The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
A celebration of friendship and cooking, and how both can add flavor to trying times. Two years into WWII, Britain is enduring intermittent bombing raids and ongoing food shortages. Food rationing is the order of the day, and homemakers attempt to feed their families adequately with limited ingredients. To boost morale, the BBC sponsors a cooking contest, with the winning contestant becoming the new host of a favorite radio cooking show, “The Kitchen Front.” There are four finalists vying for that honor and the salary that goes with it: Lady Gwendoline Strickland, Nell Smith (one of Gwen’s kitchen maids), Mrs. Audrey Landon (Gwen’s sister), and Zelda Dupont, a former restaurant chef recently relocated from London. Of course, they each have their eye on the prize, convinced that winning the role of hosting a show on the airwaves will be a way out of their current, dreary situations. Written with warmth and humor, the story illustrates how a contest among bitter rivals becomes something else altogether, with the unexpected reward of lasting friendships. ~Nancy Arevalo~
The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett
Preparations for the Queen's 90th birthday are thrown into turmoil when a guest at Windsor Castle is found dead. When the investigation turns toward her loyal employees, the indignant Queen does a little of her own investigating. Cleverly using her own Assistant Personal Secretary and a few chosen retired staffers, she provides valuable clues in the case to the authorities, all the while maintaining her own anonymity and continuing to do her job as reigning monarch.
I loved this book on so many levels. The plot is original and quirky. I was curious to see how the author would pull off the Queen as an amateur detective and she did it brilliantly. The Queen is portrayed just as you would think: wise, well mannered, and diplomatic, but also intuitive, compassionate, and witty. The twists and turns of the plot seemed believable and kept the story moving along. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope the author writes many more mysteries for the Queen to solve! ~Mary Hartwig~
I was initially surprised when I heard that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick were going to explore the legacy of Ernest Hemingway for their latest project, but it makes sense. Hemingway is a man of mystique: the mere mention of his name renders some kind of feeling in every reader. For his signature prose, many marriages and misogynistic reputation, and supposed macho exploits, Hemingway is a polarizing figure in American letters, but a fascinating one too. In this six-hour documentary, Burns and Novick untangle the web, documenting his rise to fame, his war, writing, and travel experiences, and the underlying reasons for his decline and early death. Overall, a sympathetic, revealing portrait of a writer whose work will stand the test of time, for better or for worse. ~Noah Weckwerth~
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Every now and then, I am convinced to pick up a book solely because of its cover. Ring Shout is one such book. This slim, genre-defying novel, set in Prohibition-era Georgia, follows the exploits of Maryse Boudreaux as she rids her town of the demonic Ku Kluxes, interdimensional monsters that possess willing white hosts known as Klans. Gifted with a magical sword from her ancestors, Maryse and her ragtag gang of cohorts are able to hunt down and take out the Ku Kluxes before they can take over Macon, while maintaining a living as bootleggers supplying the local speakeasy. But when the powerful Klan leader Butcher Clyde comes to town, he unleashes a sinister plan to summon an evil being with apocalyptic intentions. Maryse is dead set on stopping him, until he offers her a Faustian deal that forces her to choose between vengeance and righteousness. This short novel is packed with nonstop action and memorable characters. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
Johnny Cash: The Great Lost Performance (Music CD)
On June 22, 1991 a concert by Johnny Cash featuring June Carter was the featured act at a festival for University of Wisconsin graduates at the Summerfest grounds. It was a great time, and it all came back to me when I listened to The Great Lost Performance, which took place just a year earlier in New Jersey. Featuring some of his best hits, with friendly banter and down-home duets with his wife, June Carter, this is music that everyone can relate to, without special effects, athletic choreography, or casts of thousands lending a hand. What a night! ~Shannon McKeown~
Hideaway by Nora Roberts
In the tradition of the Barrymores, the Sullivans are also Hollywood royalty. Already a star at nine years old, Caitlyn loves games with her cousins at the Big Sur family home. But during a game of hide and seek, Cate disappears. She manages to escape her abductors and finds herself in the home of Dillon Cooper and his family. The Coopers patch her scrapes and bruises, get her warm, and call her family. Her ordeal is only beginning though, which includes a personal betrayal, and a shipment to Ireland for safety and protection. Growing restless for a real life, Caitlyn returns to Los Angeles, where things are still not as they should be. Roberts tells a tale of love and vengeance in a page-turner. ~Sharon Passick~
