Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Perhaps you’re still catching up on the popular AMC cable series The Walking Dead, or anxiously awaiting the premiere of the next season this fall, or maybe you just like a good yarn about post-apocalyptic horror; whatever the case may be, here are some other titles to sample on the “mobile deceased”  . . .

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. 

Now in its 9th year of publication, and nearing its 100th issue, this is the ongoing comic series of horror survival that inspired the acclaimed AMC cable series of the same name.



World War Z by Max BrooksWWZ

Max, son of film-maker Mel Brooks, and the author of the tongue-in-cheek Zombie Survival Guide, spans the globe in his second outing.  Ten years after the 1st zombie war, the future history of the event is documented through first-person interviews with survivors.  This audio edition features the voice talents of:  Alan Alda, Carl Reiner, Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins, John Turturro, & Rob Reiner—to name just a few.

Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! Edited by Otto Penzler

Culled from pulp magazines and horror anthologies, the 57 stories in this hefty volume run the gamut from voodoo-inspired zombie yarns to modern tales of the shambling undead.  Represented in this collection are works by well-known horror authors including:  Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Robert McCammon & Joe Lansdale.

For more audiobooks, graphic novels and horror fiction on zombies try these titles available at our library:

Dust by Joan Frances Turner

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

Paul is Undead:  The British Zombie Invasion by Alan Goldsher

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel by Seth Grahame-Smith

Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

Rise Again: A Zombie Thriller by Ben Tripp

The Stupidest Angel:  A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore

Zombie Autopsies:  Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Steve C. Schlozman

Zombie Ohio: A Tale of the Undead by Scott Kenemore

The Zombie Survival Guide:  Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks

The Zombies of Lake Woebegotton by Harrison Geillor

Zone One by Colson Whitehead


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April 6th & 7th of this year mark the 150th anniversary of the battle of Shiloh–the first major battle in the western theatre of the Civil War, and also the first of many bloody battles to come.

In the spring of 1862 the battle of Shiloh was a rude awakening for a country that assumed the war “would be over by Christmas.”  In a faraway corner of southwest Tennessee 24,000 soldiers fell on a single day–more men than in all previous U. S. wars combined.  This first truly “great and terrible” battle not only changed the character of the war, but left both sides with the realization that this was to be a long and bloody conflict

Here are some titles for the reader’s consideration, available within the library’s collection:

Shiloh 1862 by Winston Groom (National Geographic Society, 2012.)  Just in time for the battle’s 150th anniversary is this latest title by the author of Forrest Gump.  Groom, who had previously authored two other well-written and researched volumes on the Civil War–Vicksburg 1863 (2009) and Shrouds of Glory:  Atlanta to Nashville : The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War (1995)–returns to familiar territory with his latest foray into non-fiction.

Shiloh (Time-Life Books, 1996).  One of several entries in Time-Life’s Voices of the Civil War series which expands upon their previous multi-volume set The Civil War.  This series offers in-depth coverage on the battle from the perspective of those who experienced it.  Hundreds of published & unpublished sources were used to compile these accounts, including:  letters, diaries, journals, memoirs, and regimental histories.  Many photos of the participants (both soldiers and civilians) were located to accompany their stories, along with numerous maps and illustrations pertaining to the battle. This volume is rounded out with a useful glossary of military terms, a chronology, the order of battle (i.e. organziation of the armies for this battle) and a bibliography for further reading.

The Road to Shiloh:  Early Battles in the West by David Nevin (Time-Life Books, 1983.)  Time-Life’s tradition for titles that are comprehensive yet accessible continues with this volume in their series The Civil War.  As with other volumes in the series it is well-illustrated throughout with excellent maps and photographs. Only 2 of the 5 chapters in this volume are devoted to the battle of Shiloh–preceded by details of earlier battles such as Wilson’s Creek and Forts Henry & Donelson. While this is by no means an exhaustive account on Shiloh, it remains an excellent overview and introduction for the fledgling student of the war.

Shiloh: A Novel by Shelby Foote (Originally published in 1952 by The Dial Press; reprinted by Vintage Books, 1991.)  After writing three Southern novels, Foote turned his attention to history to tell the tale of the bloodiest day of the war up to that point through the eyes of seven different participants–Union and Confederate.  Later he expanded upon his use of historical narrative to pen his monumental achievement, the definitive 3-volume study The Civil War, A Narrative.  In 1990 Foote became a minor celebrity after being featured prominently in Ken Burns’ PBS series The Civil War.  Burns’ film not only introduced a new generation to the war, but also to the work of Shelby Foote.

Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (Originally published in 1886; reprinted by The Library of America, 1990.)  Sherman remains one of the most beloved and controversial generals of the Civil War period. His memoirs are written with the same energy and intelligence which marked his military campaigns, and are filled with anecdotes, incidents, and numerous wartime orders and reports. Sherman saw some of the worst fighting of the war, and lived to tell about it:  1st Bull Run, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattannooga, Atlanta, the March to the Sea through Georgia and the Carolinas.  During the war Sherman became Grant’s most trusted subordinate, and won both his friendship and admiration.

Memoirs and Selected Letters:  Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Selected Letters 1839-1865 by Ulysses S. Grant (Originally published 1885; reprinted by The Library of America, 1990.) After rising through the ranks in the west following battles at Forts Henry & Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, Grant was promoted to general-in-chief and came east. He spent the remainder of the war opposite Robert E. Lee, where he attempted to grind down the Confederate army in a series of costly battles before laying siege to Petersburg. In the spring of 1865 Lee finally surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courhouse, effectively ending the war in the east.  Yet, just twenty years after the war’s end, and following two terms as President of the United States, Grant depleted most of his savings following a world tour, while failed business ventures left him nearly destitute.  To make matters worse, Grant was diagnosed at the time with throat cancer.  Fighting time and an imminent death, Grant wrote his memoirs to secure his family’s financial future, and finished them only days before he succumbed to his cancer.  His work remains a classic and is still highly regarded by literary critics, military historians, and the general public.  This volume includes 174 letters written by Grant between 1839 and 1865 to his wife, Julia, fellow generals and government officials, which serves to supplement the narrative of Grant’s memoirs.

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2012 marks the 2nd year of the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary.  Michigan’s role in the war has been well-documented–especially during the war’s centennial in the 1960’s–and will no doubt be further recorded and enumerated during the sesquicentennial period, as well. 

Michigan was well-represented during the conflict.  Nearly 90,000 troops saw service in one of the state’s 45 regiments of infantry, cavalry, artillery, sharpshooters, engineers/mechanics, within one of 50 other military units from other states, or the Union navy. Michiganders fought in nearly every major battle–from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.    

Wading through the ever-growing mass of Civil War literature can be daunting, so here are some recommended titles to get one started:

Father Abraham’s Children:  Michigan Episodes in the Civil War by Frank B. Woodford.  (Originally published in 1961 by Wayne State University Press and reprinted in 1999.)  This volume is a collection of anecdotes and stories culled from a variety of sources including written accounts and veteran’s reminiscences.  Highlights of the collection include:  Gen. Custer & the Michigan Cavalry Brigade; the Confederate plot for releasing POWs from Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie; the heroic stand of the 24th MI Infantry at Gettysburg; Sarah Emma Edmonds who served in the ranks of the 2nd MI Infantry as “Franklin Thompson” ; the Sultana disaster–the worst martime tragedy in U.S. history (overshadowed by Lincoln’s death and the end of the war); and the capture of Confederate Pres. Jefferson Davis by the 4th MI Cavalry.

A Distant Thunder:  Michigan in the Civil War by Richard Bak. This amply illustrated work briefly chronicles Michigan’s involvement in the Underground Railroad before turning its attention to the war years.  Bak doesn’t focus solely on Michigan’s soldiers in battle; he also details the home-front in Michigan, children at war, Medal of Honor winners,  prisoners of war, and Civil War veterans and the G.A.R in the aftermath of the conflict. The book is rounded out by a bibliography for further reading, and a list of suggested resources for those seeking additional information on Michigan’s role in the Civil War at archives, libraries, museums and other organizations.

