Staff Reads February 2021




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  • I am listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming while walking…a great way to start off the new year.
  • I recently read One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London. It explored body image as a plus size blogger became the star of a Bachelor style reality tv show. It was a fun and thought provoking book.



  • In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado: This is the most innovative book I have ever read. Machado revolutionizes the memoir in this account of her relationship with an abusive woman. A vital addition to queer bookshelves everywhere with a heartwarming plot-twist—although I am not sure it can still be called plot since it happened in real life.
  • The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa: Ogawa’s dream-like science fiction takes you to a nightmarish island where entire objects—flowers, gems, instruments—disappear from everyone’s memory. The special few who are able to remember are hunted down and swept away by the ominous memory police. This novel is full of surprising and breathtaking images, beautifully translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder.
  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter: This work of nonfiction follows the idea of a white race from its invention and through its many iterations and definitions. Painter covers everything from the creepy guy who brought the word “Caucasian” into general use to the titans of American intellect who shaped whiteness into what worked best for their politics and their wallets. A deeply researched illumination.


  • Sister of Mine by Sabra Waldfogel: Big wow. This had me from the start and I read it in 3 days. It tells an unusual story about a Jewish cotton farmer in 1800s Georgia and the relationship of one of the enslaved women, Rebecca, to both her mistress and her master. The writing is simple, yet elegant, and the story compelling at every page. It starts during the Civil War, then goes to an earlier time to tell the backstory. Weeks later, and I’m still thinking about these characters.
  • The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain: This was a quick read, perfect for downtime during staycation. The story takes place after the suicide of midwife Noelle, who died with a pile of secrets not even her best friends, Tara and Emerson, knew. The plot’s twists and turns keep you going – and guessing – but I confess that I knew the final plot turn before it was revealed at the end. A fun, light read.
  • A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner: The author sets up an interesting parallel between the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire and 9/11. The main plot of the story is in 1911 and involves nurse Clara Wood, who works on Ellis Island, in its hospital. She’s escaped Manhattan, following the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and is still traumatized by having seen her friend jump from the building to his death. When she cares for a recently arrived immigrant who has Scarlet Fever, she feels an affinity towards the man and gains more understanding about her own experience. The 2011 plotline revolves around a woman, Taryn, who saw the Twin Towers fall and narrowly escaped injury. What ties them together is a scarf printed with marigolds. I really enjoyed both stories, but felt the scarf connection was a bit contrived. Still, a fun read


