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Category: 2015 Entries

Jan 04 2016

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

Reviewed by Mary Grace Keilhauer, NC State student in Environmental Engineering

I really enjoyed this book. I had no idea what it was about when I began reading it, but it quickly drew me in. Albom does a great job of creating this frame for the story at the beginning. Without giving anything away, it starts at the end, and through this layout of five people, you put the pieces together and begin really connecting with the character. It was just an interesting way to learn someone’s story. Overall a great short read and I would recommend it.

Dec 16 2015

Leaving Auburndale and A Brief History of Seven Killings

Reviewed by Jason Jefferies, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries


The best book I read this year by a regional author is also the first book I read this year, which is Leaving Auburndale by Hank Smith.  In Leaving Auburndale, Smith–a phenomenal banjo player from Raleigh, North Carolina–gives us a Gonzo take on the life of a touring bluegrass musician that reads like Raoul Duke on a whiskey bender at a swampy Floridian carnival.  Smith’s novel, his first, rewarded me with more laugh-out-loud moments than any book I read in 2015.

Reviewed by Jason Jefferies, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

Keeping with the musical theme, the best book I read this year by a non-regional author is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James.  This novel is centered around the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, though it covers several years before and after.  A challenging but rewarding read, the scope of A Brief History of Seven Killings is best compared to that of The Sound and the Fury and The Wire.  For what it’s worth, James recently became the first Jamaican author to win the Man Booker Prize.

Dec 16 2015

Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century by Masha Gessen

Reviewed by Callistus Ndemo, NC State student, Applied Math

A detailed portrait of Grigori (Grisha) Perelman, a mathematical genius and myth who shocked the world by turning down the Fields Medal then later withdrawing completely from the world of Mathematics. Through interviews, Gessen traces Grisha’s life from participating in Mathematics competitions when he was young, to life as a professor in the US missing his mother and his non-conformist perspective that led him away hibernating from the world.

Dec 11 2015

A Preparation for the Next Life and Mauvais Garçons : Portraits de tatoués (1890-1930)

Reviewed by Dr. John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

A Preparation for the Next Life, the first novel by Atticus Lish, won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner award for fiction. The story-line and structure are so technically good that books like this confound critics who wonder both how some of the current younger generation of writers like Lish can pull this off at such an early stage of their careers, and, more importantly, whether he will be able to continue to produce such high quality pieces of fiction. Regardless of what come next from Lish, this book is a wrenching love tragedy, a For Whom the Bell Tolls set in modern day New York City.  I would like to add this book to the list of books considered in the discussion/debate for The Great American Novel because it captures so well the modern expressions (and failings) of the historically significant American themes of immigration, race, soldiery, violence, and yes, love, all heedlessly mixed up together and exploding out onto the streets of the quintessential city.
Reviewed by Dr. John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

Mauvais garçons : Portraits de tatoués (1890-1930) by Jérôme Pierrat and Eric Guillon and translated by Philippe Aronson is a fascinating collection and analysis of photographs of tattoos taken from various persons (prisoners, soldiers, convicts, etc) associated with French North African battalions during the time period stated in the title. The authors analyze the significance of the tattoos, pointing out both recurring subject themes and more specific if not obscure meanings of individual types. All tattoos aside, the blank faces of the subjects in the photographs staring back at you from off the pages emotionally reflect the strain and suffering that these particular inmates must have experienced.

Dec 10 2015

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Reviewed by Todd Stoffer, NCSU Libraries Fellow

The Dog Stars at its heart is a post-apocalyptic survival story. What I enjoyed most about this novel is how different it was from other stories in this this genre. It is remarkably light and heartwarming. While the world has fallen apart the main character and narrator, Hig, remains hopeful throughout the book. It also is set in my home state of Colorado which I enjoyed

Dec 10 2015

The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon

Reviewed by Heidi Tebbe, NCSU Libraries Fellow

This was an intriguing read about the unknown history of the game Monopoly and a peek into the early days of toy and board game companies. The gradual evolution and improvement of the game that would eventually become Monopoly, as family and friends shared and modified the game and produced their own boards and cards, reminded me of today’s open source development.

