Hazel Park librarians offer summer reading recommendations

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 17, 2020


HAZEL PARK — A good read is a smart way to beat the heat of summer — especially during a pandemic that has put so many activities on hold.

The staff at the Hazel Park Memorial District Library are passionate about the many tales waiting to be discovered in their collection, both in the building at 123 E Nine Mile Road and in their catalog online. Here are some of their top picks.

Amy Beem,
Youth services librarian

Fans of crime drama and fantasy may appreciate Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files,” published by Penguin, about a private investigator who is also a wizard, working with police to solve supernatural mysteries involving monsters, vampires and other creatures in modern-day Chicago. The series, narrated in first-person by the titular hero Harry Dresden, is an ongoing series currently at 15 installments, started in 2000, with the most recent release July 14 and the next in late September.

“I have read only five of the books so far,” Beem said, noting they are written for adults. “I loved the books because the characters seem so real and easy to connect with. There is humor, suspense, action and magic in all of the books. The main character has a hard time staying alive, paying his bills and sometimes knowing what to say. He always gets caught in the middle of things — you feel so bad for him, but you are also are rooting for him to win.”

Another book Beem recommends is Wendelin Van Draanen’s “Running Dream,” published by Random House Children’s Books in 2012. This work of fiction is about a high school track star named Jessica who loses a leg in a bus accident on the way home from an out-of-town track meet. As she deals with the trauma and realization that her life will never be the same again, she makes new friends and receives support from the track team, who raise money to buy her a prosthetic leg. She is fitted with the leg and learns to walk and run with it, but then struggles with the emotions of people not knowing how to react. She also begins to lose her love of running.

“This book is full of every emotion and is very inspiring, loving, and full of perseverance and personal growth,” Beem said. “I love books that make you feel every emotion: crying, laughing, happiness, etc. ‘Running Dream’ is a young adult book that even adults will love. It’s more than a realistic fiction book — you feel like you are there with Jessica. It feels like real life. The summary and review of this book do not do it justice. You just have to read it.”

One last recommendation from Beem is Patricia Pollacco’s “Thank You, Mr. Falker,” published by Philomel Book in 1998. Beem says Pollacco is one of her favorite children’s authors. This one is a children’s picture book about a girl, Trisha, who has trouble reading due to dyslexia. In fifth grade, her teacher, Mr. Falker, helped her to overcome her reading disability, and he also helps her to realize she is smart and talented.

“The book is actually based on the life of the author,” Beem said. “This is one of my all-time favorite books. I too had trouble with reading and math when I was little, and was a slow test taker. If it were not for my fourth-grade teacher, I would not be where I am today. So while I was not treated like Trisha by her peers, I can still kind of relate to her issues.

“I love how heartwarming and inspiring ‘Thank You, Mr. Falker’ is,” Beem said. “I cry every time I read it, not because it’s sad what she goes through, but because teachers like Mr. Falker are golden. It’s not what you say, but how you make a person feel that makes a difference.”

Amanda Bouldin,
Circulation clerk

Bouldin recommends picking up Margaret Atwood’s “The Testaments,” published by Nab A. Talese/Doubleday in 2019. It’s a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the 1985 dystopian tale recently adapted as a TV series. “The Testaments” follows the lives of three women in a theocratic society that harshly oppresses women. Bouldin said that the story draws fascinating connections between their past and present experiences.

“Though it helps for the overall plot to have read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ ‘The Testaments’ is a story that can be enjoyed on its own,” Bouldin said. “Atwood’s gift of storytelling and world-building creates dynamic characters, interesting plot twists, and unique backdrops to a not-so-farfetched dystopian future.”

Randy Ernst-Meyer,
Adult and teen librarian

Ernst-Meyer described Alexandra Bracken’s “The Darkest Minds,” published by Hyperion starting in 2012, as a gripping series of books set in a near-future United States where a plague kills many of the nation’s children, while causing those who survive to develop psychic powers, some of whom are then placed by the government in special camps.

Ruby Daly is one such child, taken from her family at age 10, following which a terrible incident causes her parents to lose all memory of her. Daily then spends six long years in the camps, until one day she is freed by a band of rebels, and she finds herself on the run.

“There are a number of teen books set in the post-apocalyptic future,” Ernst-Meyer said, citing “The Divergent” series and “The Hunger Games” series as examples. “However, ‘The Darkest Mind’ series strikes very close to home. Its concentration on a plague (and) a government gone rogue seems eerily like our current situation. When combined with Alexandra Bracken’s well-drawn characters and taut storytelling, the books become a phenomenal read.”

Another series recommended by Ernst-Meyer is Andrzej Sapkowski’s “The Witcher,” a series that has led to several successful videogames and a blockbuster TV show on Netflix. The books have been reprinted and translated all over the world.

“There is a simple reason for this,” Ernst-Meyer said. “It is terrific.”

“The Witcher” is set in a medieval fantasy world and deals with war, intrigue, magic, monsters, adventure and romance. Ernst-Meyer said some see it as a new “Game of Thrones,” comparable in style and scope. The books follow Geralt of Rivia, a “witcher” — a man created through magical means for the sole purpose of killing monsters. Geralt is an outsider to society, but needed.

“The books take him through kingdoms devastated by war, forests filled with magic and people in horrible subjugation,” Ernst-Meyer said. “These are must-read books for any lover of fantasy.”

Ernst-Meyer also recommended Charles Portis’ “True Grit,” published by Simon & Schuster in 1968. If the name sounds familiar, that might be because there’s also a 1969 John Wayne film and a 2010 film starring Jeff Bridges.

“‘True Grit’ is a title that is pretty familiar to many people. … But it is also one of the funniest, most ironic takes on the Old West ever written,” Ernst-Meyer said.

The story is narrated by Mattie Hayes, a 14-year-old farm girl whose father is murdered.

“She is smart, determined, stubborn and fearless,” Ernst-Meyer said. “When she finds that her father has been slain, she sets out to avenge him. Mattie, however, is no gunslinger or tracker. She hires a broken down, drunken ex-marshall — the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn. The two set out to find her father’s killer.”

He said the tale is both funny and tragic.

“‘True Grit’ is a genuine classic,” Ernst-Meyer said. “You may think you know the story, but until you read this short gem, you really don’t know Mattie.”

For more information about the Hazel Park Memorial District Library, call (248) 546-4095 or visit hazel-park.lib.mi.us.