Staff Reads — January 2019

Book Projector Treble Clef

Subscribe to Staff Reads and other book newsletters.



  • The Unstoppable Wasp Volumes 1 and 2 by Jeremy Whitley: This next generation of the Wasp is Nadia, an unknown daughter of Hank Pym, raised to be an assassin and rescued by Hank’s ex-wife, Janet Van Dyne, the first generation Wasp. Frustrated by the lack of respect for women in the super hero realm, Nadia recruits other young female super powered individuals and starts G.I.R.L. This re-imagining of a Marvel story and character is very empowering and answers the question of what makes up a family. The new version of She-Ra on Netflix would make a great watch alike.
  • Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson: Very charming graphic novel about Phoebe, her new best friend, the vain unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. This is a great alternative for those of us who still miss Calvin and Hobbes.
  • The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory: The Wedding Date was one of my favorite books I read this spring, and I was delighted to read a new title by the same author, featuring one of the former title’s secondary characters as one of the protagonists. NIk (short of Nikole) is horrified when the actor that she has been casually seeing for a few weeks proposes to her via the Jumbo Tron at Dodger Stadium. Carlos and his sister come to her rescue and defense when the fans give Nik a hard time for refusing. Predictably, Nik and Carlos start a tentative romance, but just as in The Wedding Date the relationship is well done with both parts of the couple having a lot of agency and proceeding in a healthy way. The book is also just a lot of fun and the secondary characters are well rounded.
  • Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver: This character driven novel features inhabitants living in Vineland, New Jersey in present day and the late 19th century. This thoughtful novel features a strong sense of place as well as a real life (but little known) 19th century female scientist, Mary Treat. I would suggest this for fans of A Map of Salt and Stars (for readers who enjoyed the alternating time periods), The Paris Wife (for readers who enjoy fiction about real people who didn’t get their due in history), State of Wonder (for readers who enjoy a little science with their fiction), and Inherit the Wind (for readers who enjoy dramas about Darwin and the Scopes Trial).
  • Nutcracker by ETA Hoffman: I re-read this classic tale and inspiration for the ballet for the first time in 34 years and was glad to revisit this edition beautifully illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean: Part true crime, part love letter to public libraries, this details the history of the Los Angeles Public Library as well as the investigation into the 1986 fire that damaged the building and its materials.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Read by Kate Reading (isn’t that a great last name for an audiobook narrator?): Reading Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Anne Boyd Rioux inspired me to revisit this classic about the March sisters. It had been so long since I had read it, that I had forgotten most of what had happened (and found I remembered more of the various film versions). A recent visit to Louisa May Alcott’s home, Orchard House, helped me appreciate the novel in a new way!
  • My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley, Read by George Newbern: I’m currently listening to this novel, by the author of The Object of my Affection. David and Julie were married nearly thirty years ago, divorcing when David realized that he was gay. They parted on friendly terms but haven’t spoken since the divorce until Julie asks for David’s help regarding her teenage age daughter from her second marriage. This character driven novel is sardonic and often funny with melancholy moments.


  • Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan: I enjoyed this fantasy novel full of asian mythology and strong female characters.
  • Livia Lone by Barry Eisler: I’ll read almost anything set in my home state of Washington, especially thrillers with female protagonists. This had an engaging fast paced story, and i appreciated all the footnotes at the end detailing the author’s research with links.
  • Podcast: Surviving Y2K: Remember 1999 and the fear that computers wouldn’t understand they year 2000? Through present day interviews we are able to follow several different people as they prepared for the new millennium.
  • Top Chef Season 15 on Hulu I’m obsessed with this show and always binge it in a few days when it finally arrives on Hulu.

Debora H.:

  • The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable was a disappointment. I was enticed by the lure of a Kennedy story, but put off by the hugely unlikable characters. It felt like watching a movie with bad Boston accents. The story revolves around Alicia Darr, a Polish Jewish refugee and her romance with then Congressman Jack Kennedy. The author uses information released in 1977 that said Alicia was paid $500K by Bobby Kennedy just before JFK became President. We assume the money is to stay quiet, but quiet about what? That’s the question the author fleshes out. It’s a good premise but for me, fell flat.
  • The Practice House by Laura McNeal: Although I stuck with this novel, I don’t recommend it. It’s about Aldine McKenna, a 19 year old woman who leaves her home in Scotland to work as a teacher in the Dust Bowl that is Kansas in 1930. You think the story will be about Aldine and her sister because it begins with them, but shortly after the sister falls in love with a traveling Mormon (I am not making this up), the 2 young women leave for America and we never hear much about the sister after that. Then you think the story will be about Aldine, but in the second half of the book, many characters’ points of view are used. Aldine lives with a family on their failing farm, falls in love with the father, and when the family moves to California, is farmed out to work at a Harvey House restaurant. The writing is solid, but I found the plot and organization lacking. There is a satisfying twist at the very end, which made me glad I finished it.


