In the Library Recommendations
A Few Book Reviews, September 2021
All adult fiction:
1. Tears of Amber, by Sofia Segovia. Segovia writes absolutely heart wrenching stories set in Europe before and during World War 2. Tears of Amber brings to life the horror, fear, hope, and determination of two different couples who find their way through chaos & cruelty in eastern Europe, and she does it partly through story telling (a mythical queen, Jurata, of the Baltic Sea who cries tears of amber). The characters invent creative, daring efforts to start their pilgrimage to other, perhaps safer, places. Segovia’s writing (and the translation by Simon Bruni) is poignant and breathtaking. We also just got Segovia’s Murmur of Bees, set in Mexico, which carries a big of magical realism.
2. One Two Three, by Laurie Frankel. Often the best way to portray the realities we face is through fiction, and the creation of characters who are intriging but who also seem like our own neighbors. Enter the three sisters (triplets) mirabel, Monday, and Mab – all of them with their own substantial story, their own talents & gifts, and all of them concerned about the issues regarding water pollution * justice, which have long plagued their hometown of Bourne, and to which their mother has devoted yers of work to try to set things right. They must reinvent the town and establish their own lives. Recently, quite suddenly, things escalatye and the sisters are drawn into the long history of secrets & uneven power. It is clear that they must take up the difficult work of beginning to heal and reinvent their town. They each narrate part of the story, so we get to know them well as the story unfolds. Each of the sisters is quirky and have their own brand of magic. This is a funny, sweet, thoughtful novel.
3. A Song Everlasting, by Ha Jin. A timely novel, coming to us in this 21st century when so many people are displaced, finding new homes, creating new lives. The main character, Yao Tian, is a brilliant musician and lyricist who is in the US on tour, trying to make enough money for his daughter’s education. When he returns to China he is faced with political pressures & winds up fleeing back to New York, trying to protect his artistry from his own home country. From there, he works to build a successful music career, depending on the help of friends. He may never return to his own country, but devotes his life to the creation of music. Jim is a brilliant writer who has won many awards, and he creates deep characters & stories that echo through time. We have three other novels by him!
4. Wayward, by Dana Spiotta. Here is the opening sentence: “One way to understand what had happened to her (what she had made happen, what she had insisted upon): it began with the house.” That already pulls you in. 53 year old Samantha is dealing with a lot of issues, and so, of course, she purchases a dilapidated old house in a rundown part of Syracuse. While she establishes herself there, she also addresses her own realities of aging, and of her relationships with various family members. This novel can be quite funny, and also bears a great deal of truth. It is honest in acknowledging that while we don’t always know what comes next, we must live a robust life in every moment.
5. The Sweetness of Water, by Nathan Harris. I do love fiction set around the Civil War, a difficult time in our history that reflects so much of our complicated culture. There are two parallel stories in this novel: one about two brothers, emancipated after the war, who are hired to help on a farm belonging to George & Isabelle Walker, and who hope to make their way north to try to find their mother; the other plot involves two Confederate soldiers who must keep their love for each other secret, as they return to their home town. And in that town, the two stories converge. The soldeiers’ secret is discovered and they are in grave danger. Isabelle Walker stands up to lead the town towards healing and some sense of community. What befalls the
Late May, 2021 A few reviews of books from the latest arrivals:
Some new books by favorite authors:
David Baldacci, a Gambling Man
Stephen King (Maine!), Later
Dean Koontz, The Other Emily
JD Robb, Faithless in Death
Andy Weir (We have his novel, Martian), Project Hail Mary
Stuart Woods, Hush-hush
Two new NonFiction books:
Emily Kent’s the Little Book of Cottagecore: traditional skills for a simpler life (640 KEN) is a sweet, quick, easy-to-read resource to keep in your kitchen (or by your sewing kit, or near your garden tools). She gives simple information on daily needs which might require some new skills, and she makes it all very straightforward — and yet fun and inspiring at the same time. You can make your own herbal blends (and oils) to address insomnia or stress. You can dive into stitching and even quilting, and learn as you go. She teaches you how to bake bread, start a container garden, make soap & candles, and even how to make curtains. It is a lovely little book that makes it easy to launch into new projects without being overwhelmed. Side note: this might be a fun gift to give to any new graduate who wishes to develop some home skills as they launch into the next phase of their life.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race, by Beverly Daniel Tatum (305.8 TAT) was originally written in the late 1990s, but Tatum has revised her well-researched work, to reflect the surging concerns around racial inequality & social injustice in current society. She believes that we all must speak honestly & listen well to each other in order to break barriers, so that we might have productive conversations about what we see as racial identities.
The author threads history throughout her discussions of race & identity, and attaches it to all the stages of one’s life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. She addresses white identity as well as black, and includes Latinx, Native, and other ethnic identities, and even includes multiracial families. She ends by encouraging us to begin and continue a cross-racial dialogue, and reminds us of signs of hope. There is so much woven into the story of our cultural divides, and this book tells the stories of many people, to bring all of it to light.
