Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Lady Jane Grey

Title: Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery

Author: Eric Ives

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell, October 2009

Summary: Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary Tudor, is probably the most tragic victim of the Tudor dynasty, ending her life on the scaffold at the age of seventeen. Dr. Eric Ives, in this scholarly and page-turning account of the coup that brought Lady Jane Grey to the throne for a brief reign of nine days, provides the who, what, where, and why of a coup that on paper should have had every chance of succeeding but which ultimately failed. Refusing to rely on long accepted accounts of Lady Jane’s story, Dr. Ives offers a reassessment of this episode in Tudor history to the extent that the reader realizes “Jane, we hardly knew ye.”

Who will like this book?: Those who want to know the true story behind Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor. For if any traitor was innocent, that traitor was surely Lady Jane Grey.

 If you like this, try this: The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir; Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk by Alison Plowden; and look out for The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda De Lisle.

Recommended by: Mona, Reference Associate and Library Lecturer

The Secret Wife of Louis XIV

Title: The Secret Life of Louis XIV: Francoise d’Aubigne, Madame de Maintenon

Author: Veronica Buckley

Summary: Francoise d’Aubigne was born in a French prison, the youngest child of a minor, rebellious noble. She died over 80 years later as the widow of the King of France. Though her marriage to Louis XIV could never be formally acknowledged due to an extraordinary difference in social rank, Francoise had a profound influence on the Sun King, and reigned as an uncrowned queen during the most glorious era in French history.

This very readable biography immerses the reader in 17th century France, an era of absolute royal power, intense religious conflict and very limited opportunities for women. Author Buckley does a masterful job illuminating the lives of the royal ladies of Versailles and the salons of Paris. That d’Aubigne managed to rise from her humble beginnings to the pinnacle of power is incredible – and that she did so by remaining steadfast, loyal and humble in the dangerous court of the king seems almost miraculous.

Who will like this book?: Readers interested in royal biography and women’s history.

If you like this, try this: Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser. A book about another of Louis’ paramours, Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland. A terrific historical fiction on Marie Antoinette,  Abundanceby Sena Jeter Naslund

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Bad Mother

Title: Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace

Author: Ayelet Waldman

Publisher: Doubleday, May 2009

Summary: When her essay Motherlove was published, Ayelet Waldman revealed to the world that she loved her husband more than she loves her children. She was promptly vilified by ‘good’ mothers everywhere – even receiving letters stating that her children should be taken from her. After all, how could a woman who would make such a statement be a fit parent?

Are there anything but bad mothers out there nowadays, when the expectations placed on women to succeed both in and out of the home are so extreme…and when there always seems to be a member of the Good Mommy Police out there to bust you when you slip up? Waldman’s passionate responses to this question, as well as her thoughts on the many facets of motherhood, daughterhood and modern wifedom, are included in this bold and passionate collection of essays.

Who will like this book?: Harried moms who feel like they drop the ball more often than they catch it, and anybody who knows and loves them.

If you like this, try this: The collection The Bitch in the House. The forthcoming Manhood for Amateurs by Waldman’s husband, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Zeitoun

Title: Zeitoun

Author: Dave Eggers

Publisher: McSweeney’s, August 2009

Summary: In his National Book Critic’s Circle-nominated book What is the What, Dave Eggers deftly told the true story of a Sudanese boy-soldier and refugee as a ‘fictional’ narrative. In his latest, Eggers does the same for the city of New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Zeitouns, Abdulrahman, an immigrant of Syrian descent and his wife Kathy, a native Louisianan, are practicing Muslims who own a successful contracting business. When the storm draws near, Kathy takes their children to higher ground while Zeitoun remains to protect their properties.

Steering his secondhand canoe through the city streets, Zeitoun finds great comfort in assisting where needed while Kathy pleads with him to abandon the city, up until the day he stops calling. The truth behind his disappearance is shocking and life-altering.

Zeitoun manages to feel epic in scope while remaining compulsively readable. In its honest and clear-eyed depiction of the hurricane and its aftermath, it tells a deeply American story about faith, family, the cultural melting pot, devotion to duty, and what it takes to survive when the unthinkable occurs.

