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

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.

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

 

 

 

 

BookTalk for Adults

In case you missed the BookTalk for Adults program today at the library, here is what we talked about….

The Best Books of 2018 So Far. While there are many excellent books that have been penned thus far in 2018, I managed to widdle the list down to ten. The list spans different genres including fiction, literary fiction, mystery, suspense/thriller and memoir. Here is the list of books we discussed –

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
There, There by Tommy Orange
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson
The Woman in the Window by A.J.Finn
When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
Educated A Memoir by Tara Westover

Our next BookTalk for Adults will be Friday, October 26th at 10AM. Being so close to Halloween we will discuss (you guessed it) Spooky books. Come join us!

What we read this month….

Here are a few of the things your Adult Services crew read in August:

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Cover image for This story begins with two main characters who are widowed and have been acquaintances for many years.  Addie Moore decides to make a bold move and pay an unexpected visit to her neighbor in Holt, Colorado, Louis Waters.  Addie is having trouble sleeping and suggests to Louis that it would be a great help if he consented to sleep with her.  What Addie desires is companionship, conversation, and quite simply, someone to share her day with.  Louis decides to give it a try.  What begins as awkward & unsure soon blossoms into a wonderful relationship.  As Addie and Louis slowly begin to build a bond, the residents of Holt, and certain family members are taken aback by such an unconventional relationship for two elderly people.  This is a truly beautiful short novel about late in life love and true companionship.  The story is simple, yet leaves you thinking long after you’ve closed the book. Mary

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

Cover image for This story picks up where his book Beartown left off.  The story is set in a small town nestled in the forest of Sweden which is trying to move past a scandal surrounding its beloved hockey team.  The story weaves the rebuilding of the people in the town as they try to reclaim their roles and identity.  This is a visceral mending of fences and coming-of-age plot which leave the reader to imagine the cold reality of life.  You’ll walk away from the story feeling raw yet satisfied.  Beth

The Elements of Spellcrafting  by Jason Miller

Cover image for This past month I finished my second book by Jason Miller regarding practical magic and enchantment. The Elements of Spellcrafting is a fun, informative read that has you look at your own spiritual practice and why you may not be getting the results you are looking for. Each chapter is presented with a humorous comic poking fun at the challenges one can face working with a magical practice. The biggest lesson Miller presents is to not let yourself or your ego get in your own way. Great for a seasoned individual or someone new to the practice.  Greg

Glass Empires (Star Trek: Mirror Universe #1)

ICover image for ‘m reading a Star Trek book called Glass Empires. Multiple authors provide three stories in one novel set in the Star Trek Mirror Universe. Even though the Mirror version of Star Trek is about conquering through might rather than exploring the unknown and forming peaceful alliances, these stories still manage to have a humanistic message with certain characters finding the strength to make positive changes to their world. Also I’m nearing the end of the book on CD of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. This has been an intriguing story and it is narrated very well by Edoardo Ballerini. It jumps back and forth between Italy in the early 60’s and modern day Hollywood. But it is even more nonlinear than that with a play, the first chapter of an unfinished novel, and the unpublished introduction to another character’s memoir thrown in to give the narrative variety. The cast of characters is fairly complex with more being introduced as the story unravels and many characters not turning out to be exactly who you thought they’d be at first glance. It is about Hollywood as Babylon, the sort of place that is dishonest and ruins lives, and the core group of characters who find themselves strangely thrown together in mostly temporary relationships just trying to make the best of their imperfect lives. Byron

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

Cover image for Maisie Cothay was born with a strange curse–her touch brings dead things to life and makes living things die.  She has been raised in seclusion with her father, commanded never to touch anything organic with her bare hands.  When Maisie’s father disappears, she sets off to search for him in the woods that border her home.  She  has always been forbidden to enter this forest because of rumors and wild tales told by villagers of men gone missing or returning with addled minds and memories. Maisie discovers she is one of a long line of cursed women who have a special connection to the wood which claims them in their time of need; however, they are then doomed to live there forever with no hope of change, escape or death. Her ancestors in the wood know that she is the one that can save them, but will Maisie be able to rescue her father or will she be trapped forever in the wood that imprisons her forebears? A very creative tale, although it drags a bit in parts and ends somewhat abruptly. Sara

