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Reading Recommendations

Katherine Sandy
La Crosse County Library - Youth Services
July 7, 2017

As a member of the La Crosse County Library team, I often get asked by adults for reading suggestions for their children. It’s one of my favorite things to do – to try to pair the right books with the right reader. My goal is to describe a book’s plot to them in ways that are quick and recognizable. Often I will use movie comparisons to achieve that. And, being a child of the ‘80s, the movies from that era come quickly to mind. I’ve read a few books lately that reminded me a lot of movies I watched when I was a kid. So put away your Walkman, pull up your leg warmers and let’s take a look at a few totally tubular book-movie match-ups.

One of my favorite ‘80s movies is the cult classic Labyrinth (1986). As I read the children’s novel The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver, I was struck by the parallels between the two stories. Both tell of an imaginative young girl on a desperate journey in an alternate fantasy world. Like Sarah in the movie, Oliver’s protagonist Liza must fight her way “through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered” to rescue her little brother. Both plots feature quirky sidekicks, creepy villains and even a riddle for the heroine to solve to advance on her journey. Both also share themes of love, betrayal, redemption, loyalty -- and ultimately the power of hope to overcome darkness.

The ‘80s were chock full of teen movies. One of the era’s most timeless classics was The Breakfast Club (1985). This John Hughes flick is about a group of high school student stereotypes (the princess, the jock, the criminal, the brain…) forced to survive detention together who wind up learning a lot about each other and themselves. Take that classic ‘80s teen movie, toss in a murder via peanut allergy and you’ve got the teen thriller One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus. The hormones rage and the tension runs high in this new mystery as each character slowly reveals secrets and nuances about their lives that make the answer to “Who killed Simon?” shocking and rewarding.

Finally, one movie my siblings and I watched over and over again was The Right Stuff (1983), the story of the Mercury 7 astronauts in the 1960s NASA space program. The astronauts were confident, courageous and strong. But, it turns out John Glenn and Alan Shepard weren’t the only ones who had the right stuff back then. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone tells the true story of Jerrie Cobb and 12 other female pilots who also wanted to join the NASA space program. These women were experienced, skilled and tough as nails. Scoring high marks on the preliminary tests, all signs indicated that they would have made exceptional astronaut candidates. Unfortunately, faced with gender-skewed policies from NASA, ridicule from the media, resistance from the male astronauts and political manipulation from the White House, these courageous women were denied their dream. The book begins in 1999 with these “almost astronauts” returning to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of the first space shuttle mission with a female commander (Eileen Collins). I challenge anyone to not get goosebumps when you read how then-60-year-old Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk looked up at that shuttle and cried, “Go Eileen! Go for all of us!” Maybe someday those amazing women will get a movie made about their story too.


Reading Recommendations

Mary Horton

La Crosse County Library - F.J. Robers Library, Campbell

June 23, 2017

A question I am asked quite often is, “Have you read any good books lately?”. Well, as a matter of fact, I have read some very good books lately. I would like to tell you a little about each one and let you decide if they may appeal to you.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff, in the genre of historical fiction, is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl evicted by her family and forced to give up her baby fathered by a Nazi soldier. She finds a job in a railway station where she lives in a closet and when she snatches a child from a boxcar containing Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she flees and takes refuge with a traveling circus. This story is riveting and filled with history and fiction to make a remarkably interesting story.

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George, is a powerful story of Robert Carter who has been bullied throughout middle school; but in 1976, on his first day of 8th grade, meets Nathan Tilly who changes everything. They become inseparable friends from their first encounter when Nathan intervenes when the bully has Robert’s head held in a toilet and emerges his undauntable, fearless, and impetuous best friend. Their lives are filled with two family tragedies which makes this story unforgettable and heart-breaking. This is an unusual and unforgettable story.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve is historical fiction based on the largest wildfire to occur in the state of Maine ravaging two hundred thousand acres where Grace Holland, five months pregnant and with two very young children, is left alone when her husband volunteers to fight the fire. She and her best friend Rosie watch their homes burn and flee with their small children to take refuge in the ocean. They barely escape death and have nowhere to go. Gracie’s husband cannot be found and she is left with absolutely nothing. Her story of courage in establishing a new home and life are poignant and surprising. This book is filled with surprise twists and turns. I listened to this book in audiobook form and the narration was wonderful. I simply loved this book.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel, is a debut novel of a poignant story of a mother, Grace Bradshaw, who is on death row in prison for killing her infant son and who is estranged from her daughter since she was a teenager because of her imprisonment. It has been eleven years since she has spoken to her daughter, but has kept writing daily journals and letters to her. When she does make contact, the story becomes a fast-moving account of a daughter’s own troubled life and her search for the truth and an effort to save her mother from her scheduled execution date. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best books for me.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline is an historical fiction story of Christina Olson whose entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Christina Olson has lived life with a strange and undiagnosed illness and slowly becomes more and more incapacitated. When her mother becomes ill, Christina is forced to take over the majority of the difficult chores of running the family home and caring for the family while her illness progresses. But into this life, for more than 20 years, she was friend, host and inspiration for the American artist, Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009). A significant amount of Wyeth’s art is based around the farm and Christina becomes the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century, “Christina’s World” This story is deeply moving, historically enriching and emotionally unforgettable. I listened to this book on audiobook and the narration was excellent. One of my best picks.

