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Staff Reads October 2020


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Liz

Laura

  • Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru: I loved the writing and gorgeous artwork in this graphic novel, inspired by a radio serial from the 1940s.
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Joe Morton’s narration on the audio book version really brings alive the description and characters of this historical novel with a magical realistic touch.
  • You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria:  This is a breezy and fun romance behind the scenes of bi-lingual comedy co-starring telenovela star, Ashton and soap opera star, Jasmine. I really enjoyed this!
  • Logan Likes Mary Anne (graphic novel) by Gale GalliganThe Babysitters Club is the series that keeps getting re-born in many forms, to the delight of this BSC fan. My least favorite book of the original series was probably Logan Likes Mary Anne but I was quite happy with the graphic novel version. Logan is a much more realized character, here, and his relationship with Mary Anne seems much more realistic, as well.
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: This book was intense (in a good way). I thought Jones did a great job at addressing so many issues, including how the justice system treats Black men, how loved ones of prisoners handle the situation, and the  different makeup of families. The book is narrated by Roy, Celestial, and Andre and while a lesser writer could have made Celestial and Andre into unsympathetic characters given certain plot elements, Jones does a great job of getting us to understand everyone’s stance and situations.
  • Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson:  This is the story of ZJ (“Little Man” to his father) whose father is suffering from long term effects of the many concussions he received as a professional football player. Told in verse like so many of Woodson’s novels, this is a beautifully lyrically written book that is heart wrenching.
  • Devolution by Max Brooks: This “researched” book about a Sasquatch massacre in a Pacific Northwest planned community lends itself well to the audiobook format. NPR personalities playing themselves during segments of Fresh Air and Marketplace really fooled me into thinking I was listening to the radio in my car.
  • Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds: I mainly enjoyed this romance/time travel story about high school student Jack and his continued trips to the past to prevent the death of Kate, a college first year he meets at a party. Jack is very likable and the side characters are well developed. My only complaint is that I wish Kate had a bit more agency especially when it came to decisions about medical treatment.
  • Parachutes by Kelly Yang: This book made me very angry, which I believe was its purpose. Claire Wang, who lives in Shanghai, moves to LA to live with Danni De La Cruz and her mother in Los Angeles in order to attend a prestigious private school (which Danni also attends on a full scholarship). The alternating voices really give you a sense of what both Danni and Claire are dealing with at school. The book takes on a lot of heavy topics such as classism, xenophobia, sexism, and rape culture. Very powerful book, if a hard read.

Ashley

  • Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman: The prequel to both Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic is as lush and gorgeous as I’d expect from Alice Hoffman. A perfect read for October.
  • This Coven Won’t Break by Isabel Sterling: The sequel to These Witches Don’t Burn. Set in present say Salem, it’s a perfect read for October.
  • The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson: This read more like a YA dystopia than the literary fiction it’s trying to be. A young woman living in religious colony, cut off from the rest of the world accidentally brings on a plague, in a place where witches are hunted and burned.
  • Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour: This has been called a follow up to We Are Okay, even though they do not share characters or setting. It’s another meditation on grief and loneliness, this time with a bit of magical realism, and I really liked it.
  • Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis: Teenager is sent to a creepy small town where her father filmed his most famous horror film. Are the monsters and legends real? This was a little creepy, even though I didn’t like the main character at all (she was really unobservant) I wanted to keep reading to see what happened.
  • We Are Okay by Nina Lacour: A well written reflection on loneliness, although I had trouble connecting with the main character for the first three quarters.
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I think I’m in the minority of not connecting with this. I enjoyed only two of the essays. I guess motivational speakers just aren’t for me? Too many heavy handed metaphors and EVERYTHING Is sooooooooo IMPORTANT. It was kind of exhausting to be in her head.
  • The Companion by Katie Alender: This one was a little unnerving, and a fun take on the “orphan goes to stay at a big spooky house” trope.
  • The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix: I loved The Haunting of Hill House, and am enjoying this incredibly unsettling show too.
  • Teenage Bounty Hunters on Netflix: It’s much funnier and sweeter and nuanced than the trailer leads you to believe. I’m really enjoying it.

Debora

  • Bronte’s Mistress by Finola Austin: This was an engaging read. The story is based on the real life affair between 25 year old Branwell Bronte, the brother of the more famous Bronte sisters, and the fortysomething mistress of Thorp Green Hall, Lydia Robinson; making Lydia a real life Mrs. Robinson (remember The Graduate?). According to the author, the novel was meticulously researched and is as historically accurate as possible. Lydia is a mother in mourning, having lost both her young daughter and mother in the same year. When she meets Branwell, her son’s new tutor, she’s lonely and vulnerable. Their affair sparks a passion in her that she’s never experienced before and endangers both of their positions in the world.
  • Artemis by Andy Weir: This is the second book by the author of The Martian and it was just as fun to read. Set on the moon’s first colony, the lead character, Jasmine Bashara (Jazz), is an underemployed porter who smuggles on the side. She’s principled, but also has to make money, because living on the moon is expensive. She gets offered an obscene amount of money to pull off a high level crime and the book’s fast pace takes the reader through what happens next including murder, mob control, life threatening situations, and the possible destruction of the entire colony.

