Sara’s Top Ten of 2021

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell Her daughter heads to a party and never returns, leaving her one year old behind. Did she run?

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton A locked-door mystery aboard a merchant vessel. A sort of Pirates of the Caribbean meet Sherlock Holmes affair…

The Viper by Christobel Kent A lovely series taking place in Florence with an aging detective , Sandro Cellini, working as a PI. You will fall in love with the characters and the scenery.

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian A YA-style read that answers the question, what would happen if you brought a group of psychopaths to a college campus to study them?

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry A fun time travel murder mystery–well, fun for everyone except Madison May.

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves A new series by the UK’s queen of crime. Beautiful but bleak settings, genuine and dedicated characters- a lovely addition to the Ann Cleeves universe.

Northern Spy by Flynn Berry Tessa’s non-political, hometown sister, Marian, is caught on video blowing up a gas station in Northern Ireland with members of the IRA. The police think she’s a member, Tessa thinks she’s been kidnapped.

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor A single mother takes a job as a vicar in a small village. Of course she must find out where the bodies are buried. Not a cozy mystery.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow Women gathering together, casting spells during the turbulent time of the suffragettes- they will help women find their power by any means necessary.

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella Cady Archer attends Harvard the year after her older brother committed suicide, hoping to understand his death. I’m pretty sure I remember something creepy happens.

What We’re Reading Now…November edition

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Last year’s hit novel, this is the story of two families on a collision course. Amanda and Clay take their two kids to a vacation home on Long Island. In the middle of the night, the owners of the house, Ruth and G.H., show up, claiming that something has gone very wrong in New York City. With no idea what is happening and no other options, the two families stay together in the house and wait for what may be the end of the world. Shannon

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede

I am rereading this book from 2002. The author shares the experiences of the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland. They became hosts to the more than six thousand passengers traveling on thirty-eight U.S.-bound international jetliners forced to land in Gander in the wake of the September 11th attacks. The citizens of Gander and surrounding communities put their lives on hold for 6 days to feed, shelter and support those stranded. An amazing community of selfless people. Emma

The Ghost Variations by Kevin Brockmeier

I have read reviews of Brockmeier’s work before but this was the first one I elected to read. This collection of short stories of varying length is connected by its shared theme, ghosts. Each story offers its unique perspective on the theme, changing in tone from the humorous to the unsettling (and sometimes both).  Ghost Variations: one hundred stories was a great introduction to the author’s work that has made me excited to explore their previously published works. Greg

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain

Millions of Americans start their day with a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin or can’t help but sneak a few fries from the bag on their way home from the McDonald’s drive-through, but for black Americans, fast food is a source of both economic power and despair. In the years following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leaders believed racial inequality could be solved through “black capitalism.” As chronicled by Marcia Chatelain in Franchise, a struggling civil rights movement, McDonald’s clever system of franchising and advertising, and Nixon’s “silent majority” era perfectly combined so that fast food could become deeply entrenched in black communities. While fast food certainly created successful black entrepreneurs and black communities with serious purchasing power, economic advancement for black Americans ultimately fizzled in the face of food deserts, dead-end fast food jobs, and continuing racial inequality. A fascinating look at when Big Macs and capitalism combine. Marcia Chatelain is a Professor of History and African American studies at Georgetown University. Franchise won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History.  Kari

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

This smartly written coming-of-age horror story looks at a new type of “final girl” as it follows quirky slasher-obsessed teenager Jade as a series of mysterious murders spring up in her town of Proofrock. Jade is quite sassy and can be hilarious in her exchanges with other characters and is by far my favorite part of this book so far. My Heart is a Chainsaw is a completely different vibe than his previous novel, The Only Good Indians, and so far is much lighter fare.  Nicole

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

This book is a kind of Sherlock Holmes meets The Pirates of the Caribbean tale. Is the merchant vessel, the Saardam, travelling from the East Indies to Amersterdam, haunted? From evil omens painted on the sail and burned into the ship, to sightings of a bloody leper that the crew watched die in a fiery blaze, and a raging storm that lasts more than a week, strange things are certainly afoot on this old, scarred ship. The crew and passengers are hearing wicked whispers in the night, promising them their heart’s desires in return for performing a small service, and the crew is threatening mutiny for fear that there is a devil aboard. It’s up to the world’s greatest detective, Sammy Pipps, his body guard Arent Hayes and a few brave passengers to unravel what is happening aboard the Saardam before it is too late for all of them. A very entertaining book that will keep you guessing until the end. Sara

Five Days for Democracy: How Can I Do More?

All of us want to protect and support our democracy, but what can each one of us do? Here are a few ideas:

1. Know who your local legislators and politicians are

Here’s where to find your House Representative.

Put your address in here to find a full list of your elected officials.

2. Know how to get in touch with them (and actually make them listen.)

Here are some general guidelines on how to contact them.

3. Identify an issue you care about and pursue it

4. Attend town hall meetings

A town hall is where you, in person, can make your actual voice heard, in front of local politicians who can actually do something about it.

5. Attend City Council meetings

Alternately, attend a City Council meeting to get an up-close view of what’s important to your city’s legislators.

6. Get to know your local School Board

Whether or not you have kids in school, it’s a good idea to know about your school board and the direction they are leading your schools.

7. Join your local PTA

Not only can you have a direct communication with your school, you can also volunteer and participate in other ways that directly impact your community. 

8. Join a voting league or political organization

A non-partisan group like the League of Women Voters is a good way to get informed, or you can choose a political group that aligns with your values.

9. Register to act on behalf of a political party

Here’s a starting place for RepublicansHere’s one for Democrats. Keep in mind your party has a state chapter, too.

10. Join a campaign

If you find a local politician who represents the change you want to see in your community, contact their office to figure out how you can get involved in the campaign! Maybe they’ll have you stuff mailers or put up signs or some other boring task, but the boring tasks is what actually gets stuff done.

(adapted from “25 ways to be politically active whether you lean left or right” by AJ Willingham, CNN)

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