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February 2023

We packed a lot of Watching, Reading, and Listening into the shortest month of the year.

Read

Africa Is Not a Country: Notes From a Bright Continent by Dipo Faloyin
Insightful, inspirational, and at times devastating, this book is worth reading for the overview of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 alone. It was during this meeting that European and American powers divvied up the African continent amongst themselves with no regard to language and ethnic boundaries, setting the stage for seemingly endless conflict and strife. (Janet)

Bailey’s Cafe by Gloria Naylor
So glad to have finally read a Gloria Naylor novel! Each chapter focuses on a different regular customer of Bailey’s Cafe, and opens with a monologue from Bailey about what he thinks about them. Most customers are down on their luck (to put it extremely lightly), and rooming at a place down the street that is impossible to find unless they’re meant to end up there. Recommend to those who like well-written literary fiction that is full of wisdom, humor (despite dark topics), and a dash of magical realism. (Cathy)

Black, Brave, First: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World by Cheryl Willis Hudson; illustrations by Erin K. Robinson
Perfect read for Black History Month AND Women’s History Month. (Kelly)

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center
Cute! Light & fluffy. (Deb)

Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter by Jennifer Harlan and Veronica Chambers
A call to action. (Molly)

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Riveting. (Molly)

Dinner: The Playbook, A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal by Jenny Rosenstrach
Great ideas for dinners; short and simple! I love this book! (Kelly)

How To Spot a Best Friend by Bea Birdsong; illustrations by Lucy Fleming
Adorable and charming, short and sweet. (Kelly)

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
This memoir was captivating, with Jones’s lyrical writing style. (Ash)

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
Good book. Interesting perspectives on both homelessness & domestic abuse (separately). (Deb)

Love, Pamela by Pamela Anderson
I took this with me on vacation and it was the perfect travel companion. I genuinely enjoyed this. (Amber)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
A short but powerful book about a quiet hero in a small town in 1980s Ireland. (Janet)

Social Justice Parenting: How To Raise Compassioniate, Anti-Racist, Justice-Minded Kids in an Unjust World by Dr. Traci Baxley
This is one of the few parenting books I’ve actually enjoyed reading! Baxley’s writing style is very approachable, and I loved her idea of parenting through a lens of radical love. (Dana)

This Way Out by Tufayel Ahmed
Painful and heartwarming. (Deb)

3000 Degrees: The True Story of a Deadly Fire and the Men Who Fought It by Sean Flynn
This book provides a detailed, fascinating, and heartbreaking look at the Worcester Cold Storage fire, where 6 firefighters lost their lives in 1999. Flynn’s writing makes the reader feel like they’re right in the middle of the action. I remember watching the event unfold on the news and watching the funeral at school, and reading this book has been a pretty emotional exercise. (Dana)

We Will Rock Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
We’re huge fans of Penelope the T-rex and her school adventures. Excellent books! (Kelly)

Watch

The Chronicles of Narnia series (start with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe)
We’ve started reading the Chronicles of Narnia to my 6-year-old, and watching the accompanying movie after we finish each one. It’s hard to tell which format my son enjoys more…though the sword fights and battle scenes might give the movies the edge. (Dana)

Ginny & Georgia (Netflix)
My teen asked me to watch this with her, and although I was initially unsure about it I am now hooked. The show is set in the fictional New England town of Wellsbury, and clearly has a great fashion designer and music director. (TW: this show portrays self-harm and eating disorders.) (Amber)
Check out our Netflix Roku to watch.

How To Get Away With Murder, season one
A bit late to the party with this one. I wouldn’t call this show great, but it’s definitely fun. The young people in the cast do not interest me a whole lot, but I enjoy seeing how terrified they all are of the Viola Davis character, the unstoppable Annalise Keating! She’s great in this (obviously) and I’m so happy to have five more seasons to go. (Cathy)

The Last of Us (HBO)
Scary. Not sure I can formally recommend. (Kelly)

Limitless (Disney+)
Limitless is a docuseries featuring Chris Hemsworth, famous for starring in Marvel’s Thor Movies. The series puts Chris through various challenges to make him think about his own mortality and how he can maximize his health; thus living a longer and more fulfilling life. How examples of stress, temperature shock, fasting, strength, memory and acceptance can all shape the way we deal with aging and death. I found it eye opening, educational and entertaining all at once. My kids enjoyed it too!
Check out our Disney+ Roku to watch.

The 1619 Project (Hulu)
Phenomenal. (Molly)
Check out our Hulu Roku to watch.

The Woman King
Action-packed war epics are typically not my preferred genre for movies, but I found The Woman King to be compelling and enjoyable. The cast was great, especially Viola Davis! (I also have to give a shout out to Lashana Lynch, who played Miss Honey in Matilda the Musical which I watched a couple of weeks ago. So fun to see her knock it out of the park in two completely opposite roles.) (Cathy)

Listen

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Almost as good as The Rose Code. Brilliant women, intrigue, romance, revenge! (Deb)

Blue Train by John Coltrane
A journey. (Molly)

Finding Me by Viola Davis
If I had known this audiobook’s very first chapter would make me tear up, I for sure wouldn’t have started it while waiting for the bus! I’ve read lots of celebrity memoirs, many of them great, and this is one of the best. I’m just in awe of Viola Davis, and this will definitely be one of my favorite books of the year. (Cathy)

The Girl in His Shadow (Nora Beady, #1) by Audrey Blake
Wonderful characters, wonderful history (albeit unfair). Looking forward to the next one! (Deb)

It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover
Charming, empowering. Atlas seems too good to be true…to everyone: Ryle, Sutton, Josh…. (Deb)

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
What a great story! At first, I thought this was chick-lit meets Big Bang Theory but set in the 60’s. And it is a bit. And then I wondered if some of the meandering plot bits were really all necessary, but they all came together in the end! (Deb)

The Surgeon’s Daughter by Audrey Blake
Really great story! Glad we mostly don’t die from tetanus anymore. (Deb)

Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister
SUPER intriguing writing! This story reveals itself backwards, essentially. Only one of my guesses turned out to be true. I love a book that keeps me on my toes! (Deb)

January 2023

Starting the new year by Watching, Reading, and Listening to these titles.

Read

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. van der Kolk (Molly)

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
This was a gentle story with memorable characters. (Ash)

Parklands: Trails and Secrets from the National Parks of the United States edited by Robert Klanten, Andrea Servert, and Florian Siebeck
A gorgeous coffee table book – fun to read or just flip through. Also a good bedtime read if your kids like learning about new places! (Molly)

Rabbit & Bear series (Book One: Rabbit’s Bad Habits)
This fun chapter book is great for young readers! With silly humor and colored illustrations throughout, adults will enjoy reading it aloud to kids as well. I certainly did! (Seana)

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
I’ve been reading all of Becky Chambers’ books and this (Book #3 of the Wayfarers series) was such a heartfelt and hopeful way to start the year. Bonus rec for A Psalm for the Wild-Built! (Renee)

She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
This (very) in depth narrative from the journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein case is a tough read, but an important one to understand how truly inspiring women can be. It was also just adapted into a motion picture that came out in November! (Elle)

Spare by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex
So far, I am loving it! (Seana)
Available in print and digital formats.

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
I may have found my favorite read of the year already. Part reporting, part memoir, this book is a response to our society’s tendency to focus on exceptional DREAMer stories when discussing undocumented immigrants in the US, rather than on their complicated humanity. Cornejo Villavicencio was undocumented herself when she wrote this book, so an impersonal, detached approach is impossible for her, and we see her form long lasting relationships with the people she meets. Reading this made me think about what journalism would look like if it was comprised of people who share the background and experiences of those they are writing about. (Cathy)

Three O’Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio, translated by Howard Curtis
This slim coming-of-age novel recounts a teenaged boy and his father’s short visit to France. The author’s ability to evoke a sense of place is strong. (Amber)

We Don’t Know What We’re Doing by Thomas Morris
I resolved to read more short story collections in 2023 and I’m off to a very strong start with this one. If you enjoy short stories that are a bit melancholy, quite funny, and cathartic to read (but not in a heavy handed way), I recommend this lovely book about people stumbling through life in a small town in South Wales called Caerphilly. I particularly recommend to fans of Lily King. (Cathy)

Watch

Death in the Dorms (Hulu)
A very bingable true crime series. (Ash)
Check out our Hulu Roku to watch.

The Dragon Price (Netflix)
Highly enjoyable cartoon by the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, incredibly diverse characters and fun for all ages. (Renee)
Check out our Netflix Roku to watch.

Finding Your Roots
Fantastic series, very excited for season 9. I’ve been hooked since the first episode aired in 2012! (Moll

Firefly Lane (Netflix)
I love following Kate and Tully’s friendship through high school, college, and into adulthood! (Seana)
This series is based on the book by Kristin Hannah.
Check out our Netflix Roku to watch.

The Last of Us (HBO)
A terrifying and realistic twist on a zombie apocalypse based on the popular video game also known as The Last of Us. (Karina)

M3gan
I’m not a horror person so I can’t believe I went to see this. So glad I did. I can’t remember the last time I laughed this much at the movies. Don’t watch the trailer, which makes it look terrible. (Cathy)

White Lotus season two (HBO)
This show has pushed Italy up on my list of places I’d like to visit, particularly if I win the lottery and can stay at the Four Seasons where this was shot. (Amber)
The first season is available on dvd.

Listen

101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think by Brianna West
Written more as affirmations, this collection of essays does truly encourage you to think about yourself and others in a myriad of ways to create better connections and communication. Its been a great book to start the year off with. (Elle)

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
If you enjoyed Daisy Jones & The Six, run, don’t walk! This is a similar premise – a fictitious reporting on the rise and fall of a famous rock duo in the 70s – but even better, partly because the duo is interracial which makes for a more complex story. With a full cast, this is one of the best audiobook experiences I’ve had. Just vibrant and dazzling. Also, theatre fans: André De Shields is one of the narrators! (Cathy)

Spare by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex
Narrated by Prince Harry, this has been keeping me company on my commute. Coming in at over 14 hours, it’s not a quick listen, but it is does provide an interesting perspective on Harry’s life in the “gilded cage”, and his side of what happened when he met and married Meghan Markle. (Amber)

Yerimayo Celebration
Honestly, I’m listening to (and loving) anything by Baaba Maal right now. Looking forward to his forthcoming album Being. (Molly)
Other titles by this artist are available in physical and digital formats.

December 2022: Our Top Picks of the Year

Our favorite books, shows, and music from the year!

