In the Library Recommendations

Recommendations of books for middle grade readers, February 2021

The Talk: conversations about race, love & truth. Edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson.

J 305.8 TAL This nonfiction for middle grade readers is an astounding collection of brief reflections from respected diverse authors on difficult issues of our times and culture. Some are accounts of interactions with parents, family members, classmates, strangers, and all are about the tough talks & experiences that teach us about the often heartbreaking experience of growing up as anyone who is not white. The vignettes are short and engaging, there are beautiful black & white illustrations, and at the end, some of the authors list their sources and inspirations for their work. This is an affecting introduction to the very personal impact of inequality in children’s lives. Such a good, quick read.

The Track series, by Jason Reynolds. Titles in this series are: Ghost, Lu, Patina, and Sunny. All four of these novels bear the name of one of the characters, each featured in their own book. All of them wind up on the same school track team. Their stories are narrated from a 1st person point of view, which always makes the story so real. It is easy to immediately get a feel for who that person is, and how they experience life. Ghost loves to run, and he is so good at it that the track coach wants him to try for Junior Olympics, though Ghost loves basketball more. But running might help himmove beyond his troubled past, and make him a part of a real team of kids facing their own difficulties – like Lu, Patina, & Sunny. All of them have reasons to run from parts of their lives, but as they learn to support each other, maybe they can all run together for and towards some goodness.

We have some YA novels by Reynolds, also, and we have his acclaimed Spiderman graphic novel, Miles Morales in our collection. He is a great writer.

The Vanderbeeker series by Karina Yan Glaser includes these three titles: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, The VanderBeekers and the Hidden Garden, and The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue. This is a fun, juvendile series about a family of 5 kids (Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney), their parents, and some quirky neighbors (and pets – including a rabbit named Paganini). So far we have 3 books of the series, and each one is full of neighborhood adventures or projects that don’t always go as planned. But each of the Vanderbeeker kids is so different, their various plans to right any wrongs are often a bit chaotic and include hijinks and many attempts at straightening things out. Meanwhile, they try to keep their parents in the dark about what they are trying so hard to accomplish, and they enlist others to help them towards their goal. In the first book, they scramble to keep their beloved home in an old brownstone house in Harlem. In the next book they want to save a plot of land from a developer, by creating a secret garden. And in the 3rd story they want to help their mom gain publicity for her baking business. But – things often go awry and it takes all of them to make it right. There is humor, lots of creative thinking, hope & determination, and deep caring in each story.

Reviews of a few new books, January 2021

Oh, this might be my favorite book from our most recent arrival of materials!  One of a Kind: a Story About Sorting and Classifying, by Neil Packer is a gorgeous large format book for children – but it is a treasure of creatively presented information that anyone in a household, adult or child, will love paging through. There is a simple story (one line per set of facing pages) – young Arvo moves through his day, but the illustrations of all that is around him is phenomenal. Really the book is a plethora of nonfiction, based on a story. As he moves through his town, the complex connections between modes of transportation, tools, history and style of architecture, his own family tree, the family of cats his cat Malcolm belongs to, classification of the books in the library he visits (including one showing an assortment of some luscious cheeses), and an array of apple varieties available at the local market are illustrated in detailed charts. We can see complex, far-reaching connections and history, and in the end, Arvo and his dad find each other on the crowded street because, in the midst of sorting through so many aspects of life, we also are reminded that there are individual characteristics that take us a bit beyond the solid basis of our orderly classifications. Such beautiful, intricate artwork that highlights the origins of all that Arvo experiences in his day! The final pages are notes from the author, which explain why and how he chose to include information, ending his comments with brief considerations of time maps and DNA. A beautiful book with so much to reflect on and to open avenues for further wonder and curiosity.

