2016-07-01 05:20:05 helen
staff picks summer

Mind-Bending Reading

In light of the summer reading theme of “Exercise Your Mind”, I am presenting some novels that look at the world from odd angles, portray unusual viewpoints, and explore thought-provoking stories.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – What happens when the underpinnings of how life works starts to unravel? In The Age of Miracles Earth’s rotation is slowing and with it twelve-year-old Julia’s world starts to distort. The world’s governments decide to keep society on a twenty-four hour “clock-time” schedule, but some cannot or will not change, and the “real-time” people become more isolated and eventually shunned. Others, including Julia’s mother, have physical side effects. This novel looks at how fragile our civilization is, through the eyes of a young girl coming of age.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – This dystopian novel with a feminist viewpoint is a haunting, perverse portrait of male domination of women. In the near future, a war-torn United States is now the land of Gilead, where the strict theocratic government rules and nuclear waste is rendering large swaths of the population sterile. Women are reduced to three limited roles: wives of commanders, considered moral and who have limited power; “Martha”s who do the domestic work; and handmaidens, still fertile women forced to breed for the ruling class or be banished to hard labor. Offred (“of Fred”, the commander to whom she “belongs”) tells of her life as a handmaiden, and shares her memories of being a wife and a mother before the war. Written in 1985, the theme is never more relevant than in today’s world of religious extremism.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – What if you are privy to the intimate emotional life of someone without them knowing? That is the gift and the burden that faces Rose Edelstein. Biting into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake for her ninth birthday she discovers she has a magical insight to her mother’s hidden despair. Soon she has awareness of the secret emotional existence of her father and brother. Eating develops into an exercise in trying to avoid emotional mine fields, and her life becomes a world of seeing what she doesn’t want to know or knows how to deal with. This is a novel that stays with you long after you have read the final chapter.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – Time travel is notoriously difficult to write about – there are logistical holes to cover and difficulty in maintaining emotional investment in the story. Niffenegger does a fairly adept job at both. Henry has Chrono-Displacement Disorder, causing him to travel to different time periods of his life without warning. His future wife Clare first meets him when she is six and he is thirty-six; Henry meets Clare for the first time when she is twenty and he is twenty-eight. Weaving around the paradoxes and disconnects is a story of love and faith in each other.

The Martian by Andy Weir – Space travel is always fertile ground for enlarging the scope of the imagination. When a novel introduces an alien planet and mixes it with real-life science, it’s a formula for a mind expanding adventure. Mark Watney, left for dead on the Martian surface, has to find a way to survive until he can be rescued. The problem? Well, you can start with the fact that he has no way to communicate to Earth that he is still alive. Then he has to find a way to feed himself for the years it might take for him to be rescued. Clever, resourceful, and really humorous, Mark’s diary entries show the true nature of human existence in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Helen Freeman

Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.

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2016-06-01 05:00:06 helen
staff picks summer

This year’s summer reading theme for adults is “Exercise Your Mind”. Since the overall summer reading theme is exercise and wellness, I combined exercising your body and exercising your brain.

How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald – This book explains the latest theory of how the brain regulates endurance performance, which is called the Psycho Biological model. It describes how conscious self-regulation of thoughts, emotions, and behavior can have a dramatic influence on endurance performance. In other words, the mind and body are distinctly connected. How Bad Do You Want It? reveals new psychobiological findings

* Mental toughness determines how close you can get to your physical limit.
* Bracing yourself for a tough race or workout can boost performance by 15% or more.
* Champions have learned how to give more of what they have.
* An important way to improve performance is by altering how you perceive effort.
* Choking under pressure is a form of self-consciousness.
* Your attitude in daily life is the same one you bring to sports.
* There’s no such thing as going as fast as you can―only going faster than before.
* The fastest racecourse is the one with the loudest spectators.
* Faith in your training is as important as the training itself.

The greatest athletic performances spring from the mind, not the body. Elite athletes have known this for decades and now science is learning why it’s true.