Read

All Souls Trilogy: A Discovery of Witches; Shadow of Night; The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
I always pick up a spooky read for fall, and the All Souls Trilogy exceeded my expectations this year. I fell hard into Harkness’ modern world where witches, vampires and demons live among us warmbloods, and fell even harder into the second book when they travel back in time to the days of Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare. (Elle)

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
One of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, let alone this year. Don’t let the size or comparisons to Dickens keep you away. (Amber)

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton
Kate Beaton’s autobiographical graphic novel about her time working for the oil industry in northern Alberta, Canada is funny, sad and thoughtful. Beaton chronicles the challenges she faced living and working in the oil sands, where women are outnumbered by men 50 to 1, as she struggles to pay off her student loans. At times it’s a hard read due to the blatant sexism and misogyny she faces, including sexual assault, but Beaton’s signature wit shines through. (Liz)

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Another 5-star read from this year, deeply moving and an incredible family of characters. An incredibly humanizing story about the AIDS crisis and grief. (Renee)

House on Endless Waters by Emunah Elon
During a visit to Amsterdam, an Israeli novelist unravels his family’s tragic history there during the Second World War. Beautifully written, the work also showcases Elan’s extensive research, which provides insights into how the Netherlands lost a higher proportion of its Jewish population to the Nazi death camps than any other Western European country. (Janet)

How to Pronounce Knife: Stories by Souvankham Thammavongsa
One of those “I can’t believe this is a debut” books. I was pretty dazzled by this short story collection centering on the lives of Laos immigrants and their kids. The stories are just a touch strange, and very moving in subtle ways. I’m really looking forward to following this author’s work! (Cathy)

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Best fiction book I’ve read in years. (Kelly)

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert
It has witches, it’s creepy, and I couldn’t put it down. (Ash)

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Dragons, and sorcerers, and pirates, oh my! A long fantasy read with intense world building. (Karina)

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
This novel is about a thirteen-year-old boy named Joe and his attempts to seek justice after his mother is assaulted in their Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It’s powerful, moving, unexpectedly funny, and captures what it’s like to be a kid so accurately. Erdrich is becoming one of my favorite authors! (Cathy)

Things to Look Forward To: 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Every Day by Sophie Blackall
This illustrated meditation on everyday wonders is a delight. (Jen)

Time is A Mother by Ocean Vuong
Poetry collection dealing with time, memory family and identity. (Claire)

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
This is easily the best book I read all year. I was a fan of Zevin when she was writing YA fiction when I was a kid and was thrilled to see her on the shelves again. The most lovable characters who will make you laugh and cry, and a wonderful story of how important and transformative love (ESPECIALLY platonic love) can be. (Renee)

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix
I read this fictionalized take on the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in June, and still find myself thinking about it in December. The facts were well researched, the characters were dynamic and likeable, and the author really made the event come alive. (Dana)

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McCallister
I can’t stop thinking about this book! The protagonist witnesses her son stab someone to death, and then each morning she wakes up, she goes back in time and tries to piece everything together. I couldn’t put it down. (Dana)

Watch

The Bear (Hulu)
A mind-bendingly good show!! A renowned chef goes home to run the hole-in-the-wall sandwich joint left to him by his brother. It’s stressful because they do an INCREDIBLE job of drawing you in — it felt like I was watching a documentary, or like I was literally in a restaurant kitchen. Last episode made me sob. (Renee)

Derry Girls (Netflix)
I’ve been loving Season 3 of Derry Girls this year. The misadventures and laughs pick up right where they left off! (Dana)
This show about a group of teenage friends living in Derry, Ireland in the 90s during the Troubles is one of the funniest and most charming shows I’ve seen in years. I’m currently watching the final season and I don’t want it to be over. Don’t watch this if you hate laughing! (Cathy)

1883
Sam Elliott is a national treasure. Tim McGraw is also fantastic in this Yellowstone origin story. (Amber)

Los Espookys (HBO)
A group of quirky friends use their love of gore and horror to start a business fabricating supernatural events. (Claire)

Midnight Mass (Neflix) (Liz)

Queens of Mystery (DVD and Hoopla)
I am not usually one for murder-mysteries, but this show has a good dose of comedy mixed in and the murders are not as graphic as in other series. (Janet)

Stranger Things, Season 4 (Netflix)
It is always hard for a TV series to top their first season, but Stranger Things continues to blow everything else out of the water. I watched Season 4 in one sitting because I just could not stop! Prepare yourself for thrills, chills and many, many tears. (Elle)

Wednesday (Netflix)
The humor is perfection, and I enjoyed it very much. (Ash)
So fun and clever! Jenna Ortega is brilliant in the lead. (Kelly)

Woke Up This Morning (podcast and book)
As a HUGE love of The Sopranos, I really loved listening to this podcast and hearing tons of stories from the cast and creators about filming, storylines, and Sopranos conspiracies. An added bonus: Michael and Steve also published a book expanding on the podcast. (Elle)

Listen

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Really digestible, bite-size snippets of the human experience from John Green’s perspective. Will make you appreciate the important and small things in your life. I’m still thinking about the chapter on sunsets. (Renee)

Dear Child by Romy Hausmann, translated by Jamie Bulloch, narrated by Jane Collingwood 
Room meets Gone Girl is a PERFECT analogy! (Deb)

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander, narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Narrator Kobna Holdbrook-Smith brings 11-year-old Asante boy Kofi and his family and village to life in this engrossing and heart-rending book, the first in a trilogy. (Jen)

Girl of My Dreams by Fletcher
For someone who doesn’t really like dance pop, I absolutely love this album. (Ash)

Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell, narrated by Ell Potter
Beautifully original story focused mainly on Agnes, the wife of William Shakespeare. Ell Potter’s narration was also gorgeous. I did not want it to end. (Janet)

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal Marie Fleming, narrated by Melanie Taylor
I’ve been reading a lot on race, equity and inclusion and this was BY FAR the most accessible. The audiobook was terrific and I bought a print copy because there were references and exercises that I wanted to refer back to when I wasn’t driving my car. (Deb)

Renaissance by Beyonce
Beyonce once again releases a ground breaking record and leaves no doubt in our minds that she is a visionary in the music industry. (Tessa)

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld
War. Romance. Heartbreak. Intrigue. Royals. Brilliant, strong women. Excellent! (Deb)

Vide Noir by Lord Huron
Though Long Lost is this band’s most recent release, Vide Noir is one of my all-time favorite albums. I’m including it here because I was lucky enough to see Lord Huron live this summer. (Amber)

Wild Dreams by Westlife
Westlife’s newest album was in heavy rotation this year, as I got to live my own Wild Dreams and see them live for the first time! (Dana)

You Are Good (podcast)
If you love movies, I can’t recommend this podcast enough. It’s introduced me to so many movies and it’s also made me appreciate movies I already loved in new ways. Sarah Marshall and Alex Steed are such thoughtful, empathetic hosts that I’ve learned a lot from. This podcast feels like therapy in the best way. (Cathy)

November 2022: Giving Thanks

This month we’re taking a moment to express gratitude for these book, show, and music titles.

Read

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Definitely thankful for the first book i ever read with a lesbian character. (Ash)

The Awakening by Nora Roberts
This is the first in the Dragon Heart Legacy trilogy (the last book comes out this month). It’s fantasy, love story, and action all in one. I find Nora Robert’s series such great escapism. I love her. (Kelly)

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder
Beautiful, insightful work. This work had me reconsidering the experiences of friends and family members who had the misfortune of losing parents and siblings when they were young. I’m glad for that. (Janet)

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
This short book is the only self help title I’ve ever read that had a profound impact me and helping me become a calmer and more compassionate person. (Liz)

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
The author uses brilliant prose and powerful illustrations and photographs to expose the myriad challenges she has faced as a woman of color. Most touching are her conversations with her young son, who has a lot of excellent questions about race, many of which are not easily answered. (Janet)

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jeannette McCurdy
I’m thankful that my mother and I have a good relationship, and that she never forced me into acting. (Dana)

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
I’m so thankful Carmen Maria Machado exists, and that she shares her brilliance with the world. I read this memoir in a single sitting over several hours. I don’t think I even took water or bathroom breaks! I’d never read anything like it – she completely reimagines the genre and also provides such an important contribution to queer archives, which she talks about in the memoir’s prologue. (Cathy)

Just Kids by Patti Smith
Patti Smith’s beautifully written memoir as well as her first album, Horses (I know I’m cheating by mentioning two things in one entry!), have given me courage at several points in my life and I’m very thankful for that. (Cathy)

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
This is by far the best book I have read in 5 years. I loved it. Don’t let the cover fool you; while there is a love story, it’s not a romance, chick lit novel. Don’t miss this book. (Kelly)

Olive Kitteridge by Etlizabeth Stout
This book has been around for a while and I see why it won the Pulitzer Prize. I love how the author mixes slow, meandering details with jarring twists and turns, all with Olive mostly in the background, until she is thrust into the foreground. (Janet)

Pig the Pug books by Aaron Blabey
The cutest, funniest, rhyming stories. This is everything a children’s book should be. Can’t go wrong with any of the series as a gift as well. (Kelly)

The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Prachett
Funny, clever and wise–I return to these books at least once a year! Start with Wee Free Men. (Jen)

Zorrie by Laird Hunt
So much packed into 160 pages and I love how the author devotes just the right amount of space to major life events in the world of the title character, Zorrie. No long, drawn-out scene setting here. I especially appreciated the nuanced examples of how members of a small town community come to each other’s aid again and again. (Janet)

Watch

Bluey (Disney+)
My 4 & 7 year old have been watching Bluey for about a year. It’s the best. Two sweet sisters and their family navigating life. It’s charming, positive and enjoyable for everyone. Plus each show is only 8 minutes! (Kelly)

Community
The first three seasons of Community got me through the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The antics of the student of Greendale Community College never fail to bring me joy. (Liz)

The Crown (Netflix)
While I have some mixed feelings about The Crown, and while I think this new season is the weakest (especially due to the casting of Prince Charles!), I must confess that bingeing half of the newest episodes in a couple of days was exactly the escape from reality I needed this week. (Cathy)

Mock the Week
I’m thankful that this hilarious show existed, gracing us with silly takes on current events. (And I am so bummed out that it got canceled recently!) (Dana)

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
I’m thankful for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. My family would watch this movie every holiday season. My father would joke that we were “the Griswolds” because my mother’s colorful antics always resulted in some type mayhem. If you have eccentric relatives or if the holidays always seem to end in a minor disaster (but still filled with love), you will appreciate this film. (Tessa)

Stranger Things (Netflix)
I love this show for many reasons: it’s smart, scary, set in the 80s, stars Winona Ryder. But I truly love it for giving me and my 12 year old many nights together with a show we couldn’t get enough of. (Amber)

Weird: The Al Yancovic Story
Weird Al is the only pure person in the world, and this recently released bio pic is a delightful and fanciful depiction of his career in the 80s. (Liz)

What’s Cooking
Directed by an Indian woman, who grew up in London, this film is about Americans of many different cultures and identities celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s charming, funny , and observant. (Ash)

Listen

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie
This is the greatest album of the 70s! (Liz)

Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig
A phenomenal memoir in essays in which Taussig shares what it’s been like for her to navigate society in a wheelchair. I felt changed after reading it. While I’m glad I listened to the audiobook, which is excellently narrated by the author, I really want to buy a physical copy and read it again. It’s a book I know I’ll keep referring to – there’s just so much there to reflect on. Also, it’s funny! (Cathy)

Six: Live on Opening Night
This is 80 minutes of pure fun! I saw this on Broadway with my daughters last year and we listened to the recording the entire drive home. It’s in Boston through December 31. Treat yourself to a fun night out if you can. (Amber)

Spectrum by Westlife
I am thankful that my favorite boyband from my youth got back together, and that I finally got to see them live! (Dana)

Stick Season by Noah Kahan
For fans of Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers, Noah Kahan is the New England equivalent. Loving his new album Stick Season. (Ash)

The Spookiest Things We’re Reading, Watching, and Listening To This October

Spooky season is upon us so we’re sharing our most frightening and devilish finds. Read on…if you dare!

