Staff Recommendations

September 2023

My Friend Anne Frank Opens in new windowMy Friend Anne Frank: the inspiring and heartbreaking true story of best friends torn apart and reunited against all odds by Hannah Pick-Goslar  

Arriving in Amsterdam with her parents in 1933, German-speaking five-year-old Hannah Goslar is enrolled in the local Montessori school. Her classmates, of course, are Dutch speaking with the exception of a dark-haired girl named Anne, who also had recently moved there with her family from Berlin. Hannah Goslar and Anne Frank become close friends; Anne's family will be frequent visitors to the Goslar home Friday evenings to celebrate Shabbat, the weekly Jewish Sabbath meal.

Although Anne Frank is a significant presence in this book and in Hannah's life, this memoir is really about Hannah herself. She describes warm childhood memories, and then how she was affected by the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands and the eventual removal of the Jewish population. Her story of experiencing the Holocaust as a young teen, recovering, and starting a new life was expertly written with the assistance of Dina Kraft, a Tel-Aviv based journalist. Dina knew that Hannah had traveled throughout her life in order to give lectures about the Holocaust, speaking as one of the last remaining survivors. She grasped the urgency of getting her story in print while there was still time. This remarkable memoir, just published in June of 2023, moved me with Hannah's recollections and the strength of her character, and I felt privileged to make her acquaintance in these pages. ~Nancy Arevalo~ 

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Pinocchio Opens in new windowYou may have felt turned off from reading this book due to the dismal rumors of it being dark and unsuitable for children, choosing instead to view the Disney-fied telling of this classic story. Having now read the original Pinnochio, I find this assumption flawed. Certainly there are some dark moments as with all children’s fairy tales from the past, Pinnochio being hanged, turned into a donkey, and eaten by fishes to name a few instances. However, the lessons that come from these scary events are clearly meant for children. Sure, a realistic boy would never meet a talking fox and a cat who would tempt him to skip school, yet the temptation of skipping school is very real, and the consequences that follow - Pinnochio being abducted and robbed - are also very real.

The scary events in this story use fantasy elements to soften the harsh reality of evil and the consequences of one’s bad actions for its young audience. Rather than wanting to frighten children into obedience, Collodi seeks to help children understand why the rules they must obey are for their own protection. A great read even for an adult, I enjoyed hearing the tale as I had never heard before and found myself surprised by all the hidden morals of this wonderful, occasionally intense text.  ~Anna Sobczak~

Answered Prayers: the unfinished novel by Truman Capote

Answered PrayersIn the late 1960’s and early 70’s Truman Capote was one of the most famous authors in the world. His celebrity opened all kinds of doors until he found himself living among the jet-set super wealthy. But as much as Truman savored the camaraderie he had with his coterie of swans, the richest and most beautiful women in Manhattan, this is the book that rent all those friendships asunder.

Originally published in Esquire in 1975 as a series of chapters, this is the work that shot Truman’s reputation in the foot. Among these debauched short stories is the infamous La Côte Basque 1965, which may have been indirectly responsible for the suicide of socialite Ann Woodward. This book of scandalous tales is not for the faint of heart. Imagine sitting in the fanciest restaurant in the world and you hear the people in the next booth exchanging some of the most salacious gossip you’ve ever heard. That is what reading this book is like. It is a tantalizing, barely-anonymized collection of gossip airing out the dirty laundry of every last Kennedy, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt. Like eating an entire box of bonbons in one sitting, reading this book is a decadent experience that will leave you slightly hating yourself afterwards until you’ve fully digested it.  ~Jay Robillard~ **Happy September 30th birthday to staff favorite author Truman Capote ** 

Birds Everywhere Opens in new windowBirds Everywhere by Britta Teckentrup

This nonfiction picture book is full of information and fun facts about birds of all kinds.  Every two-page spread covers a different topic: What is a bird? Where do birds live? How do birds fly?  The illustrations are colorful and quirky and include a wide variety of birds both familiar and unusual. Pair this with the picture book We Are Starlings for a delightful nature lesson. ~Sue Daniels~

We Are We Are Starlings Opens in new windowStarlings: Inside the mesmerizing magic of a murmuration by Robert Furrow and Donna Jo Napoli and Marc Martin.

Murmuration is the term for a massive flock of starlings flying together, swooping and turning, making formations, and protecting one another. It is a stunning sight to see and this picture book describes the phenomenon with brief, somewhat poetic sentences and lovely watercolor illustrations.  Beautiful and informative! ~Sue Daniels~

Papyrus: The invention of books in the ancient world by Irene Vallejo

Papyrus Opens in new window“Libri Faciunt Labra.” Books make lips. This striking remark is used in the novel to describe how Greeks viewed books as a gateway into the oratory arts, forming its readers to be excellent speakers and communicators. Yet it also explains why books are as valuable in today’s world as they were in the past as they also provide voices from the past through the very lips of their authors. Voices that so easily could have been lost in the times when books were as delicate as sheets of ice in spring. This text tells not only how books came to be, but how readers, scholars, booksellers, and librarians banded together to make them what they are today—invaluable sources of knowledge and ideas that influence our society today. ~Anna Sobczak~ 

The Art Thief: a true story of love crime, and a dangerous obsession by by Michael Finkel 

The Art Thief Opens in new windowThe Art Thief:  A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession, is the unbelievable account of Stephane Breitwieser, the most prolific art thief of all time. While great works of art have been stolen over the centuries, what I think makes this story unique is the motivation of the thief. This is a criminal with a passion for beautiful works of art. He only takes pieces that "stir him emotionally". He kept every piece he took so he could be surrounded by things he loved. With his girlfriend as his lookout, he became more and more brazen as they hopscotched across Europe, pilfering from museums as well as auction houses. Eventually, though, his passion turns to addiction and he inevitably makes a move that proves his downfall. This is a fast-paced, exciting read and like every good mystery, has a shocking twist at the end. If you enjoyed The Map Thief by Michael Blanding, this will be right up your alley.  ~Mary Hartwig~

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie 

Halloween PartyDisclaimer: Although this novel serves as the inspiration for the newest installment in Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot movie series, you would be forgiven for not immediately recognizing it. While Branagh’s new movie A Haunting in Venice takes place at a crumbling palazzo, the original Christie story centers on a quaint English village.   

Mystery author Ariadne Oliver has been staying at Woodleigh Common and finds herself assisting with preparations for the children’s Halloween party. During a conversation about Mrs. Oliver’s books, thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds brags that she once witnessed a murder. No one believes her, of course—it must be another one of Joyce’s colorful fabrications, another tall tale. But when Joyce is discovered drowned in the bobbing-for-apples tub at the end of the party, it seems her story wasn’t so far-fetched after all. Horrified by the brutal nature of the crime, Mrs. Oliver enlists the help of her dear friend Hercule Poirot. In order to solve Joyce’s murder, Poirot must first deduce which crime Joyce saw. As he digs through the history of Woodleigh Common, he finds a treasure trove of murders and missing people, any of which Joyce might have witnessed. With barely any evidence other than neighborhood gossip and his own intuition, Poirot will be pushing his little gray cells to their limits if he is to solve the crime. But if someone has already killed twice before, what’s stopping them from doing it again?  ~Jay Robillard~ 

July 2023

The Last Remains Opens in new windowThe Last Remains by Elly Griffiths

The Last Remains is the latest in the Ruth Galloway Mystery series by Elly Griffiths. Not having read any of the previous 14 novels in the series, I jumped in anyway. I was intrigued by the main character, Dr. Ruth Galloway, a respected professor of archeology at the University of North Norfolk. She teams up with Detective Chief Inspector Nelson to unlock a cold case in which a mutual friend is a prominent suspect in a murder.  

