Staff Reads November 2019

Book Projector Treble Clef

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  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn: This is one of those books that I totally disappeared into, and was sad when it ended. It’s a richly detailed work of historical fiction that jumps between World War One and just after World War Two, focusing on the lives of two very different, but very strong, women. Eve works as a spy in German-occupied France during WWI, and Charlie is an unwed, pregnant college student being dragged to post-WW2 Europe by her mother to “take care” of her “little problem.” Charlie runs away to London, where she meets Eve and begs the retired spy to help her find her missing cousin. And then… it’s just so good. 
  • Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life, by Ali Wong: I know Ali Wong from her Netflix comedy specials Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife, and was curious to read her book. It’s a memoir in the form of letters to her two daughters, and combines her sarcastic sense of humor with stories ranging from her adventures studying abroad, to childbirth, to her journey becoming a stand-up comedian, to the experience of being the child and grandchild of immigrants. I found it to be funny and touching, but anyone unfamiliar with her comedy should note that it tends to be on the raunchy side.


  • The Grace Year by Kim Liggett: I would say this is not so much like The Handmaid’s Tale, but The Hunger Games. Young women are sent away from their home when they turn 16, so that their “magic” will leave them before they return and are married. This novel was visceral, and at times, i didn’t want to know what bad things girls could do to each other. 
  • Toy Story 4
  • Midsommar 
  • Nancy Drew on the CW
  • Batwoman on the CW
  • Evil on CBS: This show is actually pretty creepy!
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark on Nickelodeon: 90s kids, remember this? It’s back! And creeping out this grown up


  • Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand: Late to the party as usual, this was my first Elin Hilderbrand beach read. Little did I know, it was also her first historical fiction book, which is always my go to. Like all of her books, this was set on Nantucket in the summer. The storyline goes back and forth among 4 main characters: three daughters, Blair, Kirby, and Jessie and their mother, Kate. There are background details to set it firmly in 1969: Kate’s son Tiger has been shipped to Vietnam; Teddy Kennedy stays at the Martha’s Vineyard inn where Kirby is working the night he drives his car off the bridge at Chappaquiddick, and Jessie’s first crush Pick is planning to take her to Woodstock with him. But really the story is all about family dynamics, personal regrets, skeletons in the closet, and dealing with difficult life issues. The novel is a compulsive read and Hilderbrand does a great job of keeping you interested; I finished it in a week.
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama: I rarely read memoirs and I’m so glad I read this one. I felt I got to know this amazing and accomplished woman through her honest and intimate narrative. Her voice comes through so clearly that I practically could hear it; I later learned that she reads the audio book. And, although the book is truly her story, it does include vignettes of Barack, which were delightful to read. By the end, I wanted to reach out and invite her to my house for a glass of wine and to be my friend. 
  • Costalegre by Courtney Maum: Honestly, I don’t know how this book got published. I read it because it was described as a work of historical fiction but in my opinion, this book was not that. Set on a remote resort in Mexico in 1937, the cast of characters is a group of artists collected by wealthy socialite Leonora Caloway who spirits the group out of Nazi Germany to escape Hitler’s oppression. But really this is a story told from the perspective of Lara, Leonora’s teenage daughter who suffers from neglect, the pangs of first love, but mostly, boredom. It’s that last emotion that permeates the book and was the one I felt, too. 


  • Body Leaping Backward:  Memoir Of A Delinquent Girlhood by Maureen Stanton: I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir by Maureen Stanton.  Maureen grew up in Walpole Mass, a suburban town with the prison looming over everyone.  She describes her childhood on a dead end street, her parents’ divorce, having six siblings and feeling invisible.  Unfortunately, she gets into angel dust and loses some time hanging around the wrong people.  Maureen and her mother also get into shoplifting during a time of financial difficulty. This is a great depiction of some of the trials and tribulations of suburban working class lives during the sixties and seventies.  Many references of the time period resonated with me including but not limited to:  shag carpeting, Watergate, the Cowsills,  listening to lp records, watching the old show A Family Affair and finding out tone of the adorable twins, Buffy, became a drug addict.   I recommend this book to fans of All Souls:  A Family Story From Southie by Michael Patrick MacdonaldAngela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt.
  • The Floating Feldmans by Elyssa Friedland: This book is hilarious and I love the premise.  The Feldmans, an upper middle class suburban family from Great Neck, Long Island get together on a cruise ship to celebrate the matriarch’s 70th birthday.  Pandemonium breaks loose as various family secrets are revealed…a shopaholic, a pot salesman, and more.  Get ready to laugh!

Pat O.



  • On Looking : Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz: I loved this book about how exciting and interesting our everyday surroundings can be!  The author explores regular city streets with a focus on a particular sense. She walks with experts on typography, geology, etc. It’s truly fascinating and good reminder to slow down and stay curious. 
  • Three Women by Lisa Taddeo:  This book offers a peek behind the curtain of three women’s lives and the role of desire and sexual relationships in the shaping of their lives. The author spent about 10 years working with these women to write this book. No books have been written that study the topic so closely, with subjects and insights about womanhood that are so relatable. At times it feels voyeuristic, but ultimately the author really connects you to these women’s deepest, most private thoughts, feelings, and desires. It’s an extremely honest and intimate snapshot of their lives. I didn’t love the author’s voice in her intro chapter, but after that it was a breeze to read.
  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller: I could not put this down. Miller gives voice to the powerless, though it’s only her story she tells. Miller was sexually assaulted in the infamous Brock Turner case and known throughout the trial as “Emily Doe”. In writing this book, Miller makes herself vulnerable and shows strength- not only her strength, but the strength of every survivor that chooses to go public. She shows the hard road they walk, the roadblocks  they face in our legal system and in the court of public opinion. The topic isn’t an easy one, but she manages to make the reader feel optimistic, powerful, and part of the solution. Through her story readers get a very intimate perspective of the very real culture around assault and victim blaming in our society. I highly recommend this read.
  • Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow : Another page turner! I listened to the audiobook version and aside from the sometimes hilarious accents Farrow puts on, it’s a serious work. Farrow tells the story of NBC burying his story about Weinstein and how it came to be that he published it at the New Yorker. He’s tailed by spies, offered help from those looking to get information for Weinstein, and threatened along the way, all the while trying to convince those with stories to speak out while they are often facing the same threats. Farrow tells the story with commanding ease and keeps readers easily on track through all the twists and turns.
  • Colorado by Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Neil’s voice and musicians sound good as ever. I cannot stop listening. 


  • A Good Place to Hide: How One French Community Saved Thousands of Lives During World War II by Peter Grose: Compelling story about a small town in the Loire Valley of France in which several of the townspeople rallied to save the lives and hide Jews and other victims during the Holocaust.  The book is extremely detailed and is a good introduction to France’s role during World War II.
  • Meg and Jo by Virginia Kantra: Have you ever wondered how Little Women would fare if it took place in current times, skipped over the first part of the book, was set in North Carolina, and was only told from the point of view of the two oldest daughters?  Then this is the book for you!  Interesting AU (alternate universe) fiction about the March family.  I appreciated hearing more of Meg’s point of view than I did in the original novel and there were some interesting changes but not sure I’ll read the sequel (Beth and Amy, I assume) if there is one.
  • The Living by Matt De la Pena: This was a fun and quick paced teen disaster book set aboard a cruise ship with a bit of mystery and intrigue.  
  • Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory: Guillory is my favorite romance writer.  Her characters are well developed, most of her leads are people of color, and the women have a lot of agency.  Plus, they’re always fun and make me feel happy!  This is the direct follow up to The Wedding Party and this book is a bit of a fairy tale when Vivian has a whirlwind romance with a high ranking staff member of the Queen of England.  What’s refreshing is that both leads are adults in their 50s, which is something I have not seen in a lot of romance novels.
  • Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War by Samantha Seiple: Louisa May Alcott worked as a Civil War nurse in Washington DC prior to her writing Little Women, an experience she documented in Hospital Sketches.  This book details a lot more of her experience as well as the reality of medicine and the front lines during the time.
  • Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, read by the author: This is a compelling, thoughtful, sorrowful, and hopeful memoir, written in verse, detailing Anderson’s triumphs and tragedies, including the impact a sexual assault had on her life.  This book is very powerful and a good parallel to Anderson’s Speak.
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney: Coming of age novel about Marianne and Connell’s who have an on again/off again romance through late high school and college in Dublin, Ireland.  This is a quiet, thoughtful read that is character driven.
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds, read by Guy Lockard: This is a children’s book about track that can be appreciated by non sports fans.  Lockard’s narration really adds depth to the novel by giving bigger voices to already well developed characters.
  • The Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust Volume II) by Philip Pullman: This book is the follow up to La Belle Sauvage, which had been the prequel to His Dark Materials trilogy, but it is also the sequel to His Dark Materials trilogy as Lyra is now an adult in her 20s.  As with the first book in The Book of Dust trilogy, it is extremely plot driven and it moves on from character to character at breathtaking speed.  A lame romance subplot and an attempted sexual assault seem unnecessary as well.  I’ve been enjoying the His Dark Materials television adaptation so it was good to have this be on my recent brain while watching.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: Lovely coming of age story about a friendship and eventual romance between two boys, Aristotle and Dante, in the 1980s.
  • Full Dissidence by Howard Bryant: This is an upcoming book of essays by the talented sports journalist, Howard Bryant, who wrote the brilliant Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston. The essays are honest, thoughtful, and (at times) angry about the reality of race relations in this current age.  
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, read by Kate Burton: I first read this book 30(!) years ago and remember loving it but wasn’t sure what would happen when I revisited it.  I still very much enjoyed the story of Francie Nolan and the hardships (and happiness) of her life with her family and neighbors.  
  • Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Town under Siege by Mike Thomson: During the height of the current Syrian Civil War, residents of Daraya saved thousands of books and stored and circulated them in an underground library.  I was impressed with the resilience of the people featured in this story as well as getting human faces to the very complicated Civil War in Syria.  This book is a good start for learning more about the conflict.
  • Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: This historical novel, written in the same vein as Triangle and Orphan Train, is, like those, a duel narrative taking place in the past and present day.  The historical portions feature a fictional family who are victims of the Tennessee Children’s Home adoption scandal.  The modern day portions do tie into that, but I didn’t find it necessary. That being said, I was horrified by the real life story of the scandal and am inspired to read more about it.
  • Game of Thrones (television show): Well, I’m nothing, if not relevant, waiting six months after the last episode of this show before starting it.  It’s definitely entertaining, well acted, and extremely violent.  I’m enjoying it but it definitely has its issues.  

Janet Z.

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