In the Library Recommendations

New Book Recommendations, November 2019

Juvenile fiction:
Gale Galligan and Raine Telgemeier have started recreating the old Babysitters Club series from Ann Martin.  They have been turning them into graphic novels, and are getting great reviews.  We’ve gotten a few of them in, they look great, and should appeal to many of our young middle-reader patrons!

Neil Patrick Harris (actor, producer) has written a promising series called The Magic Misfits.  It is a lively set of stories featuring three (so far) adventurous, creative young characters, Carter & Leila (they do magic), and Theo (violinist), all told in clever prose.  There are plenty of other highly individual characters, both helpful and villainous.  Each book is filled with magic, all kinds of shenanigans, narrow escapes from danger, and, oh yeah – fun.  These are enjoyable, fast reads.  At the end of each book, there are some card or magic trick instructions (and even some Morse Code to learn!).  We sincerely hope Harris is busy writing the next one of the series!

Picture books and juvenile nonfiction:
Some gorgeous children’s books of natural sciences & astronomy have come in:
Green Planet and Blue Planet are beautifully illustrated books by Moira Butterfield (Jonathan Woodard is the talented illustrator).  Green Planet gives lots of small bits of information about life in the woods and forests, everything from plant life to insects, birds, and mammals.  Each page presents little facts overlaying parts of the illustrations.  The same arrangement holds for Blue Planet, which covers life in oceans & rivers (and it even shows different types of boats).  And – these books have indexes – we love a good index!

A Walk Through Nature is a peek-through book by Libby Walden.  It has tri-fold out pages, so that each set can feature a poem, a full-page illustration, some information about each topic (birds, insects, plants), and then another illustration with the peek-through cuttings.  A beautiful, colorful, quiet book to page through slowly.

Michael Bright & Margaux Carpentier’s colorful book is Darwin’s Tree of Life.  Obviously it is about the evolution of life on earth, and starts with a geologic time line.  Like the other books above, there is a lot of bite-size introductory information on each page.  In the back there is both a glossary and an index!

When the Stars Come Out, by Nicola Edwards and illustrated by Lucy Cartwright, is a large format book that considers all life at night – in the sky, the woods & water, the city, and how & when people sleep around the world.  The colors are varied and muted, to reflect the feel of night.  The end pages are gorgeous illustrations of the constellations in the night sky.

Another one that addresses a bit of astronomy (and the history of scientific discovery) is Ellie Peterson’s It’s A Round, Round World!, via a simple story of a young adventurous girl, Joulia Copernicus.  This engaging story is aimed at slightly younger readers.  Joulia takes us through time (and space) to review how we learned that planet Earth is round rather than flat, and its relation to the other planets.  At the end, she reminds us how observation helps us gain knowledge, and the author (a teacher) suggests a couple of simple experiments.

A Few Adult Novels:
We have new titles by many of our most popular authors, they need no review to entice you to pick them up.  Here is a list:  Nevada Barr, Track of the Cat and A Superior Death; Michael Connelly, The Night Fire; Vince Flynn, Lethal Agent; John Grisham, The Guardians; Steve Hamilton, Dead Man Running; Sophie Kinsella, Christmas Shopaholic; John LeCarre, Agent Running in the Field; David Rosenfelt, Dachsund Through the Snow (one of his Andy Carpenter novels); Alexander McCall Smith, To the Land of Long Lost Friends (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency mystery); and a holiday story by Nancy Thayer, Let It Snow.

We do love a it of magical realism, especially when it involves food and a small-town Southern setting.  Heather Webber’s Midnight at the Blackbird Café dishes up all of it.  The main character, Anna Kate, comes back to Alabama after her grandmother’s death.  Granny Zee’s restaurant was known for its blackberry pies, which some people insist have a magical character.  Anna Kate is drawn into the vibrant life of the small community and makes friends with a young widow and her daughter.  There are old secrets, of course, and painful memories that need sorting.  The story is about discovery and healing, trust and the possibility within all relationships.  And there’s a bit of romance.  If you like this, we also have a number of Sarah Addison Allen’s novels.  All of them have a touch of southern charm and magical realism.

Sejal Badani’s The Storyteller’s Secret, explores the depth of pain and the journey towards healing.  Jaya leaves her life in New York after yet another miscarriage, and runs to India to trace her family.  She connects with her deceased grandmother’s former servant, who weaves the story of her grandmother’s lively, sometimes risky life during the British occupation.  We see history through a well-told personal story of various characters, and all the while, Jaya reconsiders her own life.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the gifted writer of the nonfiction book Between the World and Me (we have), has written his first novel:  The Water Dancer.  Set in the deep South, the story follows Hiram, who was born into slavery.  He can’t remember his mother, who was sold away, and is ready to devote his life to right the wrongs that have torn his family apart.  He acquires a magical power when he almost drowns but manages to avoid death.  Hiram moves between South and North, doing underground work against the horrors of the culture of bondage and prejudice, while trying to rescue his own family.  This novel features Coates’ absolutely powerful prose, and he does not hesitate to portray one of the most violent and troubling pieces of our history.  At the same time, he shows us the love & moral decisions and healing that are part of any difficult journey.  Read this one slowly, you don’t want to miss even one phrase, one image.

Some nonfiction for adults:
Elderhood: Redefining Aging,Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life, by Louise Aronson.  We are expanding our collection on issues around aging, since Mt. Vernon is now an AARP official “age-friendly” town.  The book includes personal stories that point out the many issues around aging, as well as opinions & expertise from historians, scientists & medical folks, and others who are knowledgeable about the trials faced in later life due to culture, lack of resources, what medicine & health look like, and much more.

