Four YA Favorites

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott – If you’ve read all of the Rick Riordan books, maybe you’re ready for this series. There’s more about gods and goddesses from the Greeks, Norse and other ancient cultures. One of my favorite series to reread!

Sadie by Courtney Summer – This Edgar Award winner from 2019 is a well-written YA mystery. The main character does some scary detective work to find her younger sister’s murderer. The author gives us two story lines – Sadie’s interviews of the suspect’s family and friends and a podcast interview that’s two steps behind her. A gripping story.

The Book of Dust series: La belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman – Have you read the series His Dark Materials (Book 1, The Golden Compass)? I brought both books home and read these well-written fantasies in two days. I have to admit that I also enjoyed rereading The Golden Compass too.

-Gary B.

Real Women . . . Imagined

These novels feature fictional versions of real women from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries—all of them path-breakers. I swallowed them almost whole, happily immersed in their historical periods, utterly absorbed by the imagined lives of these women.

LOVE AND FURY: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft

by Samantha Silva

Wollstonecraft tells her life story to her newly born daughter (who, eighteen years later, will write Frankenstein). Born into a family unsupportive of her intelligence, Wollstonecraft nonetheless found her calling as an advocate for women’s self-determination, challenging the eighteenth-century view that women were not fit for education, and writing one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. Along the way, she had passionate love affairs before meeting her soul mate, the philosopher William Godwin, who celebrated her genius. This is also a moving portrait of their marriage.

THE MOONLIGHT SCHOOL

by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Cora Wilson Stewart pioneered a program to educate illiterate adults in early twentieth-century Kentucky—her “Moonlight Schools” operated in schoolhouses in the evenings, and eventually spread across the country. The heroine of this novel is Cora’s fictional cousin Lucy, who comes from Lexington to the mountain towns of Kentucky to help Cora with her project. At first dismissive of rural life, Lucy comes to admire the place and its inhabitants. When she sees how their illiteracy has made them vulnerable to exploitation from lumber companies, she’s determined to help them. A gentle and inspirational story.

WHAT IS VISIBLE

by Kimberly Elkins

Laura Bridgman, born and buried here in Hanover, was once world-famous. Deaf-blind, she learned to communicate in English fifty years before Helen Keller. Charles Dickens wrote about meeting her in 1842, and girls named their dolls “Laura” after her. Her story is sad and troubling—she was abandoned by those closest to her—but also fascinating. Samuel Gridley Howe, founder of the Perkins School for the Blind and her mentor, made her his puppet, but as she developed ideas of her own, including a preference for the Baptist church over Unitarianism, he rejected her. Other historical figures came into Laura’s orbit by way of Howe, among them his long-suffering wife, the poet Julia Ward Howe (who wrote “Battle Hymn of the Republic”), Senator Charles Sumner, with whom Howe had a romantic friendship, and John Brown, whom Howe helped fund. Elkins gives a sense of these intertwined lives on the eve of the Civil War, while at the same time convincingly imagining what it was like to be Laura Bridgman, and know the world only through touch.

E-CONTENT:

The Moonlight School – e-book

What Is Visible – e-audiobook

Alfresco Aliment Adventures

An essential part of the pleasure of being outdoors is food. It’s the fuel by which we go adventuring, it’s the lunch on top of the mountain, it’s the backcountry dinner. These three books explore all aspects of food and outdoor adventure, from nutritional considerations for peak performance, to the snacks that power the activity, to recipes for different kinds of camping.  

The New Camp Cookbook: Gourmet Grub for Campers, Road Trippers, and Adventurers is focused on car camping, and presupposes a lot of gear and ingredients. There’s a chapter on setting up the camp kitchen, and subsequent chapters give recipes for each of the day’s meals. These dishes are more gourmet than grub! They include Dutch Oven Deep-Dish Soppressata and Fennel Pizza, and Korean Flank Steak with Sriracha-Pickled Cucumbers. And sign me up for Summer Ale Sangria with Ginger and Peach! There are sections on cooking with both a cook stove and a camp grill.  

Dirty Gourmet: Food for Your Outdoor Adventures is a bit more versatile. It’s divided into three sections, for day hiking, car camping, and backcountry camping. Each section has information on meal planning, techniques for the cooking gear involved, and a collection of recipes. The three authors also run a collective blog of the same name. The recipes are a bit simpler and heartier, from Backcountry Mac and Cheese to Lentil Vegetable Stew with Dumplings–yet also with elegant touches, as with the Skillet Apple Pie with Cognac Butter.  

Peak Nutrition: Smart Fuel for Outdoor Adventure contains 100 recipes for snacks, meals, and beverages, but the bulk of the book is given over to a scientifically informed discussion of the role of nutrition in performance. The authors are both rock climbers, but they map out the specific needs of a number of activities, from bouldering and wall climbing to trail running to hiking and backpacking to backcountry skiing. It’s a comprehensive treatment of preparing for, fueling up for, and recovering from high exertion activities. It includes detailed sections on nutrition to slow aging, nutrition for different body types, and women’s nutritional needs. Among my favorite features are the numerous “Peak Profile” sidebars in which they ask outdoor athletes about their go-to energy food, the biggest challenge to getting good nutrition, their best and worst eating habits, and their favorite food indulgence at the end of the day. And then, of course, the big one: fleece or down? The answers are as entertaining as they are inspiring for planning one’s own outdoor adventures. 

-Jared

Western Women

The traditional Western was one of masculine, rugged individuals. Men who relied on only themselves. They had grit and mettle. They were self-determined makers of their own destinies. They… probably didn’t exist. We all rely on one another. We all desire belonging. We all seek a family of some kind. Also, where were the women? Women in westerns were often background or minor characters (with some exceptions). They were rarely the main protagonists. Modern westerns have come around a little bit and here we have three notable examples. These novels all have women at their centers, women who are cutting their own paths in worlds run by men. The situations in these stories often require women to be the strong individuals we’ve come to expect in westerns. But they also contain the more uncommon elements of finding yourself and finding yourself in others. The women seek self-acceptance in a world that will not accept them and seek belonging with those who will take them as they are. These elements, coupled with sexual and gender fluidity, create new dynamics and new stories to tell in an old setting that we seem to be drawn to again and again. 

Outlawed – by Anna North – A reimagined American West in the aftermath of a pandemic. Oppression has ravaged the country and barren women are cast out or killed. Ada becomes one of these women and seeks refuge with the Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of queer, gender-non-conforming women who have plans for their own place in the world. 

Upright Women Wanted – By Sarah Gailey – A post-apocalyptic American West. Queer traveling librarian smugglers. Bandits. Fascist. There’s a lot in this slim futuristic dystopian Western. 

Whiskey When We’re Dry – By John Larison – Jessilyn lost her mother when she was born. And now she’s lost her father. With no family to help her work their land she seeks out her outlaw brother, joining a militia that is hunting him down. But it turns out that he’s more than just an outlaw. He’s a prophet to many, and Jessilyn finds herself examining her own identity in a world not designed for girls like her. 

-Mike M.

E-content:

Outlawed (e-book)

Upright Women Wanted (e-audiobook)

Reluctant Royals: A Duke by Default

A Duke by Default: Reluctant Royals by [Alyssa Cole]

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole – In this corner, we’ve got the fabulous but scattered Portia Hobbs. She’s brilliant but messy and dealing with the feelings of constantly disappointing family or friends. So running off to Scotland to intern with a man who makes swords seems like the perfect next step, right?


And in this corner, we have Tavish McKenzie, a grumpy bear of a man who’s coming to terms with the fact that just because he makes medieval swords doesn’t mean he can operate on medieval business standards. This means letting Portia and her social media wizardry in. But that’s not all she wants to fix up. 


