Chocolate Covered Coconut Puddin’ — Three Tasty Mysteries for Summer Reading.

by Joanna Fluke

Coconut Layer Cake Murder – Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar bakeshop has been helping a friend in California when she’s suddenly called back home to the cold Minnesota winter by a panicked call from her sister, Michelle. Michelle’s boyfriend, Lonnie, has become the prime murder suspect after waking up on a stranger’s couch, only to find that stranger, a young woman, dead in her bedroom. To make matters worse, Lonnie can’t remember what happened after he helped the woman get home. Hannah doesn’t know who or what to believe, let alone if she’ll be able to find the real killer and clear Lonnie’s name.

by Sarah Graves

Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut – Bakeshop owners Jake and Ellie are looking forward to a busy festival weekend in their small coastal Maine village. That is, until the body of a well-known, if not well loved, foodie is found in the basement of their shop, The Chocolate Moose. Things quickly go from bad to worse when Jake becomes the leading suspect, so she and Ellie set out to find the real murderer, determined to preserve Jake’s freedom as well as their business.

by Tamar Myers

Puddin’ On the Blitz – Magdalena Yoder has just opened an Asian-Amish fusion restaurant in Pennsylvania Dutch country. While her customers are skeptical about the themed cuisine, they’re in agreement that the desserts are to die for. That is until a diner drops dead right after eating a generous slice of blitz torte. Before she can put down her whisk, Magdalena is arrested for murder. She knows she’s innocent, but can she find out who the real murderer is before her restaurant, her family and her life are ruined?

– Marilyn B.

Downloadable formats:

Coconut Layer Cake Murder

Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut

Three Short But Beautiful Books

If you are anything like me, I actually have less time to read now than I did in the “before-time”. So give yourself a win or two and check out these shorter, but wonderful books. Each clocks in at about 200 pages.

Nickel Boys – A fictional account based on true events and a real place, Nickel Boys takes place at reform school in Florida, set during the last days Jim Crow. Two boys enter the academy for dubious reasons, and are subject to terrible treatment. Colson Whitehead packs an incredible emotion punch in this brief novel. It’s a heartbreaking book that saves its final wallop for its revelatory ending.

Red at the Bone – Author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson offers another poetic, and tender look at family, class, and time. It opens on Melody’s 16th birthday, as her parents watch her descend the steps of their Brooklyn brownstone to her party. Melody’s mother, Iris, never got the 16th birthday her daughter is getting because she was pregnant with her daughter. Red at the Bone flips back and forth in time revealing the characters’ struggles, failures, and moments of joy. Woodson swirls sadness and beauty together to create a novel that shows sympathy to all that suffer in their own way.

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Exit West – Two lovers are in the midst of a brewing war in an unnamed country in the Middle East. Nadia and Saeed’s relationship itself is a scandal in their socially strict city, so they decide to take matters into their own hands. The two then flee, becoming refugees. But Nadia and Saeed have been hearing rumors about magical doors that have been appearing, hidden, often in people’s closets, or entryways. And others are helping those refugees find the doors before the authorities find them. There is a magical element to the doors, of course, but Mohsin Hamid uses them as more of a device to whisk the characters to new countries and new experiences as refugees. He uses the closing of the doors to represent the realization that once you’ve left, you can really never go back.

-Mike M.

Digital Access:

Nickel Boys

Red at the Bone

Exit West

Anti-racist Books for YA

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi 

Based on Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award–winning Stamped from the Beginning, this young reader’s edition begins in 1415 and travels into the present in five sections. This adaptation teaches readers to think critically about racism and antiracism in the United States and the Western world.  A recommended reading list is included and features older and contemporary adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction titles

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

African American sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives a life caught between her predominantly black neighborhood and the predominantly white prep school she attends. Author Angie Thomas tackles topics like gangs, racism, police violence, and interracial dating. Thomas delivers a plot with realistic, relatable characters. The first-person narrative insightfully examines two worlds in collision.  

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo 

Fifteen-year-old Xiomara, a Dominican girl from Harlem, finds peace in writing poetry. Xiomara pours her innermost self into poems and dreams of competing in poetry slams, a passion she’s certain her conservative Dominican parents will never accept. Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet coming into her own. It is not difficult to see why this book won the 2019 Michael L. Printz Award and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

-Mary L.

