The Personal Librarian – Staff Review – Maddie

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (Request)(Cloudlibrary)

Belle de Costa Greene was hired in her twenties as the personal librarian for J.P. Morgan, cataloging and acquiring valuable manuscripts and art pieces for his new PierPoint Morgan Library. Through her work Belle became one of the most important people in the art and book world, known widely for her determination and shrewd negotiations at auctions.

But Belle has one important secret she must protect at all costs- her name is actually Belle Marion Greener and she is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first black Harvard graduate and advocate for equality. Her fair complexion allows her and her family to ‘pass’ as white and explain their olive-toned complexions on Portuguese heritage. In a post-reconstruction society when Jim-Crow and Segregation were just coming into place, Belle isn’t just trying to protect herself and her family, but also a legacy she is creating.

The Personal Librarian is based on the little known story of an extraordinary young woman who defied all the odds against her to create a legacy in a racist society that wouldn’t have accepted her under truer pretenses. Marie Benedict and Victoria Murray have done a great job with this novel and I recommend it for fans of Benedict’s other books as well as readers looking for a compelling historical fiction.

4 stars

Locke & Key Vol. 1 – Staff Review – Maddie

Lock & Key vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill (Request)

Trigger warning: assault, murder, violence.

When the Lockes move to a family place out in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, the three siblings find that the house hides many unusual keys, each unlocking unusual transformations as well as doors. Lurking in the shadows is an evil being that will stop at nothing to collect all the keys and unlock the final door.

Locke & Key is an intriguing but dark adult graphic novel that pulls readers in. For fans of horror and Lovecraft, try this series- there’s six (short) volumes. If you like the first one, get the next couple because if you’re like me, you’ll fly through them. I do want to warn readers that while none of the scenes are explicitly graphic, there is some violence that may be suitable for everyone. The series has also been adapted to a television show on Netflix, which I have heard was good and have added to my watch list.

3 stars.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections – Staff Review – Maddie

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk (Request)(Cloudlibrary)

Liesl Weiss has been working contentedly as a librarian for the rare books and special collections department of a large university for many years now, handling books as well as administrative tasks as the assistant director. But when the director is hospitalized with a stroke, she must step in to fill his absence only to find the library’s most prized manuscript is missing. While Liesl tries to alert the police to the missing manuscript, she is told to keep it quiet so as to not alarm the university and its donors. But when a staff member goes missing, Liesl takes matters into her own hands, looking into the circumstances around the disappearances as well as her fellow librarians’ , one of whom she suspects to be the thief.

I really enjoyed the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. The author wove the story in a way that kept introducing new facts about different characters that sort of keeps readers wondering about their pasts and whether they’d have a motive for theft. As a librarian, I also liked the setting of the book as it was different from other mysteries that I’ve read in a refreshing way. The story was also a nice medium between cozy and darker/more serious mystery books out there.

4 stars

Clammed up – Staff Pick – Maddie

Clammed up by Barbara Ross (Request)(CloudLibrary)

Julia Snowden returned home to Bushman Harbor to save her family’s struggling clambake business- not solve crime. But when a member of the wedding party turns up dead in the parlor of her family’s old mansion on Morrow Island, she has to solve the case or risk her family losing more than just their business. 
For fans of cozy mysteries or those looking for something lighter, try this first book in the Maine Clambake series. It was a nice easy read, which was a balance to some of the other books I’ve been reading. There are 7-8 books in the series, each with a new mystery to keep readers occupied as well. It’s available in large print here at the library, or as an e-book on the cloudlibrary. 

3 stars

The Devil in the White City – Staff Review – Maddie

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Eric Lawson (Request)(CloudLibrary)

Larson writes an intriguing tale of the Chicago World Fair and a notorious serial killer using its city as his hunting grounds. Daniel Burnham was the architect behind the World Fair, a daunting task to undertake considering the many obstacles he would face along the way, not to mention international scrutiny. The United States hadn’t seen a fair of this sort and for many it would be an educational experience, housing exhibitions from around the world; that is if Burnham met his deadlines. Holmes was a charismatic but sinister man who built the World Fair Hotel, which hid his more nefarious operations.

