What We’re Reading Now–September edition

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith

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

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

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

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley

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

Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah, Duchess of York

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

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

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

The Wonder Test by Michelle Richmond

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

Review of Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki book cover and catalog link

Shizuka Satomi, revered and feared violin instructor, is known as the Queen of Hell in the classical music world. As it turns out, the name is more apt than most people know – Shizuka made a deal with the devil to deliver seven talented, tortured souls to hell. So far, she has sent six souls to the fire, and while seeking her seventh, meets Katrina Nguyen. Katrina is a young runaway trans girl who is seeking safety and peace to play violin and be herself, and to Shizuka, is the perfect seventh soul to complete her deal. To further complicate things, Shizuka begins to fall for Lan Tran, the local donut lady who is actually an interstellar starship captain in hiding from the Galactic Empire. Lyrical and moving, Ryka Aoki’s new novel Light from Uncommon Stars surprises and delights at every turn.

This sort of mash-up should clash like discordant notes played off-key, but instead it sings like the most harmonious melody. The novel somehow combines science fiction aliens and a fantastical deal with the devil into a larger, cohesive whole, and this is only by the skill of the author. Aoki’s novel is queer, light, and witty, but with a darker edge that does not shy away from the lived experience of many trans people, with lyrical and dreamlike prose that employs extensive musical allegory. The author examines questions of identity, purpose, existence, and the ineffable beauty of music: how one person can competently play a piece of music without that spark that makes music special, and another can play like a beginner but infuse their feelings and message into the song, lighting the world on fire. For a defiantly joyful, queer meditation on family and identity, try Light from Uncommon Stars, coming out on September 28, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!

Discover@rrpl.org

When the Summer was Ours

Roxanne Veletzos

It’s 1943 in Sopron, Hungary when 20-year-old Eva Cesar is at her family’s country estate. Eva has her life planned out. This is her last summer of being single; she will marry Eduard, a Red Cross doctor; and she will study to become a nurse and work beside him. Things change when there is a chance encounter with Aleandro, a Romani violinist and artist. Aleandro is supporting his young brothers by performing music in the street for monetary donations.

Aleandro and Eva fall in love. When Eva’s father hears about their relationship, he beats Eva. She runs to her nanny Dora for safety. Discovering that she is pregnant, she stays with Dora for support and help in raising her daughter, Bianca. Aleandro, considered an undesirable, ends up at a Nazi concentration camp where his artistic ability saves his life. He draws portraits of the various Nazi guards and officials. On the sly he creates drawings of life at the camp.

Eventually Eva marries her doctor; she becomes a nurse; and together they raise Bianca. Aleandro doesn’t realize he has a daughter. Wherever life takes them, neither Eva or Aleandro forget each other and the summer of 1943.

Spanning decades, this is an unforgettable love story.

~Emma

Discover@RRPL.org

Three Words for Goodbye

by Hazel Gaynor & Heather Webb

It’s 1937 when Clara and Madeleine Sommers are invited to their grandmother’s estate. Violet wants the young women to deliver three farewell letters: one to Paris, one to Venice, and one to Vienna. (Violet hasn’t seen these people since she left Europe 40+ years ago.) The two sisters do not like each other much and haven’t spoken in a year. Still they are willing to fulfill their grandmother’s dying wish. Clara has been busy planning her wedding to millionaire businessman Charles Hancock but is excited about the art she will see. Journalist Maddie is anxious to travel to Europe to witness the growing threat of Hitler and Mussolini. Violet has made first-class travel and hotel arrangements for the pair including traveling aboard the Queen Mary and the Orient Express and flying home on the Hindenburg. Everything is set for an adventure of a lifetime.

This is a story of long-held secrets revealed and family ties strengthened despite differences.

~Emma

Currently Reading- August

This month I’ll be enjoying some vacation, including some stay-cationing at home, as well as doing some out-of-state traveling for the first time in a long time. I have a relatively short flight ahead, but we have some long layovers, so I was sure to load up my Kindle with ebooks and my phone with audiobooks from OverDrive to keep me occupied. Nothing is worse than being book-less at the airport! Take a look below to see what I’m currently reading this month.

Review of T. J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door

Cover of Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune. Catalog link.

Ruthless lawyer Wallace wakes up at his own funeral and thinks he has to be dreaming. But when a stranger at the service turns out to be a reaper sent to collect his soul, he starts to believe. She takes him to a mysterious tea shop run by Hugo, a ferryman who helps souls in their transition to the afterlife. Afraid and angry, Wallace refuses to move on, effectively leaving him in limbo in the teashop. Gradually, with the help of Hugo, the reaper, and a couple of resident ghosts, Wallace begins to learn to be a better person and care about other people. Under the Whispering Door is T. J. Klune’s newest novel after The House on the Cerulean Sea, the sleeper hit and bestseller of last year. 

Whispering Door is all at once a queer love story, a metaphysical treatise, and an introduction to philosophy. It also runs the gamut of emotions; at times funny, serious, and sad, with a main character whose personal growth is organic, if somewhat sped up. Though the subject matter can be heavy, Klune’s outlook on death and the afterlife is altogether positive, and the book’s tone remains upbeat even while discussing difficult topics. After his breakout hit, Klune has clearly found a formula that works, and he has perfected it further here. In fact, my only complaint is that this new novel is too similar to the plot of Cerulean Sea: a grumpy loner finds a new family and becomes a better person. The book is predictable, but that is part of its charm – it is chocolate chip cookie-style comfort food packaged in a story about grim reapers and the afterlife. Fans of the previous novel will love this book, and newcomers will enjoy the quirky and uplifting story.

Look for Under the Whispering Door on September 21, 2021. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the Advance Reader Copy!

Discover@RRPL

The Personal Librarian

by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray

Belle Marion Greener’s father, Richard Greener, was the first black man to graduate from Harvard. He became a strong advocate for civil rights. After Belle’s parents separated, her mother, Genevieve, moved the children to New York City and there they became the Greene family. Belle became Belle da Costa Greene. Belle’s mother wanted the best for her children and being able to pass as white afforded the family more opportunities.

In 1906 Belle, who was working at Princeton University, was offered the opportunity to run the Pierpont Morgan Library. She was hired to curate J.P. Morgan’s manuscripts, books and artwork. Soon she was entrusted with finding and purchasing materials for the collections. Belle became a powerful force to be reckoned with in the male dominated art world. She lived with the secrecy of her black heritage her entire adult life passing as an olive-skinned white woman of Portuguese descent. She befriended art historian Bernard Berenson who also had a deep dark secret.

The novel does an excellent job of describing a little-known chapter in American history.

~Emma

New Books Tuesday @ RRPL

These are the books we are adding to our collection this week. Click on the green text to go to our catalog and place a hold today!

The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay Faye – After his Broadway theater baron father dies mysteriously, Ben Dane, his best friend Horatio and his artist ex-fiancé Lia, on one explosive night, are drawn into otherworldly events where the only outcome is death.

Yours Cheerfully by A. J. Pearce – A young wartime advice columnist, Emmeline Lake must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends when the Ministry of Information calls on her to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort.

Ice and Stone by Marcia Muller – Hired by Crimes Against Indigenous Sisters, private investigator Sharon McCone goes undercover in Eiwok county on the Oregon border to determine who killed two women in the latest addition to the New York Times best-selling series.

Cul-de-sac by Joy Fielding – Five families on a quiet, suburban cul-de-sac deal with the shooting of one of their own and the secrets they each harbor, including newlyweds whose marriage is already on the rocks and a family who fled to Florida from California.

Vortex by Catherine Coulter – While FBI agent Sherlock helps an investigative journalist piece together the past to bring a killer to justice in the present, FBI agent Savich becomes a target as he protects a CIA operative who was betrayed on a compromised mission in Iran.

Mrs. March by Virginia Feito – When someone suggests that the protagonist in her husband’s latest book is based on her, Mrs. March questions everything she believes about her husband as she embarks on a harrowing journey that builds to near psychosis – one that may uncover a killer and the long-buried secrets of her past.

In the Country of Others by Leila Slimani – After marrying a handsome Moroccan soldier during World War II, a young Frenchwoman is torn as tensions mount between the locals and the French colonists in the new novel by the internationally best-selling author of The Perfect Nanny.

Gone for Good by Joanna Schaffhausen – Chicago Detective Annalisa Vega investigates when a new tally is added to the body count of the Lovelorn Killer, a notorious, local serial killer who has evaded the police and been dormant for 20 years.

Ramadan Ramsey by Louise Edwards – When Ramadan Ramsey, the son of a ninth generation New Orleans African American and a Syrian refugee, turns 17, he sets off to find the father he has never known – an adventure-filled journey filled that takes him from NOLA to Egypt, Istanbul and finally Syria.

This Will All Be over Soon: A Memoir by Cecily Strong – In this raw, unflinching memoir about loss, love, laughter and hope, a Saturday Night Live cast member tries to make sense of her beloved cousin’s death and embrace the life-affirming lessons he taught her in an upended world struck by the coronavirus pandemic.

Everything I Have Is Yours: A Marriage by Eleanor Henderson – A bestselling author looks back on her twenty-year marriage to a man who unraveled in front of her due to a mysterious chronic illness that led to his decreasing descent into mental illness.

The Ophelia Girls by Jane Healey – Once obsessed with pre-Raphaelite paintings along with her four friends, which led to tragedy, Ruth returns home where her childhood friend Stuart quietly insinuates himself into their lives and gives Ruth’s 16-year-old daughter the attention she longs for.

~Semanur

Staff Picks- August

One of the best things about working in a public library is being exposed to so many different books! I know I can be guilty of sticking to my reading comfort zone, but thanks to the eclectic readership we have on staff, I’m always hearing personal recommendations and reviews from my amazing colleagues, including a wide variety of genres.

This month Adult Services staff shared some current favorites, including a discussion worthy nonfiction title, an updated classic with a fantasy twist, and a stand-out autobiography. Take a look below for our five staff picks!

Hop on over to our digital library to snag one of these titles now! Ilhan Omar narrates the audiobook version of This is What America Looks Like, which was highly recommended by our staff, so if you are an audiobook fan don’t miss out on this great title.