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

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Time to Talk Turkey About Thanksgiving Movies and Books

When you work in a library, you usually have at least one display up that corresponds to a current holiday. Thanksgiving is always the difficult holiday; there are just not many books or movies that revolve around Thanksgiving which is surprising, considering that it’s ripe with potential to explore family issues.

Here are a few titles that either take place during Thanksgiving or have a special or funny scene devoted to the holiday:

Movies:

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Books:

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Wishing you and yours a very peaceful and Happy Thanksgiving –

~ Dori

 

 

2016 Favorites – Top 12 Edition

2016 was a book lover’s dream – I was like a kid in a candy store. Between reading and listening, I managed to finish a lot of literary fiction, and a few science fiction and suspense titles, but I have some catching up to do into 2017. Here are the books that I relished in 2016, in no particular order:

laroseLaRose by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich is a writer that I never miss and this book sums up what I love so much about her writing: devotion to characters, insightful commentary on American culture, family love and exploration of the mystical.

 

undergroundThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Deserved winner of the National Book Award, this book is a wildly creative and harrowing look at slavery and its legacy. A must read.

 

 

beforeBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Hawley, a screenwriter, deftly takes us through a horrific plane crash, exploring the survivor’s guilt and the investigation into the cause.

 

 

mynameMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
This small book packs a punch – mother/daughter relationships, poverty, marriage – are all addressed powerfully and in Lucy’s voice – lovely and sad.

 

 

vegetarianThe Vegetarian by Han Kang
There’s no doubt that this is a weird book – it’s about a young woman whose choice to become a vegetarian impacts her whole family in tragic ways – but it’s also both mesmerizing and beautiful.

 

 

queenQueen of the Night by Alexander Chee
Chee’s historical epic about a 19th century American who becomes a famous Parisian courtesan and opera singer envelops and transports you.

 

 

commonCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
This is my first Patchett novel and I may have to read her earlier books based on this one – who doesn’t love a book about a dysfunctional family that sucks you in and doesn’t let go?

 

 

multipleMultiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
Zambra is a Chilean author and his books often deal with memory and choice within the framework of Chile’s recent authoritarian history. This one’s in the form of a multiple choice test

 

 

goldenThe Golden Age by Joan London
Maybe my favorite of all, London’s look at how people deal with displacement in their lives takes place during the polio epidemic in Australia after World War II. It’s surprisingly sweet and tender and you’ll fall in love with the characters.

 

 

moonglowMoonglow by Michael Chabon
History, relationships, life, love, rockets! – all in Chabon’s signature style.

 

 

 

swingSwing Time by Zadie Smith
I haven’t quite finished Smith’s latest about two young brown girls growing up in London and the different paths they take based on family, race, class and culture, but I’m entranced so far.

 

 

darker

 

gathering

A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
I always like to dip into some great science fiction and I really enjoyed these first two in a series that take us to fantastic parallel worlds.  No. 3 is up next year!

 

BONUS CHRISTMAS BOOK:

fieldsThe Fields Where They Lay by Timonthy Hallinan
I chose this book for my Holiday read and I think I’ve found a new mystery series! It’s funny and clever and the mystery unfolded perfectly.

 

 

 

If` I could keep going, I’d throw these in as well: Debuts The Mothers by Brit Bennett and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Yid by Paul Goldberg, To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl, A Great Reckoning by  master of mystery Louise Penney, The Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood and The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

Don’t be a Grinch… read a HOliday Story!

Ho ho ho! We read Holiday Stories! That means the books below could have prominently featured any holiday happening from Halloween to Valentine’s Day -a pretty big window of possibilities, no? Ready to see what everyone selected? Here we go:

Megan: What Light by Jay Asher is sweet holiday story about Sierra, who’s family operates a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. Every year they pack up and head to California to set up their tree lot for the season. Sierra loves this time of year and the chance to see her California best friend even though it means leaving her Oregon life and friends behind. It’s Christmas business as usual on what could be the last year for the lot. That is, until Caleb shows up. Caleb has a bad boy reputation in the small town, but Sierra, despite insisting she isn’t interested in dating, begins to see past that and gest to know the real Caleb. Fans of holiday romances full of hot chocolate, candy canes, and true love won’t want to miss this one.