Did I mention her research? I always admire how much an author studies their subject matter. She has almost 50 pages of notes in the back of the book, as well as a handy index.
Some new fiction:
Contemporary Irish fiction is always chock full of mood, complicated relationships, beautiful prose, deep connection to place & history, and a substantial dollop of melancholy. I love it. Flynn Berry’s novel, Northern Spy (no,not the apple variety — although it does get mentioned at one point!) adds espionage around the resurgence in national tensions and attacks to the mix. The main character (Tessa) traverses tense politics, protects the safety of family members, and must find a new place and future amidst the troubles. Berry is a wonderful storyteller, and has created a thrilling yarn of risk and love.
Another intense story with the taut feel of a thriller or a heist is Alexandra Andrews’ Who Is Maud Dixon? It has been getting great reviews & a wide readership in libraries all over the country. The main character, Florence, lives a quiet life working at a publishing house, but is chosen to become the assistant to famous — and mysterious — author Maud Dixon. Florence is definitely drawn into Maud’s (a pseudonym — her real name is Helen) fast-paced life, and begins to consider writing her own novel, to reflect her new circumstances. But then suddenly she wakes up in a hospital, with no memory of what happened — and Maud/Helen has vanished. Florence wonders about assuming the identity of Maud both as an author and in her personal life, and creating a new life for herself. She needs to figure out what happened to Helen, and create an entirely new backdrop to include howher own former life could include Helen’s identity. Fans are saying this is tense and entertaining, and certainly even just reading the first few pages, I was immediately drawn in.
Two novels about the complications of family & friendship:
Sue Miller, Monogamy (we have other books by her).
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, Good Company.
All families are imperfect, and husbands & wives, friends & siblings & children, harbor secrets that can destroy loving bonds or provide the basis for reinventing how we care for one another. Both of these novels give insight into the complex mix of humor, deep love, grief, disappointment, and the power of forgiveness.
Book Reviews, March-April, 2021
We just got in a new book order! Come browse our new book shelves, or look on our catalog online.
We have some new titles by favorite authors: C.J. Box (Dark Sky), Dean Koontz (Elsewhere), Lisa Gardner (Before She Disappeared), and James Patterson (The Russian). We have more new adult fiction and non-fiction for you to try, as well as lots of new picture books, juvenile chapter books, and young adult novels. Meanwhile, here are just a few that we are featuring:
One non-fiction book, so beautifully done: And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again. It is an anthology, edited by Ilan Stavans, of brief pieces by writers from around the world, about living in the time of our current pandemic. Various writers contributed brief, reflective personal essays, a few short stories, or poems (Jane Hirshfield! Eavan Boland! And a beautiful one by Chris Abani called “Fragrance”). These pieces are meditations that help us pause, they offer a bit of solace, and support us through our anxiety and grief. And – appropriately, the book’s title is taken from the end of Dante’s Inferno, when Dante and Virgil clambered up from hell and a small dose of hope is offered. How apt.
A few fiction titles:
Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet is told in present tense, and she speaks directly to the reader, which always draws you right into the story. She entwines the history and development of a family made by a poor Latin tutor turned playwright, and an herbalist/healer, who settle at Stratford on Avon. This “shimmering wonder” (David Mitchell) addresses the difficulties of marriage, the absolute grief around the loss of their son Hamnet to the Black Plague, and then what comes after. The Latin tutor is never named, but we know his life well. Agnes, Hamnet’s mother & herbalist, is such a forceful, observant character. If you like this one, you might want to revisit Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonder, which is also set in the time of the plague.
We have a new novel by Mameve Medwed, Minus Me. It is emotionally harrowing – the main character, Annie, is busy planning a future without her, for her husband, after she has been diagnosed with cancer. But, Medwed has such a talent for intertwining the harsh realities of possible loss and the daily challenges we each face, with the absolute and hilarious chaos of family life and interactions. We also have 5 other novels by this writer. I especially liked How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, and Mail.
A new Maine fiction title, Landslide, by Susan Conley is centered on the main character, Jill, who is the mother of two teenage boys, and wife of a man, Kit, who is currently separated from the family, across the Canadian border in Nova Scotia, after a major boating accident. So, here on the coast of Maine, Jill must negotiate the sometimes strained day-to-day life with her irascible sons, and at the same time she reflects on the less-than-perfect marriage she has built with Kit. What is her place? All of it is about love, in the face of the moodiness and growth of teens, Instagram posts, fishing stories, and simply being there for each other as we struggle & find our way. We also just got Conley’s memoir, The foremost Good Fortune.
One more: Anna North’s Outlawed. North is a new author for us. The heroine of the story is Ada, a no-nonsense, intrepid woman who must abandon her life for fear of being accused of witchcraft. She winds up joining the notorious Hole In The Wall gang, lead by one known as the Kid. This is a bit of a feminist telling of the gang and their necessary actions to defend each other at all costs. What Ada must do to survive in the wild west is daring and dangerous. As a fearsome woman, she must rise above prejudice and prevailing opinion, and create a safer space, a better life, for her group and for the women of the frontier.
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hg1xFYpXuWA
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.
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