Author Archives: carissamiller

When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning

“The stories that helped us win World War II”

Ever wonder why Mass Market Paperbacks became a thing? Why books that were some enough to fit in a pocket or be easily toss in a bag become so popular?  If you are like me it probably never crossed your mind, you just read the books. What lead to production of mass market paperbacks? Or the event that turned The Great Gatsby into an American classic? Those questions and more are answered in When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. 

I’m a bit of a WWII history nerd but I didn’t know about the push to get books to the troops. Nor did I know about the Armed Services Editions that would eventually become our modern day mass market paperbacks. Who would have thought that a World War would change how the average person consumed books? After reading this it should have been obvious that soldiers, sailors, and Marines would have been desperate for a mental break, and what better way to escape than in the pages of a book. Isn’t that why most readers read?  I should have known from my dad’s own experience in Beirut in the early 80s as part of the peace-keeping force where he said books made the time more bearable when letters from home were few and far between. Books let him escape for a while, because they were the only option for downtime he had. He still has his dog-eared and taped up copy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that got him through it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a foxhole in WWII or in a tent in the desert, books are precious and are a welcome escape from the world. Reading about servicemen and their earnest desire for books made a war one only reads about in the pages of a history book made it more real. It allowed me to walk in their shoes if only for a moment.  

I enjoyed reading this book and learning about the role that libraries and librarians played in the efforts of collecting books.  Even if, thanks mostly to the general public, the books weren’t useful to the military. Because even today people see donating books to the library as getting rid of books they themselves don’t want,  not realizing that it might not be able to used, much like what was happening during WWII. When what the boys overseas wanted was books to escape they wanted novels. And that’s where the publishers and magazine houses came into play to get easy to transport books to the troops. 

Thanks to the Armed Services Editions making readers were that hadn’t been before. That plus the GI Bill helped to create a literate postwar middle class.  

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

American Princess by Stephanie Grace Thornton

Alice Lee Roosevelt was called “the other Washington monument” and after reading American Princess by Stephanie Grace Thornton I understand why. She was the precocious eldest child of Theodore Roosevelt, of whom he was quoted as saying, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice; I can’t do both.” Known as the “original White House Wild child,” this is the first piece of historical fiction to be written about Alice Roosevelt that I’ve read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Theodore Roosevelt is a favorite president of mine and Alice has always fascinated me. I wondered if what was said about her was true, so I picked up the book to satisfy my curiosity. Despite the book being historical fiction, I feel like I’ve learned a bit more about Alice Roosevelt.

Being a historical fiction novel, I assume that Thornton took artistic liberties with the story so I don’t know what is fact and what is fiction, but I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote,” fact is stranger than fiction”. If only a hand full of events are true then, Alice marched to her own drum at a time when women and young girls didn’t have much freedom. Alice is our narrator beginning with her rebellious teenage years and ending in her eighties. The author’s note at the end has only helped to stoke my interest in Alice Lee Roosevelt. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker (Alice’s biography) adds more to her story by letting us know who she truly was. Alice Lee Roosevelt was a unique first daughter, and her life seems to reflect that.

A perfect selection for fans of historical fiction, those that have read America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and want to read about another presidency from the daughter’s point of view.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Reading Behind Bars by Jill Grunenwald

I’m not going to lie, the title was the first thing that drew me to this book. Even though I am a library assistant, my bachelor’s degree is in Criminal Justice and Criminology so I’ve always wondered how a library would work in a prison. I knew they existed because of the classes I took in college but I didn’t learn how they would work.

Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald answered the questions I had and even questions I didn’t even ask.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is prisonlibrary.jpgWhen the author graduated from library school in 2009 there were more librarians than jobs. Gruenwald took the only one that she could find, a position for a librarian at a minimum-security prison outside Cleveland, Ohio. What follows is a memoir of her time at the prison, the inmates and officers she meets, as well as the lessons she learned.

One thing which I discovered while reading this book is how similar working in a prison library is to working in a public library.  You still have the same patron looking for the newest James Patterson or other bestselling authors. You still have patrons asking random (sometimes off-the-wall) questions, seeking legal advice, and wanting the daily paper.

But I also learned what makes them different. A patron looking for the latest bestseller may be stymied due to prison rules and regulations about content. Further, budgetary considerations mean that patrons have to wait until a book is available in paperback. Also, prison libraries are subject to quite a bit of censorship, which for the most part is something that doesn’t exist in public libraries.

Reading Behind Bars isn’t a fast-paced memoir, but it was an informative read about one librarian’s first  job and the lessons she learned along the way. This is an important memoir for librarians and library employees. Any reader, as well as those employed in the criminal justice field, may learn something from this memoir.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Outlander series by Diana Galbadon

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I’m pretty sure that the majority of America knows about the TV show, Outlander. Most people have been introduced to Jamie and Claire through Starz hit show, including me, an avid reader who must read the book before watching adaptations. However, that wasn’t the case with Outlander. I was three episodes in before I discovered that this awesome TV show was a book, and not just one book but an eight-book series! So I stopped watching and picked up the first book from my library.

