Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
In the wake of the potato famine in Ireland, Clara Kelly is sent to America by her father to earn money for the family. After a difficult ocean passing, Clara finds herself in a lucky spot of mistaken identity that leads to her employment as a lady’s maid to Margaret Carnegie, a position she retains through wit and perseverance. Clara’s position isolates her from other house staff. When her mistress’ son, Andrew, strikes up a conversation with her, Clara is eager to have someone to talk to. Not surprising, Andrew and Clara develop feelings for each other. Clara is conflicted about the “lie” she is living and her duties to her family in Ireland. It is Andrew’s relationship with Clara that is the catalyst turning him from a cunning businessman into a generous philanthropist. Of note, while Clara Kelly is a fictional character, many historians believe it was a romantic involvement that lead to Andrew Carnegie’s rapid transformation. Fans of Downton Abbey will greatly enjoy this book. ~Sharon Long~
Jojo Rabbit (DVD)
Oscar winner for the Best Adapted Screenplay, Jojo Rabbit is equal parts black comedy and serious drama. Johannes “Jojo” Betzler desperately wants to be a member of Hitler’s private army, but when the older kids at his Hitler Youth training camp order him to kill a rabbit, he refuses, earning him the nickname Jojo Rabbit. After a botched attempt to prove his manhood leaves him scarred and crippled, Jojo finds that the only way he can serve his country is to distribute propaganda. One day when he is at home alone, he investigates a noise coming from late sister’s bedroom and discovers his mother has hidden a teenage Jewish girl named Elsa in the wall of their house. With encouragement from his imaginary friend, an over-the-top version of Adolf Hitler (played by director/screenwriter Taika Waititi), Jojo decides to interview her in an attempt to collect information that will help Germany’s cause. However, the more he gets to know Elsa, and the more erratic and angry his imaginary Hitler becomes, the more he questions his beliefs. Ultimately, a tragic incident forces Jojo to confront the horrifying realities of Nazi Germany and learn that playing war is not the same as living it. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
Under Currents by Nora Roberts
Under a veneer of family perfection, Zane and his younger sister know otherwise. But one fateful night that veneer is peeled away. Eighteen years later Zane returns to his hometown to reconnect with the people and the place that meant so much to him as he was growing up. He meets Darby, a gifted landscaper who has a past and secrets of her own. Can they surmount issues and dangers that crop up in their current lives? Nora Roberts tackles a sensitive topic and handles it with grace and love. ~Sharon Passick~
Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido
Emmy is longing for belonging. Her family has just moved to San Francisco from Wisconsin so she is the new kid in a new place. She is also the only child in a family of musicians and while she loves music, she’s not a gifted musician like her parents. Emmy ends up in a computer coding class at school and realizes that most of what she loves about music transfers to coding and she’s good at it! With a possible new best friend and a teacher who inspires her, life begins to look better. But will it stay that way? This novel is written in verse with liberal use of coding terms and formatting. Recommended for students in grades 4-6 who want to sample coding along with Emmy. ~Sue Daniels~
While Harriet Tubman may be a prominent historical figure, this is the first feature film to be made about her life. This is the extraordinary tale of her escape from slavery and her transformation into an American hero. In 1849, at age 27, she escapes from a slave owner on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland. After tasting freedom in Philadelphia, she secretly returns to the Eastern Shore to rescue family members and carries out as many as 13 similar missions over the next 11 years. I thought the movie was beautifully made, suspenseful, and the acting was excellent. In 2018, I visited a new museum on the Eastern Shore called the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, built near Harriet’s birthplace. I was impressed that, in her lifetime, she led over 70 enslaved individuals from Maryland to freedom in the North as an operator on the underground railroad. She also served as a nurse and spy during the civil war, fought for women’s rights, and eventually made a home for her aging parents in upstate New York. You may not want to make the drive to the museum in her honor, so just check out the DVD to gain a whole new appreciation of Harriet Tubman, whose life changed the course of American history. ~Nancy Arevalo~
