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2017-01-01 05:38:46 helen

Fabulous Friendship Reads

Over the years I’ve read a lot of stories about friendships. There’s something about these novels that draw me in and make me think about my own friendships that have come and gone. What makes a friendship last? Laughter, trust, love, good times…….What makes them end? Lies, betrayal, deceit, scandal……here are some of my favorites:

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – An interesting story of new friendships gone awry. Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal…A murder… a tragic accident… or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three new friends, each at a crossroads. It is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

China Dolls by Lisa See – Loved this novel of the ups and downs of friendship, set in the “Chop Suey Circuit” of San Francisco right before World War II. In 1938, Ruby, Helen and Grace, three girls from very different backgrounds, find themselves competing at the same audition for showgirl roles at San Francisco’s exclusive “Oriental” nightclub, the Forbidden City. Grace, an American-born Chinese girl has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family who have deep roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese. At times their differences are pronounced, but the girls grow to depend on one another in order to fulfill their individual dreams. Then, everything changes in a heartbeat with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly the government is sending innocent Japanese to internment camps under suspicion, and Ruby is one of them. But which of her friends betrayed her?

Looking for Alaska by John Green – A story of young friendship that you will never forget! Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – International historical fiction brings to light the types different types of friendships. In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – A contemporary classic about lifelong friends. After being drawn together by the shadows of their past, four women start meeting every week in San Francisco to engage in hobbies they all enjoy. After one of the four members dies, her daughter takes her place to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. After the revelation of a secret, the women are forced to think back to their pasts and remember the sometimes painful events of their lives.


               Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.

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2016-12-01 05:05:46 helen
staff picks winter2

The Animal Connection

Animals can enrich the lives of the young and the old, the healthy and the sick, the lonely and the connected. While they are dependent upon us, we can learn so much about ourselves through their devotion and their own existence.

Elle & Coach : diabetes, the fight for my daughter’s life, and the dog who changed everything by Stefany Shaheen – Juvenile diabetes can be a tough disease. Blood sugar can range wildly with dire consequences if not monitored closely. Elle Shaheen is diagnosed at 9 years old and finds regulating her diabetes difficult until she gets a service dog. Coach can smell when her blood sugar is too low or too high and alerts Elle. This book is an up close view of how service animals can make a huge impact in the lives of those who need them.

Buddy : how a rooster made me a family man by Brian McGrory – Boston Globe columnist McGrory is a once divorced city guy who falls for his beloved dog’s veterinarian, Pam. Into his life then follows a trek out to suburbia, two young girls and a menagerie of animals, including a white rooster. While Buddy is adored by the girls and admired by the neighbors, his relationship with McGrory leaves a lot to be desired. How McGrory deals with Buddy and the rest of the upending of his peaceful single life is funny and moving.

The soul of all living creatures : what animals can teach us about being human by Vint Virga – A leader in veterinary behavioral medicine, Dr. Virga examines the behavior of a wide variety of animals – from cats to whales – and finds commonality and insight into human relationships. This is a fascinating look at animals and at ourselves.

When Fraser met Billy : an autistic boy, a rescue cat, and the transformative power of animal connections by Louise Booth – Fraser is a British three year old autistic boy who has anxiety and behavioral issues. Looking for any relief, his parents adopt a shelter cat, Billy, just hoping to provide some companionship for their son. But Billy exceeds their wildest expectations, helping Fraser to calm and concentrate, as well as providing motivation to overcome some of his physical disabilities. A heartwarming story to charm any animal lover.

Saddled : how a spirited horse reined me in and set me free by Susan Richards – A battered wife with a drinking problem, Richards’ life is in tatters. The only stable force in her life is the need to care for her beloved horse, Georgia. The horse leads Richards to establish a safe and sober life, but more importantly, helps her face her demons from her nightmarish childhood and grow into a healthy adult.

Helen Freeman

     Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.

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2016-11-01 05:28:26 helen
staff picks fall

Vote! The World of American Politics

If anyone hasn’t already had their fill of politics, or is still undecided on who to vote for, here are some of the latest books:

Hillary’s America by Dinesh D’Souza – Very interesting book about Hillary Clinton and the democratic party. Regardless of political point of view the book will make you think about the politics of the United States.

Year of Voting Dangerously by Maureen Dowd – A noted political columnist traces the psychologies and pathologies in one of the nastiest and most significant battles of the sexes ever, the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Intimidation Game by Kimberley A. Stassel – Excellent explanation of just some of the recent ways our government runs amuck. It is disturbing in its examples and in its implications. Although Strassel focuses on the Left, I will not be surprised if the Right makes a comeback and in a few years a liberal is able to write an equally disturbing volume about abuses on the other side. Big Data, sadly, will be abused by all.

Why the Right Went Wrong by E.J. Dionne – Dionne’s book is a history of the right from Goldwater to the present that also parlays into the Clinton and Obama presidencies.

Great Again : how to fix our crippled America by Donald J.Trump – Love him or hate him this book peers into the mind of Trump. His accomplishments and media savvy have brought him international recognition and he is unquestionably a one man phenomenon.

Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton – To her surprise, HRC was asked to serve as Obama’s Secretary of State after he was elected president in 2008. This is a narrative of Clinton’s foreign policy successes, and failures during Obama’s first term.


 Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.

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2016-09-06 15:28:36 helen
staff picks fall

Icelandic Literature

In Iceland, one out of ten people will publish a book. An astonishing 93% of the population read a book every year (roughly 75% of Americans will.) They have the most bookstores per person, and for its size imports and translate more literature than any other nation. Its mark on literature is indelible.

The Sagas of the Icelanders by various authors – The Sagas tell the stories of the early Icelanders that came from across the Norse world, from Norway to Sweden to Ireland. The sagas are generally realistic, with some fantastical embellishment, and tell of feuds, romances, and voyages into unknown lands. Eiríks Saga Rauða tells the story of the first European discovery and settlement in North America. The word “Saga” today still is used to describe epic literature.

Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson – The most complete accounting of European pre-Christian religion comes from these medieval writings from Icelandic poet, politician, and historian Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda tells us of Thor, Odin, and Freyja, and Snorri’s other writings were also instrumental in later centuries for establishing Norwegian and later Icelandic national identity as they struggled for independence from Denmark.

Independent People by Halldór Laxness (Born Halldór Guðjónsson) – Halldór won a Noble Prize for literature in 1955, and picking just one of his works is a tall task. Independent People is a tale of the desperate poverty many Icelanders lived in during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. The book tells the tale of a sheep farmer, destitute and struggling, but still proud and resilient.

Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason – Part of the popular Detective Erlendur series, Arnaldur is perhaps the most well-known contemporary Icelandic author today outside of Iceland. He writes compelling crime fiction, mostly taking settings from the Icelandic landscape. His novels often examine issues of racism, sexism, environmental issues and the underworld of Icelandic society.

Lewis Parsons

Lewis Parsons is a librarian in Research and Information Services at the Sawyer Free Library.

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2016-08-01 05:39:59 helen
staff picks summer

Fiction Addiction

I can vividly remember the quiet tears after my seventh birthday party. It was a wonderful party with my favorite spice cake with brown butter frosting and lots of good toys. But no one gave me a book. And not having a new adventure in reading waiting for me on my bookshelf brought on unexpected seven- year- old melancholy. I feel the same way whenever I leave for a plane or crawl into bed and don’t have a book in hand. I love the assurance that a good book is waiting for me. Here are a few newer titles that have recently helped feed my fiction addition.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – This is the story of a grumpy curmudgeon. He likes routine and order. He doesn’t smile and give compliments but he’s an honest man and a man with integrity. As the story opens Ove is fifty-nine years old, forcefully retired, bitter, alone and unsure how to fill his days. But behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. One November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door. Thus begins an unexpected friendship and a transformation that shakes Ove and his entire neighborhood to its foundations. Backman’s style succeeds in being life-affirming yet not sentimental. A wonderful read.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – ‘A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we wake from dreams.’ — Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Those who have read and loved Atkinson’s Life after Life will recognize Teddy, the protagonist of her new novel. Teddy is Ursula Todd’s beloved younger brother who flew for the RAF. During the perils of his bombing career, he never expected to have a future. Living into that future turned out to be his biggest challenge. In Life after Life the author plays with time and creates several possible narratives for Ursula, the book’s protagonist. A God in Ruins is more straightforward but the chapters still move back and forth in time. This is not a chronological narrative of Teddy’s life but rather a collection of memories. Like all lives, Teddy’s has had its ups and downs. People’s lives are often defined by tragedy. Many of those people strive to make the best of their lives despite tragedy. Kate Atkinson writes beautifully and explores the familiar themes of the fragility of life, the certainty of death and the redemptive power of love in her singularly elegant, thoughtful and somewhat quirky way.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich – Louise Erdrich is a literary icon. She won the National Book Award with The Round House and her newest book is just as beautiful as her previous award-winners. Set in a Native American reservation in North Dakota, this story unfolds when a man accidentally shoots his neighbor’s young son and gives his own son, LaRose, to the grieving family. Pushed forward by the deep and complex emotions that surround grief and inheritance, this novel will take you on a phenomenal ride.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – Stephanie Danler’s first novel is one of the breakout bestseller surprises of the year. Tess is a 22-year-old waitress in a Union Square restaurant. She’s new to the Big Apple and has a huge, infection appetite for life. She soon finds herself attached to two servers: Jake, a quiet, handsome bartender, and Simone, an older woman who takes her under her wing. As the year unfolds, Tess learns that finding yourself often involves learning some hard lessons.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – The legendary star-crossed friendship between Truman Capote and New York socialite Babe Paley lies at the core of this work of historical fiction. Babe’s husband was CBS titan Bill Paley and Capote soon became the couple’s favorite weekend guest at their home in the Hamptons. Capote could always be counted on for both gossip and a sympathetic ear. Over their twenty year friendship, Capote became Babe’s most trusted friend as well as analyst. Their friendship ended in a tragic betrayal inaugurated by a Vanity Fair article Capote published. All of these facts are well-documented in NYC’s social history. Benjamin explores the inner workings the friendship between Capote and Babe, her loveless marriage to Paley, and a brief time in New York City when a small caderie of socialites — “the swans of Fifth Avenue” – reigned over the social scene.


Beth Pocock is Assistant Director at the Sawyer Free Library.

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