Staff Reads — June 9, 2018

Book Projector Treble Clef

Subscribe to Staff Reads and other book newsletters.


Janet Z.:

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (fiction)
    Americaneh’s central character is Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who comes to the United States to study. I enjoyed the book’s layered portrait of an immigrant settling into American life and largely succeeding, at least from professional and financial standpoints. Ifemelu’s return to Nigeria was also fascinating, but the romantic plotline that followed felt forced. Still an enjoyable read!
  • Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (fiction)
    The beginning of this book is set against the backdrop of the Biafran conflict of the late 1960s. Ijeoma is sent away from her village in southern Nigeria, first to work for a family as a house girl and then to attend a girls boarding school. There she falls in love with a fellow student and the book follows both the joys and significant hurdles she then faces. A page turner!
  • Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke and narrated by Simon Prebble (non-fiction on CD)
    The hero of this story is Lt. Col. James Howard Williams, the setting is colonial Burma, but the real stars of this audiobook are the elephants, in all their wonderful complexity. Simon Prebble is a masterful narrator. Two thumbs up!
  • The Best of Bill Withers: Lean on Me (music CD)
    Contains awesome hits like “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Just the Two of Us”, and of course “Lean on Me”, but also the uplifting “Lovely Day”. Fun fact, if Wikipedia is to be believed . . . the 18-second note Withers holds at the end of “Lovely Day” is the longest of any Top 40 Hit in the United States.


  • Beartown by Fredrik Backman
    You don’t have to know anything about – or even like – hockey to be enchanted by this engrossing read about a small town in Sweden that wants desperately to be in the big leagues. This is a #metoo book with a compelling story about a town that must choose between its dreams and the truth of a violent act against a young woman. The author creates whole and completely believable characters who tell their stories from start to finish. Backman’s writing is sublime.
  • And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer
    Fans of Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book will love this historical fiction that interweaves the stories of two women, Susanna Kessler in 2010 New York City and Sara Itzig Levy in 1783 Berlin. Kessler has discovered a long-hidden musical work by Johann Sebastian Bach in her dead uncle’s possessions and Levy, a student of J.S. Bach’s son, hosts musical salons and keeps hidden a work of extreme antisemitism by the great master himself.


  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This absorbing novel about Starr, an African-American teenage girl, who witnesses her childhood friend’s murder by a police officer, is extremely powerful and nuanced. The characterizations of Starr and those around her are very strong and multi-dimensional.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, read by Jennifer Lim: Ng tells a complex tale about the (not so) quiet community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, starting with the burning of the Richardson’s family home and working backwards. Several issues are tackled here, including small town life, career versus family, transracial adoption, and teen pregnancy. This may seem as if the book is heavy handed, but it’s not, at all, as each topic is handled well. All of the characters are multi-layered and even those who start out as unappealing have sympathetic moments. The only exception to that is Mrs. Richardson, who I found unctuous. This is a great companion to Ng’s Everything I Never Told You
  • Can’t Help Myself by Meredith Goldstein: If you don’t start your day by reading Meredith Goldstein’s Love Letters advice column, please change your routine, right now! Goldstein’s memoir proves that she is just as down to earth as she appears in her column. It’s touching and funny and highly relatable!
  • The Story of the Great British Bake-Off: A Celebration of a National Obsession by Anita Singh: As tell all books go, this is the nicest, most charming, and, of course, most delicious. My only complaint is that there are no recipes included!
  • A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York by Liana Finck: Meredith Goldstein’s memoir introduced me to A Bintel Brief an advice column from 1906 in the Yiddish language newspaper, The Forward. There are two books in our network about the column, one for which I’m still waiting, and the other is this beautiful graphic novel. The art is simple and expressive and features the writer/artist meeting with The Forward‘s editor and A Bintel Brief writer, Abraham Cahan, in the modern day.
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, read by Norbert Leo Butz, Heather Lind, and Vincent Piazza: Audiobooks are a hit or miss for me, and this was a miss. I would have preferred one narrator, as opposed to three. The story seemed compelling and intriguing but I couldn’t get through the presentation.
  • My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss: Warning! Do not read this charming memoir if you are hungry. You will torture yourself! I’m looking forward to trying some of the recipes.
  • Creed: Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone make a good team as Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis, and Rocky Balboa. I don’t have strong feelings about the Rocky movies but I found this enjoyable. Jordan is an actor who can do no wrong. I also appreciated the twist on the stepmother trope, with Apollo’s widow providing a loving mother figure to the young Adonis. Very refreshing.
  • For the Love of Spock: I seem to have gravitated towards films in which men try to relate to their deceased famous and complicated fathers. Leonard Nimoy’s son, Adam, directed this documentary about his father’s famous role and the effect it had on society and Nimoy’s family. This is a very touching and thoughtful film and includes interviews with several Star Trek favorites.