I was hooked from the very beginning. Claire visits Craigh na Dun, a stone circle near Inverness, with her husband Frank.  She ends up falling through the stones to 18th Century Scotland, arriving on the eve of what would become known as the Rising of 45, the last of the Jacobite rebellions. This set up gave my adult self what my childhood history nerd self could only dream about, traveling back in time to witness first hand a historical event. And it is set during one of my favorite periods of history, the Scottish Highlands before 1745.

The Clans system, still intact, plays a strong role in the storyline and how the characters interact with each other. Claire, a modern woman, is definitely not prepared for the past. Soon after arrival, she is rescued from Black Jack Randall (her husband Frank’s ancestor) by a ragtag group of Highlanders led by Jamie Frasier. Jamie Fraser is pretty much a man of the 18th Century. He’s used to the mild and submissive women of his time, not one as strong-willed and slightly foul-mouthed as Claire.

These two seem the least likely to fall in love. Love, at first sight, it is not; Claire can’t stand his old fashioned views and he calls her “Sassenach,” meaning “outlander” or “outsider” as an insult. Eventually, this turns to a term of endearment. The two become part of a hasty marriage to protect Claire from the English, but it’s not a happily ever after. Claire gets sent back through the stones and the couple ends up being separated by over two centuries.

While Outlander is the love story of Jamie and Claire it is also a family saga of survival. Both Claire and Jamie survive a war and terrible times but still manage to find each other again, as well as expand their family through blood, marriage, and adoption. Outlander was Jamie and Claire’s love story while Dragonfly in Amber is the story of war and how they became separated. The follow-up installment, Voyager, is the story of how they find each other again. Drums of Autumn, my favorite book in the series, is the story of their family, blood or otherwise.

The series has something for everyone – history, time-travel, romance, and adventure – which is what made the series so enjoyable for me. When I read historical fiction I don’t mind romance but I don’t want it to take over the story. I want the history of the time to play a role as well as a nice balance. Gabaldon does that well you can tell that she does her research on the period  before sitting down to write. Each book is filled with rich historical detail that translates well to the screen.

If you’ve read the books and enjoyed them I would recommend watching the show. Keep in mind the show is an adaption of the books, so scenes may differ. If you’ve only seen the show and are experiencing Outlander withdrawal (a.k.a. Droughtlander), I would highly recommend reading the books. The library has copies of the first eight books as well as the DVDs of the first three series.

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Mystery Book Discussion Group

Do you like reading Mysteries? Do enjoy discussing what you’ve read but can’t find anyone to discuss them with? Then come to the Mystery Book Discussion Group at the Main Library where we discuss a different mystery every month.

We meet on the third Tuesday of the month from 2:00 pm  to 3:00 pm in the Boardroom on the second floor of the North Building.

Dates and selections for the first six months of 2019 are:

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

What would you do if you discovered a skull while working in your garden? Well, that’s what happens to Julie Hamill in The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen. Finding that skull causes a whole of drama for Julie when the forensic team finds the rest of the skeleton. But there’s good news the skeleton according to the forensic anthropologist has been there for at least two hundred years; meaning Julie garden and yard isn’t a crime scene. However, this discovery leads Julie on a quest to find a relative of the previous owner. Once she meets him she gets sucked into trying to solve a two-hundred-year-old mystery surrounding her house and the family of the previous owner.

What Julie discovers leads her to another mystery in 1830’s Boston, this time a series of murders. When Irish immigrant Rose Connolly witnesses a murder not realizing that it is tied to her own sister’s death in childbirth. That seems eerily like Jack the Ripper has crossed the Atlantic. A group of medical students including Oliver Wendell Holmes and the fictional Norris Marshall realizes that Rose could be the next victim, Norris does everything he can to protect her. After “meeting” Rose Julie is determined to find out what happened to her as well as solving the mystery of the skeleton in the garden.

Tess Gerritsen does an awesome balancing both mysteries the murders in the 1830’s and the mystery of the skeleton and the house in the present. Each mystery is given the right amount of book time, and unlike other novels, with dual time periods, The Bone Garden doesn’t switch time periods with every chapter. They switch when the narrative needs the switch and it just flows into the next time period. She blends the historical characters such as Oliver Wendell Holmes in with fictional characters allowing them to co-exist in a fictional mystery.

Fans of Tess’s other books – as well as fans of the history, science, and mysteries in general – will enjoy this tale.

Formats Available: Regular Type, Large Type, Paperback, Audiobook, eBook

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, the first book in a new series, finds archaeologist Ruth Galloway entangled in a murder case; something she didn’t quite want. Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson shows up at Ruth’s office because the police think they have found the body of Lucy Downey, a young girl who had been missing for ten years. Unfortunate for the police, but an awesome find for Ruth, the body is actually that of an Iron Age girl.

However, Ruth’s expertise draws her deeper into the case when another young girl goes missing.  Then Inspector Nelson starts getting letters again much like the ones he received when Lucy Downey first went missing. Nelson shows them to Ruth because he hopes that she can help him divine what clues they might hold.