  • This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II by Andrew Xia Fukuda: This book was very good, albeit a bit depressing. It follows Alex Maki, a Japanese-American teenager living on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. He’s a bit of a loner, and his only real friend is his penpal of many years, Charlie, a Jewish teenage girl living in Paris. The book follows the turmoil that takes over their lives, as first Alex and then Charlie are targeted and forced from their homes simply because of who they are. The reader follows Alex during his time in an internment camp, and then as a soldier fighting in Europe near the end of the war. I finished it a while ago, but I’m still thinking about it.
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: Matt Haig does not disappoint! I was only about 10 or 20 pages into this, his latest novel, when I realized I loved it. Clearly I’m not the only one, since The Midnight Library was voted Best Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2020. The story follows a woman who has decided to end her life, but then finds herself in a library full of books that tell of the infinite paths her life could have taken, based on every choice she ever made. Like many of Haig’s other books, The Midnight Library has elements of sci-fi and fantasy with a dollop of philosophy, and I loved the premise of an endless library that contains all the different stories one’s life could possibly tell.
  • What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing – What Birds Are Doing, and Why by David Allen Sibley: I’ve always been interested in birds, and have been encouraging a similar interest in my preschooler, who loves to refill our bird feeders and watch the ensuing frenzy. This book is beautifully illustrated and full of fascinating details… I might have to add it to my wishlist so we can have a copy at home for reference!
  • Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill: I had placed a hold on this ebook and then promptly forgot about it, so it was a pleasant and hilarious surprise when it became available. Oneill acts as a tour guide for the reader, who has ostensibly gone back to Victorian times after admiring the clothes and perceived way of life shown in period dramas. The author doesn’t hold back in her narrative reality slap, explaining just how miserable life could be for women of all classes during this time. It was a truly eye-opening read, and the humor with which Oneill writes had me giggling so much that I almost worried my husband suspected me of hysteria.  
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland: I wanted to read outside of my usual comfort zone, so I picked this alternative history/sci-fi/horror novel about the aftermath of the Civil War, which was cut short by the dead coming back to life and wreaking havoc on the country. In this version of history, slavery has ended but a law called the Native and Negro Reeducation Act forces all Black and Indigenous youth to be trained in combat so that they can work to protect their white bosses. It took me quite a while to get into the story, but about halfway through I was hooked and didn’t want to put it down. Now I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel to come in on hold!
  • Ungovernable: The Victorian Parent’s Guide to Raising Flawless Children by Therese Oneill: After reading Oneill’s Unmentionable (see above), I was excited to see that she had written another guide to Victorian life. Ungovernable covers all angles of child-rearing, and had me laughing just as hard as Oneill’s other book. Both books make me so glad I didn’t live in the nineteenth century… I don’t think I would have been cut out for it!
  • The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed: This YA novel takes place in Los Angeles in 1992, beginning just before four LAPD officers were acquitted for the beating of Rodney King. The story follows Ashley, a high school senior who is one of only a few Black students at school, the only Black girl in her circle of friends, and part of the only Black family in her wealthy, mostly white neighborhood. When the verdict in the King trial leads to an uprising in the city, Ashley has to reckon with who she is, how she identifies, and who “us” and “them” are, all while dealing with typical high school drama. I haven’t finished this book yet, but I’m really enjoying it. Being in elementary school in Massachusetts in 1992, I heard nothing about these events in LA, so I feel like I’m filling in a gap in my understanding of this country’s history. This is the author’s first novel, and I hope she writes more!
  • The Ripper (Netflix): This is a 4-part documentary about the “Yorkshire Ripper,” who killed 13 women and attacked 9 more during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I had heard of the Ripper but didn’t know much about what happened, so this documentary was very enlightening (and pretty gruesome, as one might imagine). I’m also a sucker for Yorkshire accents, so that was a bonus!
  • Song Exploder (Netflix): This is another documentary series, with each episode taking a deep-dive into one song as the artist picks it apart and explains how it was written. I watched the episodes on The Killers’ “When You Were Young,” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” Both were fascinating, and made me like those songs even more. Song Exploder started as a podcast that is up to nearly 200 episodes, dealing with all different genres of music. I foresee myself learning about many more songs in the near future!
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: I feel very late to the party with this one, but I finally got around to watching the last Star Wars movie. I watched it a few weeks ago now, and I still don’t know how I feel about it! The movie dragged for the first 2/3 or so, and I was so bored, but then the end was exciting. Definitely not my favorite, but I suppose it wasn’t terrible.


  • Orville Peck’s albums Pony and Show Pony available through Hoopla and Freegal: This is slow, sad, outlaw country with post punk influences, and I can’t stop listening to it. 
  • The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous: Part gothic domestic thriller, part locked room mystery, this might appeal to fans of both. 
  • Devolution by Max Brooks: Read from the safety of an urban environment, this is a mostly well done thriller I couldn’t put down. I wouldn’t recommend reading it in a cabin in the woods, especially if you have an overactive imagination like me. 
  • Bridgerton on Netflix: Not really my thing. The costumes were horrendous (the Queen would not be wearing a style that was popular when she was an infant), and you would think that if we are in an “alternate universe” of 1813 where society is color blind, and people wear crazy un 1800s clothes, that gay people would get to have screen time too. But nope. Also the Duke of Hastings is a jerk, because principals.