When you finish a book as good as this one, you are exhilarated but somehow sad because you can never read it for the first time again. Zeitoun cannot be recommended highly enough.

Who will like this book?: This is a book that deserves a wide readership, but it will particulary appeal to those who like reading stories about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

If you like this, try this: What is the What by Dave Eggers. 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose. The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

American On Purpose

Title: American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot

Author: Craig Ferguson

Publisher: HarperCollins, September 2009

Summary: Craig Ferguson is the hilarious host of TV’s Late Late Show. Craig was born in Glasgow Scotland which he describes as “Detroit on acid” when he was growing up. He certainly managed to party his way through his youth until age 29 when he sobered up. His telling of his misadventures as a bouncer, a modern dancer, a drummer in a few bands all while totally inebriated (and more) is self deprecating, funny and sad. He travels to the United States with his father as a youth and his life is changed forever. He returns years later trying to land an acting job in Hollywood and does so by the skin of his teeth.

Now over 2,000,000 people laugh with him most nights as he entertains and shares his lust for the American way of life. His story is another great tale of the American dream coming true for a person who takes risks, perseveres, and appreciates his good fortune in the end.

Recommended by: Karen, Deputy Town Librarian

Home Game

Title: Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood

Author: Michael Lewis

Publisher: W.W. Norton, May 2009

Summary: When Michael Lewis had his first child, he knew exactly how he should feel. You know, in awe of the miracle of life and forever changed and stuff.  But when these feelings were slow to materialize, he realized that many devoted dads are, for lack of a better word, faking it. He began to chronicle the events immediately following the birth of each of his three children, determined to describe the actual sensation of being a father.

These short essays, many originally posted on Salon.com, are sharp, funny, and utterly truthful. From beaming with pride as his three year-old defends her older sister by cursing out older bullies, to spending the night under-prepared to camp at ‘Fairyland’ (a kiddie amusement park,) to the feelings of utter uselessness that attend fathers during labor and delivery, Home Game is a funny and fast read just in time for Father’s Day.

Who will like this book: This is a great choice for most dads, but for new and first-time dads in particular. Lewis has a following from his excellent sports writing.

If you like this, try this: Alternadad by Neil Pollack. The forthcoming Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. The Blind Side, a football book by Lewis.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Indifferent Stars Above

Title: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride

Author:  Daniel James Brown

Publisher: William Morrow, April 2009

Summary:    Upon hearing the words “Donner Party,”  it’s likely that most people remember the most sordid and sensational details of this tragedy. This new account of the Donner party tries to bring the reader past the taboo subject of cannibalism that has been associated with this ill-fated journey for so long. Yes, the facts remain the same, but our interpretation and understanding will be changed by reading this book. The author has gone to great lengths to shine a new light on the emigrants and their reasons for making certain decisions. He focuses his attention on one member of the party, Sarah Graves Fosdick, recently married and traveling with her family and new husband.

Using our current knowledge of the physical and psychological effects of trauma, Daniel Brown has set out to answer many of the questions surrounding the Donner Party tragedy. For example, why did the single men in the group fare so much worse than people traveling with their families? Why did the emigrants suffer the effects of starvation so quickly? In our recent past we have seen protesters on hunger strikes that lasted weeks longer without food than did Sarah and her companions. What psychological effects did the survivors suffer as a result of being on the brink of death for so long? Brown helps us to understand why certain choices were made and the impact these choices had on everyone involved. Imagine being on a camping trip without a tent, lantern, flashlight, stove, bug repellent, sleeping bag, toiletries, or any other amenity. Imagine you cannot bathe, brush your teeth, or wash you clothes and bedding for several months. Now imagine you are surrounded by mountains and several feet of snow and are surviving on leather shoe straps and boiled bones as your only source of food. It’s unfathomable to me. It’s no surprise to find that the Donner party’s fate was sealed by a man so greedy he was willing to divert these poor people from their original trail to Oregon to an uncharted (unbeknownst to them) path across a treacherous mountain range to his fledgling town in California. This is not a dry historical account but a moving and informative tale about brave Americans and their search for a better life.