Reading

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
If you like your mysteries a bit more on the slower-paced, literary side (think Tana French?), you will likely enjoy this one. I’m a little under halfway through and am definitely invested in the story, though some of the jokes and commentary haven’t aged amazingly in the nearly 20 years since it came out. (Cathy)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
A magnificently creepy fantasy pits a bright, bored little girl against a soul-eating horror that inhabits the reality right next door. (Kirkus)

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Want a spooky read? Into sci-fi? Like murder mysteries, or sardonic narrators? Look no further than Gideon the Ninth and the Locked Tomb series (the third of four books came out in September!). I haven’t stopped re-reading this book, partly because there are so many layers and mysteries to unfold, and partly because the narrative voice is so entertaining. If you like weird sci-fi, this is for you. (Renee)

The Grand Hotel by Scott Kenemore
A collection of short stories shared by the guests of an especially spooky hotel. (Jimmy)

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
The son of Stephen King, Mr. Hill has become a successful novelist in his own right, telling horror stories which both pay tribute to his father while being uniquely his own. Heart-Shaped Box tells the story of Judas Coyne, an aging rock star who collects macabre items. One day though, he buys a suit that is supposedly haunted, only to discover that it’s no joke. It’s the real deal. What’s more, this ghost has it personally out for Jude, and promises to kill him and everyone he loves. Now in a race against time, Jude must discover why the ghost is haunting him, before the specter makes good on its promise. (Greg)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
A gothic, ghostly classic from 1959. If you haven’t read this yet you should definitely check it out. There’s a Netflix adaptation available, too, if TV is more of your thing. (Claire)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The most famous true crime novel of all time “chills the blood and exercises the intelligence” and haunted its author long after he finished writing it. (The New York Review of Books)

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
I read this one 2 years ago but still think about it! Though I didn’t love the ending, I thought it was a good, creepy haunted house story, and loved that the main character was a history nerd with a special appreciation for local history. (Dana)

Rebecca by Daphne Daphne du Maurier
brilliant piece of writing, with the atmosphere and suspense and pace that made Jamaica Inn an absorbing and thrilling story—and it has besides a depth of characterization and soundness of psychological conflict that makes it a finer and more penetrating book. (Kirkus)

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
This book is King’s version of Dracula, and it’s a great one at that. Jerusalem’s Lot is a small town in Maine (this is a King book, after all!) where everyone minds their own business and keeps to themselves. Unfortunately, this makes it all the easier for a vampire to set up shop relatively undetected, and before you know it, half the town is either dead or undead. If Salem’s Lot is to have a chance of surviving, it’ll be up to a local writer, a high school teacher, the town doctor, a drunken priest, and an unusually bright kid named Ralph to stop the monsters. (Greg)

The Shining by Stephen King
This is the first book I was ever legit scared of while reading. I understand now why Joey had to put it in the freezer. (Dana)

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Five dark tales can be found in this graphic novel, all pertaining to the unsettling nature of the forest, and what might await someone there. From an undead bride to a hunting trip gone terribly wrong, these stories are sure to keep you up at night, wondering what lies past the lamp light, waiting in the dark. (Greg)

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
A young woman is tasked with cleaning out the home of her now-deceased hoarder grandmother. It doesn’t go well. A Southern Gothic folk horror novel with a surprisingly punchy sense of humor. (Ash, Jimmy)

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
This atmospheric gothic novella by T. Kingfisher centers around a retired soldier who visits two old friends in a remote, dilapidated estate where something is not quite right with the local flora and fauna. (Liz)

Watching

Beetlejuice
An exciting, hilarious, extremely outlandish, oftentimes touching, otherworldly adventure that is utterly unlike anything else. (Rotten Tomatoes)

Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
It goes without saying that this is hard to watch. Evan Peters and Niecy Nash are incredible in the “second biggest series ever” (Deadline) by Netflix. (Amber)

Dark Shadows
Imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better and are in need of his protection. (NoveList)

The Exorcist
When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter. (IMDb)

The House of the Devil
This came out in 2007, but takes place in the eighties, and looks like it was filmed then too. A young woman takes a baby sitting job, and creepy things start to happen. (Ash)

Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Carl Kolchak is a reporter for a Chicago newspaper. Through more accident than design he ends up investigating homicides, many of which involve supernatural forces. Ultimately, rather than reporting on the crimes, he solves them. (IMDb)

Los Espookys (HBO series)
This is a mostly Spanish-language comedy about a group of friends who really love all things horror and start a business in which they’re hired to spook people. It’s so absurd and funny, with really cool sets and costumes and music. The humor of Los Espookys is definitely not for everyone (though Fred Armisen is one of the creators and also acts in it as the uncle of one of the characters, which should tell you something about the kind of comedy it is if you’re familiar with his work). Season two is currently releasing weekly episodes and I’m enjoying it even more than the first one! (Cathy)

The Night House
An incredibly atmospheric horror movie about loss and grief. It’s also pretty light on the jump scares for anyone who isn’t a fan of them. (Jimmy)

Over the Garden Wall
Two brothers become lost on a Halloween adventure while exploring over a garden wall. The series follows their eclectic and outlandish adventures to find their way back home. (Claire)

Practical Magic
Is it too all over the place? Sure. Are the sets and costumes iconic? Yes. Is the soundtrack perfectly 90s? Yes. Did I see it in the theater when I was 14 because I’d had a crush on Sandra Bullock ever since Speed? Also yes. Perfect October movie. (Ash)

Rear Window
A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his Greenwich Village courtyard apartment window. (IMDb)

Session 9
Another title I experienced years ago but still think about! I’m not usually a scary movie person, but I’ve been interested in abandoned state hospitals since I was a kid, and couldn’t pass this one up… especially since it takes place in nearby Danvers. It was creepy, and I loved it and hated it for that. (Dana)

Silence of the Lambs
A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims. (IMDb)

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
If you want to get into the Halloween spirit and enjoy older movies, look no further than this 1962 classic about two older sisters who live together in an old mansion and are totally isolated from the world around them. One of the sisters is a former child star who now spends her days tormenting the other sister, who became a successful actress as an adult until an accident left her in a wheelchair. Also, it’s no secret that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who play the two sisters, openly hated each other, and I think that’s part of what makes their performances so electrifying. This is such a delightfully unsettling film and I could watch it a hundred more times. (Cathy)

Listening

Dear Child by Romy Hausmann
I would classify this as creepy psycho-drama. I’ve seen it described as “Gone Girl meets Room.” and I totally concur. (Deb)

Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Not the best novel I’ve ever read, but there was something about the audiobook that was so enjoyable! Imogen Church is a brilliant narrator. This novel is about a woman who’s broke and down on her luck when she receives a letter inviting her to claim an inheritance from a dead relative. Even though she knows the letter isn’t meant for her, she decides to go anyway and pretend she is who they are looking for. You will probably enjoy this if you are just happy to go along for the ride (complete with a crumbling estate and a sinister housekeeper), and are fine with not reading too much into some of the more glaring plot holes! (Cathy)

Halloween Party playlist on Spotify
This is my favorite Halloween playlist and is played on repeat all day on the 31st. (Amber)

Myopia by Mizmor and Thou
Louisiana sludge metal teamed up with the Portland doom project Mizmor for a full length album that was released in April of this year. I just found out about it and am pretty excited about it– just in time for fall! (Claire)

Snap Judgement presents Spooked
A well edited podcast of spooky occurrences. (Ash)

What We Read, Watched and Listened to this Summer

Autumn is upon us, and as we all head back to school, break out our sweaters and decide on Halloween costumes, let’s take a moment to reflect on what the staff at the Waltham Public Library read, watched and listened to this summer. If you like what you see, chances are we can get a copy for you at the library in print, on audio CD, On DVD/Blu-ray, digitally through Libby by Overdrive, Hoopla or Kanopy, or on one of our circulating Rokus!

What We Read

Dana

Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby
I read the hardcover, but it’s also available on Libby. Having watched Gadsby’s Netflix special “Nanette,” I was especially interested to read this book, which is part memoir and part origin story of the show. (For anyone who hasn’t seen “Nanette,” I highly recommend it… it’s funny and moving and devastating and it will punch you in the gut. Gadsby’s follow up Netflix special, “Douglas,” is also very good, with a bit less punching.) The book is very much written in Gadsby’s voice, and I enjoyed reading her take on growing up in rural Tasmania, though there were certainly parts that were difficult to read about. The creation of “Nanette” was also quite interesting, though that part of the book felt a bit more procedural and less like a narrative… though I suppose that makes sense. Either way, it was a good read, and it made me stay up far too late watching clips of her standup on YouTube.

“You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!” And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People by Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs
I spotted this title on the front page of Libby, and with the amount of anti-trans legislation that’s been in the news lately, I thought it would be good to educate myself on the topic. Written by a psychotherapist and psychiatrist, the book examines 21 myths about the transgender community and unpacks them using medical, social, psychological, and political lenses. It reads a bit scholarly and dry in places, but for the most part it tackles the myths and misconceptions expertly, and I definitely learned a lot. 

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

The Maid by Nita Prose

Defending Jacob by William Landay

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Ashley

Extasia by Claire Legrand
Amity has grown up in a town where women are taught that they are the cause of all evil, and that their town holds the only survivors of a great war. Our narrator soon discovers that she has been lied to her entire life, and must decide what to do about it. This was an interesting horror/speculative fiction/fantasy novel, but it was quite long. ON a positive note, there was lesbian representation. 

The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis
Running from her abusive wife, Iris meets herself in a remote cabin in the woods. This version of herself made different choices. While I kept reading because I wanted to know what happened, I found the characters to be kind of flat. 

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson
This novel written in verse takes place as Hitler is coming to power in Germany in the early 30s. It focused on what it would have been like for members of the queer community, and was a quick read. 

Cathy 

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami
This novel is about a boy getting bullied in school because he has a lazy eye. The bullying grows increasingly more violent and unrelenting, which was truly very difficult to read at times. It also causes the protagonist to experience pretty significant depression, so content warnings for both of those things. He befriends a classmate who is also getting bullied, and the novel is mostly about this friendship, and the different ways the two process what’s happening to them, and what that means about the kind of people they are. “Enjoy” is definitely the wrong word to use here, but I was moved by the reflective writing, and I also appreciate how completely different it is from Kawakami’s first novel, Breasts and Eggs.

Joan is Okay by Weike Wang
I have a “no pop culture about Covid-19” policy, but I made an exception for Weike Wang after loving her first novel, Chemistry, and I’m glad I did. This novel is about Joan, an ICU doctor at a busy hospital in Manhattan who’s really devoted to her job, to the extent that whenever she’s forced to take time off, she immediately tries to sign up for coworkers’ shifts. I enjoy Weike Wang’s writing style a lot, and particularly enjoy reading novels told from the perspective of someone who thinks really differently than I do. For example, a colleague complains to Joan at one point about feeling like a “cog in the machine” at work, and Joan is completely mystified by this because feeling like a cog in a machine is her idea of an ideal experience. The book is full of similar musings. She’s very abrupt and pretty funny without necessarily meaning to be, as she navigates the pressure from people around her, primarily her Chinese family, to conform to their ideas of what a successful woman should be – married, with kids, and a life outside of work. Also, if the fact that the novel features Covid-19 is a turn-off, I should note that it’s very much incidental to the plot, and the pandemic doesn’t even begin until like 3/4 of the way through.

Circe by Madeline Miller
This was an enchanting reading experience that swept me away. The character of Circe was so compelling and I had a lot of fun waiting to see what encounters with iconic figures from Greek mythology she was going to have next. (If you feel intimidated by her novels because you’re not familiar with Greek mythology, you don’t have to be! You don’t need to have any prior knowledge – it’s very readable and easy to follow.)

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
So glad to have finally read this after years of hearing great things. Just as funny and engaging as everyone says it is, and I love that his memoir is a tribute to his mother.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews
This harrowing novel is based on a true story of a group of Mennonite women in Bolivia who, after frequently waking up bruised for several years and being told the cause was demons punishing them for sinning, discover that the actual cause was a group of men drugging and assaulting them in the night. The structure of the novel is fascinating, because it’s told entirely through the “minutes” of their secret meetings as they discuss, and often argue about, what they’re going to do. Are they going to fight or punish these men, flee, or do nothing? The narrator is a man in the colony present at these meetings to take the minutes, because the women don’t know how to read or write. This was a bit grating at times, partly because he has a crush on one of the women, and will sometimes interrupt the minutes to write his reactions to what she’s saying. Other than that, I really enjoyed this (and am excited for the movie adaptation coming out at the end of the year).

Louise

The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Britt Bennett is now two for two. I first read her book “The Vanishing Half” and I loved it. Now, with “The Mothers”, I have two top rated books to recommend. In this book, we are looking at mother daughter relationships with one main female character, Nadia Turner, whose mother committed suicide. Then we have her friend, Aubrey, whose mother allowed her stepfather to abuse her. There is also a sort of Greek chorus, a plural group of mothers from the church who tell us their point of view. Nadia is trying to navigate her life, her loves, an unplanned pregnancy, college, and, really who she is. This is a beautifully written book that is well worth the read.

Lure by Lane Milburn
This graphic novel has the most gorgeous illustrations. The story is also amazing. Three artists are chosen to go to Lure, a planet that is habitable to humans. They are creating an art installation for their corporate sponsor. The question: can this sponsor be trusted? We also learn about the artists’ personal lives, their loves and losses. I don’t want to give any spoilers here, so will leave this here. This is a sumptuous feast of a graphic novel with a great plot.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
I have to give this book a mixed review. At the same time, I could not put it down. I really enjoyed the author’s description of “the paper palace” , a set of aging cabins where Elle Bishop’s family vacations every summer. Her imagery of the flora and fauna of the Cape, the ponds, the oceans, the landscape are so vivid that you can see them and practically touch them. There are two time frames being presented in this novel, a twenty four hour fateful period….Elle has cheated on her husband with a lifelong friend and must decide whether to stay in her marriage or to go with Jonas, her lifelong friend. We follow Elle’s life and learn about her mother, Wallace (an awesome, feisty character!), her father (a less awesome, less feisty character), her sister Anna (feisty, incredible), and her grandparents. There are some pieces of the book that I found decidedly unsatisfactory and I can not describe them without revealing things that I want you to discover for yourself. This book is worth reading for description of place and character development. Some of the plot lines I would like to see changed to suit my taste but I am sure that there are plenty of people who would disagree with me on this point. This is worth your time despite some hiccups. 

Laughing All The Way To The Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz
Hilarious! Beautifully written! A memoir that is fun and creative! Nawaz writes beautiful, witty chapters and is a natural born storyteller. She questions her culture in a loving way and seems to have a genius for seeing the beauty that is there; community, spirituality, cultural history. She is a successful journalist, author, content creator, and actress. Nawaz lives and works in Canada and I am officially a fan.

Maus II by Art Spiegelman
This is a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel that was recently banned in the state of Tennessee. Therefore, there is a huge waiting list at the moment. I read part 2 and am still on the waiting list for book 1. Spiegelman rightly claims that, although this is a book about the Holocaust, it is also a tale of a father/son relationship. The illustrations are incredible. The story is very moving. This book is worth the read.

Calypso by David Sedaris
Believe it or not, this is my first book by David Sedaris. His essays are beautifully written and they are funny. The author takes us through England, Tokyo and North Carolina. He describes his relationship with his family, his partner, Hugh. Sadly, his sister Tiffany, who lived in Somerville, committed suicide, and he writes about this as well. His scenes of shopping for new clothes that are made to look old and damaged in Tokyo are hilarious. He writes very lovingly about his relationship with his father who is now in his nineties. This is an uplifting, fun read, despite the suicide of his sister, and I recommend this highly. 

Me And My Shadows by Lorna Luft
This is a really fun and interesting read by the second daughter of Judy Garland. Ms. Luft tells us about what it was like to grow up with Judy Garland as a mom, the highs and the lows of her childhood. She also talks about life after her mother’s death; her sister Liza’s difficulties and her own career and marriages. Lots of great pictures of the family as well.

Judy Garland: The Secret Life Of An American Legend by David Shipman 
A very detailed and interesting biography of Judy Garland. Lots of great pictures as well!

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Maggie Shipstead tells a very moving story of Joan, a ballerina who knows that she will not be one of the greats. Joan gets pregnant and gets married. She becomes a ballet teacher. Her son and his best friend both become ballet dancers and the story is compelling and interesting. This book had me interested from the first paragraph to the end. Note: I read another book by Shipstead about a year ago called “Seating Arrangements” which I also would recommend highly.

Deb 

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
The setup of this plot took forever (3/4 of the book) and then suddenly things were weird and then it was over.

Claire

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
A gripping novella told through transcriptions of a few months worth of posts on an online forum and an instant message chats about a sapphic BDSM relationship set in a (nostalgic!) 2000. CW: for body horror. 

Winter In Sochko by Elisa Shua Duaspin
A very sultry slow burn story. It’s beautifully written and manages to say a lot without saying much at all. 

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
I love Ocean Vuong’s writing and this collection of poetry is a beautiful follow up to his earlier works. This book fits neatly with the rest of his collection; dealing with themes like family, love, loss, and the passage of time. 

Portrait of a Mirror by A. Natasha Joukovsky
A modern re-imagining of the myth of narcissus told through two interwoven wealthy millennial professional creative couples. It’s messy and witty and pretty delightful. 

Jen C

Dreadful Company: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw

Tessa

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
I was intrigued by the format of the story, which relies upon emails, letters, and little bit of narration. The story quickly captured my attention, and I spent an entire vacation day by the pool devouring the book. As a Washington State native, the references to the Greater Seattle Area reminded me of home. And like Bernadette, my husband also works at Microsoft, so I was very amused by all of the Microsoft references (I would consider the company to be a solid secondary character in this story). I would recommend this book to any one that likes comedies featuring nosey neighbors and PTA mom drama. I can’t wait to watch the movie!

What We Listened To

Dana

Abandoned America hosted by Matthew Christopher
Ever since I was a kid and gawked at the old mills, train stations, and asylums that dotted my hometown and its environs, I’ve been fascinated by abandoned buildings. Knowing that, my husband sent me a link to this podcast, and I’ve been enjoying listening to the three-part episode on state hospitals. The hosts provide a brief history of how mental illness has been treated over the centuries, then discuss the role the hospitals played and why they’re now abandoned. As with most podcasts, I could do with a bit less of the random banter between the hosts, but the actual content has been fascinating. You can find this podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts. https://www.abandonedamerica.us/

Casey

Authentic: The Story of Tablo presented by Vice and iHeart Podcast Network
If you’re familiar with Korean hip hop group Epik High, you probably already know Tablo’s story, but this 10 part series from VICE and iHeart Podcast Network does an incredible job of detailing it from start to present. For those who aren’t familiar, Tablo was at the height of his career when an internet forum post accusing him of faking his college degrees went viral and sparked a truly wild conspiracy that changed his life. In the words of host Dexter Thomas Jr., “The entire story is this weird mix of hip-hop, fraud, and a QAnon-level conspiracy theory that ruined lives and put people in jail, because people didn’t believe a rapper who said he went to Stanford.” Even if you’ve never heard of Epik High, this podcast is worth a listen. And once you’re done with that, you can check out Epik High’s two most recent albums, Epik High Is Here 上 (Part 1) and Epik High Is Here 下 (Part 2 ). Most of their discography is on Spotify and a handful of albums are on Freegal. https://www.iheart.com/podcast/1119-authentic-the-story-of-ta-92746732/ 