One of the things I really enjoyed about The Devil in the White City is how well Larson combines all the different elements into a cohesive story. Not only does he switch smoothly between the two worlds of H.H. Holmes and the World Fair, but he goes into great detail about the tremendous efforts that went into creating the fair and all the parties that helped make it a success without overwhelming the reader. He really highlights how the fair was a product of ingenuity at the time and made a name for Chicago internationally. Not knowing much about H.H. Holmes, it was interesting to learn a little about him and how he took advantage of the fair as well as certain practices that were common at this time to operate under the radar for so long both as a businessman and serial killer.

4 stars

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed – Staff Review – Maddie

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten (Request)(CloudLibrary)

Eighty-eight year old Maud is back for a sequel and trouble keeps knocking at her door. In this collection of short stories, Maud travels to Africa but is repeatedly drawn back into memories from her past including the detectives that won’t leave her alone in Sweden, teaching, and taking care of pesky neighbors. As we all know, Maud is not a woman to be taken lightly, despite her fragile appearance.

The interconnected stories in An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed have some dark humor mixed with warmer moments in which Maud shows her softer side. These do tie into the stories from the first book so I recommend readers start with that one, which we do have at the Auburn Library. The stories and book itself are a quick and fun read.

3.5 Stars

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – Staff Review – Maddie

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (Request)(CloudLibrary)

This is the tale of a boy named Bruno. One day while exploring the grounds surrounding this new home, he comes to a fence and meets a boy sitting on the other side of the fence. A friendship forms that defies all odds.

Though a work of fiction, the story of two boys on either side of a fence is a common one that still occurs today all over the world. Boyne tells a moving story.

4 Stars

One of Us is Lying – Staff Review – Maddie

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus (Request)(CloudLibrary)

5 teens serve an after school detention together. Bronwyn is a straight A student bound for Yale. Addy is the beauty queen dating the jock. Nate is on probation for selling drugs. Cooper is an all-star baseball pitcher. Simon is an outcast who created the highschool’s gossip app that everyone hates to love. When Simon dies suddenly in the middle of detention, all eyes turn to the only four people in the room with him. Everyone has a secret, but who is willing to kill over it?

Told from the alternating perspectives of Bronwyn, Addy, Nate and Cooper, this new YA thriller will keep readers on their toes until the very end. I enjoyed how the different perspectives added a level of curiosity for me especially as the book unfolded.

4 stars

The Whispering Pines – Staff Reviewed – Maddie

The Whispering Pines by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski (Request)

A year ago, Rae’s father disappeared and while she knows what happened to him- he was actually taken- no one believes her. When her mom decided to move the family across the country, Rae wasn’t thrilled but figured it could be a chance at a fresh start and normalcy. But Whispering Pines is anything but normal, which is clear from the town’s rules.

Caden is all too familiar with the weirdness of Whispering Pines, having lived there his entire life and occasionally partaking in his mom’s paranormal business. When multiple students start to go missing only to show up again without their eyes, the two realize there may be more to the case than they realized… but can they stop whatever’s taking their fellow students before it comes for them?

The Whispering Pines is a middle grade (juvenile) fiction that can be a little scary at times for younger readers, but is a fun read overall. I liked the paranormal elements brought into the story, especially reading it so close to Halloween. If you enjoyed this book like I did, check out the next book in the series, Infestation, which just came out this year. Whispering Pines is also a 2021-2022 Maine Student Book Award nominee.

4 stars

Running with Sherman – Staff Review – Maddie

Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall (Request)

When Chris McDougall was approached about taking in a donkey from a hoarding situation, he thought it would be no different than any of the other farm animals he and his family had taken in since moving to a farm in the Amish Country of Pennsylvania. Little did he know the condition the donkey-later named Sherman- was in. Chris was told donkeys’ need a job to give them purpose, which is where he came up with training Sherman to compete in a burro race* in Colorado. Little did Chris know much training and time this would involve or the amount of people whose lives would be touched by Sherman’s journey.

*Burro racing is a form of racing dating back to the 1800s mining times. It consists of racers and donkeys competing in teams. It has become a popular sport out west.

Running with Sherman was both a heartwarming and at times funny story. I loved reading about Sherman’s journey and all the people involved in making it a success. I also enjoyed learning about burro racing, which I had never heard of before and found to be an interesting sport. I recommend this book to anyone who loves animals or just needs a feel-good story. 

5 stars

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