Ronan Farrow is as famous for his exposé of systemic sexual abuse in the news and entertainment industries as he is for his well-known pedigree as the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen… and brother of Dylan Farrow, who has brought charges of sexual abuse against their father. No ordinary journalist, he was a college graduate at age 15, then earned his law degree at Yale before continuing his education at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. His article in The New Yorker, which lead to the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and reignited the #MeTo movement, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. This book is the factual and detailed account of his efforts to navigate a labyrinth masquerading as a maze of dead ends and ominous threats; a tapestry with threads that once pulled, proved to be connected to not only Weinstein, but ultimately to Matt Lauer and NBC, the other major news outlets, the National Enquirer and multi-national spy organizations as well as both candidates for president in 2016. It’s hair-raising stuff, full of complex and harrowing accounts, often disturbing, but courageously told. NOTE: the audio book is narrated by the author, and is a superb and compelling presentation. ~Shannon McKeown~
Lovely War by Julie Berry
This YA novel has great crossover appeal for lovers of historical fiction and magical realism. The story is framed by a World War II update on the Greek myth involving Hephaestus’s plot to use a gold mesh net to catch his wife Aphrodite with her lover Ares. Once caught, Aphrodite sets out to exonerate herself by telling a story that proves that the men in her life truly know nothing about love. She jumps back to World War I to narrate the story of four interwoven lives: Hazel, a naive British pianist; James, a soldier heading to the front; Colette, a jazz singer who’s suffered loss; and Aubrey, a musician with the infantry band. James and Hazel meet at a parish dance and fall instantly in love shorty before he has to report for duty. Wanting to be of use, Hazel volunteers with the YMCA, where she meets fellow musicians Colette and Aubrey. Aubrey is instantly smitten with Colette, but has the war taken too much from her for her to ever open her heart again? As Aphrodite continues to tell their tale, the strength of love and friendship endures while the monstrosity of war leaves scars both physical and mental. I’ll confess that this novel has a bit of a slow start, but I promise that if you stick with it, you won’t regret it. ~Rachael Fealy-Layer~
Wild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett
In this simple story, Clarence and his grandma share an afternoon picking blueberries. As we tag along with them, we learn a little bit of the Cree language because every page contains both the English word and the Cree word for their activities. Notes at the back include an explanation of the language and a pronunciation guide, as well as a recipe for blueberry jam. Picture book recommended for one-on-one sharing. ~Sue Daniels
Parasite = Kisaengch’ung (DVD)
Out of curiosity, I saw this picture with no knowledge of what was about other than this: it’s a Korean movie with English subtitles concerning a wealthy family and the lower income people who work for them; a cultural class-warfare conflict kind of thing. So why did this unlikely foreign film win the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year? No one who saw it will doubt the reason why and to describe it further would ruin the myriad of surprises in a multi-layered prism of twists and turns that make this original and profound examination of social inequity one of the most unexpected masterpieces in film history. ~Shannon McKeown~
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
A thoughtful story of faith and doubt, hope and disappointment, friendship and marriage. The Dearly Beloved follows two couples who meet when the husbands are hired to co-pastor a historic church in New York City during the 1960’s. The novel traces the course of their lives before and after they intersect. Given that the wives are polar opposites; the relationships are strained from the start. The four main characters are forced to grapple with challenging circumstances in an era of rapid social change. Their personal histories continue to shape who they are, the decisions they make and their degree of connection with each other and the church. In spite of their differences, the husbands find a way to lead the church for forty years, and deep bonds are formed between the two couples. It’s a beautifully written tale and the author’s prose makes the it all the more compelling. It’s an example of character-driven fiction, and the people seemed so real that I wondered how they were doing when I put the book down. The Dearly Beloved is an exceptional debut novel and I think it would generate lively discussion for a book group. ~Nancy Arevalo~
Fading Ads of Milwaukee by Adam Levin
Moderator of the nostalgic Facebook group Old Milwaukee, Adam Levin’s photographic quest to capture the “ghost signs” still remaining on brick walls, doors and old billboards throughout the city before they completely vanish from existence has been compiled into this poignant and addictive picture book. From Sealtest Ice Cream to Gettelman Beer and complete with historical descriptions and context, these once large and bright ads which once were such a large part of the landscape are sometimes all that remain of the breweries, pharmacies, dairies and businesses that built the Cream City. ~Shannon McKeown~
Descent by Tim Johnston
I cannot say enough good things about this book. There is a blurb on the back cover that mentions the word “astonishing,” and I think that sums it up pretty well. In essence, Descent is about a missing 18-year-old girl, and the fractured family grieving her disappearance. At its core, it’s a suspenseful thriller (and believe me when I say that there are scenes that are literally pulse-pounding). I did not even know that was possible!
