It never ceases to amaze me that every other day, it seems, there’s a new story in the media about something being bad for you. Or good. Sometimes the same thing is bad one day and good next time you hear about it (or vice versa). So, I was eager to check out a clever flip-over book, Bad News About What’s Good for You/Good News About What’s Bad for You by Jeff Wilser. Wilser writes mostly for magazines but has four books to his credit as well. This one combines two of my favorite things: information and humor.

How can it be that coffee/wine/nuts/fat/you-name-it is bad for you? No, wait, good for you? No, wait. . . A lot of it can be explained by the simple fact that television and radio outlets are constantly on the alert for “the latest thing” to grab our attention. Unfortunately, it seems that the two best ways to grab our attention are one, fear and two, easy answers. So, if they can scare you with “how coffee is killing you,” works for them. If, a month or two later, they can tout “drinking three cups of coffee a day cures everything that ails you,” there you go. So, easy enough to understand the motivation behind the good for you/bad for you “news” cycling constantly, but how do they make the claims? Our old friend statistics.

As Disraeli (according to Mark Twain) said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Other books I’ve read (like Freakonomics and its kin and the previously reviewed Less Medicine, More Health have opened my eyes to the ways that data can be twisted like a pretzel to make a point, whether it’s valid or not. There’s a lot of that going on with the good/bad information out there. Small, sometimes tiny, studies are used as proof that something is good or bad, never mind that only 100 cases were looked at. Failure to account for other factors shows up a lot. Maybe the fact that people who floss regularly have better health is tied, not so much to flossing, but to those who floss regularly also being higher on the socioeconomic scale and able to afford better food. Or maybe flossers also tend to have something else in common which improves their health like eating less sugar to avoid dental decay. At any rate, there’s a lot of bad science out there being used to persuade us to eat/do one thing or avoid another.

So, you say, could you be specific? What’s good/bad/who-knows-which for you? Let’s take the aforementioned coffee. For years, we were warned against coffee, particularly the pernicious caffeine it contains. Heaven knows why coffee/caffeine was so condemned since, it turns out, that coffee (in reasonable amounts, mind you) can have some really positive health effects. Lowering the incidence of oral cancer and Type II diabetes, improving long-term memory, and an overall decrease of 10% in death rates. Wow! Sounds pretty good! Well, at least until the next study comes out.

On the other side, how about something we all know is good for us? Stepping away from food (hard as that may be for me), we’ll look at something I’ve read about in the aforementioned Less Medicine, More Health. The we-all-know-it’s-best annual physical. Weren’t we all taught in health class in school that we should all get an annual physical? It’s the “gold standard” of health care, right? Catch it early, get it fixed in the best case. Worst case? Spending a few dollars and a little time to find out nothing’s wrong, right? Well. . . Not so fast. There can be distinct downsides to annual physicals and arrays of tests. False positives lead to unnecessary tests and treatments that can cause real harm in addition to simple unnecessary worry. I’m not saying (nor is the author or any responsible party) that you should never see a doctor. If you have symptoms or a family history that warrants concern, by all means seek medical advice and help. If, on the other hand, you live healthily, feel well, have no symptoms and no genetic predispositions to worry about, take the annual physical off your to-do list. Or not. Maybe next week there will be a study proving that annual physicals would save 100,000 lives a year. I guess we’ll just have to wait and watch the news.

Well-written, informative and amusing, I recommend Bad News/Good News to get the info on kale, red wine, yoga, procrastination and apologizing and a plethora of other things that are bad for you. Or good.

 

I didn’t set out to be a “weird book” reviewer, but I guess that’s what I’ve been drawn to lately. It’s been fun reading books that take typical plots and turn them sideways. I’ve always been a SciFi fan, so getting to read weird, award-winning SciFi made me a happy reviewer.

In 2014, author Jeff VanderMeer released three books, all part of the Southern Reach Trilogy. These books quickly gained some notoriety in the SciFi world and Mr. VanderMeer won both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson award that year. I heard that a movie was going to be made based on the books and sat down to find out what all the fuss was about.

