Staff Reads May 2021

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  • In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn: This book grabbed me early on and didn’t let go until it was over. The teenage narrator, Finn, is killed in a car crash almost right off the bat. She spends the rest of the book as an omnipresent but helpless observer as she follows her friends and family in the aftermath of the crash. Finn’s unique vantage point allows us to learn the depth of the other characters, even as her own character continues to develop in the afterlife.
  • Covid Chronicles: A Comics Anthology by Kendra Boileau: For many (myself included, I realized), it’s probably too early to be reflecting on life during Covid – you know, since it’s still going on – but this comics collection gives a fascinating look at how people’s lives changed, and how their varied experiences are expressed through their art.
  • We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry: This was my book club’s pick for May. I liked that it is set locally (Danvers), that the main characters are a pretty diverse group, and that the story combines a high school field hockey team with the mischievous allure of witchcraft, but overall I didn’t love it. I feel like it had potential that it didn’t quite reach.
  • Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson: Lawson’s latest essay-collection-memoir focuses on her journey with depression and anxiety. Some essays were serious, like the one about her battles with her health insurance company that made me feel ragey, and others were so funny that my stomach hurt from laughing. I love Lawson’s sense of humor and writing style.
  • Kim’s Convenience (Netflix): My husband and I just started watching this series and we’re hooked. It’s hard to find a funny, entertaining show where the characters are actually likeable – especially one that has half-hour episodes – and this one goes above and beyond.
  • The Sunlandic Twins Of Montreal: I was feeling nostalgic for the weird music of my college days – enter Of Montreal. I was excited to see that Hoopla has most, if not all, of their discography!


  • The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women by Scott W. Stern: I started this because we’re hosting the author on June 2 (“Promiscuous” Women); I kept reading it because the topic is frankly mind-boggling. For decades, thousands of women in America were routinely rounded up and detained for months, because they had or were suspected of having an STI. Men? Not so much. Stern tells the story of one woman, Nina McCall, as well as lays out the untold history of the program known as – wait for it – the American Plan. I kid you not. The roots of controlling women’s behaviour run deep in this country and learning about the American Plan sheds new light on government overreach.
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys: This is a story about the greatest maritime disaster in history. No, not the Titanic or the Lusitania, but the Wilhelm Gustloff. Set at the end of WWII, four intertwined characters tell their own stories as they escape German-occupied land in advance of the Russians. Over 9,000 people, including many children, died when the ship they escaped on was torpedoed by a Russian submarine. The writing is exquisite to read, with minor characters like the endearing shoe poet and darkly humorous Sorry Eva helping to fill out the story. Oh, and there’s a satisfying love story to boot. Highly recommend.
  • The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah: This historic fic tells the story of Elsa, a farmer’s wife devastated by the double whammy of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that has deadened the land. In order to save her young son, Elsa chooses to set out for California and enters a different kind of hell. The remarkable thing about this novel is that it captures the despair of the times. The agonizing part of this novel is that it captures the despair of the times. I loved Hannah’s exquisite writing, but ultimately found the plot too damn depressing.


  • The Last Days by Adam Nevill: When documentary filmmaker Kyle Freeman is paid an exorbitant sum to make a last minute documentary about 1970s cult known as “The Temple of the Last Days” he thinks his money problems are over. As he and his film partner, Dan, start interviewing survivors of the cult’s infamously cruel and violent leader, Sister Katharine, strange and terrifying occurrences begin piling up. This is a truly scary read that anyone who is a fan of true crime, cults or the supernatural will enjoy.