I definitely felt like I could follow the story without the background of the previous novels, but I did miss out on how the characters evolved to where they are today. Regardless, the mystery was intriguing, and the combination of smart detective work and archeology kept my attention. This series is absolutely worth another look in my book. ~Mary Hartwig~

The Wager: A tale of shipwreck, mutiny and murder by David Grann 

It woulThe Wager Opens in new windowd not be a stretch to declare David Grann the preeminent writer of nonfiction today. His works share consistent traits: scrupulously researched, deeply informative, and completely engrossing. He unearths stories from unique corners in history and presents them with thrilling relevance. The Wager is just the latest. The story of a doomed British naval expedition in the 1740s, ‘tis a tale rife with interesting facts, historical context, and torrents of action and intrigue. Relive the origins of the mission, the preparation of the ships, meet a colorful cast of sailors, and ride along on a journey bound for shipwreck and its incredible aftermath. Grann has meticulously reconstructed as much of the story possible from captain’s logs, journals, manifests, and historical records. It will be up to you to piece together the rest. My favorite book of 2023 so far, and simply masterful on audio. ~Noah Weckwerth~

The Only One Left by Riley Sager

The Only One LeftIn 1929, Lenora Hope was the sole survivor of a family massacre. Although the police were never able to connect her to the crime, the court of public opinion deemed her guilty. Despite this cloud of suspicion, Lenora has never publicly spoken about that night, nor has she left her family’s cliffside mansion, Hope’s End. In 1983, Kit McDeere comes to serve as Lenora’s live-in caregiver. It’s a desperate arrangement that neither of them particularly likes. Kit is barely hanging onto employment after recovering from her own brush with bad publicity, and Lenora needs a new caregiver after her previous one disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Now in her seventies, Lenora is mute and confined to a wheelchair. Her only way of communicating with Kit is by typing out messages on an old typewriter. Lenora tells Kit she wants to reveal the truth of what happened the night of the Hope murders. But the truth at Hope’s End is not a straight line, it is as jagged and unpredictable as the cliffs the house sits upon. With enough plot twists to give you whiplash, this story had me questioning everything and everyone right up until the end.  ~Jay Robillard~

PridePride by Ibi Zoboi

I'm not always a fan of a Jane Austen remix, but Ibi Zoboi's YA-oriented Pride and Prejudice retelling Pride hits the right notes for a quick summer read. Jane Austen's original story is now set in Brooklyn, New York. Spunky, observant, opinionated Elizabeth Bennet has been replaced with equally spunky, observant, opinionated Zuri Benitez. Zuri loves her neighborhood of Bushwick, her Haitian-Dominican roots, her parents, and her four sisters. This is the community and these are the people who built her. So when the wealthy Darcy family moves in from Manhattan, she's resentful of the part they play in gentrifying her beloved home, and she won't pay any attention to their teenage sons. While the storyline is familiar to fans, Zoboi's version is updated and given a fresh take that is as relevant today as Austen's version was for the late 1700s. She also makes a few changes, my favorite being some adjustments to the relationship between Zuri's parents. ~Keegan Taylor~

Jane Austen at Home Opens in new windowJane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

If you are among the millions of Jane Austen fans in the world and you would like to know about the great novelist herself, I highly recommend Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. This biography is some amazing storytelling about one of the most amazing storytellers of all time. The detail and research are incredible! Worsley has so many direct quotes from relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, friends, admirers, critics, and historians through Austen's correspondence. My one complaint is that sometimes she doesn't tell whom she is quoting: she says "a relative" but I would love at least a little more specific -- cousin, aunt, uncle, etc. Of course, you can always find the source in the references in the back if you want to clear up any confusion. Otherwise, I loved everything about this book. I learned so much! ~Keegan Taylor~ 

Good Night Irene Opens in new windowGood Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea

A little-known aspect of WWII was the American Red Cross Clubmobile Service, created to boost the morale of US troops by offering them coffee, donuts, good cheer and a reminder of home. Often referred to as "Donut Dollies," the women who volunteered to man the Clubmobiles were first stationed in England and then sent to Europe after the D-Day invasion to accompany troops as they moved through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. Eighty Clubmobiles landed on French soil, each one with a three-woman crew. Unaware of what awaited her, Irene Woodward volunteers for the Red Cross Clubmobile on a whim. How hard could it be to serve coffee? Transported to England with her fellow recruits, they are taught the skills needed to make immense quantities of donuts and coffee, trained to drive the truck and assigned to a crew to dish out banter to the troops. Irene and Dorothy, a farm girl from Indiana, are undaunted by the hard work and daily inconveniences, aware that the men in uniform they serve may or may not return from their nightly bombing missions. Their service becomes still more essential as they arrive in France, driving the Clubmobile with no guarantee of safety, and going wherever they are sent. 

This story is not a light one, but the bonds formed between the women and their courage to carry on despite danger and suffering make for an epic tale. The author's prose thrusts the reader into the action and his descriptions are nearly poetic at times. The author's mother was a member of the Red Cross Clubmobile service, and Luis Alberto Urrea's extensive research makes the book an effective tribute to her and the other brave women who served in that capacity. ~Nancy Arevalo~

The Maid Opens in new windowThe Maid by Nita Prose

Molly Gray has a difficult time reading social cues and responding appropriately. However, she loves her job as a maid at the Regency Grand. Her grandmother, who passed away a few months ago, was her touchstone for figuring out the world. Therefore, when she finds a body in the suite she has cleaned many times for the couple who occupied it on a regular basis, life takes on a twist leaving her accused of murder. Even though Molly believes she is all alone in the world she discovers there really are people she can trust. The trick is finding out who is who. Fun twists in a murder mystery for any Columbo lover. ~Sharon Passick~

A House with Good Bones Opens in new window

A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher

Sam and her brother Brad are worried about their mother. It’s not just her advanced age, or how she lives alone in their childhood home. During a work break, Sam decides to stay with her mother to check up on her. What she discovers is deeply disturbing: Mrs. Montgomery has lost an unnerving amount of weight, she’s painted all her walls white, and vultures circle the property.  And these are not just the “quirks” of old age. The longer Sam stays in the house, the stronger her concerns grow. Paintings are falling off the walls; the rose garden is eerily insect-free. And Sam swears she keeps hearing the whispered voice of her long-deceased grandmother. Something is wrong in the Montgomery home, but is there time to stop it? Considering how short a book this is, a lot of time is spent building the tension. So many other haunted house stories jump into the horror right away, like diving into the deep end. It’s as if this book is trying to “make up” for all those other novels by stretching it out, only to realize how far along it is in its own storyline, then rushing to get the rest of the words on the page. There are great creeps and scares here, but the rising action could have been streamlined.  ~Jay Robillard~

