Staff Reads August/September 2021

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  • Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho: I’m on a bit of a mission to educate myself about systemic racism and my own white privilege. Acho’s book is super readable and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to begin their own journey of confronting racism. He writes with clarity and compassion. Some examples of his points that really jumped out at me: we’re living in an America that necessitated the Black Lives Matter movement; racism is a pandemic; conversations are an important part of the cure; getting uncomfortable is the point; white privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, but rather your skin color hasn’t contributed to the difficulties in your life. Acho also has a website Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man with short videos where he has conversations about racism with a variety of people, which I also recommend.
  • How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi: Kendi takes on the system we live in with this book and invites each of us to do our part to tear it down. I really liked the way he weaves his personal history into the narrative and emphasizes that it isn’t enough to be not racist, but rather we all have to be actively anti-racist. More than once, my mind was blown by his analysis. For example, he explains that racism isn’t the result of ignorance or hate, but rather self-interest. Racist policies are put in place by white policymakers and then racism is used to justify those policies. Essentially, racism is a problem of power. It’s the kind of turning on its head concept that was so engaging throughout the book. That said, it’s not an easy to read book. It took time, concentration, and commitment to power through – and he also speaks to that when he says that being an anti-racist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.
  • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: This novel was a wonderful example of how a skilled author transports readers through worldbuilding. Gilbert creates the character of Vivian, now 95 years old, as she tells her story of living in the 1940s New York City theater world with her Aunt Peg. Vivian’s voice is smart and often funny and completely unapologetic as she recounts her sexual adventures, late nights with her new showgirl friend, and the life-changing mistake that flattens her and sends her home to upstate New York. It did run long – almost 500 pages – but was worth it.
  • The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys: Wow. This was a truly amazing historic fiction read. Set in 1957 Madrid, during the dictatorship of General Franco, the main character is 18 year old Texan Daniel Matheson, who is visitng with his oil tycoon parents, just as Spain has reopened to American tourists. Daniel’s love – and skill – is photography and he learns quickly that he needs to be very careful about what he takes pictures of because the dreaded Guardia Civil soldiers are always watching. Daniel meets and falls in love with hotel employee Ana, who lives with her siblings in a one room shack on the outskirts of the city. The novel is interspersed with oral history reports and media excerpts documenting the horrors of living under Franco’s authoritarian rule. It’s a gripping story.



  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, narrated by the author: This memoir is very reminiscent of Educated and Hillbilly Elegy. This tells the story of a family with an alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother, their children and their life on the move. The resilience of kids growing up in some seriously unstable conditions and circumstances is quite astounding.
  • Fly Away by Kristin Hannah: This is #2 in the Firefly Lane series. It’s the continuing story that picks up immediately after the ending of the first one. It leans toward chick-lit. It was fine. The first in the series was better, but it was enjoyable enough. If you like historical fiction, Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale or The Great Alone are fantastic!
  • Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, narrated by Dion Graham: This is the prequel to teen fiction The Hate U Give, and describes the backstory before the characters in THUG are born. It follows Maverick Carter, a 17 year old guy flirting with gang life and responsibility.
  • Sea Wife by Amity Gaige, narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Will Damron: This was a decent novel of a couple and their 2 kids who scrap land life in Connecticut for a year on a sailboat in the Caribbean. While less ominous, it does unfold mysteriously in a Gone Girl kinda way with dual narrators telling the story, each from their own perspective. It was a good story and it wraps up and then the actual ending is so random. It would have been cleaner if it ended 20 minutes sooner, in my opinion.
  • Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon, narrated by Elena Garnu: This is a novel of teen fiction that tells the story of a High-school aged Latina named Liliana who participates in the METCO program between Boston and “Westburg”. She tells of her trials and tribulations at a new school where she is a minority and talks about her parents’ struggles with immigration. Liliana is a likable and empathetic character and she gives great perspective throughout the story. Quite enjoyable.