Covid had me reading less in 2020 thanks to shorter commutes and I didn’t make my Goodreads goal.  This year I’m working hard to redeem myself! Here’s what I’ve read so far in 2021:

  • The Girl Beneath the Sea by Andrew Mayne: I like to snorkel and I like mysteries/police procedurals with continuing characters.  This was a nice blend for me! This is the 1st in the Underwater Investigation Unit series and I’ll definitely read # 2: Black Coral.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This story was on a few suggested reading lists, was made for Hulu and I had friends who liked it so I thought I’d give it a try.  It takes place in a midwestern “planned community”. That premise struck me as a bit Stepford at first. It also starts with the ending and then you spend the rest of the book figuring out how you’ll get there. It was good, not amazing, but decent.  Several types of motherhood are on display as well as several types of angst.
  • My favorite so far this year is The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. It’s about the Spanish Flu of 1918 and takes place in a maternity ward in Ireland. This book was researched for the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Flu and was due to be published in 2021 but when covid hit, printing was fast-tracked to take advantage of the timeliness of the topic in relation to our new pandemic. I listened to the audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed the narration.  A colleague of mine, Dana, made the connection for me that Emma Donoghue has made a name for herself writing books that all take place in essentially one room and this fits that theme. (See also Room and The Wonder, which I’ve also read. These are each a bit on the darker/creepier side compared to Pull of the Stars.)
  • For that year-in-review feel, here are my 2 favorite books of 2020. One was reviewed already, but it seemed worth bringing back since it was a 5-star book!
  • The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes: Some books can provide “windows” to view another’s reality; books that reflect a reader’s own life are considered “mirrors”. For me, this book was both: a mirror because it was about Librarians, but a window because the characters worked in Depression-era Kentucky & delivered books on horseback! I listened on audio and it was so good that I was really anxious to get back in the car & hear what would happen next and had to sit in my driveway to finish it because I knew I was only a few minutes from the end!
  • The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: Beautiful descriptions of scenery, deep characters, difficult life circumstances… just a well-rounded story in an unforgiving place.


  • Nothing Changes: Art for Hank’s Sake (Amazon): Artist Hank Virgona lives to make art. Traveling six days a week from Queens to his studio in Manhattan’s Union Square, his commute sometimes takes up to two hours in each direction due to serious health and mobility challenges. Even so, Hank wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a real treat to hear Hank discuss his work and his views on life. We should all be at least a little like Hank. 
  • Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words (DVD): I only knew Zappa for the songs “Dancin’ Fool” and “Valley Girl.” It was a real revelation to learn more about his world view. With that said, this is definitely not family entertainment. 
  • I Don’t Like Snakes written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Luciano Lozano: This picture book made me like snakes!
  • Lambslide written by Ann Patchett, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser:  A little girl who lives on a farm announces she is running for class president. Her mother says, “you’ll win by a landslide!” The lambs on the farm hear the word “lambslide” instead of “landslide” and the fun begins. An adorable book with great lessons about persistence and cooperation.
  • King, Martin Luther (1957, April 12). “Justice Without Violence” [Speech audio recording]. Brandeis Now. 


  • Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld: I love everything that I have read by Curtis Sittenfeld to date and Sisterland is no exception.  Kate and Violet are identical twins who also have a certain psychic ability that is both a blessing and a curse.  Violet predicts that a devastating earthquake will be hitting the St. Louis area and everything goes from there.  This is a great read with well developed characters. 
  • Every Last One by Anna Quindlen: Note:  This is not a happy story.  If your pandemic requires upbeat novels, please do not read further.  If you are still with me, this is a beautiful novel about a devoted mother and a tragedy; and how one lives a life after something awful has happened.
  • The Orchard by David Hopen: Ooh, I love this book.  I recommend this for any and all Donna Tartt fans and for fans of the mystical with a strong serving of dark.  Ari Eden was raised in a religious family in Brooklyn.  However, when his father loses his job, the family moves to a wealthy neighborhood in Florida.  Ari befriends a group of suburban Orthodox peers who are much more ‘worldly’ and not as observant as he was raised to be.  Adventures, love interests, and trouble ensues.  A beautifully written first novel from a literary talent.  
  • Still Me by Jojo Moyes: This novel will appeal to fans of light, fluffy, happy ending titles.  Although this is not my favorite Moyes novel, it is still a pleasant read about the wealthy and their help, with a romantic interest and a cute dog thrown in for fun.
  • Leave the World Behind by Ruman Alaam: Do you like dystopian novels?  Look no further.  This is a Great Read by a fabulous author!  Amanda and Clay take their two teenage children to a rental home in Eastern Long Island, expecting a nice, relaxing vacation.  Except that is not what happens.  This book is sooooo amazing.  Finalist for a national book award.  Read it!
  • Beach Read by Emily Henry: A nice, light, intelligent romance.  Perfect pandemic reading!  Entertaining!
  • The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren : Hilarious romance that is light and very funny!  Give it a go if you need a laugh!
  • The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: This is not a light read but it is a fantastic book that will give you a very different perspective on the Vietnam War.  We meet three generations of a family who has been through so much and still manage to keep hope and connection alive.  A beautiful book that will enrich you.   Warning:  War and violence
  • His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie:  I love this book that explores an arranged marriage in Ghana and a young woman who comes into her own during a time of changing values and mores.  This book is delicious and satisfying and feminists will cheer.
  • Under The Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee:  This is a book that deals with the American South during the Depression and during the time of slavery.  This is definitely a novel whose comforting formula helps to take the sting out of some of the material so, while it is edifying, it is not nearly as heavy as this sort of book can be.
  • Apeirogon by Colum McCann: This is a very beautifully written novel that is based on a true story of a Palestinian and an Israeli who befriend each other due to their personal tragedies.  The writing is beautiful and borders on the poetic.  Colum McCann narrated the audiobook and he is a wonderful narrator and author.  Warning:  Violence
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Delicious!  Movie Stars!  Marriages!  Philandering!  Money!  Pretty dresses!  Yum!
  • To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: Oh, how I love this book.  I was actually upset when it ended.  Beautiful, romantic teen novel that adults will enjoy.  Beautiful character development.
  • How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi: The perfect book for our times.  I am listening to the author’s narration and I am totally hooked.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell:  Gosh, I love Rainbow Rowell.  This book may be for teens, but I am a fan as well.  Lovely teen romance.  Mwah.
  • Madame:  Entertaining, silly, funny and stars Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel.
  • Guys and Dolls: Oh, it was so much fun to visit this musical starring Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, and a very sexy Marlon Brando!  Academy Award Nominee.  Funny and fun!
  • Doc Martin:  Perfect Pandemic watching.  Light, funny, quirky, eccentric, beautiful scenery. 
  • Dharma Lounge Volume 1 by Viro:  Freegal is fun and this particular recording is relaxing and yet upbeat


  • English for Spanish Speakers On the Go (audiolibro de Mango Languages en el Overdrive/Libby): Programa para aprender inglés. Útil para los que prefieren escuchar y repetir en voz alta en vez de leer una pantalla. Para principiantes y algunos aprendices de nivel intermedios (avanza para llegar a los capítulos más aptos para usted).
  • Pablo Neruda Lee Su Poesía (audiolibro en el Hoopla): Escucha el mismísimo Neruda en su propia voz leer algunos de sus poemas más conocidos como Alturas de Macchu Picchu y Oda a Los Calcetines.
  • Ted Lasso (TV series on Apple TV): Funny, uplifting, great cast. The owner of an English Premier League Football club hires a Division II American College Football coach (played by Jason Sudeikis) to tank her squad and enrage her cheating ex-husband. You don’t need to like sports to enjoy this show, and the less you know about English football, the more you have in common with Coach Lasso.
  • Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right by Jamie Glowacki: Few books have so swiftly impacted my day-to-day existence than this guide by Glowacki. Recommended reading for parents who don’t think they’re ready to train yet (spoiler alert: your toddler likely is).
  • Ten Little Eggs: A Celebration of Family illustrations by Jess Mikhail: Surprisingly sweet and fun to read aloud with our 2 year old. 


