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Staff Reads March 2019

Book Projector Treble Clef

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Debora:

  • Never Change by Elizabeth Berg: I’m generally a fan of this author, but that doesn’t mean I like everything she writes. This book, though, moved my very soul. The premise is clever: Myra is a home care nurse whose newest patient is Chip, the super popular guy from her high school that she had an unrequited crush on. Sadly, what brings them together is that Chip is dying from a brain tumor. Life gets complicated when Chip’s old girlfriend enters the scene to help take care of Chip…and stay at Myra’s house. Along the way, all 3 of the characters change in ways that are unexpected and often touching. I highly recommend this fast read – a book that has stayed with me weeks later.
  • Halfway House by Katherine Noel: This novel succeeds in some ways, but not in others. Where it succeeds is in painting a vivid picture of a teenage girl’s mental illness and the impact it has on her life and members of her immediate family. Where it fails is in telling an actual interesting story. Things happen, yes, and characters do change, but at some point the book felt endless and I just needed it to be over.

Dana:

  • What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman: I’ve always had an interest in historical stories that involve people’s experiences in asylums, and tend to like books that feature parallel(ish) plots taking place in different times. When I spotted this book and saw that it offered both those things, I couldn’t wait to read it. One half of the book focuses on Clara, whose father commits her to a state hospital in 1929 when she refuses to marry the man he chose for her, and the other half features Izzy, a teen in 1995 who is navigating the foster system and who discovers Clara’s diary. It had so much potential, but I gave up a third of the way through. Parts of Clara’s story were too upsetting for me to deal with, and Izzy’s story line was so full of 1990s high school cliches that I just got annoyed.
  • Berlin: Portrait of a City by Hans Christian Adam: After visiting Berlin last fall, I’m now fascinated with the history of the city. This book gives a quick, but detailed, rundown of Berlin’s history from the mid-1800s to the present, and is full of awesome photographs.
  • The State Boys Rebellion by Michael D’Antonio: This was an eye-opening book about a disturbing part of America’s past, beginning with an introduction to the American eugenics movement and then looking at how faulty IQ tests were used to label children as “feeble-minded” and to justify locking them away in institutions. The book focuses on the stories of several boys who were institutionalized at the Fernald State School here in Waltham. It wasn’t an easy book to read (emotionally), but an important one.
  • Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: The cover of this book (an ecstatic-looking raccoon) is totally what drew me to it, and I’m glad it did! I really enjoyed this humorous memoir, which touches on topics as varied as mental illness and taxidermy. I lost count of the number of times I laughed out loud – the kind of laughing where my shoulders shook and I had a hard time regaining my composure – but there were also serious chapters that resonated as well. I was also excited (and admittedly late to the party) to learn that Lawson has a blog so I can continue to read her stuff even though the book ended.
  • The Future is Feminist: Radical, Funny, and Inspiring Writing by Women edited by Mallory Farrugia: This book is a decent collection of essays presented, unfortunately, in a hideous combination of neon orange and pink text on a white background. I could only read the pink text if the lighting was just so, and struggled with the orange even when I squinted and looked sideways at the page. I recommend trying to find the essays elsewhere if you want to read them, unless you have better eyesight than I do!
  • One Day in December by Josie Silver: I’m a sucker for books set in the UK, and this one didn’t disappoint. It follows the lives of Laurie and Jack over the course of ten years, starting when Laurie spots Jack from a bus and their eyes meet, igniting a spark that neither had ever felt the likes of before. I felt like I knew the characters as the story went on, and even missed them a little when I finished the book. It was a heartwarming escape from the real world!
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Awesome Mix. Volume 1: The Guardians movies really have fantastic soundtracks, and this CD has been a fun one to rock out to in the car – David Bowie, Jackson 5, Norman Greenbaum, Redbone, and more. The song in highest rotation has been Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” because my toddler loves the “ooga chaka” intro, which he thinks is “ooga chocolate.” I love that misheard lyric and don’t plan on correcting him.
  • The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian: I uncovered this CD – a favorite of mine circa 2007 – recently and have been enjoying the nostalgia factor in between spins of the oft-requested “ooga chocolate.”
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet: I had such high hopes for this movie! I loved the first one (Wreck-It Ralph ), and had heard that there were some fun internet-related Easter eggs in the sequel. I didn’t think it lived up to the hype.