Dec 09 2015

Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, 3rd edition

Reviewed by Madison Sullivan, NCSU Libraries Fellow

This is the 25th anniversary edition of the first huge scholarly survey of the history of sexuality in the United States (I think it still might be the only one). The book chronicles policy, mores, laws, and, at times, hilarious or truly heartbreaking personal accounts of American sexuality from the 1600s onward. While it’s an incredibly entertaining read, it’s not nearly as lascivious as it sounds (sorry to disappoint!). I’m able to better understand contemporary debates and perceptions surrounding reproductive rights and American sexuality within the historical contextualization it presents.

Dec 09 2015

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Reviewed by Josh Wilson, Systems Librarian, NC Live

Neal Stephenson’s take on the consequences of the moon exploding (not a spoiler–it happens in literally the first sentence) employs him in his familiar roles of PopSci explainer and technology worshipper. While his interests seem like they could get him labeled as a writer of “hard” science fiction, a genre that typically elevates technical details over human interest, Stephenson uniquely manages to master both. He’s able to create great sci-fi stories, but fills them with casts of likeable, impossibly smart, witty characters. This is a long novel, and the story could have easily been stretched into three books, but the entire arc of disaster aftermath, survival story, and human recovery is covered in one epic volume.

Dec 09 2015

Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart

Reviewed by Marian Fragola, Director, Program Planning and Outreach

“When someone looks back and writes a history of this summer, two people they will almost certainly leave out are Sue and Daniel Bagnold, mother and son respectively . . . ” And with that first line begins Days of the Bagnold Summer. This gloomy charmer chronicles the quotidian life of Daniel, a teen aged boy, and his mom during one doleful summer. Other readers have called it depressing, but I think the tone is more poignant. Winterhart, through the art and the text, really captures a feeling.
Dec 09 2015

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Reviewed by Chuck Samuels, Director of Publications

The Boys in the Boat tells the true story of the American 8-man rowing team who competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. So much of this book was a surprise to me. I had never really grasped the nature of what life was like in America in those uncertain years leading up to the second World War. I had never really understood or appreciated rowing crew shell racing. And I have never read a book that so expertly grabbed my attention and had me on the edge of my seat, even though I already knew who was going to win the race.

Dec 09 2015

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

Reviewed by Chris Tonelli, Director of Communication Strategy, NCSU Libraries

This genre-blurring hybrid of poetry, prose, and images exposes and explores contemporary systemic racial discrimination. Through examples of both local micro-aggressions–experiences on public transportation, for example–and very public macro-aggressions–absurd calls going against Serena Williams in an internationally televised tennis match, Rankine collages a frank and unrelenting portrait of race in America, one worthy of being nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in two categories–the first time that’s ever happened (it won for Criticism).
Dec 07 2015

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Reviewed by Dargan Williams, Friends of the Library Board Member

The best book I have read this year is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This 700 page novel tells the story of four college roommates who move to New York after graduation to pursue their careers. Willem is an aspiring actor, JB is an artist , Malcolm becomes a respected architect , and Jude … around whom the novel revolves… is a brilliant and successful lawyer.  Yanagihara’s prose is flowery and impactful, and her characters are unforgettable.  A very emotional and, at times, troubling read, A Little Life deals with abuse, redemption and the complicated male bond of four men.

Dec 04 2015

Mother of Sorrows by Richard McCann

Reviewed by Sylvia Sheffield, Library Technician, Natural Resources Library, NCSU Libraries

Mother of Sorrows is a novel (or perhaps a collection of short stories) about a gay man growing up in 1950s suburban America and then living as an adult during the AIDS crisis. Across this timespan we witness the narrator’s changing relationship to his family members and his sexuality. McCann is a poet as well as a novelist, and his prose is beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking; every word is intentional. I loved the way that his descriptions of the most mundane objects turned them into something meaningful.

Dec 04 2015

Seeing Things by Nancy Young

Reviewed by Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

I read this book in one day! Mary Catherine, the divorced mother who takes up ghost hunting in a haunted mansion in Philadelphia after leaving her husband in Raleigh, North Carolina, seems like a best friend.  The conversations are witty and wise; the plot moves at a rapid pace and carries you along with Mary Catherine’s awakening to her self. The descriptions made me see Grey Crag in all its spooky glory, with ladies in Callot Soeurs gowns, languidly roaming from room to room in the mansion during party after party. One of the things I liked best is Mary Catherine’s relationship with her son. She is a mother who cares and also has her eyes wide open. There is steamy sex with a hot tech guy, lots of ghosts, and tragedy from the past. Nancy has portrayed Mary Catherine as a full character. I felt for Mary as a child, and as an adult. She was coping with what life handed her, and grew in the process. This is a smart, sexy, and frightening novel. Nancy Young is a local author and her next book in this series, which features Raleigh, is out now!

Dec 04 2015

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook

Reviewed by Kristin Wilson, Associate Head, Acquisitions and Discovery, NCSU Libraries

My favorite book this year was The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook. It’s all about the new ways that pop music has come to be created over the past twenty years. In particular, it focuses on the people behind the hits — superstar producers and songwriters, many of them from Scandinavia. The best part about the book is that Seabrook is not judgmental or condescending about this music, even though he grew up in a different era. He loves pop and has real knack for picking apart songs and figuring out what makes them work.
Dec 04 2015

Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner

Reviewed by Catherine W. Bishir, Curator, Architectural Records Special Collections, NCSU Libraries

I really liked Angela Davis-Gardner’s novel, Butterfly’s Child. It begins with the plot of the opera Madame Butterfly but then follows the orphaned child of Madame Butterfly through an imagined boy and young man growing up. The story covers a large swath of America and also goes to Japan. The author’s deep knowledge of Japan and her research on American settings as well provide a solid and believable grounding for an engagingly told story. I read it on a long train trip, and it was fabulous as a non-stop read that carried me right along with it.

Dec 04 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Reviewed by Leia Droll, Executive Director of Development, NCSU Libraries

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a beautiful story about a boy and girl in occupied France during World War II  with an unlikely connection.  The book, written from alternating perspectives, is rich in detail and character development, and offers a somewhat unique perspective of young people during this time. The book is difficult to put down—I read it from start to finish on a transatlantic flight and hardly noticed the long trip.
Dec 04 2015

Redeployment by Paul Clay

RedeploymentReviewed by Alex Carroll, Research Librarian for Engineering and Biotechnology, NCSU Libraries

This book was recommended to me by a friend as “The Things They Carried for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” It’s an apt comparison: like O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, each chapter of Redeployment tells the story of a Marine at home or currently deployed. Beyond his keen eye for detail, Klay’s most impressive achievement is his construction of clearly distinct voices for his narrators that makes each chapter feel completely unique and deeply personal. At times tragic, at times farcical, and affecting throughout.

Dec 03 2015

The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

Reviewed by Joe Hightower, Friends of the Library Board Member

The best book I read this year was The Cobra Event by Richard Preston.  It isn’t a recent novel (1998, actually) but I only learned of it after reading Micro, which was started by Michael Crichton and completed by Richard Preston.  The Cobra Event is similar to a Crichton book in that it is very exciting but has a strong science foundation.  In this time of frequent acts of terrorism, it is a very plausible and scary story.
Dec 03 2015

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeReviewed by: Jamie Bradway, Preservation Librarian, NCSU Libraries

I’ve been around long enough to have developed a pretty fixed world view, to have become less intellectually malleable than I’d like to be. So I appreciate Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me more than anything I’ve read in years for its having shaken my brain a bit, dislodging some of my cobwebs. The myths of race and facts of racism had gone almost wholly unexamined in my life. These had seemed issues not particularly relevant to me, as though I were not the beneficiary of a society biased in my favor, or because they’re issues on which I’d chosen the correct side politically or socially. What had been missing was understanding. Coates’ book is at least a step toward that for me.