Staff Reads — March 2020

Book Projector Treble Clef

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  • The Last Town on Earth, by Thomas Mullen: This book grabbed me immediately and didn’t let go until it ended. I may have even exaggerated a headache during the holidays so that I could stay in my room and read it – it was that good. The book takes place in the fall of 1918, and is set in a fictional town in Washington state that quarantines itself from outsiders in an attempt to avoid the Spanish flu. It also touches on World War One and labor strikes of 1916, so it was a gold mine for a history nerd like me.
  • More Deadly than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War, by Kenneth Harris: After reading The Last Town on Earth, I realized I know very little about the Spanish flu. This book gives a good overview of what the flu was like and how it spread, and also goes into the context of the war, and the times in general.
  • Hardcore Anxiety: A Graphic Guide to Punk Rock and Mental Health, by Reid Chancellor: This is a graphic memoir about Chancellor’s struggles with anxiety, his experiences attending and playing in punk shows, and how the two often overlapped. Sprinkled throughout are short histories of famous punk bands and how anxiety and mental illness contributed to their lives and music.
  • The Man Who Saw Everything, by Deborah Levy: I came so close to abandoning this book; I have little patience these days for works of literary fiction that feel like the author was trying too hard. Before giving up, I started skimming and got hooked when I realized the plot wasn’t as it seemed and I really wanted to know what was going on. If you like books with unreliable narrators and/or literary fiction dripping with symbolism that would make AP English teachers swoon, this might be a book for you!
  • F*ck Your Diet: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me, by Chloe Hilliard: I have to admit that the title is what drew me to this book! That, and a review on the Book Riot site. I didn’t know Hilliard before reading it, but I really enjoyed her writing style and sense of humor. The book is a collection of autobiographical essays touching on race, feminism, and body image, with facts about various topics adding context to Hilliard’s experiences.



  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: Funny and fearsome. I loved getting to know Marji and her large, small rebellions. Satrapi’s reminder that a nation’s people, culture, and history are infinitely more nuanced than whatever narrative may be in the news remains relevant, even urgent.
  • Once More to the Rodeo by Calvin Hennick: It’s On the Road but instead of Dean Moriarty, our narrator has bundled his biracial 5-year-old into a rental car and they’re driving from Boston to his hometown of Maxwell, Iowa. And instead of jazz-induced revelries and late night parties, it’s fast food stops on the interstate and an occasional tantrum. OK, it’s not much like On the Road except that Hennick, our Sal Paradise, is a sensitive, lyric narrator driving us through perilous yet heartfelt observations of what it means to be a father and what it means to parent a young black boy in America. There are no answers, but the road once again lends itself to insight and imagination. I enjoyed this journey.
  • This podcast was excruciating to listen to; I hung on every word. The true story of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling’s abduction had haunted my home state of Minnesota–and myself, 7 years old when Jacob disappeared–for nearly 27 years. The man who eventually confessed to kidnapping and murdering Jacob was an early suspect in the case and lived in a neighboring town the whole time. Why did the case take so long to solve? This podcast investigates the investigators and provides an unrelenting narrative of their mistakes. I listened, sometimes yelling at them, in my car. I’m grateful to journalist Madeleine Baran who courageously pursued the truth that I and so many Minnesotans sought.
  • Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan: My 17-month-old son loved sharing this book before bedtime and hooted at the titular owl throughout. Myself, I never quite grasped the plot. The seemingly poetic details seduced me into thinking that something was happening, but no, nothing was happening. Suddenly, it’s morning in the story and what just happened?! Dawn is confirmation that readership matters; this story is for my son who values above all a good hoot.



  • Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs: An entertaining work of nonfiction that feels like fiction. Mr. Burroughs claims to come from a long line of witches and in his usual witty fashion, explains how this works in his life.
  • Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown: A beautifully written novel that paints a picture of a Jewish family in the lower East Side of New York in the 1930s. The narration alternates between a mother and daughter, Rose and Dottie, and the difficulties that they are facing. What does one do about an unwanted pregnancy in a time when a woman can not hold on to a job when pregnant? How do different generations with different beliefs communicate and come to terms? Ms Brown presents us with a story of women facing tough choices and showing great strength as they do so.
  • Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat To The Craziest Campaign In American History by Katie Tur (book on CD): Katie Tur takes us through the insults, the sacrifice to her personal life and the threats to her own safety as a reporter during the Trump presidential campaign of 2016. She narrates the audiobook and her narration is excellent; lively and clear.
  • Gloria Bell on Kanopy: I love that this was available on our Kanopy streaming media platform. Gloria Bell is a divorced woman with two grown children who works in an insurance agency. She meets an intriguing man at a singles’ bar (played to perfection by John Turturro) and they start a relationship. Her partner has some very heavy baggage from his former marriage and Gloria has to figure out what to do as things develop. The scene in Las Vegas is not to be missed. I don’t want to give any spoilers here so suffice it to say, this movie is fabulous.
  • American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis: Winner of Library Journal’s Best Women’s Fiction and Library Reads Favorites 2016, these stories pack a wallop. From the most unusual book group ever, to feuding neighbors, to a hilarious reality television show, to ‘proper’ Southern ladies’ code, you will find yourself laughing out loud. Interesting note: Helen Ellis is also a professional poker player.
  • The Room-mating Season by Rona Jaffee: I used to read Rona Jaffee novels when I was in my twenties. Class Reunion was a personal favorite of mine. The Room-mating Season did not disappoint. Think of Sex And The City except it starts in the late 1950’s and takes you through to the early 2000s. Three roommates in New York City find love and work and have their share of heartaches and joy. A fun, light read that could be called an earlier version of chick lit before that term was popular.
  • The Devil In Jerusalem by Naomi Ragen: I love, love love Naomi Ragen. Her plot lines are so interesting. In this novel, we have a young married couple and their children who end up in a cult that is run by someone who is very mesmerizing and also very unsavory. You will be on the edge of your seat all through this novel.
  • The Tenth Song by Naomi Ragen: Another fabulous Naomi Ragen novel with another intriguing story about a Brookline based family whose entire life is thrown into disarray when the head of the household, an accountant named Adam, is charged with aiding and abetting terrorists. He is taken away in front of all of his staff by people from the FBI and he has no idea what is going on. His wife and children, particularly his daughter Kyla, are totally shocked and their lives are thrown into disarray. Kyla is a student at Harvard Law School but begins to question everything about the life that she has been living to date where she has tried to please everyone at the expense of herself. Adam and Abigail, her parents are threatened with the loss of their reputations in the community and of everything they own.   Kyla impulsively leaves the country and goes to Israel where she finds a community that works on archeological digs and has a very simple lifestyle in the desert. Adam, who is in the middle of negotiating with lawyers who want him to take a plea bargain, begs his wife Abigail to head to Israel and see what is going on with his daughter. It turns out that Abigail also likes the community and she likes Daniel, the surgeon who Kyla seems to be attracted to. Desperate, Adam sends Kyla’s fiance to Israel as well to ‘rescue’ his brainwashed wife and daughter.   If I tell you anything more, we will need a spoiler alert. This is a riveting read that makes us wonder about what is really important in life when all is said and done.
  • Creatures: A Novel by Crissy Van Meter: This is a beautifully written novel about Evie, who is raised on Winter Island, off the Southern coast of California. Her mother disappears for years at a time, reemerging at random. Her father is loving but he is also a hopeless addict so Evie often has to fend for herself. At the start of this novel, Evie is about to get married to her fiance, Liam. Her mother has arrived for the wedding and Evie is having mixed feelings about her mother’s presence.   This novel is lovely and the descriptions of the island are captivating.
    This is Van Meter’s first novel and one can expect more great writing from her in the future.  
  • The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins: I am listening to this in audio format and I was gripped from the very beginning. Excellent narration, a compelling story line, fabulous characterization. There is romance, mystery, angst, a comical hypochondriac, a likable narrator; in short, everything one could want from a novel. 
  • Evicted: Poverty And Profit In The American City by Matthew Desmond: This book reads like fiction which is my highest praise for non fiction. The cycle of poverty that is driven by evictions in Milwaukee’s poorer neighborhoods, the hopeless situations faced by those who simply can not get their heads above water, is examined through the lives of real people who we get to know and care about. Desmond’s extensive research is very impressive and one hopes that there will be some new legislation and housing vouchers to help people to be able to live with dignity and feed their children rather than feeding all of their money into housing and not have enough leftover to live their lives.
    Desmond spent time with all of the people in this book and got to know them. We meet Arleen, the mother of two small boys, Larraine who lives in a trailer park but can not make ends meet, Scott a former nurse who lives in the trailer park after losing his job from drug abuse, Shereena, a landlord who is getting rich off of the tenants she serves and several other people whose lives are so difficult and chaotic due to poverty. Desmond points out that in Milwaukee, it is often the women who deal with the evictions while the men are often incarcerated. This book is well worth reading. 
  • Born A Crime by Trevor Noah: This is a great book and a great audiobook. Trevor Noah is a natural born storyteller and his childhood in South Africa is not to be missed. Noah’s sense of timing and story is impeccable and his strong spirit and sense of humor make this a great read that you will want to share with your friends
  • Becoming Eve: My Journey From Ultraorthodox Rabbi To Transgender Woman by Abby Stein: I am reading this book now and have loved it from page one. Abby grew up as a Hassidic Jewish boy but knew from a young age that she was really a girl. This book takes us through the difficult process of trying to follow the rules of her religion but knowing that they did not really apply in her case. 