The Teachers March!, by Sandra Neil Wallace & Rich Wallace, illustrated by Charly Palmer. Another beautifully illustrated juvenile nonfiction book considers an amazing piece of American history, a piece of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The hues are so rich and warm, and I love seeing the brush strokes that contrast light and shade. Reverend Reese was a teacher (the community called teachers “leaders” – quite apt!) who loved teaching his students about freedom and equality, and he wanted the wider world to learn, also. So he organized a march in the city of Selma, to be lead by respected teachers, and he even invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to participate in the movement. He felt that the basics of education, in all subject areas, reflected the needs and rights of the community at large. The story reflects the fear, courage, determination, and leadership of these “somebody somebodies” who risked their well-being, their jobs, simply to show up and lead others. They were at the beginning of a movement of many marches and peaceful gatherings that helped people across the country begin to understand the meaning of equal rights and strong community. A wonderful read.

Zadie Smith, Intimations.. This is not an easy read, ZS never falters in her depictions of the sorrow and challenges we all experience in life. Her brief (83 pages) collection of short essays was started as our COVID troubles began. Towards the beginning, she calls the pandemic a “global humbling” – a brilliant, succinct description of our current circumstances, which go beyond the physical virus. Her honest, little vignettes of brief encounters on the street or in the park portray how meaningfulness, dreams and plans, can shift depending on what we face. A quick observation or interaction can stay with us and change our interpretation of our own reactions or the actions of others. And, in the end – what is a virus? Is it biological, like COVID, or can it also be cultural, like racism or self-hate and resulting violence? Either way, it is hard to cure. We also have three of her novels, and an audiobook of another collection of her essays in our collection.

Two Young Adult novels to try:  YA fiction delves deeply into issues both personal and universal, and it definitely doesn’t pull any punches. The characters in the two books below experience violence, assault, trauma – but they also are there for each other, helping each other surge forward, even just one step at a time. We love recommending it to our adult readers as well as teens, because it can enhance our own awareness of what takes place around us and reflect what each of us experiences.

Clap When You Land is the most recent novel in verse by celebrated author Elizabeth Acevedo (we have two other novels by her in our collection). It involves two teens, Camino and Yahaira, who live separately in New York and in the Dominican Republic, and discover that they shared the same father, after he dies in a plane crash. The story progresses through the first 60 days after the crash, from the perspectives of both girls, as they grieve and begin to sort through the secrets their father kept and then begin to connect with each other. Their lives are not easy, because of their loss and other trauma, but they also begin to build their own relationship as sisters and family members, and learn that they can be there for each other, no matter what.

Another story that is a stark telling of current issues, this time about migrants, is Jenny Torres Sanchez’ We Are Not From Here. Three young people – Pulga, Chico, and Pequena – live in a difficult place in Guatemala, always dealing with severe local issues and violence, even in a beautiful place. On the first page, in the prologue, we are drawn into the depth of their dilemma: “You plan your escape because no matter how much color there is or how much color you make yourself see, you’ve watched every beautiful thing disappear…You plan your escape. But you’re never really ready to go.” After yet more threatening events, they each pack a bag and must leave family and everything familiar to them, to embark on a dangerous trek from Guatemala to Mexico, hoping to come to the US. There is no turning back, there is danger along the way, they are heartbroken, but they are also resilient young people who forge ahead, and there is the slim hope of salvation and something or someone familiar at the end of the journey. We have read so much in the news in recent years about what migrants endure. This well-wrought story brings all of it to life.

Book Reviews, October 2020:
One adult general fiction – Blackbird House, by Alice Hoffman. This one was published about 15 years ago, but is new to our collection. The stories can all stand alone, but they are connected over two centuries (set on Cape Cod) through generations of the Hadley family. Hoffman creates such well-drawn characters and gives a strong sense of connection to place and each other. And of course, there is a healthy serving of her magical realism (a halibut the size of a horse!) that is woven into the stories very naturally. A quick, bewitching read.