Dori: Burglar Junior Bender returns in Timothy Hallinan’s holiday offering, Fields Where They Lay. Junior has never been fond of Christmas and this year, things are not looking up. He’s been hired by a threatening member of the Russian mafia to investigate the high burglary rate at the failing, old, Edgerton Mall. Also, his girlfriend has mysteriously up and left him and he needs to figure out what to give his teenager daughter for Christmas. Funny and touching, with a satisfying ending perfect for delivering a dose of Christmas cheer.

Gina: Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter Stroll picks up a year after the first book in the series, Winter Street. The Quinn family and Winter Street Inn are all prepared for Nantucket’s traditional Christmas Stroll. This quick story transitions from each character, following each of their weekend experiences. Patriarch Kelley feels confused with his relationships to his first wife, Margaret Quinn, and second wife, Mitzi. Patrick is in jail and his wife Jennifer is trying to raise their three boys to be respectful and responsible despite the current situation. Kevin and girlfriend Isabelle have a beautiful baby girl named Genevieve. In addition to the Winter Stroll the family will be celebrating Genevieve’s baptism during the weekend. Ava has found the love of her life but an accident causes her to question the relationship, not to mention an ex-boyfriend popping into town. Bart, who was deployed to Afghanistan last year, is still MIA, but at the end of the weekend there may be hope. Each chapter kept me excited for the next and would recommend this for a winter read.

Lauren: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson—originally published in 1972—is a delightful book about the horrible Herdman children who take over and wreak havoc on the church’s annual Christmas story play…to hilarious and somewhat miraculous results.  You’ll find it in the children’s section, but it’s a gem that anyone can enjoy.

Beth: In Melissa Ciccocioppo, Peter Skullkid, Asia Erickson, and Eric G. Salisbury’s Contemporary Krampus, we are shown different artistic interpretations of Krampus.  As one of the many companions of Saint Nicholas, Krampus takes his responsibility of punishing the misbehaved children seriously and this book will scare the pants off of them.

Steve: The Christmas Thief, by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, is a simple read for anyone looking for a fluffy Christmas work .  Packy Noonan, who has just been released from prison for scamming millions of dollars from people, is reuniting with his old bumbling buddies to reclaim the flask of diamonds that he hid in a giant spruce tree 12 years ago.  Things go awry as the tree is set to be used this year for the Rockefeller Center tree. Private detective Regen Reilly and her friends have stumbled into this mess. There are a few laughs but not much suspense here, although it’s perfectly suitable for a mindless Christmas read.    

Carol: In The Christmas Town by Donna VanLiere, 21-year-old Lauren Gamble longs for a place to call home and people to call family—she’s even gone so far as posting a Craiglist ad for both. Social media is letting her down when she stumbles upon and is drawn to the nearby small town of Grandon. There she meets a special boy named Ben and begins to volunteer at Glory’s Place, a center for families in need. Could it be true? Might Lauren get the Christmas wish she dreams of?

Sara: I read A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry.  In this short mystery which is set in 1895, a wealthy young wife and mother, Emily Radley, travels from London to a small, dwindling town on the western coast of Ireland.  Her estranged Aunt Susannah is dying and has asked for family to come be with her.  Susannah married a Catholic man and moved to Ireland many years before, disgracing her English family.  Emily is fearful of this rugged, desolate part of Ireland by the sea and resentful that she must leave her home two weeks before Christmas. Once there, she realizes the town has many secrets, and the residents are consumed by guilt because of the death of young shipwrecked sailor seven years before.  Now the winter storms have caused another tragic wreck, and another young sailor is taken in by the town.  Can Emily solve the mystery of the prior sailor’s murder before history repeats itself?  And by doing so, can she save the town of Connemara and allow Aunt Susannah’s last Christmas to be a peaceful one?  This is a quick and engaging read, laced with interesting insight into 19th century relationships between the English and the Irish peoples.