Mary V.

  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka J K Rowling: This story is about a young model who falls from the roof of her building. The police deem it a suicide, but the victim’s brother wants the detective to investigate because he thinks that it is murder. I finished the book but I thought that it was very tedious. I wasn’t really interested in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. This is the first book in a series and the last one that I am going to read.
  • Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate:  I had not heard of this book. It was in the book drop. There are two little girls on the cover, so I assumed the story was about sisters. It was a devastating story about five siblings who were kidnapped and brought to  the Tennessee children’s Home. They were caught  in a baby stealing and baby selling ring. I identified with twelve year old Rill who was the oldest of the five children. When I was twelve, I had four younger siblings who were similar ages to Rill’s siblings. Rill tries very hard to keep the five of them together, but she is still a child. This tale takes place in 1939 and there is another story which takes place in 2017. I tried to figure the connection between the two stories, but I did like how them came together.
  • This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger: I thought that this was the latest book in the Corcoran O’connor series. It’s not. It is a stand alone novel about young teens who are in an Indian Training school during the great depression and very similar to “Before We Were Yours” . Three teens escape with a six year old orphan and have adventures that children should not have to experience.
  • Blue Moon by Lee Child: This is the newest Jack Reacher book. I liked almost all of the Jack Reacher tales, but not  this one because it was exceptionally violent.
  • Baby Thief by Barbara Bisantz Raymond: This is a book about Georgia Tann, the infamous director of the Tennessee Children’s Home who was a character in “Before We Were Yours”. It is incredible how she was able to steal children and sell them to the highest bidder. She preyed on the poor and uneducated people of Tennessee. I was amazed at the number of people who aided and abetted her from 1923 – 1950. She died just as the scandal was breaking in 1950.
  • Before and After by Judy Christie and Lisa Wingate:  When Lisa Wingate was promoting her new book “Before We Were Yours” in 2017, she was contacted by many victims of Georgia Tann. She collaborated with Judy Christie who is a journalist. They interviewed dozens of adults who had been in the clutches of Georgia Tan when they were babies or small children. They planned a reunion for the victims to meet in Tennessee. These are their stories.
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This is the story of a man who was born into slavery. His father was the slave owner who impregnated his mother. His mother was torn from him when he was very young, so he has no clear memory of her. When he is a young adult, he becomes involved with Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad. This novel gives a very good description of how the underground railroad operated.
  • The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman:  Mattie Lane, a 59 year old social worker in upstate New York, is called in the middle of the night to go to the bus station and help a young woman and a ten year old boy who are escaping domestic violence. Although, she should take them to a shelter, Mattie breaks protocol and takes them to her home. Both Mattie and the young woman are keeping secrets. As they try to weather a  blizzard and other threats, they form an uneasy alliance.


  • My husband and I recently watched The Game Changers. Produced by James Cameron, it features athletes, scientists and firefighters in NYC all adapting to a plant based diet. Did you know that even the Gladiators were thought to be plant based? We took the same 7 day challenge that the firefighters took in the film. That was nearly a month ago and I have to say I’m sold. I highly recommend this documentary! Find it on Netflix by checking out one of our Rokus!



