Briarcliff Manor Public Library, One Library Road, Briarcliff Manor, New York, 914-941-7072


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Your Library Staff's Book Reviews…
Good Stuff: A Reminisce of my Father, Cary Grant by Jennifer Grant

This is a very sweet love letter from an adoring daughter to her famous father. There are no shocking revelations or major insights into the "real" Cary Grant. This book shows him as a very involved and loving father. Not the best written book, but it makes for an enjoyable read.

Staff Reviewer: Shelley Glick

7.11
Deadly by Julie Chibbaro

A young woman comes of age in the early 1900s in a fictionalized account of uncovering the role of “Typhoid Mary” in spreading disease. Sixteen year old Prudence Galewski, completing her education at a finishing school, finds a job with the recently formed New York City Department of Health and Sanitation. Helping her midwife-mother deliver babies in the tenements, along with a burgeoning interest in science and medicine sparked by a premature familiarity with death, readies her for a job in which she feels she can make a difference. Her first assignment is to take notes and type them up for the sanitary engineer on a team investigating the origins of localized outbreaks of typhoid. In her new role, she has her first experience using a microscope, meets the young men who staff the lab and is befriended by a female physician. In investigating Mary Mallon, the suspected carrier of Typhus, who claims to have never been ill, Prudence ultimately must deal with the fact that a livi ng, breathing person is the disease carrier. Along the way, Prudence experiences new emotions, says good bye to old friends and re-evaluates traditional roles open to women. The author creates a very sympathetic young woman in her protagonist in this compelling historical novel. Despite the setting of some 100 years ago, her struggles with who she is and what she will do with her future are timely for a modern audience.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney (former Director)

3.11
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

This Vietnam-era story could easily turn the most strident hawk into a pacifist. Although it's considered fiction, you know that the gruesome, heartbreaking details are based on the author's experiences -- no one could make this stuff up. His prose is much more graphic than any anti-war Vietnam film I've seen. Through his story-telling, O'Brien questions his own art, forcing us to consider the difference between facts and truth. Interesting choice for the incoming freshmen group-read at my daughter's college, especially compared to what I read when her siblings matriculated: James' "Washington Square" and "The Emperor's Children" by Claire Messud.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

9.10
The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett

I've yet to read Patchett's "Bel Canto" but I loved "Run" so I had high expectations for this novel, which was published before "Bel Canto." Talk about unusual plots: Sabine, the assistant of the title, marries magician Parsifal after 20 years of performing together. One small detail though, he's gay, and his Vietnamese lover Fan lives with them in a luxurious house in LA. Fan dies, then Parsifal, leaving Sabine alone to tend the mansion and run the successful rug store that was the real source of the trio's income. Then, as if by magic, Parsifal's family, whom no one knew about, shows up in LA -- turns out his greatest trick was escaping his dysfunctional Nebraska childhood. Patchett does a nice job with all these characters and, especially with the Nebraskans, refrains from stereotypes and caricatures.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

8.10
All That Follows by Jim Crace

Saxophonist Leonard Lessing could best be described as the accidental activist. As a young man, he follows a woman he's met to Texas, where he tags along on anti-Bush demonstrations master-minded by a Russian militant named Maxi. This story finds him 18 years later in his English home watching a hostage situation, with Maxie at the helm, unfold on TV. Again, he inadvertently becomes involved in a surprising way. The novel is set in the near future, so there's just enough advanced technology without being too sci-fi.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

8.10
Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austin Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

This frothy novel could best be described as Jane Austen sci-fi. Regency England's Jane Mansfield falls off her horse at the same time as today's Los Angelino Courtney Stone hits her head on the bottom of a pool. Voila! they each end up living the other's life. There are the usual fish-out-of-water scenes regarding clothing and speech patterns and the plot is a mashup of Austen stories. It would probably make a better movie than book -- in fact, I recall watching something like it on DVD one winter day, getting over a cold.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

