Shelfish: The Blog of Answers

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Textbok Amy Krouse RosenthalHalfway through Textbook, Amy Krouse Rosenthal reflects on her unique mid-life crisis. She didn't have an affair or buy a fancy new car or any of those cliches. She merely found herself becoming more emotional, moved to tears by the everyday things her kids did or by the small kindnesses of strangers.

Known mainly for her children's books, including Little Oink, Uni the Unicorn, and Spoon (a favorite at Muddy Buddies my wife's storytime/ceramics class for kids), Amy Krouse Rosenthal has also had some success writing books for adults. Her newest, Textbook, is tough to describe. Amy is obsessed with coincidence and serendipity, with finding transcendence in the mundane. Part memoir, part poetry, part conceptual art, part interactive project, the book collects Amy's thoughtful remembrances, observations, drawings, and photos into sections organized like a school textbook with subject headings Art, Music, Math, Science, History, etc. Occasionally, the smartphone-using-reader is prompted to send a text message to Amy and receive one in return. The responses either augment the book with sound recordings and videos or ask you to participate in the book. Submit a story of your own. Suggest a tattoo. Make a self portrait. Assist in the search for a long-lost copy of Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast. Reader submissions are being archived online at

While my cynical side wants to call Textbook too cute or too clever, I'd be lying if I didn't say there were stories in the book that made me tear up, thinking about all the goodness in the world. Maybe Amy and I are sharing a mid-life crisis.

Click here to place a hold on Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Sharon Fiffer and the Great Brewster Chair

The Great Brewster ChairIn 1969, woodworker Armand Lamontagne made a replica of the famous Brewster Chairs, a pair of chairs once owned by pilgrim William Brewster, who arrived in America on the Mayflower in 1620. Annoyed by the self-importance of museum curators, Lamontagne made the copy to prove that they were capable of being fooled. He gave his chair away and waited patiently for it to appear on the antiquities market. Six years later, the fake was purchased by the Henry Ford Museum and Lamontagne came clean. Today, the museum displays the chair for educational purposes.

This story is at the center of the culmination of The Wrong Stuff, the third in a series of mystery novels by author Sharon Fiffer. In her "Killer Stuff Mysteries", Fiffer writes about Jane Wheel, a one-time ad executive who now makes her living as a "picker", searching Chicago-area flea markets, rummage sales, and auctions in search of antiques that might be sold for a profit. More often than not, she keeps her finds, worried that no one else will respect the history of these objects; the love their previous owners might have had for them; or the stories they tell about times now passed. Jane also happens to be really good at finding dead bodies and bringing their killers to justice.

On October 2nd, Sharon Fiffer will visit us at the Eisenhower Library to discuss her books, her life, and her own love for antiques. You can find all the details and register for the event by visiting our calendar, or calling 708-867-2299.

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive Book CoverOn January 1st, 1953, after years of alcohol and drug abuse, county singer Hank Williams died in the backseat of a Cadillac heading to a gig in West Virginia. Earlier that day, a doctor had given him two shots of vitamin B12 laced with morphine.

Steve Earle's novel, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, picks up the story ten years later with Doc Ebersole, a fictional composite of the doctors and hangers-on who encouraged Williams' destructive drug habit. Doc has settled into the worst part of San Antonio, supporting his heroin habit by doctoring gun shot wounds and performing abortions for the prostitutes of the South Presa Strip, all the while being haunted by the ghost of his old friend, Hank Williams. He's in a downward spiral and isn't too worried about what will happen when he hits the bottom.

But when Graciela, an innocent young Mexican immigrant obsessed with Jackie Kennedy and the part-Catholic-part-pre-Columbian religion of her grandfather, appears in search of Doc's services, miraculous things begin to happen. South Presa starts to change and Doc's chances of redemption seem better than ever.

A county singer and one-time addict himself, Steve Earle is ideally suited to tell this difficult story. His depictions of heroin withdrawal symptoms and the things an addict will do to avoid them are harrowing and disturbing. But despite its focus on darkness and mortality, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is ultimately a story of atonement, absolution, and self-forgiveness.

Find I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive in the library catalog.

Steve Earle's companion album of the same title is available to download or stream at

Zeroes by Chuck Wendig

Zeroes Book CoverWe all need a little help once in a while. If you or I need some assistance we might call a friend or a family member. If a secret government organization needs help, they arrest a bunch of low-level techno-criminals and force them to become hackers-for-the-man. 

Our heroes (self-named, the Zeroes) are a do-gooder social engineer, better at working people than computers; a streetwise credit card thief who'd rather his mother not know about his profession; an online troll who just wants to make you feel bad about yourself; an ethical hacktivist with ties to the Syrian resistance; and a hippie-era hacker/gun-nut prepared for the inevitable apocalypse. Together they're tasked with infiltrating corporate computer systems and finding connections to the mysterious TYPHON, a project so secret even their government handlers don't know what it really is. 

By the time the Zeroes work out what's happening with Typhon, they're on the run, bullets are flying, and the plot has taken a hard left turn into Terminator territory.

Can the Zeroes, evade capture, make a plan, and stop arguing long enough to save humanity as we know it?

Click here to place a hold on Zeroes now.

The Monkees Good Times!

Monkees "Good Times" CoverThe surviving members of the classic 1960s, made-for-TV pop band, The Monkees are back with a surprisingly great new record. Just like in the old days, the band has recruited some of the best songwriters available to help out. Look for tracks written by Andy Partridge (of XTC), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Paul Weller (The Jam, Style Council), and others. Producer Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne has created a sound reminiscent of the Monkees we all remember without making it just a nostalgia record. The songs all sound fresh, modern, and current while still having the 60s flavor you'd expect. You're going to love it.

