What we’re reading now…..

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Whitehead’s harrowing story about a reform school in Florida during the Jim Crow-era is fictional, though based on real life accounts.  The story does not dramatize the violence and horrors of the reality, rather lets the circumstances speak for themselves.  It is a powerful story regarding the very real racial inequality of our country in the not so distant past.  Beth

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell

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This is the second short story collection I have read by author Karen Russell. Just like her other anthology Vampires in the Lemon Grove : Stories, Orange World offers the reader a variety of stories where everything seems similar and yet uncanny. In a USA Today interview Russell has said that her work isn’t so much magical realism as it is “magical thinking” writing. Highly recommend for fans of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Victor Lavelle. Greg

Russell’s third collection gives readers eight amazing stories that span a variety of subjects and experiences, all beautifully written, insightful, and often wonderfully weird. Each work is wildly creative, whether you are transported to a future Florida ravaged by rising ocean water and climate change, joining two young women as they attempt to survive an evening trapped in a haunted ski-lodge, or following a widowed farmer as he recklessly returns to a life of raising tornadoes on the Nebraska prairie. Russell skillfully weaves tales that combine both the supernatural and mundane, crafting subtly creepy and emotionally resonant stories. A highly recommended volume for fans of her prior collections, as well as those who enjoy darkly humorous literary fiction. Nicole

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

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I recently read the stage play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by writing partners Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was first published in 1970 during the Vietnam War era, a time when many young people were protesting the American involvement in that conflict. In the play Henry David Thoreau, as a young man, engages in Civil Disobedience by not paying his taxes to show his disapproval of the Mexican-American War. The parallel is clear. The play also shows Thoreau’s relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson and allows the character to express several themes that he would write about in his middle age before he died at the age of 44. The script is often dream-like with multiple flashbacks from the jail cell used to highlight moments from Thoreau’s development as a thinker who would not just “go along” with the status quo. Byron

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

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This is the story of Edith and her sister Helen who have been estranged for decades when Helen convinces their father to leave the family farm to her. Helen uses the money to rebuild the Blotz beer brand with her husband Orval Blotz. When granddaughter Diana’s parents are killed, Edith raises her. Together they barely scrape by. Diana has a talent for making beer and eventually buys a small brewery. With Diana’s talent, perseverance, and the help of her grandmother and Edith’s elderly friends, the brewery is successful. This is a hopeful and heartwarming story of take-charge women when the going gets tough. Emma

 

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

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In the Spring of 1981, the four young Skinner siblings lose their father to a heart attack and soon to follow will lose their mother to severe depression, a time period that the siblings will refer to as The Pause.  Caught between the easy & comfortable life they once had and an uncertain future, the children navigate The Pause with fear and resentment, only to become fiercely loyal to each other.  Two decades later The Skinners find themselves again confronted with a family crisis that will test the strength of these bonds and force them to question the life choices they’ve made and what exactly they will do for love.  This book was much like Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  If you like family drama, like I do, I recommend this book. Mary

The Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson 

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is convinced that her best friend’s death is not part of a suicide pact that has already claimed the lives of the school’s two most popular mean girls. When she finds a mysterious grimoire with a too good to be true solution to her problem, she sets out to resurrect Riley. Of course things don’t go as expected–instead of bringing back Riley to get answers to her murder, she resurrects her bestie AND their bullies, the newly dead mean girls June and Dayton. To make matters worse, none of them have any memory of their deaths. Mila has one week to figure it all out while keeping her zombies out of sight. Surprisingly deep and insightful, this body-positive witch tale is a fun exploration of bullying, friendships, and redemption. Megan

Follow Her Home by Steph Cha

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Juniper Song has no experience as a detective.  The closest qualification she has when asked by her best friend to investigate whether his father is having an affair is that she is a Raymond Chandler super fan.  However, this lack of practical training does not deter Juniper from taking the role of Phillip Marlowe and agreeing to do some light snooping.  Following the tradition Marlowe long ago set, Juniper is quickly knocked out soon after she begins looking into the matter.  Only, when Juniper wakes up, the stakes have risen when she also finds a dead body in the trunk of her car.  Great noir that, while paying homage to Chandler, looks to update and add to the genre. Trent

