What We’re Reading Now–September edition

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith

This challenging and haunting debut novel straddles the line between horror and literary fiction, following three women in Vietnam in three different time periods: 1986, 2009, and 2011. In the 2011 narrative, young American ex-pat Winnie goes missing without a trace. The book is an unpredictable mash-up of Vietnamese folklore, colonial history, revenge, violence, and ghosts- all of which have something to do with Winnie’s disappearance. I have yet to finish the book, but the puzzle of these intersecting characters and timelines is intriguing and I’m looking forward to how this all comes together in the end. Nicole

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

The Vietnam War is coming to an end, and as Saigon is about to fall, a Captain begins to plan his General’s escape from the county.  Together, with a select few, they flee Saigon on one of the last army transports over-crowded with other refugees.  The Captain, half-French half-Vietnamese, a man of two minds, is a communist agent whose role is to observe and report back on the military cadre as they establish themselves in America.  As suspicion of a mole rises, the Captain must deflect attention away from himself at terrible costs.  This was an especially interesting and relevant contemplation of war, refugees, politics, and film considering the parallels of current events.  Trent

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley

Patrick loves his niece and nephew, but he is not prepared to be their caregiver when their mother dies and their father checks himself into rehab. A six and nine-year-old don’t really fit into his solitary actor’s life, but he’s resigned to making the best of it. He has Guncle Rules (Gay Uncle Rules) and treats for dinner. The trio stumbles through the summer not realizing how much they are all helping each other. I loved this one so much. It gave me the same feelings as The House in the Cerulean Sea-charming, delightful, and the perfect book for right now. This book was so funny I could almost forget it was, at its heart, a book about grief and loneliness. A must-read, feel-good story. Megan

Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah, Duchess of York

In 1865 London, Lady Margaret Montagu Scott is supposed to be delighted with the man her father chooses to be her husband. She is not! The night her engagement is to be announced, she runs off. Margaret’s family is embarrassed in front of 200 aristocratic guests. Her father refuses to have anything to do with her. Margaret is banished from the family and soon devotes her time and energy into helping the poor.  She heads to Ireland, America and then back to England. This is a fun gossipy tale. Emma

Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery

Lavery’s collection of personal essays struck me with a range of emotions but mostly it had me laughing. This insightful and clever memoir switches from genres and formats with each chapter (and interludes) showcasing the author’s skill as a writer. I highly recommend the audiobook version which is read by the author. Greg

The Wonder Test by Michelle Richmond

On-leave FBI agent, Lina, and her son Rory head to Silicon Valley to clear out her recently deceased father’s house (which is in an extremely snobby and upscale neighborhood) as they are also recovering from her husband’s death. As Rory tries to adjust to life at his exclusive new school, he discovers all academics revolve around something called “The Wonder Test”, a national exam in which his school continuously places first. Students who do poorly on practice tests are required to see tutors in the evenings and on weekends, encouraged to “be sick” on exam days, and there have been some strange teen disappearances. Lina can’t help but to investigate as she attempts to make sense of this strange town and keep her son safe. Sara

What We’re Reading Now….

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

This first book in the Wayward Children series for adult readers explores what happens to those who come back after magical adventures in another world. Eleanor West runs a home for wayward children, but in truth it is a rehabilitation center for those who cannot let go of their personal Narnia. When a girl is found murdered, new student Nancy and her friends must find the killer before it’s too late. For all those who wanted to find a wardrobe into Narnia or a doorway into Wonderland, and for anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t quite fit in. Shannon

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

In this series debut, Detective Matthew Venn must investigate a murder that hits close to home- literally. A man with an albatross tattoo around his neck is found stabbed on the beach only yards from the house Matthew shares with his partner, Jonathan. The case brings back memories and faces from Matthew’s strict, some would say cultish, upbringing. Memories and faces he has tried for years to escape. This book introduces a complex and intriguing new protagonist who will be solving cases for years to come, I am sure. Sara

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

This dual biography is a fascinating exploration of both women’s lives. It is well researched. The people and places that the women knew brings their late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century societies to life. They were well connected to many Romantic era writers and, of course, were writers themselves. Both were radically concerned with the education, health, and rights of women. The author of Romantic Outlaws shows that even though Wollstonecraft was not alive for much of her daughter’s life her philosophy of life was influential to her daughter through her many writings. Byron

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade

A debut novel about a New Mexican’s family’s extraordinary year of love and sacrifice.  The story begins with Angel, a 33-year-old man, living in Las Penas, New Mexico with his mother.  It is Holy Week and Angel has been given the part of Jesus in the Good Friday Procession.  At the same time, Angel’s 15-year-old daughter shows up pregnant on his doorstep.  While I am only halfway through this novel so far, it has captured me from the start.  The characters are well written and endearing, and the story moves at a pleasant pace with both funny and tender moments. I feel connected to the Padilla family, and am hoping for the best.  Mary

Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

Three different time frames comprise this book with the historic garden at Highbury House in rural Warwickshire as the backdrop. In 1907 Venetia Smith is hired to design an elaborate new garden for the wealthy residents. During World War II the estate is requisitioned as a hospital for wounded soldiers. Raising her young son alone, widow Diana Symonds is owner of the property. During this time, many garden acres were taken over for planting to help feed the hungry. Land girls, including Beth Pedley who was also an artist, were involved. (Land girls were women who worked farms that needed help, the farmers being their employers. They picked crops and did all the jobs that the men had done.) Diana allowed Beth into the various garden rooms to draw. In current time, contemporary designer Emma Lovell is hired to recreate the gardens according to Venetia Smith’s original plans. This is a busy book with lots of characters to keep track of but still an enjoyable read. Emma