Download or stream Good Times! at

Roger Ebert Hated, Hated, Hated These Movies

Battlefield Earth PosterOn today's date in 1942, Roger Ebert was born in Urbana, Illinois. 25 years later, he became the film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, a job he held until the end of his life in 2013. His reviews were syndicated to more than 200 newspapers and collected in dozens of books. Along with Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel, Ebert co-hosted the pre-eminent film review television shows Sneak Previews and At the Movies. In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize.

His opinion mattered. When he loved a movie, Ebert could make the career of a new filmmaker. With a thumbs down, he could destroy dreams. And sometimes he did. One of Ebert's most successful books, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, collected reviews of films that Ebert, well, hated. Ebert had no patience for bad movies and didn't hold back when discussing those he considered the worst. In celebration of his life, today, let's take a look as some movies he rated at less than one star.

"Wolf Creek is more like the guy at the carnival sideshow who bites off chicken heads. No fun for us, no fun for the guy, no fun for the chicken."
Mad Dog Time
"Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Watching “Mad Dog Time” is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line."
"Charlie's Angels is eye candy for the blind. It's a movie without a brain in its three pretty little heads."
Freddy Got Fingered
"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."
"A lot of bad movies are fairly throbbing with life. Mannequin is dead. The wake lasts 1 1/2 hours, and then we can leave the theater. Halfway through, I was ready for someone to lead us in reciting the rosary."
"Josie and the Pussycats are not dumber than the Spice Girls, but they're as dumb as the Spice Girls, which is dumb enough."
"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it."
"Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It's not merely bad; it's unpleasant in a hostile way."

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants Book CoverFor a few days, when she was 12 years old, Rose Franklin was at the center of a major scientific discovery. While riding her bike near her home in the Black Hills of South Dakota she saw an eerie blue light. As she went to investigate, the ground gave way beneath her feet, dropping her into a deep hole. A hole with a giant metal hand at the bottom. Testing revealed the hand to be at least 5,000 years old but no more could be learned. The hand was put into military storage.

Decades later, Rose, now a top physicist, is given a new assignment. Find out what the hand is, who put it there, and, most importantly, if it's a weapon. Despite unlimited resources and a team of experts, the task is nearly impossible. Then, a metal forearm is discovered in Syria. Then anoher part, and another.

The book has a lot on its mind: Are we alone in the universe? What are the origins of humanity? How much sacrifice can be justified by scientific progress? Will we ever learn to get along with our neighbors? Can our personal happiness be weighed against the common good of humanity?

Told in a series of classified reports and interviews conducted by an unnamed operative of some shadowy, clandestine agency, Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants owes a lot to similarly constructed sci-fi bestsellers, Robopocalypse and World War Z. Rejected by dozens of publishers, Neuvel had enough faith in his book to publish it himself. Thanks to a little good fortune, the book was reviewed in Kirkus, leading to a movie deal, and ultimately, a bidding war between traditional publishers. It is now being called the first in an ongoing series.

As a debut novel, Sleeping Giants is pretty audacious. It's a compelling read, certainly worthy of some late-night read time.

Find and place a hold on Sleeping Giants in the library catalog.

The Audie Awards

Furiously Happy CoverA couple of weeks ago, the Audio Publishers Association (APA) announced its winners for the 21st annual Audie Awards recognizing distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment. Since June is Audio Book Month, now seemed like the best time to tell you the winners. Below you'll find links to selected titles. Winners of all the categories as well as audio samples can be found at

Many of the award winners are available at Eisenhower on compact disc and in downloadable digital formats for your computers or smart phones.

Audiobook of the Year
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey & India Fisher.
Compact Disc | Media on Demand

Best Autobiography or Memoir
Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius. Read by Simon Bubb.
Hoopla Digital

Business/Personal Development
Wake Up Happy by Michael Strahan & Veronica Chambers. Read by Michael Strahan.
Compact Disc

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Read by Polly Stone.
Compact Disc | Media on Demand

The Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin. Read by Bronson Pinchot.
Compact Disc

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. Read by Jenny Lawson.
Compact Disc | Media on Demand

Middle Grade
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Read by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, MacLeod Andrews & Rebecca Soler.
Compact Disc | Hoopla Digital | Media on Demand

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith. Read by Robert Glenister.
Compact Disc | Media on Demand

Young Listeners
Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine & Marc Brown. Read by Jack Black.

The Assistants by Camille Perri

The Assistants book coverDespite having trouble paying her bills, Tina Fontana takes pride in her work and has the utmost respect for her boss Robert Barlow, the head of the Titan Corporation, a multimedia news conglomerate. Think Ted Turner meets Rupert Murdoch. So when an accounting error leaves Tina with an unearned check for $20,000 (almost the exact amount of her student loan balance) she feels guilty about deciding to keep it. Executives at Titan spend more than $20,000 on lunches, and cab rides, and tropical fish. It's just pocket change for Robert, she justifies. Why shouldn't she get a little taste of financial freedom?

But then Emily, another assistant, uncovers Tina's accidental crime. She has student debt, too and wants Tina's help to pay it off. Then, another assistant comes along. And another. And another. Soon, Tina's ethical misstep turns into a fully-fledged movement, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

I thought I saw the ending coming, but a slight twist on my expectations made the story richer, revealing broke Tina and rich Robert to both be real human beings, neither a hero nor a villain. In a time when income inequality is so prevalent in the public consciousness, The Assistants has a lot to say to the disenfranchised about taking back power. Plus, it's a great read, moving at a breakneck pace. It's the perfect book for the Bernie Sanders crowd.

Click here to place a hold on The Assistants.