Book Reviews

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In Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, we get four stories: the histories of apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. You might not think the story of a plant would be very compelling, but as our Plaza Branch Barista’s Book Club learned, Pollan intrigues readers through careful management of historical facts, research, and personal anecdotes.

Pollan, a journalist, author, and food activist, follows the co-evolution of each plant with humans – how they interact, how they have affected one another, and how that affects the world – using the framework of four human desires: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and food.

Ever had a friend who would blurt out all the wrong things at the all the wrong times and yet was always funny in a screwball sort of way? That describes the wacky vibe and self-deprecating tone of Jen Lancaster’s new memoir, My Fair Lazy.

In her amusing fifth book, titled My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto, Lancaster decides to put down the remote on reality TV and focus on “an emergency cultural makeover,” or as she alternately calls it, “a Jenaissance.”

This true story begins when Lancaster meets her idol and fellow writer, Candace Bushnell, of Sex and the City fame. In a conversation between the two, Lancaster realizes she embarrassingly doesn’t have much to discuss past the latest episode of The Bachelor.

As the pages turn and Lancaster’s fast-food, couch-potato, trash-TV lifestyle painfully blossoms into a cosmopolitan success, she discovers new restaurants, enjoys fine wines, goes to live theater, takes in various music forms and eclectic art styles, and even reads classic literature.

Leo Tolstoy

At about 1,400 pages (depending on the translation), War and Peace is quite a challenge. The weak of heart, or those who suffer easily from eye strain, need not apply themselves to this work. That said, Leo Tolstoy’s epic is well worth the effort.

This historical novel is set in the early 19th century, during Russia’s wars with Napoleon. Covering about a decade’s time (from about 1805 to 1815), the novel treats about a dozen main characters, exploring how they are affected by the wars and the peace that separates and follows the wars.

What distinguishes this novel from other historical novels dealing with the same period, such as Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey series or Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, is the depth of Tolstoy’s exploration of his characters’ lives and the way in which they are woven into the fabric of the history of those times. This is not simply an historical novel, but a meditation on history, using fiction to tell history.

The Feed by Mira Grant

This year I have the great honor of being a member of the American Library Association’s national committee to pick the best genre books of the year for the award called The Reading List. I am spending my year reading brand-new books in seven different genres and am, along with my committee members, trying to find the year’s best-of-the-best in Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Women's Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery and Horror.  

I thought I would begin with Horror since, until I started on this committee, I was sure I didn’t like horror. Imagine my surprise when I found that Horror has grown and now includes many categories that I had never thought of before. In fact, I find that I am really enjoying many of the books I’ve been assigned to read, especially the post-apocalyptic stories.

Now, after reading these novels, my biggest question has become “Why are the only survivors of an apocalypse always under the age of 25?”Granted, I have taken Facebook quizzes that suggest I have the survival skills of a kumquat but really, is it so much to ask that I be allowed to survive the apocalypse so that I, too, can be eaten by horrific, genetically engineered bugs?

Without further ado -- and in alphabetical order -- here's my list of the year’s best Horror, along with links to the books in our catalog, when applicable.

The survivors of the Lawrence Massacre are featured in a new book.

Of William Quantrill, the Reverend H.D. Fisher wrote: “In him were represented courage and cowardice; successful leadership, intrigue, cunning, desperation, revenge and hate, all to a marked degree.” Fisher would have known, too – Quantrill nearly killed him.

Fisher was one of the survivors of the 1863 guerrilla raid on Lawrence, Kansas, that left 180 dead and much of the town burned to the ground. A new book by a local scholar examines how the survivors of the Lawrence Massacre rebuilt their town and their lives.

Lawrence historian Katie Armitage comes to the Central Library on Sunday, August 29, at 2 p.m. to discuss her new book, Lawrence Survivors of Quantrill’s Raid. The event is free and open to the public; RSVP here to reserve a seat.

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