The Best American Travel Writing 2020, edited by Robert Macfarlane
This collection of essays is comprised of works that were written not long before Covid-19 spread across the world. Covering a wide range of topics on travel, these essays are funny informative, and in some cases heartbreaking. The opening piece “Rick Steves Wants to Set You Free” follows author Sam Anderson as he accompanies Steves to a book signing and interviews him at home. It’s a multilayered profile of a man best known for his budget travel tips and some of the things I learned about him were genuinely surprising. Author Kyle Chayka’s essay “My Own Private Iceland” discusses the overtourism of Iceland and questions if there is any authenticity left or if it’s better to visit a place once it has become the uncool place to go. In “Revisiting My Grandfather’s Garden,” Mojgan Ghazirad visits Tehran to see the fondly remembered home of her grandparents. However, upon arriving, she discovers the street has been closed off by government officials and is no longer open to the public. Lastly, “Vacation Memories Marred by the Indelible Stain of Racism” by Shanna B. Tiayon is a brief look at how her family’s trip to the Grand Canyon went from exciting to painful when the bus driver singles them out due to their race. The other essays in this collection are equally compelling. They will make you feel like you went around the world without leaving your living room. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren
Based on a tradition of nighttime prayer dating from the sixth century, the author explores themes of doubt, loss and human vulnerability. She proposes that prayers prayed during one’s “dark night of the soul” can shape thee who prays, believing that God remains good, even when life is not. Tish Warren and her husband co-pastor an Anglican congregation in Pittsburgh, moving there in 2017, a move that coincided with a season of deep personal loss for her. She briefly tells her own story, which acts as a springboard for offering thoughts on some larger questions of faith, drawing from a wide range of authors. I liked reading the footnotes at the end to see the sources she drew from as she distilled aspects of theology into beautifully written prose. I have already ordered a copy to give as a gift to a friend. ~Nancy Arevalo~
When the English Fall by David Williams
Are you ready for the collapse of modern civilization? A cataclysmic solar storm sets in motion the sequence of increasingly fraught events recited in this absorbing story. Our narrator is Jacob, an Amish farmer living in remote Pennsylvania, who receives news and updates of the disaster and its aftermath secondhand. While his family and his neighbors are well prepared, many are not. The quickly advancing calamity leads to moral and practical dilemmas for Jacob, dilemmas that feel all too feasible. This book really tested my thinking about reliance on modern amenities and complacency. It likely will yours too. ~Noah Weckwerth~
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
In these times of uncertainty, separation, and loss, the words of Charlie Mackesy are just what we need. The universal themes of friendship, love for others, and love for self are simply but profoundly portrayed in words and pictures. Each sentence has meaning, and no thought is wasted. Each illustration so full of emotion, it doesn't need an explanation. It won't take but 20 minutes to read this book, but the impression it leaves will stay with you for a long time. ~Mary Hartwig~
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Ursula Todd is the quiet, middle child of English aristocrats growing up in the English countryside in the early 1900s. Ursula cannot shake a feeling of déjà vu, a sense that she has lived an experience before. That is because she has. At the outset, Ursula dies shortly after she is born. Ursula is immediately born again and with a slight change of circumstances she lives only to die, again and again. Ursula is always born into the same family on the same day. Each “new” life follows closely to the one before, but with slight alterations leading to good and bad outcomes. Ursula’s life is not linear throughout the book. She lives longer and shorter lives with a growing sense of déjà vu and occasional sudden urges to change her behavior. Ursula’s childhood will appeal to fans of Downton Abbey and much of the book reads like World War II historical fiction. This is a unique novel and Ursula remains a character worth rooting for in each of her reincarnations. ~Sharon Long~
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
The year is 1714 in a small town in France. A young girl, Addie, is thrown into a life she didn't choose and wants a way out. She makes a deal with the devil for her freedom, but the price is high. While able to live forever, no one she encounters will ever remember her once they lose sight of her. She can't seem to leave any trace of her existence, can't even say her own name out loud. Her only companion through life is Luc, the devil himself. But 300 years later, she meets a boy who says three words "large enough to tilt the world" - I remember you.