American cosmic : UFOs, Religions, Technology by Diane Walsh Pasulka


Pasulka, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, writes about her research into the belief of UFOs and how it is shaped and developed through media and technology. Pasulka likens this to the creation of a new religion and belief structure. One of the main points that she brings up is that instances of this phenomenon are too numerous to not be studied, while also withholding a conclusion on what is occurring. The author presents her research in a narrative style, introducing us to researchers and academics who speak only anonymously due to the stigma of studying UFOs. An engaging book that peaks reader’s curiosity and allows them to draw their own conclusions. Greg

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

 Hades, Argentina: a Novel by Daniel Loedel

Loedel weaves history and humanity, writing a novel full of ghosts who inhabit a dystopian world, but that, unfortunately, was very real. Tomas returns to Argentina after years of life abroad, revisiting his relationship with Isabel, the love of his life, and examining his role in the Dirty War of Argentina. Tomas moves between the living and the dead, between fact and fiction, exploring the impact of decisions and the complexity of moral complicity. It’s a haunting, beautifully written novel. Dori

What We’re Reading Now…

Ride the Pink Horse  by Dorothy B. Hughes

Senator Douglas left Sailor in Chicago facing the heat of a murder investigation and without the promised payoff. Determined to collect this owed money, Sailor follows the Senator out of Chicago to Sante Fe. Disembarking from a long bus trip, Sailor finds himself unexpectedly in the height of Fiesta and without a hotel room. Difficulties compound when Sailor realizes he’s not the only did Sailor come down from Chicago, but so did a homicide detective with an interest in both Sailor and the Senator. With Ride the Pink Horse, Hughes writes another beautiful noir and a psychological thriller ahead of its time. Trent 

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley 

An excellent speculative fiction alternate history set during the Napoleonic Wars, featuring a time travelling LGBTQ+ love story. Joe Tournier wakes up on a train station platform with no memory of who he is. It’s London, but everyone is speaking French. When he is given a postcard mailed a hundred years ago, Joe journeys to the lighthouse pictured on the card and is kidnapped through a portal into the past by a mysterious man. Comes out May 25! Shannon 

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

An engaging dark fantasy inspired by Blackwood’s “The Willows”, a story that apparently terrified Lovecraft and clearly helped to birth the menacing and other worldly willows found in Kingfisher’s novel. The story follows recently divorced Kara as she moves into her Uncle Earl’s eclectic and odd Wonder Museum to escape having to live with her parents again. The Museum is a place near and dear to her heart and Kara is ready for a fresh start, but soon after her arrival an odd hole appears in a museum wall while Uncle Earl is away recovering from knee surgery. It soon becomes clear the hole is much more than a simple drywall puncture, but rather a portal leading to an impossible concrete bunker, which takes Kara and her neighbor Simon to an alternate dimension reminiscent of a nefarious Narnia, full of invisible monsters and a thinly veiled skin between one reality and the next. Nicole 

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar 

Listed as NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2020, I’m so glad I made the time to read this one.  The book blends fact with fiction, keeping the reader constantly wondering, am I reading a nonfiction book?  This is a very personal story about acceptance and marginalization in a nation greatly divided.  It’s also a coming-of-age story of a young American-born son of immigrant parents and the complexities of family.  The young narrator disagrees with his immigrant father, being a staunch American patriot and Trump supporter,  but quietly comes to terms with who his father is and a better understanding of the country he was born in.  Mary 

 A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

This work takes readers through seven classic Russian short stories. This is a technical, yet accessible examination of how fiction works and why it is important.  Beth 

 


American cosmic : UFOs, religions, technology by Diane Walsh Pasulka 

Pasulka, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, writes about her research into the belief of UFOs and how it is shaped and developed through media and technology. Pasulka likens this to the creation of a new religion and belief structure. One of the main points that she brings up is that instances of this phenomenon are too numerous to not be studied, while also withholding a conclusion on what is occurring. The author presents her research in a narrative style, introducing us to researchers and academics who speak only anonymously due to the stigma of studying UFOs. An engaging book that peaks reader’s curiosity and allows them to draw their own conclusions. Greg 

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen  

Spanning three decades in the early 20th century and skipping ahead to the 2000’s, this is mostly the story of Caroline’s great-aunt Lettie (Juliet). At 18, Juliet took a trip to Venice with her aunt where she met Leo. Ten years later art teacher Juliet is back in Venice chaperoning a high school trip when she encounters Leo again. Juliet is given the opportunity to study art in Venice for a year when she meets up with Leo who is now married. Their attraction is strong, and Juliet becomes pregnant.  Skip ahead to 2001 when on her deathbed Lettie bequeaths a box with drawings and 3 keys to Caroline. Caroline heads to Venice to discover the unknown history of Lettie’s life there. Great historical fiction for fans of Rhys Bowen.  Emma 

The Northern Spy by Flynn Berry

This novel is a riveting tale of two sisters in Northern Ireland. Although the IRA supposedly has been underground for decades, everyone in the small village of Greyabbey knows differently. Bomb threats, robberies, security checkpoints and raids have become a part of everyday life. Tess, a BBC producer and her sister, Marian, a paramedic, have never been particularly political, and have lived their whole lives in the same town, hoping for peace and an end to violence. Imagine Tessa’s shock while watching news coverage of a recent robbery involving the IRA, when she sees footage of her sister Marian pulling a black ski mask over her face. The police are convinced that Marian is a longtime IRA member, but Tessa just can’t reconcile this with her sister’s quiet single life, as a daughter, sister and beloved aunt and believes she has been brainwashed or coerced. Tess is determined to find out the truth and protect her sister, but how far is she willing to go in a deeply divided society where people face impossible choices? Sara

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