Staff Reads November/December 2021

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  • Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim: Curious about life in North Korea? This book’s for you. Journalist Suki Kim went undercover as an English teacher in North Korea to report on what life is like for people living in the super isolated country. Her observations are compelling and often odd: people routinely cut the grass using scissors; universities countrywide close down so that students can be used as construction workers; students are not allowed to be alone with their English teachers – or at all. Kim is isolated and lonely – and always watched.
  • The Disappearance of Trudy Solomon by Marcy McCreary: I don’t usually read mysteries, but I read this one because we hosted the author (see the YouTube livestream here: Disappearance of Trudy Solomon). The book is a page turner, with a complex plot and cast of characters to hold your interest. Susan Ford is a detective in the same small town police department where her dad worked in the 1970s. When skeletal remains are found near an old Catskills hotel, Susan begins investigating, with the help of her father. Waltham makes a cameo appearance when Susan and her father travel around to track down old witnesses.
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: I loved this! It’s even better than Weir’s first book, The Martian. The main character, Ryland Grace, is basically the same guy we met in The Martian, but his dilemma is far more terrifying. He wakes up all alone in a space capsule, with no memory of how he got there. As his memory slowly returns, he realizes it’s his job to save Earth from extinction. The story takes an unexpected turn that keeps you reading. There is both a sweetness to the story and a terrifying metaphor around climate change. For science nerds and adventure readers alike.
  • The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel: I love historical fiction set in two time periods and this one did not disappoint. Set in WWII, in the vineyards of France, the story centers around Ines, her husband Michel, and Celine, wife of the vineyard’s chef de cave. Nazi resistance, love triangles, and poor choices along the way make for a very human and realistic story. The present day story features Liv and her French grandmother. This part of the novel is slightly less enjoyable as the author strings along the reader in ways that just aren’t plausible. That said, the final resolution of the story is hugely enjoyable and compelling.


  • Milk Fed by Melissa Broder: “It didn’t matter where I lived-Mid-City, Mid-Wilshire, or Miracle Mile.  It didn’t matter where I worked; one Hollywood bull#&it factory was equal to any other.  All that mattered was what I ate, when I ate, and how I ate it.”  This is the first paragraph of this captivating novel by Melissa Broder.  The main character, Rachel, is focused on her food intake above all else.  Things change for her when she meets Miriam, who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop.
    Miriam actually gives Rachel toppings that are not low fat and Rachel dares to eat them.  This book is about appetites; for food, for love, and for life.  The writing is beautiful (dare I say delicious), and I found this novel to be uplifting, witty and worth reading.  I am literally hungry to read more novels by Melissa Broder.
  • Thin Girls by Diana Clarke : Lily and Rose are twins.  They are so bonded that they can literally taste each other’s feelings.  They grow up in a rather neglectful home and rely on each other for comfort.  Their paths diverge when Rose decides to restrict her eating in the same way as the popular girl at school, Jemima does.  Lily begins to binge eat when Rose starts dieting.  Rose ends up in a facility for anorexic young women.  When she senses that her sister Lily is in big trouble, dating a married man who spells trouble, she gets out of the facility and works to save her sister.
    This is a beautifully written novel and Diana Clarke is an author to pay attention too.  Trigger warning:  This book goes into detail about eating disorders, there is also an abusive relationship.  If that is okay, please read this book.
  • The Party Upstairs by Lee Conell : Did you enjoy the PBS series Upstairs, Downstairs?  Do you enjoy novels about the rich versus the not so rich?  Do you like a dose of wit with your novels?  If you answered yes to these questions, this book is a very good bet for you. This novel is told through the point of view of Martin, the superintendent of an Upper West-Side Coop and his daughter, Ruby.
    Ruby has amassed a great deal of debt from her college education and needs to move back home in order to make ends meet.  This means living in the basement apartment that her father and mother live in.  Her friend, Caroline, lives upstairs.  Those who live upstairs are awash in money; trust funds, family wealth, and the like.  The contrast is quite something and this book shows us in a loving and humorous way Ruby and Martin’s struggle to come to terms with the arc of their lives.
  • Where Madness Lies by Sylvia True : You can watch the Waltham Public Library’s interview with Sylvia True here  This book is a gem that explores three generations of mental illness from Nazi Germany to Belmont in the 1980s.  The novel is based on a true story and I could not put this book down.  If you like strong women who are able to get through very difficult situations in your fiction, this is the book for you.
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia  : One of my colleagues recommended this book to me and I am so glad that he did.  This is perfect October reading.  (However, this is also perfect reading for anytime).  Moreno-Garcia weaves a tale that is gothic bordering on horror but it is actually fun to read.  Our main character’s cousin has married someone with whom she is not doing well and Noemi is sent to check on the situation.  Yikes!  She meets the creepiest family ever but Noemi is incredibly strong and feisty and, well, read this book to find out the details.
  • The Book of Form And Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki: This book is over five hundred pages long and I was still very sorry when it ended.  Ozeki is a master at creating a “novel” form of novel.  The main characters in this book are:  Annabelle, who has lost her husband Kenji in a freak accident; Benny, her son, and the book.  Yes, the book is a character in this story and it is telling Benny’s story.  After Kenji dies, Annabelle becomes a hoarder and Benny starts hearing voices.  First, he hears his father’s voice but later, he hears voices everywhere he turns.  Even objects seem to be speaking to him.
    Benny finds that things quiet down when he goes to the public library where books speak in hushed tones, respecting the decorum that the library demands.  This book is about the importance of connection for healing.  It is about grief.  I highly recommend this creative and enthralling book.
  • The Way She Feels: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures and Pieces by Courtney Cook: This is one of the many graphic novels that really tell a true and heartfelt story in a model that works perfectly.  Courtney Cook was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and this graphic novel tells about her journey towards wellness.  This is a quick and moving read, with some difficult moments, but also some humor.  Trigger Warning:  there is mention of self harm in this book.
  • Self Care by Leigh Stein: This parodic novel is a hoot.  It is taking a look at instagram influencers and websites such as Goop.  Devin and Marin have started a site called Richual that is devoted to self care.  Devin is the picture perfect image of who everyone wants to be.  She is “perfectly” toned, she wears all the right clothing.  She is the image of “self care”.  On the other hand, she suffers from orthorexia, a condition in which one is obsessed with only eating what is perfect.  She is independently wealthy.
    Marin has some serious college loans, drinks a little too much, and has a penchant for junk food.  She is trying to love herself just as she is.
    This book looks at the influencer culture, the “Self Care Industrial Complex”, the complications of capitalism and its influence on self care where products are being sold.  I loved this book.
  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead: This book takes place over three days.  Winn Van Meter is heading to his family’s summer home on the pristine island of Waskek in New England.  His daughter, Daphne, is getting married.  She is also heavily pregnant.  Winn is attracted to her friend, Agatha and is trying to squelch this feeling.  His other daughter, Livia, has been jilted by a boy and she had to have an abortion after becoming pregnant during their relationship.
    Shipstead is magnificent at  creating the lives of old money families, their trials and tribulations, their mores, their gin drinking, even their names….Oatsie, Bitsie, Winn Van Meter, Maude, you get the picture.
    This novel is very entertaining.  Shipstead knows her people and the novel is a fun read…I really enjoyed the scenes where Winn is cooking the lobster dinner for his guests…lots of vivid detail.