Don't let the 442 pages deter you from enjoying this masterful story spanning centuries. The chapters volley between the past and present, with a tug of war between Addie and the darkness who tries to convince her to break the deal and sell him her soul. I'm not usually a fan of fantasy, but the compelling story and eloquent writing made it hard to put down. ~Mary Hartwig~
The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear
It's September, 1941, London. Young Freddie Hackett is a message runner for a government office. While delivering a message one evening, he witnesses a fight between two men resulting in murder. Shaken, he reports it to the police. When they don't take him seriously, Freddie goes looking for a woman he met once when delivering a message: Maisie Dobbs. Maisie believes him and wants to help but finds the investigation complicated by the secret work she is doing for the Special Operations Executive, assessing candidates for crucial work with the French Resistance. Having a role assisting with Britain's intelligence efforts in France, maintaining her office of private investigation, and sustaining her connections with family and friends all keep Maisie on her toes. But she navigates these matters gracefully while opening herself to some new developments in her personal life. This is yet another compelling mystery in Jacqueline Winspear's successful Maisie Dobbs series (number 16!). If you are new to the series, I suggest starting with the first book, Maisie Dobbs, and reading them in order. ~Nancy Arevalo~
A Very Punchable Face: A Memoir by Colin Jost
Fans of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update will not be disappointed with this humorous memoir by co-host Colin Jost. More self-deprecating than salacious, Jost relays his awkward youth with his tight-knit Staten Island family and his attempts at achieving and maintaining his dream job as a writer for SNL. Jost equally shares embarrassingly funny escapades, such as a last-minute trip to Amsterdam, and poignant parts of his life, most notably his family’s September 11th experience. Far from a SNL tell-all, Jost’s memoir does pull back the curtain on what it takes to succeed as a comedy writer and stand-up comedian. An enjoyable and quick read. ~Sharon Long~
The Particulars of Peter by Kelly Conaboy
For some people, a dog is just a friendly family companion. For others, a dog is a beloved creature whose place in the familial hierarchy is just above children. I fall into the latter category. I am the kind of person who makes my dog dress up as a top-gun pilot for Halloween. Journalist Kelly Conaboy is also in the same camp. The Particulars of Peter chronicles her effort to learn everything she possibly can about her “perfect little man,” a mixed-breed rescue dog named Peter. This leads her to some very interesting places, including canine agility training, Woofstock (the largest outdoor dog festival in North America), and hunting for the ghost of FDR’s dog in Hyde Park. She also discusses DNA testing, pet psychics, spying on your dog via webcams, and the billion-dollar-a-year pet supply industry. Conaboy’s writing is both funny and relatable as she recounts all the new experiences she and Peter share over the course of her book. This is a recommended read for any dog-lover. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (audio book)
I rarely gush over audio books. I’m often distracted by the narrators and end up getting a version on Playaway so I can turn up the speed when there isn’t time to read the book. Every so often though, a narrator is so good that I cannot imagine the story without the voice. Tom Hanks is perfection as he guides the listener through Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, an epic tale of the home that is family and the house that defines them. He accomplishes this without creating separate voices or affecting much of an accent for different characters while still giving them their individuality. The casting of Hanks for a wonderful book by such a terrific author creates a rare treat. ~Shannon McKeown~
The Secrets She Keeps (DVD)
Based on the novel of the same name, The Secrets She Keeps is a twisty thriller that peels back layers episode by episode. The series follows two pregnant women whose lives could not be more different. Agatha (Laura Carmichael of Downton Abbey fame) is a supermarket shelf-stocker with a boyfriend who is away serving in the Navy. Meghan (Jessica De Gouw) is a glamorous stay-at-home mom who blogs about her life with her two kids and her sportscaster husband, although her actual home life is teetering on the brink of collapse. Aggie is a follower of Meghan’s blog and she casually befriends her one day at the supermarket. But is Aggie’s admiration of Meghan’s life as innocent as it seems? And how far will each woman go to protect the image of the life she is leading? The Secrets She Keeps is a suspenseful miniseries that doles out the revelations and cliffhangers in spades. Each episode will leave you wondering what will happen next until you reach the explosive conclusion. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is Ishiguro’s first novel since being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. For many people (myself included), Ishiguro is one of the greatest living writers in the world and every new book is an event. It never even matters what the premise is, because you know you are getting a tender story that is somehow retrospective AND prescient (most writers struggle to manage even one of those feats). In the case of Klara and the Sun, the clever use of a futuristic “Artificial Friend” as narrator guides a thoughtful story of love and faith. To see an unknown world through Klara’s eyes is both wondrous and anxious. Thankfully, Ishiguro gives us a hopeful book, something we could all use right now. ~Noah Weckwerth~
Wild Mountain Thyme (DVD)
Forget what you may have heard about this poetic tale of the heart in rustic Ireland: that the accents are all wrong, Christopher Walken can’t play “Irish,” Jamie Dorman and Emily Blunt are too famous and attractive to be believable as a couple in love who aren’t together, and that the reason why is too ridiculous to be believed. What malarkey! This is a sweet, romantic, heartfelt and humorous 90 minutes, with fantastic scenery and emotional music and a lovely ending. Plus, there’s Jon Hamm as a handsome, cynical, yet loveable American cousin – his specialty. I loved it; I even loved the song that played over the closing credits sung by Sinead O’Connor (I know! But it was beautiful!) ~Shannon McKeown~
Outlawed by Anna North
If The Handmaid’s Tale had been written as a Western, it would look a lot like Outlawed. Ada is eighteen, apprenticing to be a midwife, and a young, new bride to a man she loves. The year is 1894 and a mysterious illness only known as the Flu has wiped out a large number of the population. This has caused to people to worship female reproduction in the form of the Baby Jesus and the Mother Mary and see barren women as suspicious and evil. So when Ada is unable to conceive a child with her husband, the town begins to look at her as a witch. Rather than submit to death for something she knows is scientifically untrue, Ada flees to a convent, then shortly after that joins up with the Hole in the Wall Gang. The group of outlaws experience the same issue as Ada; barren and thought of as witches, or refusing to conform to society’s idea of the female gender. Led by a mysterious figure only known as the Kid, the outlaws pull small heists to keep themselves in food and supplies. But when the Kid comes up with an elaborate plan to steal from, and then buy, a town bank, the fractured loyalty within the group threatens their dream of building a better world. Outlawed is an alternate-history Western with a compelling feminist twist. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
Thrillers aren’t usually my first choice in books, but I took a chance on The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse. After the first six creepy, yet mesmerizing pages, I was hooked. The story is set in an Alpine mountain hotel that was once a sanatorium with a dark past. A female detective, with her own uneasy past, has been invited to the hotel to celebrate the engagement of her estranged brother. His fiancé mysteriously goes missing just as a storm cuts them off from any additional law enforcement. The tension among the remaining guests and staff begins to build as another person disappears. Every chapter left me hanging in nail-biting suspense until the very end. A well-written, spine-tingling mystery from start to finish. ~Mary Hartwig~
The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly
The extensive gardens of historic Highbury House in Warwickshire, England are badly in need of restoration. Present day garden designer/restoration expert Emma Lovell is thrilled to get the job, giving her the chance to return it to the original designs created by Venetia Smith in 1907. The overgrown property has had various purposes over the years, with Highbury House even being used as a convalescent hospital during WWII. When Beth Pedley arrives in 1944 as a land girl to work at a neighboring farm, she is sent to deliver produce for the kitchens and becomes a frequent visitor of the Highbury House gardens. This multi-layered story follows Emma, Beth, and Venetia as their experiences with the gardens and the residents of Highbury House intertwine. I appreciated the author's ability to take the reader between three time periods of history and create believable characters whose life stories end up overlapping and intersecting with each other's, leading to a satisfying ending. ~Nancy Arevalo~
Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt.