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

ICover image for recently reread one of my favorite novels of all time, The Assistant by Bernard Malamud.  Malamud was a master short-story writer, but he was also just a wonderful novelist.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s, he helped to spark a renaissance in Jewish-American literature, along with novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.  The Assistant is about a Jewish grocer in Brooklyn, New York named Morris Bober, an older man with a lot of woes, who hires for unique reasons (no spoilers) a man named Frank Alpine to work for him.  The novel follows what happens after Frank is hired.  Morris’s wife, Ida, and daughter, Helen, are also main characters, and there are a lot of other lesser characters who are very memorable, vivid and alive.  The novel is evocative of the early 1950’s in Brooklyn, and there is much autobiographical material, as Malamud’s own father was a grocer.  The novel is also a profound and lyrical meditation on what it means to be a good person.  Andrew

The Shepherd’s Hut  by Tim Winton

Cover image for Clackton seemingly has very little going for him.  His mother’s recent death left him alone with an abusive father and little prospects for peace or happiness.  When a brutal accident severs the last tie he has to home, Jaxie is compelled to flee into the cruel wilds of Western Australia.  In his rush to escape Jaxie leaves severely underprovisioned for what his trek through this desolate landscape will require.  Though his past has taught him not to trust men, when he encounters Fintan MacGillis, another exile disconnected from the world, he is forced into a situation where his future depends on him.  Together they forge a tenuous friendship as Fintan searches for absolution and Jaxie peace.  Trent

Here’s What We’re Reading in July…

Hide By Matthew Griffin

Cover image for Dealing with the failing health of a partner/spouse is an incredibly difficult and personal experience for anyone, one that can be only compounded by having to keep the true nature of your relationship secret to the world. This is the reality for Wendell and Frank who met right after WWII, fell in love, and made a private life for themselves over the next 60 odd years. This life is threatened when Wendell finds Frank collapsed in the yard. What follows is a novel that goes back and forth from the start of their relationship to the difficulties of the modern day as Frank recovers and Wendell fights to keep it all together. Taxidermy imagery is used throughout which may disturb some readers but it is used as a literary device for identity, superficiality, and the creation of the appearance of artificial life. Greg

 

Two Steps Forward by Graeme C. Simsion

Cover image for This is the story of Zoe Witt who travels to France after the apparent suicide of her husband to visit an old friend. Once there she decides to hike the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile spiritual walk route that winds through France and Spain. Martin Eden, a recently divorced British engineer, is hiking the Camino de Santiago testing out his one-wheeled cart design. The two cross paths multiple times along the way and become more than friends. This is a heartwarming tale of grief, forgiveness, healing, and determination. Emma

 

How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now by James Kugel

Cover image for I’ve been reading a great book about the Bible.  Kugel is an academic, but the book is written for the layperson, and so far it’s been a tour de force.  His approach is to look at stories and passages from the Bible from the perspective of both its ancient interpreters and from modern Biblical scholarship.  This means as a reader sometimes experiencing an intense cognitive dissonance, because the two perspectives seem so deeply divergent (i.e. the thesis that the Bible is divinely inspired, versus the thesis that it was written by four people, the documentary hypothesis).  Kugel himself is an Orthodox Jew, so I’m curious to learn more about how he balances his knowledge of modern scholarship with his faith.  Kugel is an excellent teacher and communicator, and the book is an amazing synthesis of theology, archaeology, history, sociology, psychology, and religious studies.  Andrew

 

Queenpin – Megan Abbott

Cover image for The unnamed narrator, a young woman with limited prospects, takes a job keeping books at a small nightclub.  Soon after she begins practicing some shady accounting, she comes under the scrutiny and then wing of the infamous and ruthless Gloria Denton.  Casinos, racetracks, heists – all the big money in the city runs through Gloria before it makes it’s way to the big bosses out of town.  Gloria will be her access to all the action and the lavish lifestyle to go with it if only she can keep from falling for the wrong guy.  Megan Abbott takes the bones of the same old, time-tested gangster story and gives it new life.  By the end symbols of traditional masculinity are kicked apart and lay shattered and bloody on the floor. Trent

