Warm up to these hot winter reads

Local librarians share book recommendations for all ages

By: Sara Kandel | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 25, 2013

 Youth services librarian Barbara Van Havermaat knows what teens, young adults and children are reading these days at the Sterling Heights Public Library.

Youth services librarian Barbara Van Havermaat knows what teens, young adults and children are reading these days at the Sterling Heights Public Library.

Photo by Sara Kandel

Whether your looking for a sci-fi adventure, a classic masterpiece or a thrilling page-turner, the Sterling Heights Public Library has it all, from picture books to 1,000-page novels and everything in between.

And the librarians there took the time to suggest a few of their favorites for readers of all ages.

Picks for Adults
One of the most popular books this year is Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” a page-turner that doesn’t let up on the twists and turns until the very end.

“It’s the story of a complex marriage in which the woman goes missing on their fifth anniversary and the husband is under suspicion and he endeavors to clear himself,” said Alice Cook, the public services supervisor and a librarian at the Sterling Heights Public Library.

“I don’t want to give away the ending because it is very suspenseful.”

Another popular read this winter is “Notorious Nineteen,” the 19th book in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, which features the misadventures of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum.

“Notorious Nineteen is the latest in the mystery series by Janet Evanovich, which has been popular since she started it 20 years ago with ‘One for the Money,’ which has been made into a movie,” Cook said. “And I believe they are going to continue filming the series. Plum is one of the most beloved mystery characters in recent times. She has all sorts of amazing adventures.”

While Evanovich’s series is more popular with women, Cook said she has noticed some male readers gravitating toward it because it’s such a wildly popular and enjoyable read.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series — which began with “The Killing Floor” in 1997 and continues to grow, with the most recent installment, “A Wanted Man,” being published just last year — remains as popular among male readers as Evanovich’s series is among female readers.

Cook recommends the nonfiction book “Thomas Jefferson,” a biography written by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Joe Meacham. She said she hasn’t had a chance to read it herself yet, but it has gained immense popularity through word- of-mouth, and while it is a big hit with many history buffs, it crosses the lines of genres because, from what she hears, it is just that well-written.

“Anything having to do with such an important historical figure is going to be popular. He’s just a fascinating person, and whenever anything comes out about him, people ask for it and want to read it,” she said.

One of Cook’s all-time favorite books is “House of Mirth,” a literary-woven commentary on the role of women at the turn of the century, published in 1905 by Edith Wharton.

“It takes place in the early 1900s in New York City and basically illustrates the status of women in society at that time and features a young woman who is pretty much trapped in that rigid social paradigm of the time and unfortunately comes to a tragic end,” Cook said of the historical fiction novel geared toward women.

Another one of her favorites is “Still Alice,” by Lisa Genova.

“When I read it, I was very impressed with the story of a highly intellectual, educated woman who, at the age of 50, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease,” Cook said. “Basically, the story tracks her life after the diagnosis and how it affects her and her husband, their whole family and all their friends.”

Cook said the book beautifully illustrates just how the disease progresses and how devastating it is to deal with.

“At the end of book, basically, she’s no longer there. She has no memories, forgets all the experiences that she has ever had in her entire life, and she is basically reduced to a shell of a person.”

Youth services librarian Barbara Van Havermaat said dystopian-future fiction and sci-fi books are popular like never before among teens.

“Some of it is very good. There are futuristic societies, and calamities happen that people have to survive,” Van Havermaat said.

She recommends “Life as We Knew It,” by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The story takes place in the future, after a meteoroid struck the moon and knocked it out orbit and closer to Earth, creating all types of mayhem across the planet.

“The first book is told from the point of view of a girl in the countryside, and she and her family are trying to survive there,” Van Havermaat said.

“The second book in the series is during the same time period but it is about a boy in New York City when this happens, and he comes from a very religious family. As everyone is struggling to survive, he constantly has moral battles with himself.”

Young readers and pre-teens
“A lot of the ones I like to recommend to the kids are the books I remember as classics, things that I remember from growing up — books like the Beverly Cleary’s ‘Ramona the Pest,’” said Van Havermaat. “I was looking at one the other day — it was an older book and it has been well-loved. Well, I was flipping through the pages of it to see if it could be repaired or if I needed to purchase another copy of it, and I started reading it, just kind of paragraph by paragraph, and the next thing I know, I’m halfway through the book. It’s just such an interesting, timeless story for kids.”

According to Scholastic.com, “Ramona the Pest” is recommended for kids in the third, fourth and fifth grades.

The wildly popular Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling is another tried-and-true recommendation for Van Havermaat.

“It really is a very good series,” she said. “It is so well-written, adults can enjoy it, too.”

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney is another popular series. Van Havermaat said she didn’t like the series at first — “I read the first one and I thought this isn’t “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” it’s diary of a whiney kid,’ but by the time this last one came out over the summer, I was a fan.”

The easy-to-read chapter books are great for elementary and middle school kids, depending on their individual reading levels.

Some of Van Havermaat’s favorite children’s books are by author Lauren Thompson, the creator of “Little Quack.”

“‘Little Quack’ is about Little Quack the duck and his family and his adventures, and the illustrations, well, he’s a duck, so they’re warm and fuzzy,” she said. “Her books are very cute, very simple everyday books for kids.”

Another of Van Havermaat’s favorite children’s books is “Fancy Nancy,” a series about a sweet little girl who wants to make everything around her fancy.

“She wants everything around her to be glittery and ooh la la,” Van Havermaat said. “I like that series for a few reasons. She’s not mean about things that aren’t fancy. Her parents and her family aren’t fancy, and she gets exasperated with them but she isn’t bad in any way.

“Also, a lot of times in there, she will talk normally and then she will use language that is a little more advanced. For example, she’ll say such and such is really extravagant and then she’ll explain that extravagant is another word for fancy.”

Van Havermaat also recommends anything by Bill Pete, who used to draw for Disney.

“If you look at his illustrations, they look like the older ’50s and ’60s Disney-style images, and all of his books are fantastic for reading out loud and sharing with kids. Everything rhymes and everything has a moral, and there’s a whole bunch of them.”