Watching You by Lisa Jewel

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I read this quick moving thriller in a few sessions. Told from the points of view of a few “watchers”: a young, restless newlywed living with her brother and his wife has her eye on the handsome older neighbor who is the new school principal; the awkward teenage principal’s son has his eye on most of the neighborhood; the crazy lady next door is sure EVERYONE is watching her, and her daughter has heard terrible rumors about her new principal and is befriending his son to find out if they are true. This voyeuristic neighborhood is thrown into turmoil when someone is brutally murdered. Everyone saw something, but can anyone put it all together? Sara

The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions by Ken Wilber

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Wilber is a philosopher and transpersonal psychologist, and this is one of a few tomes he has written, all wonderful, about helpful ways of thinking about more out-there topics like mysticism, consciousness, and spirituality.  Wilber is also a Buddhist, but his critiques of religion are applicable to Western and Eastern approaches.  I have been reading him for some time now, and have always found him very insightful.  For anyone interested, a great place to start to understand his framework, which is called “AQAL” – standing for “all quadrant, all level” – is his Integral Psychology from 1994.  Andrew

What we’re reading now….

Secret Historian by Justin Spring

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This the biography of Samuel Steward, a man who would go by many other names in his life. Born in Southeast Ohio, Steward would attend Ohio State University, work as a university English professor, befriend Alfred Kinsey and Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, collaborate and contribute to the work of the Kinsey Institute, begin working as a tattoo artist, be ousted from his university job, move to California, and write gay pulp novels. The story of his career is intertwined with his identity as a homosexual man and his intimate personal life. This book uses the treasure trove of personal letters and personal effects to give a frank depiction. An exploration of Pre-Stonewall and gay liberation that gives the reader a glimpse into this man’s world and life.  Greg

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Daisy is a girl coming of age in the late sixties.  She is a free spirited, beautiful young woman with a fantastic voice.  The Six is a band led by the  brooding Billy Dunne.  Daisy and Billy eventually cross paths in the world of music, and a producer realizes that the key to massive success is to put the two together.  What happens next is the story of rock legends.    Mary

Chapters in the Course of My Life by Rudolf Steiner

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Steiner was a 19th century Austrian philosopher and “Anthroposophist” – anthroposophy is a spiritual movement Steiner founded, that believed there was a spiritual world accessible to human experience.  Steiner was also the founder of Waldorf education, which focuses on the child as a holistic being, with an emphasis on imagination and creativity. His autobiography is absolutely fascinating, both as a chronicle of his own intellectual and spiritual development, as well as a record of the amazing thinkers, poets, and artists that Steiner associated with and learned from. Andrew

Normal People by Sally Rooney

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This book, often touted as a very Millennial love story, follows Connell and Marianne and their shifting relationship as they transition from adolescence to adulthood.  During high school, Connell is a star athlete, popular and well liked while Marianne is an aloof loner.  They begin to grow closer during the times Connell picks up his mother from her work as Marianne’s family’s housekeeper, eventually starting a secret relationship.  As time passes, so does the nature of their relationship and personal circumstances.  Both Connell and Marianne are relatable, though at times, unlikable characters, leading them to make upsettingly poor choices.   A quick read with a lasting impact. Trent

Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

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In 2017 much was being written about the rediscovered classic Mrs. Caliban. That was the year Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water featured a similar story of love between a woman and an amphibious creature. Earlier this year the author died and I decided to add this to my reading list for something a little different. This novella moves along at a fast clip. Despite the character Dorothy’s unhappy marriage and humdrum domesticity in the suburbs, Ingalls writes with a droll voice. The creature goes by the human name Larry although the news reports warn people that he is a dangerous monster. I’ve read analysis that Larry could just be a figment of Dorothy’s imagination, a representation of an exciting liberation from her mundane mechanical life. I tend to think of Larry as real, but until I reach the end I have yet to fully make that determination. What do you think? Byron

Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

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This is the Russian story of Katya who inherits an old Bluthner piano in 1962. She loves music and her piano. Katya marries Mikhail, who becomes a violent drunk, and eventually settles in California. Sadly, the piano is gone. Years later Clara receives a Bluthner piano from her father on her 12th birthday. At 26 years old Clara, suddenly homeless, leases her piano to photographer Greg Zeldin who uses it for a photo series in Death Valley. Greg travels to places he remembers visiting with his mother. Clara follows the adventure ultimately making a connection with Greg, his mother, her father and the piano. This is a beautiful story with lots of attention to detail. Emma