8.10
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Set in England in contemporary times, Major Ernest Pettigrew is faced with loneliness since the loss of his wife Nancy; the strained relationship with his socially climbing son, Roger; and the sudden death of his brother Bertie. Into his life steps Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the local Pakistani shop-keeper who comes to his aid: first as driver, then as friend, Kipling-devotee, and confidante. Their burgeoning relationship is put to the test in their small and stuffy English Village and we wonder if Major Pettigrew will be strong enough to overcome traditions and take a stand. Simonson offers us an enjoyably sweet story with just enough comedy, culture clash, and conveyance of the feeling of a traditional English setting-the little world of Edgecombe St. Mary.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

8.10
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Set in blue collar mid-western America, these gritty stories explore changing values, tough times, and what it’s like to be just squeaking by. Drawn together by common themes, this collection of short stories exhibits remarkable prose. Despite the hard lives lived by the protagonists, hope for a better future as well as love and compassion are portrayed.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

7.10
The Humbling by Philip Roth

Simon Axler, an aging actor leaves the stage when he is no longer able to perform. After a brief institutionalization for a mental breakdown, he finds himself in a relationship with a young woman that gives him the opportunity to remake her life into an image he desires. As readers, we understand that this is most likely a temporary diversion and that Simon will once again have to face reality.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

7.10
The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn

Frank Alcroft, a TV news anchor, has a soft side that overpowers his life. He tends to become involved with the stories of people who die alone, seeking to acknowledge their lives with mourning. He is drawn into solving the mystery of the hit and run accident that killed Phil, his very well-known predecessor, who he feels must also be properly remembered. He remains devoted to his mother who is the epitome of negativity while trying to decide if he should attempt to save his distant and unloving father’s architectural work that is slowly being demolished around him. A man of solid character, he seeks to do right by everyone and is a kind father and a devoted husband. If anything, Frank is too kind when he pays for corny jokes and puns from an aging comedy writer who once worked for his mentor, Phil. Frank’s story, one of loss, absence, and what it means to age, is set very much in a world that seems all too familiar.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

7.10
Brooklyn Valentine by Rachel A. Levine

If you're from Brooklyn, have visited Brooklyn or just heard of Brooklyn you'll enjoy this book. It follows the story of a forty-something taxi driver from Brooklyn who, with the help of his father, is raising his son and a succesful professional woman from Wisconsin who wants to find out what Brooklyn is all about. In the course of their journey together they meet several colorful characters, visit some famous and not so famous Brooklyn sites and learn a lot about themselves and each other. This is a fun, quick read which anyone with a connection to Brooklyn will especially love.

Staff Reviewer: Shelley Glick, Reference Librarian

7.10
Walks with Men by Ann Beattie

I enjoyed this short quirky novel about a young woman who forsakes her back-to-the-earth boyfriend in favor of an older man who ends up marrying her, then disappears. Composed with an only-in-New-York attitude -- our heroine's fellow tenants include a shrink and someone known as Etch-a-Sketch -- it has many amusing moments, but some tender ones as well. A nice quick but worthwhile read.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
The Sarah's Key by Rosnay de Tatiana

An emotional WWII story about a French girl who survives the July 1942 Vel' d'Hiv death camp round-up. Her life affects not only her own descendents, but those of another family as well. While I found the story itself engaging, I thought the author jumped back and forth between 1942 and the present too often, making each narrative feel choppy. This lasted, fortunately, for only the first third of the book -- after the two story threads came together, there was one continuous narrative.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

Light, lighter, lightest…but since it takes place in Dublin I was able to justify this additional brain relaxer about several young women with moderately interesting lives that are prone to happy endings&hellipAhh that life might really be like these novels. Now back to some serious reading.

Staff Reviewer: Geradine Mahoney, Library Director

7.10
As Husbands Go by Susan Isaacs

This book was a guilty pleasure since my brain needed a rest. It was truly a short story about a woman whose husband is murdered and how she winds up solving the mystery, along with much added silliness to make it novel-length. But it was perfect for the beach (where I was) and for putting me off to dreamland in a very short time at night.