We have some new mysteries and suspense novels by favorite authors:

The Body In the Castle Wall: a Bruno, Chief of Police Novel, by Martin Walker

Charcoal Joe: an Easy Rawlins Mystery, by Walter Mosley

Order To Kill: a Mitch Rapp Novel, by Kyle Mills (Vince Flynn)

Three mysteries by Barry Eisler: All the Devils; The Killer Collective; The Night Trade.

One By One, by Ruth Ware

Shadows in Death, by J.D. Robb

One amazing Young Adult novel:

Dear Justyce, by Nic Stone. We have two other titles by this author. YA novels often depict the stark realities of difficult lives, full of poverty, racism, and violence, and they can open us to the depth & breadth of the effort their characters put forth in spite of the deeply complex trials they face. This one is the story of a young man in juvenile detention, and the correspondence he keeps with a friend, Justyce (the main character from Stone’s Dear Martin. You can see the stark reality of despair & lack of opportunity within the lives of these characters, and yet they gain moments of hope & support from each other. Stone is direct and matter of fact, and you come to care for her characters deeply.

Three Juvenile (middle reader) novels – & they all feature cooking!

We have 2 of Kathryn Littlewood’s Bliss series (we hope the 1st book of the series arrives soon1): A Dash of Magic (book #2), and Bite-Sized Magic (#3). The stories center around young Rosemary Bliss, her family (including an evil aunt), a host of ridiculous, magical, curious bakers, and – yep – a very entertaining, rather sarcastic cat. There are recipes scattered throughout the pages (they rely on measurements like a “fistful of flour”) which are clues to adventures and which include magical ingredients that must be found. Littlewood uses slapstick humor, includes lots of shenanigans, great character interactions, and plenty of amusing, rousing challenges. These are delightful stories about a young, talented baker who always rises to the challenge.

Jen Nails’ contemporary novel, One Hundred Spaghetti Strings, starts with a major change in Steffy’s already fraught home life (she and her sister live with their beloved aunt, her disabled mother is in an institution, and her father suddenly shows up on the doorstep). It leaves her uneasy and sad, unable to figure out how to remake her family, so she turns to the one activity that she has always loved – cooking. What will guide her through these new, unexpected times? Her approach of Kitchen Sink cooking – using ingredients at hand & devising a scrumptious dish? Or maybe it is time to turn to recipes, with real guidelines & structure? Or maybe life is just a mix of both. Through all of her challenges, what steadies her is all things related to cooking. At the end of the book are recipes for the various dishes Steffy makes, including one for spaghetti noodles.

Book Reviews, July 2020

A Few Children’s Picture Books:

What is it about picture books that draws us in, no matter our age? Besides the gift of a well-crafted story coupled with astonishingly beautiful art, they introduce us to so many aspects of life, in a way that doesn’t overload us, and offers support & reassurance. They use beautiful prose, humor, acceptance, hope, & reflection on how we manage to stumble our way through each day.

The vibrant colors in Penfold’s All Are Welcome show the liveliness of the characters’ community life. All of the children scampering across the pages are so engaged in their activities together, and what is striking is the warmth & awareness in their beautiful eyes. A simple story, with a simple but profound message of togetherness.

The Old Truck, by the Pumphrey brothers, is a simple story, filled with quiet illustrations, of a truck used by a farming family over the years, and the little girl who is always aware of the truck, parked outside her window all the years of her childhood. She imagines all kinds of adventures she has in the truck. Will the truck just sit there over the years and never work again? Or will an imaginative and hard-working young farmer bring that truck back to life?

Another beautifully, quietly illustrated story is Home In the Woods, by Eliza Wheeler. A family moves to a derelict old shack deep in the woods & must find a way to make it a real home. The story starts in very subdued hues of greys and browns. Through all the seasons, they work hard, explore, gather food, and rely on each other. Slowly that brings richer, brighter hints of color to their lives. A story of pulling together & persistence, and finding the meaning of home. There’s a cool map of the woods on the end pages.