Crimson Lake  by Candice Fox

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Set in a small town in Australia, this series opener stars a disgraced former cop trying to hide from his past and start over.  On the advice of his lawyer he seeks out a local PI who has her own dark past. They make for an odd couple, but they are soon teamed up to work a case involving a missing author. As they work the case Ted and Amanda each start poking around the other’s past. One odd couple, three cases, and a box of geese all make for a fantastic series opener. Megan

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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This book is a fictional depiction of the very real, very heinous Tennessee Children’s Home Society.   Through alternating timelines we learn about one politically powerful family’s ties to this heartbreaking institution and how so many lives would forever be changed.  Beth

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

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Marie Mitchell is working for the FBI during the 1980s Cold War when she’s recruited to travel to Burkina Faso as a spy to take-down their revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara. Black, female, French-speaking and repeatedly snubbed in her FBI career, she’s the ideal candidate for the job. Marie chose to be an FBI agent to pay tribute to her recently deceased sister, who died mysteriously. Now, still grieving, she’s heading to Africa, knowing she’d been chosen for her looks, not her talent, and questioning whether Thomas Sankara is as destructive as the U.S. claims him to be. Told as a letter she’s writing to her two young sons, American Spy is a fascinating look at espionage, the Cold War, African politics, race, gender and imperialism, with a dose of romance and suspense thrown in for good measure. Bahni Turpin does an incredible job narrating the audiobook! Dori

I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan

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Cody Swift is doing a podcast with his girlfriend in an attempt to re-open an investigation into the deaths of his two best friends which occurred twenty years ago when the boys were only eleven years old. As Cody interviews old detectives, parents and witnesses, he frightens someone into threatening his and his girlfriend’s safety. It seems that no one told the whole truth about everything that happened that night. Told in the present, and also through the eyes of 11-year-old Cody in flashbacks, the book is an engaging, page turning read. I felt that the ending had a good twist to it that I did not anticipate, but it was a bit too rushed which made it somewhat anticlimactic. I still would recommend it. Sara

What we’re reading now….

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The  Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

This novel begins in the summer of 1969. Four young siblings stumble upon information of a traveling fortune teller within their neighborhood, whom can tell anyone the day they will die.  Curious about such a power, the children seek out the fortune teller, and each are told the day of their death. The story is told in four separate parts, each part dedicated to each sibling.  The four children, straightforward Varya, bossy Daniel, magic obsessed Klara and dreamy Simon, must come to terms with the information imparted on them by the fortune teller.  This is also a story about family.  While each sibling has their own story, their relationship with each other is woven into their lives, and always a piece of them. What keeps the reader most engaged lies in which characters will meet their demise on said projected date and how will death take them, or better yet, can they somehow change their fated date? Mary

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

Long ago the Raven promised his protection to the lands of Iraden.  In return for his protection, the Lease must sacrifice himself upon the death of the Raven’s physical manifestation.  Mawat rides for the Raven’s Tower informed that this rite is imminent.  There he will take his rightful place on the throne as the Lease’s heir.  However, another now sits on the throne and claims the title Lease for himself.  Worse yet, he claims the previous Lease fled and the sacrifice to the Raven has not been made. Though The Raven Tower may be a fantasy novel, Leckie has retained some of the essence typical of a science fiction novel.  Large swaths of the novel are taken over by explaining the magical system and contemplating what are essentially logic puzzles. Everything is very precise, but as with the best science fiction, it remains lively and fascinating. Trent

If You See Me

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel

I was fascinated by and completely absorbed in this debut book of short stories by Neel Patel. I finished the book in a week, which is unheard of for me. Most of these stories have a refreshingly modern voice and are told from the perspective of a first-generation Indian American who stands at the intersection of cultures where traditional beliefs (such as arranged marriages) collide with modern rituals (such as Facebook stalking). The stories are deceptively casual in that the language is conversational, but each character contends with complicated questions about cultural and sexual identity, mental illness, and family dysfunction – and does so with charm, depth, and humor. Hand this book to any person who likes a thoughtful and entertaining story. Lindsey

Smoke and Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg

Smoke & Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg.

