Staff Reads July 2021

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  • People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry: I really enjoyed this follow up to Henry’s Beach Read. The characters in Henry’s books always seem like real people and it was fun to vicariously travel with the two main characters.
  • Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series that Changed Baseball by Luke Epplin: A simple summary of this book would just say it’s about the year 1948 and the last time Cleveland won the World Series. But, it’s so much more, including the story of Larry Doby, the first Black player to play in the American Leagues, who made his debut with Cleveland fewer than three months after Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. I highly recommend this interview with the author, conducted by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
  • Harriet the Spy, The Long Secretand Sport by Louise Fitzhugh: I re-read this series after reading the fascinating biography of Louise Fitzhugh. It was interesting using Fitzhugh’s life as a context for these books. Harriet the Spy held up really well, and so did The Long Secret (mainly). Sport didn’t really work for me. There was a potential for a great book in there, but it was no Harriet!
  • The Secret Bridesmaid by Katy Birchall: When I was in my mid-late 20s and noticed my closet filling up with bridesmaid dresses, I joked about starting a professional bridesmaid business. I even made gag business cards for a fake business, “Always a Bridesmaid” that I handed out at weddings. (The tag line: “Got no friends? Hate your siblings? Next time hire the attendants!”) A friend of mine remembered those days and sent me this book as a gift in which the main character does just that. The book is fun, if a little light, and I appreciate that the main relationship between is the friendship that blossoms between the main character and one of her “clients” and the romance with a minor character is secondary.
  • Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez: Compelling book that tells stories about two men in England a few decades apart: Norman, who emigrates from Jamaica, hoping to find a better life and Jesse, who has recently left the Jehovah’s Witnesses and coming to terms as an ex-Witness who is gay.
  • Color Me In by Natasha Diaz: I loved this coming of age story about Nevaeh Levitz, who has a white Jewish father and a Black mother who doesn’t feel as if she quite belongs in either world, especially after her parents separate. The supporting characters are also supporting in the literal sense as Nevaeh deals with her new reality.
  •  Loki: The characters and acting on this show are fun and intriguing but, so far, this hasn’t hooked me in quite the same way that Wandavision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier did.
  • Kim’s ConvenienceI love this sitcom about a family owning a convenience store in Toronto. I was very disappointed to discover that it’s been canceled.


  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell: I really enjoyed this evolution of a young woman who grows up in a swamp and learns so much from the nature all around her.  This is tied in alongside the death of a prominent community member. It feels like part memoir and part murder mystery all rolled in to one novel.
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: This is my 2nd 5-star (Goodreads) review of 2021. This is the latest book by Andy Weir, author of The Martian, which was also made into a movie by the same title starring Matt Damon. (As movies made from books go, I think The Martian was really well done! A movie version of Project Hail Mary is also already in the works.) Project Hail Mary slowly unfolds to reveal a scientist on a desperate space mission to save the Earth. This has a LOT of similarities to The Martian in terms of the space setting, the constant crisis mode and problem-solving for the scientist and definitely the humor. I laughed out loud quite regularly at the trials and tribulations as well as some of the perspectives offered. There’s also an interesting linguistic study going on when the scientist finds himself needing to communicate with an unexpected cohort. As I did with The Martian, I found myself suggesting this title to anyone who appreciates space or science or technology & humor. I could not wait to pick it back up and find out what would happen next!
  • The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel, audiobook narrated by Madeleine Maby: Inspired by a true story, I enjoyed this historical fiction that tells the story of a French Jewish woman forced to flee Paris in the early days of WWII and how she finds herself a resistance forger and the resulting journey she takes all because of a book.
  • Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah: After really enjoying The Nightingale and The Great Alone, this was the next Kristin Hannah book I picked up. I liked it. I would call it chick-lit; Some of my friends called it depressing. There are sad parts but I wouldn’t characterize it as depressing. It’s a story of two friends and all that happens to them together over the course of 30 years of school and boyfriends and careers, etc… I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s not amazing, but it’s good enough that I’m reading the next book in the series: Fly Away.
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: I have a different opinion of this book than almost everyone I know: Eh. It was ok. Almost everything about this book seemed to be shallow in a Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none sorta way. So many topics to cover: race/colorism, domestic violence, LGTBQ… it was all glossed over and one-note. I never really felt invested in what’s going to happen next. I always find myself annoyed with stories based on lies & secrets – just come clean! – but I guess if everyone was honest, there’d be no drama, so no book.
  • The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne: A biology professor gets himself stuck in the middle of a murder mystery… or did he? It’s a decent and creepy story that mystery fans with a nature or science interest will enjoy.
  • Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, audiobook narrated by a whole cast of characters: This debut novel strikes me as a take on the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway from her vacation in Aruba. The multiple narrators were interesting, but for the most part didn’t actually add anything to the story. I usually really like multi-narrators, but this just didn’t serve much of a purpose. The story is mostly told from the perspective of the murder victim’s younger sister. The scenery was cool. The ending is so-so. Overall, it was just fine, nothing great.