Laura:

  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier: This beautiful, haunting, sad, sweet, wondrous, and magical realistic historical fiction written for middle grade readers caused me to cry throughout my reading. I know that I overused the adjectives but I can’t write anything about this title that does it justice. Nan is an apprentice to a cruel chimney sweep in Victorian London and misses her former mentor, “Sweep”, and creates a Golem, who she names Charlie. The lyrical prose and the strong sense of time and place is gorgeous and heartbreaking. All of the characters are compelling and the relationship between Nan and Charlie is fully realized. The historic aspect pays homage to the real children, who often died while performing the dangerous job of chimney sweeping.
  • The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve: This is perfect for anyone who likes present day (well, 1990s) angst and unreliable narrators mixed in with their historical fiction. Photographer Jean goes to Portsmouth and the Isles of Shoals in order to document the scene about a grisly 19th century murder (based on a real life murder). As Jean becomes more caught up in the crime, she becomes more suspicious and distrusting of her husband and brother in law’s girlfriend which leads to tragic results in the present day.
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas: In Thomas’s follow up to The Hate U Give, teenage Bri is a rising rapper hoping to follow in the footsteps of her rapper father, who was killed in gang violence. Bri is a fully realized character and the side characters are compelling, especially Bri’s mother and aunt.
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: This novel, told in verse, is haunting and suspenseful. Will’s brother, Shawn, was shot and killed last night and according to the rules that have governed Will’s life, he must get revenge on his brother’s killer. He grabs his brother’s gun and rides down in the elevator as he contemplates what he’s about to do. The book is gritty and real, with a touch of magical realism.
  • I Dare to Say: African Women Share Their Stories of Hope and Survial edited by Hilda Twongyeirwe: This is a very powerful collection of journalistic essays about very strong woman in Uganda. I highly recommend it.
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See: A character driven novel about Li-Yan, a member of the Akha tribe, one of the ethnic minorities in China. Li-Yan has a daughter out of wedlock and, in order to save her from death, brings her to an orphanage. The rest of the novel proceeds with Li-Yan telling her story in the first person while we catch glimpses of the life of her biological daughter in California via e-mails and other correspondence. Once again, See creates strong female characters and also a strong sense of place. The production and importance of tea played such an important role in the book that it’s inspired me to learn more.
  • Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge, Read by Ray Porter (Overdrive audiobook): This book is a good introduction to the War in Vietnam as well as a good complement to anyone already familiar with the history. Interviews with those “on the ground”, including six soldiers, a nurse, and a Vietnamese refugee are interspersed with thought processes of historical figures including Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King.
  • What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper, Read by Deborah Grausman (Overdrive audiobook): This lyrical and thoughtful novel is the story of Gerta Rausch, who never identified as Jewish, until she and her father were taken to a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Although there are flashbacks to Gerta’s life before and during World War II, most of the novel takes place after the liberation and Gerta navigating life post War and in a displacement camp. The effective writing illustrates the struggles of survivors as they figure out where they belong and what to do. Grausman’s narration brings this powerful story to life. The only drawback to “reading” this as an audiobook is that I missed out on Stamper’s beautiful illustrations.
  • Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott, Read by Barbara Caruso (Audiobook on CD): I continue on my Louisa May Alcott kick as I finish the March Family trilogy. Most of the characters from Little Men return for this one, and there is a bit of a meta subplot in which Jo juggles the pros and cons of life as a famous writer.
  • I’ve been listening to the Professional Book Nerds podcast on Overdrive, featuring thoughtful interviews with a variety of authors. So far, I’ve listened to interviews with Nicola Yoon, Jason Reynolds, Susan Orlean, and Lisa Genova.
  • In honor of the passing of Luke Perry, I am touting one of my favorite podcasts, Again with This: Beverly Hills 90210. Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting, founders of the websites Previously.TV and the late Mighty Big TV/Television Without Pity, snarkily summarize every episode of Beverly Hills 90210. For those of us who came of age with the Walsh Twins and their friends, this podcast is a fun (and better) alternative to re-watching the show. Warning, if you are a Brandon fan (in a non ironic way), Tara and Sarah do not agree with you and this podcast may not be for you!

Casey:

Kim:

  • Mind Unraveled: a Memoir by Kurt Eichenwald: This is probably one of my favorite books from the past few years. Eichenwald recounts his epilepsy diagnoses (at age 18) and the nightmarish amounts of misinformation, mistreatment, and misdiagnoses from medical professionals that ensued during his college years. This should be required reading for anyone interested in becoming a medical professional, but not because it’s a medical text- it’s not. This book is a thrilling page-turner! It simply gives perspective, a human element to the effect doctors have on patients, and more broadly the effect we can have on other’s when we don’t confront our bias about disabilities.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: I’ve been very interested in true-crime for a long time but had never read this classic work. Capote is a brilliant writer, and I was pleased that he dug into the story of the two murders as well as the family.
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown: I enjoyed this thought-provoking memoir from Channing Brown. She aims to challenge responses to racist actions in our society and shares how smaller acts have an impact on people.
  • American Prison by Shane Bauer: Another one that should be required reading. I love that the author covers so much of the history of these institutions and their role in American society. It was heartbreaking, stomach-turning, but also very interesting and important. Bauer was also very reflective and honest about his stint as a prison guard which provided a fascinating window into how power/authority/fear can transform people.
  • Minding the Gap (streaming): A wonderful documentary. The doc follows a group of friends as they come into adulthood. It’s filmed/directed by one of the friends in the group and his intent was to explore how their rough upbringings affected their lives. All three of the main subjects had iffy relationships with the adult males in their lives and turned to skateboarding as a release (which is how they all met).
  • Sex Education (Netflix): Hands down some of the most wonderful, honest story arcs and character development. Teen sex comedies seem to be having a moment, but this show is really special.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: I love the diversity of the cast and Andy Samberg. Very silly and fun to watch.
  • Innocent Man (Netflix): This docuseries is based on the bestselling non-fiction book by John Grisham detailing two crimes in the same town. In both cases, the wrong people are accused, confess, and later sentenced. Though the series could’ve done a better job keeping the two narratives apart, it’s a mind-boggling story. If you think people wouldn’t confess to crimes they didn’t commit, you’d do well to give this a watch or pick up the book by Grisham.

Janet Z.:

  • My Dinner with Hervé (DVD): Back in the day, I was a real Fantasy Island fan, so was immediately drawn to this movie about Hervé Villechaize (aka Tattoo). Peter Dinklage did an amazing job, but the script just did not hang together for me.
  • A Squirrel’s Guide to Success (DVD): It turns out these critters are incredibly intelligent and adaptable. I especially enjoyed learning how engineers are studying squirrel’s movements to build robots that can tackle highly variable and unstable terrain in areas hit by earthquakes and other disasters.
  • The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife by Connie Scovill Small: I loved this book, in which the author writes about her 28 years of lighthouse life and service on the Maine and New Hampshire coasts alongside her husband. In the days before automation, this vital maritime profession involved long hours of difficult and even dangerous work.
  • I Hate My Cats by Davide Cali, illustrated by Anna Pirolli: Thank you, Liz, for recommending this adorable book. And don’t worry, cat lovers. The human in this book clearly loves his fur babies.
  • I Do Not Come to You By Chance by Adaobi Nwaubani: This wonderful book provides a fascinating and at times hilarious glimpse into the world of Nigerian email scams.
  • Floor Sample by Julia A. Cameron: I loved Cameron’s The Artist’s Way so of course was looking forward to reading her autobiography. Sadly, I barely made it to page 50 as I quickly tired of all the details of Cameron’s relationship with Martin Scorcese.

Ashley:

  • Inspection by Josh Malerman: From the author of Bird Box comes an inventive, Original story definitely written with the screen in mind. What would happen if boys and girls were raised completely separate with no knowledge of the others existence? Would they thrive academically and career wise because there are no “distractions”? It reads a bit young, could be an excellent YA crossover. My main issue with the book is the assumption that people are ONLY attracted to the opposite sex. With almost 50 children, a handful of them are bound to be attracted to the same sex. It bothers me when i can’t tell if a problem was intentional or not. Since it was not addressed, this just seems like a glaring flaw to me. Other than that i enjoyed this almost modern fairy tale like novel.
  • Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong: I found the fourth installment in her Rockton series to be a little slower and less interesting than the first 3, however i’ll still be waiting impatiently for the next one. Armstrong’s mysteries always keep me guessing, and her characters are fun and interesting.
  • Russian Doll on Netflix: Do you like your television shows dark and a little funny? Than this is for you. I wasn’t sure i was going to like it, with all of the comparisons to Ferris Bueller. I just do not like things that repeat over and over. However with Jamie Babbit Directing, and Natasha Lyonne starring, i decided to try it. Even though it’s about a woman who keeps repeating the same day, each day is new and inventive, and we get to watch her character row. It was wonderful.

Liz:

  • The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh: This longlist Man Booker prize nominee is about three sisters and their mother who, after years of isolation brought on by their father, encounter three strange men.
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas: Thomas’s follow up book to 2017’s The Hate U Give follows Bri, a 16 year old aspiring rapper who is also struggling with being racially profiled at school, an unstable home life, past trauma and breaking out of the stereotype society is forcing onto her.
  • Shock Value by Jason Zinoman: This is a history of horror cinema in the 60s and 70s, focusing on the works of directors like John Carpenter, Dan O’Bannon, Wes Craven and Brian De Palma. An entertaining read for any fan of horror film or cinema!

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