Emma: Oliver the Cat who Saved Christmas by Sheila Norton is the story of pub cat Oliver who loses his home in a fire. Unfortunately owner George moves to London during reconstruction and cannot take Oliver along. Two families become his foster families. Oliver has a way to discover exactly what each human needs. In doing so, he saves Christmas and makes lots of people happy. This is a treat for all pet lovers.

Stacey: Just when I thought  there can’t possibly be any more ways to explain the man, the myth, the legend of Santa Claus, I stumbled upon The Christmas Chronicles by Tim Slovenia and found I was wrong!  There are clever explanations to cover all your burning questions, from how Klaus came to create toys for children to why the red suit to those flying reindeer -and they completely make sense. But what makes this book really special is the mix of myth, magic, religion, contemporary pop culture, and faith (in yourself and others.) A charming and thoughtful choice for the holiday season.

Next time? We’ll be reading Teen Fiction! (I realize this is pretty self-explanatory but heck, I’ve got a job to do here!) If you want to read along with us, you’ll want to find a novel aimed at the 18 and younger crowd. Get excited -there are some pretty awesome teen books out there!

Happy Holidays!
Stacey

Happy Holiday Reads!

As you may remember from just a few weeks ago, we consider anything featuring a Winter holiday as fair game. So yes, it was absurdly easy to select a book for our recent gathering! And now we’ll make it absurdly easy for you to select one as well…

Dori: In Alexandra Brown’s The Great Christmas Knit-Off, Sybil bolts to the small picturesque English village of Tindledale after she’s jilted at the altar of her Star Wars themed wedding. Her friends run a pub there and soon she’s taken in by the quirky residents, forming fast friendships and even finding an admiring, handsome doctor. When the local craft store, Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, is threatened with closure, her knitting skills come in handy as she rallies the villagers to create holiday themed knitted goods for Hettie to sell so she can keep her business. First in a series, this is a fun and quaint holiday read with a great cast of eccentric characters, a frisson of romance and knitting galore! Includes a pattern for a Christmas pudding holiday decoration.

Chris: Christmas with Rita and Whatsit by Jean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod with the sweetest illustrations by Olivier Tallec tells a charming story about a little girl and her dog getting ready for the big day. Lots of typical activities like writing Santa a letter, baking goodies etc. ensue, but most are done with darling twists. Like Whatsit asking Santa for a police dog uniform and decorating his own little tree with a garland of sausages, salami and bologna to smell just right. On Christmas morning, they find all kinds of wonderful presents left by Santa, but one: A big hug from your best friend. Hugs all arounds. CUTE!

Carol: A Christmas Tragedy is a short story by Agatha Christie. Miss Jane Marple is spending an evening of fun with some friends who are taking turns sharing mysterious stories. The story Miss Marple tells revolves around the suspicions she feels upon meeting Mr. & Mrs. Sanders while at a spa during Christmastime. Miss Marple is immediately convinced that the man means to murder his wife. When Mrs. Sanders is later found dead, it is up to Miss Marple to prove that the husband committed the crime. While this title doesn’t necessarily spread Holiday cheer, it’s like a little gift to read anything by Agatha Christie, the queen of crime!

Megan: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris is a collection of humorous short stories that a shine light on the dark underbelly of Christmas. These dark, irreverent, and sardonic stories show readers how the Christmas spirit can go awry. Readers looking for a sweet, happily-ever-after story should steer clear, but fans of dark humor will appreciate this slim volume. An 2008 reprint included six new stories.