  • We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin: I love a gothic, atmospheric mystery, and I could not put this one down. I was completely surprised by the twist in the middle, even though I felt like I shouldn’t have been, and stayed up late reading to the end.
  • More Than Fluff by Valentine Madeline: This is the cutest little picture book about a duckling who is so fluffy everyone wants to hug, squeeze and pet it. We learn about consent in an adorable fashion.
  • Fierce Little Thing by Miranda Beverly Whittemore: Another gothic mystery, told in the present as well as flashbacks to our protagonist’s time with a cult in rural Maine as a child. She did something bad all those years ago, and it has come back to haunt her. What did she do? And why does someone care so much now?
  • What’s Done in Darkness by Laura McHugh: A young girl is kidnapped from her fundamentalist religious cult, and when she is let go, no one believes her. Now as an adult, other girls are missing, and an investigator asks for her help. THis was an excellent mystery with great characters.
  • The 2000s Made Me Gay: Essays on Pop Culture by Grace Perry: Unfortunately, I’m just enough older than the author that even though we’re both “Millenials” I was in college by the time she was in high school, so we don’t really have the same pop culture touchstones. Most of the shows she watched and referenced as being formative in her experiences growing up and coming out were popular with young teens when I was already an “adult’. I was looking forward to reading and reminiscing about pop culture from my youth, but I found myself not caring or engaging when most of the essays focused around shows I didn’t watch like Gossip Girl and The OC.
  • Unpregnant on HBO Max: I watched this on a flight from Seattle, and besides the fact the teenagers were played by actors in their mid twenties…. It was surprisingly good. It was cute with fun and quirky supporting characters and you could tell it was written by women.


  • The Very Best of the Best: 35 years Of The Year’s Best Science Fiction Edited by Gardner Dozois: Gardner Dozois won the Hugo Award for best professional editor fifteen times in seventeen years. This book really does contain the best of the best. Every story is a work of art and, although I have not quite finished the full collection, I have not encountered one story that I did not like, that I chose to skip over. This is a great book to read if you want some really beautifully executed short stories that will each leave you satisfied and glad that you had Gardner Dozois as your editor.
  • Blindsight by Peter Watts: This is a really rollicking ride with a very interesting space crew. There is a vampire in charge, a woman who has four distinct persons sharing her body, and a narrator whose brain has been altered so that he has some rather superhuman mental prowess but has lost some of his humanness as a result. Don’t get me started on the aliens. Yikes. I really enjoyed this novel and plan to read more by Peter Watts. I do not plan on going to outer space with a vampire at the helm, however.
  • Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge: This is such a beautiful novel. If you are looking for lyrical, well researched, historical fiction with a strong female main character, look no further. Kaitlyn Greenidge based Libertie and her mother on Susan Smith Mckinney Steward, the first black female doctor in New York State whose daughter married the son of an Episcopal bishop from Haiti. Libertie’s hometown is based on the real nineteenth century community of Weeksville, a town of free blacks in Brooklyn.
  • Migrants by Issa Watanabe: This is a wordless picture book that tells the story of migrants. They are portrayed as animals and the illustrations are gorgeous. This book is classified as a children’s book, but I think anybody will be the richer for experiencing its pages. The animals are sympathetic characters and they are risking their lives crossing the ocean just as migrants do every day. I think that this book is beautiful and healing and I recommend this to anybody who wants to be wowed by the power of illustration to tell a story.
  • Rx: A Graphic Memoir by Rachel Lindsay: This autobiographical memoir tells of Rachel Lindsay’s conundrum when she gets a corporate job to help pay her health insurance so that she can pay for her prescriptions. Rachel is diagnosed as bipolar and finds herself assigned to the Pristiq pharmaceutical account. This is a medication that she herself has taken. She feels very uncomfortable in this position. In her heart of hearts, she wants to be an illustrator. The discomfort builds and Rachel struggles to come to terms with her truth in this graphic novel. This is a quick read and a good one.
  • The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: I came late to this classic graphic novel about Marjane’s life growing up in Iran. I can not say enough good things about this book. This is a novel of a lovely family and the difficulties that they face under the repressive regime in Iran. Marjane literally paints the picture for us and I basically could not put this book down. Wonderful drawings, compelling story and a lovable main character make for a fabulous read.
  • A Lot Like Christmas: An Expanded, Updated Edition of Connie Willis’ Miracle And Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis: Anybody tired of all of the news lately? Need an escape? Some humor? Some magic? A few hilarious aliens? This is the book for you. I am not a huge fan of Christmas stories per se but this book is so much fun! Connie Willis is a science fiction writer but she is more like the science fiction of I Dream of Jeannie (remember that show?) because her stories are light, funny, and often, very romantic. This is like a bunch of little romcoms with a light sci-fi twist. Sheer delight!
  • Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner: Even the title of this memoir is beautiful. Michelle Zauner, lead singer of the band Japanese Breakfast, is an amazing writer. The book celebrates her mother, her Korean heritage, and the love that can sustain us in life. You will get hungry because Michelle describes food in great vivid detail and she also tells us about grief. Please note that this book does deal with illness and death and if this is not something that you want to read about, please see my Connie Willis recommendation above.


  • Beth and Amy by Virginia Kantra: I liked this modern retelling of Little Women about the two March sisters who, in my opinion, are given short shrift in terms of character development in the original novel. This was a pleasant surprise after I had mixed feelings about the first book, Meg and Jo.
  • Happy Endings by Thien Kim-Lam: This inclusive second chance romance is very sex positive and a lot of fun.
  • Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original edited by Sara Franklin: I became aware of Edna Lewis after reading Michael Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene and I’m embarrassed that it took me that long. Lewis was born in Freetown, Virginia, which was founded by Black families freed from slavery and was instrumental in awareness of soul food as well as the food to table movement. This collection of essays really highlights a woman who should be as well known as Julia Child.
  • Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: Beautiful and detailed memoir of Michelle and her complicated relationship with her mother, who is dying of cancer. This started out as a piece for The New Yorker which will give you an idea of the book as a whole.
  • Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn: I finally finished the novels about the core family.
    • On the Way to the Wedding: The second youngest sibling, Gregory, finally gets his moment to shine as he romances Lucy. I was pleased that Katherine from my favorite book in the series, The Viscount Who Loved Me played a large role in this one. (And will be in the upcoming season of the show.) The second epilogue was a tad dark compared to the other epilogues, though it does have a happy ending.
    • The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After: This is mainly just a collection of the second epilogues that appear in later editions of the books so I was already familiar with most of them. However, it was great to finally hear/read the second epilogues of To Sir Phillip with Love and When He Was Wicked. Francesca, the heroine, of the latter, barely gets any time in the other novels so it was nice to have her front and center once again. Matriarch Violet Bridgerton also gets her own story in this collection.
  • Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford: Compelling, sad, and hopeful, this memoir by a noted magazine is a quick but tough read. At the start of the book, Ford learns that her father who has been incarcerated most of her life, is getting released which serves a starting point for remembering her childhood and her relationships, most notably with her mother. I definitely recommend Ford’s interview on NPR for more context.
  • Black Widow: I mainly enjoyed this movie which gives a bit more backstory to Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff and am excited about the future of Florence Pugh’s Yelena. I just can’t help wishing that it came up before Avengers: Endgame
  • The Love Boat: This actually isn’t the first time that I’ve mentioned this show in this column, but I am binge watching it for the first time in 6-7 years. Believe me when I say that a lot of this hasn’t aged well though I was surprised that there were some (and I do mean some) story lines that were progressive for its time. The news being what it’s been, The Love Boat has been comfort food for my brain and I actually like the relationships between the core characters (at least in the first seven seasons.) Also this interview with the original cast on Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley’s Stars in the House, streamed only three months before Gavin Macleod passed away, is probably one of the sweetest reunion interviews I’ve ever seen. (And being the retro TV fan that I am, I watch a lot of those types of reunions.)

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