I also have Ms. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series on my reading list so when an advanced copy of this Smoke & Summons became available I was excited to sample it. It is the beginning of a new trilogy called the Numina trilogy. It is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic steampunk world, but with outlawed magic talismans and spells secretly used by a select few. Or you could say it is a polluted, corrupt, “smokepunk” world with a big division between the haves and have-nots. Young adults Sandis and Rone are unlikely heroes at the center of the story. Sandis is a vessel for an ancient spirit, known as a Numin. She is a slave to an evil wizard who can summon a raging fire horse into her against her will. Rone is a street-smart thief who is willing to help her escape as long as he can fix his own family troubles first. So far the first half of this fantasy adventure with religious hypocrisy and dangerous occult forces sprinkled throughout is exciting. It has delivered several surprises that make me eager to find out what happens next. Byron

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White…

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

In this best-selling book, renowned anti-racism educator Dr. DiAngelo clearly and succinctly outlines how racism is not simply a “bad person” phenomenon, but a systematic construct. Her concept of white fragility refers to the defensive moves white people make when their notions of race are challenged. Beyond detailing the problem, DiAngelo also provides clear instructions on how white people can engage in cross-racial discussions more productively. This is an eye-opening, must-read for white people who are truly invested in having meaningful, live-changing conversations about race. Megan

The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop…

The Art of Asking , or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

Written by singer, songwriter, and performance artist, Amanda Palmer, this book straddles the line between biography and manifesto. This book’s creation was spurned by Palmer’s TED Talk  where she told of her time as a living statue and how it exemplified her belief in the act asking and the act’s power. This book gives a short biography of Palmer’s career and how it was influenced/driven by relationships she built. A great book that offers an alternative relationship than the producer/consumer of many artistic fields. I personally recommend the audio book as it includes songs from Palmer’s career  and creates a fuller picture of her creative output. Greg

The Victory Garden: A Novel by Rhys Bowen

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

This is the story of Emily Bryce who wants to join the war effort. After the death of her only brother, Emily’s parents want her home. When Emily turns 21 she joins the Women’s Land Army where “land girls” are taught necessary farming skills while the young men are off fighting in WWI. Emily falls in love with an Australian pilot who is killed in action. Pregnant and alone she volunteers to tend the neglected gardens of a Devonshire estate. The “Woman’s Land Army” detail was an interesting addition to a great story from a very talented author.  Emma

Kabbalah by Gershon Scholem

Kabbalah by Gershom Scholem

  Scholem, as a scholar, pretty much brought the topic of Jewish mysticism into the consciousness of the 20th century.  Kabbalah is a book about Jewish mysticism – its historical development, ideas, and personalities.  Although at times somewhat dry, especially in the opening section on the historical development of Jewish mysticism, the book picks up much speed in the section where I am now, which discusses the really staggeringly original ideas involved with Kabbalah, including the sefirot, the Zohar, and ideas about how the world was created.  Recommended for people interested in mysticism and religion.     Andrew

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

I just finished the third book of the Bear and the Nightingale trilogy, and it was fabulous.  These stories are set in Russia of the 1400’s and are a seamless mix of truth and folklore.  Vasilisa Petrovna must once more save her beloved Moscow from the evil forces bent on destroying it.  As Christianity and old religion come face to face, things are not as simple as the parish priests would like the people to believe.  Vasya must come to terms with the accusation of being a witch and the shame it brings her family, and the reality that Rus needs someone to fight and believe in the “old ways” in order to battle forces of evil and destruction.  Sara

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

This book is a beautiful testament to the importance of providing a nurturing and supportive environment for children to grow into their best possible selves.  The inside view of Michelle’s childhood is evidence that through the support and encouragement of her parents and extended family, she was able to focus on her education and become a successful female, African American lawyer before she was 30.  Her early career in law was only the beginning of her reluctant journey to become one of America’s most beloved first ladies. I walked away from this book with strong admiration for the very public figure that Mrs. Obama has become in our culture.  I’d recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  If you love the Obamas you should read this book. If you don’t like the Obamas, you should really read this book. Beth

Top Books of 2018

I’ve had a bit of a slow reading year, but I still managed to find many treasures in the stacks. Some I read, others I listened to – through them I journeyed all over the world and went on a few adventures. Here’s a list of my favorites in no particular order:

greatThe Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: The AIDS crisis in Chicago during the 80s, a difficult mother-daughter relationship, a job at a Northwestern art gallery – all of these elements spoke to me – I loved this book.


polishThe Polish Boxer
by Eduardo Halfon: After seeing his newest book, Mourning, on a few critic’s list, I decided to read this earlier one. Lyrical,  contemplative, autobiographical fiction about displacement and identity.

