Category Archives: Book Reviews – The Stranger the Better

Summer Reading – Library Staff Picks

There are still a few weeks of summer left and we wanted to share some our suggestions for good reads you might want to take in before returning to school . . .



Last month my book club read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It’s a really good book to read at the beach as it is 560 pages and keeps your attention. Rarely, is there a book that I would like to read again to pick up on the pieces I missed the first time through, but this is one.

In an interview, Kate Atkinson talked about wanting to write about the London Blitz but also wanting to experiment with a character who constantly dies and is reborn. That character, Ursula lives a a different path each time she dies and is born again.  The historical fiction account of World War II in combination with an interesting structure makes this a good read.

~ Betty Thomas ~


I recently read and loved The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.  Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

~ Jamie Sunnycalb ~


Tom Robbins’ warm, wise, and wonderfully weird novels—including Still Life With Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates—provide an entryway into the frontier of his singular imagination. Madcap but sincere, pulsating with strong social and philosophical undercurrents, his irreverent classics have introduced countless readers to natural born hitchhiking cowgirls, born-again monkeys, a philosophizing can of beans, exiled royalty, and problematic redheads.  In Tibetan Peach Pie, Robbins turns that unparalleled literary sensibility inward, stitching together stories of his unconventional life, from his Appalachian childhood to his globetrotting adventures —told in his unique voice that combines the sweet and sly, the spiritual and earthy. (Amazon)

~ Julie Morris ~


The Time Travelers’ Wife  – Audrey Niffenegger

Don’t let yourself be swayed by the soft focus movie trailer and think this is some sappy chick flick novel – this story, in book form, is literally one of the edgiest and rawest love stories I’ve ever picked up, featuring a punk rocker time traveling librarian.  It ended up on my lap as a screenplay many years ago when it was first being shopped around and I was so touched by the screenplay I immediately went on a hunt for the book, starved for more words, for the original story.  And the book itself was such a magnificent, moving piece that after I finished, I put it down and said something I’ve never said before ‘I can’t even read it again.  It’s too good.’  And it was a year before I cracked and opened the cover again.  I still haven’t gone back for my third helping…

~ Ashley Moye ~


~Katie Brown~


The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

The Paris Wife is a fictionalized, but well-researched account of Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson, told from Richardson’s perspective. It captures the warmth between the two individuals and provides a peek into the artsy, ex-patriot society which included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. I had seen this book in various book stores over the last two years, but had always walked right by it.  I’d never been a fan of Ernest Hemingway. I just didn’t “get” him.  The only works of his I had read were some of the short “Nick Adams” stories and his memoir, A Moveable Feast.  I enjoyed the latter.

I had learned that a newly restored A Moveable Feast had been published and so, along with this title, I picked up The Paris Wife.  The novel permitted me to see Hemingway in a new and more vulnerable way and has the potential of motivating me to read The Sun Also Rises.

~ Susan Catterall ~

And if none of these suit your fancy, check out these recommended reading lists:



~Julie Morris~

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A Study in Environmental Activism

Stand Up That Mountain: The Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness along the Appalachian Trail  by Jay Erskine Leutze.

Stand Up That Mountain: The Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness along the Appalachian Trail by Jay Erskine Leutze.

For anyone who loves the North Carolina mountains, the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains… this is an all too familiar story. Jay Erskine Leutze’s first book is his account of the battle against a large gravel mine set to take down Belview Mountain in Avery County, North Carolina. Not only was the largest surface mine in the South to be located adjacent to homes in the small community of Dog Patch but also within close view of the Appalachian Trail, a federally protected park.

Jay Erskine Leutze is a non-practicing lawyer who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After law school, Leutze retreated to an “intentional” quiet life in Avery County intending to write, fish and hike. His quiet life ended in 1999 with a test blast that shook his home and a call from fourteen-year-old Ashley Cox that got him involved in a legal battle against Paul Brown and the Clark Stone Company. The case became known at the Putnam Mine case.