I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows. It is 1934 and the Bell farm in Mulehead, Oklahoma is struggling as the earliest storms of The Dust Bowl devastate the land and the people. This is historical fiction of a family with mutual and individual stories of the upheaval and resilience, hope and love of living through tragedy. A young son suffers from dust pneumonia, a teenage daughter finds and loses her first love, a mother with private needs and desires and an unlikely admirer struggles with loyalty and a desire to escape and a father who builds a huge boat to save everyone when the floods come. This is a dramatic story of their devastating struggle with the elements and the human spirit. Gripping!

All of these books and audiobooks are available through your La Crosse County Library with locations at Onalaska, Campbell, West Salem, Bangor and Holmen. Please ask any member of the staff to assist you in locating or ordering these items. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!



Lynda Mueggenborg

La Crosse County Library - Onalaska Public Library and Hazel Brown Leicht Library, West Salem
June 16, 2017

Recently my husband and I traveled to Scotland for our son’s destination wedding on the Isle of Skye. Of course, I was interested in all things Scotland. I wanted to know all I could and help get in the mood, not that I really needed to. But, all things said, I feel it is a curiosity we all have when it comes to traveling. The first thing I did was check out a music CD at the West Salem library called Celtic Fire: jigs, reels and waltzes. I would recommend this CD if you want to hear some lively, Celtic tunes. While on that subject, La Crosse hosts an Irish fest every year in August. Next in line was a Fodor’s Scotland book to help plan our trip.

Although our travels also took us to Ireland, and we also loved that country, I came to realize that Scotland held a special place in my heart with the wedding and all, but also because I would describe Scotland as a raw, rugged beauty, enchanting, and mystical. Edinburgh is even a quaint city for the population being between 400,000 and 500,000. I suppose it’s because of the Old Town district and the hilly terrain. The different colored businesses on the main streets held me captive by their charm. No, I did not try haggis on it’s own, but inadvertently hidden in a stuffed chicken breast. What truly amazed me is the calm, easy going demeanor of the people who live there and deal with so many drizzly, rainy, cloudy days.

Before our trip I had wanted to read a fun, Scottish mystery, but that did not happen. Since my interest in Scotland did not subside I went on a search for such a book after we came home. I decided on a cozy mystery. My search landed me with an author by the name of Hannah Reed who wrote a Scottish Highlands trilogy. The first book in the series is called Off Kilter and is quite good. I find myself smiling at all the familiar language, foods, driving difficulties and other differences that we experienced while there.

Off Kilter starts out with a young woman, Eden Elliott, who has just suffered the loss of her mother and a divorce. Her good friend, a national best selling author purchases a round trip ticket to Scotland with a return date six months out, although she can return sooner if she wants. Eden needs a fresh start and is planning on doing research for her own book. While on the plane Eden meets Vickie who is the sole heiress to her father’s farm in Glenkillin. Eden hasn’t even been there a full day when she gets caught up in a murder. She and Vickie find a local sheep shearer who was clipped with his own sheep shears. Yes, I know how silly that sounds. And, of course, there is a handsome Scottish man involved in this quirky, delightful book. The writing flows in this story, but what I really enjoyed was that it took me back to Scotland. If you like the first book give Hooked on Ewe and Dressed to Kilt a try. All three books are at the county library locations. And if by any chance Scotland is in your plans to visit you can always check out our travel section.






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