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Staff Reads — December 2018

Book Projector Treble Clef
Happy Holidays! Looking for some great gift ideas (or gifts to avoid?) Take a peek at what books, movies, music, shows, and more that we’ve been enjoying (and not enjoying!)
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Liz:

  • MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood: This is the final volume in Atwood’s environmental dystopian MaddAddam trilogy. Begun in Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood, this volume follows Toby, the rest of her small band of plague survivors, and the genetically engineered Crakers, as they navigate a familiar but dangerous world of genetically engineered animals, crumbling infrastructure, and vicious human enemies.
  • The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Volume 1: The Crucible by Roberto Aguirre Sacaso: Now a show on Netflix, this reboot of Sabrina the Teen Age Witch is dark, deranged and beautifully drawn. Teenage sorceress Sabrina Spellman is approaching her 16th birthday, when she must decide if she will be a witch for eternity through the power of Satan, or join the world of mortals so she can be with her football loving boyfriend, Harvey.
  • How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan: Journalist Michael Pollan dives into the much misunderstood world of psychedelic substances as medicine, spiritual catalyst and recreational product. Pollan focuses on LSD and psilocybin, a.k.a magic mushrooms, and related the medical studies and spiritual histories of both substance. A must read for anyone interested in alternative spiritualities or human psychology.
  • Fierce: The History of Leopard Print by Jo Weldon: This fun book is chock full of pictures of vintage fashions and accessories in a wide range of big cat prints. It’s also a fun look at how women’s fashion has evolved over the last 150 years, from cut and color to fabric and fit.

Dana:

  • The Spy with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke: I read the first book in this series, The Girl with the Red Balloon, last month, and loved it. I foolishly assumed this book was a sequel, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next to the characters from the first book. Turns out it’s a “companion book” and features totally different characters in a different time. I’m sure it was good, but I was so crestfallen that I had no interest in reading past the first chapter.
  • Everything is Trash, but it’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson: Phoebe Robinson is hilarious and I’d love to hang out with her. I had that conclusion after reading her first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, and reading this follow-up only cemented the feeling. Her tales of meeting Bono made me – as she might say – www.jealous.org/omg.
  • Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter: I’m admittedly late to the Hamilton party, but was lucky enough to be gifted tickets by a relative who loved the show and wants everyone she knows to see it. A friend recommended this book so that I’d have a better understanding of the songs before seeing the show, and she was right! Being able to read the lyrics and get some context before seeing the show made me enjoy it even more. The PBS special on the Watch Read Listen Roku was also helpful and fascinating!
  • Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrard Conley: This book was rough to read, but I think Conley’s story is an important one that needed to be shared. On top of digesting Conley’s story about being forced to attend conversion therapy for his sexual orientation, I did a lot of reflecting on our similar religious upbringings and where we are now. It was certainly the heaviest reading I did this month.
  • Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle: My son loves this book, and I like its theme of showing kindness to everyone, even bullies. The farm animals may be a bit suspect, but Little Blue Truck is a good chap.
  • Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle: This was my son’s introduction to the Little Blue Truck world, and he’d happily read it all year round. He’s especially fond of the flashing Christmas tree lights at the end.
  • 100 Farm Words illustrated by Dawn Machell: The page featuring different tractors and trucks is the highlight for my son!
  • When Sarah Met Duck by Sarah Gomes Harris: The BBC show, Sarah and Duck, is a favorite in my house, and both my son and I love that it comes in book form as well!
  • Hamilton: original Broadway cast recording by Lin-Manuel Miranda: Since seeing the show, the songs have been stuck in my head non-stop!

Seana:

  • The Unforgotten by Laura Powell: It is hard to believe that this dark mystery is Powell’s debut. It alternates between 1956 and 50 years later – the past being more fleshed out and interesting from my perspective. There are several twists and turns along the way which kept me guessing until the very end.
  • Listening to The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower: I am totally enjoying listening to this book on my commute! It is filled with stories and first hand accounts of White House service staff covering prior First Families through Obama. It also gives a behind the scenes tour of the ins and outs of the working White House on a daily basis and during special situations, like state dinners and the changeover when a new President takes over the House.

Aurora:

  • How to Feed Your Parents by Ryan Miller is a cute story about Matilda and how she works to get her very picky parents to try new foods. It is fun to see the idea of parents trying to get teh picky eater kids to try new foods turned upside down. In short, a picture book that is an engaging, quick read with a point.
  • Ship It by Britta Lundin is well-written, humorous, and believable. I chose to read this book after listening to the author talk about the story, and I was not disappointed! I found the format of the chapters interesting, and the characters even more interesting. The story speaks to anyone who has been a major fan of any book, movie, or tv show, and it does it in a way that makes those interests feel natural.
  • Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn contains everything one would want in a Star Wars story. The cast of characters is exquisite, with Leia, Luke, and Han leading as they have in the films, while simultaneously expanding on smaller roles such as Wedge Antilles, and introducing some characters for the first time, like Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade. This host of roles are navigated through an exciting plot with new twists and turns that remain interesting even while rereading the story.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (extended edition) movie remains a peerless film. The story, characters, world, lines, costumes, actors, designers, sets, props, editing, sound, music, and just about everything else involved were excellent when it was made (as shown by the record breaking Oscar win) and each aspect has withstood the test of time. Add in all the behind the scenes appendices that show the making of the film, and this is a movie event that can always make me smile and keep me entertained for hours (followed by more hours of telling everyone else about it as well).
  • Listening to The Greatest Showman: Reimagined provides a simultaneously new and familiar experience as the songs are sung by different artists. While I’m not sure if I prefer one album over the other, it was definitely interesting to hear both versions!