Staff Reviewer: Geradine Mahoney, Library Director

7.10
Family Album by Penelope Lively

When I was a kid, I was addicted to a series called "The Happy Hollisters," about the adventures of a family of five kids (i.e. "The HH's and the Secret Fort, ... at Sea Gull Beach). This would be the adult version -- "The Dysfunctional Harpers and the Secret of Clare's Birth." I don't think I would have enjoyed "Family Album" half as much if it was about an American family (too Oprah-ish), but the fact that the Harpers are British lended an air of the exotic to their goings-on. And, their house, Allersmead, plays a big role, so much so that you think Allersmead is the family's last name. Fortunately, Lively knows when to end the story -- I finished the book satisfied but not wanting more.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
Love and Summer by William Trevor

Don't let the slimness of this book fool you -- there isn't one wasted word in this story about a farmer's wife in a rural Irish village who flirts with an out-of-town photographer. Love, loyalty, duty and tradition all play a part in the characters' everyday lives. A finely drawn portrait of Irish village life.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Catherine Schine

Living in a cottage on the beach sounds romantic, but in this novel, it's a divorce downsizing that results in some life-changing events for the three Weissmans -- a woman of a certain age who just got traded for a younger model by her husband after a bizillion years of marriage and her two daughters. Perfect beach reading, without feeling like you lost brain cells.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

If you're a #1 Ladies Detective fan, of course you'll read this and it doesn't disappoint. The n-teenth book in the series, amazingly, is as charming and fresh as the first. If you're not a fan (yet), you should start with the first one and work your way through (they're all short) for maximum appreciation.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Anna's back to her pre-"Rise and Shine" form, with a story about a suburban family you would swear lives down your street. A surprise tragic plot twist manages to avoid Jodi Picoult's "ripped-from-the-headlines" gimmick. I was sorry when the story ended, which means it ended in just the right place.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
Summer by Edith Wharton

Small-town girl who dreams of a better life is smitten with dashing stranger, who proves to be a two-timing liar. Steadfast guardian comes to the rescue. Not as depressing as "Ethan Frome," to which this novel is sometimes compared. Village life, class issues and human nature, done as only Wharton can. A real treat.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

Interesting way to write an autobiography -- have the story be about someone writing your biography. Oh, but this is fiction, isn't it? Don't know enough about Coetzee to know how much of "Summertime" parallels his actual life, but we get a portrait of an emotionally challenged man who devotes himself to the care of his elderly father and the breaking down of racial barriers.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Entertaining enough, good beach reading, but a little stiffly written and not all that much of a surprise at the end. Having serial killers follow Biblical or other literary references is not an original ploy. The girl with the dragon tattoo makes it worth it, but you just know the author (no disrespect to the dead intended) was thinking "film rights" as he was writing.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Mid-60's Southern living, upper-class white-style, is just beginning to feel the effects of the budding civil rights movement when a rogue Junior Leaguer writes a book relating the experiences of the black housekeepers who keep the social machine running. Every family, black and white, has its problems and skin color neither prevents tragedies nor guarantees happiness.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
Blockade Billy (and Morality) by Stephen King

You should probably be a baseball fan to enjoy this long short story about a dumb but crafty minor league catcher who gets called up to the majors. Written in dialogue, there's plenty of spicy language and sports jargon. Accompanied by the even shorter (thank goodness) story called "Morality," about a dumb, but not crafty couple trying to make a quick $200,000.

Staff Reviewer: Sally Scudo

7.10
Family Album by Penelope Lively

The story centers around Allersmead, a grand old Edwardian house in England that houses two parents, an au pair and six children during the 1970’s and 80’s. As we look back from the present, the story unfolds as memories shared from various viewpoints in the family. It is primarily told from the vantage of the eldest child, Gina, now an adult and international TV news correspondent who has never quite forgiven her mother for favoring second child, Paul, who is still trying to find his place in the world. We find an earth mother who cooks and adores her brood, a distant father more engaged in his writing than in any aspect of home life, an au pair who stays on after the children are grown, and the offspring, four girls and two boys who are dispersed across the world. Lively interweaves past and present as well as assorted narrators with great skill, never confusing this reader. As in any family narrative there are shared experiences that are remembered differently by each participant. And of course, as in all old homes, there is a secret or two that must be revealed.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