Lost Art of Scripture, by Karen Armstrong.  Armstrong’s writings on world religions & faith have always been based on research and her deep knowledge about this topic.  Here she considers why we choose only a narrow reading of certain pieces of scripture to encapsulate 7 hinder the reach of all religions.  She reminds us that the scriptures of world religions should be considered tools to connect us to spirit and perhaps higher consciousness.  Armstrong is a great, respected writer who always reflects on religious culture and its place in our lives. We have several of her other books in our collection, too.

Hymns of the Republic:  the Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War, by S.C. Gwynne.  What an amazing treatment of the realities of the final year of the Civil War.  This isn’t a detailed chronology of battles and military action, as much as a consideration of the issues and people around that war.  Gwynne pulls no punches as he addresses the many complicated pieces that tore this country apart – just look at some of the chapter titles:  “A Wilderness of Pain”; “The Man Who Lost Everything”; “Politics of the Not Quite Real”; “Death Ahead of Them, Death Behind Them”; and “Hell Itself”.  Many of our patrons love Civil War history and will appreciate this addition to our collection.  It carries the moral issues of that time, and is stark in its description of war and politics.  It even offers insight into the personal struggles of some of the historical figures – struggles which may have influenced their larger decisions.

And speaking of the Civil War, we now have She Came To Slay: the Life & Times of Harriet Tubman, by Erica Armstrong Dunbar.  Most of us know the most basic story of Harriet Tubman, but this book is a wonderful, accessible treatment of her busy, fraught, extraordinary life.  It is getting great reviews, and justifiably so.  Dunbar goes into detail about Harriet’s early life & family, starting with her grandmother’s voyage to this country; the many challenges she faced due to her epilepsy (after being hit in the head by a 2lb weight by an overseer); and the armed expedition she led that freed over 700 enslaved people.  The book is well illustrated to highlight various events and accomplishments, and a detailed timeline is included.  Various facts are grouped according to topic, like “Harriet By the Numbers”, and “Harriet’s Homies” (her supporters).  There’s lots in this book that you might not have known, including her concerns for women’s rights, medical care, and sufficient care for elders.  It is a quick, informative, lively, and inspirational read.

Reviews of some new books, October 10, 2019

New books by favorite authors:  John Sandford’s Bloody Genius; James Patterson’s Killer Instinct; Clive Cussler’s The Titanic Secret; and, of course, Stephen King’s new novel, The Institute!

New Adult Fiction:
Margaret Atwood, The Testaments.  This has been eagerly awaited.  Set in the Republic of Gilead, 15 years after the story of The Handmaid’s Tale, we are introduced to 3 very different women, all of whom have separate roles & perspectives regarding the republic.  Once again Atwood casts a multi-layered world full of relationship, discovery, truth, suspense, and journey to understanding.  Her prose is, as always, outstanding.  We have The Handmaid’s Tale, also, if you want to re-read it after delving into this beautifully wrought novel.

Alice Hoffman, The World That We Knew.  Hoffman’s usual magical realism, combined with the events of WW2, make for a deep, poignant account of humans thrust into the most dire circumstances, where 3 young women learn about loss, resistance, good & evil, and – always – love.  This beloved author brings such a depth of understanding to the human condition in each of her novels.

Heather Morris, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.  Historical fiction based on the real work & efforts of Lale Sokolov during the two years he was imprisoned in Auschwitz.  Sokolov, himself a Slovakian Jew, was assigned the task of tattooing the camp prisoners with their ID numbers (his own number was 324407).  Oddly, this was a privileged position, and any rewards of food or jewelry or other belongings that were confiscated from prisoners and presented to him, he saved to share with others.  At one point, he was ordered to tattoo a young, desperate woman named Gita, and he then vowed to survive and marry her.  Morris portrays the dark brutality of the camp, the sense of loss, and the ultimate sense of endurance & hope that Lale and Gita embodied.  If you like this, you might also like Iturbe’s The Librarian of Auschwitz.

Two adult nonfiction titles by Yuval Noah Harari:  Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind, and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.  Harari is an academic world history scholar who can make history, culture, and evolutionary science accessible & enjoyable for all of us.  He considers patterns of growth in cognition and the human story, he indicates where we might be headed, and why our species pushes towards the power & ability of being “gods” in terms of how we are designing the future.  He presents it all intermixed with his own opinion & a bit of humor.  Some great deep reading for the winter ahead.

Young readers:
We now have quite a few of the books from the 2019-2020 Maine Student Book Award list.  We keep them on the mantle in the juvenile room, come check them out!  The Maranacook Middle School library works with area students to read from the list, and then host a reading party at the end of the year.

The “I Survived” historical fiction series by Tarshis has been so popular with our young patrons.  It is a great way to learn history, up close 7 personal!  We have many in the series, and have just added these titles:
I Survived The Hindenberg Disaster, 1937
I Survived the Joplin Tornado, 2011
I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944
I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944
I Survived the Great Molasses Flood, 1919

Two nonfiction titles for young patrons:
Remember Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States?  Well, we now have volume 1 of his A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the Spanish-American War, adapted by Rebecca Stefoff.  Aimed at the middle-grade reader, the book is an account of American history through the eyes of slaves, native peoples, women, and othersThere’s a glossary and nice index in the back, to support a reader’s curiosity.

Peter Wohlleben’s adult nonfiction, The Hidden Life of Trees, has received great readership among our patrons.  Now he has published a young reader’s edition, Can You Hear the Trees Talking?   Each set of facing pages offers information, great photos & illustrations, questions, and some suggestions for activities and further investigation.  A wonderful resource for any budding naturalist!