June 2023

The Writing RetreatThe Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz 

Older sister to Andrea Bartz (bestselling author of We Were Never Here), Julia joins her sibling in the world of thrillers with a very different flavor. Struggling author Alex longs to be like her favorite feminist horror writer Roza Vallo, but her efforts are stymied by writer’s block and a friend break-up. That’s when Alex learns about the month-long writers’ retreat at Roza’s massive Gothic mansion. She and four other authors will work on completely new novels with Roza serving as mentor, editor, and judge. When Roza announces a seven-figure publishing deal for the writer with the best book, Alex thinks things can’t get any better. And they don’t. Wren, Alex’s former best friend, is also at the retreat and competing for the same prize. When one of the authors goes missing during a snowstorm, everything changes. Where are the police? Why does Roza seem so unconcerned? One of the things I liked most about this story was the sheer uncertainty of everything, which is so important in horror/thriller media. The environment has to pull you in and keep you invested, which Julia does very well. The snowed-in mansion feels like a character in and of itself. Readers feel just as trapped as Alex.  ~Jay Robillard~         

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter Opens in new window

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

What I most appreciate about this book is that its inhabitants can be interpreted in many fashions, allowing the reader to form their own perceptions. Published more than 80 years ago, its themes of moral isolation, spiritualty, and social oppression remain discouragingly apt (and ripe for discerning book clubs). The story is set in an isolated town in 1930s Georgia, its desirous residents (including the unforgettable deaf-mute John Singer) are all in search of something beyond. Their struggles resonate. Widely considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century, its desolate prose drapes with a wistful, stifling energy reminiscent of its characters, as they encounter the visceral realities often brought upon by the foolishness of hope. ~Noah Weckwerth~

Warrior Girl Unearthed Opens in new windowWarrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

This is the highly anticipated follow-up to Boulley’s award-winning first novel Firekeeper’s Daughter. Set in the same Anishinaabe community in Sioux Ste Marie ten years later, the main character is Perry Firekeeper-Birch, Daunis’ cousin from the first book. Now 16, Perry begins her summer as an intern for Cooper Turtle, the manager of the community museum, where she learns about the efforts of the tribe to reclaim their cultural artifacts from private collections. But the repatriation process is too slow for Perry, with many legal requirements and roadblocks, and her impatience leads her into trouble. What should have been an easy summer job for Perry soon has her involved with grave robbers, missing indigenous women, and a murder investigation. Perry is passionate about addressing the challenges facing her community, while also wanting to be a carefree teen. The story builds slowly and a lot of background is presented before the adventure really takes off, but learning about this community and watching this character develop makes it all worthwhile. Recommended for high school and up.    ~Sue Daniels~ 

Himawari House (Graphic Novel) by Harmony Becker

Himawari House Although Nao was born in Japan, her family moved to America when she was young.  After graduating high school, Nao decides to spend a gap year in Japan to re-immerse herself in her mother’s heritage. She moves into Himawari house where she meets Chinese Singaporean Tina and Korean Hyejung, who attend the same Japanese language school. 

Together they experience the highs and lows of work-school-life balance, homesickness, culture shock, and family duty all while savoring their first real taste of freedom. Focusing primarily on the girls’ journeys, the graphic novel still makes room for a couple secondary characters to be fleshed out in equally touching side stories. Elements of multiple cultures are blended together, weaving a poignant tapestry as these friends grow so close over the course of a year.  ~Jay Robillard~ 

The Golden Spoon by Jessa Maxwell

The Golden Spoon Two baking celebrities, six amateur bakers, one big white tent and a grisly murder is the setting for this quirky novel, a play on The Great British Baking Show with an Agatha Christie twist.

The setting is the childhood home of "America's Grandmother" Betsy Martin, a beloved celebrity baker with a pantry full of secrets. When her production company wants to introduce a co-host to help bring up the ratings of Bake Week, a baking competition she developed and hosted for the past 9 years, she's as sour on the idea as a lime curd.

The competitors, Gerald, Pradyumna, Stella, Hannah, Peter and Lottie, while star-struck by their celebrity hosts, all have their reasons for being there - but not necessarily to show off their baking skills.    

The story combines the joy of baking with the sinister undercurrent of secrets, deception and yes, murder. The characters are likeable (mostly) and the writing light--which makes for an easy, fast read. If you enjoy watching The Great British Baking Show, I think you'll find this mix of mystery and baking surprisingly delicious. ~Mary Hartwig~

Spolier Alert

Spoiler Alert (DVD)

If you're a fan of Jim Parsons through The Big Bang Theory like I am, you may have been keeping your eyes open for his newest film Spoiler Alert. Obviously in a romantic drama, Parsons as Michael Ausiello is different from the role he played in a comedy as Sheldon Cooper. Although both characters are a bit awkward, Michael is a sensitive, kind person. My spoiler alert for this movie is that it's going to remind you of Steel Magnolias (and both are tied together by Sally Fields' heart-felt motherly performances). Like Steel Magnolias, you're going to need to keep a box -- or several boxes -- of Kleenex nearby as you ugly cry your way to the end. While Steel Magnolias is about the relationships between mothers and daughters and about female friendship, Spoiler Alert is primarily about the romantic relationship between Michael and his boyfriend Kit, and the vulnerability -- and eventual loss -- required for deep and meaningful connection. ~Keegan Taylor~ 

Yellowface Opens in new windowYellowface by R.F. Kuang

You’ll want to devour this in one sitting – like hot buttered popcorn or freshly spun cotton candy. Reading this is a bit like eavesdropping the juiciest watercooler gossip. The premise mirrors that of 2021’s The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – a struggling writer publishes a dead rival’s last unpublished work as their own. We confront the dilemma: is it really stealing if the other person is dead? In this case, we have two young women, one a person of color, which adds an additional layer of complexity. I went from liking the protagonist to sympathizing with her to displeasure of her to hating her. I almost quit reading, my distaste for her was so strong. But like candy stuck in your teeth, I couldn’t help finishing the book. Another great book club pick – plenty of fodder for discussion. ~Elizabeth Glaser~

In the Lives of Puppets Opens in new window

In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune

If you, like me, were enchanted by the sweet and comical writing of TJ Klune in The House in the Cerulean Sea, you might be interested in checking out Klune's newest work In the Lives of Puppets, which you may be lucky enough to find on our browsing shelf. This sci-fi story is what you get if you mix a brilliant fatherly robot, an anxious Roomba, a sadistic robot nurse, and a young man raised in isolation with them all. Finally, add in a surly newcomer robot. One of Klune's greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to write characters well. The robots in this story are quirky and lovable, as is the main character. Worth noting -  this story is more melan-choly than Klune's first novel, and the humor gets a bit dark, but I also found myself laughing out loud at times. Klune balances this dark humor with a plot that promotes thought-provoking experiences with the human condition, the meaning of life, forgiveness, and our need for interrelationships.  ~Keegan Taylor~

May 2023

The Half MoonThe Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane

When we meet Malcolm and Jess, they’ve been separated for a few months; the slow, painful culmination of secrets and regrets. For the typically convivial Malcolm, he finds his life suddenly in tatters, waiting for his wife to return and deeply underwater on his bar, The Half Moon. His beloved and assured Jess, after years of trying to conceive as her career and marriage stagnated, can feel her biological clock ticking, straining to understand a life so far off track. Over the course of a snow-covered week in the Hudson Valley, our characters reckon with the realities of approaching midlife, flinging for a glint of a path forward. This wonderful new book puts the heart and heartache of humanity on full display. Recommended for fans of Elizabeth Strout, J. Ryan Stradal, and Jennifer Close. ~Noah Weckwerth~