Thankfully, the trilogy is pretty short–about 900 pages. I found them both entertaining and compelling and couldn’t put them down. A quick word of warning: this trilogy is not for people who need every loose end tied up by the last page of the book. You will have lots of questions and pretty much none of them will be answered.

What I can tell you is that there is a place known as the Southern Reach, which is somewhere in Florida. The area is infected with some kind of alien life form and can keep things out if it chooses, but humankind has found a way in and has sent in expeditions to explore the growing infection. These expeditions never end well, but the government keeps sending them anyway.

Annihilation is the first of the trilogy. A team of four women – an anthropologist, surveyor, biologist, and psychologist – are exploring the Southern Reach. The Biologist and her team discover an underground silo filled with ominous writing. They also explore a lighthouse, which holds secrets about the previous missions and their outcomes.

The Biologist’s fears about the expedition are brought to light when she realizes that the Psychologist is using hypnotism to control the group. After the Anthropologist goes missing, the mission falls apart completely. Fighting the very team she was supposed to trust, the Biologist must find a way to survive the swamps of the Southern Reach and the horrific creatures she discovers there.

Very little about the history of the Southern Reach and the previous expeditions is revealed in Annihilation. We only know what the Biologist knows, but she barely trusts herself. I think it was the list of questions I had about just what was really going on that propelled me through the next two books in the series.

Authority takes place after the events of Annihilation. A new Director for the Southern Reach facility arrives. This man, who prefers to be called Control, is a hugely conflicted character. As he interacts with the Biologist, Control begins to discover that he has been misled about the purpose of the Southern Reach and the experiments that have gone on there. He begins to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the previous Director and finds that she may have had a deeper connection to the Southern Reach than anyone realized.

Acceptance, the final book, takes place as a prequel. The point of view jumps back and forth between several characters and pieces together what the Southern Reach was like before explorations, clone-monsters, and glow-in-the-dark lighthouse keepers. There are several plots that are explored in Acceptance and they each serve to give us more information about the characters and stories that hold the previous two books together.

While Mr. VanderMeer had a great opportunity to answer all our questions in Acceptance, he chose not to. Instead, he uses the trilogy to explore human nature and what we might do when we’re faced with an unknowable entity. If you like wacky, weird fiction without answers, this should be right up your alley.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's library

A couple of months ago a member of the library Board of Trustees told me I should read “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein.

Since this was one of my bosses telling me to read this book, what else could I do? I put myself on the holds list for it.

Although it’s written for 8-12 year olds, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is also a nominee title for the Missouri Mark Twain Book Award (a children’s choice award sponsored by the Missouri Association of School Librarians).

Alexandriaville, Ohio, has not had a public library for 12 years. Its library had been torn down to make room for a downtown elevated parking garage.

Enter bazillionaire Luigi Lemoncello. Eccentric in an extreme Willy Wonka-ish sort of way, Lemoncello has made his bazillions of dollars by creating games and puzzles as oddly creative as their maker.

The public library made a difference in Lemoncello’s life, especially the year he was 12 years old. So, he has built Alexandriaville a new public library. It is not just any library. We are talking state-of-the-art fancy with many current and only imagined library technologies.

This library features a large domed room where The Wonder Dome has sections of high-definition video screens lining the dome like orange wedges. The Dome can become the constellations of the night sky, or make viewers feel the whole building is lifting off the ground, or even represent the different sections of the Dewey Decimal System.

The library contains holograms, audio-animatronic characters, hover ladders that float patrons directly to the book they want, an IMAX theater, an electronic learning center and interactive dioramas.

The library even has an automated book sorter (finally, something the new Joplin Public Library will have!) that checks in and sorts books after they have been returned. There are computer labs, and gaming labs, and anything and everything that can be fathomed. Smell-a-vision? Yep, it’s here.

Kyle Keeley, 12 years old, loves games of all sorts. He also likes winning games. He doesn’t particularly like to read, however, unless it is an instruction or hint guide to a video game.

