Book Reviews

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After reading The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir of her dysfunctional, impoverished childhood, you can’t help but have certain expectations of her latest book, Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel. You want to know why her mother, Rose Mary Walls, turned out to be such a neglectful, bereft parent. You want to know why in the world Rose Mary would marry such a ne`er do well. Walls, however, holds these questions at bay with an almost unbelievable story of her grandmother, Lily Casey, told in first-person. 

Members of the Plaza’s Barista Book Group, which read this book in January, all agreed that Lily Casey was really something else. The opening of the book gives you quick insight into the indomitable spirit of Lily Casey, who at 8-years-old is ushering her siblings into a tree to protect them from an oncoming flood. Lily devises a game to keep them awake throughout the night until the flood waters subside.  

If God is good and loving, why does He allow so much suffering? Why does God let our loved ones die but allows others to live and prosper? Why does He remain silent and leave our most urgent prayers unanswered? These are the faith-testing questions posed in Lynn Austin’s latest historical-fiction novel, While We’re Far Apart.

Set in a Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, in 1943, three characters’ stories intersect as World War II progresses and life on the home front becomes more and more difficult.

An elderly Jewish landlord, Jacob Mendel, grieves the death of his wife in a car accident, as his son, Avraham is trapped in a war-ravaged Hungary. 12-year-old Esther Shaffer is angry at her father, Eddie, who decides to enlist in the army right after the loss of his wife. Penny Goodrich, desperately in love with Eddie, volunteers to take care of Eddie’s children in hopes that he will eventually return her love and marry her.

Jacob isolates himself from the outside world, spending most of his time listening to the news and searching for the whereabouts of his son. Penny takes on the challenging responsibility of raising resentful Esther and Peter, while starting a new job as a bus driver. Without the presence of her parents, Esther experiences loneliness, the growing pains of a teenager, and the fear of losing her father to the war.

Americans across the nation frequently profess their love for their country with football, hot dogs, fireworks, and country music. But the U.S. is a country known for its wide-open spaces and all-of-a-kind populace. There’s always been more to love about our home than the Super Bowl, Chevrolet, and Route 66.

Barbara and Brent Bowers and Agnes and Henry Gottlieb – all with serious journalistic cred – have compiled 1,000 Things to Love About America. Counting down from 1,000 to 1, this book runs the gamut, from expected objets d’affection like the Empire State Building, to the je ne say what? of Yogiisms (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”).

Wondering which bits and pieces deserve your heart? How about #871: Mysterious Disappearances? Ambrose Bierce did a fade out sometime in 1913 while following Pancho Villa. Amelia Earhart entered the cloud somewhere over the Pacific in 1937. D.B. Cooper tried walking on sunshine after hijacking a 727 in 1971, but the bag of cash he took with him when he jumped from the plane probably weighed him down.

For her Winter Reading video book review, Megan Garrett, librarian at the Sugar Creek Branch, talks about a future where children are no longer born and society is collapsing. That's the story behind P.D. James' harrowing but hopeful dystopian novel, The Children of Men.

The annual Adult Winter Reading Program runs from January 10 – March 13, 2011, at all Kansas City Public Library locations. The 2011 program offers a chance to win a Nook e-reader as well as the opportunity to see Winter Reading featured author Jasper Fforde in person on March 17 at the Plaza Branch, where he will discuss his new book, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing.

Terrance Hayes’ latest collection of poetry, Lighthead, is an exploration of past and present, lightness and dark. The poems are lithe and fresh. They draw the reader close, seductively, before introducing a grain of truth, uncomfortable or inexpressible, that can’t quite be quantified.

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