. One cannot deny either child-rearing strategy for raising strong, happy children. This book made me think that there must be a “middle road” to successful parenting, taking the best from each cultural belief. The memoir is told by a Chinese mother, raising her two daughters the “Chinese way.” At times it made me flinch, and at other times I saw the sense of it. Surely, this is a book that will give you ideas to ponder!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This book contains two stories, set 50 years apart. The story of Ben is told through words. The story of Rose is told through amazing, detailed pictures. Both children are deaf, and struggle to find what they are looking for. The two stories intertwine, and at the end, they come together into one creative and tender story. This book is great not only for independent readers, but also as a read-aloud to younger, emerging readers. The book gives many opportunities for observation and discussion as the stories unfold. I loved it!
Virgie's Staff Pick: If you enjoyed reading about the mission of Greg Mortenson in Three Cups of Tea or the thrilling adventure of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air then you must read this powerful book. You will not be disappointed! This is the memoir of a young man who only meant to travel abroad for a year, but took a detour working in an orphanage in Nepal during their recent Civil War. This experience changed his carefree goal of seeing the world, and thrust him into a personal mission to help those children who suffered as a result of the war. This true story of corruption and child trafficking in Nepal, and the author’s success in forming a non-profit organization to reunite these children with their families, is an inspiration. A portion of the proceeds from this book go to the author’s non-profit organization, which continues to help the trafficked children in Nepal.
Virgie's Staff Pick: This is NOT a story about about bridezillas but rather reflections on the most important moments in the life of a bride-to-be! A best-selling journalist and author of The Girls From Ames, Jeffrey Zaslow visits a small town wedding shop to uncover the dreams of real women on the verge of commitment. Becker’s Bridal Shop, a four generation family business, is located in a small rural town 90 minutes from Detroit. Within the bank-turned-bridal-shop is the “magic room”, a renovated bank vault, where thousands of brides-to-be try on their dream dresses. The author is drawn to the emotional life transition stories that take place in this small shop, paying attention to the bonds between daughter and family. As one looks at these four generation interactions you can see the changes in culture and how America views the institution of marriage. These reflections may be helpful to consider as you look back on your own wedding day, or look forward to that special day for that special someone in your life!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This historical chronicle of Niagara Falls takes a look at environmentalism in the early 1900’s. Even a hundred years ago, the question was posed; is it “less” to have “more” or is it “more” to have “less?” This is a love story between the daughter of the Niagara Power Company, and a poor riverman, who has a mystical understanding of the river and the need to preserve nature’s wonder. If you’ve been to Niagara Falls in the past, you’ll enjoy the authentic pictures and stories of early Niagara Falls. If you’ve never been there, you’ll want to visit after reading this book!
Virgie's Staff Pick: Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, crafts an inspirational meditation on dealing with life’s biggest challenges. She is no stranger to adversity! Although she does not dwell on the specifics of her adversities, Edwards’ thoughtful reflections are an inspiration, and provide helpful perspective. This is the perfect reading for anyone who seeks peace in knowing they are not alone with life’s problems. “You cannot change the wind, but you can adjust the sails. How we adjust our life now does make a difference in the life we have left.”
Virgie's Staff Pick: This story revolves around the dilemma in many Mexican towns; men have traveled to the North (USA) in search of money and jobs, but they do not return. There are few men left in the villages. Nayeli, the main character whose own father left, is determined to illegally travel “up north” to recruit 7 men for their village and to find her father. With the help of her two girlfriends and the town Taco Shop owner, Nayeli completes her quest. This book gives you a different perspective of illegal immigration.
Virgie's Staff Pick: This book has been around for several years, but has a new meaning in the light of todays H1N1 Flu epidemic. The story is inspired by the true event of a plague that occured in 1665 in a town in England. Within a year, two thirds of the town was dead, and the other third were taking over more responsibilities. Through the eyes of the main character, observe what can happen in a community that faces such a tragedy. How did the plague affect faith ... relationships ... social order? This is a very moving story which gives thought to our own potential danger!
Virgie's Staff Pick: Anne Tyler tells the story of Liam Pennywell, a 60 year old teacher who has been “let go” of his position as a 5th grade teacher, and thus forced into early retirement, requiring financial adjustments as well as a lot of time on his hands!
In Anne Tyler fashion, the author introduces Liam, passive and depressed, who looks back on his uneventful life, which has nevertheless left some wounds. With all this extra time to ponder, Liam’s life takes on a new meaning, and Liam is ready to begin a new chapter in his life. It makes one wonder if there is a little bit of Liam in us all!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This is a story of two rural Iowa families, each with seven year old daughters who are best friends. Calli suffers from selective mutism, brought on by a family tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Petra is her best friend, her soul mate, her voice! On a normal weekend, these two families are awakened to the unbearable situation ... both girls are missing! This is a mystery to be solved! Are the girls together? Are they lost in the woods? Or have they been abducted? Calli’s brother Ben searches for the girls in the woods, only to come upon a grizzly scene. Will Calli be able to finally use her words to tell what really happened in the woods?