  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera : This novel is about a young girl named Makina who is sent across the border from Mexico to the U.S. to find her brother and deliver a message. The prose is sparse and lyrical – it sort of felt like I was reading a fable. Makina reminded me of Mattie Ross from True Grit – well respected for her toughness but far too young to bear so much of the weight of the world on her shoulders. Yuri Herrera has a beautiful way with words and certain passages, particularly the ones about recent migrants navigating their use of Spanish and English languages, will stay with me for a long time.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell : A fictionalized portrayal of the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, and how it affected his family and possibly led to the writing of the play Hamlet. It took a while to get into it (found the writing a little flowery) but at about the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down until the end. However, it hasn’t really stayed with me since finishing it two weeks ago.
  • All’s Well by Mona Awad: I was excited to read this after really enjoying Mona Awad’s delightfully strange previous novel, Bunny. In this novel, we follow Miranda, a former actress who fell off the stage while performing and was forced to leave her career due to debilitating chronic pain. She now teaches college theatre, where she is disrespected and ignored as she tries to direct a production of All’s Well That Ends Well with a less than enthusiastic group of students and staff. We also follow her attempts to get healthcare, during which her pain is never believed. It’s bleak and hard to read at times, but then one day she meets three men at a bar and things begin to change (and get really, really weird). This book is full of dark and twisted humor, which I thought was fun, but it’s definitely not the kind of novel I’d recommend to everyone!
  • The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante: I picked this up immediately after finding out that Olivia Colman will be starring in a movie adaptation later this year. In this short novel, we are inside a woman’s mind as she takes a solo vacation on the Italian coast, shortly after her adult daughters have moved away to Canada to live with their father and she finds herself alone for the first time in many years. She thinks a lot about her challenging relationship with her daughters and her mother, and becomes extremely fixated on a young mother and her toddler who are vacationing there too. Not much happens plot-wise, but there’s a bit of an ominous undertone throughout – I kept expecting something bad to happen. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away like I was by Ferrante’s wonderful Neapolitan novels.
  • Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl: I admit that I’m biased when I say I loved this book, both because I’m a big fan of Sarah Ruhl’s work as a playwright, and because this is a memoir about her experience with Bell’s Palsy, which I also had almost a decade ago. I related so much to the feelings she describes. This is a beautiful exploration of what it means to be a woman unsmiling in a society that expects the opposite, the slow and nonlinear journey so often found in chronic illness, and how hard it can be to feel joy if you can’t physically express it. Sarah Ruhl’s trademark whimsical style is present here, and there are lots of references to theatre, philosophy, etc. sprinkled throughout, which made me appreciate it even more.