severanceSeverance by Ling Ma: A satire set in a dystopian world where a virus turns people into zombies who continue to perform routine actions – it’s told through the eyes of millennial worker bee Candace Chen, who is strangely nonplussed by this epic plague.

terribleA Terrible Country by Keith Gessen: Andrei is not doing too well in New York City so when his brother Dima enlists him to return to Russia to help care for his ailing grandmother, he jumps at the chance. A fascinating look at Russia and funny to boot!

americanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I can’t believe it took me so long to read this – what a great book about Nigeria, immigration, race, love and expectations.

pachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee: Hands down, the best book I read this year. It’s the story of four generations of a Korean family in Japan. Beautifully written, insightful, detailed, matter of fact but loving, just great.

greenhouseThe Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir and The Atom Station by Haldor Laxness: I travelled to Iceland in September, so I read The Greenhouse Before I left. Though it wasn’t really set in Iceland, it was a lovely book about a young man’s coming of age. In Iceland, I visited the house of Nobel prize winning author Haldor Laxness (do visit if you go there – so cool) and bought The Atom Station atomthere. Laxness has an interesting style and I learned a lot about Iceland in the early 20th century, the government, the the social classes, and of course about drinking The Black Death (Brennevin – quite delicious)!

friendThe Friend by Sigrid Nunez: Winner of the National Book Award, this is a meditation on writing, suicide, grief, and the pleasure of dogs, amongst others.

belongingBelonging: a German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug: a wonderful autobiographical graphic novel about a German woman who digs into her past to discover more about her family’s role during the Nazi era and the silences afterwards. It’s packed with letters, photos and remembrances from her childhood.

BONUS BOOKS: November Road by Lou Berney and Sunburn by Laura Lippman are both really well-written crime/thrillers with great characters. There There by Tommy Orange is an eye-opening look at multiple Native Americans who converge at a powwow in Oakland. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner takes you inside a woman’s prison and the circumstances that can bring you there. Oh and I forgot An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – such an amazing book about a marriage and an innocent man accused of a crime.

Wow – I came up with more than I originally thought – I guess it’s always a good year for  reading!

~ Dori

 

Sara’s Top Ten of 2018

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The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

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Four girls attending boarding school participate in a sinister game which involves lying to everyone except each other.  However, years later when a body is found, it becomes obvious that someone broke the only rule of the game.

 

 

The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent

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When Beth disappears, everyone says she’s run off with another man.  But her best friend Natalie, doesn’t believe that at all, and proving it just might get her killed. A perfectly paced psychological thriller that keeps you wondering until the end.

 

Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood

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After heartbreaking infertility and failed adoption attempts, Tess sees a young, half-dressed little girl in the road who disappears into the woods.  But with no other sightings, missing child reports or  witnesses, Tess begins to be doubted by the townspeople and herself.

 

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

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Young Eddie and his friends develop a game using chalk figure codes which leads them to a dismembered body and to the end of their game.  Years later chalk figures are showing up again, and one old friend turns up dead.  Eddie must figure out what happened years ago in order to save himself and the others.

 

Self-Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyon

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A young female artist accidentally photographs a boy falling to his death—a breathtaking image that could jumpstart her career, but would also devastate her most intimate friendship.

 

 

 

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

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Essie is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a hit reality TV show about her family’s life and fire-and-brimstone religious beliefs.  When Essie winds up pregnant, will she be forced into an arranged-blockbuster-marriage episode? Or will she escape her strange, always-on-display life?

 

 

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

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Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy, small-town life is torn apart by a horrifying attack which leaves their mother dead, and their family forever shattered.  Twenty-eight years later, another violent act forces them back together, and brings up long lost secrets and questions.

 

 

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

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Five-year-old Madison disappeared while chopping down her family’s Christmas tree.  Three years later, her parents are still desperate to find her and hire a private investigator known as “the Child Finder,” who is their last hope.

 

 

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

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Tarot card reader, Hal, discovers she has been left an inheritance.  She is certain it is a mistake, but is desperate for cash and decides to play along. But once at the family estate with the brooding, mysterious heirs, she wonders if she has made a terrible mistake.

 

 

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

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Adrian Wolfe has been divorced twice and recently lost his newest wife to suicide or so it seems.  As Adrian searches for answers, he discovers his perfect modern life with two amicable divorces and 5 step children who love each other seamlessly may not be as perfect as it appears.

