Staff Reads — Holiday Season 2020




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Debora H.

  • Liberation by Imogen Kealey: Big WOW. Nancy Wake was a real life spy in Nazi-occupied France for the Allies in WWII. This novel brings to life her dangerous experiences, always one step ahead of the Gestapo. Early on, her husband is arrested and held and she must escape to Britain, only to return to France to lead a resistance unit. A truly gripping story.
  • The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr by Susan Holloway Scott: The author creates a story around the relationship between Aaron Burr and one of the enslaved women in his household, Mary Emmons. There are few facts known about the real life Mary Emmons, but according to the author, Emmons did have children with Aaron Burr and she and Burr were secretly married at one point. From these two facts, Scott spins a tale that is both engrossing and sometimes hard to read. This book could have used a good editor – at 500 pages it feels like it’ll never end. 



  • Wayne (Prime): What a show. There is some bloody violence in a few scenes, but somehow it’s still pretty lighthearted, funny, and endearing. 
  • Fargo Season 4 (Hulu): This show can do no wrong. A murderous nurse, rival gangs, and Timothy Olyphant. This season definitely has the most diverse cast of this anthology series. 
  • The Undoing (HBO): Rich white people get mixed up in a murder. Sometimes Nicole Kidman’s character needs a good shake and some better sense, but overall it’s pretty good and has quite the twist. 
  • The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix): Orphaned girl turns chess champion during the 1960’s while struggling with her own demons. This show is just incredible: the costumes and style, the woman taking men down with skilled precision, the drama of it all…I will never look at chess the same way.
  • Happiest Season (Hulu): Not one for holiday movies, but found myself excited to watch this one the day it came out because of the specific point of view it offered. This story deals with women coming out and the complexities of balancing between wanting to live your truth while also struggling against your fear of rejection (more precisely, it’s from the POV of the character in a relationship with someone who has not yet come out to their family and what that experience is like). Dan Levy’s character has a short but powerful monologue about coming out that provided one of the most serious and important moments. I hope it’s heard by all who need to hear it. 
  • People Who Eat Darkness by  Richard Lloyd Parry: This is the tale of a British woman who went missing while living in Tokyo while working as a hostess. The author does a great job of introducing Japanese host/club culture, societal expectations, etc, before delving into the mystery of Lucie Blackman’s disappearance.  Parry wrote about the case for years and the book takes readers through the search, the trial, and the “after” for the family. 
  • One Life by Megan Rapinoe: This is an easy to get through memoir of  an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion, and all-around awesome human being, Megan Rapinoe. I love her so much anyways, and this book only grew my love stronger. Megan discusses her childhood in a conservative town, her journey through professional sports and celebrity, as well as issues of race and equality. I recommend listening to the audiobook through Libby or on CD because Rapinoe reads it herself and she has a great style. 


  • My Heart Underwater by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo: Probably my favorite thing I read this month. Cory, a Filipino-American teenager falls for her female history teacher, begins an affair, and once discovered by her mother, she sent to visit relatives in Manila, a place she’s never even visited. The characters were well drawn out, and told with a lot of heart. 
  •  Horrid by Katrina Leno: Atmospheric and creepy.
  • The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg: A memoir about a woman who realized she was gay after being married to a man for some years. It was somewhat interesting.
  • The Hollow Places by T Kingfisher: This one bordered a little more on the fantasy than horror side for me, although I felt anxiety almost the entire time reading it, so I’m willing to call that horror! A recently divorced young woman moves into the back room of her uncle’s “Wonder Museum”, which is full of old taxidermy and odd things. One day s hole opens up in a wall, leading to a strange and creepy place. Despite all the anxiety, I really enjoyed it. Kingfisher is great at writing characters, and I hope she continues to write more horror. 
  • How to Houseplant: A Beginners Guide to Making and Keeping Plant Friends by Heather Rodino: This book is not only full of useful information, but the sweetest illustrations as well. Perfect for someone who needs help with their houseplants. 
  • Jo: a Graphic Novel by Kathleen Gros: This was ok? Although if your looking for another graphic novel contemporary retelling, I enjoyed Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy more. 
  • Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing by Briana McDonald: This was a super cute middle grade novel about a kid who likes to solve mysteries, but there’s one she can’t quite solve by herself, what does it mean that she likes girls so much?
  • A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson: A somewhat interesting thriller about a biologist who takes an assignment looking for wolverines at an abandoned ski lodge, now conservation land. But someone doesn’t want her there. It’s quickly paced, but the supporting characters and villains weren’t that well developed. 
  • Happiest Season on Hulu: While I’ll watch anything Clea Duvall has a hand in making, I thought the trailer was very misleading. While at some points it definitely was a comedy, I wasn’t prepared for how the film was actually about how lying because of internalized homophobia affects everyone around you. But yay, lesbian holiday movie, and Kristen Stewart is ADORABLE.