Dana

  • Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, by Cho Nam-Joo: This book in translation follows the life of Kim Jiyoung, a young stay-at-home mother who is driven to psychosis. The book was a Korean best seller, and according to the New York Times, its examination of the everyday sexism and misogyny the characters experience inspired a feminist wave in South Korea. The book was really good, even though it was maddening to read.
  • Little Wonders, by Kate Rorick: When the perfect PTA president of her son’s exclusive preschool is caught on camera having a tantrum-like meltdown, it turns her whole world upside down. It also changes the life of the woman who filmed and inadvertently shared that moment with the whole internet. As the mom of a preschooler, I enjoyed reading about the misadventures of these fictional preschool moms, and felt especially grateful that I don’t have to navigate the cutthroat world of their fictional elite preschool in a well-to-do Boston suburb.
  • The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, by Issa Rae: I’ve been on a bit of an autobiographical-essay-collection kick lately. This one caught my eye as, like Issa Rae, I am also an awkward introvert, and it can be somewhat comforting to read about the awkward misadventures of others. I also like reading memoirs by authors who have different races/backgrounds/geographical locations/cultures than I do, so that I can learn a little about the experiences of others and broaden my understanding of the world. This book was the best of both worlds, plus it was funny and witty, which is always a bonus.
  • The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli: I bought Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda on sale a few months ago, and I’ve been successfully pulled into the world of Creekwood/the Simonverse. I’m pretty sure I’m reading the series out of order, but it doesn’t feel like that matters too much. The Upside of Unrequited was ridiculously cute and happy.
  • The Last Flight, by Julie Clark: I’m finding that thriller/mystery stories are a welcome escape from real life right now! This page-turner is about two women, both trying to escape dangerous situations, who trade plane tickets at the airport to help each other and themselves. Their plan goes awry when one of their planes crashes, and one discovers that the other’s life isn’t at all what it seemed.
  • When the World Feels Like a Scary Place: Essential Conversations for Anxious Parents & Worried Kids, by Abigail Gewirtz: I mostly skimmed this one for parts that are relevant to the stage of parenting I’m in now. There were some good pointers for conversations with kids of various ages about topics like racism, climate change, Covid, etc. which I found helpful.
  • Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS, by Maria Sherman: I mean, I didn’t have high expectations going into this book, but when you all but ignore Westlife – one of the best selling musical acts both in the world and in history – I’m going to think your book is kind of trash. 
  • Wow, No Thank You: Essays, by Samantha Irby: Irby’s essays make me laugh so easily, especially as I reach an age where I can relate to her pieces about aging. It’s an enjoyable break from some of the other books with heavier topics I’m in currently in the middle of.
  • On the Basis of Sex: I watched this movie the weekend after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away. The movie tells the story of her early career, beginning with her first year of law school and culminating in an historic courtroom victory in 1972. I found it inspiring, and it made me love and mourn RBG even more.
  • Enola HolmesA fun (if a bit long) movie about the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. Raised by her mother to be strong and independent, Enola is living her best life until her mother disappears. Her older brothers return and make arrangements to send their unladylike sister to a finishing school for girls, but Enola is determined to go to London to find her mother. There’s a bit of everything – clever dialogue, fight scenes, a potential love interest – but I think it would have been even better had it been shorter.
  • St. Elmo’s FireJust… wow. Neither my husband nor I had ever seen this movie, and decided on a recommendation from a podcast to watch it. The movie certainly has not aged well! I was so annoyed by so many of the characters that I left the room halfway through so I could read in peace.
  • Incredibles 2We recently introduced our son to Jack-Jack, and he can’t get enough of those scenes in this movie. It’s been on heavy rotation in our house, accompanied by the glorious sound of toddler belly-laughs.
  • Ackley BridgeMy mom recommended this show a while ago, and I’m in love with it. It takes place at a school in Yorkshire, a new venture that combines the two previously segregated schools in town. In addition to examining the sometimes rocky integration of the school’s Asian and white students, it also looks at the ups and downs of life in a depressed former mill town. Plus, the Yorkshire accents are heaven.
  • Silicon ValleyI started out half-watching this show – getting distracted from my reading while my husband watched it – and ended up maybe three-quarters-watching it. It’s entertaining and funny, but I found some of the characters annoying and the plot felt like it was repeating itself in later seasons.
  • Lovecraft Country (HBO): I’ve never read Lovecraft, nor do I know much about Lovecraftian things beyond Cthulhu, but the premise of this show intrigued me enough to watch: a young Black man fights Lovecraftian creatures as well as everything that came with Jim Crow-era America.
  • Ted Lasso (Apple TV): I love this show. Love. It. It’s about an American football coach who is hired to take over as manager of a bottom-of-the-table Premier League football/soccer club in London. The Ted Lasso character got his start in a commercial for NBC when they got the rights to show Premier League matches in the States (in which he takes the helm of the club I support – Tottenham Hotspur), but you don’t have to follow English football to like this show. The characters are great, and the show is often heart-warming. I usually watch it right after Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, so that I don’t feel quite as depressed about the state of the world.

