Staff Reads — February 2019

Book Projector Treble Clef

Subscribe to Staff Reads and other book newsletters.


  • A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs: I love, love, loved the first book in the series of which this is the fourth installment – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Books two and three, not so much. In my opinion, the mix of prose and creepy old photographs worked well in the first one, but didn’t hold up as the series went on; it felt more forced. However, that didn’t stop me from getting excited when I spotted this one on the shelf – I didn’t know more were being written! My excitement didn’t last long. I nearly abandoned ship several times, then felt rewarded when – around page 250 – it finally started to get good. But that didn’t really last either, as the story took a really weird turn. I regret a little that I wasted time reading 500 pages of “meh” when I could have been reading something else.
  • Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman: I read Bringing Up Bebe way back in my halcyon days before I was a parent, and thought it was brilliant. I thought I’d follow the book’s parenting advice to the letter and raise a perfectly well behaved child, just like Druckerman said all French kids were. Then I actually became a parent and learned that raising a child isn’t quite so easy as Druckerman made it sound. I soon realized that parenting books aren’t the be-all and end-all to the parenting gig! That said, when I spotted this book in the stacks I was quick to nab it. It’s sort of a Cliffs Notes version of Bringing Up Bebe. Be-all and end-all it may not be, but hey, I’ll take any hints I can get!
  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han: I put this book – the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before– on hold after watching the Netflix movie adaptation of the first book, and it finally came in this month. Even though it had been over a year since I read TATBILB, I slid easily back into the story and found myself wrapped up in it (though I’m unsure if that’s a good thing; I’m too old to get wrapped up in high school drama!). I love the characters, I love the writing, and I’m eagerly awaiting my hold on the third book to come in!
  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang: I’d heard only good things about this book, and was excited to spot an available copy on our shelves. It was a cute story, if a bit predictable, and I found myself rooting for the characters to work everything out. I generally don’t read many romances, and was a bit blindsided by how graphic some of the scenes were, but on the whole it was a fun read.
  • Can’t Help Myself: Lessons and Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist by Meredith Goldstein: I believe that every book has its own timing – sometimes a book is perfect for right now, and sometimes a book is good but it’s just not the right time to read it. My attempt to read this book was just not at the right time. I really like Goldstein’s writing style, and the book seemed like a fun idea, but I couldn’t get into it. Maybe I overdid it on books about relationships this month? Anyway, I’m putting it on my “will try to read later” shelf.
  • How to Date Men When You Hate Men by Blythe Roberson: Seriously, I didn’t intend to spend this month reading so many books about relationships and romance! Anyway, I read a promising review of this book that talked up Roberson, who works for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and writes for The Onion among others, and I thought it sounded entertaining and good for a few laughs. And it was good for a few laughs, but not as many as I’d hoped for. There were a couple of gems in the book, but for the most part I found it low-level obnoxious and full of too many exclamation points. That made me feel like I was playing into the very patriarchal society that Roberson writes about in the book – was I finding it obnoxious because it was written by a young woman? – so I felt guilty for not liking it and got caught in a downward spiral of negative feelings. Not really the outcome I was hoping for.


  • Caught in Time by Julie McElwain: OK, I’m officially addicted to this author’s books. This is the third in a series and, like its predecessors, combines my love of time travel and historical fiction (do not judge me). Kendra Donovan is an FBI agent in the 21st century. She falls into a wormhole to the 19th century, murders follow, and she shocks everyone around her by using her knowledge of crime solving even though she’s just a woman. Next in the series, Betrayal in Time, is due out July 2019 and I can’t wait.
  • The Third Son by Julie Wu: I read this because we’re hosting the author on February 27. I loved it because it told a compelling coming of age story full of grit, love, and hardship in a place and time I knew little about. Set in 1943 Taiwan, a little boy named Saburo is caught up in the upheaval of his time. He’s the third son and as such is horribly abused and ill cared for. We follow Saburo’s story through his youth and into his adulthood, where he lands in America. The author lives locally.