Who will like this book?: Readers who like American history and adventure stories.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Columbine

Title: Columbine

Author: Dave Cullen

Summary: On April 20, 1999, two boys entered their high school and proceeded to unleash the most unforgettable school shooting of the modern era. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were troubled outcasts in black trench coats, picked on by jocks and preps, who, after years of listening to angry music and playing violent video games, finally snapped.

Or were they? Actually, none of these accepted facts about the young killers are true. In this absorbing book, a reporter who was on the scene that day and followed the story long after the tragedy of school shootings became seemingly commonplace, dispels the myths behind the shooting, its perpetrators, and even its victims. Everyone knows what you mean when you say ‘Columbine,’ but not one of us has ever heard the whole story until now.

Who will like this book: True crime readers. Anyone who remembers that day would be benefited by reading this important book.

If you like this, try this: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. A fictional work that deals, in part, with Columbine and it’s aftermath, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Girls from Ames

Title: The Girls from Ames: A story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship

Author:  Jeffrey Zaslow

Publisher: Gotham, April 2009

 Summary: How does a group of ten women manage to stay friends for 40 years?  With a lot of hard work!  After reading their story, it is one of the things that I found I admired most about these women – their conscious decision to keep the group together no matter what life throws at them, and believe me, it’s thrown plenty.  They admit that they are more in touch with each other now than they have been over the years thanks to email.  But even before that, through annual reunions and a determined effort to be present at each other’s milestone events whenever possible, all of them do their best to stay a part of the group because it is that important to them.

Jeffrey Zaslow, a columnist from The Wall Street Journal, spent 4 days with them during one of their recent reunions.   Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny, Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, and Diana all share stories about what it was like to grow up in Ames, Iowa in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and what it was like to be a member of this tight circle.  The circle is not completely intact because, sadly, the eleventh member of the group, Sheila, died when she was in her early twenties.  But she’s definitely with them in spirit; the group has created a scholarship to Ames High in her memory.  We learn about her death and what it did to the girls individually and as a whole.  There are many sad stories to be shared, but also stories of great joy.  When anything of any importance happens in one of their lives, they go to each other first to share the experience, whether painful or joyful.  It was fascinating to read how they support each other.

Although I can’t help but wonder how the writing of the book would have fared in the hands of a writer with a less “reporter-like” voice, I believe the story of these women carries the book along and makes it a very worthwhile read.

Recommended by: Mary, Branch Reference

The Narcissism Epidemic

Title: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement

Authors: Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell

Publisher: Free Press, April 2009

Summary: This fascinating (and disturbing) book focuses on what the authors feel is an alarming rise in narcissistic behavior in the United States. They argue that narcissists, long thought to behave in ways to cover up their lack of self-esteem, are in fact overflowing with self-regard, and that the emphasis placed on self-esteem training for young children and in schools has contributed to a culture where entitlement is rampant, and everyone really believes that they are so special that rules do not apply to them.

In describing the consequences this upswing in narcissism has for schools (cheating and grade inflation,) the workplace (young adults taking their parents into the office for performance reviews,) the economy (McMansions, debt, and the mortgage crisis,) culture (celebutants and Web 2.0) and the environment (SUVs and global warming,) Twenge (author of Generation Me) and Campbell paint a very upsetting picture. While some of their arguments might be a little far-fetched, you can pick and choose what chapters interest you.

All in all this is a book that will make you think twice when you see a baby dressed in a t-shirt that says “I’m the Boss.”

Who will like this book: General non-fiction readers and people with an interest in psychology and culture. If the world seems to you a little ruder and more competitive lately, this book is for you.

If you like this, try this: For more on celebrity narcissism, try The Mirror Effect by Drew Pinsky.  For more on Milennials in the workplace, look for The Trophy Kids Grow Up by Ron Alsop. And for the effects of this cultural shift on girls and young women, read Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian