Double Dose of Grief

The narrator of Meg Wolitzer’s novel Belzhar is a fifteen-year-old who has had a major emotional breakdown. Although Jam Gallahue and Reeve Maxfield knew each other for only 41 days, Jam is devastated after losing her first love. Jam sinks into a deep depression. Her parents decide to send her to The Wooden Barn, a private boarding school in rural Vermont known for treating depression and other mental issues. Mrs. Quennell, an English teacher at the school, chooses Jam and four other students to participate in her Special Topics English class. In addition to reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the students are required to write in an antique journal twice a week. Through the journaling, the students encounter something unexpected that creates a strong bond amongst the group and activates the healing process for each individual. Wolitzer’s message is ‘words matter’; literature can be emotionally therapeutic. Unfortunately, the message is not cleverly weaved into the story so it sounds contrived and preachy. The characters are not very well developed and the ending is a little too neatly wrapped. Despite all that, the plight of each character draws the readers in this fast-paced story.

Cadence Sinclair, a teen from an affluent family, is the narrator of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Cady and her disturbingly dysfunctional family meet at a private island each summer where she and her cousins have grown up together. Their vacations on the island are carefree; except Cady cannot remember anything from the summer she was fifteen. One mystery changes all and nothing can ever be the same. The story is such that disclosing more spoils the fun of reading this book. The prose is rife with imagery, the plot is clever and some of the characters, often nasty, are painfully believable. There are allusions to King Lear and fairy tale segments retold and imagined by Cady; her attempt to face truths she is not supposed to notice or mention. This incisive story has many layers and as each layer unravels, there, in the center, is a mesmerizing tale of privilege, love and lies.


Best of 2014 - Our Top Five Teen Fiction

Here are the top five teen fiction titles chosen by OC Public Libraries' staff as the Best of 2014.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (audio)

Cress by Marissa Meyer (audio)

Panic by Lauren Oliver (audio)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top teen title of 2014.


Best of 2014 - Our Top Ten Adult Fiction

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Ten Fiction titles of 2014.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (audio)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (audio)

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness (audio)

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (audio)

One More Thing by BJ Novak (audio)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (audio)

The Martian by Andy Weir

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (audio)

Summer House with a Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (audio)

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (audio)
Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top fiction title of 2014.


Best of 2014 - Our Top Five Picture Books

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Ten Picture Books of 2014.

Maple by Lori Nichols

The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin

I'm My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein

Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top Picture Book of 2014.


Best of 2014 - Our Top Ten Adult Nonfiction and Memoirs

Although we're already looking forward to 2015, here's a look back at some of the best nonfiction books of 2014, as recommended by our own OC Public Libraries staff:

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: A Memoir by Roz Chast

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton (audio)

Make it Ahead by Ina Garten

I'll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist by Betty Halbreich (audio)

The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn (large type)

Murder on the Home Front by Molly Lefebure (DVD)

The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard (audio)

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levitin

Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top nonfiction title of 2014.


Holiday Cookbooks

During the holidays edible treats and goodies surround us. A home filled with the aroma of cooking and baking triggers holiday memories of favorite traditions and favorite recipes. Along with beloved family recipes, new recipes add spice to any holiday baking repertoire. Here are some great holiday cookbooks. Enjoy! 
Gluten-Free and Vegan Holidays by Jennifer Katzinger

This cookbook contains recipes for year round holidays and special days. Be sure and take a peek at the sections of the book on Hanukkah and Christmas recipes.

Very Vegan Christmas Cookies by Ellen Brown

This collection of Christmas cookies is unique in that all recipes are made without eggs or dairy products. There are some non-traditional cookies as well as versions of the classic rolled sugar cookie. This collection of yummy recipes will appeal to the vegan in the family as well as all your other guests.

This book isn’t necessarily a “holiday” book but it will help you enjoy your holiday, or the day after the holiday, by showcasing delicious brunch recipes! This cookbook is filled with recipes and truly mouthwatering photos. I definitely plan on making some of the recipes in this book whether it’s for a holiday brunch or just a casual weekend brunch. From hash browns with goat cheese to cinnamon-apple French toast, this cookbook has something for just about everyone!
Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holiday by Marlene Sorosky

This book includes not just recipes, but menus! This delightful holiday book allows you to select an entrée and then find an appropriate side, appetizer or accompanying dish. The author includes prep time, prep work that can be done in advance, and other information that will help make your busy holiday meal preparations fast and festive. This book also includes information on traditional table settings and background information about the holidays.

Try a holiday cookbook in e-Book format!

Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden by Bradley Ogden 

Holiday Crafting and Baking with Kids by Jessica Strand


Break Out the Better Hot Chocolate: Great Wintry Adult Fiction

I know it’s in your cupboard: the really decadent hot chocolate powder.  The tin that you received at the office party last year and have been hoarding at home.  Yes, that one.  Even your roommates don’t know about it.  Well, I won’t tell and you don’t have to share.  But you’re about to need to make a steaming cup of it – with marshmallows on top, don’t be chintzy -- because I’ve got a few titles to suggest, some great adult fiction in which winter plays a significant role. All are available for you to check out at OC Public Libraries.

Winter’s Tales by Isak Dinesen
I read this collection of short stories in college for a Scandinavian literature course and really loved it.  I remember my professor noting that the mood of Scandinavian literature can be influenced by authors’ perceived geographic isolation from the rest of the world and the often frigidly cold weather.  In Winter’s Tales, Dinesen (a.k.a. Karen Blixen) combines realistic fiction with elements of fairy tales and myth, creating stories which shed light on human strengths and foibles.  Love, in its various forms, is a common theme.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg
When I read this novel I was completely captivated by protagonist Smilla Jaspersen, a Greenlander with Inuit roots who lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Smilla, somewhat of a loner, is a scientist who is an expert on snow and ice. When the death of her six-year-old neighbor, another Greenlander with whom she was close, is determined to be due to an accidental fall from a rooftop, Smilla does not agree.  As the authorities will not help her, she begins to investigate on her own.  This is a truly suspenseful mystery with an independent main character that you will not forget.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
We read this enthralling story, the author’s debut novel, for our library’s book club.  In the 1920s, Jack and Mabel, a married and childless couple in their forties, move from Pennsylvania to Alaska to start a new life as homesteaders.  The Alaskan natural environment proves much more challenging than either had anticipated.  Their frustration is lifted, however, when a snow maiden that they build one winter day appears to turn into a real child.  Ivey very skillfully depicts the miscommunication that can occur between spouses and the potential for true mutual understanding and connectedness.
Almost, Maine by John Cariani (in New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2006)
I saw this thought-provoking and charming play a few years ago at a smaller San Juan Capistrano theater, and am very excited to have just discovered that OC Public Libraries has the script in the collection mentioned above.  The play takes place on a cold winter night in the fictitious small town of Almost, Maine. In multiple storylines, characters fall in and out of love and events take unexpected turns.  The play contains a lot of humor as well as a bit of sadness, and is definitely worth reading, and watching if you ever get the chance.

After reading this hugely engaging and often hilarious novel for our library’s book club, I immediately added Semple to my personal top ten author list.  Bernadette is a brilliant former architect who loves her fifteen-year-old daughter Bee immensely, but has isolated herself in general and is unhappy being a Seattle housewife.  When Bernadette disappears close to Christmas Day, Bee decides that she and her father must search for her where the family was scheduled to travel, frozen Antarctica.  Narrated by Bee, the novel also contains emails, letters, FBI case notes and other documents.   For a more detailed review, please see my colleague’s blog post.

Hope you enjoy these suggestions!  What wintry adult fiction would you recommend?