From the Cannon’s Mouth:  The Civil War letters of General Alpheus S. Williams edited by Milo M. Quaife. (Originally published by Wayne State University Press & the Detroit Historical Society in 1959 and reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1995.) Williams’s letters to his daughters offer astute observations of this general officer from Michigan.  Active in Detroit society prior to the war, Williams served variously as a probate court judge, bank president, newspaper owner/editor, postmaster, and was also involved with the state militia.  When the war came he was involved in training the first volunteers for service, before a promotion to brigadier general himself.  Williams saw major action in the Shenandoah Valley, Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in the east before being transferred to the western theatre to reinforce Grant at Chattanooga.  For the remainder of the war Williams served variously as a division or corps commander under Sherman in the battles for Atlanta, the March to the Sea, and the Carolinas. After the war he served as a diplomat and was later elected a U.S. Congressman. A capable and dedicated officer, Williams was too often overlooked and overshadowed by the cadre of West Point generals with whom he served.  Buried in Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery, an equestrian statue in his honor has graced Belle Isle since 1921.

If I Am Found Dead : Michigan Voices from the Civil War edited by David L. Poremba.  Culled from the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library, Poremba has transcribed the letters and diaries of four Michigan soldiers:  George Vanderpool of Muskegon (3rd MI Infantry), Charles Salter of Detroit (1st & 16th MI Infantry), John Presley of Stockbridge (7th MI Infantry), and James Vernor of Detroit (4th MI Cavalry).  Vernor, who would later go on to fame creating the beloved ginger ale that bears his name, served in the west with the Army of the Cumberland, while Presley, Salter & Vanderpool all saw action in the Army of the Potomac in the east.  All but one of them would survive the war.

“My Brave Mechanics” :  The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War by Mark Hoffman.  When the Civil War began the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consisted of 44 officers & 100 men.  In response to the lack of experienced engineers in an ever-growing army, Congress authorized a substantial increase in the number of troops to serve as engineers.  Michigan was one of only a few northern states to recruit a regiment of volunteer engineers for the Union.  Comprised of engineers, railroad men, artisans and craftsmen, the 1st Michigan Engineers & Mechanics served exclusively in the western theatre of the war where they constructed or repaired railroads, telegraph lines, bridges, blockhouses and fortifications–all to keep the Union army’s crucial supply line functioning, and ultimately contributing to a northern victory.  In addition to tracing their behind-the-scenes engineering feats, Hoffman also reveals the considerable combat experiences of this little-known unit against Confederate guerillas and bushwhackers.

The Iron Brigade:  A Military History by Alan T. Nolan.  This history of the only all-western brigade fighting in the eastern Army of the Potomac “remains one of the best unit histories of the Union Army during the Civil War.”  Comprised of the 2nd, 6th & 7th Wisconsin Infantry, the 19th Indiana Infantry, and the 24th Michigan Infantry, this unit fought hard and with distinction from 2nd Manassas to the end of the war.  At Gettysburg the 24th MI alone lost more killed and wounded than any Union regiment during the 3-day battle due to death, wounds or capture.  For its actions at Gettysburg, the 24th would become one of the most celebrated units from the Great Lakes State. The 24th was later given the honor of serving as the escort  for Pres. Lincoln’s funeral.

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The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
As a librarian, it’s part of my job to keep on top of what books are popular with our patrons; but I’m a slow reader and my To Be Read pile is large, so I often don’t get to read these popular books until long after they’re published. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help has been a best-seller since it was published in 2009, and I finally had a chance to read it recently. It’s a great choice for book groups. Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter are strong Southern women living in 1960s Mississippi when Jim Crow laws still existed. They get past their fear of racially motivated attacks in their community and press on writing their stories about being black women working for white families. I liked the writing style Stockett used, which made it very easy to get into the head of each character. I highly recommend the book to anyone.

