Staff Reads April 2022

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  • Last Seen Alive by Joanna Schaffhausen: 5th in the Ellery Hathaway series. Fun familiar thriller/mystery written by a local Waltham author!
  • Where Madness Lies by Sylvia True: Fictionalized version of the author’s family history from pre-WWII Germany to present day Belmont MA. This was ok. It was interesting, but sortof one-note pace-wise… even the dramatic parts were written just matter-of-factly.
  • This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson: There are a lot of questions answered for people questioning or coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity, or parents/caregivers or curious allies. There is a clear message to use condoms. There is a very mild glancing reference to consent; this message should be louder, in my opinion. I recommend reading the print edition; the narrator of the audiobook was pretty awful… had. a. speech. cadence. like. a. robot.
  • Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs: #2 in the Bella Vista Chronicles. Part Historical-fiction, part chick-lit, this second novel in a series is mostly set in California on the Apple Orchard of an old man whose background during WWII in Denmark is further revealed.


  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: Very rarely has a character stayed with me like this one; I can’t stop thinking about him. Piranesi is an odd guy, but his naivete and loving nature are also incredibly endearing. He lives in a bizarre world – the House – made up of many marble rooms filled with outsize statues depicting all manner of life, together with ocean tides that Piranesi tracks. There is one other person who lives in the world – the Other. Piranesi and the Other meet twice a week, for one hour each. The Other is dressed very nattily and carries a slim silver object, which he occasionally taps. Piranesi is in rags and shoeless. The heart of the story is Piranesi and his boundless empathy and curiosity for his world and the birds that he shares it with. His rapture at the world around him, his scientific endeavors to explore it, and his daily chores to both stay alive and honor the human bones that he tends, are wonderfully told. This is also a mystery and page turner; you won’t want to put it down.
  • The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali: This was a well told story about teenage lovers in 1953 Tehran who meet in a stationery shop. Bahman is high energy and full of hope for political change. Roya is quiet and bookish and becomes thoroughly entranced by her beau. But it’s clear from the start of the book that Roya marries an American named Walter and as the story unfolds, you learn why.
  • In Search of a Name by Marjolin Van Heemstra: Pregnant Marjolin needs a name for her soon to be born son. She wants to name him after her great uncle, who, family legend says, was a hero of the resistance in WWII Amsterdam. Marjolin’s partner, D, challenges her to find out more about the man and his story and that is the structure of the novel. Her search continues as her belly grows and she must navigate all sorts of obstacles. Both the first and last name of the main character match the author’s, but it’s never made clear how much of this story is nonfiction. This was a very quick read.


  • Girl On The Couch:  Life Love And Confessions Of A Normal Neurotic by Lorna Martin: This book is not available in our network but can be requested via Commonwealth Catalog.  This book is a very entertaining look at Lorna Martin’s time spent in analytic psychotherapy.  Ms. Martin comes to terms with some of her insecurities and repressed emotions.  She talks about her career in journalism, her loves and losses, Ms. Martin has a great sense of humor and some of the scenes with her very staid therapist are quite funny.  She faces some of her jealousies and fears and realizes that, even though she has a very loving family, it never hurts, in fact it helps, to come to terms with what is really going on beneath the surface.
    Ms. Martin lives in Glasgow, Scotland and there are lots of fun descriptions of the pubs she visits with her girlfriends and the landscape of her city.  Some of her journalistic romps are described in detail and we see her grow and mature during the course of the book.  A fun read!
  • The Best Short Stories:  the O. Henry Prize Winners 2021: This collection, edited by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichi, contains one fabulous short story after another.  Adichi has selected an amazing group of stories by a wide range of talented writers.  She has written the introduction to this volume.  Well worth the read. The stories are diverse and very satisfying.
    Some of the stories are told by a collective group, while others include very well developed characters.  I was particularly moved by the story of a woman in India who moves to a retirement community and mourns the infrequent contact with her daughter and granddaughter who have moved to the states.
  • Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong: This unique and beautifully written book contains three novellas featuring strong, black females with albinism.  We meet Suzette, Maple and Agnes.  They all hail from Shreveport, Louisiana.  Suzette has led a very sheltered life, a bit too sheltered due to a traumatic incident in her childhood.  She is getting ready to create an identity for herself as an adult and break free from her overprotective parents.  Maple is faced with the death of her mother; the closest and most significant relationship of her life.  She meets a man named Chad who is dealing with the loss of his daughter’s mother.  Her relationship with Chad helps her to overcome her own grief.   Agnes has been working for low wages despite her high level of education and treated poorly by her live-in boyfriend for too long.  She returns home and comes face to face with the childhood issues and the feeling of being less than that she has suffered for too long.
    Destiny Birdsong is a writer to follow.  I heartily recommend this absorbing book.  The deft use of language, the sense of place, and the strong female characters all make this a worthwhile read.
  • Helping Me Help Myself:  One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, And A Year On The Brink Of The Comfort Zone by Beth Lisick: This book is a hoot.  If you are looking for a laugh, read this one.  Beth Lisick, a writer, decides to check out some of the famous self-help gurus.  The Richard Simmons cruise alone is worth the read.  She is very funny when describing her life, her disorganized house, the seminars that she attends, all of it.  Great if you need a light entertaining read and if you have read some of the self-help gurus yourself.


  • The Swallowtail Legacy: Wreck at Ada’s Reef by Michael D Beil: This middle grade mystery definitely reads like Nancy Drew written by Ashley Herring Blake, two things I like a lot. It was a fun mystery in the tradition of Nancy Drew, with a lot of heart, and well written characters.
  • The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers on Disney Plus: This tv show is the Mighty Ducks for a new generation and it is absolutely adorable.
  • Killing Eve Season 4: One of my favorite shows
  • Scream 2022: As Scream and Scream 2 are two of my very favorite movies, I was incredibly excited when I found out that there would be a 4th film coming out this year. While I enjoyed it, I honestly wish there had been more screen time for the original cast. One of the best things about these films is the mystery around who the killer is, and i think they did a great job with this one.
  • The Deepest of Secrets by Kelley Armstrong: I was glad that this series hadn’t ended with the previous book, however, a lot of this particular book felt like repetitive filler. I don’t want these stories to end, but I wish that they were more on par with the first couple books.


  • Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry: I’m glad I read this because Lorraine Hansberry was fascinating, but I had some of the same issues I have with many biographies (I don’t like when the author makes assumptions about how the person they’re writing about was feeling about different events in their life). I also don’t think it was written in a particularly compelling way. But I’m glad it exists, and I did enjoy learning more about the influence she had on American theatre (her play A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway), her politics and activism, and I especially loved reading about her friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone.
  • Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King: I picked this short story collection up after loving Lily King’s novel Writers & Lovers a couple of years ago, and it has solidified her as one of my favorite contemporary authors. I just find her “slice of life” storytelling so moving. My favorite short story, “When in Dordogne,” is about a teenage boy left in the care of two house sitting college students while his parents go to France for eight weeks, and how being cared for by them in small ways changes him forever. I didn’t give the book five stars, because some of the stories weren’t as great, but the ones that were really dazzled me and I’d still highly recommend the collection overall.
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: This is a novel told in two alternating perspectives – one is the journal of sixteen-year-old Naoko in Japan, who’s dealing with bullying in school and a suicidal father. The other is Ruth (a fictionalized version of Ruth Ozeki – I love when authors do this!), who lives on a remote island in Canada and finds and becomes obsessed with Naoko’s journal when it washes up from the sea. Both narrators were great – Naoko is one of the best and funniest narrators I’ve encountered in a while, even though what she was writing about was often so dark and upsetting. And I loved reading about Ruth’s isolated home – I felt the island was as much of a character as Ruth herself. Although some magical realism elements didn’t totally work for me, I really enjoyed this reading experience overall.
  • Sheets by Brenna Thummler: Sweet middle grade graphic novel about a thirteen-year-old girl tasked with running her family’s laundromat after her mother dies, who befriends a lonely ghost. Enjoyed this one a lot more for the artwork than the story itself – it’s beautifully illustrated in dreamy pinks, blues, and purples, and the drawings were lovely to get lost in for a while.
  • The Most of It by Mary Ruefle: The book description says this is poet Mary Ruefle’s first book of prose, but it felt more like a combination of prose and poetry. It’s 92 pages of little vignettes on the most random topics – there’s one piece about craving a glass of water, another about the significance of her argument with her husband about whether or not to buy a bench for their yard, and another that’s a series of diary entries on her observations of birds. Recommend to fans of whimsy!
  • For All Mankind (on Apple TV+): If you can make it past the somewhat dull first two episodes, you will be richly rewarded because the rest of the series is SO GOOD.  I haven’t been this obsessed with a show in years, and “drama about astronauts in outer space” is usually not my genre!
  • The Gilded Age (on HBO Max):  I have learned that if a show features two middle aged aunts who have completely opposite personalities, there’s a 99% chance I will love it. This show is not brilliant by any stretch of the imagination (it’s pretty much a carbon copy of Downton Abbey but set in NYC), but I’m having the best time. (For those who already watch this or watched Downton Abbey, I also recommend the hilarious McSweeney’s piece “Every Episode of a Television Show written by Julian Fellowes” by Shannon Reed.)