A Few Reviews of New Books, September 25, 2019

New NonFiction:

Jack Fairweather, The Volunteer:  One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz.  Fairweather a Vermont writer, has done extensive research on Witold Pilecki, a resistance fighter from Poland, and on all of the complex network of spies, resistance, atrocities and politics of WW2.  Pilecki sacrificed so much, and was exposed to constant danger, in the efforts to end Auschwitz, and yet his efforts were undermined by the machinations and unwillingness to act, on the part of world political leaders, including the Allies.  Fairweather draws both Pilecki’s underground work and his personal life in great detail.  The story brings this brutal, dark time into view, and captures the weight of risk and sacrifice in the face of betrayal & politics.  A good book for all of our history buffs.

Will McCallum, How to Give Up Plastic:  a Guide To Changing the World, One Plastic Bottle at a Time.  This is an accessible, user-friendly guide on how you can work, within your own life & circumstances, to become part of the global movement to stop harming and start healing this beleaguered planet.  McCallum provides some helpful statistics to bring everyday issues into focus (one fleece jacket can release as many as 250,000 microfibers into the environment), and gives practical information on how to change our decisions about purchasing, waste, and use.  A good, useful introduction that can guide us into making both small and large changes each day in our lives.

One Juvenile NonFiction:

Katherine Johnson, Reaching for the Moon:  the Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson.  A wonderful autobiography aimed at middle-grade readers, this story of Katherine’s life is personal and filled with stories of NASA’s work as well as moments in American history (Jackie Robinson becoming the first person to break the color barrier in baseball in 1947) that carefully place her own life & work in contact.  Her writing is lively, her story moves right along, and she is great at integrating all of the hopes, theories, wonders, and work that she helped to support at NASA.  This is a lovely & inspiring memoir, full of life and reflection, and it captures the era and people perfectly.

New Fiction:
Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys.  Whitehead’s fiction is beautifully rendered and hard hitting (we also have his John Henry Days and the Underground Railroad – both good reads).  Elwood is a young black man in Tallahassee during the Civil Rights era.  He makes one mistake and is sent to juvie, at Nickel Academy, a place touted as providing training for teen boys so that they become honorable men.  But the truth is much darker than that. There is punishment & beatings, as well as a graveyard for all the boys who didn’t make it out. Elwood tries to construct a life there based on MLK’s precepts of nonviolence & love, but his friend Curtis feels their time at Nickel Academy is about using the same techniques as the academy does in order to survive.  Their very different ways of handling the troubling atmosphere there creates consequences that carry down through the years.  Powerful & thoughtful.  It is about redemption, at its core.

Amy Waldman, A Door In the Earth.  Another tough, beautifully rendered novel, reflecting the complicated ongoing war in Afghanistan.  Waldman launches the story immediately, as Parveen is coming down a dirt road into a remote village, far from her home, following in the footsteps of a much-admired humanitarian.  Eventually, we learn her history and why she is there.  Parveen is a college student & part of an Afghan-American community in California.  When she reads the memoir of a philanthropist who did healthcare in war-torn Afghanistan, she packs up and moves there, planning to continue the work.  She finds the clinic in shambles, she has to forge new and difficult relationships with the local people, all the while adjusting to a different culture & different expectations.  Meanwhile the US army begins to rebuild the road into the village, the same one she had walked down, a road that is a symbol of hope, opportunity, and benevolence, but which also now opens the way for violence and escalation of the war.  Parveen is torn between the reality she sees, the choices between good intentions and violence, and it all calls into question her own original idealism, her loyalties, and understanding of past & future.  What has the road brought, how does it now define life?  Waldman’s storytelling is strong, and brings current history very much to life.

A new Tracy Chevalier novel, A Single Thread!  We have several of Chevalier’s other novels, all set in various parts of history.  This one is set between the two world wars, in England.  Violet is one of the women considered as “surplus” – those women who lost husbands, fiances, brothers, fathers in the Great War.  She winds up in Winchester, working with a tight community of women who are doing needlework to refurbish the kneelers & cushions of the great cathedral.  But soon enough tensions across Europe mount once again, and Violet must rethink the life she has built, and consider what she will risk for love & possibility, even as she sees the inevitable approach of war.  Chevalier manages once again to give us the rich, reflective story of a character, firmly placed in time and circumstance.

One novel for juvenile readers:
Kip Wilson, White Rose.  Sometimes we like to recommend juvenile or young adult books to our adult readers, and this historical fiction is definitely worth a read at any age level.  It is the story of Sophie Scholl and her young friends who were founders and members of the White Rose Society, the nonviolent resistance movement against fascism in Germany.  This beautiful novel in verse starts at the end, when Sophie arrives at Gestapo Headquarters, and then jumps to “before”, and every time and place in between.  Mostly the story is told from Sophie’s point of view, but others chime in throughout.  A poignant, beautifully composed glimpse into the hearts of these amazing young people.

New titles by favorite authors:
We have the latest David Rosenfelt (Maine author) mystery featuring his character Andy Carpenter (and dogs, of course), Bark of Night.

New suspense by familiar authors include:  Karin Slaughter’s The Last Widow; Daniel Silva’s the New Girl; Preston & Child’s Old Bones; and T. Jefferson Parker’s The Last Good Guy.  Come check them out!

New Recommendations, September 9, 2019

We just got in a new order of books!  We have new titles from some of our patrons’ favorite authors:  Louise Penny (A Better Man); David Baldacci (One Good Deed); Robert Crais (A Dangerous Man); James Patterson (The Inn); CJ Box (The Bitterroots); Ruth Ware (The Turn of the Key); and Stuart Woods (Contraband).  We also have the new Gerry Boyle (Maine author) mystery, Random Act!