  • Don’t Let Us Win Tonight: An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Sox’s Impossible Playoff Run by Allan Wood and Bill Nowling: It was fun to relive the 2004 Baseball Playoffs, which will never get old to me. However, I didn’t learn anything new, here. Although there are some original interviews, a lot of the quotations are taken from previously published material.
  • Blended by Sharon Draper: This beautiful middle grade/young adult novel is the story of Isabella the daughter of an African-American father and white mother who are divorced. Isabella struggles with her identity and role within her family as well as contend with some other serious problems such as racism at her school. There is a lot going on this novel, but Draper does a good job at balancing everything and she creates well realized secondary characters. I really appreciated that Isabella’s prospective step mother, step father, and step brother are very sympathetic characters.
  • Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters by Tom Santopietro: Judging by the title, I expected this to be more of an analysis of the legacy of Harper Lee’s famous novel. The portions that do are quite nuanced, but the majority of the book is just a behind the scenes look at the film. It’s certainly interesting, from a film history point of view, but I was just expecting a little more analysis of the book and its legacy.
  • Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan: The third novel in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy brings the series to a satisfying end. This fast paced novel adds a dimension and compelling back story to Su Yi (Nick’s grandmother and matriarch to the family). Those who thought that the character of Kitty Pong received a little too much “screen” time in the second novel and who are bigs fans of Rachel will likely be disappointed with this outing, though.
  • Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott: This is a short and sometimes humorous (yes, humorous) memoir of Alcott’s stint as a Civil War nurse in a Washington DC hospital. This book is a great complement to civil war buffs and Little Women fans as well as for those who read for a strong sense of time and place.
  • Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire: Maguire, who has tackled backstories for characters from Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, and Snow White, tackles the mysterious Godfather Drosselmeier from The Nutcracker. There are many allusions to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Greek mythology and other well known myths and fairy tales. References are also made to Hoffman’s original story as well as the ballet. I’m a huge fan of The Nutcracker and always enjoy seeing (or reading!) another interpretation of the story.
  • Famous Father Girl by Jamie Bernstein: This is definitely a warts and all memoir by the daughter of Leonard Bernstein. It’s a quick read and well written but it’s definitely more gossipy and less enjoyable than the memoirs written by the daughters of Irving Berlin (Irving Berlin: A Daughter’s Memoir by Mary Ellin Barrett) and Frank Loesser (A Most Remarkable Fella by Susan Loesser).
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: This plot driven very long fantasy novel is a pretty quick read and Rothfuss builds a believable fantasy world. I appreciate that this was a well done book, but it wasn’t for me.
  • Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown: This is a graphic novel in which Brown does a great job of explaining the complicated situation leading to the Syrian Refugee crisis. It is harrowing and sad and gives human faces to an extreme tragedy. I would suggest this for anyone who is interested in current events or for graphic novel fans who wanted a read alike for Persepolis or Maus
  • Josephine Baker’s Last Dance by Sherry Jones: This historical novel about the remarkable Josephine Baker reads a lot like the script for a biopic and jumps ahead in time, skipping over some important steps. Regardless, this is a compelling read, with detail highlighting the racism of early-mid 20th century United States and the rising fascism in Europe. It does inspire me to read an actual biography of Baker.
  • Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, read by P. Dean Robertson: This novel,about the Price family performing mission work in Congo did not work well as an audiobook. There are five narrators, all with distinct styles, but the narrator does little to distinguish them so it was hard to tell who was narrating. I do enjoy Kingsolver’s writing so I will probably try this as a print edition.
  • Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, read by Justine Eyre: I’ve been on a bit of a Louisa May Alcott kick lately and though I’ve read Little Women multiple times as well as other titles, I had never read Little Men or Jo’s Boys. Jo and Fritz are now running the Plunfield School for Boys (plus a couple of girls), and the two feature in the adventures of their “boys” which also include Jo’s niece and nephew, Daisy and Demi. The children at the school are the main characters, as opposed to members of the March Family. This is a sweet and pleasant story though I would consider it more of a companion novel to Little Women as opposed to a traditional sequel.
  • Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake, read by Chloe Cannon: This is a coming of age novel about Ivy, a middle school age girl, discovering her sexual identity amidst the backdrop of her family losing everything in a deadly tornado. This leisurely paced novel is very descriptive and, although it’s in the third person, Ivy’s thoughts and feelings are well drawn. A lovely novel and Cannon’s narration is perfect.