 

The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright

Cover image for In the evangelical church, there is a myth about missionaries: those who do “God’s work” can do no harm. After living in Costa Rica as a missionary for five years, Jamie Wright pulls back the curtain on missionary life, writing about her experiences and observations. She points the finger at the careless and nonsensical ways of “helping” that sending organizations permitted to happen, veiled by the vague language of “loving on people,” “just showing up,” and “hearing from God.” Her stories about mutually exploitative practices, wasted resources, and underequipped ministers were helpful in understanding the gravity of the harm Christian missionaries can do, if not prepared to serve in careful, sensible, and sustainable ways. Even though the content of the book is serious, Jamie’s voice is fun and entertaining, but also scathing – maybe a little like watching a Trevor Noah routine. While I appreciated the foundation that the beginning chapters laid about Jamie’s early years, the final two sections were ultimately the worthwhile ones. Lyndsey

 

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Cover image for I loved Ruth Ware’s In a Dark Dark Wood, a gripping psychological thriller that left me hanging every step of the way.  Then I read The Woman in Cabin 10 and was mostly just confused by too many characters.  The Lying Game is the best book from Ruth Ware so far.  Four  girls spent a year together at Salten, a second-rate boarding school  in the English countryside until they are forced to leave to avoid a scandal.  Truth be told, no one is sorry to see them go, as their favorite activity was The Lying Game, a game with complicated rules and scoring systems that involved lying to faculty and boarders alike. The number one rule however was, “Never lie to each other”.  Fifteen years after the girls go their separate ways, three of them receive a text from the fourth saying only, “I need you.”  As if time hasn’t passed, the girls run back to Salten and into a situation that is dark, dangerous and brings to light the fact that someone broke Rule #1.   Fabulous descriptions of the eerie  and dark marshlands  in the waterlogged area near the English Channel perfectly set the tone for the story which is an addicting page turner.  Sara

 

There There by Tommy Orange

Cover image for Tommy Orange’s debut novel There There is a window into the lives of urban Native Americans of Oakland, California. We hear from twelve different characters, young and old, embedded in their heritage and barely aware, as they wind their way through stories steeped in tragedy and despair, hope and family, culminating on the night of an Oakland powwow. Read the prologue if you do nothing else – it’s devastating. Dori

 

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Cover image for A debut psychological thriller and the perfect beach read. Erin, a documentary film maker and her investment banker husband Mark are honeymooning in Bora Bora. This tropical paradise turns into a nightmare when a scuba diving excursion uncovers something sinister in the water. Do Erin and Mark report their finding? Each decision they make after their discovery has dangerous consequences for the young couple. This taut and unsettling  novel is perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Paula Hawkins. Megan

 

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara

Cover image for This past month has consisted of doing extra research in order to teach film history to kids/teens in a filmmaking summer camp. As I continue to make an effort to include more diverse voices in my reading choices, I’m now reading The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara through Overdrive. It is a relatively short read, which is what I wanted. In quick chapters Che describes the adventures and misadventures that he and a friend from medical school have while travelling through South America. Next I’ll have to watch the movie adaptation with Gael Garcia Bernal. Byron

 

Us Against You (Beartown #2) by Fredrik Backman

Cover image for This is my first read by the popular author Fredrick Backman, and oddly enough, I did NOT read Beartown.  However, the review of the book caught my interest, and I much enjoyed it.  The reader does not have to read Beartown to understand this book.  The beginning does a very good job of concisely wrapping up Beartown, and swiftly picking up where it has left off.  Beartown is populated with a diverse group inhabitants. Some old , some young, some cranky, some hardworking, some who hardly work, and some dreamers.  Something bad has happened in Beartown, and now its residents are divided.  Much talk about the beloved local hockey team and its future is where this book begins. Changes ensue for the hockey team and the town.  However, this book isn’t just about hockey. This book is about life. It has sadness, tension, fierce competition, politics, kindness (sometimes in the most unlikely of places), love & compassion. You don’t have to love hockey to love this book, you just need to love life. Mary