After the tragic death of her best friend, Holling, Meryl Lee goes to St. Elene’s boarding school in Maine for a fresh start. At first, Meryl Lee is completely lost because she doesn’t know anyone nor does she understand how the social structure at the school works. She doesn’t get along with her snobby English teacher Mrs. Connolly, who finds Meryl Lee’s friendship with the service staff unacceptable. Meryl Lee doesn’t know how to make polite conversation at school teas, and her roommates who have known each other for years, won’t let her into their circle. However, the year is 1968 and changes are happening everywhere. At the same time, a runaway boy finds shelter in the home of the headmistress at St. Elene’s school. Matt has been on the run from a violent criminal but finds comfort and safety with Dr. MacKnockater, at least for a while. The stories of Meryl Lee and Matt become intertwined as Dr. MacKnockater helps each of them face the sadness of their pasts and look forward to a brighter future.
The genre is realistic fiction but the story has some great moments of suspense and mystery. The war in Viet Nam and the move toward a more egalitarian American society are strong themes, but this is primarily a story about young people figuring out who they are and what they have to contribute to making the world a better place. Recommended for grades 6 and up. ~Sue Daniels~
The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz
Every man should read this book, never mind that it’s marketed as “Women’s Fiction.” The Daughters of Erietown is a multi-generational story of three women in 20th Century Ohio. The story spans nearly 50 years, and as America changes, the notion of what a woman can achieve and what she deserves to expect evolve, as illustrated through the lives of Ada, Ellie, and Sam. Weaved through their narratives are themes of love, hope, sacrifice, and independence. For Brick McGinty, the wing-clipped male at the center of the book, because his life has contained sacrifice, he thinks this affords him carte blanche. For everyone else in his orbit, they are left to reckon with the ruins of his selfishness and figure out the pieces. A book of pain and secrets, with lessons for its reader. ~Noah Weckwerth~
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I return to this short book every two to three years, because it is such a joy to read and I can finish it in less than a day. If you are not familiar with Helene Hanff, she was a New York City scriptwriter who lived in a tiny apartment and loved English literature. She began writing letters to an antiquarian bookstore in London in 1949, in search of English titles she was unable to find easily at home. The letters, sent and received over a period of 20 years, were edited and arranged into book form and originally published in 1970. The book was eventually turned into a film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins in 1986, which is also available at the library. If you enjoy reading 84, you may want to proceed to Hanff’s The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and then Q’s Legacy, which continue the fun, literary adventure begun in 84. ~Sarah Muench~
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (audiobook)
Just when you thought there was nothing to add to the zombie genre, along comes Hollow Kingdom. This story is narrated by a foul-mouthed domesticated crow named S.T., whose love of human culture drives him to seek a cure when a mysterious virus causes his owner, Big Jim, to turn into a slobbering monster. As he adventures out into a wild world that he’s never been a part of, S.T. encounters all manner of creatures that he’s never communicated with before, both wild and domestic, as he searches for The One Who Opens Doors. He is aided in his search by Dennis, Big Jim’s loyal bloodhound. Interspersed throughout S.T.’s story are brief musings of other animals as they experience a new world where humans are no longer the reigning species and wilderness is taking over once more. Audiobook narrator Robert Petkoff does a fabulous job of giving S.T. a biting, sarcastic edge to this story about when the world decides it’s had enough of humankind. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
Bad Blood: secrets and lies in a Silicon Valley startup by John Carreyrou
One of the best books I have encountered in years. The depths of that implied in the subtitle are startling, making for a deeply reported and riveting expose. The author, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and was one of the first to break the stunning deception of Therenos, a health technology startup once valued at $9 billion dollars. Therenos’ supposed proprietary blood testing technology promised to change the world. Its mercurial founder Elizabeth Holmes raised obscene amounts of capital and touted a murderers’ row of board members and supporters. In truth, her ‘technology’ was a fraud of legendary proportions. Bad Blood reads like a thriller without getting bogged down by medical terminology; the narrative is propulsive and thorough. By the end of the book (the story is still unfolding), the comeuppance is deeply satisfying. The Therenos saga paints a disturbing regulatory picture, as questions of trust abound in a culture of FOMO. A twisted yarn expertly spun. ~Noah Weckwerth~