Greg’s Top Reads of 2018

The Elements of Spellcrafting : 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery
by Jason Miller

A great read for any practitioner or follower of any path. Gives some very practical tips for spellwork and working with spirits.

The Chaos Protocols:Magical Techniques for Navigating the New Economic Reality
by Gordon White

A practical guide that is based in chaos magic but has some great tips for all. Looking about how one can use your individual spiritual/occult practice to deal with the practical concerns of life.

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The Invisibles
by Grant Morrison

Though this comic has been out for decades, it was only this year that I got to it. An absorbing graphic novel that explores themes of oppression, control, and the various prices of bucking the status quo.

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The Ballad of Black Tom
by Victor D. LaValle

A great example of not only building on top of but expanding the source material. This book starts with the framework of Lovecraft and addresses historical and contemporary issues.

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Sheila Hicks : Lifelines
edited by Michel Gauthier

A wonderful visual retrospective of the artist’s work, this volume explores every stage of the artist’s career. Hick’s is a master of color and form and her work is carefully reproduced here.

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Promethea
by Alan Moore

Again another graphic novel that had been on my radar but I hadn’t gotten to. Promethea is a story that not only explores mythology and the the last 100 years of occultism but seem to reflect many of the author’s own beliefs.

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The Power
by Naomi Alderman

Alderman’s work explores the dynamics of power and gender and how old patterns can reemerge when the world is made new again.

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The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

A collection of stories about stories, archetypes, and culturally created gender. These tales are filled with horror or uncanniness as Ortberg picks apart the very idea of a fairy tale and our own “norms”.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Book one, The Crucible
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Read the graphic novel that the Netflix show is based on. There are many differences from the show and this source material and it guaranteed to help tide fans over as they wait for season two.


Clive Barker’s next testament. Volume On
by Clive Barker

A truly terrifying look at what it would be like if our creator came back. An engrossing story, but Barker definitely maintains his horror aesthetic throughout.

What we’re reading in November

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes 

Cover image for Things are starting to look up for Dix Steele.  Looking for a new start in post-WWII Los Angeles he has found a swanky new apartment and reconnected with his old war buddy, now a homicide detective, Brub.  All he needs now is to find love, and he has his eye on his alluring neighbor, an up-and-coming starlet, Laurel Gray.  If he can have Laurel all to himself, he may not even strangle women walking alone at night anymore.  Well that, and if Brub’s nosy wife Sylvia would stop being suspicious of Dix and find him charming and agreeable like everyone else.  An excellent post-war noir that subverts some of the traditional misogynist motifs of the genre.  Megan Abbott, an accomplished noir author in her own right, has written more knowledgeably on how In A Lonely Place accomplishes this in the Paris ReviewTrent

 

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Cover image for This is the source material for the Disney animated movie The Sword in the Stone as well as the Broadway and movie musicals Camelot. It includes four books in one: The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. I am still in the first book, so not very far into the story of King Arthur. The fantasy adventure has a comic tone that I was not expecting. I thought the Disney movie was responsible for the funny talking animals and Merlin’s absent-mindedness. However, those aspects are present in the novel. Merlin and the author as narrator make anachronistic references to appeal to readers of the 1950s and 1960s close to the time when the novel was published. In fact there are a couple satiric jabs at current society since it is suggested that Merlin has been to the future and is living backward through time. It is a massive medieval adventure, but so far the chapters move along quickly. At least while Arthur is known as a boy named The Wart in the first book it seems like it is aimed more at younger readers, but I wonder if the tone changes later when Arthur reaches adulthood. I’ll keep reading and find out.  Byron

 

November Road by Lou Berney

Cover image for November road :Frank Guidry, a charming, well-dressed gangster who works for a New Orleans mob boss, has just returned from Dallas after following orders to deliver a blue Eldorado, when he learns that JFK has been assassinated. When Frank receives orders to return to Texas to dump the car in the ocean, he knows that his involvement means he’s next to die and decides to run for his life, a ruthless hitman in hot pursuit.  Meanwhile, Charlotte, mother of two young girls, decides to leave her alcoholic husband in Oklahoma and travel to Los Angeles to find a better life. When these two meet on Route 66, sparks fly and Frank convinces Charlotte to travel with him – the perfect cover – but he soon realizes that he could grow to like this new role.  Evocative and suspenseful, it’s got 60s sensibility, romance, a road trip, seedy motels, neon-lit Las Vegas, diners and Dylan. I listened to the fantastic audiobook version through Hoopla! Dori