 

What we’ve been reading in May…

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

Cover image for This is the story of Christopher Knight known as “The North Pond Hermit”, a man who walked into the woods of Maine at age 20 and did not leave until arrested 27 years later. He was arrested for burglarizing nearby cabins to obtain food and various essentials for his survival.  Once arrested, he immediately confessed to what added up to nearly 1000 burglaries and showed remorse for his crimes. He never hurt anyone, nor did he ever damage anything. Mr. Knight simply wanted to live alone in the woods. Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, the author, Michael Finkel, is able to give a detailed account of Knight’s secluded life.  In addition to Knight’s story, Finkel discusses famous hermits in the past, and mental illness topics which help the reader to better understand Mr. Knight, however, the author leaves the reader feeling that one will never have a complete understanding of Knight’s mindset & choices. I found the story of Christopher Knight to be fascinating. He survived by his high level wits, common sense and courage. He could “MacGyver” anything, and bring himself to a peaceful mental state of embracing the quiet and solitude of the forest.  He clearly wrestled with fundamental communication & social skills (a common thread in his family), and believed his escape to the woods was his only choice for survival. This is an excellent choice for book clubs, having so many different discussion points to pursue.  You will also find that readers will have very different viewpoints about Mr. Knight, as did the residents of North Pond, which will add to the talking points about this book. I personally see all sides to this story, and have a weak spot for Christopher Knight.  The big question I ask myself is can we unconditionally accept each other for who we truly are? Mary

 

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley

Cover image for Boy Erased has been on my radar since it was released in 2016, and recently came to my attention again since it is being made into a movie. In this memoir, Conley recounts his experience growing up as the only child of a Baptist pastor in Arkansas. After being outed as gay to his parents, he agreed to enroll in conversion therapy. The memoir moves between his experience in the program and memories from his childhood and teenage years. As expected, the trauma Conley experienced in the conversion therapy program is upsetting and heartbreaking, but it is also beautifully observed and eloquently written, on par with Dani Shapiro or Mary Karr in terms his ability to powerfully self-excavate. This is a must-read for members of the LGBTQ community who grew up in religious households, all clergy, and for those looking to increase their capacity for empathy.  Lyndsey

 

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

Cover image for I’ve been reading The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, who is a social psychologist and professor at New York University.  I really enjoyed his more recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, so I thought I’d give this a try.  I’m not finding it as challenging as The Righteous Mind, but there are interesting chapters about the difference between romantic love  (passionate, fleeing) and companionate love (longer lasting, deeper attachment), as well as a great chapter about whether or not modern psychological studies can back up the idea that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Haidt thinks that we can learn from adversity under the right circumstances, especially if we can construct a life-narrative that makes sense out of our suffering.  He argues that positive relationships, meaningful work, and a connection to something larger can work together to make us happier.  Andrew

 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Cover image for In Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, attorney Avery Stafford leaves her job in South Carolina to assist in the care of her cancer-stricken father. At a meet and greet event at a local nursing home Avery meets May Crandal. Seeing an old photo in May’s room makes Avery think there might be a link between May and her Grandma Judy. May’s real name was Rill Foss until she and her siblings became part of black-market adoptions practiced by the Tennessee Children’s Home. The mystery begins. This is a difficult tale to imagine. The novel was inspired by firsthand accounts of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society that existed into the 1950’s. Emma

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Cover image for I’ve just finished listening to Ready Player One during my commutes, which was a great adventure. I’m still gradually working on the ebook A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960. Following Free Comic Book Day I read a handful of various comics. Next I’m looking forward to a book on CD of Amy Bloom’s White Houses. It is not often that I pick up a brand new best seller, but I’ve read many good things about this work of historical fiction. Since recently watching a Ken Burns documentary series about the Roosevelt family (with extra attention paid to Teddy, FD, and Eleanor) I’m primed for this intimate story about perhaps the most intriguing first lady in history.  Byron