  • I just listened to Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls. Laura Petrosian, a novelist who lives in the suburbs of New York, decides to write about her ancestors. Laura is living in 2012 America. The book she writes about her forbears takes place in Aleppo, Syria, in 1915. Elizabeth Endicott, Laura’s New England born grandmother, journeys from Boston with her father to provide relief to refugees of the Armenian genocide. Elizabeth meets Armen, a young Armenian engineer. Armen has lost his wife and daughter to the genocide. She also shelters two of the refugees, Nevart, a women who has lost her husband and Hatoun, a young girl who has lost her entire family. This story provides a historical frame of reference about the Armenian genocide, romance, great detail and a fascinating story that will keep you listening or turning pages. The narration in the audiobook is very well done. This is a great book for readers of historical fiction, people who enjoy romantic elements, and those who wish to know more about the Armenian genocide.
  • I am currently listening to Hillary Clinton’s book, What Happened? This book is narrated by the author and is interesting because it provides a more detailed account of the campaign. One learns more about why Mrs. Clinton decided to run, what in her mind were the factors that lead to her defeat in the 2016 election, and her values and visions for the country. Sometimes author narrations can be a mixed bag, but Mrs Clinton has a good reading voice, excellent pace and is enjoyable to listen to. No matter what one’s beliefs are, it is interesting to hear her analysis of what happened. Recommended for people who like non fiction about government figures, presidential politics, the role of gender in politics and autobiographical works.
  • Undiscovered Country by Kelly O’Connor McNees is a well researched novel that speculates about Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok. The story is interesting for several reasons: Eleanor Roosevelt was a first lady who set out to make a difference in the country she was serving. Lorena Hickok, a journalist dedicated to her job, meets Eleanor and their professional relationship develops into something more. Another excellent novel about the same topic is Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert. Both of these novels are interesting historically and because the characters are strong women who make tough choices and help their country and those they love These novels are great for people who enjoy fictional works about historical figures. They are also great choices for readers who like strong female protagonists.



  • I Want My Epidural Back: Adventures in Mediocre Parenting by Karen Alpert and The Sh!t No One Tells You About Toddlers: A Guide to Surviving the Toddler Years by Dawn Dais. Both were quick, fun reads that made me laugh out loud a few times… and made me feel like I found kindred spirits when it comes to some of my own parenting experiences.
  • Palestine by Joe Sacco. This is my first go at reading a book of graphic journalism (according to Goodreads, “Sacco has often been called the first comic book journalist”) and also my first go at trying to educate myself about the history of Israel and Palestine. A comic book seemed like it might be a gentle introduction, but this one about Sacco’s time visiting the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early 1990s isn’t very gentle, although it is certainly interesting.
  • Books with the Bairn

  • All Aboard: London: A Travel Primer
    My toddler loves finding the double-decker bus that appears 3 times in this book.
  • That’s Not My Pirate…
    These textured books are a big hit with my kid, and we check out any that we find! (Pirate, Dragon, Squirrel, Airplane, Kitty, etc.) I was excited when the WPL Children’s Room got a bunch in last month!
  • Red Car, Red Bus
    A fun town scene with a very simple narrative, but with lots of little things going on in the illustrations that provide a lot to talk about.
  • Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
    My son loves all the trucks, and I love the pictures of trucks cuddling teddy bears and blankies.
  • Listening

  • Adele’s 25 has been in heavy rotation in my car for the last year or so, as several songs on the album have an uncanny ability to calm down my son when he’s screaming. I recently checked out 21 to mix it up a little.
  • I also tried several audiobooks this month during my commute, but I just couldn’t get into any of them. I’ve never listened to audiobooks before, so maybe I just picked my titles badly (Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng ; What Happened? by Hillary Clinton; and Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. It might be that I’m just not an audiobook person!
  • When the audiobook experiment failed, I decided to give podcasts a try. I’ve been listening to Pod Save America and so far I’ve really enjoyed it. Pods can be a nice break from music, and unlike audiobooks, if my attention shifts elsewhere during my drive, I don’t worry that I’ve missed any key plot points.