1. Joy Harjo, An American Sunrise.  Poetry first, of course!  Our current US Poet Laureate has created a new collection of poems based on the history of the Mvskoke people & their removal from traditional lands via one of the various Trails of Tears, to the further western territories.  Her poetry, built on old traditions of storytelling, as well as her involvement with music, expresses sorry & history, of course, but also strength, beauty, and joy.  This is a good book to page through some evening, to consider both loss & courage.  And beauty, always.  Here are a few lines from one of the last poems in the volume:
Do not get tired
Don’t be discouraged.  Be determined.
Come.  Together let’s go toward the highest place.

  1. Tony Horwitz, Spying on the South: an Odyssey Across the American Divide. Horwitz has written for both the Wall Street Journal & the New Yorker, covering various world conflicts, but also he explores US history, especially within the southern states.  Here, he travels the path of Frederick Law Olmstead, who had been a farmer, and, after his travels, became an advocate for creating democratic spaces in our communities (hence, Central Park).  Horwitz travels through the Alleghenies, then visits towns in Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas.  He wanted to see how this journey affected Olmstead, and also get to know the people (pub owners, miners, farmers) of the South.  He considers southern history through the eyes of contemporary folks, interspersed with stories and writings from Olmstead in the 1800s.  Great American history here.  Horwitz did lots of research as background for this book, and it is reflected in what he captures of a culture that we don’t often experience here where we live.
  2. Jason DeParle, A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century. A very topical book. DeParle has written often about both poverty & immigration in his previous books and his work as a writer for the New York Times. 30 years ago, he met young Rosalie, living in poverty in Manilla.  Here, he constructs the story of Rosalie and 3 generations of her family from the Philippines, across the Middle East, and finally to Texas, and even on cruise ships, where some of them must live and work.  All of their trails & travel & displacement are due to the issues of poverty, conflict, lack of opportunity, and the missteps in the overwhelming work of legally finding and creating a safe home.  The story of this family reverberates with the issues so many displaced people face in the world today, and DeParle brings it to life.
  3. Peter Wohlleben, The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things – Stories From Science and Observation. Relying on the insight he gained over the years as a forester (we have his book the Hidden Life of Trees), Wohlleben now presents a series of essays on the intricate connections between various species of animal, insect, & plant life, as specific examples of how complex & interconnected all life is (including us humans), and how our existence & actions affect all aspects of the surrounding environment. Another great study of life, to help us sort through our own role within the lively community around us.
  4. Bren Smith, Eat Like a Fish: My Adventures as a Fisherman Turned Restorative Ocean Farmer. What a fascinating record of Smith’s own life story (epilepsy, influences like the writings of Walt Whitman) and his work & purpose in restoring the health of the sea. He works mostly in the North Atlantic.  He does deep research, and at the end he even includes recipes.  Much of his work is plant based (kelp, seaweed, dulse, to name a few), and he gives instructions & encouragement regarding how to do ocean farming.  His writing is straight forward & accessible, and has been called a manifesto.  He awakens us to the environmental work necessary to bring health & sustainability into our lives.  You may also want to read Mark Kurlansky’s nonfiction for young adults, entitles World Without Fish (YA 338.3 KUR), about our environmental impact on the oceans.

1. Jaclyn Moriarty, Gravity Is the Thing.  Lots of good reviews, the novel has been hailed as hilarious, compassionate, uplifting, & mysterious.  Sometimes she writes in first person, sometimes (especially when she is speaking of the future, using conjecture) in 2nd person.  Abi lost her brother, and since then, has received occasional writings from a self-help manual called “The Guidebook”.  She lives with her young son, she has friends & family for whom she cares deeply, and stumbles her way through all of the mystifying, sometimes hurtful, and sometimes grand aspects of life.  And yes, the guidebook – and Abi’s own musings – lead to aerodynamics, flight, waves, and gravity.  Such good contemporary fiction.

  1. Hazel Prior, Ellie and the Harp Maker. A quiet story of the growing relationship between a woman who is grieving the loss of her father and caught in a difficult marriage, and the reticent but kind man who crafts harps and stories them all in his barn. He makes a harp for her, for whenever she is ready to take lessons from Rhoda, who has been in his life for a long time.  Each chapter is told alternately from either Ellie or Dan’s point of view.  Dan interprets life quite differently from many, but Ellie gets it.  While they get to know each other, Ellie must traverse the difficult plains of her marriage & extended family.
  2. J. Ryan Stradal, the Lager Queen of Minnesota. We also have her novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Stradal obviously loves the upper Midwest.  Her characters are rich, they carry the stoicism & understatement that is a part of the culture of that area, and her story telling encompasses the feel of the place itself.  Lager Queen is about two sisters, and the generations on either side of them, who grew up on the family farm in Minnesota.  One, who is deeply private & focused on her own needs, inherits the farm & turns it into a brewery.  The other sister is giving & works at the local nursing home, and is somewhat troubled by how different their lives are.  The story continues through the next generations, through family conflict and love.  As always, there is a strong sense of place.
  3. Abbi Waxman is a new author for us, we just got two of her titles, The Garden of Small Beginnings, and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. She is a good, funny, insightful writer who presents believable & likeable characters working their way through some of life’s tough issues of loss, recovery, and self-discovery. She includes some romance, and – well, one is about gardening, so of course it has to be good!
  4. Rachel Linden, The Enlightenment of Bees. This has gotten lots of good coverage on book blogs, and justifiably so! Mia, a young baker, is left by her boyfriend and she winds up going on a rather wild international trip to help a friend doing humanitarian aid.  They travel from Asia and Eastern Europe, in the midst of a refugee crisis, along with a quirky but likeable group of fellow travelers, including an intriguing urban farmer.  Mia is finding her own way and purpose in life, while she learns about the various needs in the world around her.  What is that one thing we can each do to help others?  The cast of characters care for each other, and there are quiet messages of support and wisdom throughout.  A good read.
  5. Katherine Reay, The Printed Letter Bookshop. Of course we like a novel about a bookshop! Madeline & her two assistants run an independent bookstore she inherited from her aunt.  She is determined to sell the failing shop, due to family and personal issues, but her employees are not in agreement, and a local gardener also stands in the way of her abandoning the store.  This is all about friendships, the power of books, and growing into our place in this world.  At the end, Reay lists all of the books that she alludes to throughout the story.  A nice touch!
  6. Nina George, The Book of Dreams. Our patrons loved George’s earlier novels, The Little Paris Bookshop, and The Little French Bistro. This new novel is different in its premise, but George always brings her characters to life, and this is an intriguing treatment of dreamlife (due to comas, for two characters) and the realities of grief and hope for healing, for those who sit & wait.  The story is told mainly by Henri, who is in a coma after an accident, and Sam, his son, day by day.  Eddie, the woman who has always loved Henri, also brings her point of view into the story.  As always, George brings us to the immediacy of love, loss, faith, and pain – and along the way, there is room for light and grace.
  7. AJ Pearce, Dear Mrs. Bird. This is Pearce’s debut novel, and it is a great read. Set in 1940 London, Emmeline and her dear friend Bunty are figuring out how to help with the war effort besides juggling their jobs, amidst all of the bombings.  Emmeline is a spirited, impulsive, and rather awkward young woman who decides to take a job at the newspaper, thinking it will fulfill her hopes to become a journalist, or, in those times, a Lady War Correspondent, but she winds up typing letters for an advice column written by the formidable Mrs. Bird, who entertains no tomfoolery, along with the scatter-brained and rather harried Mr. Collins, and a quiet office mate, Kathleen. There is so much energy and humor and good spirit in this book, in the midst of the devastating toll that war takes, and it is an upbeat and warm-hearted story.   Thoroughly enjoyable.

Book Recommendations, August 13, 2019

Nickolas Butler’s Little Faith has his usual thoughtful prose.  This story is about a family who cares deeply for each other, in their own flawed ways.  He quietly reveals their relationships, as well as their complicated beliefs about faith and church. In any of Butler’s books, he portrays the poignant, deep, and abiding connections between characters, their landscape (snow storms, orchard, churches) and the moments of magnificent joy & love in the midst of trial and error.

Richard Russo’s newest book, Chances Are…, contains all that we have come to expect from this stellar Maine author:  friendships, long and complicated history, and humor, all placed in sometimes devastating circumstances.  The three main characters, who’ve known each other for decades, meet up on Martha’s Vineyard, and in the midst of this confined community, they deal with secrets and old interactions that create suspense and define their generation, for which formative experiences included the Viet Nam war.

The Guest Book, by Sarah Blake.  This looks good.  The story goes back and forth between three generations of the Milton family, from the 1930s to the present.  Evie, the 3rd generation, is visiting the old family summer place on a Maine island, to bury her mother’s ashes, and is facing the sale of the summer home, as the family fortunes have dwindled.  Blake provides a rich story of both the members of the family, and of the country itself, throughout the changing times.  Evie explores her mother’s, and family, legacy and history, with all of its complications and secrets.

Claire Lombardo.  The Most Fun We Ever Had.  Lombardo has been compared to Elizabeth Strout, so that’s promising!  Two parents, Marilyn & David, and their four adult daughters, all love each other imperfectly and we get to know them in their often uncomfortable lives.  A grandson, given up for adoption 15 years ago by one of the daughters, comes into their lives, which brings all sorts of complications & unfinished business to light.  A good, contemporary story of all the small and large moments of love, grief, joy, and hardship in our lives.

Book Reviews July 30, 2019

We have a new Jackson Brodie mystery by Kate Atkinson, as well as new titles by favorite authors Stuart Woods, Philip Kerr, John Sandford, Joy Fielding, and Clyde Cussler.  And, for our dog-loving mystery buffs – there is a new Spencer Quinn mystery, called Heart of Barkness.  Chet & Bernie get up to their usual shenanigans!

A bit of historical fiction:
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe is about some real and some fictional characters who were at Auschwitz, and central to the story is Editha (Dita), a young woman charged with protecting and hiding the 8 precious books cobbled together by prisoners who ran a secret school at the concentration camp.  The author did some amazing research to pull together the history of some of these people, and presents a detailed, brutal setting that makes this dark time in history come alive.  Iturbe presents the stark and desperate circumstances, but also the courage, understanding, and collaboration that was ever-present.

V,S. Alexander’s The Irishman’s Daughter is not about a particular historical figure, but his thorough research and ability to make characters come alive provide an enlightening and intriguing story set in the time of the Irish potato famine.  He portrays the great tensions between powerful English landowners, and the poor, starving tenants who farmed the land and lost everything during the famine.  The depiction of the suffering undergone by the characters is heartrending, and we see the daily difficult decisions the Walsh family and their friends & loved ones must make to try to survive.  Eventually, because of the difficulties, and the hope they try to engender in their lives, we see Briana and her sister Lucinda leave their loved ones and become a part of the Irish migration to America.  They land in Boston and must quickly put together a life, while still hoping to bring their loved ones to this new country eventually.