 

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg

Cover image for This past month I had the great pleasure of reading The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg. A retelling and mash-up of stories (fairy tales, biblical, and folklore), this collection of stories feels familiar and yet very alien.  Though there is a sinister tone that seems to saturate the book that is often reinforced by the ambiguous endings of each tale. Ortberg plays with gender and archetypes and it’s often this play on the structure and tradition of these stories that brought me the most  joy as a reader. It is a quick read but never feels rushed. Recommended for readers who love sinister tales that jump from magical realism to all out fantasy. Greg

 

The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent

Cover image for When Beth, a small time bar maid, disappears, everyone thinks she has just moved on to a new adventure.  But her best friend Natalie does not believe it for a minute.  She is sure something sinister has happened.  Nat tries to piece together Beth’s past and her relationships, realizing her friend kept a lot of secrets.  And as strange things begin to happen in Natalie’s house and to an elderly bar patron with a foggy memory, it becomes obvious that someone wants these secrets to remain hidden.  Another fantastic suspense story from Christobel Kent, beautifully written, with characters you would want to meet and images of an English countryside you would love to visit.  Sara

What we’re reading in April…

 

I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillian

Cover image for I have not read any Terry McMillian (the author of Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back), so I thought it was about dang time I did. This novel is about Georgia Young, a successful optometrist in her 50s who has “made it” in life – her successful career enabled her to buy a home in a wealthy neighborhood and live comfortably. But she is divorced, bored, and lonely. When news comes that a former lover passed away a few years earlier, it sets off a mid-life crisis that pushes Georgia to reevaluate her life and make some changes: quit her job to do something she loves, find a new home, and meet with former lovers to tell them what she never go to say to them. Terry McMillian knows how to tell a story and does a great job reading the audiobook, giving Georgia the sassy, wise-sounding voice she deserves. This is a great book for those who enjoy stories about relationships and how they define who we are. Lyndsey

 

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Cover image for Dread Nation is an alternate history Civil War story. With zombies. The War Between the States was derailed when the dead on the battlefield walked again. Now, the North and South are united against a common enemy. To fight the undead the Native and Negro Reeducation Act became law, forcing Negro children to attend combat schools. Jane McKeene is one such student at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore. She is training to become an lady’s Attendant. Jane dreams of returning to her plantation home in Kentucky, but instead she finds herself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy. As a new undead threat rears it’s head, Jane learns that these poor souls aren’t her biggest worry. Full of action and suspense, this isn’t just another zombie book. Jane is a badass, biracial woman killing zombies and taking on issues like institutionalized racism, sexual identity, and notions of femininity. She is clever, sassy, and a force to be reckoned with.  Megan

 

The Stand by Stephen King (adapted by Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa)

Cover image for As usual I’m working through multiple books in different formats at once. For Mystery Week in early April I began listening to the book on CD And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie during my commutes. While the large cast of characters is a bit difficult to keep straight early on in this classic, by the middle the mystery of the strange trap that has caught the characters has grabbed your attention. I am also reading Stephen King’s The Stand in graphic novel form. As adapted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa the story is split into six volumes. At this writing I’m in volume #4. Another novel with many characters that are quite distinctly drawn. This thrilling story of survival and rebuilding society has a classic good vs. evil dynamic. And on my Kindle by my bedside is A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960 by Jeanine Basinger, which I checked out with OverDrive. She takes a look at the genre of “Women’s Films” that featured starring women protagonists, women’s issues, and both subverted and supported the role a woman was supposed to play in society. I’ve heard of some of these film titles, but there are many others about strong women that I’ll have to add to my watch list after reading this. Byron

 

The Grifters by Jim Thompson

Cover image for Roy Dillion appears to be nothing more than a personable, hardworking salesman and has a hundred acquaintences that would swear to that very fact.  However, he is a natural of the short con; a grifter who has eschewed one of the cardinal rules of the trade and successfully worked the same city without notice.  When a sure-fire con misfires, Roy’s past catches up with him and his world begins to spiral out of control.  Trent