I didn’t know what to expect with The Crossing Places going in because I tend to read cozy mysteries. I hadn’t picked up an actual crime novel or forensic mystery since I graduated college with my Criminal Justice degree. I went into this one completely on a whim (other than the fact that I picked it for my February mystery book discussion). I figured the police, the archaeologist, and a forensic plot would be a change for the group.

After reading The Crossing Places, I felt that Galloway and Nelson are something of a British version of Bones, but better. I was never able to get into the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs, which Bones is based on. With The Crossing Places, I didn’t seem to have that problem. I guess it’s because I love BBC dramas and mysteries so much, and this book reminded me of them.

Right now the Ruth Galloway series is a 10 book series, of which the library currently has books 1-9. I look forward to the next book in the series, The Janus Stone.

Formats Available: Book, eBook

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry is a retelling of the story of Peter Pan with a unique twist with the premise that J.M. Barrie got it wrong.  This book takes the view that all is not what it seems in Neverland.  Most retellings of the story of Peter Pan don’t stray too far from the original.  This one does, it turns the original story on its head. Lost Boy makes you question everything you thought you knew about Peter Pan and Captain Hook.

It makes you rethink who’s the villain of the story and who’s the hero.

This story isn’t told from Peter’s point of view or even Wendy’s or any of the Darling children’s. No, it’s told from the point of view of Captain Hook, who in this story is known as Jamie. In this tale he’s not the fearsome Captain Hook, he’s just a young boy and Peter’s friend. According to Christina Henry’s version, Jamie is the first lost boy that Peter bought to Neverland the one that started it all.

I enjoyed Lost Boy more than I thought I would.  Going into it I didn’t think that would be the case due in part to the fact that most Peter Pan retellings just repeat the original story but with twist and turns.  This one took the story in a whole new direction, one that I’ve wanted to read for years after seeing Hook as a child.  Even as a child I just knew there was more to the story than what Barrie had revealed.

Every retelling that I’ve read in the last few years has fallen flat.  Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen was from Hook’s point of view but was still missing something vital.  Never Never by Brianna Shrum, while a good and quick read, was still too much like the original story for me.  Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell was a retelling that becomes too much a fantasy for me, but if I had known it was a fantasy going into it I probably would have liked it better.

Lost Boy gave me everything that I was looking for in a retelling of my favorite childhood story from the viewpoint that I wanted. Unlike most kids’ intro to Peter Pan being the Disney movie mine was the actual book by J.M. Barrie. Even as a small child, Peter Pan scared me more than the Pirate Captain James Hook. To me, Hook’s not the villain of the story.  He never was.

Formats Available: Book

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Girl in Disguise

Girl in Disguise by Greer MacAllister is a novel about the first female Pinkerton agent, Kate Warne, whose real life is almost stranger than fiction. I first discovered Kate in a Netflix show called the Pinkerton’s. I did the proper library assistant thing and researched her. Not only was she  the first female Pinkerton detective she also lead the women’s detective bureau part of the agency. Not much is known about her before she become a Pinkerton agent, leaving both historians and novelist alike to wonder who Kate Warne was.

Greer MacAllister breathes life into her own version of Kate’s history before she becomes a Pinkerton agent. The novel sucked me into the story and Kate’s world from the first chapter. It  begins in 1856 and continues through the Civil War but ends soon after the Civil War. Greer gives her own spin to a few of Kate’s actual cases as a Pinkerton, including cases that may or may not have been real. One of the most nerve racking and nail biting parts of the book  is her working to get Lincoln to Washington without him being killed before being sworn in as President. This is based on Kate’s most famous case as a Pinkerton.

It’s hard to put Girl in Disguise into a genre category even though the library had it classified as general fiction. To me it is a bit of biographical fiction and historical fiction with a bit of mystery thrown in. Fans of historical fiction, mystery, biographical fiction, detective fiction will enjoy this book. Kate Warne proves that sometimes life can be more mysterious than fiction.

Formats Available: Book, eBook

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

The Book Jumper

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser is a novel translated from the author’s native German, and while it is a teen novel most book lovers would love it. Amy Lennox grew up not knowing anything about her mother’s family or anything about their unique ability. Amy has always been a bookworm so to her reading is an escape, a way to visit new worlds without leaving home. But when she and her mother return to Scotland for the summer Amy discovers that her family reads books differently from other people; they are book jumpers.

As a book jumper Amy discovers that books can indeed take you to new worlds, in the sense that you can end up in the middle of the story. The books come alive around you. But you don’t become part of the story, you can’t, because the first rule that Amy learns is that a book jumper must protect the stories. Don’t do anything to change the story. It cannot change its path.

But Amy discovers that someone or something is trying to change the stories. At first everyone wants to blame her because she’s new to the island. The only one who believes her is fellow book jumper Will. Will agrees to help her get to the bottom of the mystery. But in the process the two end up on an adventure neither saw coming.

The book starts out slow but once Amy and her mom go to Scotland the story picks up and becomes a page turner from then on.

   Formats Available: Book

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library