There is an essay contest for 12 year olds. Twelve will be selected as winners to attend a library lock-in before the grand opening. They will get to experience all the goodies that Lemoncello has put in the new library.

As one of the essay winners, Kyle joins a cast of varied characters, including the requisite villain, the nerd, the cheerleader and others.

Little do these 12 year olds know that the lock-in isn’t the real purpose of the event. The real purpose is a game that is a weird twist between “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Hunger Games,” but “with lots of food and no bows and arrows.” The true game of the weekend is to find the secret exit, a way to get OUT of the library.

The children must figure out a puzzle that tells them where to find the secret exit. They have to figure out what are clues to the puzzle, and then solve what these clues mean. The book integrates information on library use (online catalogs, the Dewey Decimal System, the helpfulness of librarians), along with puzzles and word games to solve.

The author weaves in references to around 100 different books, both for children and adults.

It is a wild and wacky ride through the library. Some adults who’ve read the book haven’t enjoyed it, but this one certainly did. I listened to the audio book, yet found when I checked out the print copy that I missed out on some of the visual puzzle clues.

Joplin Public Library has this book in print, audio and download. Grabenstein has a new Mr. Lemoncello library book that just came out, “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics.” It will be available soon.

Joplin’s own new library is scheduled to begin its general construction this week. There will be a construction camera on site where you can watch the progress of your new library building, fabulous in its own right, but not as wacky as Mr. Lemoncello’s. Watch the website (www.joplinpubliclibrary.org) for the camera link.

While I usually review books I’ve read, I thought for my first article of the new year, it might be fun to preview books I plan on reading in the upcoming months. When looking at my want-to-read list, the quote “so many books, so little time” comes to mind.

Working at the library, I often find myself intrigued by the books patrons bring up to check out and also come across titles in the stacks that pique my interest. The library offers a handy feature in that you can put a book on your hold list and suspend it, saving it for a later date if you don’t have time to read it now. Unfortunately, I find myself putting way too many titles on it if I ever want to catch up.

The following books are ones that I didn’t find time to read in 2015 but I plan on making time for in 2016. This is just small sampling of the books I plan on reading from the library. I won’t even go into the multitude of stacks sitting in my house that I’ve bought but not yet read.

First on my list is Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemede. This title caught my attention by being listed on different sites as a must-read new title. In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a young orphan in the Hebrew Infant Home where Dr. Solomon is performing dangerous x-ray experiments on its inhabitants. Years later, still suffering from the results, Rachel is a nurse in a hospice wing where she discovers Dr. Solomon is now a patient. What price is she willing to pay to exact justice for herself and the other orphans?

As a fan of a multitude of mysteries, I’m always interested to find a new author or series. The library has received a first book in what could be a very interesting mystery genre. Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton is about a nun in New Mexico who gets a visit from a police officer. Her father, once a police captain but now a private investigator, is recovering from surgery and needs her help. Sister Eve finds herself taking on his latest case. This sounds like it could be a fun start to a promising series.

Geraldine Brooks’ newest title, The Secret Chord, has sat on my list for longer than it should. A historical Christian fiction book, it covers King David’s rise from lowly shepherd boy to beloved king, his journey to murderous ruler and his remorseful descent into a diminished dotage. As a fan of Year of Wonders and March by Brooks, I’m sure this latest title should be an outstanding read, and I plan on putting it towards the top of my list.

Even though there is an ever-growing list of new books coming out that I want to read, occasionally I find myself working my way through old favorites. The Shannara series by Terry Brooks is one that has reawakened a craving. After re-reading The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara is waiting its turn to be picked up again. For anyone looking for a series similar to The Lord of the Rings, Terry Brooks will fit the bill. Filled with elves, dwarfs, orcs, goblins and the ever-present struggle of good against evil, these novels are an absolute treat. Sometimes there is nothing better than settling down with a good book that you’ve read before and you know will be a comforting treat.