Elizabeth is Missing (DVD)
Retired from the big screen for nearly 30 years, the legendary Glenda Jackson is indomitable as a Maud, an elderly woman navigating Alzheimer’s disease in this fascinating television drama for PBS Masterpiece. With the assistance of her daughter, a visiting nurse, and a myriad of post-it note reminders, Maud is able to maintain a precarious independence. One day, she helps her friend Elizabeth with some gardening, and they plan to meet for coffee later that week. But Elizabeth doesn’t arrive, doesn’t return calls and is apparently missing from her home without a trace, triggering Maud’s memory of a similar trauma: the unsolved disappearance of her beloved older sister in the 1950’s. As the details of both mysteries converge through her advancing dementia, will she be able to solve them both? ~Shannon McKeown~
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
I will readily admit that I am a sucker for retellings. This has led me to read some mediocre books, ranging from awful to ridiculous. I can thankfully say that The Wife Upstairs does not fall into this category. This modern retelling of Jane Eyre turns the originally gothic story into a domestic thriller that delivers everything it promises. Jane is now a dog-walker for the residents of a bourgeois neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama. One day while she is out walking the dogs, she is nearly run down by Thornfield Estates resident Eddie Rochester, whose wife, Bea, disappeared mysteriously the year before. The pair connect immediately and before long, she is living with Eddie in his palatial home. But the ghost of his missing wife still looms over the house and when the body of Bea’s missing best friend turns up with her skull bashed in, Jane begins to question what she really knows about Eddie and what truly happened to Bea. Hawkins’s ability to write multiple viewpoints and deft hand with a cliffhanger makes this a book you will not be able to put down. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
Under the Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee
Frankie Washington is a 101-year-old woman who was born in slavery before the Civil War. It's now 1936 and she has been asked to tell her story to Rena, a young white woman who works for the WPA Federal Writers' Project (a government program that sent out-of-work writers across 17 states to collect firsthand stories from former slaves.) What Rena learns, and the unlikely friendship that is formed, makes for a compelling story. Set in 1930's and 1860's Nashville, the author's research included reading over 100 of the original slave narratives (now archived in the Library of Congress), and Under the Tulip Tree includes many scenes based on the narratives themselves. A tale of pain, courage, reconciliation, and forgiveness. ~Nancy Arevalo~
This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing: a memoir by Jacqueline Winspear
Of course, the title of this book made me pick it up. But then I couldn't put it down, because it's written by one of my favorite authors, Jacqueline Winspear. She's known for writing the popular "Maisie Dobbs" detective series. The first one, titled "Maisie Dobbs" and published in 2003, introduced Maisie as a former WWI nurse turned private investigator in London. I highly recommend it. (I've kept up with Maisie over the years and I look forward to the release of the sixteenth novel in the series in late March 2021.)
The writing of a memoir is unique however. Jacqueline Winspear tells her own story, as well as making it a tribute to her late parents, Albert and Joyce Winspear. Their childhood years during WWII and the difficult years together in post-war England forged a unique resourcefulness and resiliency in their marriage. Struggling to make ends meet, they left the bomb sites of London and sought out the openness of the countryside, working for a farmer and living on his property in a gypsy caravan. Their love for the land and a sense of adventure were gifts passed on to Jacqueline and her brother, being raised in the country, near a small village. Joyce and Albert had a knack for storytelling and Jacqueline had a knack for remembering the smallest details told to her at an early age. As an author, she weaves elements from the stories told by her parents and grandparents into the very believable characters and settings of her novels. The memoir is written with tenderness and humor. This unforgettable book gave me an appreciation for the events and relationships that helped shape Jacqueline Winspear into the effective author that she is. ~Nancy Arevalo~
American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser
What would you hold more sacred: Personal privacy or the right to know your original identity? Gabrielle Glaser raises complex questions such as these, as well as others of ethics, human rights, and the laws surrounding adoption in her new book, American Baby: A Mother, A Child and the Shadow History of Adoption.
This book has two intermingled stories. One is a well-researched, detailed history of closed adoptions in the 1960's. Harrowing at times, this dark chapter of our history was eye opening in its description of the unethical treatment of both mothers and babies. The other is a love story told from a mother's perspective, of desperately trying to find the son she was forced to give up years before. I had to know. How would she find him? Did he want to be found? The bittersweet ending just posed more questions in this compelling read. ~Mary Hartwig~
The American Library Association Youth Media Awards were announced in January, including these well-known honors: the Newbery Medal (children’s literature), the Caldecott Medal (picture book) and the Printz Award (young adult literature). However, one of the less-well-known awards is the Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience. The authors of each of the winning books have the disability they wrote about which gives each story an authentic perspective.
I Talk Like a River written by Jordan Scott (picture book). A boy who stutters begins to view speech in a new way after a visit to the river with his dad. The illustrations are soft, but they still demonstrate the turmoil the boy feels when his words won’t come.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (middle grade book). A fictional story based on historical fact about a community on Martha’s Vinyard in 1805 where there had been a high incidence of deafness in the population for generations. Sign language was spoken by most of the community, both hearing and deaf, so it is a rude awakening when a scientist comes to the island to study the phenomenon and treats the deaf residents as imbecilic, lesser people. Mary Lambert is deaf and has lived on the island her whole life, but her eyes are opened to discrimination against others when she experiences it herself for the first time.
This is My Brain in Love by I.W. Gregorio (teen book). If they want to continue to see each other, Will and Jocelyn must work together to save Jocelyn’s family business while also dealing with anxiety and depression. The story is upbeat and humorous without downplaying the difficulty many young people have with admitting they need help with anxiety and depression. ~Sue Daniels~
When We Were Young & Brave: a novel by Hazel Gaynor
The author writes, "What I've learned in researching and writing historical novels in the past eight years is that hope and kindness are always present during times of uncertainty and hardship, and that incredible stories of bravery and selflessness sit alongside those of pain and loss." Her latest novel, When We Were Young & Brave is one of those stories. Set in Chefoo, China in 1941. Elspeth Kent has been teaching at the British Chefoo School but is ready to return to England. Nancy Plummer, her 10-year-old student, misses her parents but enthusiastically participates in the Chefoo Girl Guides patrol that Elspeth leads. Elspeth's plans and everyone's sense of security get disrupted when the Japanese invade and occupy China, suddenly taking control of the school. Cut off from the outside world, the students and teachers look to each other to survive, enduring intimidation, deprivation and relocation. Inspired by true events, the author is able to capture the harsh realities of that time and place, but also the deep bonds formed between the individuals who endured together. I really liked the author's writing style and, being a former Girl Scout and leader myself, her descriptions of Girl Guide activities and mottos brought some of my own memories back. ~Nancy Arevalo~
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
In December 1926, novelist Agatha Christie, "the Mistress of Mystery," became the subject of her own real life mystery. For 11 days, she went missing from the home she shared with her husband and daughter. A full blown investigation ensued. When she finally resurfaced, she had no explanation for her unusual disappearance. Throughout her life, she remained tight lipped about the incident. In The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, author Marie Benedict takes this historically accurate story and fills in the gaps, presenting a believable case for what may have been the circumstances surrounding her mysterious disappearance. She does justice to her subject by crafting a suspenseful page-turner, not unlike an Agatha Christie novel. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is another winner by the author of The Only Woman in the Room and The Other Einstein. ~Mary Hartwig~
The Devil Has a Name (DVD)
This film, directed by and costarring Edward James Olmos, is a fictionalized account of a battle between a life-long farmer and the corrupt oil company that’s been knowingly poisoning his land. When Gigi Cutler (Kate Bosworth), the regional director for Shore Oil and Gas in California’s Central Valley, offers weary farmer Fred Stern $50,000 for his land, he initially considers the offer. Then his foreman and longtime friend Santiago (Olmos) shows him the diseased tree roots that have been poisoned by the wastewater created by Shore’s oil drilling and realizes that there’s much more at stake. He hires environmental lawyer Ralph Aegis (Martin Sheen) to take on Shore’s lack of responsibility in their business practices. Shore tries to keep one step ahead by digging up dirt on Stern, creating a new “environmentally friendly” public image, and playing on the conservative political leanings of the jury. This movie is a darkly excessive look at a serious environmental problem and the cost of doing business. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
On a lovely summer morning Edward (12) and his beloved older brother and parents board a flight from Newark to LA with 183 other passengers. Halfway across the country, the plane crashes and Edward is the sole survivor. Gravely injured, his story captures the heart of the nation. When finally released from the hospital, he goes to live with his aunt and uncle. Coping with losing his family, he makes friends with a neighbor girl and starts the slow physical and mental healing process. The book alternates between Edward’s current life and stories of passengers on the plane facing their own crises. After nearly a year with his relatives, he makes a startling discovery, leading him to the answers of some the profound questions he has. When you have lost everything, how do you find the strength to put one foot in front of the other? How do you learn to feel safe again? How do you find meaning in your life? Slow beginning, but very moving story. ~Sharon Passick~
Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton
I cannot think of a single public figure who brought more joy, common sense or comfort over the past year than Dolly Parton. From her sassy comebacks to inane interview questions to her million-dollar donation to Moderna, Inc. that fast-tracked the COVID-19 vaccine, Dolly continues to win new fans and admirers of all ages and backgrounds throughout her astounding 60+ years in music and show business.