  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow: This book is amazing with a mysterious, creepy, surreal yet realistic tone. The world building is fantastic here and I had no trouble buying the fantastical elements. This is a real a world in which sirens, gargoyles, and other magical creatures exist alongside the horrors of the real world such as racial injustice, victim blaming, and violence against women.
  • I Really Want the Cake by Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti: Adorable rhyming picture book that, well, really made me want cake.
  • P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy: Written in epistolary (letters) fashion, Evie writes to her sister, Cilla, after Cilla’s parents force her to live with a great-aunt when she becomes pregnant. Evie writes about troubles with her parents, as well as a burgeoning attraction to her new friend, June but Cilla never writes back. This book is very lyrically written and is very sad.
  • Dear Girls by Ali Wong: Hilarious, thoughtful (and sometimes a little raunchy which didn’t bother this reader but may make some blush), this is an open letter written by comedian, actor, and writer to her daughters to read when they’re older. Definitely recommend listening to the audio version which includes a loving tribute and afterward written by Wong’s husband. 
  • The Bromance Bookclub by Lyssa Kay Adams, read by Andrew Eiden and Maxwell Caulfield: This romance novel about a baseball player trying to fix his struggling marriage didn’t work for me, but there were some enjoyable elements. I appreciated the side characters starting a romance book club to try and be better partners and Maxwell Caulfield narrating a fake regency romance was pretty funny. 
  • Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: Thoughtful book about Grace, who woke up in Vegas to discover that she married a woman she met the night before. That sentence really doesn’t do this character driven story justice at all nor the complex person Grace is as well as Grace’s friends and family who make up the supporting characters. 
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: Just gorgeous! Thanks to Dana (once again), I discovered this book and author. While the reader knows what will most likely happen at the end of the novel, it doesn’t matter. The writing and journey are what’s important. 
  • The Duke and I by Julia Quinn: This is the first book in the Bridgerton series. While I had read others in the series, I had missed this one and wanted to check it out as the show was premiering. It was not my favorite of the book series and contained one scene in particular that was extremely problematic and featured questionable consent. (It’s definitely written in a way that we’re not supposed to think of it as assault, which makes it even worse.)
  • Watched some holiday movies back in December:
    • A Christmas Setup: Fran Drescher as a librarian playing a bit of a matchmaker for her son and the guy he had a crush on in high school. Loved the plot and the main couple and I can’t lie. I love The Nanny as a librarian.
    • Love, Lights, Hanukkah: A woman who was adopted at birth by her recently deceased mother, discovers that her birth mother was Jewish and becomes close to her new found family. The tone was typical of a made for TV romance but I really appreciated the concept of family. The main character navigates her new found relationship with her birth mother and biological siblings while still acknowledging the love for and traditions of her adoptive mother. 
    • Jingle Jangle: Netflix movie featuring Forrest Whitaker as a wronged magical toymaker who has become bitter over the years, only to be encouraged by his genius granddaughter. Very sweet movie.
  • Bridgerton: I mainly enjoyed the Shondaland adaptation of Julia Quinn’s romance novels. I know nothing about fashion history so I thought the outfits were fun and the acting is great. I also really adored Queen Charlotte as a character (who does not feature in any of the books that I read in the series). However, I definitely acknowledge the problematic elements of this show. I think it’s great that the show is much more representative than the books but I agree with my colleague and others that it doesn’t go far enough. There is also the scene I referenced from The Duke and that is basically sexual assault. While it’s written in a way that’s less problematic than in the novel, it’s still troubling and I question why it was left in at all. If you watch the show, I definitely recommend the following two videos on Youtube that critique the show: “Why Bridgerton is Problematic” and “Race-Baiting, Queer-Baiting, Colorism, Featurism, and Performative Diversity” 
  • WandavisionI have no idea what’s going on in this show and I’ve seen most (all?) of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is not a criticism at all, believe me! Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen are great and the show veers from funny to mysterious to downright creepy.
  • Wonder Woman 1984: The less said about this movie, the better and I’ll leave it at that.

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