Cathy

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown, read by the author
I’ve been a member of the Brené Brown fan club for over a decade now – this is the third book of hers I’ve read, and I’ve also watched her TED talk, Netflix special, and listen to her podcast. Because she’s a researcher, her books are based on data, and so I get a lot more out of them than I have from similar books by other authors I’ve tried to read. She mostly researches shame, vulnerability, and empathy, and what her findings have taught her about how human beings connect with one another. I mainly listen to her work on audio, because I love her simultaneously gentle and “no nonsense” way of communicating (she’s from Texas, which she talks about a lot). I loved this book and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say her body of work has changed my life for the better.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chang, read by Catherine Ho
In this novel, an overwhelmed woman leaves her baby alone for a few hours to get some time to herself, gets caught, and then is sent to a government reform school with other “bad” mothers, at the end of which a decision will be made as to whether she can retain custody of her child. For the first couple of hours of the audiobook, I felt invested in the story and enraged on her behalf. However, once she actually got to the school, I found the story started getting quite repetitive and reductive. Ultimately, I was disappointed!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, read by Carey Mulligan
This novel is about Nora, a 30-something woman for whom everything seems to be going wrong, and her discovery of the Midnight Library, a realm that exists between life and death which holds books that each carry an alternate life she could have lived, had she made different decisions. She has the opportunity to explore as many alternative lives as she wants, which affect how she perceives the life she wanted to leave behind. I didn’t think it was bad, necessarily, just definitely not for me. The second I feel a novelist is blatantly trying to teach me an Important Life Lesson, I kind of check out. It’s just not why I read fiction! The best thing about it for me was that Carey Mulligan narrated the audiobook, and did a great job.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, read by the author
This memoir by former child actress Jennette McCurdy, most known for her role in the Nickelodeon show iCarly, was a tough and heartbreaking read but also impossible to put down. It’s impactful, blunt, unapologetic, and dryly funny at times (I recommend it on audio – her narration is great). It’s a really big deal that Jennette McCurdy was able to write this. I think many readers will walk away with an appreciation for all the grueling work it took for her to get to a place that made naming and sharing her truth possible. I hope it helps other people with abusive parents, and I hope it leads to some much-needed discussion in the entertainment industry on the exploitation of child performers. Trigger warnings for child abuse and detailed discussion about several eating disorders.

Jen C

Strange Practice: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw, read by Suzannah Hampton

Grave Importance: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw, read by Suzannah Hampton

Louise

Stories From The Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana, read by the author and Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Nile Bullock, Dominic Hoffman, DePre Owens, André Santana, Bahni Turpin, and Jade Wheeler
I am listening to this book right now and it is really great. The narration is wonderful and the characters, who all live in the Banneker Homes, a low income high rise in Harlem, are all struggling to make their lives better. This book is definitely well written and worth the read.

Deb

The Switch by Beth O’Leary, read by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Alison Steadman 
Cute, light, fluffy.

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal Marie Fleming, read by Melanie Taylor
Most approachable anti-racism book I’ve read yet! 

Tessa

Kenobi: Star Wars Legends by John Jackson Miller, read by Jonathan Davis
If you like Star Wars and you were a fan of the Disney Obi-Wan Kenobi series, you will love this book. The audiobook is particularly well produced and features lightsaber, blaster, and other sound effects. The plots stands on its own and also adds another dimension to Obi-Wan’s character. Even though these earlier books are no longer considered cannon since Disney purchased Star Wars, nothing in the story contradicts the new material. I highly recommend this book.

What We Watched

Ashley

Our Flag Means Death created by David Jenkins
Streaming on HBO Max
If you are not watching this series about very gay pirates starring Taika Waititi, you do not know what your missing. 

The Lost City directed by Aaron and Adam Nee
Not the kind of movie I would see if Sandra Bullock wasn’t in it. That being said, I thought it was very funny. 

Love, Classified directed by Stacey N. Harding
Streaming on Hallmark Movies Now
If a cheesy Hallmark movie has a lesbian character, you bet I’m going to watch it. This was the least disappointing one so far, with a very sweet story. 

Cathy

The Dropout created by Elizabeth Meriwether
Streaming on Hulu
I had mixed feelings going into this one, but I ended up really enjoying it. Amanda Seyfried’s performance as Elizabeth Holmes was chilling!

Everything Everywhere All at Once directed by Daniels
I’m so glad I saw this movie in theaters. A truly special experience to have shared with a very responsive audience. Funny, delightful, and surprisingly moving. Michelle Yeoh was incredible!

Alice Júnior directed by Gil Baroni
Streaming on Netflix
A very fun and sparkly Brazilian teen movie with a trans main character who wants her first kiss. I thought this was adorable, and especially loved that Alice has such a loving and supportive father. I do have to include trigger warnings for some upsetting transphobia, but it never felt voyeuristic.

Turning Red directed by Domee Shi
Streaming on Disney+
I haven’t loved a Pixar movie this much in years! So fun and the ending genuinely surprised me in a great way. I’m definitely biased because I was a teenager in the early 2000s when this movie took place, and I thought it captured that time really well.

Torch Song Trilogy directed by Paul Bogart
I love watching older movies and I usually don’t include them here, but I had to make an exception for this one because it’s criminally underrated! This is a 1988 film about a gay man and drag queen wanting love in NYC in the 70s. It’s based on a collection of three plays by Harvey Fierstein, who also wrote and stars in this movie. He was dynamite in this, his character Arnold’s relationship with his mother (played by the wonderful Anne Bancroft) made me laugh and also sob, and this is now my favorite Matthew Broderick role. I’m so grateful it’s available on DVD through the Minuteman Library Network, as it’s now one of my all-time favorite queer movies.

Petite Maman directed by Céline Sciamma
Céline Sciamma’s latest film has cemented her place as one of my all-time favorite directors. I can’t adequately describe how moving I found this! If you’ve enjoyed her previous work, please check out this beautiful film about mother-daughter relationships, grief, and childhood. It was pure magic.

A League of their Own created by Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson
Streaming on Amazon Prime
This TV adaptation of the beloved 90s movie took a couple of episodes to get into a nice groove, but after that I thought it was a lot of fun. So much careful thought went into the changes they made from the original, and for the most part, they really nailed it. I particularly loved how they adapted iconic moments from the movie (such as the “There’s no crying in baseball!” line) in ways that made sense for the new version, but still paid homage to the original. Also, and best of all, this version is not subtle about its queer content! Episode 6 in particular was beautifully done, and Rosie O’Donnell’s brief cameo made me tear up.

Bodies Bodies Bodies directed by Halina Reijn
I have a bone to pick with movie trailers, because I feel they often make movies look terrible, particularly comedies. This was so fun!

Louise

Judy: The Movie directed by Rupert Goold
Streaming on Kanopy
This is a great film starring Renee Zellweger as Judy. This film documents the last year of her life. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn directed by Elia Kazan
I read the Betty Smith novel “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” many years ago and absolutely loved the story of Francie Nolan, her lovable but alcoholic father Johnny, her brother Neely and her hard working mother Katy. The movie features Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, Johnny Dunn and is a really lovely thing to watch. Highly recommended.

Staff Reads April 2022

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Deb

  • Last Seen Alive by Joanna Schaffhausen: 5th in the Ellery Hathaway series. Fun familiar thriller/mystery written by a local Waltham author!
  • Where Madness Lies by Sylvia True: Fictionalized version of the author’s family history from pre-WWII Germany to present day Belmont MA. This was ok. It was interesting, but sortof one-note pace-wise… even the dramatic parts were written just matter-of-factly.
  • This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson: There are a lot of questions answered for people questioning or coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity, or parents/caregivers or curious allies. There is a clear message to use condoms. There is a very mild glancing reference to consent; this message should be louder, in my opinion. I recommend reading the print edition; the narrator of the audiobook was pretty awful… had. a. speech. cadence. like. a. robot.
  • Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs: #2 in the Bella Vista Chronicles. Part Historical-fiction, part chick-lit, this second novel in a series is mostly set in California on the Apple Orchard of an old man whose background during WWII in Denmark is further revealed.

Debora

  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: Very rarely has a character stayed with me like this one; I can’t stop thinking about him. Piranesi is an odd guy, but his naivete and loving nature are also incredibly endearing. He lives in a bizarre world – the House – made up of many marble rooms filled with outsize statues depicting all manner of life, together with ocean tides that Piranesi tracks. There is one other person who lives in the world – the Other. Piranesi and the Other meet twice a week, for one hour each. The Other is dressed very nattily and carries a slim silver object, which he occasionally taps. Piranesi is in rags and shoeless. The heart of the story is Piranesi and his boundless empathy and curiosity for his world and the birds that he shares it with. His rapture at the world around him, his scientific endeavors to explore it, and his daily chores to both stay alive and honor the human bones that he tends, are wonderfully told. This is also a mystery and page turner; you won’t want to put it down.
  • The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali: This was a well told story about teenage lovers in 1953 Tehran who meet in a stationery shop. Bahman is high energy and full of hope for political change. Roya is quiet and bookish and becomes thoroughly entranced by her beau. But it’s clear from the start of the book that Roya marries an American named Walter and as the story unfolds, you learn why.
  • In Search of a Name by Marjolin Van Heemstra: Pregnant Marjolin needs a name for her soon to be born son. She wants to name him after her great uncle, who, family legend says, was a hero of the resistance in WWII Amsterdam. Marjolin’s partner, D, challenges her to find out more about the man and his story and that is the structure of the novel. Her search continues as her belly grows and she must navigate all sorts of obstacles. Both the first and last name of the main character match the author’s, but it’s never made clear how much of this story is nonfiction. This was a very quick read.

Louise:

  • Girl On The Couch:  Life Love And Confessions Of A Normal Neurotic by Lorna Martin: This book is not available in our network but can be requested via Commonwealth Catalog.  This book is a very entertaining look at Lorna Martin’s time spent in analytic psychotherapy.  Ms. Martin comes to terms with some of her insecurities and repressed emotions.  She talks about her career in journalism, her loves and losses, Ms. Martin has a great sense of humor and some of the scenes with her very staid therapist are quite funny.  She faces some of her jealousies and fears and realizes that, even though she has a very loving family, it never hurts, in fact it helps, to come to terms with what is really going on beneath the surface.
    Ms. Martin lives in Glasgow, Scotland and there are lots of fun descriptions of the pubs she visits with her girlfriends and the landscape of her city.  Some of her journalistic romps are described in detail and we see her grow and mature during the course of the book.  A fun read!
  • The Best Short Stories:  the O. Henry Prize Winners 2021: This collection, edited by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichi, contains one fabulous short story after another.  Adichi has selected an amazing group of stories by a wide range of talented writers.  She has written the introduction to this volume.  Well worth the read. The stories are diverse and very satisfying.
    Some of the stories are told by a collective group, while others include very well developed characters.  I was particularly moved by the story of a woman in India who moves to a retirement community and mourns the infrequent contact with her daughter and granddaughter who have moved to the states.
  • Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong: This unique and beautifully written book contains three novellas featuring strong, black females with albinism.  We meet Suzette, Maple and Agnes.  They all hail from Shreveport, Louisiana.  Suzette has led a very sheltered life, a bit too sheltered due to a traumatic incident in her childhood.  She is getting ready to create an identity for herself as an adult and break free from her overprotective parents.  Maple is faced with the death of her mother; the closest and most significant relationship of her life.  She meets a man named Chad who is dealing with the loss of his daughter’s mother.  Her relationship with Chad helps her to overcome her own grief.   Agnes has been working for low wages despite her high level of education and treated poorly by her live-in boyfriend for too long.  She returns home and comes face to face with the childhood issues and the feeling of being less than that she has suffered for too long.
    Destiny Birdsong is a writer to follow.  I heartily recommend this absorbing book.  The deft use of language, the sense of place, and the strong female characters all make this a worthwhile read.
  • Helping Me Help Myself:  One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, And A Year On The Brink Of The Comfort Zone by Beth Lisick: This book is a hoot.  If you are looking for a laugh, read this one.  Beth Lisick, a writer, decides to check out some of the famous self-help gurus.  The Richard Simmons cruise alone is worth the read.  She is very funny when describing her life, her disorganized house, the seminars that she attends, all of it.  Great if you need a light entertaining read and if you have read some of the self-help gurus yourself.