Finally, I find myself working my way through classics that I haven’t yet had the pleasure to enjoy. Edna Ferber is an often underappreciated author, and So Big is on my to-read list. This book, considered Ferber’s best work, covers the highs and lows of Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century. So Big follows the life of Selina Peake DeJong, daughter of a gambler, who tries to maintain her family, sanity and dignity in the face of overwhelming challenges.

Until Publisher’s Clearing House shows up with my check, I will have to balance my reading time with my job and other responsibilities. But all of these books, along with many others, are ones I look forward to reading this upcoming year. These titles are all available for checkout at the Joplin Public Library.

For children in grades 4 through 8
seventh
Thirteen-year-old Arthur Owens misses his dad, who was recently killed in a motorcycle accident, and while his mother may have been ready to pack up and clean out his things, Arthur was not. So when he sees the man everyone refers to as the “Junk Man” going through their garbage and wearing his dad’s favorite hat, he picks up a brick and throws it at him.

Thankfully, the “Junk Man” is not seriously injured, but Arthur is sent to juvenile detention and when he is finally released he is so happy to be home it is hard for him to think about facing Judge Warner—the judge who will decide his punishment.

On court day, Arthur learns the “Junk Man” is named James Hampton—a man he barely recognizes in dress clothes. And while Judge Warner is a hardcore, unsympathetic figure looking for an appropriate punishment for Arthur, Mr. Hampton surprises everyone when he steps in and convinces the judge of a more redemptive opportunity for Arthur—120 community service hours to be served working for Mr. Hampton.

On his first day of community service Arthur is barely able to locate Mr. Hampton’s workshop and upon arrival finds Mr. Hampton’s rickety cart and a note instructing him to gather the Seven Most Important Things—light bulbs, foil, mirrors, pieces of wood, glass bottles, coffee cans, and cardboard.

Arthur is shocked and appalled to be going through peoples’ garbage, but after just a few weekends of community service he learns Mr. Hampton is working on something much bigger than collecting garbage.

Other reviewers describe Shelley Pearsall’s work as luminescent, remarkable, excellent, and moving; and while one is hard pressed to find a better descriptor, stunning fits nicely into the group. Pearsall’s masterpiece explores friendship, family, love, and the important lesson of “not judging a book by its cover.” Her ability to parcel the story out will hook readers and combined with her interesting and well-fleshed out characters there is not a chance of putting this book down until the endnotes about the real James Hampton have been read and studied.

I would have loved to tell you a little about the latest Lee Child novel, Make Me, but it has proven so popular I have yet to read it. Since I have to wait my turn for the print edition, I turned to our eBook collection to see if I could get it there.

Alas that hold list is even longer but I did discover some new Reacher material in the form of novellas. The digital format has made it easier and more profitable to publish novellas. At around 100 pages it’s a great way for the author to flesh out the character or give backstory.

Right now you’ll find 5 Lee Child novellas and most feature the character at a much younger age. In Second Son Jack Reacher is 13 years old and his family is alive and well. His dad, Captain Stan Reacher, has just been transferred to a Marine base in Okinawa. The whole family, his wife Josephine and sons Joe and Reacher, soon follow.

The story covers just the first few days in their new surroundings but you get a glimpse of what life was like for Reacher (even at 13 he was just Reacher) living on military bases. His size makes him a target. But, as in the novels, the bullies are no match for his analytical mind and powers of observation.

One steamy New York City night is the setting for High Heat. It’s the summer before his 17th birthday and Reacher is on his way to see Joe at West Point, after a stop in the Big Apple. The Yankees aren’t in town so Reacher goes in search of music and maybe a coed willing to spend some time with him.

The heat has driven most people inside so he is the only one to see Jill Hemingway being slapped. Just like his size and mind, his sense of justice was finely honed at a young age so he doesn’t hesitate to intervene.

The slapper is a mobster, Jill is a suspended FBI agent and Reacher just made the wrong guy mad. As in the first novella historical events play into the story. His mother is worried about the Son of Sam killer and the 1977 blackout hits at a most opportune moment. And he did find a pretty coed willing to spend some time with him.