This is a captivating story which will keep you up late at night ... it’s just too difficult to put down!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This true story is told by Kao Yang, who was born in a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand in 1980. After her grandmother’s death, she is driven to tell her family story as a tribute to that grandmother whose strong spirit held her family together during difficult times. Yang’s story tells about the journey of the Hmong, from the war-torn jungles of Laos, to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand, and onward to America. Yang’s memoir gives an eye-opening account of the struggles her family encountered living and feeling connected in the US. Yang tells her story with grace, beautifully weaving in Hmong folklore and culture. In my opinion, this is a must-read!
Virgie's Staff Pick: The title of this book is deceiving! This is a story not of an apparent happy marriage, but rather the stunning realization, at a time of loss, of the underlying components of a happy marriage! The author uses a creative format to tell the story, alternating each chapter between past and present. The “past” chapters tell of Enrique’s and Margaret’s meeting, forming a relationship, getting married, and struggling through some hard times. The “present”chapters tell of Margaret’s struggle with cancer, and how she endures her final days of life. It is in the act of supporting his wife’s acceptance of death, that Enrique comes to a gratifying realization of the wonder of his marriage. This heart-breaking story was a help to me as I support my sister who is dying of cancer. It gives one much to think about! I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to take a closer look at their significant relationships.
Virgie's Staff Pick: I have waited 14 years for another novel by Pat Conroy ... but the wait was worth it! This story is told by Leopold Bloom King, who, in the 1960’s forms adolescent friendships that endure throughout his lifetime. The backdrop is Charleston, South Carolina, where Leo is caught between the issues of class division, racism and religious beliefs. This is not only a story about enduring friendships, but also a mystery of sorts. The story twists will lead you to contemplate the next action. How far would YOU go to maintain a friendship? Conroy’s development of a wide variety of colorful characters is a creative work of art. His humor is enjoyable - his story is captivating!
Virgie's Staff Pick: Daoud is a tribesman living in Darfur, who tells his story of escaping an attack by Sudanese militia. After reaching safety in a refuge camp in Chad, he feels a need to inform the world of the genocide that is happening in Sudan. Using his English, Daoud accompanies western journalists into Sudan, acting as their translator, so the story can be told around the world. “If God must break your leg, He will at least teach you to limp.” This is a gripping memoir!
Virgie's Staff Pick: If you enjoyed Three Cups of Tea, then I recommend this book, to learn more about Pakistan. This story takes place in 1971, during the Civil War in East Pakistan, which eventually becomes Bangladesh. It is the story of Rehanna, whose life drastically changes because of the war. She struggles to keep her family safe amidst the chaos of this era, and must face a heartbreaking dilemma. This is one story that forces you to think about hardships faced when a good, safe life suddenly changes to uncertainty!
Virgie's Staff Pick: This young reader's edition of the world-wide bestseller Three Cups of Tea, has been adapted for young readers, ages 8+. This is the remarkable true story of one man's vision to provide hope for children (especially girls), by building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The book includes updated information and new photos, as well as a special interview with Amira Mortenson (12 year old daughter of the author) Amira, who has traveled with her father to Pakistan, reflects on the differences between children in the US and children in Pakistan. She describes the Pennies for Peace Project, and challenges children to make a difference, by supporting this project. This is a great book to inspire young citizens to participate in a service that can help others less fortunate.
Virgie's Staff Pick: This was a book I could hardly put down ... and when Idid, I couldn’t stop thinking about it! Written by a neuroscientist from Harvard, who also is an on-line columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association, Genova tells the story of a Harvard professor, who has early-onset Alzheimers Disease. The story helps one to understand the hardships caused when one’s mind slowly slips away. A must read! If you enjoyed reading A Beautiful Mind, you will enjoy this book.
Virgie's Staff Pick: If books can be passports to other places, then The Orphan Master’s Son allows you to enter the forbidden land of North Korea. This thrilling novel explores the mysterious dictatorship of North Korea under the rule of the eccentric Kim Jong-il.
The author conducted extensive research and traveled to North Korea, perhaps the most secretive nation on earth, in order to accurately set the background for the story of Jun Do, a young fellow groomed in the hell-holes the regime sets aside for orphans. In my opinion, the book is a little slow in the beginning but it picks up really quickly after about 100 pages. Don’t give up! It is a worthy read!