Mary V.:

  • Past Tense by Lee Child: This is the newest Jack Reacher book. It follows the usual formula, but as usual it is entertaining.
  • Newcomer by Keigo Higashino: I continue to read every Higashino mystery in hope that the next one will be as good as his first, The Devotion of Suspect X. So far, none has been as good.
  • The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson: This story was very scary. The president was never really missing, but he went into hiding to deal with a national calamity. I kept wondering if this could really happen. I do hope not.
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean: This is a very interesting book about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and the catastrophic fire that destroyed or damaged over 1,000,000 books in 1986. The size of this library is astounding. There are more than 70 branches and the Los Angeles Police Department handles security for the library.
  • Lost Books and Old Bones by Paige Shelton: This is the third book in a mystery series about an American woman who works in a rare book store in Scotland. I liked it because it reminded me of some of the things my brother, Charles experienced when he worked in the rare book business. I didn’t like it well enough to borrow the first two books.
  • A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd: This is the newest Bess Crawford mystery. World War I has ended, but Bess is still tending to the wounded in France. She works with serious injuries, such as amputations. A patient who lost a leg was sent home to Wales and sent Bess a cryptic message that worried her. She was granted leave to go home to visit her family in England. She decided to go to Wales and see this patient. He is staying with his sister-in-law, his brother’s widow in an isolated village. Bess hires a driver who takes her to this remote place.He becomes frightened and leaves during the night abandoning Bess. This village has no commerce, no telephone lines, no transportation of any kind. Bess is stranded there for weeks with no hope of ever being able to leave. I read it in two days because I could not put it down.
  • Sunday Silence by Nicci French: This is the seventh book in the Freida Klein mystery series. The first book, Blue Monday,introduced Dean Reeve, a brutal serial killer. Everyone except Freida believes he is dead. In this book, Freida finds a dead body beneath her floorboards and tries to convince the police that Dean Reeve is responsible. At the end of this book, after friends and family members are killed or hurt by Dean, Freida enlists the help of an old acquaintance to help her disappear.
  • Day of the Dead by Nicci French: This is the eighth and final book in the Freida Klein series. Freida has disappeared and none of her friends or family knows where she is. She is planning on a confrontation with Dean Reeve that will only end with her death or his. I really liked this series and am sorry to see it end.
  • The Unforgotten seasons one and two: This is a British police show that is rather dark, but I like the characters. If you like foreign mystery series, this is a good one.



  • Slayer by Kiersten White: A new series set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (My all time favorite tv show!) With brief appearances by beloved characters. You can definitely tell the Kiersten White is a fan and she has written this new story with quite a bit of respect for the original material. However, I wanted to like this more than I did. While I found the characters and plot interesting, there was so much exposition in the beginning that I was a little bored. Fortunately halfway through the story picked up and I enjoyed it, and will probably pick up the next in the series.
  • Squad by Mariah McCarthy: I really liked this book, mostly because I found the main character incredibly realistic and easy to emphasize with. Jenna is a cheerleader who in her junior year starts feeling a distance between her and her best friend. She tries so hard to fix it, and nothing works, she just makes it worse. Jenna has to figure out who she is without cheerleading or her old friends. I was confused at times whether it was supposed to be a thriller, romance or just contemporary fiction, the book itself seems a bit confused, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. As a plus there is great representation of LGBT folks.
  • Bird Box on Netflix: I enjoyed the book when it first came out, and enjoyed the film as well
  • The Meg on DVD: It was way more fun than I thought it would be. Definitely not as good as Jaws, and dragged a bit on the first half, but I liked it.
  • The Ted Bundy Tapes on Netflix: This was a very well paced and put together documentary. He went to my high school, and hung out in many of the same places I have, so I’m always interested in this story.
  • Boy Erased on DVD: Over 700,000 LGBT Americans have been impacted by the “conversion therapy” ministry. This film based on the memoir of the same name features Lucas Hedges as a young man whose parents put him in a conversion therapy program to cure him of his homosexuality. This is an important film about the horrors so many of us have been through.