A truth bomb drops, revealing that Tavish is the secret son of a Duke. Now, he’s got a heck of a hill to climb to manage his potential new role and Portia can’t wait to spiff him up to do it. If they can survive this, they might just be able to survive falling for each other. 

-Shivani H.

Read Shivani’s review of A Princess in Theory, the first installment in the Reluctant Royals series.

This Is a Robbery!

No, it isn’t. It’s a Book Valet post! But I have been watching “This is a Robbery” on Netflix. The four-part limited series chronicles one of the most famous art heists in history from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Paintings from Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, all gone.  Despite knowing (spoiler alert (this shouldn’t be a spoiler alert, folks)) that they don’t recover the art, it is a fascinating tale of crime, corruption, and characters aplenty. If you are interested in the stolen art, the art heist itself and more, here are some related recommendations. 

Master Thieves – Stephe A. Kurkjian worked for the Boston Globe and was one of the most expert reporters to cover the Gardner Museum case. He takes his reporting over the years and presents it in Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist. His investigation flows through the mysterious underworld of Boston’s organized crime. It’s the most complete account to date of the who, when, why, and where the art might be now. Kurkjian also appears in the Netflix documentary series and gives great detail to a flummoxing case that has vexed experts for decades. 

The Art Forger – The Gardener heist is the backdrop for this mystery/thriller/romance novel by B. A. Shapiro. Claire Roth makes her living painting reproductions for an online retailer. When Aiden Markel, an influential art dealer, asks Claire to reproduce one of the Degas stolen from the Gardner, she makes a Faustian bargain in exchange for an art show in his gallery. During her work she discovers that the stolen Degas is itself a forgery. Claire wrestles with a complicated past relationship and current entanglements with the law. Her discovery might be the thing that saves her. This is a well-researched, suspenseful, and intricately plotted novel that will immerse you in some of the darker aspects of the art world. 

And my final recommendation is to… go to the museum! Located just a walk away from the Fine Arts Museum in Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner is like no other. Built in the style of a 15th-century Venetian palace, the Gardner houses American, European, and Asian art. The arrangements of the art and the feeling of viewing someone’s personal art collection gives the museum an intimacy that you can’t get at the big art museums. It’s a truly unique place. Book a discounted museum pass through Howe Library. (Hot tip: Do not steal the art!) 

-Mike M.

P. S. Check out all the Isabella Stewart Gardner related materials from Howe Library through our online catalog.

Whose Life Is It Anyway? Three Biographical Fictions

LADY CLEMENTINE by Marie Benedict. 

In 1909 Lady Clementine Churchill grabbed her new husband, Winston, by his jacket and saved him from the would-be assassin who was about to push him into the path of an oncoming train. It was only the first of many times that she would save Winston Churchill, most frequently, from himself.  This is the story of an intelligent, politically astute and ambitious woman, who, despite being compelled by the attitudes of the times to remain, ostensibly, in the background, managed to influence Churchill’s ideas, attitudes and actions in ways that shaped twentieth century history. In this fictionalized first-person account, we hear Clemmie’s distinctive voice as she caters to Churchill’s every need without ever allowing him to lose sight of her vital role in his success.   

RADIANT:  THE DANCER, THE SCIENTIST, AND A FRIENDSHIP FORGED IN LIGHT by Liz Lee Heinecke. 

Today, Loie Fuller is a largely forgotten figure, but in 1900s Paris she was a dazzling part of the new century’s creative burst of energy and light.  Fuller, considered a pioneer of modern dance was particularly known for her innovative use of theatrical effects.  Not surprisingly, she was drawn to Marie Curie, whose discovery of radium, with its glowing blue light, seemed tailor made for use in her performances.  As Heinecke tells us in this carefully researched work of historical fiction, Loie Fuller’s dream of using radium in her performances was never realized, but she and Marie Curie became lifelong friends whose mutual fascination with that element powered a shared delight in discovery across the boundaries of art and science. 

THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain. 

Could Hemingway have written a more heartbreaking line than this:  that in the end, he would “rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.”  In THE PARIS WIFE Paula McLain imagines that first love between Hadley Richardson, a 28-year-old who believes that love may have passed her by, and an even younger Ernest Hemingway, still struggling to find himself as a writer and a man.  Shortly after marrying, the Hemingways head for the whirlwind that is Paris in the 1920s.  Neither Hadley nor Ernest is prepared for the hedonistic life of the lost generation and while Ernest struggles to become a successful author, Hadley tries to hold on to her sense of self as she is challenged to be wife and muse, as well as mother to their child.  In the end, the love they have for each other simply isn’t enough to survive the betrayals that wreak havoc on their marriage.

-Marilyn B.

Reluctant Royals: A Princess in Theory

I hope you’re as excited as I am, because I’m bringing you the first book in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series. 


Naledi Smith is a busy grad student trying to do it all while being persistently bombarded by emails that she is engaged to an African prince. She sends those straight to the spam folder, because she knows that’s not how this works, especially for a kid out of the foster system. Or is it?


Prince Thabiso has been looking for his missing betrothed for years, after her parents left the country shortly after she was born. However, when she mistakes him for a fellow waiter at a job, he finds himself reluctant to tell her the truth and shatter this little dream of being seen as himself instead of a prince. 


Its a delicious combination of tropes in new shapes and new ways as these two flounder their way to love and understanding. You won’t want to miss it!

-Shivani H.

Jared Diamond’s Groundbreaking Best-Sellers

Readers interested in exploring the histories of the world’s populations through the lens of environmental challenges most likely have already come across Jared Diamond’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning title Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. In it, Diamond emphasized the importance of geography and a wide array of environmental factors, in charting the successes and failures of civilizations throughout the world. Informing the course of study are simple questions surrounding the equity of cultures and the power dynamics between agricultural societies, leading readers through an interesting investigation of the past. Recurrent journeys down such scientific avenues as the causes of Pleistocene animal domestication, the development of early ocean-going ship technology, and the impact of humans in the Holocene megafauna extinction event are just some of the diverse topics covered in this work. At the very point in which a reader begins to experience slight discombobulation, Diamond deftly blends topics related to such “simple” questions of equity and societal fate. 

  With the follow-up work Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Diamond meanders around some of the same pathways explored in the earlier book. However, as the title ominously points out, there is an enhanced focus on the endpoints in a variety of societies, both prehistorical and historical. While again focusing on environmental advantages and disadvantages, as well as conscious choices by settlement inhabitants to thwart early depletion of resources, Diamond weaves together a succinct narrative describing the downfall of Easter Island’s sculpture producing Rapa Nui culture, Greenland’s early Norse inhabitants, and the North American Anasazi culture just to name a few groups of people. Importantly, Diamond juxtaposed these societal endings with a handful of anecdotes from modern cultures that have been embracing the idea of preserving natural resources like timber and fuel, in economically viable ways. While both books are justifiably sobering, Jared Diamond ultimately provides readers with reasons for hope that can be cautiously embraced.  

-Peter A.

E-books and e-audiobooks from Jared Diamond available through the New Hampshire Downloadable Books Consortium

Mission Blue: Save our Seas!

Browsing Netflix this week, I came across the documentary Mission Blue which follows oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s campaign to save the world’s oceans from threats such as overfishing and toxic waste.

Here are some other new books about the ocean we just added to the collection for kids. The wonder and mystery of the sea are portrayed in vibrant illustrations. The problems facing the creatures that live there are not avoided but handled with child-friendly explanations with hope for the future.

I knew about Sylvia Earle from a children’s book (😊), Life in the Ocean, by Claire Nivola, which does a great job of encapsulating her work in picture book format for kids.