Beyond the heart-racing nature of the story, Descent is also very literary, which richly drawn, authentic characters who all carry their own secrets and grief, and visually descriptive settings from the mountains of Colorado to the outskirts of Omaha that feel within one’s own grasp. Moving through the experiences of the members of the Courtland family is incredibly sad, and the complex supporting characters they encounter reflect the moral diversity of world we live in. The plot moves at different speeds throughout the book, with fruitful tangents and a breakneck conclusion that will swell your heart. For a book that describes itself as a thriller, the writing is incredibly good, making Descent a truly bountiful reading experience. Highly recommended! ~Noah Weckwerth~
At the end of January, the American Library Association announced its Youth Media Award winners for 2020. In general, authors and illustrators were rewarded for creating high quality books with diverse characters or settings across all categories. Here are some of the winners:
John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
New Kid written and illustrated by Jerry Craft.
This graphic book tells the story of Jordan who is one of the new kids at a private middle school where most of the students are from wealthy families and Jordan is not. He is also one of the few African American students. Jordan learns that preconceptions about people can be wrong and we are all unique, which leads him to make friends with some unexpected people. This is a very humorous story that is both entertaining and a good discussion starter. Highly recommended for grades 5 and up.
Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:
The Undefeated illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Kwame Alexander.
This picture book is based on a poem that was originally performed for ESPN’s “The Undefeated” in 2016 with the purpose of celebrating black heroes. Illustrator Nelson also received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award for this book.
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for the most distinguished informational book for children:
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story written by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.
Picture books have become a popular format for informational books for children because they can be enjoyed on two levels. The first part of the book is a beautifully illustrated story about a family cooking together and sharing their traditions. The text is minimal but there are significant details in the illustrations that add to the story’s informational value. At the end, there are detailed notes about the history of fry bread in the author’s family as well as the history of Native Americans in general. This is where the many details in the illustrations are explained and you will find yourself flipping back and forth trying to locate and understand each one. ~Sue Daniels~
The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews
What does an eccentric 99-year-old heiress want with the services of a single mom lawyer who is struggling to keep her small (read: one person) firm going? The eccentric turns out to be Josephine Bettendorf Warrick, who owns a 20,000-acre barrier island called Talisa. The lawyer, Brooke Trappnell is intrigued enough to travel to the island a few times to determine what the all-so-important legal matter happens to be.
Brooke learns there are two things in Josephine’s life she wants to accomplish in whatever time she has left: first to protect her island from those who would like to develop it into something Josephine and her husband worked their entire lives to prevent, and second to help her make amends with the heirs of her closest friends, also known as the High Tide Club.
Mystery, romance, intrigue, and a complex look at life in the 40’s and beyond make this a delightful read. Many issues to think about including love, greed and scandal of all kinds. ~Sharon Passick~
This Academy Award nominated documentary from Macedonia is a quiet film that will take you by surprise. Hatidze is a beekeeper in a remote part of the country (it’s a four hour walk to the capital city). She practices an old world style of beekeeping and takes care of her ill mother. When a nomadic family sets up camp right next to her, Hatidze’s initial excitement about having neighbors is replaced by exasperation and sadness at the family’s selfish and wasteful practices. This gorgeously shot film is a thougthful rumination on a myriad of anthropological, enviromental, and economical issues. ~Noah Weckwerth~
Death in Focus: an Elena Standish novel by Anne Perry