 

 

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Cover image for MY ANTONIAMy most current read is My Antonia, yes, an oldie but a goody. I was inspired to read this by a fellow co-worker’s blog about rediscovering the classics, and also because I  love a good coming of age story. This particular book did not disappoint. My Antonia takes place in the late 1880’s.  This is the story of Antonia, an immigrant of Bohemia, told by recently orphaned Jim Burden.  Jim is sent to rural Nebraska to live with his grandparents, also neighbors to the Shimerda family, of which Antonia is the eldest daughter.  Jim and Antonia spend their early years exploring the new landscape of rural Nebraska together and so begins a life long friendship between the two. Antonia is a bold and free spirited woman who endears herself to Jim and readers alike. Willa Cather does a wonderful job of introducing the reader to life in rural Nebraska, and the immigrant experience of adjusting  to a new world.  One can’t help but feel for Antonia’s triumphs and tribulations, and be inspired by such a strong woman. Mary

 

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Cover image for The Tuscan childThe Tuscan Child is the story of Johanna Langley’s father, Sir Hugo, who dies unexpectedly. She wants to understand what happened to him during WWII. He was a British bomber pilot who was shot down over German-occupied Tuscany near the town of San Salvatore. Local resident Sofia Bartoli tended to his needs at severe risk to herself, family and village. When Johanna visits San Salvatore 30 years later, no one remembers her father or wants to talk about Sophia. This is a treat for fans of historical fiction. Emma

 

The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig

Cover image for The star of redemptionI am very interested in the writings of Franz Rosenzweig, a German-Jewish philosopher, theologian, and translator who lived in the late 19th and early 20th century and died in 1929 of Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.  Rosenzweig translated the Hebrew Bible into German with another famous Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber.  Rosenzweig also wrote a very interesting but challenging book called The Star of Redemption, which I am trying to read. The Star of Redemption is a book that helps me to think about the meaning of Judaism, though he also writes about Christianity, which he was close to converting to when he was a young man.  He is into “negative theology,” which means that any attempt to define or describe God fails, because God (according to negative theology) is unsayable and ineffable, totally beyond human concepts and categories, though we can experience God through the fullness or plenitude of the world.  At varying times in my life I have been an atheist, an agnostic, and (when I was young) a somewhat skeptical believer, but this book is making me think about Judaism in a new way.  Andrew

 

I See You by Claire Mackintosh

Cover image for I’m in a “quick read” phase, and I See You  hits the spot.  In this British thriller, Zoe Walker’s boring, suburban life is shaken up when she sees her picture in a classified ad for a service called “findtheone.com”  She digs deeper and discovers that other women who have been in these ads have been victims of violent crimes and wonders if she is next.  Her paranoia develops into full-blown panic as she worries that every stranger on her morning commute is watching her.  The book does a great job of building suspense and letting you get to know Zoe, however I found the ending to be less than plausible and a little unsettling.  Sara

 

Hot Mess by Emily Belden

Cover image for In Hot Mess by Emily Belden, twenty-five year old Allie Simon prides herself on being sensible; she has a good job, friends and a supportive family. Then she becomes consumed by bad boy celeb chef  and recovering drug addict Benji Zane who asks that she invest all her savings in a new restaurant. After he relapses and disappears, Allie is left with having to build a restaurant while recovering from heartbreak and maneuvering the food scene in Chicago. A fun read filled with romance and food starring a strong female character.  Dori

 

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Cover image for This is a timely story about the harsh reality of today’s racial tension.  Starr Carter lives in a poor urban neighborhood riddled with gang violence and racial profiling by police.   When Starr leaves a party after shots are fired, she and her childhood friend, Khalil,  are pulled over for a taillight.  The officer is nervous and misconstrues  Khalil’s words and actions, leaving Starr to witness the fatal unraveling of the police stop.  The book unfolds around this story and how the community and Starr deal with the aftermath.  It’s heartbreaking and painfully relevant.  Beth