Ashley:

  • The Swallowtail Legacy: Wreck at Ada’s Reef by Michael D Beil: This middle grade mystery definitely reads like Nancy Drew written by Ashley Herring Blake, two things I like a lot. It was a fun mystery in the tradition of Nancy Drew, with a lot of heart, and well written characters.
  • The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers on Disney Plus: This tv show is the Mighty Ducks for a new generation and it is absolutely adorable.
  • Killing Eve Season 4: One of my favorite shows
  • Scream 2022: As Scream and Scream 2 are two of my very favorite movies, I was incredibly excited when I found out that there would be a 4th film coming out this year. While I enjoyed it, I honestly wish there had been more screen time for the original cast. One of the best things about these films is the mystery around who the killer is, and i think they did a great job with this one.
  • The Deepest of Secrets by Kelley Armstrong: I was glad that this series hadn’t ended with the previous book, however, a lot of this particular book felt like repetitive filler. I don’t want these stories to end, but I wish that they were more on par with the first couple books.

Cathy

  • Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry: I’m glad I read this because Lorraine Hansberry was fascinating, but I had some of the same issues I have with many biographies (I don’t like when the author makes assumptions about how the person they’re writing about was feeling about different events in their life). I also don’t think it was written in a particularly compelling way. But I’m glad it exists, and I did enjoy learning more about the influence she had on American theatre (her play A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway), her politics and activism, and I especially loved reading about her friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone.
  • Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King: I picked this short story collection up after loving Lily King’s novel Writers & Lovers a couple of years ago, and it has solidified her as one of my favorite contemporary authors. I just find her “slice of life” storytelling so moving. My favorite short story, “When in Dordogne,” is about a teenage boy left in the care of two house sitting college students while his parents go to France for eight weeks, and how being cared for by them in small ways changes him forever. I didn’t give the book five stars, because some of the stories weren’t as great, but the ones that were really dazzled me and I’d still highly recommend the collection overall.
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: This is a novel told in two alternating perspectives – one is the journal of sixteen-year-old Naoko in Japan, who’s dealing with bullying in school and a suicidal father. The other is Ruth (a fictionalized version of Ruth Ozeki – I love when authors do this!), who lives on a remote island in Canada and finds and becomes obsessed with Naoko’s journal when it washes up from the sea. Both narrators were great – Naoko is one of the best and funniest narrators I’ve encountered in a while, even though what she was writing about was often so dark and upsetting. And I loved reading about Ruth’s isolated home – I felt the island was as much of a character as Ruth herself. Although some magical realism elements didn’t totally work for me, I really enjoyed this reading experience overall.
  • Sheets by Brenna Thummler: Sweet middle grade graphic novel about a thirteen-year-old girl tasked with running her family’s laundromat after her mother dies, who befriends a lonely ghost. Enjoyed this one a lot more for the artwork than the story itself – it’s beautifully illustrated in dreamy pinks, blues, and purples, and the drawings were lovely to get lost in for a while.
  • The Most of It by Mary Ruefle: The book description says this is poet Mary Ruefle’s first book of prose, but it felt more like a combination of prose and poetry. It’s 92 pages of little vignettes on the most random topics – there’s one piece about craving a glass of water, another about the significance of her argument with her husband about whether or not to buy a bench for their yard, and another that’s a series of diary entries on her observations of birds. Recommend to fans of whimsy!
  • For All Mankind (on Apple TV+): If you can make it past the somewhat dull first two episodes, you will be richly rewarded because the rest of the series is SO GOOD.  I haven’t been this obsessed with a show in years, and “drama about astronauts in outer space” is usually not my genre!
  • The Gilded Age (on HBO Max):  I have learned that if a show features two middle aged aunts who have completely opposite personalities, there’s a 99% chance I will love it. This show is not brilliant by any stretch of the imagination (it’s pretty much a carbon copy of Downton Abbey but set in NYC), but I’m having the best time. (For those who already watch this or watched Downton Abbey, I also recommend the hilarious McSweeney’s piece “Every Episode of a Television Show written by Julian Fellowes” by Shannon Reed.)

Laura

  • The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey: The first in a series about Perveen Mistry, a woman who joins her father’s law firm in 1920’s India. In this book, she becomes suspicious and caught up in a murder when the widows of one of her clients decide to give their inheritances to charity. I’m looking forward to getting further into this book with a strong sense of place and time as well as intriguing characters and mystery.
  • A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole: Naledi Smith assumes the e-mails she receives about being the betrothed to Prince Thabiso of Thesolo, are nothing but spam and chooses to ignore them. It turns out they’re anything but and Prince Thabiso travels to the United States to find his intended (and pretend to be a commoner). There are a lot of romance tropes in this novel and they all work! (Tropes aren’t a bad thing if they’re done well.) I love that this novel is built off the idea that annoying spam e-mails may actually be real. (PSA: They never are, so while you should enjoy this novel, please don’t start giving money to princes who send you e-mails.)
  • The 1619 Project Created by Nikole Hannah-Jones: Book version of the Pulitzer Prize winning series in The New York Times Magazine featuring essays about how the first ships in 1619 arriving in the American colonies with kidnapped and enslaved people from Africa shapes our nation’s history even today.
  • Eloise in Moscow by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight: I revisited this 1959 picture book for the first time since its re-release in 1999. A sequel to my favorite picture book, Eloise, the title character visits Moscow with her “Nanny” and her dog, Weenie (Skiperdee, her turtle, doesn’t feel well and flies home, as turtles are wont to do.) This book is definitely a product of its time could be an interesting look/read as a piece of history for those interested in mid-20th century history of the evolution of children’s literature, especially in the context of current events. There is definitely some Cold War propaganda having an influence on the text but the illustrations and some of the story are very detailed and descriptive of the city.  If I wanted to introduce a young reader to everyone’s favorite resident of the Plaza Hotel, however, I would probably just stick with the original Eloise.
  • Anxious Girls Do It Better: A Travel Guide for (Slightly Nervous) Girls on the Go by Bunny Banyai: I love to travel and I am also not a stranger to being (slightly) nervous, as this book’s subtitle says. I’m a sucker for travel guides aimed at women and this book grabbed my eye when I first saw it. This book has advice for every type of travel, coping strategies for any type of anxiety associated with travel. There is even an anxiety ratings system for various popular travel destinations. (Disney World in Florida, for example, has a low anxiety rating if you visit in the morning on a weekday in the off season. However, it scores the highest anxiety rating if you travel on weekends during peak season.) A helpful and fun guide. I can’t wait to use it.
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson: I have confession as someone who was an English major in college. I was not a fan of Emily Dickinson (turns in English major card.) I’m embarrassed to admit that all I had remembered about her is that a college friend taught me the trick that most of her poems can be sung to the tune of the theme from Gilligan’s Island. (This absolutely works, by the way.) However, I have recently come to re-visit and appreciate authors and poets that I dismissed when I was younger and Emily Dickinson is not an exception. Her life was fascinating and I realize that my dismissal of her beautiful poetry was silly and immature and am really glad that I’ve decided to give it another chance. (I fully admit that I still read her poetry with the tune of Gilligan’s Island in my head.)
  • Bridgerton, Season 2The Viscount Who Loved Me, the book for which the current season has been based, was my favorite of the Bridgerton book series by Julia Quinn and I was very excited for this new season. It did not disappoint. The show runners changed quite a bit from the book and most of it was for the better. I know the show is not historically accurate (including the clothes) and I couldn’t care less. Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley (a supporting actor on Sex Education, another great Netflix show) sizzle with chemistry as Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma this season. I’ve already watched the season twice and am not ashamed to admit that I may watch a third time. It is pure escapism.
  • Derry Girls: This is actually a re-watch for me. (I’m pretty sure I wrote about it in a previous “Staff Reads”). I’m re-watching in anticipation of the upcoming third season as well as to appreciate the range of Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan whose Clare Devlin is my favorite character.

Staff Reads March 2022

 

 

 

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Kelly

  • Going There by Katie Couric: I would love other people to read this and tell me what they think. I don’t watch morning TV, so while I know who Katie Couric is, I wasn’t too vested in her story. I picked this up randomly, and I ended up having strong feelings (and learning that I was NOT pronouncing her last name correctly. It’s “kerr-ic” not “core-ic”.) On one hand, it’s her life story and it’s not fair for me to judge her. Some parts were interesting and some parts were really moving and honest. Overall, I thought Katie needed a better editor and timing for this book. Her opinions and the celebrity excess she shares didn’t resonate with me.
  • The Family Firm: A Data Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years by Emily Oster: I loved this book. I think it speaks to the hyper-organized librarian side of me and the parent side of me as we navigate kindergarten for the first time this year. It’s a how-to guide in some ways, but also a great read about data and what we think we know about childhood. 
  • Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell: This is an amazing book all about the idea of cults and how they work, both the dangerous (TW: suicide) and the more beneficial (Cross Fit). It’s super fascinating and engaging. It’s well written and reads easily, considering the topic. 
  • Pig the Stinker by Aaron Blabey and The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak: My kids (3 and 6) laughed and laughed at these books. We read them so many times, our whole family has them memorized and quotes them regularly. 

Dana

Debora

  • The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake: Main character, Nora Beady, was raised by a surgeon in early 1800s London after her parents died. Dr. Horace Croft teaches her everything he knows about medicine. There’s one hitch: King Henry VIII has banned women from the field. Nora’s secret is blown when a surgical resident, Daniel Gibson, joins the clinic. The plot thickens when Nora makes a new medical discovery and her life, as well as the careers of the doctors around her are imperiled. Yes, there’s a love story here, but the overriding message is one of a woman striving to function autonomously and pursuing her goals. Great historical fiction read
  • White Bird by R.J. Palacio: This is a graphic novel and a very quick read. Set in WWII (my go to!), it tells the story of young Sara, a Jewish girl who is hidden in a family’s barn during the Nazi occupation of France. Sara becomes friends with the family’s son, Julian, a boy she once shunned in her classroom. The story is sweet, poignant, and at times, terrifying. Beautiful graphics. Highly recommend. 
  • Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson: I’ve read a lot of WWII fiction, but never a book written by a Black author about Black characters. Grace Steele and Eliza Jones are two young Black women who join the segregated Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) to serve their country. In addition to the usual hassles of army life, they must also deal with racism. They and their colleagues work hard to create the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion to sort mountains (literally, a plane hanger full) of undelivered mail, often addressed to first names only. The novel is based on the only all-Black, female U.S. battalion to be deployed overseas during World War II. Fantastic read
  • Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris: This is a best selling WWII novel, but it took me a while to decide to read it. I’m glad I did. At its heart, it’s a love story between the eponymous title character, Lale, and another prisoner Gita. Based on a true story, it’s compelling and brutal, vivid and terrifying. Thoroughly engrossing story. 
  • Kew Gardens Girls by Posy Lovell: Based in London during WWI, this tells the story of the women who were hired to work at Kew Gardens, after the male staff went off to war. The novel creates a believable world centered on Louisa and Ivy, each with their own important back stories and personalities. Sexism, suffragettes, illiteracy, domestic violence, out of wedlock pregnancy, and conscientious objection all play their part to create a lovely story. 
  • Extraordinary Times, volumes 1 & 2 by Maria Photinakis: I read these two slim works because we hosted the author, Waltham resident Maria Photinakis. What an absolute treat. Maria drew comics and wrote a running commentary to create a narrative of her time during the pandemic, at home with her husband and a young child. Volume I takes you back to the early days of the pandemic when we were afraid to leave our homes and volume 2 captures the feeling of our first, vaccinated, tentative steps back into the world. I can’t recommend these highly enough – I hope everyone reads them!
  • Conjure Women by Afia Atakora: I read this because we hosted the author for a talk on Wednesday, March 9 and ended up just loving it. Atakora’s most compelling character, Rue, is both complex and fascinating. The story goes back and forth in time between the pre and post-Civil War South with Rue, Rue’s mother, May Belle, and the master’s daughter, Varina, the main characters. Read it for its epic scope and realistic portrayal of what life was like for people enslaved on plantations.
  • Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community by Vanessa Holden: We hosted this author as part of our A Year of Black History series and our speaker was very compelling. Using mostly court records and first person narratives, Holden describes the community of women and children who aided Nat Turner’s rebellion. The video will be deleted at the end of March. 
  • We Share the Same Sky by Rachael Cerrotti: We’re hosting this author (and podcaster!) on Wednesday, March 16. Her book tells an amazing story, both of her grandmother’s escape from the Nazis and her own journey of love. 
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: A retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women whose lives were greatly disrupted, this was a fantastic read. It tells the story of several women of Troy, including the often hilarious goddesses who started the whole war. Highly recommend. 
  • The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd: This was a random choice and it did not disappoint. It tells the story of Ana, the (likely) fictional wife of Jesus. Ana is an intelligent, often defiant daughter who marries the man she loves, Jesus, instead of the man her parents choose for her. She’s drawn to his bold ideas and spiritual bent. As a writer, she yearns to have her stories documented and remembered. The prose is lyrical and inviting, the story compelling at every turn. 

Ashley

  • The Girls Are Never Gone by Sarah Glenn Marsh: I like a creepy gothic haunting, but this was a little slow for me. The main character also kept jumping to conclusions, which I found annoying. 
  • Still Stace: My Gay Christian Coming-of-Age Story by Stacey Chomiak: This was intensely relatable to me as a lesbian who grew up in a fundamentalist christian household in the nineties. Every detail was like my life. It’s beautifully written and illustrated, and I related hard. 
  • Candidly Cline by Kathryn Ormsbee: This was an incredibly moving middle grade novel about a queer 13 year old girl who just wants to attend a young singer songwrite clss, but her single mom can’t afford it. 
  • The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke: An interesting mystery, but I was a little disappointed by the science fiction twist at the end. 
  • The Girl in the Woods on Paramount +: You can definitely tell that this show was inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (one of my favorites!) I like horror, not much scares me, but this show hit my creepy buttons. There was one episode I had to keep pausing. It has a great diverse cast, and an interesting plot. 
  • Single All the Way on Netflix: I love a cheesy Christmas movie. Thanks Hallmark! And now we’re finally getting the diverse stories we deserve, like this cute gay one. 
  • Under the Christmas Tree on Lifetime: A real lesbian “Hallmark” style Christmas movie!

Aaron

  • Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit: Solnit is one of my favorite authors (her The Faraway Nearby is in my personal pantheon) and an essential essayist for these times. In this book, she takes as starting point the fact that George Orwell (the author) planted roses in his garden. Solnit then investigates what it means to nourish small beauty against the backdrop of unjust, violent history, examining both the times Orwell lived in and her/our own. This is a book for artists, gardeners, parents, activists, environmentalists, or anyone else who creates space in this chaotic, dark world for love and unnecessary beauty.
  • Dopesick (Hulu) – A compelling, character-driven look at some of the lives affected by Oxycontin and an overview of how the Sackler family/Purdue pharma knowingly seeded our current crisis. It’s always nice to see Michael Keaton on screen, and I was moved by the arc of a religious Appalachian family whose daughter is injured in the mines and life spirals when she becomes addicted. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Richard Sackler as a kind of Fredo Corleone but with Vito’s voice. 
  • Encanto (Disney+) and soundtrack (Hoopla): A family story with deep emotional intelligence and the kind of meticulous attention to cultural details now commonplace in animated/childrens’ filmmaking. Of course, we love the music. Now if we could just get it out of our heads. 
  • The Edge of Sports podcast with Dave Zirin (from The Nation magazine) – A weekly podcast at “the intersection of sports and politics.” I don’t listen every week, but when Dave Zirin is hitting on all cylinders, he really nails why sports can provide a unique lens into our societal inequities and be a platform for hope, for setting our collective sights higher. Recent episodes have included his takes on Barry Bonds’ exclusion from the Hall of Fame and the lawsuit brought by Brian Flores. Dave mercilessly targets hypocrisy and susses out the core of issues with language that’s a lot of fun–and doesn’t pull any punches.

Deb

  • Gone for Good by Joanna Schaffhausen: This is the first in the Annalisa Vega series by this local Waltham author with whom I went to school. There’s a second in this series due out later this year. It’s so very cool to know a successful author of books I like to read! This series takes place in Chicago and is good crime/detective/mystery/thriller-type stuff.
  • Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting written and narrated by Lisa Genova: This nonfiction is about the science of remembering, why we forget and a few strategies for keeping it together by the author of Still Alice
  • The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs: Part Historical-fiction, part chick-lit, this first novel in a series is mostly set in California on the Apple Orchard of an old man whose background during WWII in Denmark is revealed.
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and narrated by Steven Crossley: This is a quirky, humorous adventure story, with a dash of history mixed in, set in Sweden and very similar to A Man Called Ove by Frederik Bachman. If you liked Ove, I think you’ll like Allan Karlsson as well.
  • How To Stop Time by Matt Haig and narrated by Mark Meadows: This almost-historical-fiction meets time-travel physics novel has many elements in common with The Midnight Library also by Matt Haig. The story is good (not as great as Midnight library, but good). There’s an annoying character that makes you  wonder ”Who made you the boss of the world?!?”
  • In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn: This is a really interesting study in human nature. When a crisis happens, do you look out for others or do you look out for yourself? Told from the perspective of the 16-yo girl who dies in the crisis (not a spoiler… it’s the whole premise of the book) her omniscient perspective is unique. Really enjoyable! My colleague, Dana, listed it as a Favorite of 2021 (See the previous Staff Reads blog post) and she hasn’t steered me wrong before!
  • I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver Narrated by M.W. Wilson: Non-binary coming-of-age story. Likable characters stumbling through high school. Pretty similar to Felix Ever After.
  • The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed and narrated by Kiersey Clemons: Teen fiction centered around a HS girl from LA during the Rodney King riots. Good story. Good characters. Dialog seemed a little contemporary for 1992, but overall, quite enjoyable. Too bad we’re still having many of the issues brought up.
  • The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel and narrated by Robin Eller, Lisa Flanagan, Madeleine Maby: Historical fiction about a vineyard in France during WWII. I struggle with dishonesty from characters in the books I read. I always feel that everyone would have a much easier time if they weren’t keeping secrets, even though I realize this makes for a less-interesting plot. This is true of this story even though I enjoyed it. There were 2 characters that frustrated me a bit and by the end it became clear why!
  • The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary and narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune: Really fun British chick-lit. There were 2 narrators: one that voiced the female character and one that voiced the male side of the story. Love the 2 different voices… Leon’s speech cadence and total lack of using any pronouns and articles was so amusing!
  • Dear Justyce by Nic Stone and narrated by Dion Graham: Second in a series after Dear Martin, this is a bit of a spinoff of a character from the first book. Incarcerated teen Quan is telling his tale through letters and flashbacks to Justyce, the main character of Dear Martin.  This would appeal to readers of Jason Reynolds or Angie Thomas.
  • A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi and narrated by Priya Ayyar: Set one year after 9/11, this follows 16 year-old Muslim girl through high school where she tries to shake off stereotypes. Part coming-of-age story and part historical fiction. More likable characters stumbling through high school with some interesting perspectives shared.