Trivia Quiz: The Best Family Quiz book Ever! – Trivia competitions are a fun way to exercise your mind and help keep it sharp! This book has over 4000 trivia questions. The questions cover a wide range of subjects to test the general knowledge of the most seasoned quiz fans. There are over 4,000 quiz questions on a wide variety of subjects that will appeal to all quiz fans. The book also includes an introductory section on how to run a quiz night. It has many helpful tips and ideas.

How To Think Like Einstein by Scott Thorpe – This book expands on critical thinking. It presents an appealing way to look at everyday challenges in the home and office. This book will help you challenge old ways of thinking and to improve your creative and problem solving skills. Innovator and author Scott Thorpe guides you step-by-step through the process of freeing yourself from your “rule ruts” so you can dream up amazing (and doable) solutions to the seemingly impossible. I like the steps showing how to identify and break the usual thinking patterns we automatically use, and how to come up with innovative and viable solutions by using a different point of view. With brand-new material for today’s readers, this new edition will reveal how you can solve problems in astonishing ways, including:

      • thinking like a bug
      • organizing a party
      • learning the game of poker
      • pretending you’re James Bond
      • acting like a millionaire
      • and more!

Brain power : improve your mind as you age by Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell – Virtually everyone fears mental deterioration as they age. But in the past thirty years neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is actually designed to improve throughout life. How can you encourage this improvement? Brain Power shares practical, state-of-the-evidence answers in this inspiring, fun-to-read plan for action. The authors have interviewed physicians, gerontologists, and neuroscientists; studied the habits of men and women who epitomize healthy aging; and applied what they describe in their own lives. The resulting guidance can help you activate unused brain areas, tone mental muscles, and enliven every faculty.

Brain fitness : anti-aging strategies for achieving super mind power by Robert M. Goldman – As a cofounder and director of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, Dr. Robert Goldman has at his fingertips all of the latest scientific research on what each of us can do not only to retain all our mental powers as long as we live but also to actually strengthen and improve our mind-power as we age. Now he shares that information, in a layperson’s terms, with numerous self-tests, information charts, and quizzes, so that we all can improve memory, sharpen concentration, reduce stress, learn to sleep better, and–above all–ward off the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease. Goldman discusses the many nutritional supplements, vitamins, minerals, and medications that have been proved to enhance mental fitness, providing specific doses and regimens. But beyond that, he also describes particular exercises and lifestyle techniques designed to sharpen mental acuity.


            Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.

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2016-05-05 14:33:46 helen
staff picks spring


The Holocaust, a horrific and nightmarish period of world history has been a popular and powerful theme for novels over the years. While the realities of our past will always remain unchanged, the following stories are poignant and heartfelt narratives that detail hope, horror, love, and despair. They are brilliantly written and extraordinarily moving.

Beach Music by Pat Conroy — Pat Conroy, America’s preeminent storyteller, delivers a sweeping novel of lyric intensity and searing truth–the story of Jack McCall, an American expatriate in Rome, scarred by tragedy and betrayal. His desperate desire to find peace after his wife’s suicide draws him into a painful, intimate search for the one haunting secret in his family’s past that can heal his anguished heart. Spanning three generations and two continents, from the contemporary ruins of the American South to the ancient ruins of Rome, from the unutterable horrors of the Holocaust to the lingering trauma of Vietnam, Beach Music sings with life’s pain and glory. It is another masterpiece in Pat Conroy’s legendary list of beloved novels.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — A contemporary classic, this story is powerful and lasting. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay — In the summer of 1942, the French police arrested thousands of Jewish families and held them outside of Paris before shipping them off to Auschwitz. On the 60th anniversary of the roundups, an expatriate American journalist covering the atrocities discovers a personal connection—her apartment was formerly occupied by one such family. She resolves to find out what happened to Sarah, the 10-year-old daughter, who was the only family member to survive. Poignant and powerful, this novel captivates the reader until the very end.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry — As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink — Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany. When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.


Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.

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2016-04-01 05:25:23 helen
staff picks spring

Sci Fi and Fantasy Series Starters

Looking for a new world to get into? Here are a few first books in some great series not of this world!

The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin – One of the most acclaimed pieces of sci-fi to come out of China, The Three Body Problem offers a fresh spin on the genre. Jumping between the modern age and the 1970s in the heart of the Great Leap Forward in China, the main character Ye Wenjie misuses a secret military project to communicate with our closest neighbors in space, who view us as nothing more than a pest in the way of saving their own civilization. While the trilogy has been complete in Chinese for several years, the translation of the final book in the series Death’s End is due later this year. Highly recommended for its unique perspective, terrifying premise about life in the universe, and use of real science. Translated from Mandarin.

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey – A space opera in the truest sense. Leviathan Wakes reads like a well paced movie. Humans have colonized the solar system, but our problems are not gone. Earth and Mars are locked in a Cold War-esque rivalry, “belters” born in space are viewed as uncivilized, barely human, and corporate greed may have unleashed a 4 billion year old weapon designed to wipe out humanity. The series has become a Sci-Fi channel series The Expanse, and the story is ongoing with 4 sequels in print and one due this year.

Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky – A terrifying post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure in the metro tunnels of Moscow. Stations become distinct political entities as the survivors fight with each other over the dwindling resources, and rangers venture to the surface to find it an uninhabitable wasteland full of inhuman monsters. But are the monsters really an enemy? Or are the inhabitants of the Metro the real danger? Metro 2033 has spawned two official sequels (Metro 2034, Metro 2035) and a best selling video-game franchise. Translated from Russian.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu – Described as Game of Thrones in a fantasy “silkpunk” setting, Liu’s book is a journey into a refreshingly unique fantasy world based on medieval China. The Grace of Kings is emotional, exciting and a breath of fresh air in a genre that is stale in it’s diversity of setting and character. This is a remarkable debut from an author who previously had only done short fiction and translations. The series continues later this year with The Wall of Storms.

Lewis Parsons

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

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2016-03-01 05:00:09 helen
staff picks spring

Book Group Favorites

Last year was the rebirth of Books & Brews, a popular book group here at the Sawyer Free Library. When I decided to take over the group, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I wanted to pick interesting, thought provoking books that would both entertain and offer great discussion. Here are a few books we read over the last year that proved to be undisputed hits and great picks for anyone interested in starting a book group.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire – When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.

All Souls: A Family Story From Southie by Patrick Michael MacDonald – Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up in “the best place in the world”– the Old Colony projects of South Boston–where 85% of the residents collect welfare in an area with the highest concentration of impoverished whites in the U.S. In All Souls, MacDonald takes us deep into the secret heart of Southie. With radiant insight, he opens up a contradictory world, where residents are besieged by gangs and crime but refuse to admit any problems, remaining fiercely loyal to their community. MacDonald also introduces us to the unforgettable people who inhabit this proud neighborhood.

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian – In this novel, nothing is what it at first seems. Not the bucolic Vermont back roads college sophomore Laurel Estabrook likes to bike. Not the savage assault she suffers toward the end of one of her rides. And certainly not Bobbie Crocker, the elderly man with a history of mental illness whom Laurel comes to know through her work at a Burlington homeless shelter in the years subsequent to the attack. In a narrative of dazzling invention, literary ingenuity, and psychological complexity, Bohjalian engages issues of homelessness and mental illness by evoking the humanity that inhabits the core of both. At the same time, his tale is fast-paced and riveting. The Double Bind combines the suspense of a thriller with the emotional depths of the most intimate drama. The breathtaking surprises of its final pages will leave readers stunned, overwhelmed by the poignancy of life’s fleeting truths, as caught in Bobbie Crocker’s photographs and in Laurel Estabrook’s painful pursuit of Bobbie’s past — and her own.

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb – In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years. Meet Dolores Price. She’s 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she’s determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before she really goes under.


Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.

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