  • The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey: The first in a series about Perveen Mistry, a woman who joins her father’s law firm in 1920’s India. In this book, she becomes suspicious and caught up in a murder when the widows of one of her clients decide to give their inheritances to charity. I’m looking forward to getting further into this book with a strong sense of place and time as well as intriguing characters and mystery.
  • A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole: Naledi Smith assumes the e-mails she receives about being the betrothed to Prince Thabiso of Thesolo, are nothing but spam and chooses to ignore them. It turns out they’re anything but and Prince Thabiso travels to the United States to find his intended (and pretend to be a commoner). There are a lot of romance tropes in this novel and they all work! (Tropes aren’t a bad thing if they’re done well.) I love that this novel is built off the idea that annoying spam e-mails may actually be real. (PSA: They never are, so while you should enjoy this novel, please don’t start giving money to princes who send you e-mails.)
  • The 1619 Project Created by Nikole Hannah-Jones: Book version of the Pulitzer Prize winning series in The New York Times Magazine featuring essays about how the first ships in 1619 arriving in the American colonies with kidnapped and enslaved people from Africa shapes our nation’s history even today.
  • Eloise in Moscow by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight: I revisited this 1959 picture book for the first time since its re-release in 1999. A sequel to my favorite picture book, Eloise, the title character visits Moscow with her “Nanny” and her dog, Weenie (Skiperdee, her turtle, doesn’t feel well and flies home, as turtles are wont to do.) This book is definitely a product of its time could be an interesting look/read as a piece of history for those interested in mid-20th century history of the evolution of children’s literature, especially in the context of current events. There is definitely some Cold War propaganda having an influence on the text but the illustrations and some of the story are very detailed and descriptive of the city.  If I wanted to introduce a young reader to everyone’s favorite resident of the Plaza Hotel, however, I would probably just stick with the original Eloise.
  • Anxious Girls Do It Better: A Travel Guide for (Slightly Nervous) Girls on the Go by Bunny Banyai: I love to travel and I am also not a stranger to being (slightly) nervous, as this book’s subtitle says. I’m a sucker for travel guides aimed at women and this book grabbed my eye when I first saw it. This book has advice for every type of travel, coping strategies for any type of anxiety associated with travel. There is even an anxiety ratings system for various popular travel destinations. (Disney World in Florida, for example, has a low anxiety rating if you visit in the morning on a weekday in the off season. However, it scores the highest anxiety rating if you travel on weekends during peak season.) A helpful and fun guide. I can’t wait to use it.
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson: I have confession as someone who was an English major in college. I was not a fan of Emily Dickinson (turns in English major card.) I’m embarrassed to admit that all I had remembered about her is that a college friend taught me the trick that most of her poems can be sung to the tune of the theme from Gilligan’s Island. (This absolutely works, by the way.) However, I have recently come to re-visit and appreciate authors and poets that I dismissed when I was younger and Emily Dickinson is not an exception. Her life was fascinating and I realize that my dismissal of her beautiful poetry was silly and immature and am really glad that I’ve decided to give it another chance. (I fully admit that I still read her poetry with the tune of Gilligan’s Island in my head.)
  • Bridgerton, Season 2The Viscount Who Loved Me, the book for which the current season has been based, was my favorite of the Bridgerton book series by Julia Quinn and I was very excited for this new season. It did not disappoint. The show runners changed quite a bit from the book and most of it was for the better. I know the show is not historically accurate (including the clothes) and I couldn’t care less. Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley (a supporting actor on Sex Education, another great Netflix show) sizzle with chemistry as Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma this season. I’ve already watched the season twice and am not ashamed to admit that I may watch a third time. It is pure escapism.
  • Derry Girls: This is actually a re-watch for me. (I’m pretty sure I wrote about it in a previous “Staff Reads”). I’m re-watching in anticipation of the upcoming third season as well as to appreciate the range of Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan whose Clare Devlin is my favorite character.