Cathy

  • There Should Be Flowers by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza: This is a beautiful, heartbreaking poetry collection. I read a bunch of these poems over and over. Content warnings for transphobia and depression.
  • American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld: I thought this was a really engaging, well-written novel but I also often felt squeamish reading fiction that borrows so heavily from the life of a real person who is still around (this book is inspired by former First Lady Laura Bush), especially because there are a few specific and undoubtedly traumatizing events from her life that were fictionalized. I possibly would have put it down if I’d read a physical copy instead of listening to the audiobook (Kimberly Farr was a great narrator! So great in fact that it probably added to my discomfort because I kept having to remind myself that this was a novel and not a memoir!).
  • A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll: I adored this one! This middle-grade novel is about eleven-year-old Addie who is singled out by her teacher and classmates because she’s autistic. A lot of the novel explores what that means for her and the way she processes her thoughts and emotions. When she learns about witch trials that happened in her Scottish village, she begins a campaign to install a memorial that attones for what was done to them. This is a sensitive, empowering novel that I recommend to everyone! Also, McNicoll is a neurodivergent author, and it was evident that she was drawing from real-life expertise, which made it that much more of an enriching reading experience. I learned a lot from Addie and I can’t wait to read everything else McNicoll writes.
  • Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig: This was a phenomenal memoir in essays in which Taussig shares what it’s been like for her to navigate society in a wheelchair. The essays cover a variety of topics, including ableism and accessibility, dating and relationships, portrayals of disability in the media, and her experiences teaching about disability to young people. It was so articulate, educational, and accessible. I also loved how much she emphasized that increasing accessibility has the potential to make life easier, in large and small ways, for everyone, not just people with disabilities (for example, she poses the question: What opportunities for play and creative expression would open up for *all* children if we made playgrounds more accessible to kids with disabilities?) It’s such a refreshing and necessary framework. I really hope more people pick this one up.
  • The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw: Deesha Philyaw did so much in such a brief short story collection. Every sentence felt like it needed to be there. These stories, which are all about the inner lives of Black women of various ages who have some connection to the church, are complex and nuanced. Pretty much all of the women live in a state of moral ambiguity as they pursue their desires and navigate relationships, which I loved. I also highly recommend the audiobook – I’m really impressed by Janina Edwards’ ability to bring all of the characters to life in such distinct ways. 
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich: This novel is about a thirteen-year-old boy named Joe and his attempts to seek justice after his mother is sexually assaulted in their Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It’s a powerful story that brings to light the horrifying statistics of violence against indigenous women in the United States, as well as the seemingly endless legal challenges faced by those trying to seek justice while living on reservations, due to disputes over sovereignty and jurisdiction. But it’s also a story of teen boys being teen boys through it all. One of my favorite things in fiction is when an author really captures what it’s like to be a kid, and I really think Erdrich knocked it out of the park, which is so rare. The feelings Joe expresses, often but not always pertaining to the big issues he’s dealing with, instantly brought me back to what it felt like to be 13 and made the overall reading experience so impactful. This was a 5-star read!
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: VERY quick listen on audio (not even 2 hours if I remember correctly?) that packs a punch. It’s a young adult novel in verse about a teen boy who’s on his way to kill the guy he thinks shot and killed his older brother. The whole novel takes place in the 60 seconds he’s on the elevator, during which he encounters a different person from his past on each floor. I love that Jason Reynolds narrates the audiobook himself. This was my first time reading one of his books and not my last!
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi: This novel follows a neuroscience graduate student named Gifty as she conducts lab experiments while her mother, who has depression, stays with her. It’s a novel about grief, as Gifty’s brother died of a heroin overdose when she was a child. This tragedy largely influenced her life path – she is obsessed with what causes addiction and how her line of work could potentially help people suffering. It’s also so much about Gifty’s reckoning with her religious upbringing, and how that clashes with (or is sometimes in unexpected and harmonious conversation with) the scientific part of her mind. This book deeply resonated with me for many reasons, and I ended up loving it more than her first novel, Homegoing (which is also great!).
  • Station Eleven (Show): Warning that this show starts with a virus killing 99.9% of civilization (the first episode is the toughest!). I totally understand why someone would want to avoid pandemic content right now, but honestly for me, watching a show about a group of people surviving a worst case scenario, accepting their new normal, and making something beautiful out of it was so comforting. One of the most moving tv watching experiences I’ve had in years. I sobbed during the final episode! 
  • Hacks (TV Show): I loved Jean Smart in Mare of Easttown, so I had to watch her in Hacks next. This show is about a Gen Z comedy writer and a legendary standup comedian (somewhat reminiscent of Joan Rivers?) whose life circumstances force them to work together. It was great.
  • Abbott Elementary: Funniest show on TV right now! It makes me so happy. Quinta Brunson is a genius and the cast has no weak links. I want 20 more seasons, please.

Louise

Laura

  • The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris: Compelling psychology thriller set against the backdrop of the publishing industry. Nella is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner publishing and is happy to bond with Hazel, when she’s finally hired. However, when Nella starts to become suspicious and receives anonymous threatening notes, things start to unravel.
  • If You Ask Me by Betty White, read by the author: Series of short vignettes and words of wisdom from the late Golden Girl. It was nice to hear White’s voice so soon after her death.
  • Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson: Beautiful family story about estranged siblings, Byron and Benny, their late mother’s traditional Caribbean Black Cake, and a parallel story about a woman leaving behind a potential abusive marriage and a murder charge. 
  • All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business by Mel Brooks, read by the author: Mel Brooks! The Memoir! (disappointingly not The Lunchbox!) Fun romp through Mel Brooks’s life and career. I loved hearing him talk about how the original The Producers came about, as it’s one of my favorite movies. Some complimentary words about some members of Hollywood who were later revealed to be problematic are a little hard to take in some places.
  • A Lot like Adiós by Alexis Daria: Steamy romance taking place in the same universe as You Had Me at Hola. I loved the fact that the two main characters first bond as teenagers, writing fan fiction for a fictional science fiction television show.
  • Rita Moreno: A Memoir by Rita Moreno, read by the author: Rita can do no wrong, in my eyes. I loved listening to this honest and, at times, heartbreaking memoir. It’s distressing to hear how she was treated in Hollywood as one of the few Latin-American actors. No flaws in this book, except for the fact it’s from 2011, so nothing about the recent West Side Story or the reboot of One Day at a Time.
  • A Lowcountry Bride by Preslaysa Williams: Lovely romance that takes place amongst the backdrop and aftermath of the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Despite the sad setup, this is a loving and heartwarming family story full of hope.
  • A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll: Addie, who is on the Autism spectrum, finds herself relating to the story of witch trials in her small Scottish town, knowing all too well about being persecuted for who she is and what others may not understand. I loved this middle grade novel and thought it did such a wonderful job at treating the topic with respect and sensitivity. 
  • West Side Story (2021)I loved this remake! I’m a big fan of West Side Story, in general, but know that it’s not without faults, especially the 1961 film. This remake does a lot to correct them, including hiring actors who are Latinx to play the members of the Sharks and their friends and family. It was also refreshing listening to actual singers and Broadway talent singing and performing. (I want Bernardo’s David Alvarez and Riff’s Mike Faist to work on another musical together. Ariana DeBose as Anita was perfect). And Rita Moreno (aka 1961’s “Anita”) as new character, Valentina (the widow of the original show and movie’s “Doc”) brings a gravitas to the film. 
  • Spiderman: No Way Home: I had a good time with this third installment in the MCU Spiderman series. This was fan service done right. (I’m looking at you, Ghostbusters: Afterlife)
  • Abbott Elementary: I love this show about an elementary school in Philadelphia, created by and starring Quinta Brunson as an idealistic second grader teacher. This is one of the few times that I think the mockumentary sitcom style works well.
  • The Gilded Age: I really really want to like this show. The majority of the cast is from the Broadway/musical world (Audra McDonald, Nathan Lane, Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Denée Benton, Kelli O’Hara, Carrie Coon, just to name a few) and the acting is very good but it just isn’t working for me. The character development in the writing is pretty one dimensional (IE, Cynthia Nixon plays a character whose one trait is that she’s “sweet”. She’s a good actress so it’s not a reflection of her.) The scenery is pretty so I’m sticking with it, for now.
  • The Book of Boba FettTemuera Morrison is a very good actor and does the best he can with the most overrated character in Star Wars. (Laura quickly runs and hides from die hard Star Wars fans.) This show didn’t do anything for me, until it suddenly turned into The Mandalorian Season 2.5 (Spoiler alert, I guess.)

WPL Staff Favorites in 2021

In 2021, the staff of the Waltham Public Library enjoyed a lot of books, movies, television, music, and podcasts! Here is what we enjoyed this past year.

Books | Movies | TV Shows | Podcasts | Music

Favorite Books

Dana

Kelly

Amber

Claire

Ashley

Louise

Cathy

Tessa

Emily

Molly

Janet

Seana

Deb

Victoria

Aaron

Greg

Laura

Lauren Jo

 

Favorite Movies

Luke

Kelly

Amber

Claire

Ashley

  • Unpregnant

Louise

Cathy

Tessa

  • Dune (2021)

Molly

Janet

Seana

Victoria

Aaron

Greg

Laura

Lauren Jo

Favorite TV Shows

Dana

Luke

Kelly

Amber

Ashley

  • The Girl in the Woods
  • Midnight Mass
  • We’re Here
  • Mare of Easttown

Louise

Cathy

Tessa

Emily

Molly

Janet

Seana

  • Only Murders in the Building

Victoria

Aaron

  • Ted Lasso

Greg

Laura

Lauren Jo

 

Favorite Podcasts

Dana

Luke

Kelly

Amber

Ashley

Louise

Cathy

Tessa

Emily

Molly

Janet

Seana

Victoria

Aaron

Greg

Laura

Lauren Jo

 

Favorite Music

Search for music through our subscriptions to Freegal or Hoopla. Search Music CDs through the Minuteman Library Network catalog or app. 

Dana

  • Wild Dreams by Westlife
  • Spectrum by Westlife

Luke

  • Dry Cleaning
  • Do Nothings
  • Spirit of the Beehive

Kelly

  • Dua Lipa
  • A least favorite! The new Adele song

Amber

  • Olivia Rodrigo

Ashley

  • Pony and Show Pony by Orville Peck
  • Look Long by The Indigo Girls

Tessa

  • Ashlynn by Ashe

Molly

  • Leave the Bones by Lakou Mizik

Janet

  • Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Aaron

  • My toddler singing

Laura

  • Hadestown (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Hoopla Movies Filmed in Massachusetts

Did you know we have hundreds of movies available for you to stream on your phone, computer, or smart TV? Here is a small sample of movies — all filmed in Massachusetts! To get started, visit hoopladigital.com and follow the prompts. Please note that this service is available to Waltham residents.

Christmas on Ice
Filmed in Shrewsbury and Worcester

Christmas a la Mode
Filmed in Sutton and Worcester

A Snow White Christmas
Filmed in Ayer, Bolton, Groton, Shirley, and Sudbury

Long Lost Daughter
Filmed in Ayer, Devens, and Groton

Beach House
Filmed in Truro and Wellfleet

The Spruces and the Pines
Filmed in Ayer, Bolton, Stow, and Townsend

How to Train Your Husband
Filmed in Boston and Quincy

The House Sitter
Filmed in Easton and Sharon

The March Sisters at Christmas
Filmed in Grafton and Worcester

The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot
Filmed in Gill, Greenfield, Lenox, Montague, and Sunderland

A Quiet Passion
Filmed in Amherst and Hadley

Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket
Filmed in Nantucket

Chimera Strain
Filmed in Fitchburg and Gardner

The Spirit of Christmas
Filmed in Barre, Westwood, Worcester, and Wrentham

posted by Janet

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