Emma: Two stories in one comprise The Christmas Bells. One story revolves around Sophia, school music teacher and volunteer children’s choir director at St. Margaret’s Church, who is about to lose her teaching position. Lucas, the choir accompanist, is very interested in Sophia but reluctant to make his feelings known. The father of Alex and Charlotte, two talented choir members, is MIA in Afghanistan. The second story takes place during the 1860’s. This story revolves around Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who is mourning the death of his wife and trying to convince his son not to join the Union army. It showcases Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” written in 1863. The poem is the basis for “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, one of the songs Sophia’s choir is practicing. The Christmas Bells is a heartfelt story of Christmases past and present.

Steve: Glenn Beck’s The Immortal Nicholas attempts to return Christmas, Santa and St. Nicholas to the origins of Christ, with limited success. The story begins with the main character Agios, forager of frankincense, who has just lost his son and all hope and has turned to wine. He is captured in a drunken stupor by a caravan and brought back to one of the three wise men, who is looking for frankincense to present to the new King who is to be born. From there the story follows the story of Jesus, and not until the end do we see the connection to Nicholas. A good effort that starts out strong but something didn’t quite mesh.

Lauren: Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel brings together a number of quirky (to say the least) characters from other of his books set in the coastal California town of Pine Cove. The townspeople are busy making preparations for the Christmas holiday when young Joshua is devastated to witness the murder of Santa. What has actually played out is a deadly altercation between “evil developer” Dale Pearson dressed and Santa and his ex-wife Lena. Joshua sends up a prayer to the heavens for Santa to be brought back to life in time to save Christmas. Enter archangel Raziel, who has visited Earth to grant a Christmas miracle. Given that Raziel truly is the stupidest angel, he misunderstands Joshua’s request and casts a blanket resurrection over the body of Dale Pearson/Santa as well as all the deceased residents of Pine Cove in the nearby cemetery. The dead rise, and typical of zombies, instantly seek to feast on human flesh. As Moore states, this is “a heartwarming tale of Christmas terror.” Brace yourselves.

Stacey: I didn’t know I needed a sequel to the classic A Christmas Carol -until I read one! Charlie Lovett wrote the ‘spirited’ (pun intended!) novel, The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge, based on the transformed character of Scrooge. When the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley appears to ask for help shedding the chain he’s been forced to carry, Scrooge is more than happy to do what he can to help. This is a charming story with the positive message giving is better than receiving -one you’ll be sure to enjoy!

Next up is Literary Fiction! If you want to read along -you’ll want to find something characterized by a distinctive writing style. Literary fiction focuses more on character than plot, deals in nuances, and prompt a high degree of interaction between reader and book.

Enjoy!
Stacey

Latest Additions

Hate me all you want, but since this has never happened and likely will never happen again, I would just like to take a small piece of this public forum to announce: My Christmas Shopping Is Already Done. I can’t explain how this has been accomplished (aliens swapped out my brain with that of someone way more proactive about this stuff???), but there are presents–wrapped–under my Christmas tree.  If you’re like me, take some time to relax in these usually  crazy weeks leading up to the holidays and curl up with a book.  Go for it even if you’re not! That’s what typical-me would certainly do.

labob

A Gift from Bob by James Bowen

laknittoff

The Great Christmas Knit-Off by Alexandra Brown

laborden

The Borden Murders: LIzzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller

laforget

The Great Forgetting by James Renner

lamount

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

-Lauren

Latest Additions

As we creep ever closer to the holidays and time begins to feel like it is passing at warp speed, I hope you are able to take the time to remember all we have in this life to be thankful for. Maybe it’s family, good friends, a roof over your head, a special pet, enough food in your tummy. If you are truly fortunate, maybe it’s all of those things! Take the time to remember everyone and everything this special time of year and have a wonderful holiday full of peace and love! And maybe, just maybe, sneak in a little reading time between eating and Black Friday shopping? Here’s some ideas…

christmasbells

Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

goldfamecitrus

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

inbitterchill

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

stnicholas

Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson

neclies

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

Have a wonderful holiday season!

—Maureen