Three Great Reads for Young Readers/Young Adults

by Kevin Henkes

The Year of Billy Miller is the story of Billy Miller’s joyous romp through second grade.   Billy talks through concerns that he has as a young elementary child (like what the first day of school would be like).   Billy’s parents and teacher are wonderful adults helping him make the transitions that young children go through.   This book would be a great family read aloud!

By Katherine Applegate

The Last is the first book in the series “Endling” by Katherine Applegate.   This relatively new fantasy series brings the reader though the near end of a species (diarnes) and the main character’s quest to find others of her kind.   As in any quest, she encounters other creatures as friend and foe.  This well written book is charming and will hold a reader’s attention throughout. 

By Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer is book one of a sci-fi series.   Author Laini Taylor creates a story of legend, of lost cities and a curious young mean who wants to find them.    This book received a Printz Award in 2017 – be prepared to want to read the book and forget everything else.  (Remember to eat!)

-Gary B.


Classics Adventure Stories by Modern Authors

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan reads like a more empathetic Robert Louis Stevenson novel. The story begins with slave boy, Washington, becoming an assistant to a scientist and inventor, Dr. Christopher Wilde. After a brutal accident and suicide, Wilde and Washington are forced to escape the plantation, together fleeing to the arctic where Wash is left abandoned and alone. This story follows Wash as he finds his way in a world that has no place for a disfigured runaway slave.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta takes place in an alternate Victorian England where humanity suffers the condition of smoke emitting from their pores, exposing their true motives whenever they sin. In a world where classism has run rampant, the rich live controlled and spotless lives, while the poor are drenched in their own soot and guilt. We follow three young adults as they discover the root of the smoke and try to liberate their society from the rule of the elite and the church.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson is the perfect read for fans of Egyptian mythology and The Arabian Nights. Alif is our Arabic protagonist, a hacker who provides security services to customers in their unidentified surveillance-state. He falls for an aristocratic woman who is instead betrothed to a rich price, followed by his own security system being breached by the state government. As Alif is put on the run to save his own neck and his customers’, he discovers a secret book of the jiin, A Thousand and One Days. With high-stake consequences he can hardly imagine, Alif struggles against state foes, aided by forces the spirit world.

Alissandra M.

A Dose of Optimism

by James & Deborah Fallows

Our Towns – Deborah and James Fallows provide rich and textured profiles of 29 American cities, the results of their four-year tour of the United States via their single-engine propeller airplane. Far from the national narrative of decline, they find many American cities are reinventing themselves, and thriving. The authors paint a beautiful picture of our nation and suggest that perhaps we are in a transition, on the cusp of doing great things.

by Hans Rosling

Factfulness – In Factfulness Hans Rosling explains in clear language how even the smartest among us can hold mistaken beliefs about the state of our world. Using simple charts and graphs the author explains how we all get wrong issues of poverty, education, demographics, and health. Picked by President Obama for his 2018 summer reading list, Factfulness shines a ray of hope on a world that seemed darker by the day.  

by Steven Pinker

The Better Angels of Our Nature – Going off the whole darker by the day assumption mentioned above, psychology professor Steve Pinker explains that in fact violence worldwide has declined, and declined significantly. Blending psychology, history, and hard data, Pinker provides a much-needed perspective on our modern world. 

-Mike M.

Place Based Mysteries

by Paul Doiron

The Poacher’s Son. Newly minted warden, Mike Bowditch, is devoted to upholding the Maine Game and Fish laws even though his estranged father makes a living as a poacher.  His dad is also an alcoholic who frequently  has made his son’s life miserable.   However, when his father is accused of murdering a timber company executive and a state trooper, following a contentious meeting over the sale of vast tracts of paper company land to developers, Mike is forced to decide whether his loyalties lie with family or the law.  Doiron knows the politics and the people of Maine well, and it shows in this first in a now eleven-book series.

by Dana Stabenow

A Cold Day For Murder. After having almost died while she was an investigator for the Anchorage District Attorney’s office, Aleut native Kate Shugak has reluctantly returned to her home in the Alaskan wilderness simply known as “The Park.”  When a National Park ranger goes missing and the state trooper sent to find him also disappears, Kate is asked to use her knowledge of the park and its mix of natives, misfits and outcasts to help find the missing men.  Her search quickly leads her right back into the park life she thought she’d left behind and into more danger than she imagined.  This first book in the Kate Shugak series is full of details about the remote Alaskan environment and the folks, both good and evil, who call it home.

by Parker Bilal

The Golden Scales. Makana, a former Sudenese police detective, who’s been forced to leave his native country is now living in contemporary Cairo and somewhat reluctantly trying to support himself as a private detective.  Against his own better judgement, but in need of the money, Makana agrees to take on the case of a corrupt Cairo soccer team owner whose star player has disappeared.  Soon, Makana finds himself caught up in the maelstrom that is modern Cairo, full of avarice and greed, wealth and poverty, secrets and desires.  The sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of modern Cairo are everywhere in this book in the Makana series, and Makana himself is a wonderfully developed character, as are his friends…and enemies.