This book is the story of Leutze’s four year campaign that started with pulling together a legal defense team to a landmark decision upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court. Along the way, his legal team partnered with advocacy groups such as the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Appalachian Trail Conference, and the National Parks Conservation Association to oppose the mine. In an ironic twist, they were also drawn into supporting the State of North Carolina as the state Division of Land Resources revoked Brown’s ninety-nine year mining permit, an unprecedented decision. The story clearly shows the twists and turns of multiple court battles as the case goes through the legal process.

Just as the case meanders through the court system, Leutze’s story fleshes out the importance of the area, describing in detail the scenic aspects of the mountains and the history of various parts and people like Sugar Top, a condominium complex built on the top of Sugar Mountain that resulted in North Carolina’s landmark Mountain Ridge Protection Act. Leutze’s humble tone and passion for the cause makes this an unusually attractive story. Here is a true guide to environmental advocacy.



~Betty Thomas~

Note:  Stand Up That Mountain has been added the Charlotte Law Library’s collection and is available for check out.

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Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals: From the Columns of Against the Grain – A Book Review


For many information professionals, copyright fascinates and confounds. Copyright is glossed over in many classes, and librarians struggle to find clear answers to questions that arise in their practice. In the early days of a career, it is easy to blame youth for your befuddlement, but as years pass it becomes more and more difficult to plead ignorance. I have turned to a number of resources, including books, seminars, and massive online open courses, but all have skimmed over practical issues. For many librarians, copyright is simply a hurdle, not a concept to be lingered over, and swift resolutions to imperative questions are invaluable. Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals: From the Columns of Against the Grain by Laura N. Gasaway goes a long way in fulfilling that need.

Gasaway, a recognized expert on copyright, has been wrangling with copyright problems for fifteen years now, answering questions from readers in a regular column in Against the Grain, the periodical offshoot of the Charleston Conferences. In her column, she addresses her audience of librarians, publishers, teachers, and authors, clearing the fog and replacing it with clear practicalities, one query at a time.

In her new offering, these questions and answers have been curated, updated, organized, and reassembled, giving readers access, in a single work, to Gasaway’s experience and expertise that was before scattered throughout her columns. Gasaway covers all the usual suspects, including fair use rights, library reserves, licensing, interlibrary loan, preservation, software, and digitization. Question-and-answer pairings are organized into topical chapters, and the book finishes with an emerging issues chapter providing current content on timely subjects such as HathiTrust and the first sale doctrine.

Each chapter features a brief introduction that provides context, but the value of the text lies in her answers to each questioner’s specific needs. While this idiosyncrasy does make the book poorly suited for cover-to-cover reading, it is perfect for quick reference. Other popular copyright texts use the question-and-answer format to show applications of broad concepts, but since the questions posed in this book are wide-ranging and true to life, it effectively provides applicable answers to specific questions. Unfortunately, this also means that when looking for concrete answers, there is no guarantee that guidance for a given question is present between the covers.

In this case, a comprehensive and exhaustive index holds the key to unlocking the precious wisdom inside this book. This is a weakness of the book. While a primarily question-and-answer format leads you to believe that this work would be well-suited for novices, specialized vocabulary or specific portions of the Copyright Acts are often indexed instead of the words used by the questioner. Underutilized cross references again hinder those without a strong knowledge base, and while excellent term definitions and clear, concise summaries of concepts are repeatedly provided throughout the text, the index does not easily lead a reader to them. Not having comprehensive keyword references may seem to avoid redundancy, but instead it limits usability. Readers will not be approaching this text with exact replicas of existing questions, but instead will need to glean their own answers through a careful reading of answers to similar inquires. Because the language of exact inquires is not carefully indexed, an e-book version of this work would be preferable, allowing readers to perform keyword searches and thus work with whatever vocabulary they have on hand.