Both of these books introduce us to characters of depth and courage, and they make these parts of history absolutely come to life.

More fiction:
Lost and Wanted: a Novel, by Nell Freudenberger.  Wow, physics meets grief in this story.  At the beginning, Helen – a theoretical physicist – has lost a dear college friend, Charlie (Charlotte).  Over the next months, Charlie’s family (husband, daughter Simmi, and parents) and Helen and her own son Jack deal with the loss, each in their own way.  What complicates it is that Helen gets texts and emails from Charlie’s phone after her death, and some of them are pretty powerful guides and insights for her.  Helen, being a logical scientist, figures out several explanations for these communications.  As Helen and her coworkers address the power and complications of gravitational waves and the vast connections within the universe, and Simmi & Jack question both personal and universal issues, the origin of the communications may not be quite clear.  A story of big questions, loss, love, growth, and acceptance.

The Islanders, by Met Mitchell Moore.  The setting itself – Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, is enough to draw you in.  Three characters – Anthony, Joy, and Lu – all carry their own secrets and face personal difficulties.  During this one summer, they meet, get to know each other, share their troubles, but also keep some secrets buried.  Both together and separately, as the summer culminates, they must come to terms with where and who they are, and determine how to keep what they have, or move on to something else.

Ayesha At Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin.  Published in 2018, this novel has gotten great reviews.  Ayesha is a poet and teacher who is part of a lively, traditional Muslim family in Canada. Their goal is to see that she marries, and the most likely prospect is Khalid, a very traditional and conservative man.  Ayesha feels that tradition does not always answer all of our needs & questions. She doesn’t want an arranged marriage, and is leery of Khalid, though she sees him as a very upright person.  She hears that he might become engaged to her own cousin, and has to admit that she is attracted to him, but how could their world views ever match?  Each of them must come to terms with who they are, and why.  Reviewers are calling this a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice – it is about love and about knowing ourselves.

Two NonFiction Titles:
From Scratch, by Tembi Locke.  Memoirs can be a lot like fiction when it comes to portraying love, loss, forgiveness, and the journey to our inmost selves.  Locke’s memoir, which has received so many great reviews and was a pick for the popular online Reese’s Book Club, accomplishes all of it, and more.  Locke, an American black woman, married Saro, a man from a traditional Sicilian family who disapproved of the marriage.  They traveled to Los Angeles, made a home, adopted a beloved daughter, and had successful careers.  But, Saro dies, and Tembi takes her little daughter and returns to Sicily to find some bit of solace.  Saro’s family brings them to their table, and they forge a new relationship together, based on forgiveness, acceptance, and preparing & sharing traditional foods.  Tembi must find her own life, but this story of her relationships both in the US and in Sicily is warm and reminds us of the place of acceptance and courage in all our lives.  She includes some fabulous recipes from her husband and his family, at the end of the book
If you love this book, you might want to follow up by reading the novel The House At the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner, simply because of the rich setting on an island off the coast of Sicily.

Oliver Sacks, Everything In Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales. We lost Oliver Sacks a few years back, and this is a compendium of some of his final and never-before published essays.  Some of his focus is still very much on his clinical interests and amazing case histories having to do with brain function, aging, and other topics.  But he also includes personal consideration from his own life, and the brief essays are beautiful and insightful.  There is one, early in the book, on his love for libraries.  Others include “Night of the Ginkgo”, which is so lovely and quiet; the final essay, “Life Continues”, which is somewhat cautionary and then ends with the hope that we all will work together so that we can indeed continue; and, my favorite essay in the book, “Why We Need Gardens”.  There is so much goodness here.  Sacks has always been able to focus on science and phenomena, and at the same time he makes it apparent how all of it affects our lives and deepens our understanding.

Juvenile and Young Adult Literature:
One Great Nonfiction:
David MaCaulay, Crossing On Time: Steam Engines Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World.  J 623.8 MAC  MaCauley has always been a favorite non-fiction writer, he chooses such amazing and specific topics and makes them come alive.  Both his text and his detailed illustrations provide such interesting and engaging information on great parts of history and technology that are sometimes overlooked.  We have quite a few of his books, all of them are fascinating for budding engineers, builders, and history buffs!

Juvenile Fiction:
Matilda Woods, The Girl Who Sailed the Stars.  A wonderful adventure with a touch of magic is undertaken by young Oona, the 7th daughter of a sea captain who very much doubts that a girl should be on a ship.  From the sea to the stars, Oona and Barnacles (a cat) and others share a fantastical trip.  There are beautiful, light illustrations along the edges of each page.

Susan Hood, Lifeboat.  A very affecting novel in verse.  Ken is a 13 year old boy who escapes London during the Nazi bombings by boarding the luxury ship SS City of Benares, on it’s way to Canada.  A few days out, they are torpedoed, and Ken scrambles aboard Lifeboat 12, along with five other boys.  What can they do to survive, together?  This is based on a little-known true WW2 story.  Well done.

Rajani LaRocca, Midsummer’s Mayhem.  Mimi is part of a big family and as the youngest child, she feels rather invisible.  In order to find her place, she enters a baking contest.  While she ponders what to create, she and a new friend, Vik, spend time gathering ingredients in a rather magical forest in their town.  But, she begins to wonder ifher family’s increasingly odd and chaotic behavior might be due to those ingredients from the woodlands.  She has to use both her culinary and detective skills to set things to rights again.  There are a few recipes for some scrumptious treats at the end of the book!