  • The Rose Code by Kate Quinn: I couldn’t put this book down. Literally. I brought it with me to appointments, read in between work and chores, and stayed up late to finish it. True to my WWII obsession, this was set in England at the super secret Bletchley Park, where a beehive of brains worked to crack the German military codes. The story follows three women – Osla, Mab, and Beth – and toggles between 1940 and 1947. And for fans of all things royal, the future Prince Philip makes the scene. Highly recommend.
  • Where Madness Lies by Sylvia True: We hosted author Sylvia True on Wednesday, July 14 at 7PM on YouTube: Where Madness Lies, so I wanted to read her book. Although it’s a novel, the author uses her own family’s experience to tell a compelling story. Set in two timelines, the story focuses on two family members who are experiencing mental illness; Rigmor in 1934 Germany and her great niece, Sabine, in 1984 Belmont, MA. The Nazi party has come into power as Rigmor, a Jew, seeks treatment for her symptoms in a high-end psychiatric clinic. The treatments are purported to be effective and humane, yet the novel uncovers a dark Nazi eugenics scheme. In 1984, Sabine checks herself into McLean for treatment of severe depression, only to learn that she will be separated from her infant during her stay. The link between both women is Rigmor’s sister, Inga, who is Sabine’s grandmother. Although I found the dialogue sometimes unrealistic and stilted, the story was compelling and thought provoking.
  • The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner: This debut novel has received a lot of buzz and for good reason – it’s fantastic. Another two-timeline book (clearly, they are a thing), the author successfully creates two worlds, that of late 1700s London and present day London. The story follows three women – Caroline, Nella, and Eliza. Caroline is a former history major who never followed her dream to pursue an advanced degree in Cambridge, England, but instead married her college sweetheart and settled for a different path. She travels to London in the wake of discovering her husband’s infidelity. Nella is a 1790s apothecary who dispenses poisons to women who want to kill a man who has wronged them; she meets 12 year old Eliza when Eliza is sent by her mistress to retrieve the poison needed to kill her master. The plot is riveting and has elements of tension in both timelines. Highly readable and engrossing.


  • Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life by Gavin Larsen: This is a short, easy read, and I finished it in one day. If you’re looking for backstage drama, i’d choose Dancing on My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland. However, if you curious about what it’s like to be a dancer minus the drug fueled drama, i’d pick up this achingly beautiful read.
  • Turning Pointe: How a Generation of Dancers is Saving Ballet From Itself by Chloe Angyal: I feel like the author bit off a bigger piece than she was able to write about. While some aspects were thoroughly researched, some important topics were only glanced at. The author did a comprehensive job of explaining how the way men are treated in the ballet world has led to such rampant misogyny. (there aren’t a lot of them, so they’re treated very special from a young age). The author also spent a little time exploring what ballet is like for non white people, but didn’t go too far into that. However where the author failed, was addressing gender identity and sexuaity in ballet. Ballet is very heteronormative. Every story ballet is about a heterosexual relationship, every ballet features male/female partnering. Female dancers are afraid to come out as queer/bi/or lesbian, becuase they have no role models to follow and are afraid it will impact their careers and casting in ballets.We are finally starting to see ballet represent more than just straight people, and American Ballet Theater and Queer Women Dancers are at the forefront of this movement. Recently ABT has premiered three works featuring smae sex couples. This is a big deal, and hopefully just the beginning. I was disappointed that this was not mentioned in this book.
  • Long Lost by Jaqueline West: This was a sweet middle grade read about a girl who is forced to move to a small town in Massachusetts, where she discovers a book in her public library that seems to be telling a story that happened right in her new town. Is it real? What really happened?
  • Madam by Phoebe Wynne: While a pretty slow read, it was super atmospheric.
  • Home Before Dark season two on Apple TV: I feel like i’ve been waiting forever for season 2, and I’m so excited it’s back! A young girl reporter, solving mysteries on an island in Washington state.


  • Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergei Dyachenko: This science fiction novel is in the Ukranian genre known as fantasia.  Fantasia encompasses science fiction, fantasy, horror and folkloric traditions.  There is a school of magic but no, this is nothing like Harry Potter, nor is it quite like Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  However, fans of both of these titles may enjoy this.  Also, I daresay, Donna Tartt readers may enjoy this as well.
    There is magic in this book but it is rather dark and extremely mysterious.  Our main character, Sasha Samokhina,  gets drawn into going to a school called The Institute of Special Technologies.  She has literally no choice here.  To turn this down means that harm will come to her family.  (A little bit of Sopranos here, except with dark magic and a lot of intellectual concepts).  Setting plays a role in this novel in a most intriguing way as well.
    At the start of the novel, Sasha is very excited to be going to the seashore in Crimea with her mother.  They stay in a hotel and have to share their lodgings with another couple.  They have a kitchen and a bath.  They can do their own cooking.  Every day, they go down to the seashore.  Sasha sometimes walks to the market to get some groceries for dinner.  Then she notices a man in dark glasses following her.  She is immediately alarmed.  Her mother does not seem to see any danger here.
    It turns out that this stranger is Farit Kozhenikov and he wants Sasha to get up at 4AM and go swimming in the nude from the shore to the buoy in the sea.  If she does not do this, something awful might happen, he tells her.  Sasha unhappily complies.  When she comes out of the water, she vomits up gold coins.  (Here are some of the folklore components).  When she oversleeps one day, there are consequences, but Farit tells her that they are not as bad as they will be if this happens again.
    This book had me magnetically drawn from start to finish.  Things get ‘curiouser and curiouser’ in this novel and I hope that you love it as much as I did.
  • The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson :This is a very interesting novel about a young man who takes a test to see if he can fit into one of The Affinities.  Meier Klein is the creator of the affinities.  There are twenty two and they are all named after letters of the Phoenician alphabet.  One goes through psychosocial testing, brain mapping, blood testing, and genetic testing.  However, some people will not fit into any affinities.  Down the road, this will be a problem as those left out feel, well, left out.
    Our main character, Adam Fisk, successfully places in the Tau.  He loves his new affinity family who help him with everything; companionship, housing, career, sense of family.  He is very content.  Until he isn’t.  This is a great look at a utopian scheme that goes awry, the hunger for belonging, modern loneliness, and the search for meaning.
  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makai: This beautifully written novel has great, well developed characters, beautiful writing and a very moving and timeless story.  Makai is focusing on the Aids crisis in the eighties in Chicago and also switches to the year 2015 to show how some of the survivors of this incredibly painful and tragic time are coping.  Set in Chicago and in France, this is a book to read if you love beautiful, award worthy, compelling and sophisticated fiction.
  • Philip K Dick A Comics Biography by Mauro Marchesi(illustrator) and Laurent Queyessi: This is an easy read and a fascinating introduction to the life of Philip K. Dick, author of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (The film  Blade Runner was based on this novel), the short story Minority Report (The film Minority Report was based on this short story), and numerous other works.  Philip K. Dick was a preemie who had a twin sister who died at birth.  This was not an auspicious beginning.  His parents got divorced and he was raised by his mother who did not seem like a very sympathetic character in this graphic novel.
    Philip had five different marriages, a drug problem, some paranoia, and an incredible gift for writing.  He graduated from the same high school as fellow writer Ursula Leguin and they were friends.  Unfortunately, Philip would take methamphetamines to help himself produce more work.  I suppose he succeeded there as he was very prolific.  I don’t think that this helped his mental health or his relationships, unfortunately.  There were times when he felt he was leading parallel lives in different universes.  He questioned the nature of reality.  Who is to say what is real and what is not after all?

    I picked up this book after reading Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? which is dystopian, irreverent, and rather hilarious and brilliant all at the same time.  This is a great introduction to a brilliant but troubled author.  The illustrations work well and I think that the team who put this graphic novel together did a great job.