Charlotte Zolotow is a well-respected children’s book author, and now her old story In My Garden has been newly illustrated by Philip Stead. This story also depicts all four seasons, in a garden beloved by a young girl and an elder. They each choose some aspect of the garden which they love (roses, flying kites) in each part of the year. Another quiet, reflective story.

Follow the Recipe, by Marilyn Singer, is another picture book with superb, colorful, energetic artwork. The recipes, though each does mention luscious food, are actually poems about how to manage values, creative ventures, and community (yes, often through sharing food). Two of my favorites are “Recipe for Magic” and “Recipe for Understanding”.

Some new picture books with simple text for read-alouds together:

Bethany Barton. I’m Trying To Love Rocks. It’s a great introduction to geology!

Julie Fogliano & Jillian Tamaki. My Best Friend.

Chris Haughton. Don’t Worry, Little Crab.

Antoinette Portis. Hey, Water! Simple text, and then some nice infographics at the end.

Susan Vaught. Together We Grow. Rich artwork.

Ken Wilson-Max. Astro Girl. Sweet story, and a bit of astronaut history at the end.

Juvenile (middle reader) and Young Adult Books:

More and more, juvenile & young adult literature tell the difficult stories of our lives, in ways that can attract adult readers as well as youth. Janal Marks’ From the Desk of Zoe Washington is a fine example. It is Zoe’s 12th birthday, and she receives a letter from her father, who is in prison. After some hesitation she begins to communicate with him and investigate the circumstances of what she comes to see as his wrongful conviction. At the same time, she is negotiating the usual sometimes awkward, frustrating, & yet loving relationships with family and friends. Meanwhile, she is also balancing an internship in baking, hoping to participate in a major competition. Zoe seeks truth, justice, understanding, and the strength of love as she persists in her efforts to make things right.

Renee’ Watson is a stellar writer. Her newest title, Some Place More Than Others, is about Amara and her parents who travel from home in Oregon all the way to Harlem, to visit her father’s family. Once she is there, she is immersed in family stories and the history of this place that is so new to her, and it helps her learn more about her own father. This is a heartwarming story of getting to know yourself through your connections to place and to others. There is a bit of poetry now and then (Langston Hughes!). At the end of the book, Watson includes various lists of places to visit, as well as prompts to investigate history (interviewing others, and writing prompts to support your own creativity!). We also have Watson’s Piecing Me Together.

One young adult novel by wonderful author Jason Reynolds (we have a couple of his titles): Look Both Ways. Reynolds tells the stories of a group of middle schoolers, through their interactions & conversations, across ten tales of their walks home from school. We get to read their funny, sometimes painful, sometimes wise (and also foolish) dialog, their observations of other friends & adults, & their ways of learning to care. Poignant, uplifting, real.

A Bit of Adult Fiction:

We have quite a few books by great American author Louise Erdrich, her prose is lyrical, straightforward, and always leads us to truth. Her latest title, The Night Watchman, delves deep into the human condition and considers how the characters – Thomas, a night watchman at the manufacturing plant; coworker Patrice, who bears the burden of keeping her family together; and their family & community members in a North Dakota reservation – grapple with the challenges, desires, failures, and responsibilities they encounter. Another stunning effort from Erdrich that lays open the depth & imperfections of the human heart.

Exile Music by Jennifer Steil is part of the WW2 literature that has become so popular, and rightly so. The effects of war & of oppression teach us the strength & failings of humanity – and when you couple that with music, it takes you to the very depths of the soul’s capacity. Orly and her family escape Eastern Europe, but she must leave behind her dear friend Annaliese. She makes a new home in Bolivia, but misses the music that had defined her and her family back in the old country, and she now faces the challenges of family secrets, betrayals, and she struggles with how one defines home in a world torn apart by war, where meaning & beauty can be destroyed and then must be re-defined.