7.10
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Ali Shaw

Eating a slice of the lemon cake her mother baked in celebration of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein is overcome with feelings of sadness and despair, feelings she comes to realize are her mother’s, baked into the cake. This new skill becomes part of her life as she discovers cookies baked in a rage; foods produced in factories that are not handled by humans and so have no emotional component, and finally some wonderful French food that is produced with love. As she makes these discoveries, she finds her brother may also have special skills and that her mother has acted on her feelings; both sets of circumstances that she struggles to understand. Bender gives us a coming of age novel with a twist; her protagonist grows up under a different type of childhood and adolescent cloud. But as unique as it is, it frames her growing up in a more prosaic way, embodying the struggle to understand what life is about and why our fellow humans act as they do.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

6.10
The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

A mythical and fantastical tale set in the gray, snow-glazed landscape of St. Hauda’s Land, the main character Ida’s feet are indeed turning to glass. Looking for a cure, her quest returns her to this strange place she once visited. She meets Midas Crook, an unlikely love interest who helps in her search, despite a remoteness as well-defined as that of his homeland. On the way, their two interconnected stories unfold as well as those of many of the locals: Henry who once loved Midas’ mother and who raises miniature winged cattle; Carl, a scientist who worked with Midas’ father and was in love with Ida’s mother. There is a sweetness about this work that carried it along, even for this non-fantasy devotee. Ali Shaw portrays the wide scope of love and longing, as it appears as unrequited love, misguided affection, inability to love and love prematurely lost. Love of life, and how one might choose to live out their last days is also central to this well-conceived tale. (Shortlisted for the 2009 Costa first novel award)

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

6.10
Beauty by Raphael Selbourne

This 2009 winner of the Costa First Novel award held me spellbound as the story of Beauty, a Bangladeshi immigrant unfolded. Forced into an arranged marriage to a 45 year old mullah in her native country as a child, this spirited young woman returns to her family in England by pretending to be a madwoman. There, she faces a life of bullying and subservience to her father and two brothers, as she becomes the stand-in housekeeper and caretaker for the family which also includes her disabled mother and younger sister.

Life on the dole in the City of Wolverhampton brings Beauty to a career training center where she meets the types of people she most fears: lecherous Sikhs, black pimps, strong Somali women, and the mad English. As she emerges from the confines of home, she begins to understand that everyone might not be as they first appear in this economically and racially diverse world. Help comes from a most unexpected source, Mark Aston, a former inmate who smells of dogs, dirty clothing and alcohol and tobacco. When Mark rents her a room in his rundown house, a fondness grows between them that helps Beauty become more open as she struggles to understand what a life of choice and freedom might entail. The author lives inside the mind of Beauty and shares her inner life with us with a good deal of humor and understanding.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

6.10
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Shutter Island is a psychological thriller about a U.S. Marshall sent to investigate an escape at a prison for the criminally insane. The plot twists and turns will keep you guessing until the very end. After you've read the book check out the movie which was recently released on DVD.

Staff Reviewer: Shelley Glick, Reference Librarian

6.10
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Although it occurred almost five years ago, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still a vivid image for most Americans. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers personalizes those images through this vivid true account of one family's experiences during Hurricane Katrina. To Abdulrahman (known by his last name Zeitoun), his wife Kathy and their four children the warnings about an approaching hurricane are just part of the routine of living in New Orleans. Zeitoun, who was born in Syria, has built a good life for himself and his family. However, once the storm hits it soon becomes clear that life as they know it in New Orleans will be changed forever. Eggers brilliantly describes the agonizing decisions that must be made when dealing with a situation for which neither Zeitoun nor the public leaders that he and his family depend on are prepared. Can the American dream that Zeitoun has come to this country to achieve survive the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina?

Staff Reviewer: Shelley Glick, Reference Librarian

5.10
The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin

This fast moving and somewhat nostalgia-laden book takes us back to the gritty New York City of the 1970's when struggling actors could live in cheap apartments while working to get their Actors' Equity cards so they might make a living at their art.