  • Brat by Andrew McCarthy: Is it terrible that I wanted this actor’s memoir to be more juicy?
  • So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow: This re-mix of Little Women in which the March family are formerly enslaved living in Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island in the waning days of the United States Civil War. To quote Bethany Morrow from an NPR interview in September, “Basically, Little Women is considered historical fiction, but as a Black woman, I have been excluded from that narrative. It seems like the kind of property that no matter how many times it’s revisited, it’s the same. It’s for white girls.” I’m ashamed to say that I knew next to nothing about the Freedmen’s Colony, prior to reading this book, and only had been taught about “The Lost Colony” in regards to Roanoke Island. Through the four sisters’ eyes, we see that being free of enslavement did not mean that life suddenly became easy. The Union is not so altruistic nor is the North a panacea (as Jo and Amy learn when the move to Boston in order for Amy to pursue dancing).
  • Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright: This graphic novel is the story of Maureen and Francine, who, at the start of sixth grade, are finding themselves drifting apart. This book really gets deep into the feelings of isolation as we realize that we’re drifting apart from our best friends, with the tension being added since the best friend in this case is your identical twin. What I appreciate about this book is the characterization and the realistic way the story is told. Even though we hear Maureen’s voice, Francine does not come off as the villain and is a very sympathetic character.
  • While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory: Another great entry from my favorite romance writer!
  • The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray: This is a dramatized account of the life of Belle da Costa Greene, or Belle Marion Greener, the personal librarian of J.P. Morgan who was Black and who, along with other members of her family, passed for white. It was interesting to learn about Belle, though I would like to read an actual biography.
  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi: There is no one word to describe this intriguing novel, which was the 2018 debut of the prolific Emezi. I really liked it and find myself still thinking about it several weeks later.
  • A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes: This is adorable! The illustrations are so colorful.
  • A Big Stink by Edward H. Kafka-Gelbrecht and Sophie Vincent Guy: This silly book about a “meet cute” between a couple who met several decades ago while denying, um, who dealt it, may not be appreciated by everyone’s sense of humor but I was highly amused.
  • The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes by Xio Axelrod: If you like novels about the inner workings of the music industry and strong female friendships, with a bit of romance thrown in, this is the book for you. Technically this is a romance, but it takes a back seat to some of the other relationships, including the burgeoning friendships between protagonist, Toni, and her new bandmates. I really enjoyed this.
  • The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang: This is the third book set in the shared universe started in The Kiss Quotient. While the book does employ several romance tropes, there is also a lot going on here. Anna’s slow realization and acceptance of the fact that she’s on the autism spectrum (something her family doesn’t quite accept) and Quan’s gentle understanding are written in such a beautiful and relatable way.
  • No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib: Set to be published in January, this is the story of Hadi and Sama.  When Hadi is returning to Boston from visiting with his parents in Syria, he’s not allowed to leave Logan Airport, and instead finds himself on a plane bound for Jordan. His wife, Sama, meanwhile, who is pregnant, is at the airport and ends up going into premature labor, still not knowing what’s happened to her husband. The book goes back and forth between Sama and Hadi’s first person points of view in the “present” day (that is early 2017) and third person points of view as they both start their residence in the United States. This descriptive book and its strong sense of time and place is exceptionally heartbreaking.
  • The Babysitters Club Season 2: This show continues to do a great job of adapting the thirty five year old book series to the modern era.
  • SuccessionWhat happens when you put Dallas and Game of Thrones in a blender? JR Ewing has nothing on the despicable members of the Roy family and I am here for it!
  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife: Die-hard fans of the original Ghostbusters (of which I’m one) are once again divided by an entry in the Ghostbusters franchise. I’m of the camp that really didn’t have an issue with the 2016 reboot and even found it entertaining. I really didn’t enjoy this new entry. It was well acted and I think the direction was decent. (Jason Reitman is a good director in his own right. Thank You for Smoking is a great movie.) It was also heartwarming, a sweet coming of age film, drama with funny moments, and, well, boring. Do you know what movie isn’t heartwarming, sweet,  or a drama (or boring, for that matter.)? The original Ghostbusters. The original movie was fun and silly and a surprise when it came out. Even the 2016 reboot which, in my opinion, has been the best of the three follow ups, didn’t have the same surprise element. As fans of, well, anything, I think we need to accept the fact that it’s okay for franchises to end.


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