  • Beach Read by Emily Henry: Refreshing romance! After inheriting a house from her philandering father, January, a writer of so-called woman’s fiction, finds herself next door to Gus, a fellow writer (of so-called “literary fiction”) and a former college acquaintance. I’m not doing this book justice with the description but suggested for anyone who enjoys meta fiction about the literary/publishing world and likes couples who have adult conversations about their relationships.
  • Class Act by Jerry Craft: Great follow up to the graphic novel, New Kid. This time, we learn more about Jordan’s friend, Drew and how he navigates school and his home life. This book focuses on a lot of issues including colorism, disparities in education, as well as what happens when our goals are different than our families and the people we love. Drew is a well drawn (so to speak) character and, as with New Kid all of the supporting characters are extremely well rounded and nuanced. Despite some serious subject matters, there is a lot of humor in this. I can’t recommend this series enough.
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: Beautifully written and complex story about twins, Desiree and Stella, the latter of whom passes for white as an adult. Now that I’ve read this, I want to seek out Bennett’s earlier novel, The Mothers.
  • Yes No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed: Very sweet and thoughtful Teen Novel about Jamie and Maya, who become close while campaigning during a local senate race in Georgia. 
  • Tenements, Towers, and Trash: An Unconventional History of New York City by Julia Wertz: Part memoir, part history, all graphic novel, Wertz’s book (some of which contain drawings that were featured in The New Yorker) is a warts and all beautiful love letter to New York City. 
  • The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante: This was a recent book club read for the library. I really appreciated the writing and the strong sense of place in Naples. Still undecided how much I actually enjoyed it. (I had not read any of Ferrante’s previous novels.)
  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang, read by Sunny Lu: I was introduced to Yang via her novel, Parachutes and wanted to read her first book, for younger readers. Front Desk features a well realized protagonist in Mia whose parents become managers at a motel shortly after immigrating to the United States. Looking forward to the sequel.
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama, read by the author: Glad I decided to experience this as an audiobook. The former President really goes into detail about what goes behind political campaigns and policy making as well as working (and becoming allies with) political rivals. 





  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: Caroline Lee provides excellent narration for another great title by Liane Moriarty.  Madeline has a blended family and a teenaged daughter who seems to be gravitating more towards her new age, mellow stepmother.  Celeste is in a wealthy, seemingly perfect marriage; except that it’s not.  Jane is new to town; a single mother whose son is being bullied.  This book has some serious issues, but there is so much wit and charm and so many lovely friendships that it left me feeling entertained and glad to have spent time with these delightful characters.  
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett  Wow!  Brit Bennett really knows how to tell a story.  Excellent narration is provided here by Shayna Small.  Desiree and Stella Vignes are twins raised in the 1940s in Mallard, Louisiana a fictional town where everyone is rather light skinned. The story here is that the twins’ great great great grandfather, who was freed by the father who owned him, set up Mallard to be a town for light skinned people like him.
    Stella chooses to live a life as a white person while Desiree keeps her identity as a black person.  We watch them grow up and see the choices that they make and why and are left thinking about the twins, their lives, their decisions, their children. Issues of racism, family ties, transgender people and the choices that we make in life are handled adeptly by Brit Bennett in this novel that spans the decades of the 1940s to the 1990s.  This novel is breathtakingly well written and I plan to read The Mothers and look forward to Brit Bennet’s next book.
  • The Saturday Wife by Naomi Ragen: I love this book by Naomi Ragen. The aptly named Delilah (think Samson and Delilah) Levy marries Chaim Levy, a rabbi who is not earning enough money to make her happy. She pushes and prods until he takes over a wealthy Connecticut congregation that no one else will touch with a ten foot pole. Chaos ensues. This book is rather hilarious in my opinion and, although you probably will not like Delilah, the hijinx and the characters are very funny.
  • Chains Around the Grass by Naomi Ragen: This novel is semi-autobiographical and is a great coming of age story. Ragen tells the story of an impoverished family trying to live the American Dream and the tragedies and blessings that they encounter along the way. This book is very touching and worth reading. The setting is New Jersey and New York in the 1950s and there are themes of poverty and hard work, dreams and dreams deferred as well as trying to balance one’s religion and integrating into society.
  • The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: Kristin Hannah knows how to tell a story and she does not fail us here. This novel includes beautiful descriptions of Alaska, a love story, vivid descriptions of survivalists, domestic abuse and huge portions of hope and redemption.
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: This is a modern version of Pride and Prejudice and it is funny, romantic, and compulsively readable. Sheer delight! Note: one does not have to have read Pride And Prejudice to enjoy this hilarious, delightful, charming novel.

Janet Z.


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