Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

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Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

I’m going to be frank with you: I loved Be Frank With Me. This debut novel is engaging, unexpected, and touchingly sweet without ever crossing the line into saccharine.

The gist of the story is this: young editorial peon Alice is dispatched from her New York publishing house to be the personal assistant to famous reclusive author M.M. Banning. When she arrives at Banning’s L.A. mansion, she discovers that “personal assistant” actually means nanny to the author’s eccentric nine-year-old son, Frank.

Frank is the heart of this book, and the reason it is so good. He is a genius who can rattle off facts about almost any topic under the sun, but has trouble relating to other people. (The author never describes Frank as having an autism-spectrum disorder, but that is the way I understood him.) He also chooses to dress in fancy, old-fashioned clothes–he is the only nine-year-old in the world who prefers zoot suits to t-shirts. I think I enjoyed Frank so much because I was once a version of him: a self-contained, precocious child who lived very much in the world of my own mind. I cherish the Franks who come to my desk at the library and tell me all about their interests in dinosaurs, or Civil War battlefields, or (Frank’s particular pet topic) old movies. As another character in the book pointed out, kids like Frank are the ones who as adults will become the world’s great thinkers, inventors, leaders.

It takes time for Frank and Alice to adapt to one another, but once they do they are fast friends. Watching the two of them navigate this rich relationship that neither of them wanted is one of the joys of the novel, and their hilarious adventures around Los Angeles had me giggling as I turned the pages. But when a tragedy strikes the Banning family, Alice is the one left in charge of keeping things together and taking care of Frank. I would spoil the ending if I told you the eventual outcome of Alice’s sojourn as assistant-cum-nanny, but it is both satisfying and appropriate. When I finished Be Frank With Me, I had plenty of warm fuzzies.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC JOHNSON)

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy and Wing Young Huie

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Reviewed by Jane Oliver-Purton (Library Staff)

Seldom do I find a nonfiction children’s book that warrants an Ink Drinker review, but this book does. With all the talk these days about immigrants and immigration, “the wall” and who should or should not enter the United States, one of the world’s most successful melting pots, it is important and necessary to read a book like this and to remember that most of our families came from somewhere else. This slim volume of pictures and simple statements about why we came and where we came from shows us that though some of us have been in America for generations, we need to respect the determination and commitment of those whose emigrations have been more recent. As the first sentence of the book says, “My family came here from far away… because they dreamed of more.” As did we all.

Located in Children Nonfiction (J 305.9 COY)

Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan

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Reviewed by Stephanie R (Library Staff)

2015 was the 100th birthday of one Francis Albert Sinatra. What better way to celebrate than to read Sinatra: The Chairman, the brilliant follow-up to Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan? Picking up immediately where the previous volume left off, The Chairman sees Frank, once dejected and a Hollywood pariah, at the top of his game after winning the Oscar for From Here to Eternity. The scope of Kaplan’s work is staggering and the details fascinating. Whether listening to the brilliant audio CD or reading this impressive tome, you are in for a treat and an in-depth history of one of Hollywood’s biggest enigmas.

Available through the BRIDGES Library System

Before I Forget by B. Smith and Dan Gasby

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Reviewed by Pat Plamann (Library Staff)

B. Smith, beautiful model, chef, restaurant owner, cookbook author, and more, is married to Dan, her manager; they are two successful, intelligent and talented people. Dan notices B arriving late for meetings, sometimes missing a meeting altogether. Shortly a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s is made. Dan and B write this book together, giving both views of what is happening with complete honesty. Their love helped them cope. Dan folded enlightening statistics and information into the story being told in the book including the stages of Alzheimer’s, and the world of science, and its critical need for more study participants. I found his information and link to the Brain Health Registry especially helpful.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (616.831 SMI)

Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

burning

Reviewed by Judy B (Library Staff)

Well crafted story by a Hugo Award winning author.
Brilliant colored spheres have appeared all over the earth. “Burning” a pair will endow you with an enhanced ability: blonder hair, better singing voice, higher intelligence. But are they safe? Is it fair that only the wealthy can afford to buy the best spheres? Where did they come from?
Four teens team up to find the most rare and expensive spheres only to discover that using the spheres comes at a very high price.

Available through the BRIDGES Library System

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

Every so often, a library patron presses a book into my hands and says, “You must read this NOW.” I want to turn the tables and press Between the World and Me into the hands of everyone who comes through the library’s doors.

The book is written as a letter from the author, a well-known journalist with The Atlantic magazine, to his fifteen-year-old son. He is giving the boy advice about how to navigate the culturally fraught experience of being a young black man in America. Coates draws from his own experiences, as well as from history and current events, in his brilliant exposition of the struggles all black men face.

I am neither black nor a man, so there was little I could personally relate to in this book. Yet it resonated with me. Coates elucidates truths I have never, not once in my life, considered–yet that millions of my fellow Americans deal with every single day. For example, he points out that a young black man like his son cannot wear a hooded sweatshirt and walk alone on an unfamiliar street without risking being stopped by the police or even attacked by a zealous vigilante. That is an experience I have never had.

But it put me in mind of a story I heard recently: The instructor of a self-defense class divided the class into two groups, men and women. She asked each group to make a list of steps they take to protect themselves from rape on a daily basis. The men didn’t write down a single thing. The women had many, many items on their list: walking in groups, carrying mace, using keys as a weapon, etc. (Having once been a single, female college student on the east side of Milwaukee, I can definitely relate to that experience.) The exercise was intended to demonstrate to the men in the class that the women went about their daily lives with a fear of rape always present in the back of their minds. That’s what Between the World and Me did for me, in terms of race: this book showed me the fears and insecurities that American culture ingrains in the minds of our young black men.

Of course, I have some differences of opinion with the author. Most importantly, he tends to talk about “Black America” as if it were monolithic, and he gives very short shrift to the important differences between male and female experiences. But those little quibbles can’t take much away from my opinion that this is a must-read book for anyone who hopes to understand the issue of race in modern America.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (305.8 COA)

Ken Burns’ Mark Twain by Ken Burns

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Reviewed by Jennifer Rude Klett (Library Staff)

If you liked the music from Burns’ Civil War documentary, you will also love this CD. It features some of Twain’s favorite songs and spirituals, interspersed with famous quotes of the American author and humorist. Beautiful acoustic music featuring piano, violin, banjo, mandolin, and other period instruments.

Located in Soundtracks (CD SDTK MARK TWAIN)

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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Reviewed by Emily Terasa (Library Staff)

When Breath Becomes Air is a memorable, poignant, heartbreaking memoir of life and death. Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a 36-year-old neurosurgeon getting close to finishing his residency, when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. After his diagnosis, he has to confront his mortality much faster than he planned to. He had his whole life as a surgeon planned out, and then suddenly that had to change.
This memoir is written in two parts, the first a fascinating look into the life of becoming one of the top neurosurgeon residents in the county, the second a sad tale of a young life taken too soon. While the two parts tell very different stories, the style and emotions of Dr. Kalanithi’s writing stays the same, which makes sense because before he became a doctor, he got a Master’s in English Literature from Stanford. He always wanted to write, but never had the opportunity to use his amazing talents until after his diagnosis.

Dr. Kalanithi died in March 2015, before the memoir was finished. His wife Lucy finished the book, including the ending, which made the book even more heartbreaking in my opinion. This book put me through so many emotions; I smiled, I cringed, I looked on in amazement, and I cried, a lot. This memoir was devastating, but also beautiful and I feel privileged to have gotten to just scratch the surface of learning about this amazing, talented man who was taken too soon, because he had a lot to teach this world.

Available through the BRIDGES Library System

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