Debora H.:

  • Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross: This was a fascinating read. It’s based on the legend that for a few years during the Middle Ages, the pope was a woman who successfully disguised herself as a man. According to the legend, she was discovered only when she gave birth during a papal procession. The author takes this kernel of a story and builds an entire world around it, filling it with believable and some hugely likable characters. Cross’ Joan is a brilliant young girl who fights against the norms of the times to become educated and then assumes the life of her dead brother. She falls in love with her foster father, but it’s years before they are actually romantic. This is one of those stories that, as a woman, makes you glad you were born in the twentieth century.
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: I had seen the movie and now I’m glad I read the book. The author tells the important story of the African American women who worked as human computers at NASA both before it was NASA and during its space race. In a voice that often made me pause it was so captivating, Shetterly both explains the importance of the math behind the aeronautics and the segregation laws that shaped the lives of the women who produced those numbers. Beginning in WWII, the book follows these women up through the Civil Rights era and brings to life their intellect and drive to show the difference they made in this country’s air and space industry.

Louise:

  • Family And Other Catastrophes by Alexandra Borowitz: This book did not draw me in at the very beginning but, gradually, it got better and I began to feel fond of many of the characters. There are some very funny scenes in this novel that make it worth the read. The novel centers on a family get together in Westchester in preparation for Emily’s marriage to David. Emily’s mother, Marla, a therapist, decides to get the children together for “family therapy” and the scenes are a hoot. Also, Emily’s sister, Lauren, who is gender neutral and who argues about pretty much anything that is conventional, is funny and yet lovable. Lots of laughter, quirky characters, and a satisfying ending, make this book a good read, especially if you want something light.
  • Rise And Shine by Anna Quindlen: I listened to the audiobook of Anna Quindlen’s novel Rise And Shine. The characters are very well drawn in this novel which brings a mixture of laughter and tears in perhaps equal measure. The story focuses on two sisters, Bridget and Meghan Fitzmaurice, orphaned in their youth and raised by their Aunt Maureen. Bridget works in a homeless shelter in the Bronx, while Meghan is a famous talk show host who commits a faux pas that costs her the job that she has held for so long. Bridget is the narrator of the story and introduces us to all of the main characters, a colorful and diverse group, always interesting and always interacting in unpredictable ways. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say, I liked the way that Ms. Quindlen concludes this novel.
  • The Other Mother by Carol Goodman: Okay for all of you psychological suspense fiction lovers (and I am one), this one gets you from the first sentence. Excellent narrator on the audiobook but I am sure that reading the book is also a gripping and fabulous experience. I have trouble getting out of the car with this one and am looking forward to hearing more when I leave work tonight. The plot? It could not be more twisted and gnarled, and, as with the best of this genre, it is not clear how reliable or not our narrator, Daphne, is. She is a new mother who suffered from postpartum depression as did the other main character, her friend Lauren. There is a murder or is it a suicide? There is an abusive husband, or is he? There is a mental hospital right near Daphne’s or is it Lauren’s new job working for one of her favorite authors as an archivist. The novel is narrated by Daphne who also reads to us from the journals that she and her friend Lauren kept. I have not finished this book yet but it is very hard to put down. For fans of Girl On The Train, The Wife Between Us, Eileen, and The Couple Next Door.
  • A Stranger In The House by Shari Lapena: More psychological suspense from Shari Lapena. Things are certainly not what they seem to be in Karen Krupp’s marriage. On the outside, a beautiful upper class suburban neighborhood. On the inside, trouble. The whole thing kicks off with a car accident. Karen’s husband comes home to an empty house and he has no idea what has happened to his wife. Things begin to unravel and, for me, this novel was deliciously disturbing. You may not like the characters in this novel, but the plot will keep you chewing on your nails and, you can at least be glad for the very perceptive detectives. Worth a try.
  • The People We Hate At The Wedding by Grant Ginder: I am reading this book now and loving the theme of the dysfunctional family and yet another wacky therapist. Alice, our main character, is sleeping with her boss and going to a support group to help her get over a miscarriage that she had in Mexico. Her self-doubting but lovable brother, David, is in a relationship with the perfect self-assured Mark and in a job working for a renowned therapist who takes exposure therapy a little too far. The wedding is their half-sister Eloise who is very much a cause of resentment and stress. For fans of Family and Other Catastrophes , Running With Scissors, and My Year of Rest And Relaxation.
  • Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller: There are definitely some bitter elements to this very well written novel with well-drawn characters and a suspenseful plot. The narrator of the novel is telling her story from an institution and looking back over the years to her youth and her friendship with a rather troubled couple. Oh, and there is a murder. Beautiful writing, great description, draws the reader in quickly and thoroughly. This novel is a great choice for fans of Donna Tartt’s A Secret History although it is not quite as long. Highly recommended.