 

 Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism, and the Russian Jews, 1862-1917  by Jonathan Frankel

Cover image for Prophecy and politics :This is one of the more challenging books I’ve read this year, since there is a lot of information and, unfortunately, the font is small.  I also have traditionally struggled with reading books on history, but I’m giving it another go.  The book, at its best, is fascinating, and it can read like a novel – it is full of letters and speeches and ideas and characters and excerpts from socialist and nationalist literature.  Much of the book is devoted to the Bund, the group of Jewish socialists, founded in Russia in the 19th century, that spread to Lithuania and Poland.  Members of the Bund struggled with their cultural and political identities – how much were they Jews, and should be devoted to Jewish causes, and how much were they Russians, and should be devoted to Russian causes?  The history of the Bund is in many ways a history of the Russian Revolutions in 1905 and 1917, seen from a Jewish perspective, and it’s been fascinating to see figures like Vladimir Lenin interact with prominent members of the Bund.  It is also a history of Israel before Israel became a nation (the competing ideologies for Russian Jewry in the 19th century became nationalism, with roots in Palestine, and socialism, which had roots in Russia and America).  A challenging but worthwhile read. Andrew

 

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor D. LaValle

Cover image for The ballad of Black TomWith only being 151 pages long this book packs quite a punch. The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook but from the perspective of Tommy Tester. LaValle’s narrative highlights not just the horrors of the supernatural but of the racism and xenophobia as events unfold. The author creates  characters who are grounded in reality who then deal with the swell of the uncanny. You will be caught up in the fast paced narrative and even fans of the lovecraftian source material will have whiplash from the conclusion and epilogue. Greg 

 

 

The Fallen by David Baldacci

Cover image for The fallenEvery once in a while you need an action book with a good guy who you know will win.  That is Amos Decker in this new Memory Man book, The Fallen.  Amos and his journalist friend Alex take a vacation to visit Alex’s sister in a small, depressed Pennsylvania town.  Even when he is not looking for trouble, trouble finds him, and Amos discovers two dead bodies in the neighbor’s house.  It is soon apparent that something big is going on in this little town, and there’s no telling who is a part of it.  After suffering a concussion, Amos’s infallible memory begins to get a little fuzzy and less reliable.  Will he still be able to solve the case or was his memory the only thing that made him an amazing detective?  A quick and easy read that is a bit predictable but enjoyable none the less.  Sara

 

 Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart

Cover image for Miss Kopp just won't quitThis novel is based on on actual events and centers around two of them.  Anna Kayser’s husband has her committed to an insane asylum for the fourth time under false pretenses, and deputy Constance Kopp knows she doesn’t belong there.  In 1916, Sheriff Robert Heath is running for congress and a new county sheriff will be elected. The new sheriff has no desire in keeping a woman deputy sheriff on board. He quickly dismisses Deputy Kopp. Robert Heath loses the election and Constance Kopp is unemployed. The fourth entry in the Kopp sisters series leaves lots of loose ends to be worked out, but it’s a quick fun read for fans of historical fiction. Emma

 

 

Warcross by Marie Lu

Cover image for WarcrossEmika Chen is a broke, orphaned eighteen-year-old with a criminal record – one she got from hacking computers. And, like the rest of the world, she’s obsessed with a virtual reality game called Warcross (think Quidditch meets Ready Player One). On the opening day of the International Warcross Championships, Emika is hurting for rent money. When she hacks into the game and attempts to steal an expensive item, she glitches herself into the action and reveals her identity. Emika thinks she’s going to be arrested, but instead, she’s pursued by the game’s creator, heartthrob Hideo Tanaka, to become a spy in next year’s tournament. But the sinister plot Emika uncovers could unravel the entire Warcross empire.   I picked up this book because I wanted to be able to recommend more sci-fi to teens. I am really enjoying the pacing of the book (Marie Lu knows how to write a thriller!) and the diverse cast – Emika, like the author, is Chinese American, Hideo is Japanese, and Emika’s Warcross team captain, Asher, uses a wheelchair. Recommend this NYT Bestseller and its sequel, Wildcard, to fans of The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, and Divergent.  Lyndsey