Sebastian Barry’s latest novel is A Thousand Moons. It is set soon after the American Civil War, involving characters from his previous story, Days Without End. Here, Winona, a young Lakota woman adopted by a Tennessee family, must try to find out who she is, how her own history helps define her life, while she deals with intricate family connections & her own decision to determine her future. This fine story reflects Barry’s usual poignant writing, filled with power, grief, & redemption. Other novels of his in our collection: Days Without End; On Canaan’s Side; The Secret Scripture.

Three Adult NonFiction:

Brian Doyle, One Long River of Song. This posthumous collection of some of Doyle’s essays put together by David James Duncan is all about wonder & awe. As with any collection of work, there might be some pieces that speak more to a particular reader than others, but in so many of these meditative musings, Doyle’s prose is so stunning and lyrical. Much of the writing is based on the natural world, but he also considers spirit and belief, personal interactions, language, and even baseball. Two of my favorites are “The Creature Beyond the Mountain”, and “Rapturous”. And there is also “An Leabharlann” – about a library! His contemplative work will make you want to slow down and savor every phrase, every word. One brief, partial quote to leave you with: “then rise easily into the fraught and holy air”.

The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, by Tristan Gooley. This is not an identification guide as much as a series of essays on how to observe, no matter where you are on this planet. Gooley addresses geology, navigating by the sky, plants, water, and more. It is all about opening your eyes, and his writing is filled with practical suggestions on how to interpret the world around us.

George Zaidan, Ingredients: the Strange Chemistry of What We Put In Us and On Us. Using humor & informal, personal, energetic prose, Zaiden names the various troublesome, toxic ingredients in the every day products we consume. He makes chemistry so understandable, he uses examples, history, and graphics to inform us of what we put in & on our bodies, and he encourages us to find new ways of learning about science relevant to our daily lives. A great read.

A Few New Book Reviews, March 2020

Two nonfiction titles:

Here For It: How to Save Your Soul in America, by R. Eric Thomas.  Thomas’ humor and irony have been likened to David Sedaris’ level of skills.  These individual essays all compose a memoir of Thomas’ varied, unusual life, and shine light on how he comes to terms with it all.  He considers growing up in a troubled urban environment, being enrolled in a suburban white school, attending a conservative black church, and coming to terms with his own identity.  Through humor & honesty, he talks about finding his place in the world, as well as how to find joy, even in our divided and sometimes worrisome current landscape, as we move towards the future.  This book is getting rave reviews, as it should.  His writing is deeply personal, accessible, creative, warm, and yes – funny.  A wonderful, quick read, filled with insight & hope.

Good Husbandry: A Memoir – Growing Food, Love, and Family on Essex Farm, by Kristin Kimball.  This memoir is about the depth & breadth of how to face all of the daily challenges of a life based on soil, weather, work.  Kimball explores the toll a hard life takes on family relationships as they mature, and how emotional life is so tied to work, finances, and nature.  Through her descriptions of her marriage & the early childhood of her daughters, their struggles with uncertain finances, an old house in need of repair, and the bonds they develop with the animals on the farm, she reflects on what our true needs are.  What does happiness actually look like?  One quote from the book, after she had been out working with their team of farm horses:  “when challenging things are required, we become more complex beings.” (p. 74)

A few fiction titles:

These authors need no introduction, they are familiar to most of our readers – here is a list of a few new titles from them:  Nora Roberts, The Rise of Magicks; J.D. Robb, Golden in Death; Martin Cruz Smith, The Siberian Dilemma; Jo Nesbo, Knife; Jonathan Kellerman, The Museum of Desire; Preston & Child, Crooked River; Alexander McCall Smith, The Peppermint Tea Chronicles (gotta love that title); and Simon Brett, The Killing in the Choir.Haruki Murakami.  Men Without Women: Stories.  Seven stories (tales, really), some in 3rd person, some told in 1st person, portray the experiences, grief, and bewilderment of different men who have only one thing in common:  the loss and loneliness of having no women in their lives.  They tell of women from their past, and why those women are gone away.  Murakami is so good at portraying the mistakes these men have made, as well as their confusion, observations, disappointments, and attempts to live a full life.  He manages an effective blend of humor, pathos, darkness, and riveting storytelling to make these characters’ struggles evident.  A quick read, told with strength and understanding.  WE also have Murakami’s 1Q84 and also Killing Commendatore.