In Deep Down Reacher is well into his career as a MP. He is called to Washington D.C. to do some undercover work for the Pentagon. A new sniper rifle is being discussed in a pre-committee committee meeting. Congressional staffers, 4 liaison officers and 2 snipers form the committee. One of them is feeding the specs being discussed to a foreign manufacturer.

It is Reacher’s job to find which liaison officer is sending the specs overseas. This is a really quick read, almost more of a short story than a novella. With a few twists added in it could have been turned into a novel. Instead the tension builds to a quick resolution then it ends.

I’m waiting to read the other 2 novellas but I can tell you Small Wars has Reacher at Fort Smith investigating the death of an officer. He gets help from his brother Joe and Sergeant Neagley.

Not a Drill is the only novella that takes place in the time frame of most of the novels, post-military. Reacher has hitched a ride with some young Canadians on their way to Maine. Leaving him in town the Canadians set off to hike through the wilderness. When the trail they take is closed and the military police show up, trouble has once again found Reacher.

The next time you are stuck waiting for the new title in a favorite series try reading the novellas. Since they are such quick reads even a print lover like me didn’t mind reading the digital version.

NovelistRoss McCammon is a senior editor at “Esquire” magazine and he has written a useful (and amusing) guide to getting ahead in the workplace. While “” is primarily directed at upscale office professionals, anyone should find a useful tip or two. I’d recommend this to anyone starting out in the working world and anyone who just thinks “I’m missing something here,” at work.

McCammon illustrates most of his points with tales from his own past, cutting himself little slack. Yup, he’s made some boneheaded moves in the past, but he’s got an excellent handle on things now and is eager to share so that others can avoid embarrassing themselves and/or placing their careers in jeopardy.

Sprinkled among the anecdotes of “how I did this wrong and how you can do it better” are a number of alleged quizzes. I say alleged because they are almost entirely tongue-in-cheek, although some may provoke an “A-ha” moment or nod of recognition.

There are fifty-two short chapters, mostly two or three pages, including “Classic Interview Rules, Plus One More,” “How to Enter a Room, ”What to Say When Someone Asks for Your Take on the Oeuvre of Werner Herzog at Dinner with Your Brand-New Colleagues and You Don’t Know Who Werner Herzog Is,” “Why Strident Postures on Social Media Are, at the End of the Day, Probably a Bad Idea—Especially If You’re Looking for a Job,” ”How to Give a Toast,” followed immediately by “Things You Should Never Say While Giving a Toast.” The titles give an excellent idea of the flavor of the book. If this sort of humor appeals to you, you’re in for a treat. If you don’t care for smart-alecky humor, you won’t enjoy the book nearly as much as I did, but you could still find some helpful advice.

Here, in its entirely, is Chapter 49, “Two Beers and a Puppy: A Helpful Test for Determining How You Feel About Someone.” “Two beers and a puppy” is a test that I developed while working on an “Esquire” story on the American “son of a bitch.” The test is: In order to find out how you actually feel about someone, ask yourself, “Would I have two beers with this person? And: “Would I allow this person to look after my puppy over a weekend?”

Some people are no and no. These people are to be avoided at all costs. Some people are yes and no. These people are to be cautiously trusted. Some people are no and yes. These people are no fun but they make the world a better place—for puppies, especially. And some people are yes and yes. These people are wonderful people and your life and work are better for having them in your life. Seek them out. Collaborate with them. Enjoy their company.”

By the way, don’t skip the appendices (or the introduction, for that matter). More of McCammon’s useful and/or funny stuff here, including “How to Pronounce the Names of Scotches,” (useful if you’re a big-city business person, I’m sure) and “Rules I Never Got To,” which are one or two sentence rules that are funny and useful.

There is “adult” language here and there, and some of the humor is a bit strained, but I found it mostly humorous where intended and think it would be useful to anyone who has to work with others (which is pretty much all of us, one way or another). The library has both print and audiobook versions available.

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