Laura:

  • Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein: Goldstein, popular for her Love Letters blog and podcast, tries her hand at teen/young adult fiction and the result is an entertaining read with a sympathetic narrator, Maya and a richly detailed supporting cast. The settings of MIT and the city of Cambridge act are almost secondary characters and there is a small amount of science fiction that may be a good draw for some readers but can easily be dismissed for those who prefer realistic fiction. If you want to talk about this book with other adults who like young adult literature, please come to the February 13 meeting of our new book club, Always Young (At Heart) Adult.
  • Food Anatomy : The Curious Parts & Pieces of our Edible World by Julia Rothman with help from Rachel Wharton: This graphic novel is a good reference for any home kitchen or cookbook collection. Rothman details a brief history and evolution of food, including terms, products, and recipes. The language is accessible and brief and the style is colorful and bright.
  • I Am Actually a Penguin by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Kasia Matyjaszek: This picture book about a little girl who dresses up as and insists to everyone that she is a penguin is sweet and adorable. It really speaks to the power of imagination and the illustrations are charming.
  • Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux: I’m still reading this mashup of history, biography, literary criticism, and feminist theory and very much enjoying it. Little Women holds a special place in the hearts of a lot of folks in this area due to the Concord connection and I’m one of many who has read the book twice and seen multiple screen versions.
  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, Read by Lynn Chen: I was a little late to the party in tackling this story about Rachel Chu, who travels to Singapore, to meet her boyfriend, Nick’s extremely wealthy family. The plot driven novel, with a lot of dialogue and characters, is amusing and borders just enough on soap opera tropes without being too ridiculous. Chen as a narrator, does a good job, at bringing the written word to life.
  • China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan, Read by Lydia Look: While the first book in this series didn’t go over the top with its soap opera antics, this sequel doesn’t shy away from them. Poisoning, long lost siblings, an interrupted wedding, and a botched plastic surgery are only a few of the examples in this novel. Although I prefer the first book, this entry is still entertaining and detailed descriptions of food are making my mouth water. It took me awhile to get used to Look as a narrator, since I was used to Chen, but but she has grown on me.
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: This documentary about Fred Rogers provides a detailed look at his life as well as what went into Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood. It’s become a cliche to say that we could use Mr. Rogers today, but I’ll echo the sentiment, regardless. I’m also not ashamed to say that the documentary made me cry.
  • Crazy Rich Asians: This was a very well done adaptation. I watched it days after I finished the novel and everything that was added or cut from the book was perfect. I liked that Nick’s mother, who had little to no redeeming qualities in the novel, was a little more sympathetic in the movie without betraying her harsh character. I also appreciated that the characters of Oliver and Peik Lin were expanded giving the very funny Nico Santos and Awkwafina a lot of screen time!
  • Superstore: I’ve been rewatching this clever, funny, and often biting show about a group of employees at an ersatz Walmart called Cloud 9. The whole cast is great, but the supporting actors, including Nico Santos from Crazy Rich Asians, make the show a success.
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald: I love the universe where this takes place but I think I may have had enough of the world of Harry Potter and friends. I enjoyed the first movie in this series, partly because it introduced original characters in a familiar setting. This second outing tied everyone to the characters we met in the original Harry Potter books and, like the Star Wars prequels, I think this film suffers from trying to give everyone (and I mean everyone) a back story. Ever wonder about the origin story of Voldemort’s pet snake? Don’t worry. Neither did I.

Vanessa:

Ashley:

  • Pulp by Robin Talley: Told in two alternating perspectives spanning generations, this was an interesting look at the lives of LGBT people in the 50s juxtaposed with today.
  • Go to My Grave by Catriona McPherson: A crime from the past has repercussions on the present in this Scottish country house mystery meets thriller.

Amber:

  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin: This is the first James Baldwin novel I’ve read (though definitely not the last) and I’m so glad I have finally read something but this great author. A beautifully written story about two people in love, this devastating novel has been made into a film by writer-director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and is set to be released mid-December.
  • Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz: A must-have for any Beastie Boys fan, this gorgeous new release is a must-read for any music lover. I bought this the day it came out and immediately dusted off my favorite Beastie Boys cd to listen to while thumbing through the pages (yes, I still have a stash of cds in my basement!).
  • Watching

  • The Tunnel, Vengeance (Season Three): Season three is the final season in this spectacular drama set in England and France. The writing is superb and the acting is phenomenal. If you enjoy your crime dramas on the darker side I highly recommend this.
  • Listening

  • Vide Noir – Lord Huron: It seems rare these days to find an album that can be listened to (and enjoyed) from start to end. This music is beautiful and lush and and each track is fantastic.
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