Carolyn Chute.  The Recipe for Revolution.  Maine author Chute plunks us down once again on Heart’s Content Road in Egypt, Maine, to see what developed over time.  The year is now 1999, and the “Prophet” St. Onge is still in charge of the Settlement.  But his life intersects with a corporate CEO, and also a new teenager at the Settlement who forms her own new militia and concocts “The Recipe” – a revolutionary document that winds up in the wrong hands.  The rich CEO gives the Prophet a mysterious brass key, and between that and the Recipe, a far-reaching uprising erupts.  Chute always brings such varied characters (like the Apparatus, and the Voice of Mammon) to life – thank goodness there is a character list at the end of the book.  And, she always points out the often dark complications of class and justice issues.  The story is told in brief sections from many points of view.  A wild ride!  We have many of her books in our Maine fiction section.

Two Young Adult novels:
How To Build a Heart, by Maine author Maria Padian.  Teen Izzy wants home, she wants friends & family & a sense of belonging.  But she hasn’t had that in a long time.  Her mom has had to move them from place to place ever since her dad died in the Iraq war.  At the start of the book, they wind up in Virginia, to start all over again.  Izzy wants to fit in at her new school, and in the town, and starts to try building friendships, sometimes with unexpected people.  There is a bit of romance, of course, but Izzy’s journey is mostly about friendship, about her relationship with her mother, and how to fit in with the popular kids and whether that is what needs to happen.  How can she become involved in community, how can she interpret the amazing but sometimes stressful opportunities that might arise?  Her story is very much about home and belonging.  We also have Padian’s Out of Nowhere  in our YA collection.

Another Maine author of YA fiction:  Betty Culley, who wrote Three Things I Know Are True.  This novel is in verse, and is so stark, so beautiful.  Liv’s brother Jonah had accidentally shot himself in the recent past and is now quite disabled.  The gun had belonged to a neighbor, and now the two families are at odds, and the community around them takes sides.  Liv is the main caretaker for her brother, and at the same time, she keeps communication open with Clay, the son of the neighbor who owned the gun.  Liv seeks understanding, forgiveness, and peace for herself, her family, and her community.  Always she wants the truth we can afford to give one another, even in small doses.  The story is set near the Kennebec River.  A beautiful read.

Two reviews of new books, January 28, 2020

Nonfiction:  Kathy Peiss.  Information Hunters: when librarians, soldiers, and spies banded together in World War II Europe.  Okay, of course we would add this title to our nonfiction collection, since it features librarians!  Well, this group of bibliophiles also included archivists and others from the US who travelled to Europe to find, rescue, and restore treasured collections of books & documents that had been pilfered or hidden; and they wound up helping the military and neutral governments seek out enemy communications and records.  This well-researched book tracks how their work became part of military action and supported cultural restoration in the years following the war.  Peiss provides detailed, fascinating information on an aspect of war that is rarely considered.  If you like this, you might also like another one from our collection:  When Books Went to War: the stories that helped us win World War II, by Molly Guptill Manning – an account of how the military teamed up with the publishing industry and librarians (of course) to provide paperback books for soldiers.  I loved it.

Fiction:  A new Isabel Allende novel!  A Long Petal of the Sea is set at first in late 19302 Spain, during their civil war, when General Franco comes to power.  Young widow Roser is forced to flee, with thousands of others, to the French border.  Along the way,her life is entwined with her dead husband’s brother Victor.  In order to emigrate, they must marry and are able to board the SS Winnipeg and escape to live in exile in Chile (“the long petal of the sea”, as Neruda called it).  Roser and Victor face so many troubles in their new life – they witness the great disturbances and repression around the world near and far, and also find joy and hope.  Though they dream of returning to Spain, they also gain understanding of home & belonging.