If you’re looking for other books similar to The Help, try these:

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk KiddThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in South Carolina in 1964, Lily Owens’ life has been shaped around the blurred memory the afternoon her mother was killed. She and her “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, flee after an encounter with their town’s fiercest racists. They are taken in by three beekeeping sisters who Lily to a world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their house.


We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth BergWe Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg
It is the summer of 1964 in Tupelo, Mississippi, and in Paige Dunn’s house there are more pressing matters than the civil rights demonstrations across the state. Paige is still suffering from the effects of polio, and she is determined to live her life as normal as possible.



Four Spirits by Sena Jeter NaslundFour Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund
In the wake of racial tensions in 1960s Alabama, sheltered white college student Stella participates in her first freedom movement and finds her life changed in several ways when she develops friendships with local African Americans.




The Living by Annie DillardThe Living by Annie Dillard
When Native Americans help two struggling pioneer families in Washington, the behavior and attitudes of both groups change.





Catfish Alley by Lynne BryantCatfish Alley by Lynne Bryant – coming April 5, 2011
Publishers Weekly says, “…her tale will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Help. The author accesses her own tumultuous Southern history to lend her enchanting tale much local color.” You can read the first chapter (PDF) at the author’s website.



Do you have any suggestions for The Help readalikes? Share them in the comments!

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Focus on Detroit

Having grown up in Detroit, I am always curious to read anything about my childhood city that sheds a new perspective on it, fiction, non-fiction and even a TV show. With the recent airing of the new police show, Detroit 187, filmed on location in Detroit with a lot of local footage, it made me think about some of the more recent books set in or that are about Detroit. Here are a few recent and noteworthy books you many want to check out.

Grand River and Joy by Susan Messer. In this new historical novel, two ordinary families, one Jewish the other African-American, face racial tensions in their neighborhood leading up to the Detroit race riots of the mid 1960s. As they watch their neighborhoods and city fall apart, the characters struggle with the fundamental issues of how to cope with a changing world and maintain personal integrity despite fear. In another work of fiction, The Detroit Electric Scheme; a Mystery by D.E. Johnson is set in booming 1910 Detroit, just as competition is beginning in the auto industry and labor unions are beginning to form. The main character, son of owner of an electric car company is forced to fight for his life against allodds. Rich details of historical Detroit, sprinkled with captains of industry, and a twisting plot make for a good read. The Leisure Seekers by Michael Zadoorian, is a poignant story of an elderly couple in declining health filled with love, determination and laugh-out loud scenes.  Over the objection of their doctors and adult children the couple decides to embark on one final fling together. They leave Madison Heights to head west on Route 66. Zadoorian, raised in Detroit is also author of Second Hand, a wonderfully humorous book of a young junk dealer set in Detroit.

Detroit Disassembled by Philip Levine with photographs  by  Andrew Moore. Moore  has produced a powerful compilation of photos of Detroit in decline since its heyday before WW II. Photographing in color, Moore captures the dilapidation of decaying buildings, abandoned businesses and once grand but uninhabitable residences.

Chrysler’s Turbine Engine by Steve Lehto is an account about Chrysler’s foray into producing cars with jet engines that would run on just about any flammable liquid from tequila, to alcohol to kerosene. Produced in the early 60’s, the experimental fleet logged over a million miles. The author interviewed all members of the team to learn about the program and find out why it was killed.

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If you’re addicted to the A&E television series Hoarders as much as I am, then you’ll be fascinated by E.L. Doctorow’s latest.  Homer and Langley is a fictional account of New York City’s infamous Collyer brothers.  Blind Homer becomes increasingly dependent on Langley for survival, but Langley has returned from the trenches of WWI lung-scarred and slowly going insane.  Langley hoards newspapers, cast-off furniture and even a Ford Model T inside the brother’s once elegant Fifth Avenue mansion.  Doctorow takes us inside the private world of the brothers and provides a sweeping panoramic of 20th century American life.

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