While the index and other minor inconsistencies keep Gasaway’s content from shining as brightly as it should, Gasaway deserves great praise for her work’s greatest strength: her ability to strike a balance between handing out specific advice and teaching readers strategies to navigate the treacherous waters around best practices and general guidelines. Guidelines and fair use do not lend themselves to cut-and-dry answers, making many copyright texts full of generalizations. However, Gasaway brilliantly teaches her lessons through examples, focusing not only on the use of best practices, but also on the importance of careful risk assessment. She reminds readers that copyright is rarely a firm line, unfortunate though it seems. Instead, application of copyright law is often nebulous. Gasaway’s well-balanced advice guides readers in making their own choices, weighing their options, and choosing to overcome their copyright hurdles the way that is most appropriate for them. In this role, Gasaway is truly a master of her craft.

~Ashley Moye~

This book review first appeared in 106 Law Libr. J. 108-109 (2014).

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The Happiness Advantage: Part II

Principle #1:  the Happiness Advantage

Positive brains have an advantage over negative or neutral brains.  Our outlook and mood are positive when we are happy and this makes us smarter, more motivated and ultimately, more successful because we are happy.  Competitive, successful people are those who capitalize on positivity.

How do scientists define happiness?  After years of testing, involving millions of people, it has been determined that happiness is “the experience of positive emotions – pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose”[1].  Martin Seligman, the pioneer in positive psychology, has determined there are three measurable components to happiness:  pleasure, engagement, and meaning.  Aristotle defined happiness as “human flourishing”.  The main components of happiness are positive emotions – awe, amusement, gratitude, hope, interest, inspiration, joy, love, pride, and serenity.  Aggregating over 200 scientific studies which involved about 275,000 people, it was determined that happiness translates into success in almost every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally.

Positive psychology studies show us that happiness leads to greater success, higher performance and greater productivity – not the inverse.  “Happiness precedes important outcomes . . .happiness causes success and achievement”[2] and can also improve out physical health and well-being.

Negative emotions narrow our thoughts and resultant range of action.  Happiness has an important evolutionary purpose.  It helps to “broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more creative and open to new ideas”[3].  Broadened possibilities increase our creativity and help us build more physical, social, and intellectual resources which ultimately leads to greater success.

Biology plays a part in the effects of happiness.  When we are happy, our brains are flooded with serotonin and dopamine, making us feel good and also boosting the learning centers of our brains into higher gears.  This leads to increase neural connections resulting in the ability to think more quickly and with greater creativity.  We become “more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things”[4].  Every time people experience happiness they are mentally primed for greater creativity and innovation, leading to greater success.  Happiness can also help decrease stress and anxiety so we can function on a higher level.

Our happiness fluctuates continually but with concentrated effort we can raise our baseline so that when we are happy we reap even greater rewards.  There are many activities that we can engage in to do just that.  These should be mindfully practiced over time to reap the greatest benefit:

      • Meditate
      • Find something to look forward to
      • Commit conscious acts of kindness
      • Infuse positivity into your surroundings
      • Exercise
      • Spend money (but not on stuff – spend it on experiences)
      • Exercise a signature strength

Lastly, be mindful of the effects on others of negative comments and encounters.  According to a study conducted by Marcial Losada, the ratio of positive to negative interactions is a key determinant in success.  It takes at least three positive experiences, interactions, or comments to negate the effects of one negative experience, interaction, or comment.  Increasing your positivity ratio leads to greater performance, trust, and ability to deal with the negative.

 “Happiness is the center around which success orbits.”[5]

If you would like to read the first article in this series, please see here.  Next time . . . “The Fulcrum and The Lever:  Changing Your Performance by Changing Your Mindset.

~ Julie Morris ~

[1] Achor, Shawn, The Happiness Advantage (New York: Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2010), 39.

[2] Achor, 42.

[3] Achor, 44.

[4] Achor, 44.

[5] Achor, 61.

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The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor: A Book Review


An exploration in how increasing your happiness can elevate your overall quality of life and your productivity at work and school, to boot, this book gives the reader seven basic principles to work through to increase their happiness factor exponentially.  Utilizing the concepts of positive psychology, Mr. Achor presents ideas that we all can integrate into our work and personal lives, that enable us to increase our happiness, accomplish more and, in effect, take greater control of our lives – in a good way.  Success first, happiness second, right?

He takes this idea of “working hard leads to becoming successful which leads to greater happiness” and turns it on its head.  He postulates that this theory is broken because with each victory or success, we find our goals pushed out further and further.  Where’s the happiness in that?

Achor also puts forth the idea that “the relationship between success and happiness works the other way around”.  Conversely, optimism and success fuel achievement and performance.  “Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential . . .”  Who knew???  Feeling grateful for where we are in life, what we have accomplished so far and celebrating our goals for the future can fuel our happiness and lead to greater success and achievements.

We, as students and working people alike, cannot lose sight of our accomplishments.  Review those and celebrate them daily.  How about taking five minutes each day to reflect on your accomplishments today?  They can be large or small – they all count.  After all, no one can conquer everything in one day!  Be grateful for everything you have accomplished.  It is all for good – yours and others.

Yes, every day presents us with another set of things to be accomplished.  But if you balance that new list against what you’ve already accomplished and learned, don’t you think you should feel empowered and equipped to take on the next challenge?  Celebrate your successes and keep in mind that the knowledge and experience you have gained will serve you well in achieving your next challenge, goal, marathon, graduation, etc.

Check out Shawn Achor’s TED Talk here.

More in the coming weeks about his Seven Principles to achieving the Happiness Advantage:

1 – The Happiness Advantage

2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever

3 – The Tetris Effect

4 – Falling Up

 5 – The Zorro Circle

6 – The 20-Second Rule

7 – Social Investment

 ~ Julie Morris ~

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From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same Sex Marriage – A Book Review


Gay marriage is inevitable, according to Harvard Law School professor Michael J. Klarman in his book From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same Sex Marriage.  He makes this claim because young people today, who are more likely to know someone who is gay and to have grown-up in a gay friendly environment, support same-sex marriage by as many as forty percentage points over older adults, who tend to oppose it.  Klarman suggests that having a gay friend or family member correlates to supporting gay rights, so the coming out of every gay and lesbian and every same-sex couple means more votes for gay equality “[b]ecause few people favor discrimination against those whom they know and love” (p.197).  This more welcoming social environment has ushered same-sex marriage into our state and federal courts.  Klarman includes a helpful time line of all major court decisions and legislation relating to same-sex marriage (prior to the 2012 ballot measures and the United States Supreme Court’s granting of certiorari in two same-sex marriage cases[1]).

At the beginning of the book, Klarman defines the historical context of the gay rights struggle.  Before the mid-1980s, most gays and lesbians were not open about their sexuality for fear of losing their jobs and families and having no legal recourse when such things happened.  Gay rights organizations worked strategically, with little money and few members, to convince some municipalities to adopt gay rights ordinances, only to see them defeated by local referenda.  Klarman points to this historical context to explain the surprise that both gay rights and conservative organizations felt when, in 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court opened the door to same-sex marriage, holding in Baehr v. Lewin that a law restricting marriage to one man and one woman constituted a sex classification and thus required the strictest judicial review.[2]  Klarman provides only a brief analysis of the constitutional arguments for same-sex marriage: that discrimination against same-sex couples is not rationally related to the objectives that states have proffered thus far (i.e., protecting traditional marriage, promoting optimal environments for childrearing, and encouraging procreation).  He makes an intriguing argument, however, that Baehr became a turning point in gay rights policy only because the AIDS epidemic – which refocused the younger gay community on committed relationships and estate planning issues – had created the social environment that would champion Baehr and the subsequent similar decisions.  This brought more financial resources and allies to the gay community for the fight for same-sex marriage.