Reviews of a few books from our new order, January, 2020

Some large format books for young readers:
Robert MacFarlane, The Lost Words: a spell book.  The first exclamation each of us uttered as we unpacked the new book order and uncovered this book was a quiet “Wow”.  It has gotten rave reviews, justifiably so.  This stunningly illustrated and written book is one for everyone in your family, your household, all ages.  MacFarlane wrote it (and Jackie Morris created amazing illustrations) in reaction to Oxford Junior Dictionary’s decision to drop over three dozen words about the natural world, in their latest edition, because they were not being used often by children anymore. MacFarlane and Morris felt they needed to connect children with nature once again, so they devised a “spell book” of lost words to bring them back into our awareness.  Words like fern, willow, and lark are paired with a beautiful full page illustration, a prose poem, and a spell beckoning the plant or animal back to our consciousness.  A magnificent, quiet book to page through together.  And, to accompany this project, there is also music, you can link to it here:

Kate Shackleton, ed., Zane Whittingham, illus., Survivors of the Holocaust: true stories of six extraordinary children.  This graphic novel format title is a collection of six brief biographies of people who lived through the Holocaust in 1930s Germany, during their childhood. The brief stories are sketches told by the survivors themselves.  It is all brought home by the illustrations.  This is an amazing, accessible introduction to a difficult piece of world history for young readers to explore, all of these are stories we need to hear because they show us the personal impact of the dark periods we experience.  At the end, there are photos of the six survivors as they are today, living in England.  There is also a glossary, a brief index, and a list of websites kids can explore for further information.

Yuval Zommer, The Big Book of Birds.  Another amazing, fun, gorgeous nonfiction for our young naturalists.  Each set of facing pages gives lots of facts and figures about various birds and about bird life & environments, overlaid on a beautifully rendered colorful illustration.  Did you know that a hummingbird has to eat 7 times an hour?  We have two more of Zommer’s nature books – The Big Book of Blue and the Big Book of Bugs – which have been quite popular with our young patrons.

Fiction for young readers:
Michael Morpurgo, The Day the World Stopped Turning.  This juvenile (middle reader) novel begins from the point of view of Vincent, a young traveler from England who visits the Camargue region of France and encounters Kezia & Lorenzo years after the war.  As he recovers from an illness, Kezia & Lorenzo care for him in their old farmhouse, and Kezia begins telling him their story, of how they came to where they are – she, a traveling Roma when she was a young child; and Lorenzo, a local boy with an uncanny ability to read people, the environment, and the flamingoes (always the flamingoes) who live there on the salt flats.  When the German planes first fly overhead, in Kezia’s narrative, and the soldiers occupy the small village, everything changes, but Lorenzo & Kezia keep finding a way to make life happen and to help those in need.

Ruta Sepetys’ Young Adult novel, The Fountains of Silence takes place in late 1950s Spain, under the oppressive reign of General Franco.  Through the eyes of a young photographer, Daniel, and Ana, a girl he meets who is native to Madrid – where all the political forces of Spain’s recent history clash – we see both the darkness and the light we can bring to each other in treacherous times.  Their journey includes the oppression, a history of adoption, and trying to find themselves in spite of secrets & barriers.  Sepetys is a well-respected author, and some of her work has been on film. We have three of her other YA books, all excellent reads:   Between Shades of Gray; Out of the Easy; and Salt To the Sea.