Shelley Pearsall, The Seventh Most Important Thing.  Arthur hurls a brick at the local Junk Man on the very first page of the book.  We don’t know why, yet.  He winds up being sentenced to juvie, but instead, the Junk Man asks the judge to assign Arthur to community service – working with him?  We do learn why he threw that brick, and what Arthur’s difficulties are.  The Junk Man gives him a broken cart to use for their work, as well as a list of 7 important things for him to work through.  This novel is so well-written, the neighborhood setting is alive, and we are involved with all of the characters in Arthur’s life.  This all takes place during a time in American history that included Kennedy’s assassination and the civil rights movement.  Arthur’s developing relationship with the wise Junk Man and other community members and with his own struggling family helps him discover his own place.  That odd list of 7 important things, that had seemed so inconsequential, leads to healing and belonging.

One Young Adult Title:
Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X.  A magnificent novel in verse, about Xiomara, who writes all of her frustrations, fierceness, and difficulties in a leatherbound journal that she mostly keeps to herself.  She is invited to join her school’s slam poetry group, and that opens up possibilities.  She writes, she starts performing, all in spite of mama’s strict rules.  She is a strong young woman who learns to use her voice and refuse silence.

Two Recommendations, July 4, 2019

The Library of Lost and Found, by Phaedra Patrick.  The author of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (we have it in our collection) has constructed another quiet, affecting novel.  Patrick is great at creating quirky characters that are lively and resonant, imperfect and likeable.  Martha Storm lives in her parents’ old house after having cared for them for years, volunteers at the town library (so, if some of the story occurs in a library, it’s got to be good!), and takes on all sorts of work for others in the community.  She just doesn’t want to interact much with anyone, and doesn’t know how to stand up for herself.  She and a host of other characters wind up on a path of growth & redemption, to try to release themselves from painful history and to forgive themselves and others.  Martha feels familiar, she is a character who must create her own life, no matter her age and circumstances.

Joy Harjo, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2001.  Harjo is our new US Poet Laureate (always named by the Librarian of Congress) and is the first Native American to be appointed to that position.  This is a collection of work from her various books.  She belongs to the Muscogee Nation and has long loved writing & reciting poetry, as well as performing music (lots of jazz and blues).  She is a strong & determined voice for any culture that is oppressed and that must seek healing & establish support for its members.  Her poems encompass politics, frustration, joy, grief, awe, justice, and hope, and her work always reflects compassion & acceptance, even in the midst of trouble.  One of my favorite poems in this volume is “The Dawn Appears With Butterflies”. It ends with this stanza:
everything is a prayer for this journey
As you shut the door behind you in the dark
Wings of dusk
Wings of night sky
Wings of dawn
Wings of morning light

It is sunrise now.

One review of a novel, June 23, 2019

The House at the Edge of Night, by Catherine Banner.  The author, born in England and now residing in Italy, did a lot of research into the literature and legends of the Mediterranean in order to create such a beautiful story.  This is a slowly unfolding tale of a small island community off the coast of Italy, told very much in the traditional layered story-building of the area. Beautiful imagery and metaphor, rich prose. Amedeo was raised in an orphanage and wound up on the island of Castellamore as a doctor, in the early 20th century, right before WWI.  He interacts with the island folk, winds up moving into an old building with a lot of history (The House at the Edge of Night), marries Pina, and together they reinvent the building and raise a family.  The book offers an intimate study of the complicated interrelations of characters (including the island’s own Saint Agata, who had rescued the people from a curse of weeping), and the island itself.  Amedeo and Pina and those around them make tough choices at the start of WW2 regarding the Fascism that even effected their remote place, and then contend with cultural and economic changes of the late 20th century into the first decade of the 21st.  You can discern the rich traditions of work and relationship, food, and place in that small society.  Each section of the book starts with a re-telling of the old legends from ancient times on the island.

June 20, 2019, Recommendations:

One brand new nonfiction:

Kathryn Kellogg, 101 Ways To Go Zero Waste.  The author started reducing her use of plastics after a bout with cancer at the age of 20, and has expanded her work to include all sorts of packaging and waste.  You may have seen videos of her experiment with zero waste online at some point, and she manages a website at, and is connected to the National Geographic magazine.

The tips she offers not only address reducing waste but also lots of DIY projects for healthy alternatives (soaps & cleaners, for instance).  She is careful to acknowledge that we are all imperfect people just trying to do what’s right, no one can do everything.  She has great ideas on gift-giving, having pets without creating lots of waste, and – in tips 96-98, she addresses the need for community and local interaction – always a plus!

Two authors to visit (or re-visit):

Richard Powers and Colum McCann write some of the richest stories in our collection.  They both delve deep into parts of American history and bring it to life through the many-layered lives of their characters.  This year, Powers’ novel The Overstory hit a chord with many of our readers.  The book is about the connection between trees and humans, and his magnificent prose reveals both the damage we do to each other and the natural world around us, and the commitment of some folks to saving whatever pieces of the world they can.

Powers has often written his stories around music, as well.  We have Orfeo, a mix of science and music and intrigue as the government watches the microbiology experimentation going on in the home of a composer. A different, well-written piece.  And, my favorite of Powers’ books is The Time of Our Singing, which follows two generations in a family of musicians from the jazz age through the Civil Rights movement, and into hip-hop.  The characters are complex, and the music itself is a character, rich & alive.