Secrets of the Sea: The story of Jeanne Power, by Evan Griffith. The curiosity, drive, and perseverance of the nineteenth-century woman scientist who pioneered the use of aquariums to study ocean life are celebrated in this gorgeous, empowering picture book.

Little Turtle and the Changing Sea , by Becky Davies
A beautiful, lyrical story which explores the problem of plastic in the ocean, and the challenges facing marine life.

Off to See the Sea, by Nikki Grimes Bath time can be an adventure on the high seas!

The Last Straw, by Susan Hood Readers will be fascinated as they learn about the growing plastic problem and meet just a few of the young activists who are standing up and speaking out for change.

GRAPHIC NONFICTION

Almost twenty years ago now I read Maus—Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the Holocaust—and was hooked on graphic books. Somehow the combination of text and images totally immerses me in a way that feels magic. Here are three works of graphic nonfiction I read and loved recently. They’re not connected thematically, but I think each would be a good place to start if you haven’t read a graphic book before and would like to try one.  

Welcome to the New World

WELCOME TO THE NEW WORLD 

Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan 

This is a work of journalism: Halpern spent three years following the life of a Syrian family who fled the civil war and went to Connecticut as refugees. Skillful, economic storytelling gives you a picture of their adjustment to life in the United States. Heartbreaking and heartwarming, this book began as a Pulitzer Prize-winning series published in the New York Times

MARCH (trilogy) 

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell 

Intended to introduce a new generation to the civil rights movement through the lens of John Lewis’s lifelong dedication to it, this trilogy is recommended for Grades 8 and up. This adult reader found it impossible to put down. From Lewis’s leadership in the lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the marches, and the efforts to register Black voters, to a SNCC delegation trip across the African continent, the reader is given a sense of the sweep of the movement.  

CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? 

Roz Chast 

New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast tells the story of her parents’ aging and decline. As their only child, it falls to Chast to navigate their end-of-life concerns and manage their care. Her story lays bare how our society fails to support its elderly and their caregivers, and yet Chast’s honesty and humor make this a consoling read. She shows us how the deeply sad and the deeply funny can coexist as she depicts the challenges of aging and also of the parent-child relationship. 

-Kirsten G.

Gardens at Home and Abroad

I am in withdrawal.  This is the time of winter when a few visits to the Dartmouth Greenhouse sustain me and provide a stepping stone to spring.  With the greenhouse closed, no book can exhale that warm, fragrant air, but at least the eyes can feast.  Herewith, three gardening books from the new books area.  

Inside Outside: A Sourcebook of Inspired Garden Rooms, by Linda O’Keefe, is a tour of defined garden spaces from around the world.  Its intent is practical: sections entitled Space, Structure, Movement, Mood, Furniture, and Time guide one toward a conception of the elements of garden spaces.  But the effect is pleasure.  Space after verdant space unfurls before the mind’s eye.

Likewise, Japanese Gardening: A Practical Guide to Creating a Japanese-Style Garden with 700 Step-By-Step Photographs, by Charles Chesshire, is meant to instruct.  Whether one is looking to design in the pond garden style, the dry garden style, the tea garden style, the stroll garden style, or the courtyard garden style, this is your book.  But the endless series of photographs transports one to a place of serenity whether one intends to build a garden or no.  Gates, stone lanterns, pools, stepping stones, moss–even the discrete elements of the Japanese garden inspire and delight.

But for pure visual ravishment, spend a little time with Adventures in Eden: An Intimate Tour of the Private Gardens of Europe.  There are the usual suspects–England, France, Spain–all lushly and magnificently photographed, but also gardens of Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, in styles I couldn’t have anticipated with accuracy.  

If there were ever a winter in which other things have to stand in for travel, this is it.  Make a cup of tea, put your feet up, and dream.

-Jared J.

Shakespeare Retellings

Howe Library has started a new Shakespeare reading group, First Sunday Shakespeare. It’s a way to get together with others (virtually), engage with some great works of art, and have lots of fun. 