Some Random Adult Fiction:

We do love small town fiction.   And we love Irish fiction – there is always that small touch of magic and belief, lore and promise.  Niall Williams’ This Is Happiness has all of it and so much more.  An Irish village in the middle of the 20th century is on the cusp of change.  Suddenly it isn’t raining, for the first time in anyone’s memory.  A new person, Christy, moves to the village, maybe to make peace with himself and maybe to atone for past sins.  Young Noel Crowe is the first to notice the stranger, right as the rain stops, and he senses change on all levels for the village.  This is his own coming-of-age story, as well as that of his community, with all of its quirks & fables & traditions which have kept it stuck in time.  Williams’ writing has been described as luminous, and that it is.  The entirety of chapter 1 is: “It had stopped raining.”  You don’t need more than that to introduce the major changes coming.  Then there’s this: “Human beings are creations more profound than human beings can fathom.”  Such a beautiful, lyrical tale.

Sara Donati, Where the Light Enters.  It’s good to have a new Donati novel!  Set in Manhattan in 1884, this book intertwines stories of love, grief, kindness, and 19th century poverty.  The main character is Dr. Sophie Savard, who is grieving the loss of her husband.  She and her cousin provide medical aid to the disadvantaged women of NY, but then are also drawn into helping to solve a murder case.  The two cousins will do whatever is necessary to protect their own patients and those they care for.  We also have these titles (among others) by Donati:  Fire Along the Sky; the Gilded Hour; Lake in the Clouds.

In Once Night Falls, Roland Merullo breaks from his beloved stories that always feature fictional world religious figures, and instead creates an account of the people of Lake Como in Italy in 1943.  Luca is fighting the German invasion in whatever way he can, and is hiding Sarah, his Jewish lover, in a remote cabin.  But as the invasion intensifies, no one is safe anywhere, and the people of the town must face the sacrifices needed to save those they love, along with their nation.  As always, he studies kindness and love and commitment to goodness.  He creates characters who have their own faults and foibles, but who err on the side of wisdom and compassion.  We have these others by Merullo, all of them are great:  Breakfast With Buddha (also Lunch, and Dinner, in the same series); American Savior; and The Delight of Being Ordinary.

Caroline Scott, The Poppy Wife.  It is 1921, after the Great War, in Lancaster, England.  People need desperately to put the shards of their lives bac together as well as they can.  Edie finally receives a letter that says her soldier husband Francis, who had been missing in the war for several years, had died.  Meanwhile, Francis’ brother Harry had been there when Francis was killed, though he wonders if that memory is faulty. He comes back to the Western front as a photographer, taking pictures of soldiers’ graves, all the while looking for evidence of his brother.  Harry & Edie’s lives converge as they work through their grief and try to understand what may have happened to Francis during the war.  How can they build a life after the horror of that war as they travel across the torn, broken country of France, where so many were lost?  This is a well-told tale of the chaos and pain of war, as well as the difficult personal journey made afterwards by those who survived.

Reviews of two new NonFiction books, December 3rd, 2019

Our Wild Calling, by Richard Louv (we also have his excellent Last Child in the Woods).  The subtitle to this nonfiction book is:  How Connecting With Animals Can Transform our Lives – and Save Theirs.  Even the headings for the five sections of the book (Part 5 is “Wild Souls”) and the chapters capture the reader & are openings to a wider, deeper connection with our fellow Earth inhabitants.  Louv’s research ranges from consults with scientists & naturalists, to theologians and ecotherapists, and includes many personal stories from various people.  He helps us awaken to the language & social structure of all kinds of animals, and tunes us into possible ways to communicate in spite of language barriers.  His bibliography and index at the back of the book are thorough, and he includes a list of further reading.

Becoming Animal: an Earthly Cosmology, by David Abram.  This is a meditation on the sensuous life that is all around us, and how we must waken to it and become part of it all.  It is about the grief surrounding what has already been lost, and acknowledgement that homo sapiens has only one small place in the vast & complex Earth environment.  Like Louv, Abram reflects on communication between species, as well as the possibility of spiritual connection.

If you like these two new titles, we also have other authors who address our role & interactions with the world.  You can try Annie Dillard, Bernd Heinrich (Maine author), Thoreau, Diane Ackerman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Wendell Berry.

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.

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.

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