She Come By It Natural truly captures the times in which Dolly first made her mark and how it relates to the role of women and feminist issues from the very beginning of her career through her songs. I was amazed at the philanthropic works of the Dollywood Foundation (named after her amusement park/resort, which provides living wages to numerous families in her home state) and the literacy program Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library which provides nearly a million free books per month to children across the US and the UK.
But Dolly sees herself first and foremost as a songwriter, and in Songteller she tells her life story through her songs, with vintage photos, full lyrics and the background of each composition and her life at the time it was written. A gorgeous, substantial tabletop volume, it is as hard to put down as any good novel – and guaranteed to bring some perspective and cheer to your day. ~Shannon McKeown~
The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe (Playaway)
Named after Moe’s podcast of the same name, this book is part memoir and part mental health education. Told in the wry voice that made him popular on NPR, Moe describes his upbringing as the child of an alcoholic father and an emotionally repressed mother and how that led him to refuse to treat his depression for many years of his life. When a plea from his wife finally pushes him to seek treatment, Moe begins his journey to find a therapist he likes (he likens it to dating) and to get right with his mental health. Part of his effort includes learning what exactly depression is, what causes it, what the symptoms are (and why they are so hard to understand), and why so many people refuse to acknowledge that they are affected by it. Bit by bit, Moe begins to make sense of the things in his past that are contributing to his depression and he finds that the more he opens up about his depression to others, the more they begin to open up about their own experiences with mental health issues. The Hilarious World of Depression is a funny and powerful look at how sharing stories can help people with mental health issues feel like they aren’t alone in their experiences. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
A universal truth rarely acknowledged…cookbooks are a dime a dozen. Yes, the variety is immense: cookbooks for myriad cuisines, regions, diets, and appliances. But there are too many. To wade through them is to tread quicksand. So take my word, this is a good one. The recipes employ a wonderful diversity of ingredients and methods, and having prepared many of them, the presentation is clear and the results flavorful. Check it out if you don’t believe me. ~Noah Weckwerth~
Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake with pictures by Jon Klassen.
A rock-loving badger and a story-telling skunk become roommates when Badger’s Aunt Lula loans both of them the use of her vacant brownstone. Skunk shows up at the door in need of a new home because as he puts it “Not everyone wants a skunk!” Badger tries to send him away until he realizes that he is as much a guest there as Skunk. Besides, Skunk is a good cook and a good storyteller. The story gets a bit more adventurous when Skunk invites a houseful of chickens to visit and then a stoat shows up, putting the chickens in danger. Skunk comes to the rescue in the way skunks do and Badger’s resentment boils over causing a deeply-offended Skunk and his chicken friends to depart, and leaving Badger to realize that he treated Skunk badly and he must make amends. There are some silly moments and some poignant moments, reminiscent of older animal buddy stories like The Wind in the Willows or Frog and Toad. Skunk and Badger is a good read aloud or it could be used as a discussion starter for appreciating differences or working through compromise. Timberlake is originally from Wisconsin and this is the first book in a new series. Recommended for grades 2-4. ~Sue Daniels~