The story revolves primarily around Edward, his doppelganger-like nemesis, Guy, and the woman they both desire, Madeleine. At a weekend trip to the shore, Guy saves Edward from drowning, and thus begins the interweaving of two lives that are at once similar but at odds. Both men are actors, but Edward has more success in the theater while Guy’s career falters. Guy marries the much desired Madeleine but there are indications that he pays a high price for his hard-won prize.

Valerie Martin portrays these actors well and creates an interesting story set against the early days of both the Roundabout and Public Theaters, acting coaches Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler, and plays by Shakespeare, Pinter, and Chekov. The interplay between the actors and the roles they play onstage creates a psychological counterpoint of the real vs. the imagined and encourages the reader to wonder about the nature of the actors' "real-life" experiences. In fact questions of reality resonate in this tale given the events that occur and a point that is made many times, the similarity in appearance between Edward and Guy.

I won’t spoil your fun by giving more away, but I will say that I will go back and re-read this novel to make sure I picked up any hints or revelations that will clarify the truth… but as the main character points out, "actors are too narcissistic to make good narrators."

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

4.10
This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. by Marilyn Johnson

While writing Dead Beat, her book about obituaries, Marilyn Johnson says she discovered that some of the most interesting obits had been about career librarians; thus the genesis of her latest nonfiction title.

As a librarian, I was bound to find this book of interest, but I have to credit the author with presenting an interesting overview of the varying work of librarians, and doing it with humor and warmth. She covers "traditional" librarians who are immersed in research for authors or who are dedicated to serving readers in public library settings. She reports on the "new" generation of cybrarians who are involved in social networking, have avatars in virtual reality settings, collect zines, and introduce students of online universities to using databases and the Internet for research. She covers the impact of the Patriot Act on libraries, rediscovering the great importance librarians place on the rights of users, and discovers the depth of understanding librarians have of the Web as it continues to influence all of our lives. The common thread she finds is that Librarianship is a helping profession and that modern librarians continue to be educators, archivists, and keepers of community heritage.

In concluding her book, Ms. Johnsons says:
I was under the librarians' protection. Civil servants and servants of civility, they had my back. They would be whatever they needed to be that day: information professionals, teachers, police, community organizers, computer technicians, historians, confidantes, clerks, social workers, storyteller, or in this case, guardians of my peace…


Having worked in the field for some 43 years, I have to say that I have been all of the above!

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

2.10
Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

I have to confess to being a big fan of Maile Meloy's novels Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter. In each of those books, the same story is skillfully told but from different perspectives within a family. It serves as a great reminder of how differently each of us sees life's unfolding.

In this collection of short stories, Meloy brings a bit of an O.Henry twist into her telling, as first impressions lead to subsequent surprises. Each story has a unique setting and a new cast of characters effectively portrayed. She sets a series of diverse scenes: a Montana ranch hand finding himself attracted to a woman attorney teaching an adult education course; two competitive brothers on a ski trip with their families; and a middle-aged man contemplating leaving his wife, to focus on just a few.

Meloy portrays loneliness and vulnerability with a skill that makes her characters come alive and stay fresh in your mind.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

2.10
Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

If you have read and appreciated The Liars' Club and Cherry, then you will probably want to continue following Mary Karr's story in Lit. Her latest memoir reveals the circumstances of her life while she was writing her first book. Not unexpectedly, she was starting down the same road of alcoholism and insanity that she saw her parents travel. In Lit, she reveals her descent as well as her escape. She reveals a life out of control as she attempted to keep her bohemian life style intact while raising a young son and being married to an emotionally contained husband from a wealthy family.

Karr brings the same great prose, imagery and honesty to this story as she has to her earlier works, revealing how she found herself at the threshold of suicide and managed to get back from the brink with the help of a 12-step program and religion. She describes her reluctance to surrender to the help of others and the comfort of religion and is unsparing in her self-deprecation at her entrenched attitudes.

However much one is able or not able to identify with her personal hell, there is no doubt that she has told an authentic story.

Staff Reviewer: Geraldine Mahoney, Library Director

2.10











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Last revised September 20, 2011