  • Malice by Heather Walter: This is a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” with a little bit of “Cinderella” and others thrown in, for good measure. Alyce, the Dark Grace or Briar who can only perform curses, unlike her fellow “Graces” falls in love with Princess Aurora and the feeling is mutual. This descriptive novel is refreshing and original, despite the fact it was based on some well known fairy tales. The world building is especially impressive. The only issue is that the book ends rather abruptly with an obvious set up for a sequel. At the risk of giving away spoilers, I will add that if you were one of those people who were caught off guard by the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, this may not be the book for you.
  • Ichiro by Ryan Inzana: I really enjoyed this genre bending graphic novel which is a mix of fantasy, family fiction, coming of age story, history, and Shinto mythology. As with any good graphic novel, the illustrations enhance the story.
  • Chlorine Sky by Mahogony L. Browne: Coming of age novel, told in verse, about the complexities of high school friendship, set against a descriptive California backdrop. I recommend for those who like novels in verse, such as A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, and novels by Elizabeth Acevedo.
  • Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri: This latest book by Jhumpa Lahiri, first written in Italian and then translated into English by the author, is a cross between a short story collection and a novel. The vignettes from a nameless narrator’s life range from melancholy to hopeful and are beautifully written.
  • The Degenerates by J. Albert Mann: Everyone who has Waltham connections should read this teen novel taking place at what was later to be called the Fernald School. London, Alice, Maxine, and Rose are living at what was then called “The Massachusetts School for the Feeble Minded”. As if the name itself isn’t horrific, the conditions and how the girls are treated is heartbreaking and upsetting. I drive by the Fernald property and I’m grateful to have books like this to give me a sense of the history. For more information about the Fernald School, contact the Massachusetts State Archives or check out The State Boys Rebellion by Michael D’Antonio.
  • Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen (audiobook read by Quyen Ngo): In 1978, Huong moves to New Orleans, LA from Vietnam with her sons, Binh (later “Ben”) and Tuan. She continues to write letters to her husband with no response as the years pass and readers are given glimpses into the lives of the three family members. This book is a thoughtful and moving family story. There is also a bit of foreshadowing concerning recent New Orleans history.
  • Why We Cook by Lindsay Gardner: Part cookbook, part essay collection, part vignettes, women from all walks of life who are part of all aspects of the food industry contribute to this collection about food, cooking, and advocacy. I’ve added so many travel destinations, cookbooks, and food blogs to my list as a result of this book!
  • Dial “A” for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto (audiobook read by Risa Mei): This dark comedy about a blind date gone wrong and a very meddling (but loving) Chinese/Indonesian-American family had me in stitches. You really need to suspend disbelief to get through this one, so this may not be for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Get it on audio if you can.
  • Star Wars: The Bad Batch on Disney Plus: What is happening to me? Am I actually starting to enjoy the prequel era of Star Wars? This is the second cartoon from that era I really liked. This animated sequel, of sorts, to the Clone Wars cartoon is an interesting look at the early days of the Galactic Empire, told through the eyes of Clone Force 99, aka “The Bad Batch”. Most of the Bad Batch members were resistant to the infamous Order 66 (ordered execution of The Jedi) and they are on the run as they navigate life post-Clone Wars. Remember the premise of The A-Team? Well, take that and add to the galaxy far far away and you should get a good idea of this show. I really liked what this animated universe has done not only with this era but with its continued characterization and questioned ethics of the clones.




  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: It’s an incredible book, and therapeutic for those who ruminate on the different lives you could have lived.
  • Trauma is Really Strange by Steve Haines: I “enjoyed” this quick little read about trauma and PTSD (a difficult topic). It’s a good primer for anyone who knows someone with PTSD, and a small hug to those who feel alone in coping after a trauma.
  • Mare of Easttown (HBO): A gritty and good drama/crime show. I enjoy most of the characters- they’re well shaped as full people with good traits and flaws. The story is engaging with some red herrings, but doesn’t go too far with anything that isn’t going to lead somewhere. As a note: I really would not recommend watching this if you recently lost someone to suicide as it is a strong theme in this show and there is a particularly graphic depiction of finding the suicide victim in a middle episode.
  • Shrill season 3 (Hulu): I loved the last season of the show. It’s so good, but it was so sad to say goodbye to these characters.
  • The Woman in the Window (Netflix): I mostly enjoyed this film. I didn’t see the killer coming, and I felt a lot of tension overall. Amy Adams is always great, especially when she’s an unreliable narrator as seen in this film. It felt somewhat campy at times, and perhaps over-acted by a few smaller characters here and there…but it also really harkened back to the style of Hitchcock in Vertigo or North by Northwest…though there are obvious comparisons to be made to Rear Window.


  • Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and John Jennings: This graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred is true to the original. The illustrations are beautifully done and one can understand why it won the Will Eisner Award in 2018 for best adaptation from another medium. This book is a must read if you want to see the literal kinship that exists between white slaveholders and the slaves whom they mistreated and abused for so many years. Both versions of this story are worthwhile and invaluable reading.
  • Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler: This is the second volume after Parable of the Sower and it does not disappoint. Octavia Butler’s prescience and keen powers of observation are on display in this novel. Her imagination and world building are superb.
  • For Better and For Worse: Selected Shorts: A Celebration Of The Short Story: This fabulous audiobook is a collection of short stories that have the common thread of marriage. The stories are read by actors and are all compelling and beautifully written. This is a sheer delight. Sherman Alexie and other fabulous authors are featured. I highly recommend this if you enjoy well written fiction about couples. This collection is read in front of a live audience and was presented on National Public Radio.
  • Sister Outsider: Essays And Speeches by Audre Lorde: I have been curious about Audre Lorde’s work for a long time and this is an excellent introduction to her writing. She was a Black lesbian feminist poet who was clearly ahead of her time.
  • The Seep by Chana Porter: This is such a delightful piece of fiction! You will learn about the seep, a gift? From aliens who are helping people to be more peaceful and interdependent. The question is, are they paying too high a price? Nobody seems to be reading anymore and there is no room for the existential angst that has been a part of the human condition for so long. Read this book and see what you think.
  • Vessel by Lisa A Nichols: This is a very entertaining novel about a space journey that goes to a hitherto unvisited planet. Only one astronaut comes out of the trip alive. Everyone thought that the mission failed but the astronaut makes contact with NASA and gets home. The only problem is that she can not remember what happened. Read this book and find out everything. Great if you like some romance in your science fiction and strong women characters.
  • Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler: More amazing, powerful short stories by one of the masters of the science fiction genre.
  • The Lights Go Out In Lychford by Paul Cornell: This book is delightful. We have good guys, bad guys, witches, magic and romance. The novel is well constructed and the characters are lovable. A fast and fun read that is part of a series. The magic is fun and feels believable in the context of the novel. Think of Agatha Raisin if she had magical powers and you will have some sense of this book; small town, vicar, quirky characters.
  • Unwelcome Bodies by Jennifer Pelland: Do you like Roald Dahl? The Twilight Zone? Jennifer Pelland is a master of the macabre and my only complaint is that I want to read more of her novels but I don’t see any in our catalog. This book is dark, weirdly funny at times, and reveals an author who has an amazing imagination.
  • Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: This is a classic work of science fiction and I have been in love since the first sentence. This is set in a world where earth is kind of on its last legs. Many people have moved to other planets. And there are androids and electric sheep. It is funny, creative and keeps you reading from start to finish.
  • Plague Of Doves by Louise Erdrich: I have been intending to read Louise Erdrich for a long time and am so glad that I read this book. This novel was actually a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Louise Erdrich writes beautifully about the Ojibwe of North Dakota, a terrible incident from the past that haunts all of the narrators of this novel. She brilliantly shows the interconnections of the characters and, like in Butler’s novel, Kindred, the many threads good and bad that connect the Native Americans to all of the characters in this novel. There is humor, strong character development and poetic, gorgeous writing.


  • 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism by Chavisa Woods: Chavisa Woods’s book is made up of 100 short, personal stories of sexism, harassment, discrimination, and assault. It is a devastating read, mainly because I either know people who have experienced similar indignities or have experienced some of them myself. Painful but necessary reading for all.
  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson: This work of historical fiction is based on the real, blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the Depression-era fleet of librarians who brought books to remote locations by horse- and mule-back. While the book was definitely well-researched and full of interesting bits of history, I found the trajectory to be fairly predictable.
  • The Moth Presents: All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns: I have listened to and loved the Moth Radio Hour programs for years but had never “read” the stories before. I downloaded the collection onto my phone and really enjoyed reading these inspirational stories during my spare time. A nice alternative to scrolling through social media feeds!
  • Waging Change: This documentary exposes the many challenges faced by restaurant workers, not the least of which that the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.13. Have you ever eaten in a restaurant? Ordered take-out? Gotten a haircut? Had a salon manicure? If so, then you’ve probably patronized a business that employs tipped workers and this documentary is for you.
  • Floodlines (Podcast): I could not stop listening to this podcast about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath and finished all 4.5 hours of it in two days. Incredible journalism, especially the interviews with Michael “Heckuva Job Brownie” Brown.