Truly Devious Opens in new window

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson 

Ellingham Academy has been a private school for the gifted, since its opening in the 1930s. Founder Albert Ellingham believed knowledge was a game, something adventurous to enjoy and pursue. When his wife and daughter were kidnapped, the only clue left behind was a cryptic note signed “Truly, Devious.” Although Ellingham paid the ransom and followed the kidnappers’ orders, he never saw his Iris or Alice again. Despite its gloomy past, Ellingham Academy remained a bastion of education, and true crime savant Stevie Bell is the newest student, surrounded by classmates with genius-level intellects in various fields. Stevie is determined to solve the Academy’s tragic mystery, because the Ellinghams weren’t the only victims. But when one of her housemates dies under suspicious circumstances, Stevie discovers that reading about a murder and solving one in real life are two very different things. One of the best things about Stevie as a protagonist is that she defies so many of the typical detective tropes: she’s not an arrogant Sherlock-type who already knows everything about everything. She is awkward, she struggles, and she misunderstands things. And it is her ability to bounce back from these issues that makes her so admirable. ~Jay Robillard~

A Place for Us Opens in new window

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place For Us is the fictional story of an Indian-American Muslim family in California. The parents are very devout, and the two older sisters follow the parents' lead. The younger brother struggles to fit. He feels out of place and can't seem to be what the family and community expect of him. I generally like books that follow a linear timeline, but this book jumps around. It does so to provide experiences in the family from different perspectives. The themes about family are highly intricate and allow a lot of room for discussion – this book would be great for a book club. Who tells the story? Who doesn't? Why? There's also much to discuss about faith and love, especially where those values may cause internal tension. The denouement was so powerful I was in tears! Anyone who is part of a family -- especially if aspects of those relationships have ever been complicated or messy -- will find things that they can relate to in this story! ~Keegan Taylor~ 

FreewatFreewater Opens in new windower by Amina Luqman-Dawson 

   Homer and his sister Ada are enslaved children on the Southern Plantation in South Carolina when their Mama decides to run away, taking them with her. Homer and Ada escape into the swamp but Mama is recaptured and returned to the plantation. As the odds are against two children surviving in the swamp on their own, they are fortunate to be rescued by a mysterious man named Suleman who takes them to a hidden community deep in the swamp. This community, Freewater, consists of little shared houses and bridges built in the tops of trees, all created by other former slaves and their families. Although the children feel safe with the residents of Freewater, Homer wants desperately to go back to rescue Mama. It’s a dangerous idea because the slave hunters are still out there looking for them. Is Homer brave enough to try? This year’s Newbery winner is based on real hidden communities, and is filled with suspense and interesting characters in addition to teaching a little-known piece of our history. Recommended for grades 4-8. ~Sue Daniels~ 

Lessons in Chemistry Opens in new windowLessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Southern California, 1961. Chemist Elizabeth Zott packs a lunch for her kindergartner and heads to work, not to a lab but to the set of the popular TV cooking show, "Supper at Six." The circuitous route she took in becoming a TV cooking star (and her dislike of this job) is the storyline of Lessons in Chemistry. Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant research scientist back before the women's movement existed. Independent, outspoken and unconventional, she approaches life, cooking and relationships on a scientific basis. This is a fast-moving story, frequently funny and occasionally sad. I liked the quirky personalities of the characters, including Elizabeth's dog, named "Six-thirty", whose role in the family cannot be overstated. The author brings resolution to Elizabeth's dilemma in an ending that I didn't see coming but thoroughly enjoyed. ~Nancy Arevalo~

How to Sell a Hounted House Opens in new window

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix 

Death is not necessarily the end in horror. There are gaps left behind by those who are gone, forcing their loved ones to pick up the pieces in the midst of grief. Siblings Louise and Mark never got along - even in the best of times - but tensions between them reach an all-time high as they mourn the loss of their parents. The way Mark sees it, Louise abandoned their family at the first chance she got so she could live her own life in California. And from Louise’s point of view, Mark is an aimless wastrel who never left Charleston and resents her success because it only highlights his failures. Now it falls to them both to clean out the family home and spruce it up to put it on the market. But something is working against their efforts. It’s as if the house doesn’t want to be sold. Are Louise and Mark’s parents trying to make contact from beyond the grave? Or is there something more ominous haunting them?  ~Jay Robillard~

Ivy Ivy Aberdeens Letter to the World Opens in new windowAberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

In this middle grade contemporary novel, Ivy Aberdeen experiences turmoil from without and from within. Feeling like a lost middle child, Ivy has been finding solace in her artwork, where she has been drawing pictures of girls holding hands. In the midst of drawing one evening, her house is destroyed by a tornado. Although her family all gets out safely, they spend the rest of the novel living in a hotel, displaced and scrambling to get stable again. On top of all this trauma, Ivy's sketch journal has disappeared, and someone begins sending her notes with her illustrations attached. Ivy's not sure what this mysterious person's intentions are, filling her with even more confusion and anxiety. Ivy is a wonderful girl, and her story is so heartwarming that it will leave you relieved and happy for this main character as she finds love and acceptance from the most important places in the end, especially from herself! Recommended for grades 4-7. ~Keegan Taylor~

Chivalry Opens in new window

Chivalry (graphic novel) by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran made the ALA’s 2022 Best Graphic Novels for Adults Reading List, deservedly. This short book was an absolute delight. Gaiman’s signature dry wit and whimsy glimmers throughout the text, while Dorn’s lush illustrations provide a sumptuous visual feast. The charming story could easily be shared with the whole family, though the emotional depth of some scenes may be over the heads of younger audiences. If you’re a lover of imagination, this fresh addition to a classic tale is a must. ~Elizabeth Glaser~

We are NeWe Are Never Meeting in Real Life Opens in new windowver Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby 

If you enjoy the “these are my life struggles, let’s laugh at them together” style but are looking for something less intentionally precious than David Sedaris, you can’t go wrong with Samantha Irby. A tell-it-like-it-is blogger and freelance writer, Irby has self-deprecating humor for days. She is unapologetically, comically blunt. Reading the essays in this book feels like sitting down with your best friend and talking smack. And it’s not like Samantha just sits and complains about everyone and everything. She turns the focus on herself plenty. She not only exposes her own bad habits, she magnifies them and dissects them. Dating, her shopping addiction, her distinctly unlovable cat Helen, each and every topic is tackled with wit as dry as the Gobi Desert. If you live in your sweatpants and your idea of making dinner is ordering Door Dash, you’ll feel right at home with this book. We don’t always have to be “put together.” Sometimes it’s okay to be a catastrophe. ~Jay Robillard~ 

April 2023

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Beyond That, The Sea by Laura Spence-Ash

Have you ever read a book you got so caught up in you just didn't want it to end? That's how I felt after reading Beyond that, the sea by Laura Spencer-Ash. This is a beautiful novel about a young girl, Bea, who is sent to America in 1940 to keep her safe from bomb-riddled London. The book describes the five years she spent with her temporary mother, father and two brothers in Boston and Maine and the almost four decades beyond after she returns to London.  