  • Princeless – Raven: The Pirate Princess, an awesome spin-off of an awesome book. I love the variety of characters and subtle references and points that are constantly slipped into the overarching story. Definitely a series well worth a look whether or not you normally read comics.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi novelization, Star Wars novelizations are always interesting with what they had that wasn’t able to be included in the film. This one did not disappoint from the start, adding in more emotional scenes, character explorations, and context. Overall an enjoyable read, particularly when gaining a glimpse into the character’s heads.
  • Iron Man, with Avengers: Infinity War coming out I took a trip down memory lane by rewatching the film that started 10 years of Marvel. It was a fun film to watch, both for scenes remembered with fondness, and details that escaped notice or were forgotten. While not quite Black Panther, still one of Marvel’s best.
  • Snow Sisters, is a nice picture book about snowy days, but the real cool thing about it is that it is a palindrome (of words, not letters) that effectively tells an understandable and relatable story. A fun read for both adults as well as children.

Mary V.:

  • Alienist by Caleb Carr: I read this decades ago and I felt that it was time to read it again. I like this book because it takes place during the year that Theodore Roosevelt was the New York City commissioner of police. He is a minor character in this novel about a serial killer who preys on young boys who are working in the sex trade. Alienist is the nineteenth century word for psychologist.
  • The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn: This book is nothing like the 1944 movie of the same name. This story involves an agoraphobic woman who rarely leaves her house and is always watching her neighbors. I found the ending very surprising. I enjoyed this book. It is fast paced.
  • The Knowledge by Martha Grimes: This is the newest Richard Jury mystery. It is a little different in that Jury doesn’t seem to be the main character, but shares the spotlight.
  • The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen: I really liked this book about a divorced woman who is stalking her ex-husband’s fiancee. I thought I knew what was happening, but I was wrong. There are a few twists that will keep readers’ turning pages.
  • Twenty-One Days by Anne Perry: This is a new series about Daniel Pitt, the son of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. He is a young lawyer who is trying to prove the innocence of his client and rescue him from the gallows. I was hoping Charlotte would play a role, but she only makes a short appearance.
  • Racing the Devil by Charles Todd: This is the newest Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery. It takes place two years after the end of World War I. Rutledge is trying to learn why the respected rector of St Simon’s Church and World War I veteran was forced off the road and killed in a motor car accident.


  • I recently finished We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. As the jacket suggests, the novel is about motherhood gone awry as told from the perspective of Eva writing letters to her husband, Franklin. Shriver is a talented writer and you’ll either think Eva is all to blame, or that she could’ve done nothing more to try and prevent the atrocious act committed by her son. It’s a haunting, emotional, and thought-provoking story.
  • Recently watched Dina, a documentary about two adults with Autism learning to co-habitat as their wedding day approaches. It’s an observational doc (fly-on-the-wall style), no narration. There’s lots of joy and of course some frustrations throughout. It’s hard not to fall in love with Dina and Scott. If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you’ll likely appreciate the subject’s candor and lack of ego displayed. I’ll be thinking about this movie for a long time.
  • As for new music, I’ve been listening to K.O.D. by J. Cole, and Drake’s single “Nice for What”…just waiting to hear the full album.


  • The Summer of Jordi Perez a sweet summer romance. The main character is a “plus size” teen who runs a popular fashion blog.
  • What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka The second book featuring private detective Roxane Weary. Just as good as the first. I look forward to the next one.
  • City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong This thriller was definitely a page turner! Canadian wilderness, bears, a secret town, murder! I picked up the next on the series immediately.
  • Westworld season 2 I love this show. I think the second season is even better than the first.
  • Little Women on PBS What a wonderful sweet new adaptation of this classic story.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment