What we’re reading now….

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

It’s young adult fantasy fiction about a young woman who discovers that she has unique magical powers that may be the key to saving her country. It’s billed as dark fantasy but it’s mostly fluff with a love triangle, but sometimes fluff is what you need to read! Shannon

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Continuing my year of biographies and memoirs I recently read The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This graphic novel is about the author’s childhood and young adulthood. Her family is Iranian. Religious extremists take over her country. Her liberal minded family has a hard time adjusting to the years of war. From a very young age Marjane has always been outspoken and tends to get in trouble with teachers or other authorities for speaking out about inequality or injustice. She is sent to school in Europe for her safety, but being alone and coming of age in a whole new environment takes its toll. She finds her way back home, but it is no easier to fit into the traditional role her conservative society expects of her. Art and drawing and ultimately telling this story is what she needs to do. I watched the French animated movie based on this after reading it. I like the book just a bit better for providing details that are cut out of the film. Byron


The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

Published in 1894 this early work of “weird” fiction by Machen was a great read. A short novel, this story pertains the consequences of investigating beyond the physical realm and the ripple effect that occur. The story begins with an experiment to see the spiritual realm by Dr Raymond, an act the Doctor notes the ancient called “seeing the great god Pan”. I won’t give more away about the plot as part of the joy of reading this story was watching it unfold. Recommended to fans of horror and supernatural fiction. Greg


Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

After hearing multiple rave reviews of this fresh, feminist translation of Beowulf I’m finally reading it for myself! Fifty years after the translation of Beowulf that myself and many others were forced to read in high school, this new version is described as a “radical new verse translation” that brings to light elements of this classic tale that have never been translated into English. I just added this to my Kindle and am only on the introduction but looking forward to diving into the story. Nicole

Eartheater by Dolores Reyes, Julia Sanches (Translation)

After the death of her mother, a young woman’s compulsion to eat earth reveals that once ingested, she receives visions of the person with a connection to that earth.  The first earth she eats shows her how her mother died.  Abandoned by her adult relatives, she and her brother Walter live alone in the slums of Buenos Aires.  Though many of the locales are put off by her ability, more and more people start leaving jars of earth and notes pleading for her assistance.   A remarkable novel and the translator skillfully manages to convey a distinctive, youthful patois. Trent

Olive Bright, Pigeoneer by Stephanie Graves  

During WWII Olive’s veterinarian father raises prize winning racing pigeons. Olive is very much involved in their care and training. She is contacted by British Intelligence to assist in top-secret missions using the pigeons as messengers. Olive wants to do her part for the war effort and is excited about this opportunity. As part of her cover, Olive dates a British officer which leads to all kinds of speculation in the small town. In addition, a local woman is found dead near the Bright’s dovecote (a structure used to house pigeons or doves). Olive participates in the investigation that uncovers many secrets including some about her family. Mystery, history, and a little romance make for an entertaining read. Emma

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

This is the story of Afi Tekple, a young seamstress raised in a poor rural village in Ghana.  Afi is thrust into an arranged marriage to a wealthy businessman, Elikem Ganyo.  After moving into one of Elikem’s many residences with very infrequent visits from her new husband, Afi starts to dream up how she can make the most of her new-found lifestyle. Beth

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

An earlier book by the author of The Sundown Motel, this novel follows the same model of a mystery with a (sort of) believable supernatural twist. Fiona Sheridan, a journalist, is drawn to the location where her older sister’s body had been found 20 years earlier. A mysterious woman has begun renovating Idlewild Hall, a school for “wayward and difficult girls,” that has long been abandoned and is the place where Fiona’s sister’s body was dumped. There is something unnatural about that place- a cold dampness, a constant aura of anxiety and fear, and a legend of a ghost that wanders the grounds. While covering the story of the renovation, Fiona is drawn into the tale of a group of girls at Idlewood Hall in the 1950s, one of whom went missing, presumed dead, and whose body was never found. Fiona learns about the lives of these forgotten girls who were basically abandoned by their families, and at the same time uncovers a secret about her sister’s murder that puts her own life in danger. Sara

What We’re Reading Now

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

I am currently reading The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin. It’s January 1888
on the Nebraska-Dakota border when an unseasonably warm day turns into a deadly blizzard just when school lets out for the day. Despite heroic efforts 235+ people died that day. Also, I am just starting Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession. Leonard writes articles for children’s encyclopedias. Paul is a substitute postman. These good friends both in their 30’s live in the parents’ homes. They meet regularly to play board games. I know there’s more to come since this book was highly recommended by a co-worker. Emma