Inspired by this new program I thought we’d highlight the Hogarth Shakespeare Series, a series of modern Shakespeare retellings by popular, contemporary authors, commissioned by Hogarth Press.  

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson – a retelling of The Winter’s Tale 

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler – a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew 

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – a re-imagining of The Tempest 

Macbeth by Jo Nesbø – a retelling of Macbeth 

Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn – a retelling of King Lear 

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – a re-imagining of Othello 

Contact jared.jenisch@thehowe.org for more information on attending First Sunday Shakespeare. 

-Mike M.  

Downloadable formats:

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

ALA Book Awards!

On January 25, the American Library Association (ALA) announced the top books, digital media, video, and audiobooks for children and young adults.  Recognized worldwide for the high quality they represent, ALA awards guide parents, educators, librarians, and others in selecting the best materials for youth. Selected by judging committees of librarians and other literature and media experts, the awards encourage original and creative work.

Newbery Medal: most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller 

Caldecott Medal: most distinguished American picture book:

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

Printz Medal: for excellence in literature written for young adults:

Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri

Coretta Scott King Award: recognizing an African American author:

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

-Denise R.

A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders – I don’t remember when I last felt so grateful to a writer as I am to George Saunders for having written this book. In it, he throws open the doors to a class he’s taught for twenty years at Syracuse University on the nineteenth-century Russian short story.  

Why read these stories? Because they unabashedly explore big questions. How should we live? What should we value? Is it okay to be happy when there’s so much suffering in the world? Those sorts of unanswerable questions the Russian writers nonetheless took a stab at answering, or at least delving into, thus producing stories that still speak to us so many years later. 

The book begins deliciously as an exercise in slow reading, as Saunders feeds you a Chekhov story one page at a time, checking in with you after each page and guiding you toward developing an awareness of your own reading experience. Stop, Saunders says, what did you notice on that page? What did it make you wonder about? Okay, now read on and see how the author responds to your questions. Stories are conversations between author and reader, Saunders shows us, and his book is a conversation, too, not a lecture.  

In the chapters that follow, Saunders gives us six more stories to read (by Chekhov, Turgenev, Gogol, and Tolstoy), and then considers what makes each one tick. How does the author make us care enough to keep reading? Which details are included and which are left out? Whose perspective are we given and why does it matter? Here’s another approach the author might have taken—why didn’t he? By articulating so well what animates these stories and by sharing his sheer admiration for them, Saunders teaches us to love them better ourselves. 

I think this feels like such a heightened reading experience because the habits of mind Saunders encourages me to cultivate as a reader—attentiveness, openness, inquisitiveness—make me feel that much more alive when I look up from the page. Even if only briefly, I feel more receptive to the world in front of me. 

If you’re looking to intensify and deepen your reading experience, if you crave a reading buddy who is witty and brilliantly insightful yet appealingly modest—who never suggests his way of reading is the only way—this just might be your book.  

-Kirsten G.

History in Objects

I love reading about history, but sometimes even my favorite historical eras can seem like slogs. If you want a dose of history but would like some closure at the end of a reading session, try these books on for size.  

PDF DOWNLOAD] A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor Free  Epub | World history, Books, History

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor 

The director of the British Museum takes you on a tour of humanity’s innovations and inventions. The historical artifacts have their own beautiful color photographs to go along with the texts, each object explaining a certain human innovation and its effect on the world. This is a terrific book to pick up and put down. You will never lose the narrative between readings. It starts with a primitive hand axe and ends with a credit card, but there is so much in between that is worth exploring. 