-Marilyn B.

Animals, In Depth

by Sy Montgomery

How to Be a Good Creature. Sy Montgomery is the author of the 2015 Pulitzer-prize finalist The Soul of an Octopus, as well as the bestselling The Good Good Pig and many other books.  Her most recent work is How to Be a Good Creature, in which she recounts her experiences with thirteen animals and the roles they’ve played in her life.  Dogs, pigs, spiders, weasels and more: these were the friends that helped her through depression, major life transitions, and difficult times.  In the end, they’re her teachers.  From them she learned about compassion, empathy, joy, and what it means to be a good creature in the world.

by Frans de Waal

Mama’s Last Hug. In Sy Montgomery’s recent appearance at the Town House Forum in Strafford, VT, she noted the influence on her of the work of the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal.  His most recent book is Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves.  In past works, de Waal explored the range of animal intelligence.  Here he continues to make the case that non-human primates experience empathy along with a range of other emotions that have often been associated only with human beings.  In his extensive work with primates he has seen evidence of as sophisticated a capacity as a sense of fairness.  This is a fascinating work that confirms the sense so many of us have of the complex emotional and even moral lives of animals.

by Hilary Kearney

QueenSpotting. This is a book with a long title about a very small creature.  Unlike the above two works, it’s intended for practical use.  Anyone who keeps bees knows that it’s critical to be able to track the movements and life cycle of the hive’s queen.  This book covers every aspect of the life of the hive and the queen’s role in it, but what makes it especially fun is that it has 48 fold-out close-up photographs of hundreds of bees–like the most difficult jigsaw puzzle ever–to give practice in visually locating the queen in the midst of the swarm.  It’s fun to try, and it’s about as close as most of us will get to beekeeping without owning a hive.

– Jared J.

Making History in the Non-fiction Stacks

Heretics and Heroes. The renaissance and reformation were times in which the inhabitants of Western Europe, both ordinary and illustrious, broke free from much of the intellectual darkness that cloaked their world during the Middle Ages. Book number six of his popular Hinges of History series, focuses on the two forces of nationalism and religion, and touches on how these powers shaped Western Europe between the 1400s and early 1600s. Cahill puts a human face on many of the people of this time who have been mythologized in one way or another, such as the philosopher Erasmus, Martin Luther and Leonardo da Vinci.

The Making of Modern Japan. Japan is often hailed as one of the most powerful non-western countries and this masterwork of history shows how it came to be known as such. Jansen’s tome sets out to create a detailed account of the past 400 years of Japanese history, which includes the periods of the Tokugawa Shogunate as well as the Meiji Restoration. The book discusses the influences of neighboring Asian cultures as well as European visitors, ultimately culminating with the complicated relationship with the US through the 20th century. At times isolating themselves from the rest of the world, but eventually opening up, focusing on technological advancement and industry, Japan, by the 1980s found itself near the top of the global economic food chain.

Cleopatra: A Life. Great biographies do an excellent job of painting a picture of the environment and times in which their subject lived.  Stacy Schiff’s 2010 biography of Cleopatra does just that.  Most compelling for me was the biographer’s description of ancient Alexandria, with its glorious temples, bustling marketplaces and people of all sorts. Alexandria was a cultural epicenter around the first century B.C. Many of the sources Schiff relies on for her research are primary ones, created in biblical times. These sources, whether Cicero or Plutarch, or a variety of others, all meticulously footnoted in the biography’s notes, depict a Cleopatra that readers will be surprised with.

-Peter A.

Fashion Influencers (Who You May or May Not Know About)

I love fashion, which comes as a shock to no one.  Photograph-laden fashion books are fabulous but the stories behind the clothes can be just as intriguing.    

By Isaac Mizrahi

IM: A Memoir. Isaac Mizrahi is an award-winning fashion designer. If you’ve seen Isaac on TV, you know that he is enthusiastic, witty, and tells it as it is. These qualities are evident in his memoir, as we discover Isaac is also an engaging storyteller. Along with celebrity encounters and the challenges of the fashion business, we get a glimpse of Isaac as a person: his struggles with depression and insomnia, growing up gay in a sheltered family, and finding love with his husband. (Full disclosure: Isaac complimented me on my dress at a library conference, so I fully admit I may be biased!)

by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart

Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland. Diana Vreeland’s influence completely changed fashion journalism. After paying her dues as a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, Vreeland embraced people like Richard Avedon, and the youthquake of the 1960s, as the editor-in-chief at Vogue. A complicated and divisive figure, Vreeland’s story often mirrors the social and political changes of the 20th century.

By Kyo Maclear, ill. by Julie Morstad

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Elsa Schiaparelli loved color and patterns and letting her mind run free.  Her bold and unique designs took Paris and the fashion world by storm in the 1930s.  This colorful picture book starts with Elsa’s childhood in Rome and shows her influence on the fashion world today. 

-Megan C.