McCann’s books unfold similarly.  In his Let the Great World Spin, he introduces us to the many people who witness the amazing feat of a tightrope walker (and dancer) as he traverses a rope he has placed between the Twin Towers in NYC.  There is a group of mothers of songs who have died recently in the Vietnam War, who grapple with their grief & separate understandings of life; an Irish monk; a prostitute who is also a grandmother; and an artist. The characters portray resilience, sadness, and redemption.  McCann’s Transatlantic is a favorite, also.  It covers the travel back and forth of noted North Americans (Frederick Douglass and George Mitchell are two of them) to Ireland, negotiating our sometimes difficult &puzzling relations with that country, and it portrays the women, like Lily, a housemaid, who feature in their visits.  McCann, like Powers, serves up an intimacy with times and places in our history that brings all of it to life.

June 17, 2019 Reviews

Lately, our patrons have been quite interested in all the new WWI and WWII fiction we’ve added to the collection, so we thought we would feature some of our fiction that considers the Vietnam War.  Two of our more current titles are Silas House’s Eli the Good, and Diane Chamberlain’s The Dream Daughter.  Both are quiet stories that follow families impacted by the war.  Eli the Good is a young boy who’s father suffers from PTSD after coming home from the war.  Eli is observant and tries to interpret the people around him – his suffering & unpredictable father, his rebellious sister, his aunt who protested the war, and his mother who has a remarkable ability to love.  His remarkable close relationship with trees (something he shares with his dad) also carries him through.
Chamberlain’s novel involves time travel, from the 70’s, after Carly learns she has lost her husband in the war, to the early 21st century, when she visits the Viet Nam war memorial wall made by Maya Lin, and the time in between when she connects with her young daughter.
Both of these stories wind up being about love and healing within imperfect lives impacted by the long-term effects of war.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried has become a classic work of war fiction over the years since its publication in 1990.  It brings us back and forth between the war and the time afterwards when young veterans try to find their way into civilian life in an America that no longer feels familiar, and for which the war has rendered them unprepared.  Even if you’ve already read this, it bears a re-read easily.  It reveals the depth of pain and uncertainty that is carried by those who begin the circuitous, sometimes risky, journey towards recovery.

Three more fiction titles – Elizabeth J. Church’s The Atomic Weight of Love is centered very much on Los Alamos, and balances character Meridian’s love of ornithology with her fascination with physics, space, and energy.  We watch her move from the time of WWII, through the 1970s countercultural movement, her relation with a Vietnam War veteran, and the influence of the women’s movement.  A beautifully written story.

Two Maine writers also portray the influence of the war on individual characters and their place in the world.  Distinguished Maine poet Baron Wormser recently penned a novella entitled Tom O’Vietnam.  It is about a combat veteran who refers to Shakespeare’s King Lear to help him interpret life since the war.  This brief story is clever, rich, and compassionate.  It offers hope through forgiveness and empathy.  Finally, Peter Scott’s trilogy set on fictional Barter’s Island off the coast of Maine shows the complicated, closed island life over the course of 3 wars – WWI (The Boy Who Came Waling Home), WWII (Something in the Water), and Viet Nam (Barter Island).  As young folks associated with the island leave for the war, or return from it, the countercultural/back-to-the-land movement change the traditional ways of the island folks.  This is an engaging series with great characters who feel familiar to us.

We have nonfiction that also addresses this time period in our history, if you are interested.  And, you might end your exploration of this group of novels by watching our DVDs of two movies:  “Across the Universe”, and “Hair”.

One New NonFiction Title:

An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back, by Elisabeth Rosenthal.  This book has been discussed by participants in one of our aging forums, and is recommended by AARP and other groups who advocate for accessible healthcare. It got strong, positive reviews from major national newspapers.  Rosenthal delineates the myriad issues attached to each part of the medical system, like pharmaceuticals, contractors, billing, insurance, research, and the growth of conglomerates.  Thankfully, in the second part of the book and the five helpful appendices, she also gives us tools and ideas for protecting ourselves regarding both costs and care.  She even includes sample letters you can use to fight unfair billing charges (such as out-of-network charges that were not explained ahead of time).  This is a well-researched guide aimed at the general public.  A helpful read.

One from a Maine author, June 4, 2019

Monica Wood is one of our patrons’ beloved Maine authors (we have five of her novels, as well as her memoir, When We Were the Kennedys).  Now we have added Secret Language — her debut novel from 1993 — to our collection!  It was inspired by her own family & childhood spent in Mexico, Maine, and follows the story of two sisters, Faith & Connie, from their odd upbringing as the children of somewhat self-centered actors, into their adulthood, when they have grown apart, following different paths.  A number of difficult events force them to come together again, and redefine their understanding of love and family.  In this early novel, we find the same warm prose and approachable characters that we have come to expect via her other novels.  Wood tells a many-layered story with deep, provoking interactions between characters.  Enjoy.


Online Recommendations

Just read something you liked and want to read something similar? Try The Book Seer.

Looking for something new and exciting to read? Want to keep track of what you like and what you have read? Try going to GoodReads and exploring this very useful site with many book descriptions and recommendations. If we don’t have the book here in the library we may be able to get it for you via Interlibrary Loan!

The Greatest Books of All Time: This list is generated from 107 “best of” book lists from a variety of great sources. Find both fiction and non-fiction lists here.

New York Times 100 Notable books of 2015The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. This list represents books reviewed since Dec. 7, 2014. 

LibraryThing – The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time Mystery Writers of America. LibraryThing is another site that will let you catalog the books you have read.  Enter what you’re reading or your whole library. It’s an easy, library-quality catalog.

National Geographic’s List of All Time Best Adventure Books  – Extreme Classics: The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time

YALSA 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults – Young Adult Library Services Association a division of the American Library Association selects best fiction for young adults each year.