Space Exploration: A History in 100 Objects by Sten Odenwald 

If you are even casually interested in outer space this a wonderful book, for the same reasons that Neil MacGregor’s book was. You can digest it in little chunks here and there or pick out the most interesting objects. For many of us, anything to do with space can seem intimidating, but this is a nice hand-held walk through the history of human space exploration. Start with an Egyptian star clock. Move through all forms of early telescopes, gyroscopes, and astrariums. Refresh your knowledge of Sputnik and the Apollo missions. Wrap yourself in a warm space blanket. Eat some space food. Cruise around on Mars with the Curiosity rover, and finally peer into a black hole (such that you can) with the Event Horizon Telescope. Space is fun to explore when it’s not so daunting. 

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage 

This “history in objects” book certainly has fewer objects and isn’t as pick-up-and-put-down-able as the other two books, but it’s just as fascinating. Tom Standage picks six potables that have had a considerable influence on history. Beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-cola, each had an effect on some aspect of global history, themselves representing massive changes in politics, culture, and globalism. Bottoms up! 

-Mike M.

Escape to Other Worlds

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. Since he was five years old, Lazlo Strange, a war orphan and junior librarian, has been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep.  He’s convinced, however, that it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. When a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, Lazlo has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever. 

(Book 1 of the Strange the Dreamer duology

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang.  When war orphan, Rin, from the remote Rooster province, gets into Sinegard, the elite national military academy, everyone is surprised, but not everyone is pleased.  From the moment she arrives, Rin is targeted by her classmates because she’s poor, she’s the wrong color, and she’s female.  But Rin is also a powerful shaman.  As war encroaches on the Empire, Rin comes to the realization that her powers may be the only weapon that can save her people.  But at what cost?   

(Book 1 of The Poppy War trilogy

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin.   
 
In a post-apocalyptic world plagued by natural diasters, Essun lives in a small comunity barricaded against the outside world. When her husband realizes that she and her children are orogenes with the ability to manipulate seismic energy, he kills their son and kidnaps their daughter. Against the backdrop of the end of the world, Essun follows them, beginning an odyssey which will not end until her daughter is safe.   

(Book 1 of The Broken Earth trilogy

-Marilyn B.

Downloadable formats:

Strange the Dreamer and duology

The Fifth Season and The Broken Earth Trilogy

Short Life in a Strange World: Birth to Death in 42 Panels, by Toby Ferris

Short Life in a Strange World: Birth to Death in 42 Panels

Toby Ferris, his father recently dead and entering into fatherhood himself, sets out at the age of 42 to view all 42 of the surviving paintings of Pieter Breughel the Elder (save one).  They become the matrix through which he explores matters of myth, meaning, and mortality.

With insight and art-historical nuance he delves into the world of village celebrations, hunters, harvesters, and drunkards pushed into pigsties that’s portrayed in the paintings, opening out from there to stories of his own travels from museum to museum across Europe, memories of his father, and philosophical meditations on life.

Toby Ferris is also the creator of the arcane and alluring website “Anatomy of Norbiton,” which a favorite author of mine, Robert Macfarlane, describes as “a dazzlingly strange thought-experiment in virtual topography, counterfactual space, town-planning and tapirs.”  It would be easy to get lost in this genre-defying and labyrinthine literary creation without ever having a sense of what it’s about–or even quite what it is.  Ferris brings something of this esoteric sensibility to Short Life in a Strange World, but in a more concrete and accessible way.

His writing is worth enjoying in its own right.  Take these sentences on paragliders that are sucked into the upper atmosphere: “They would be tossed around in regions of lurid physics, as though buffeted in the red eye of Jupiter, would black out, and then, if they lived to tell of it, would be spat back frostbitten, wild-eyed, jabbering: ancient mariners of the upper airs.”

This is a book to be savored in bites, not consumed in a sitting.  It is dense, allusive, and evocative.  As a physical object it is a beautiful thing: heavy in the hand, cream-paged, rich with reproductions of Renaissance paintings.  It’s a good book for a winter bed stand–maybe interleaved with lighter fare for leavening.

-Jared J.