  • The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders by Stuart Kells: I was hoping to learn about the fascinating history of libraries, but instead found this book to be an unorganized collection of mostly anecdotal stories referencing famous libraries and obscure bibliophiles. Most of the time I found myself searching online to understand the context of the stories the author told. There were some historical facts about libraries and books that I found interesting, but unless you are a dire hard book collector, this book is better left on the shelf.
  • The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicolas Carr: In this book, Carr questions the impact technology has had upon our lives and how it is changing the way our brains process information. I was pleasantly surprised how well the author interwove the history of writing and reading and prior research about brain plasticity to demonstrate how the human brain has evolved over time. The author also provides an overview of the history of computers and how the internet developed to become the powerful entity that it is today. I didn’t feel that Carr was negatively criticizing technology, but instead he argued why it is important for society to understand how technology is altering our ability to “think deeply” so that we can make informed decisions about how we personally use technology going forward. Sometimes the author gets a little heavy handed with the statistics he provides and there are a few sections that felt a little dry (and might require a basic understanding of cell biology), but overall it was a well-researched book and interesting read.
  • London: a Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World presented by Professor Robert Bucholz: This lecture series is by The Teaching Company, and I watched it to prepare for a trip to London. Even though there weren’t many visuals and it was mainly Professor Bucholz lecturing to the camera, I really enjoyed the series. It covers London’s formation in 60 B.C. by the Roman Empire through the early 2000’s. If you are someone who enjoys history or is planning a trip to London, I highly recommend this series. It was perfect for watching in the evening after work and before bed. There is an audio version, but if you choose to use that I recommend printing out a few maps of historic London so you can get your bearings.


  • Feminasty: the Complicated Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death by Erin Gibson: The title and reviews of this book gave me high hopes, but the book itself didn’t quite live up to them. This collection of essays, ranging in topic from periods to #MeToo to makeup and more, made some excellent (and maddening!) points, but I didn’t find it as funny as it was billed to be.
  • Flocks by L. Nichols: A graphic memoir of a trans man’s experiences growing up in a very religious community in rural Louisiana, discovering the world and himself with the help of academics and the various groups that supported him in very different ways. It was a quick read – I finished it in one sitting – and both heart-breaking and hopeful. I don’t read graphic novels/memoirs often, but found that the illustrations in this one added so much to the story.
  • Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein: This book is part memoir/part investigation into how the Evangelical sexual purity movement (True Love Waits, etc.) affected those who were a part of it. As someone who came of age in the church during this movement, I found this book especially fascinating.
  • Room by Emma Donoghue: A novel told from the point of view of five-year-old Jack, who lives with his mom in a sound-proofed shed where they’re held captive by his mom’s kidnapper. I’d been curious about this book for years but was worried that it would be a bit too difficult/intense to read as the mom of a young kid. There were certainly some parts that got me right in the feels, but it was one of those too-rare books that I just didn’t want to put down!
  • Shade: a Tale of Two Presidents by Pete Souza: A poignant comparison of the Obama and Trump presidencies, featuring photos by Souza, who was Chief Official White House Photographer under President Obama. This book made me all kinds of nostalgic.
  • Juliet, Naked: I read the book that inspired this movie back when it came out in 2009, and I remember thinking it was just okay. The movie, however (in my opinion) told the story better, and was cute and enjoyable. It’s hard to go wrong with Chris O’Dowd, and the scenery in the English seaside town was charming.
  • Crazy Rich Asians: An incredibly well done romantic comedy that doesn’t drag out all the tired tropes that can plague the genre. That said, I’m not a fan of ostentatious displays of wealth and/or entitlement, and this movie was full of both. I should have known going in, given the title, but alas. Otherwise, it’s a great film!
  • The Essential “Weird Al” Yankovic: I was really into Weird Al in high school, and this was a fun trip down memory lane. It’s got some hits as well as some deeper cuts, which I enjoyed. However, I was a bit dismayed to realize how much of my brain’s real estate is still taken up by lyrics to these songs!

Janet Z.:

  • What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah: I loved this collection of short stories set in Nigeria with its rich characters and compelling plot lines. Be forewarned, though, that the theme of family dysfunction runs rampant throughout.
  • Nutmeg the Guinea Pig by Jane E. Clarke (Dr. Kittycat Series): I love illustrations that blend photographs with hand-drawn elements. Turns out the story line is also compelling as the Doctor and her assistant solve a medical mystery involving a furry patient who is feeling unwell.
  • Full Speed Ahead! How Fast Things Go by Crusshiform: Beautifully designed book with side-by-side illustrations of animals and inanimate objects that travel at similar speeds such as a hedgehog and millipede (one mile-per-hour) and a high-speed train, peregrine falcon, Formula 1 race car, and frigate bird (217 miles-per-hour).
  • What We Do in the Shadows: Hilarious take on the challenges vampires face in the modern world, such as gaining admission to nightclubs, dealing with slacker flat mates, and more.
  • Barry: Oh how I love Bill Hader, but not in this very popular series, in which he plays a hit man trying unsuccessfully to get out of the “business.” Cluelessness and innocence have a certain charm, but Barry has a bit too much of both. Henry Winkler as Hader’s boss, on the other hand, is fantastic!

Liz R.:

  • Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: This debut collection of short stories is a terrifying and all too familiar set of dystopian tales revolving around race, privilege and capitalism. A mjst read for fans of “Get Out”, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood.
  • Marvel Rising, Vol. 1: Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl team up in this middle grade graphic novel. Joined by fellow superheroes America Chavez, Inferno and more. I’m overjoyed with the diversity Marvel has been embracing over the last five years. It’s great to see a variety of heritages and body types, particularly in volumes aimed at younger readers.
  • The Little Book of Life Hacks by Yumi Sakagawa: This was a fun start for the new year! This super cute book is full of tiny life tips for everything from relaxing, cleaning, crafting, cooking and more! My favorite tips were for ways to use white vinegar and lemon to clean different parts of your house, and the section on making your own hair care spa products.


No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment