San Francisco Public Library

Adult Summer Reading Book Reviews

Moby Dick

Moby Dick is an amazing novel. Written in the early 1850s, the novel tells the story of Ishmael, a sailor on the ill-fate whaling ship, The Pequod, under the crazed but lucid Captain Ahab. The novel centers on the struggle between Captain Ahab and the white whale, who had severed Ahab's leg on an earlier voyage. Filled with blood lust, Ahab's only desire is to destroy the mighty Moby Dick. Written in an archaic Nantucket dialect, the novel provides insight into nineteenth-century whaling, oceanography, and most important, the nature of evil and the will to live.

Christopher P. VerPlanck - Potrero

Saving Graces

This book was written by Elizabeth Edwards in 2006. She discusses how she has coped with the tragedy of the death of her 16-year-old son, Wade, and her battle with breast cancer. It is an intimate look into her life and that of her family. She thanks all the friends, family and strangers who helped her along the way by their prayers, letter, e-mails, gifts, hugs, kind words and inspiration. Little did she know the challenges ahead.

Alyce Champion - Bernal Heights

The Politician 

Andrew Young’s book about the John Edwards scandal was a good read. One could empathize with Mr. Youngs’s position. Having spent more than 10 years working very closely with John and Elizabeth Edwards, it was easy to see he was much more than an employee. He took on responsibilities of a close friend or relative. Covering for his boss cost him his job, reputation, friends and future employment. He got caught in a web of deceit.

Alyce Champion - Bernal Heights

Drawing In The Dust

Drawing In The Dust is a novel set in modern Israel. An American archeologist named Page Brookstone is tired of scratching in the dirt at a well known dig and getting no recognition for it. She sets off to discover something on her own and manages to discover the graves of the prophet Jeremiah and the woman he loved, buried together. This ignites tumult in the field of archeology and conflict with orthodox Jewry opposed to what they view as desecration of religious sites. There is a love story involved as well. While the plot is admittedly a bit farfetched the author, Zoe Klein, herself a Rabbi in Los Angeles, writes an entertaining and educational story combining ancient religion and the modern day.

Bill Walker - Sunset

Time Travelers Never Die

This Sci-Fi novel definitely rates as one of the best time travel books ever written. Starting in 2019, the 2 friends, one fortunately a linguist, travel mainly into the past searching for one of their fathers, the inventor of the time travel device about the size of a cell phone. With, in addition, their blackberry-type camera, they photograph famous personages and events. With a closet full of appropriate clothes and coinage, they try to blend into the era they’ve entered. They make a wish list of every event and person they want to see. The Library at Alexandria – they photograph some of Sophocles missing 100+ plays; chat with Galileo; get arrested at the Selma race riots. A fascinating fantasy that I’ve shared, though my wish list would be slightly different.

Ortha Splingaerd - Sunset

Hit Man

Hit Man is a story of a paid assassin named Keller. He is a New Yorker, a single man, who earns his living killing individuals. The assignments are provided by Dot and “the old man,” and Keller then does the research, disguise of his identity, and execution of the requested work. The books includes seven short stories previously published, but is tied together with details that make a surprisingly sympathetic character. A fast read, I liked it.

Anne Marie Nowak - Ingleside

8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back

I think this is a very good, helpful book. I heard the author speak at a convention I attended in February so I had already heard key points on her own story of back pain, after having been a yoga teacher. Her discoveries led her to conclude that posture is key. Her book details her talk but I read some Amazon comments that said trying to understand her advice from a book alone isn’t enough. Gokhale shows photos of what many of us are taught is the correct posture – and she has photos of what’s wrong and photos of people, mostly in Africa, who rarely suffer back pain because of the way they carry themselves. There are lots of testimonials of satisfied patients which I found to be convincing. After borrowing this book from the branch, I bought a copy.

Susan Yip

Nothing to Envy

This book is worth reading because it tells the story of 6 North Koreans and what life was like from 1990 to present. I was amazed to read that no electricity was available. People were slowly starving due to a failed economy. Yet they were closely watched, sent to hard labor for the smallest infractions. It’s a book of courageous stories, gives insight into a closed dictatorship.

E. Marek - Bernal Heights

The Dispossessed

This is a story by the science fiction writer, Ursula K. Leguin, that really transcends the genre. The setting is a planet (urras) and its moon (Anarres) and the societies that live on each. The story focuses on a scientist, Shevek, who lives on the moon. His society is an anarchistic one. The best part of the book and the major theme of the book is its description of the advantages, disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses of an anarchistic society at both the societal level and the personal/interpersonal level. Le Guin has a well thought out civilization.

The other main theme was about the work of Shevek. Life on the moon that he lives on is limited by its lack of water.  Most of its people’s lives are dedicated to surviving its hardships. This fits in well with the library’s theme of water. But Shevek’s life’s goal is intellectual. He needs to interact with the scientists on Urras, which is forbidden! The planet is made up of countries that are ruled by greed, ideology, and prejudice and these things could corrupt or destroy Shevek’s world. But his brain has the Unified Theory that could lead to instantaneous travel and communication. It could also lead to money (oodles of it) and power (more than oodles of it) for the people and countries of this corrupt world. What will happen? It’s a great story – read it and find out.

Don Thielges - Portola

Midnight Champagne

This author was recommended to me by a good book-reading friend. The whole book takes place over one day-long wedding in the midwest during a snowstorm. As the party progresses the author manages to weave together the stories of a large group of people seamlessly. Through the different experiences and viewpoints of lots of different characters, she gives the reader a multi-faceted look at relationships and marriage. She has a wonderful writing style that is very enjoyable, but the story has depth and darkness. This is not a Hallmark wedding story, but one that shows all sides of human relationships. So I'll pass on the recommendation: Midnight Champagne is a good read that has some resonance. It'll stay with you for awhile. And I was glad to be introduced to A.Manette Ansay. I'm already reading another one of her books.

Evan Elias - Main Library

Case Histories

This is a great summertime read. Atkinson has an extremely readable style; she's funny, descriptive and sharp. This book tells the story of a private detective hired to solve three different cold case murders.It is a sort of murder mystery that spends most of its time developing characters instead of following clues. The subject matter is dark and the author doesn't flinch from it. But somehow the tone of the book is positive and upbeat. I didn't like some of the characters, but the story itself was really interesting. And all the mysteries have unexpected twists. I definitely recommend it.

Evan Elias - Main Library

Who Moved My Cheese?

This is one fun book to jump into and ‘chew on’. I highly recommend it to all to read. It’s a very easy read with a great message and a book I want to add to my own collection at home. It’s also offered in styles for children and teenagers. This book is on my list of total thumbs up. A fun thought provoking treasure from the bookshelf of reality plus some. Fun. Fun. Fun.

Royce Bruce - Ocean View

The Coldest Winter

This book is written by Paula Fox and it’s her memoirs of her travels across Europe after World War II. I enjoy her descriptive style of people and situations. History has always been of interest to me and this small book was a good, easy read from cover to cover.

Royce Bruce - Ocean View

The Spellman Files

This book is the ON THE SAME PAGE selection for the month of July. I was pleasantly surprised by this book about a family of private investigators. It is very funny and the story is rapid paced. I liked the author's style and the way she incorporated funny footnotes throughout the book. If you enjoy a fast paced story set in San Francisco, then I would definitely advise you to read the next books about the Spellmans. Try reading The Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans and The Spellmans Strike Again (in this order. You'll be glad you did).

Rayna Garibaldi - Portola

YT Kitchen's Collection

It's a very good cookbook. It shows a simple way to cook. Fast, delicious, & fun.

Hoa Lam Fong - Excelsior

The Remains of the Day

This book, written in the voice of perfect English butler Stevens, had impeccable language and plenty of dry humor. The not-quite-love-story and slowly revealed tragedy kept me reading to find out what really happened. Ishiguro managed to get both the big things and the little things right. Both his insights into postwar British national character as well as those into the smallest moments between two people rang true.

Anonymous - Richmond

Spy Trade

This book by Grant F. Smith is subtitled “How Israel’s Lobby Undermines America’s Economy.” Smith charges Americans and Israelis with gun-running and industrial espionage from the beginning. He presents evidence. One is left with the suspicion that there is even more to find out.

Christine Nelson - Richmond


The first 90% of this crime novel by Colin Harrison is clever and well-written. The denouement, on the other hand, strays into sentimentality as hard as Harrison tries to restrain himself.

Christine Nelson - Richmond

The Years of Talking Dangerously

Most of these essays by Geoffrey Numberg were originally delivered on the radio program “Fresh Air.” They are knowledgeable, perceptive, and illuminating. The word we choose sometimes reveal more than we intend. Best of all, by reading this volume instead of listening to “Fresh Air,” one can entirely avoid having to hear Terry Gross.

Christine Nelson - Richmond

Water Ghosts

Haunting, slow-paced, and a movement between the real and unreal, this first novel by Shawna Yang Ryan gives an incredible peek into the suffering and challenges of being a Chinese immigrant in early 1900s California. Moving between the characters of a community in northern California, Ryan merges cultures, history, and the myths that established the rich California in which we live today.

Milena Fiore - Richmond

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

A character in the novel “The Romantics” by Pankaj Mishra mentioned this book as one of her favorites. The character says Kundera had important things to say about love and relationships in the late 20th century, and after reading the book, I agree. Except maybe he had too much to say. The book became cluttered with too many grand ideas, even though some of them were touching or apt.

Anonymous - Richmond

Little Bee

Very readable, vivid story, very eventful. All about relationships, good vs. bad. Lots of lessons in this story. I would recommend this book.

Susan Yip - Ingleside

Witch Way to Murder

Oh, joy of joys – a book by a previously unknown (by me) author who has written 6 subsequent books in the same series. Ophelia and Abby are a small town librarian and her grandmother, hereditary witches who are clairvoyant with a knowledge of herbs and spells. They’re induced to solve the mysterious goings on, including murder, in the Iowa farm community. The book started out with many cliché’d phrases, but has improved as it goes along so I assume her later books are becoming better and better. I’ve already put a reserve on the next one in the series.

Ortha Splingaerd - Sunset


This is the story of a troubled fifteen year old orphan who finds himself traveling through time as he tries to come to grips with his violent past. The language can be raw at times and some of the images of atrocities committed at the Battle of Little Big Horn are disturbing to say the least. The author’s frenetic pace throughout the entire book relays what is happening in this young man’s mind. As for the time traveling – is he really moving back and forth in time or is all of this occurring in his imagination as he sorts out his life? The reader can form their own idea as to the ending of the book – will he be redeemed or will he go back to his old life?

Rayna Garibaldi - Portola

Just Kids

Beverly Smith was a customer at my father’s pharmacy having her prescriptions filled in the early 70’s.  She spoke of her daughter, a South Jersey expatriate journeyed to the draw of NYC.  My father’s pharmacy burned just as Patti Smith’s career took off.  It’s the lack of such retrospective sensationalism that makes Just Kids a pleasurable read! It’s like an early work recently recovered with a perspective on life limited to experience acquired to that point. Tough to do, 30+ years later.

J.E. Kramer - Treasure Island Bookmobile

Love in Mid Air

I didn't expect to like Kim Wright's "Love in Mid Air" as much as I did. It is the story of a woman going through a midlife crisis. With any story of midlife crisis you can expect a few cliches: discontent in marriage, the lure of an affair, regret and lessons learned. And this novel has all of those things, and yet it is remarkably fresh and truthful. The protagonist, Elyse Bearden, meets a man on a plane. Both are married with kids, and yet they unabashedly connect. Soon they are having an affair. Elyse keeps this information from her circle of women friends, her clueless husband, and certainly her young daughter. Elyse is forced to look at her life and marriage and decide where to go next. Earlier this year I read the similarly themed "The Wife's Tale" by Lori Lansens. "Love in Mid Air" is much better. It is so honest that I felt at times like I was reading someone's memoir. The prose is not stellar, but it is a very engrossing read.

Alex Nichols - Chinatown

Rowing the Atlantic : lessons learned on the open ocean

The book started off slow and the content felt rather trite but as I continued to follow the author's (Roz Savage) story I realized how incredible her story was. I enjoyed reading about how Roz insisted on rowing independent of any support - even for food and water. It was a great book to read in support of the adult reading theme (water) Dive into a Good Book!

Terry Gwiazdowski - Chinatown

The English Horses and Burn English

A pair of great books about an expert horseman in late 1800's New Mexico, these books are best read in sequence. The first book,"The English Horses," introduces the character named Burn English; "Burn English continues his story. The books illustrate the rough, hard life that people led in the old west. These are not cliche westerns, but portray a sensitive man who is in tune with nature, living through important turning points in history. The first book tells of the damage caused to animals and people when barbed wire was first installed to delineate property boundaries. In the second book the new invention called the automobile appears. This provides the historical backdrop for a touching story of a man of integrity and wisdom.

Claire Bain - Main Library