Epistolary Novels

We don’t write letters much anymore. Packages come in the mail. Correspondences do not. This was reinforced this year when my 4-year-old, who had already sent a written a letter to Santa, was confused when he received one in return. What? Why? The futility of explaining to a 4-year-old why someone would communicate with another via paper, stamps, and envelopes when you could just call, text, or FaceTime(!) became immediately evident. My knee-jerk reaction was to explain long-distance calling rates. Hmm. Guess those don’t really exist anymore either. I think I’ll just explain that Santa has bad cellphone service and is still on dial-up.  

When we do get a letter in the mail there is something more at work than just nostalgia for a simpler time. It reminds you why letter writing held value in the first place. They were crafted. They were moments in time, written by someone’s hand. The response couldn’t be an immediate reaction but a thoughtful wording, with ample time for revision. There’s a reason I keep all my old cards and letters from my grandmother, and I’m a little sad to think that no one will be able to keep letters from anyone anymore. But I am glad that there are some authors out there writing novels in letters (epistolary novels), allowing you live amongst that lost art once more.  
 

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher – A frustrated professor, Jason Fitger, losing-at-life at the moment, writes a series of letters of recommendations for students and colleagues and to senior administration at the college. The letters grow increasingly autobiographical as Fitger writes. It’s a witty novel and a satirical look at academia.  

Meet Me at the Museum – by Anne Youngson – An older woman, Tina, nearing the retirement years of her life, receives news that an old friend has died. For their whole lives the two friends had planned to visit a Museum in Denmark, and when her friend dies, ending that dream, she begins some correspondence with the museum’s curator, Anders. This sets in motion changes in the lives for both Tina and Anders that they cannot foresee. Their charming letters are intimate and introspective. This novel makes you want to buy some stamps, pick up a pen and write to someone you love.   

Dear Elizabeth by Sarah Ruhl – Well… not a novel, but a play, comprised of letters written between the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. These letters are honest and unsentimental and reflect a deep friendship of two complex and extraordinary artists. I saw this play performed at Northern Stage a few years ago, and it was wonderful. I’ve since re-read(re-saw?) (re-saw-read?) the play and it is a pleasure as well. 

-Mike M.

How I Made My Home Not Ugly

It took a pandemic and a stay-at-home order for me to finally invest time and money into making my home homey. The last six months, I have become a Home and Garden connoisseur, reading every issue of House Beautiful and HGTV Magazine and every home design book available at the library. Here are some of the titles I found informative, inspiring, and most importantly, full of gorgeous pictures. 

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Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave 

by Joanna Gaines 

I mean, what would this list be without the Queen of HGTV? Homebody is a nice reminder that sometimes all you need to do to make your home beautiful is to not live in it. (Just kidding. Kind of.) Much of the book is about breaking down style aesthetics (Modern, Farmhouse, Classic, etc.), and the rest is bursting with design ideas. Even if the level of perfection in Homebody is unattainable for some people (me), it’s still a nice reminder that, more often than not, less is more. 

Remodelista: The Organized Home 

by Julie Carlson and Margot Guralnick 

I’ve read Marie Kondo and know all about the life-changing magic of throwing away your junk, but this book presents what to do with the stuff you have left. (Basically, hide it in baskets or cupboards, or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, hang it on your wall.) There are things in here I’ll never do, like store baking ingredients in cute glass containers, but this book DID help me devise the brilliant idea of hiding my recycling under a table behind a jerry-rigged curtain. 

The Perfectly Imperfect Home: How to Decorate & Live Well 

by Deborah Needleman 

Needleman packs this book with helpful tips to streamline your living spaces, breaking down the elements of a room and presenting sound advice for total beginners. (Get your furniture off the wall! Don’t overdose on symmetry and matchiness!) As the title demonstrates, this is the more practical the three, and unlike the others, which are decorated with bold photographs, The Perfectly Imperfect Home contains beautiful watercolor illustrations to convey its information. 

-Kelly S.