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

I’m listening to The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. Not only is the French Revolutionary history itself fascinating, but the author reveals the travel and effort he put into the research. This book is about the novelist Alexandre Dumas’s father who was also named Alexandre Dumas. The senior Dumas was the son of a French aristocrat and a Caribbean African slave. He achieved the rank of General in the French military, for a time equal to the up and coming Napoleon. How did this happen? I was clueless about the Civil Rights Movement in Paris in the mid 1700s that allowed former slaves and children of slaves freedom, education, and position in society. This was specific to Paris, did not apply to the American colonies, and the progress would later be undone by a new wave of racist policies. Still, General Dumas was an adventurous swordsman and leader of the cavalry who would repeatedly inspire characters in his son’s novels including the betrayal faced by Edmond Dante in The Count of Monte Cristo. Byron

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

I started reading The Queen’s Gambit shortly after seeing that Netflix has released a new series based on the book. I had seen some very positive reviews of the book and learned that the author, Walter Tevis, also wrote the novels, and excellent Paul Newman films, The Color of Money and The Hustler. However, I was skeptical that competitive chess would be edge-of-your-seat thrilling material, but The Queen’s Gambit is as much a story of loneliness, addiction, and genius as it is of chess. Had The Queen’s Gambit been just a book about chess, then I would have still been wrong because the chess bits are thrilling. Trent

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

Agent of the Library Irene is sent to obtain a certain book by any means necessary and is drawn into an art heist, complete with a rag tag team of misfits, carefully laid plans, and secret island lairs. This new chapter in the Invisible Library series is a fun romp through heist movie tropes, with a twist.
Shannon

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington by Leonora Carrington

I have just finished The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington and loved every second of it. Written by the artist and author Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) this collection of stories spans throughout her career. The surreal stories within were best enjoyed when I allowed the narrative to unfold with their own internal dreamlike logic. A great introduction to Carrington’s work. Greg

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world. Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. This book is about a group of magic-filled children, seen as utter misfits by the world, but you will immediately fall in love with each and every one of them. It is about two kind, smart, and brave men who stumble forward into a friendship and gentle love. As TJ Klune has said himself, “it’s important, now more than ever, to have accurate, positive queer representation in stories”. Finally, it is about the false promise of blind faith and the courage to challenge that promise. I simply love this book. I implore you to read it now, you will not regret it. Mary

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I just started reading this book on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend and am very much enjoying this weird and riveting story thus far. Written by one of Japan’s most highly regarded novelists, this book follows Toru Okada as he searches for his wife’s missing cat in a Tokyo suburb. He soon finds himself looking for his wife as well in a strange underworld that lies beneath the surface of Tokyo, full of odd and sometimes menacing people. I have no idea how this will end but look forward to getting there! Nicole

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Once upon a time, all women had a little magic- a few words to make dishes sparkle, a rhyme to mend a seam. And some knew stronger things, such as a spell to break a fever, dry up a cough, or help a woman through a difficult labor. But that all changed with the Salem witch trials. Witches were burned at the stake with their children watching; witchcraft was deemed illegal, and women were treated worse than ever with no power to protect themselves. But witching was never completely gone. It was passed on by grandmothers and mothers in fairy tales and innocent sounding nursery rhymes that were actually spells. Spells that could work magic if a woman had the words, the way, and the will. Led by the three Eastwood sisters (magical things always come in threes), the downtrodden women of New Salem have enough will to make up for any lack of words or ways, and they are determined to bring real magic back into the world to set right some of the many, many wrongs they have suffered at the hands of men. Sara

Time for New Year’s Resolutions! Maybe…..?

I’m terrible at sticking to resolutions. So terrible in fact, that I no longer make them. But maybe this year can be different? I’d love it if just about everything in 2021 was different than 2020, so maybe a few resolutions are in order. But after the year we’ve had, I think it’s time to make resolutions about things that we WANT to do rather than ones about stopping things we think are bad for us. This article by Arthur C. Brooks in The Atlantic, says that when we make resolutions, the thing we are almost always trying to improve is our happiness. https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/12/new-years-resolutions-will-make-you-happier/617439/

The reason many resolutions fail is that we discover striving for that one thing– weight loss, a daily workout routine, eating whole foods doesn’t actually make us happy. Most of our resolutions can be good things to strive for as part of the overall goal of improving our lives, but many of these things need not be goals in and of themselves if being more content is really what we want. This article speaks of setting resolutions around goals such as forgiveness and practicing mindful gratitude. Focusing on what has gone right rather than dwelling on what has gone wrong, and giving people the gift of forgiveness (whether they asked for it or not), with the main purpose of gaining peace for ourselves. Sound like a selfish reason to offer forgiveness? That’s ok! We all deserve a little self-love and to put ourselves and our mental health first sometimes.

I like that broader idea of setting resolutions around things that promote self-care such as gratitude and forgiveness, but those can be a little abstract for me. I need some concrete resolutions that I can cross off my list. Things like make one new recipe every month, try a new local restaurant for carryout once a month, try to spend 15 minutes in nature every day (even if it’s just a walk around the block), take a nap on your day off, and actually use all those fancy bath bombs that you got in your stocking. And of course, the best kind of concrete resolutions for many of us involve reading. I’m setting a challenge for myself of two books a month-one that is new and the other that is something I’ve always wanted to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. So often books get pushed down my list by newer ones until they fall off altogether. At the end of this post are a few titles that I’d like to try.

It is a lot more fun setting resolutions around things that you actually want to do rather than things “that would be good for you.” Give it a try, but remember the most important part- your goal in setting these is to improve your happiness and quality of life- so be kind! If you don’t manage to do all the things you decided on, it’s ok. So, skip that one and catch it next time–your resolutions are yours alone, and since they focus on things that bring you joy, you can have all the time in the world to complete them. 🙂

Sara’s Top 10 of 2020

Time for another Top 10 already! Looking back, it seems like I mostly read mystery and thrillers this year. Hope you enjoy some of the ones on my list!

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella

I haven’t quite finished this one yet, but I can tell it will be a favorite. A young girl attends Harvard, hoping to get closure about the death of her brother who committed suicide there last year.

Redemption Point by Candace Fox

The second book in the Crimson Lake series which follows the paths of two outcasts and alleged criminals who pursue redemption by helping others solve crimes.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Another second book in a series which rivals the first one. Magic returns to the land of Orisha after being brutally banned for decades, but is it really a victory when you take your country to the edge of civil war?

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon

Deep down, how well can any father really know how his teenage son feels, what he’s up to, and how far he will go if pushed?

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Ghosts, mystery, romance, missing persons- what more could you want in a book?

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

I really enjoyed this story about a young lawyer in a lonely marriage who agrees to help a friend get out of prison, only to find his case affects her more than she could ever imagine.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

A deadly wedding ceremony on an isolated island in the middle of a terrible storm. What could possibly happen?

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

One of my favorite Gamache books so far with lovely twist- the whole thing is set in Paris.

The Searcher by Tana French

Another great mystery that makes you want to go to Ireland immediately and see the lush countryside and the meet all the quirky people who live in the village.

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

I just finished this one- it was a page turner full of twists and turns, marriages, families, good-and of course, evil.

Books to give for Christmas (of course, we also recommend checking them out from the library ;-)

This year, Christmas feels a little strange and isolated. But it also feel a little cozy. The first snowfall was absolutely beautiful and really got me into the Christmas spirit. As I try to avoid malls and busy stores, I have of course turned to online shopping like many of us. But somehow that just seems impersonal this year. After weeks of quarantining, ordering carry out, groceries from Instacart, and pretty much everything else in the world from Amazon, I’m ready to get back to basics for this year’s holiday. My daughter and I tried our hand at making candles (we definitely need to read up on this a little bit, as I watch one of ours smoke itself out), we have plans for many more cookie varieties than ever, and are drawn towards handmade gifts from Etsy and local stores.

In keeping with this, I am buying books as gifts for the first time in years! My teen/young adult kids don’t read as vociferously as they used to, and most of my family reads on a Kindle. But this year, it just feels right to go back to basics, hold a real book in my hands while I sip coffee by my Christmas tree and lights. My kids have watched pretty much everything Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have to offer, so I think I’m going to try and entice them to take an electronic break, relax on the couch with me to read a good book by the tree.

Here are a few titles coming out in December. Some of them haven’t been published yet, but what is more fun then preordering a book and knowing you will be one of the first to read it? Remember that our local retailers need you this year more than ever. So head to bookshop.org to get some of these new titles that promise to be keepers! They also offer gift cards if you just can’t choose ;-).

Simply thrilling

There’s no such thing as a perfect family. And it’s usually not wise to point that out.

Thriller, romance and fantasy, all rolled into one.

A debut thriller that asks one simple question, shouldn’t a dead husband stay dead?

On the lighter side

Quinn and Minnie share their day of birth, but their lives couldn’t be more different.

A dare and a crash course in flirting turn a frumpy college professor’s life upside down.

An anxiety-ridden introvert finds herself in the spotlight and decides to fake it til she makes it.

Different times and places

Stunning debut explores Afghanistan on the eve of a violent revolution.

A story of survival, loss and love, and the sisters who changed fashion forever.

A poor girl with dreams grows up in the shadow of Biltmore House, the palatial Vanderbilt mansion.