  • The Summer Country by Lauren Willig: This novel is set in Barbados and alternates between two time periods – 1812 and 1854 – the earlier date during slavery, the later date after it’s abolished. Richly engrossing and suspenseful, the storyline threads are elegantly woven until finally the reader has the whole picture at the end. In 1854, British Emily inherits her grandfather’s Barbados plantation, only to find it in ruins when she visits with her cousin and his wife. Emily’s story is as much a discovery about herself as it is about the Peverills plantation. In the 1812 narrative, we learn the backstory of Peverills, the neighboring plantation, Beckles, and the people whose lives became intertwined. The ending is a satisfying surprise, but to me the 1812 love story seemed a reach.
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan: This novel is also set in Barbados and focuses on the fate of an enslaved boy whose life trajectory is altered forever when he’s taken under the wing of his master’s brother, Titch. It follows Wash and Titch from Barbados to the Arctic and eventually to England. The author doesn’t shy away from describing the brutality of slavery in her narrative. The writing is rich and beautiful.
  • Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg:  A story of female friendships old and new, with a fun road trip thrown in. This author never disappoints me.


  • Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong: Kelley Armstrong has done it again, with another compulsively readable Rockton mystery. In this installment, we spend most of our time outside of Rockton, meeting new characters. However, some old favorites do pop up from time to time.The mystery kept me guessing, and I couldn’t put it down. I was also incredibly happy with the inclusion of a lesbian character. While I love her books, Kelley Armstrong’s novels tend to only have straight characters. If there have been other gay minor characters in any of her books, I’ve forgotten about them. I can’t wait for the next book in this series.
  • Bitter Falls by Rachel Caine: While I was hoping that the events at the end of Wolfhunter River would usher us, and Gwen into mysteries that are less personal, that didn’t happen. That being said, I still enjoyed it, it was fast paced and interesting,  and couldn’t put it down.
  • Little Women (2019): I liked some of the choices made in this adaptation, especially the way the necessity of ending up with a man was presented, as the professor has always felt an odd and out of place choice. However, the Masterpiece miniseries from 2018 may be my favorite.
  • On Becoming a God in Central Florida on Showtime: Set in the early nineties, this dark comedy stars Kirsten Dunst. When her husband is killed by an alligator, she takes over his multi level marketing business. I can’t stop watching.


  • Long Bright River by Liz Moore: The protagonist is a police officer, her estranged sister is an addict. Suddenly, women in her sister’s circle are being murdered. The protagonist can’t help but get involved and search for her sister. The novel employs flashback to provide context for these women to great effect. It’s a really well done and humanizing look at the opioid epidemic, single motherhood, and how trauma can spread in families. On top of all that, it maintains suspense as the protagonist tries to find the killer. This was simply an excellent read– it looks long, but you like it you’ll finish it quickly because you won’t want to put it down.
  • The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell: I finished this book in 2 sittings because I wanted to know how it unraveled but by the time it was done I was left with a “oh, that’s it?” feeling. Ultimately, I was unphased and felt it was only mildly creepy and lacked enough depth to feel impactful. If I had not been expecting a thriller, I may have liked it more overall.
  • Murder in the Bayou (Showtime): A docu-series based on a book that tells the stories of 8 women that disappeared from the same small town in Louisianna. It certainly doesn’t answer any questions, but hopefully generates enough interest for law-enforcement to re-examine the crimes.
  • Marriage Story: Heart-felt acting and unique storytelling combine to make a truly moving film.
  • Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan: I love real-life medical mysteries, and Cahalan is a wonderful narrator. The book humanizes the long, often agonizing search for answers about what is happening in your body. It’s very engaging, too! 
  • The Captain and the Glory by Dave Eggers: A quick, easy read. I truly enjoyed Egger’s imaginative satire and recommend it in both print and audiobook. The print version has lovely illustrations throughout, and the audiobook is read by John Hodgman.
  • Understanding Japan  (Great Courses) 
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: A young black woman is accused of kidnapping while babysitting for a white child late one Saturday night. It’s caught on film, but Emira doesn’t want it to go public. This event sets the novel up to explore privilege and race in a way that drives the novel’s plot. It sprinkles in some relatable twenty-something angst (feeling adrift after college) and white guilt. The story has a great plot and solid character development. I really loved this book.

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