This is not a war story, but a love story about people and their relationships to one another. This is about the true meaning of family. This novel is so exquisitely written, you feel as though you're living their lives right along with them. You're nervous for Bea as she sets foot in America, not knowing what to expect. Your heart breaks with her when she has to leave after five years of being so loved by her adoptive family. You long for that overseas reunion but then life always gets in the way. With heart and passion and grace these families come to rely on one another in utterly unforgettable ways. ~Mary Hartwig~ 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 

Anna Karenina Opens in new window To loosely quote Stefon from Saturday Night Live, this novel has everything. Love, scandal, heartache, betrayal, crisis of faith, political unrest, high society, rural society, playboys, peasants, and trains...and that is just Part One. The characters that anchor this book in dual storylines (Anna and Levin) together comprise the whole of the human experience. Their dilemmas and emotions fully encapsulate its pages, presenting existential quandaries of the highest order to consider. For me, that is the essence of the reading experience. The book is weighty and yet its prose, even in translation, is accessible (as is much of the golden age of Russian literature). Upon completion, I am already considering when I will begin reading it again; it is that good. 

Reviewers note: Do not skip the book in favor of the film, as you will miss everything, including the 2-3 hours of your life you will never get back. ~Noah Weckwerth~  

March (Graphic Novels) by John Lewis

MarchWhen Senator and activist John Lewis died in July of 2020 and the entire country grieved his passing with such depth of feeling and such eloquent memorials, I was taken aback because I wasn't familiar with his life or work. I set about remedying that for both myself and my kids by picking up the graphic novel series March written by John Lewis himself, along with Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell. So often, the civil rights history of my childhood centered on Martin Luther King, Jr., with light references to Rosa Parks thrown in here and there. March presents another angle on that time in history. The illustrated version of Lewis in the books reflects on his childhood, the harmful impact of segregation, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and finally the signing of the Voting Rights Act (as well as much more!). The books are pretty intense (because how could it not be!) and reside in the Young Adult section of the library. However, I did share them with my upper-elementary school kids after I had read them, and I have no regrets about expanding all of our education using this incredible series. ~Keegan Taylor~ 

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins 

The Villa 1974: English rock icon Noel Gordon is staying at Villa Rosato in Italy to jump-start his creative muse. He invites rising star Sheldon Pierce to collaborate with him, along with Sheldon’s girl-friend Mari and her stepsister Lara. 

Today: Cozy mystery writer Emily has been recovering from an illness and divorce proceedings. Her lifelong best friend Chess, a self-help maven, invites her on a girls’ trip at Villa Aestas, formerly Villa Rosato. 

1974: Sheldon Pierce is brutally murdered. Noel continues his rock star career, Mari publishes a bestselling horror novel, and Lara goes on to produce a platinum album. True crime fanatics immortalize Villa Rosato as a “murder house.” 

Today:  Fascinated by the villa’s macabre history, Emily launches her own investigation into Pierce’s murder. But is the official story really what happened? What is the truth? And what does the truth even mean when it comes to the people who are closest to us? ~Jay Robillard~

The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear

The White Lady Elinor DeWitt was a school girl in Belgium in 1914 when the Germans invaded and occupied the country. Elinor, her mother, and her sister found ways to survive those years, later moving to England, her mother’s birthplace. But the war years left an indelible mark on her life. Fast forward to 1947, Kent, England, where Elinor is living with memories of her involvement in yet another World War. Those memories are oftentimes more intense than the quiet routines of the new village where she has settled, until Elinor notices irregularities that she feels the need to investigate. This stand-alone novel by the author of the popular "Maisie Dobbs" series takes the reader into three time periods of Elinor's life. The events of each time period are suspenseful, involving complex characters and life-changing events. I can't say enough about Jacqueline Winspear's writing. She is one author who draws me into a story from the first page to the last, and leaves me wishing that the book wouldn't end. ~Nancy Arevalo~ 

The MapThe Map Thief Opens in new window Thief by Michael Blanding

Why would a respected antiquarian map dealer, someone who cares deeply about the historical and cultural value of early maps, resort to stealing them from public and university libraries, at times even slicing them right out of books? And why should we care? These are the questions answered in The Map Thief by Michael Blanding. Part crime thriller, part history lesson this true story of a convicted map thief was an intriguing read. Inset in the book are beautiful color pic-tures of some of the most valuable maps of the world, including the first map where our country was labeled as "America". Woven in the story was also a fascinating look at the birth of our country as told through early maps of New England. A highly enjoyable read, especially for history lovers. ~Mary Hartwig~  

StatelessStateless by Elizabeth Wein

Twelve young pilots enter an international air race designed to promote peace among the nations of Europe with the hope of preventing another war. It is 1937 and each pilot represents a different country, but Stella North of Britain is the only woman. All are fierce competitors, more focused on winning than making friends, until the French pilot accuses Stella of trying to sabotage his plane and another pilot disappears altogether. Each pilot is hiding something and Stella finds herself in the center of a dangerous mystery, unsure about who can help her and who might want her dead. Award winner Wein (Code Name Verity) is known for her excellent suspenseful tales of wartime pilots and this one does not disappoint. Recommended for seventh grade and up. ~Sue Daniels~

The stars did wander darkling by Colin Meloy

DoThe Stars did wander darkling Opens in new window you like Stranger Things? Wax nostalgia over street lamps as curfews, banana seat bikes, Betamax tapes, Corey Hart posters and Dodge Omnis? Well, have I got a book for you! This middle grade/ early teen novel ripples with eerie, paranormal undercurrents. The writing flows elegantly, the characters are genuine. It doesn’t pander to the young age of its intended audience; rather, is sophisticated enough for an adult to enjoy while also being appropriate for younger kiddos who read above their age level. If you are familiar with the Decemberists’ music, you will recognize the master storytelling and detailed imagery that Meloy brings to all his creations. The weird Portland vibe abounds. Trigger warning: not everyone survives in one piece. ~Elizabeth Glaser~

This One Summer

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki 

Rose and Windy have a different kind of friendship. They only get to see each other during summer vacations at Awago Beach, but then they’re as inseparable as sisters. Or at least that’s how it used to be. Now a wedge is growing between them: their bodies and minds are changing as they mature and develop their own identities. These changes are causing them to clash all the time lately. Fights between Rose’s parents are happening more often and getting worse. And something strange is definitely happening with the teenage townies. Ordinarily best friends rely on each other during stressful times. But with the spats and personality differences, can Rose and Windy stay as close as they’ve always been? Is this the last summer of their friendship? Tugging at the heartstrings of childhood, the Tamaki cousins are able to take a simple premise and inject buckets of emotional complexity into their gorgeously illustrated pages. ~Jay Robillard~

March 2023

Everyone in my Family has killed someoneEveryone In My Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson 

A great read for those who have been enjoying the recent Knives Out/whodunit renaissance. If you like tongue-in-cheek books where the narrator frequently breaks the fourth wall, then you’ll love this book. Ernie Cunningham has been a pariah in his own family ever since testifying against his brother Michael in a murder trial. Now Michael is out after having served three years, and the Cunningham/Garcia family is throwing a party at a snowy mountain resort to celebrate. What is already a tense event only becomes more fraught with the appearance of a corpse. With Michael named as the prime suspect, Ernie must get to the bottom of this very bizarre weekend. While Ernie works to solve the mystery in the present, there are sections detailing the history of the eccentric Cunningham family. Because, as the title says, although everyone in the family has killed someone, things are not always what they seem.  ~Jay Robillard~

All the Beauty in the World Opens in new window

All the Beauty in the World: the Metropolitan Museum of Art and me by Patrick Bringley 

This is an elegant, thoughtful portrayal of what his work meant to the author during his decade-long tenure as an employee in one of the greatest museums in the world. He found himself at age 25 unable to cope with the normality of life after the death of his beloved brother, and took a job as a security guard at the Met. What started as an escape, developed into a bridge to return to the greater world. The author imparts on the reader not only how his favorite works of art helped to heal his soul, but why they should matter to us as well. At times funny, yet insightful and moving, this book discusses great art from a totally unique perspective.  ~Mary Hartwig~ 

The Watchmakers Daughter Opens in new windowThe Watchmaker's Daughter by Larry Loftis

Watchmaking was her grandfather's trade in the mid-1800's; he passed on what he knew to his son, Caspar ten Boom, who earned the reputation of being the best watchmaker in Holland. His daughter, Cornelia ten Boom, was his assistant and wanted to go beyond simple watch repairs. However, in 1920, watchmaking schools existed only in Switzerland. Therefore, Corrie went for schooling and was apprenticed to two Swiss watchmaking factories. In 1921, at age 29, she became the first licensed female watchmaker in Holland and came to handle the bulk of the business in the family shop. Fast-forward a decade to the 1930's, and the rise of Nazi movement. Suddenly, in 1940, Germany invades the Netherlands. Jews are targeted to be deported to prison camps and anyone helping them risks the same fate. Nevertheless, Corrie ten Boom and her family become active in the Dutch Resistance, using the upper levels of the watchmaking shop as a hiding place for Jewish refugees.

This amazing biography details the life-saving efforts of the ten Boom family, as well as their eventual arrest and imprisonment. I appreciated the way the author provides a parallel narrative in the book, intermittently explaining the key events of WWII, while at the same time detailing the way in which Corrie and her family are involved in the Resistance and their experiences in the concentration camps. They endure suffering with remarkable grace and courage, find ways to uplift their fellow prisoners and somehow bring light in the midst of darkness. Records of Corrie's experiences and those of other main characters exist today in letters, diaries and books written during and after the war, giving the author a wealth of information for conducting his research. Take note of his extensive documentation and the bibliography at the end of the book. The Watchmaker's Daughter reads like a thriller but is also an impressive work of scholarship. ~Nancy Arevelo

TweTwenties Girl Opens in new windownties Girl: a novel by Sophie Kinsella    

Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl is just a romp of a good read! Something light, fun, and fast! Lara Lington is a young adult who, in the midst of her great-aunt Sadie's funeral, begins to receive visits by her great-aunt Sadie's ghost. Aunt Sadie may have died an old woman, but at heart, she's a feisty, sassy, energetic soul -- so energetic that Lara hardly knows what hit her! This story has a romantic element, but that is secondary to the themes of friendship and family. It also explores concepts of age and identity. So, while it's a rollicking good time, and very silly at points, it also has some deeper conversations that keep it grounded and give it more meaning.  ~Keegan Taylor~ 

Maizy Chen’s last chance by Lisa Yee

Maizy Chens Last ChanceMaizy and her mom live in Los Angeles, so she has only met her grandparents from Minnesota once. But when her grandfather’s health declines, Maizy and her mom travel to Last Chance, Minnesota to spend the summer with Opa and Oma. Last Chance is a very small town where the Chens are the only Chinese family. They run a Chinese Restaurant that has been in the family for 100 years and has a notable history, and Maizy spends the summer absorbing that history as shared by her grandfather. The story goes back and forth in time between Maizy’s summer visit, and the life of Lucky, the relative who started the restaurant after coming to America during the Gold Rush. Lucky experienced discrimination throughout his lifetime but also helped where he could by harboring paper sons, a fact that Maizy explores throughout the summer. This is a heartwarming story about family relationships, but also about the history of Chinese people in America. Recommended for grades 4-6. ~Sue Daniels~ 

I Have Some Questions for YouI have some questions for you by Rebecca Makkai 

A decades old murder becomes the subject of a true crime podcast, placing a thought-to-be-solved case under new light. Sound familiar? Rebecca Makkai, whose previous book The Great Believers was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, treads into mainstream territory with her latest, combining trendy hooks that check boxes with an incisive social critique of the very hooks themselves. It’s a tightrope, and though the result is more ironic than inventive, the book still delivers.  

Returning to teach at the New England boarding school of her formative years, journalist and podcaster Bodie Kane revisits the junior year killing of her former roommate Thalia, a case long closed but still niggling. Is the true culprit behind bars? Is there more to the story? As Bodie and her pupils dig in, old wounds are reopened, institutional negligence is explored, and the depth of memory mined, resulting in a twisty tale well told. Though this book contains everything but the kitchen sink thematically, there is more than enough substance for a wholly satisfactory read. Recommended if you are in the mood for a literary campus mystery and a social novel in one. ~Noah Weckwerth~  

The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Opens in new windowSmoke gets in your eyes: and other lessons from the crematory by Caitlin Doughty 

While in her twenties, Caitlin Doughty took a job at a crematory. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory begins with anecdotes from that period of her life. I really appreciated how she merged her personal experience with her literary knowledge with historical and cultural perspectives on death. If you have any sort of fascination with the macabre, Doughty will meet you there and raise you one higher. However, her overall premise is relatable to everybody who has to face death one day -- i.e. all of us. Doughty asserts that Americans have a terribly unhealthy relationship with death. Her life goal is to help people prepare to have a "good" death, whatever that may mean to them. Throughout the book, she has some really practical advice, as she goes over what the different options are for people, as well as what is legal and healthy that people often may assume is illegal or unhealthy. This book really helped me develop some thoughtful ideas around what I would want my own death to look like, and it led to some helpful discussions with family members as well. ~Keegan Taylor~ 

Friends, lovers, and the big terrible thing by Matthew Perry

Friends, Lovers...Immortalized and internationally famous as Chandler Bing from Friends, Matthew Perry accredits much of his success due to the fact that he was Chandler in real life. Shuttling between suburban Canada and Los Angeles to visit his separated parents, he always cracked jokes to keep the people in his life laughing. If everyone else was happy, then that meant he should be happy by extension. It would mean he was enough. Although the glitz and glamour of Hollywood concealing secret torments is nothing new, there’s something especially poignant about this story. Perhaps it’s because of what a relatable and lovable character Chandler was. Perry’s on-and-off struggles with alcohol and painkillers show that achieving sobriety is one challenge in and of itself, but maintaining it is another beast entirely. Addiction is not magically cured by attending a certain number of meetings or having enough breakdowns. And even with millions of dollars at his fingertips as well as family members and friends supporting him, Matthew repeatedly discovers that accepting help and manifesting change is a tall order. Could this book be any more eye-opening?  ~Jay Robillard~

February 2023

The Sun is also a Star Opens in new windowThe sun is also a star by Nicola Yoon

If you're in the mood to reminisce on young love, you might enjoy this young adult novel. Two teenagers cross paths for the first time on a fateful day in New York City. Daniel, a Chinese-American boy, is a dreamer, and Natasha, a Jamaican immigrant girl, is a pragmatist. The story is sped up by the looming pressure of Natasha's potential deportation with her family. Although the vehicle is a fast-paced teenage romance, the story manages to delve into some charged and chal-lenging themes like immigration and race. Some readers might not care for some of the language or some teenage intimacy. However, I really enjoyed the story and recommend it to young adult romance readers who want to remember the (sometimes complicated) thrill of young love. ~Keegan Taylor~

Godmerhsam Park Opens in new window

Godmersham Park: a novel of the Austen Family by Gill Hornby   

County Kent, England, 1804. Thirty-one-year-old Anne Sharp is hired as the new governess for Fanny Austen, twelve-year-old daughter of Edward Austen, and now needs to earn her keep. Anne never imagined herself in these circumstances. While she's not quite part of the Austen family, neither is she part of the "downstairs" housekeeping staff. But she gives it her best as companion and teacher of Fanny, who is delighted to have her very own governess. As Anne instructs Fanny in letter writing, Fanny begins enthusiastic correspondence with her favorite aunt, Jane, brother of Edward Austen. Of course, Aunt Jane is told everything about the new governess, and when Godmersham Park receives a visit from Fanny's grandmother and aunts, Jane and Cassandra Austen strike up a friendship with Anne. They view Anne as an equal, include her in their activities, and find they have much in common. I enjoyed the author's ability to take the reader into the Regency time period in a believable yet humorous way. As I read the book, the author's writing style even reminded me of a Jane Austen novel. The main character, Anne Sharp, was an actual, little-known but historical figure. Hornby researched what limited information is known about her and allowed their own imagination to fill in the rest of the story in a delightful way. ~Nancy Arevalo~

The ingenue Opens in new windowThe Ingenue by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Burnt-out former piano prodigy Saskia always felt lost in the shadow of her mother Evelyn. You would too, if your mother was a bestselling feminist author and beloved UWM professor. Growing up in Evelyn’s palatial family mansion, known as the Elf House, has been a mixed blessing for Saskia. The house holds bittersweet memories, and the spirits of previous generations never feel too far away. When Saskia returns to Milwaukee for her mother’s funeral, she struggles to process her feelings over a relationship that never saw closure. The only bit of small comfort she can find is the knowledge that the Elf House will pass to her. But when the reading of Evelyn’s will reveals she has left the house to a man named Patrick Kintner, Saskia is floored. Not only is Patrick a colleague of Evelyn’s at the university, he and Saskia have their own history. Now Saskia has an objective: she wants the house, she wants the truth, and she wants what she is owed. But how much of her past is she willing to confront in order to get it? Peppered with familiar landmarks in the Milwaukee area, these little details make the dramatic events hit home that much harder.  ~Jay Robillard~

Death Casts a ShadowDeath Casts a Shadow by Patricia Skalka

The seventh and final book in the Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series finds our hero Dave once again investigating a suspicious death. On the surface the case looks simple: an older woman falls down the stairs after getting a foot caught in the wide leg of her pants. But something doesn’t add up in the Sheriff’s mind, so he further investigates. Of course we have another unusual death actually witnessed by our intrepid law officer. This time the body found in an ice fishing shanty is not the body that was supposed to be there, i.e. - the owner of the shanty. What is happening with the complicated lives of older rich women native to Door County?  Read the intrigue.  I highly recommend the entire series, especially if you like local settings. ~Sharon Passick~

The Star that Always Stays Opens in new windowThe Star that Always Stays by Anna Rose Johnson

Norvia Nelson has challenges in her life but fortunately, she has books to help her get through them. Set in the early 1900’s, Norvia and her siblings are Ojibwe and French on their mother’s side and Swedish on their father’s. Growing up on Beaver Island near her mother’s family, Norvia has learned traditions from her grandparents and can’t imagine living anywhere else. However, after her parents' divorce, Ma remarries and the family moves to a big house in Boyne City, Michigan. At first, Norvia is devastated by the move, and doesn’t get on well with new stepbrother Vernon. But she soon realizes that not all change is bad. Her stepfather is kind, encouraging her to attend high school, something her own Pa disparaged. He also lets her read the books in his library where she finds relatable heroines who inspire her to live her best life. Both Norvia’s Ojibwe heritage and her parents’ divorce cause some social exclusion, but she also finds some true friends. This upbeat story has been compared to Anne of Green Gables and is based on the life of the author’s actual great grandmother. Recommended for grades 5-8. ~Sue Daniels~

The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond Opens in new window

The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond by Amanda Glaze

Set during the spiritualist movement in California when people were fascinated with the idea of communicating with the spirits of the dead, we learn about the inner workings of a traveling show of mediums, but with a fantasy twist. Edie and Violet are twins who inherit their mother’s ability to open the veil of death and communicate with spirits. After their mother’s death during a spirit encounter gone wrong, the girls flee their home and take refuge in a traveling show. They provide the kind of entertainment the public expects but hide their true abilities, knowing if they were revealed, they would be sent to an asylum. A newspaper reporter begins to investigate the show just when the girls have an opportunity to make enough money to leave and pursue a different life, presenting them with a difficult choice: safety or freedom?  This is fast-paced, suspenseful story also incorporates a look at the early women’s movement and chilling descriptions of treatment in an asylum. Recommended for ages 14 and up. ~Sue Daniels~

The English Understand WoolThe English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt

A teenage girl has been raised in Morocco with the best of everything, and greatly influenced by her mother’s good taste and manners. At less than 70 pages, this book is absolutely achievable reading by a busy person working full-time. The length is a breath of fresh air. The title and publisher’s description are appealing to an Anglophile. The narration is amusing. And the curveball thrown by the author to change the direction of the story is startling.  ~Sarah Muench~

Adrift Opens in new window

Adrift: America in 100 charts by Scott Galloway 

This is a welcome and easily digestible examination of how the United States presently stacks up against the rest of the world and its own past. Through 100 simple charts and a brief analysis of each, Galloway presents the data for readers to assess and judge for themselves. The charts are taken from credible sources (Pew Research Center, U.S. Census Bureau, World Bank, etc.), and cover a wide range of subjects, from the decline in friendship, to the evolution of the tax code, to globalization and trade. Is America in a good place? Very much up for debate. ~Noah Weckwerth~

Daisy Darker

Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney 

Whoever first said, “money can’t buy happiness” must have done so after meeting the Darker family. Daisy Darker was born with a weak heart, a heart that was broken over and over as she grew up in the wealthy, eccentric, and dysfunctional Darker clan. Decades of resentment and bitterness bubble between family members over the years, although an uneasy peace endures due to matriarch Nana controlling the purse strings. Everyone grits their teeth and tries ignoring their grudges (some more successfully than others) as they gather at Nana’s island manor for her eighti-eth birthday celebration. A storm rages outside, trapping them on the island until low tide. When Nana’s body is found shortly after midnight, her death is the first of many. Someone is killing them one by one, leaving sinister mementoes behind. With each new body, scars of old secrets reopen. Who is doing this? Has some unseen murderer broken into the house? Or is the killer a lot closer to home? Combining family drama with the encroach-ing dread of And Then There Were None, this book keeps you guessing until the very end.  ~Jay Robillard~ 

January 2023

The It GiThe It Girl Opens in new windowrl by Ruth Ware | When Hannah and April arrived at Pelham College in Oxford, they couldn’t have been more different. April was everything Hannah wasn’t: confident, stylish, and rich. Yet the two forged a fast bond and maintained a close-knit circle of friends. Ten years later, the tables are turned and now Hannah is everything April isn’t: alive. That same circle of friends was devastated by April’s murder at the hands of John Neville, a former porter at Pelham. When Neville’s death in prison is announced, the scars of Hannah’s traumas rip open anew. She knows the journalists and true crime podcasts will be hounding her for comments and interviews, dredging up the whole story again. After all, she was April’s closest friend, she found the body, and she testified during the trial. But what Hannah doesn’t expect is for a reporter to approach her with new evidence suggesting that Neville may have been innocent all along. As Hannah reconnects with her old college friends and begins piecing together memories, ugly questions start to arise. If John Neville didn’t kill April, who did?  ~Jay Robillard~

Haben Opens in new windowHaben: The Deafblind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma I had been following deafblind activist Girma on social media for a while before picking up her eponymous memoir. I admired her zest for life, her kindness, her brilliance, her sense of humor, and her courage. I also admire her conscious choice to participate in the world around her, not allowing her disabilities to hold her back. All of those qualities come through in her memoir! I love her storytelling, and her gift for bringing others into her unique worldview as a deafblind daughter of immigrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The title speaks to one of her most prestigious accomplishments so far, but it's fascinating to learn about her journey to get to Harvard, including attending summer camp for the blind, traveling to several countries in Africa, and acquiring her guide dog. After reading this book, I feel like I can do better at being aware of and more accommodating to the special needs others around me might have. For all those qualities I admired before I read the book, afterwards, I feel even more sure that I would love to be more like her! ~Keegan Taylor~ 

The Five

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold | I didn’t know. I just didn’t know. I mean, conceptually I knew women had difficult lives in the past, but this idea was just words on paper to me. If you want to actually feel what life was like for women in the late 1800’s you need to read this book. When I was taught history in school, it was a done deal – it was an unquestionable fact, and what you read was the truth and exactly what happened and that’s all there was to it. This is a lie. Read this book and it is immediately clear that that the history we’ve been taught is only a narrow, keyhole view of the past – a past from which the perspective of women is largely invisible. I hope this book will be taught in schools. Thank you, Hallie Rubenhold, for connecting me to these long gone women; for filling me with emotions – awe, incredulity, empathy; for the tenacity of your research and your life-giving words which expand our view of the past from keyhole view to window seat. ~Elizabeth Glaser~

The Jesus Music Opens in new windowThe Jesus Music: The Soundtrack of a Movement (DVD documentary) | In the world of music, it is not uncommon for one style of music to morph into another. However, the transition from the countercultural music of the sixties to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is astounding as chronicled in this documentary. Beginning with musicians in the sixties who wanted to express their new-found Christian faith through the rock music they loved, it was initially denounced as “Devil music” and banned in churches.  After evangelist Billy Graham included this new type of music in his stadium events, attitudes began to change, so that by the 1990’s CCM was a multi-billion dollar industry and it is still going strong. Interviews with musicians such as Amy Grant, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Lauren Daigle, reveal an industry that has been troubled but also inspiring. Recommended for fans of Christian music or anyone with an interest in the history of music in America. ~Sue Daniels~ 

How to be EatenHow to be Eaten by Maria Adelmann | A walk through the woods, a bloody and forbidden door, a dance before midnight: trademarks of iconic fairy tales. As different as these stories are, they all end reassuringly in “happily ever after.” But what if that happiness doesn’t actually last ever after? In modern-day retellings of classic tales, five women gather in a support group to share their struggles. Bernice became tabloid fodder thanks to her relationship with a cyan-bearded billionaire. Ruby, eaten alive by a wolf, now wears his pelt wherever she goes. Ashlee skyrocketed to infamy while looking for love on a reality show. Gretel is haunted by memories of her kidnapping, especially since everyone (including her own brother) says it can’t have happened the way she remembers. And although Raina is unfamiliar to everyone, her life story is equally shocking. Adelmann reframes these stories to show us what they truly are: not adventures, but trauma. Some chapters are more engaging than others, but this is a refreshing take on familiar territory. If you like your fairy tales with dark left-field twists and a lot of snarky commentary, this is the book for you.  ~Jay Robillard~ 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi | HHomegoing Opens in new windowomegoing is the story of a family legacy through two sisters from what is now Ghana, starting in the 1700s through eight generations. It's almost like a series of vignettes, and yet that cutesy word undermines the power of these short stories. With mere brief glimpses into the characters' lives, you find yourself very invested in their success and happiness through their highs and lows. The language and themes elevate the story in such a powerful way. One quote that has stood with me since reading it is, "We are all weak most of the time. Look at the baby. Born to his mother, he learns how to eat from her, how to walk, talk, hunt, run. He does not invent new ways. He just continues with the old. This is how we all come into the world, James. Weak and needy, desperate to learn how to be a person. But if we do not like the person we have learned to be should we just sit in our fufu, doing nothing? I think, James, that maybe it is possible to make a new way." This book doesn't shy away from anything, so it isn't an emotionally easy read. But this novel is a prime example of the power of fiction -- how fiction shines light on truth in a way that a "true" story, as far as we know that truth, sometimes can't or doesn't. ~Keegan Taylor~ 

No Pants Opens in new windowNo Pants! by Jacob Grant | This children’s picture book is an absolute delight for any age. An exasperated father repeatedly implores his son Pablo to get ready for an outing, and with each solicitation Pablo comes up with increasingly more ridiculous interpretations of dad’s request. It is refreshing to see the father wholly into the parental role, and the affection of the father-son relationship is both endearing and hilarious. The blocky illustrations are simply done, yet the emotional expressions of the characters still clearly felt. Pablo’s exuberance is infectious. You never knew there were so many different ways to “wear” pants. In the end it is the father who learns that, indeed, pants are not for everyone. I’m looking forward to more Pablo and Dad in Grant’s next book due this March! ~Elizabeth Glaser~

Jar of HeartsJar of hearts by Jennifer Hillier | Georgina Shaw had the kind of high school experience any girl would envy. Great grades, a spot on the cheer squad, and doing it all in style with her best friends Angela Wong and Kaiser Brody. Then she laid eyes on Calvin James in a 7-11 parking lot and things were never the same. Twenty years later, Geo’s life is very different. Her wealthy fiancé has dumped her. She has lost her job as a pharmaceutical executive. Angela’s dismembered body has been found and Calvin has been arrested for the murder (as well as a few others). Kaiser is the detective who put him away. And Geo herself is getting out of jail after serving 5 years for lying about it all. Struggling to rebuild her life, Geo moves back home to start over. But the past isn’t done with her. Calvin has escaped prison and new bodies are piling up. If Geo is ever going to have a normal life, she must confront her demons. And Calvin is not the only one with something to hide.  ~Jay Robillard~