Louise

  • Too Much And Never Enough by Mary Trump: This book provides a psychological view of the current president that is seen through the lens of the family dynamics.
  • Exodus by Deborah Feldman : For fans of Unorthodox, this is a very interesting follow up that shows us Deborah’s life after her ‘exodus’ from the ultra Orthodox community in which she was raised.
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett read by Tom Hanks: This audiobook was a double treat; a fabulous story by Ann Patchett, read by Tom Hanks.  This is a kind of modern day Cinderella story, complete with a wicked stepmother.  There are other elements, however, a mother who leaves her family, a brother and sister who both suffer at the hands of the stepmother, and the Dutch house itself.  This is Ann Patchett at her best and I recommend this book to anyone craving an absorbing novel that will keep you turning pages or listening to the narrator all the way through.
  • Mrs Everything by Jennifer Weiner : The story of two sisters growing up in 1950’s Detroit focuses on limits and expectations, changing societal mores and the choices that Jo and Bethie make as they grow.
  • The Cult of Trump by Steven Hassan: Steven Hassan once was a member of the Moonies, a cult that drew in lots of young Americans in its day.  He now works full time helping people to get out of cults and recover from their experience.  This book analyzes the Trump Presidency from the point of view of someone who knows about cults and how they work.  I recommend this to anyone who is interested in this subject.
  • Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: Wow. Elizabeth Strout never lets me down.  She really knows how to create a small town,  characters who practically walk off the page and come to life, make us laugh, cry, wince and marvel by turns depending on which part of which story one is reading.  Fabulous!  Note: You may want to read My Name is Lucy Barton first as Lucy is referenced throughout the book.  This book can be read as a standalone as well, totally up to the reader.
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama: I listened to the audio version of this book which is read by Michelle Obama.  She has a great reading voice and is very inspiring.  I was left with questions about what was not in this memoir but that happens to me with pretty much every political/personal memoir that I ever read.  Worth reading.
  • An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen: I love this book.  You will find yourself rooting for the love that wants to blossom between the two main characters in this book.  I love everything that Naomi Ragen writes and this book is no exception.
  • My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout: I have loved every book by Elizabeth Strout that I have ever read and this is no exception.  Lucy Barton had a tough childhood that included poverty and difficult parenting.  This novel is an exchange between mother and daughter when Lucy’s mother visits her in the hospital.  The two have not talked in years.  The book is bittersweet, believable, and beautiful.
  • Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: This book alternates between Memphis Tennessee in 1939 and modern day Aiken, South Carolina.  Lisa Wingate was inspired to write this book because of a terrible chapter of Tennessee history in which children were actually taken from their parents and put up for adoption with wealthy families.  I highly recommend this novel; great story line, and it gives  us an insight into a chapter of history that actually occurred in Tennessee.
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine  by Gail Honeyman: I loved this book.  Eleanor, who was raised by an incredibly abusive mother, is actually hilarious and unique.  She comes into her own in this novel and begins to make some connections for the first time in her life.  A story of love, connection and hope.  Great for fans of a Man Called Ove.
  • Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes: The audiobook version of this book is beautifully narrated.  I am one hundred percent sure that reading this in book form would also be a great experience.  Jojo Moyes based this novel on an actual program that was started by Eleanor Roosevelt as part of the WPA, the Packhorse Librarians Of Eastern Kentucky.  This book has a great story line, wonderful characters, and shows the great good that books can bring to society.
  • The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham: Oh, how I loved this book.  Rachel is being raised in a hasidic family, but she loves to read ‘forbidden’ romances.  She has to struggle to be a lifeguard in her family because they do not approve of her wearing bathing suits.  She lets herself get talked into a marriage that makes her miserable.  Her mother is a hoot and you will love Rachel’s spunk.  I was very upset when the book was over.  I just wanted to keep hearing Rachel’s spunky voice and her mother’s unique perspective.  Great read.
  • Welcome To Me: California lottery winner Alice Klieg (played by SNL alum Kristen Wiig), has gone off her meds.  She decides to create a television show that is all about herself.  This movie is quirky, funny and delightful.  True fact:  I have watched this three times because I enjoyed it so much.
  • Going Clear:  Scientology and the Prison of Belief : A very interesting documentary about Scientology that I recommend to anyone who is interested in this subject.
  • Paradise Hills: Kind of like a newfangled Stepford Wives.  Very Creepy!
  • Small Apartments : This is a very quirky, darkly funny movie that includes Billy Crystal. 
  • Elsa And Fred : A sweet love story about two older people who need some connection.  A little bit saccharine but, Shirley Maclaine is always a treat at least for this movie watcher.
  • Trump My New President:  A Look At the Lives Of Trump Voters : I really appreciated this documentary because there was no commentary or opinion.  The filmmakers let the Trump supporters do the talking and explain why they support Donald Trump. 

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