The discussion of the backlash after Baehr monopolizes the book’s narrative, but the episodes blur into one another because the political maneuvering of conservative and religious groups after each same-sex marriage win follows the same pattern: same-sex marriage opponents rallied behind defense of marriage laws or constitutional amendment initiatives to ban same-sex marriage after a state supreme court from an outside jurisdiction had found its state constitution gave same-sex couples the right to marry.  The federal Defense of Marriage Act[3] and defense of marriage laws in more than thirty states sprang from the backlash against Baehr.  Constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and, in most instances, civil unions and domestic partnerships, passed in twenty-seven states after Goodrich v. Department of Public Health.[4]  Klarman might have avoided the rote reporting in this section had he chosen to highlight the lives of plaintiffs, advocates, or opponents in the same-sex marriage struggle.  He does, however, raise the intriguing suggestion that the push for same-sex marriage may have hurt the gay rights movement in conservative states where gays and lesbians have yet to win even “basic legal protections against violence and discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations” (p.179).

With insightful explanations for the legislation against same-sex marriage, Klarman rebounds strongly in the book’s final pages.  He clearly notes that political backlash is more likely “[w]hen public opinion on judicial rulings divides heavily along regional or geographic lines” (p.186).  For instance, Goodrich generated little political opposition in Massachusetts because a majority of residents supported same-sex marriage.  However, in Ohio, Goodrich likely cost John Kerry the presidential election as George W. Bush increased his percentage of the 2004 popular vote in Ohio by double digits among groups who disproportionately oppose gay marriage (the religious, the elderly, the working-class, and African-Americans).

Klarman concludes that same-sex marriage is inevitable, not least because polls measuring shifts in attitudes are tracking similarly to those from the Civil Rights Movement.  A majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage (p.196) and, according to variables measured by statistician Nate Silver, this trend will continue until same-sex marriage is recognized in every state except those in the Deep South by 2016, and in every state but Mississippi by 2024 (p.202).

From the Closet to the Altar fastidiously reports on the litigation and legislative winners and losers in the same-sex marriage struggle.  This work will interest academics and law students alike, particularly those delving deeper into the more intriguing issues that Klarman raises.

~Cory Lenz~

This book review first appeared in 105 Law Libr. J. 233 (2013).

[1] Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 591 F.3d 1147 (9th Cir. 2010), cert. granted sub nom., Hollingsworth v. Perry, 81 U.S.L.W. 3324 (U.S. Dec. 7, 2012) (No. 12-144); Windsor v. U.S., 699 F.3d 169 (2nd Cir. 2012), cert. granted, 81 U.S.L.W. 3324 (U.S. Dec. 7, 2012) (No. 12-307).

[2] Baehr v. Lewin, 852 P.2d 44 (Haw. 1993).

[3] Defense of Marriage Act, Pub. L. No. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419 (1996) (codified at 7 U.S.C. § 1738C and 1 U.S.C. § 7).

[4] Goodrich v. Dep’t of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003) (holding that the prohibition of same-sex marriage violated the Massachusetts Constitution).

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Beef Up Your Summer Reading List with A Beginners’ Guide to Modern Science Fiction

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

Alongside being a Circulation Assistant at this library, I am also a graduate student earning my Masters in Library and Information Science at UNCG. I have read and loved science fiction for most of my life.   I love the fresh new ideas and the inventiveness of science fiction. As part of my course of study I created a Reading Map for Modern Science Fiction.  This is sort of an interesting guide thingy to what are seen as the major works of modern science fiction.

A few notes about the site:

  • I have read every book on this site. Everything I write is my personal interpretation. 
  • The general idea is to tell you just enough about the authors and the books they have written to get you interested.  My goal is to entice without spoiling any of the wonderful twisting plots.  So, if you are looking for cliffs notes or a detailed review, look somewhere else.
  • Also, on each page I have included links to other websites pages you may find interesting as well as my favorite quotes from each of the novels.

~Aaron Greene~

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