Online Formats:

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

The Hate U Give

The Poet X

For the Dog-Lovers

At the Howe, to say we have a soft spot for dogs is an understatement. Ask us about our pets at the Circulation Desk, and we will drone on about our pup’s likes and dislikes, fearlessness and irrational fears; about the crazy things they do, and, more unbelievably, the crazy things they say (through their facial expressions and mannerisms, of course). 

Dog Songs by Mary Oliver 

You don’t like poetry? Doesn’t matter; Dog Songs will rip you apart and put you back together with sloppy dog kisses. Just as Mary Oliver does with every manner of life, she takes the experience of loving a dog and articulates it in the most profound way. My favorite is “The Sweetness of Dogs.”  

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley 

Lily and the Octopus is about a man who vows to save his beloved dachshund from an evil octopus (AKA, an evil tumor), a vow that climaxes with a storm-at-sea battle in which dogs talk (IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!!!) and love saves all. Warning — this is a tear-jerker. 

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo 

Because of Winn-Dixie is a middle grade novel, but, like all Kate DiCamillo’s books, you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy it. It follows the new girl in town whose life changes considerably when she befriends a stray dog in the supermarket. I’m on a Kate DiCamillo kick, in part because Ann Patchett told me to read her books via her book blog, and I read pretty much anything Ann Patchett tells me to read. 

—  Kelly S. 

Online formats:

Because of Winn-Dixie

Lily and the Octopus

MYSTERIES TO READ NOW

Darktown by Thomas Mullen.  In 1948 Atlanta, the police Department has been ordered to hire its first African-American police officers.  While these eight men, many of them WWII veterans, are “members” of the force, their duties are restricted:  they’re only allowed to patrol in African-American neighborhoods, they aren’t allowed to arrest whites, they can’t even enter police headquarters.  When two of these new recruits, Boggs and Smith, begin an investigation into the death of an African-American woman last seen in the company of a white man, they run into a storm of white privilege, racism, police conspiracy, and violence.  The question is not just whether they’ll bring a killer to justice, but if they’ll survive with their jobs and their lives.  In this mystery based on real events in Atlanta Police Department history, Thomas Mullens uses a compelling plot and complex characters, to remind us both how far we’ve come and how much remains the same, not only in Atlanta, but across the United States.

Darktown e-aduiobook.

Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke.  In this second installment in the Highway 59 series, Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is trying to locate a missing child, a search that brings him into conflict with a white supremacist group.  Matthews search is complicated by the fallout from his last case, including a marriage that’s shaky, a mother who may or may not have his best interests at heart, and a career whose future is uncertain.  When the case takes Matthews to a small Texas town whose local economy is based on nostalgia for antebellum Texas, he discovers that the racial attitudes of some residents are as current as they are nostalgic, and that he’s fighting against racism as well as time in his search for the child.  Peopled with a broad swath of vibrantly drawn characters, Heaven, My Home uses a complex mystery to ask equally complex questions about the nature of race in America.

Heaven, My Home e-audiobook.

-Marilyn B.

GARDENS NEAR AND FAR

A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season 

Margaret Roach 

I’m a beginning gardener, and could not be more glad to have been given this book recently. Roach guides you through the gardening year (flower and vegetable) two months at a time. Among the variety of information and tips I’ve enjoyed on first read is the author’s suggestion that you step back inside your house and consider the view from there as you decide what to plant and where. And I’m grateful for a section titled “Taxonomy Lite” on the basics of botanical Latin. Roach’s own enthusiasms, as for gold foliage, are catching, and have me considering plants I might not otherwise. Her book is a blend of practical advice, idiosyncratic opinions, and stories of hard-earned gardening wisdom, such as you might be told on a private tour with a master gardener. It’s also lavishly illustrated with photographs of Roach’s Hudson Valley garden, featuring not only plants but creatures too. A number of frogs all but wink at you as you turn the pages. 

The Natural Shade Garden 

Ken Druse 

I didn’t realize when I came by this book simultaneously with Margaret Roach’s that the authors are longtime friends, but I’m not surprised to learn it; their books are simpatico. Here the topic is more focused, but again the text offers a blend of practical guidance and inspirational musings. And then there are the photographs—the photographs! Almost five hundred of them. You will wish you had more shade, not less, in which to plant this astonishing array of plants. Shade here is not a problem but an opportunity: to work closely with nature to create places of calm and refuge and even magic in your yard. Druse inspires me to give foliage its due, to look past flowers (though there are plenty of plants that flower in the shade) and consider more closely leaves and the structures of plants, to study the woodlands as I hike our area trails and let my observations inform my garden making. A shade garden might include fallen logs, moss-covered rocks, or a little pool, and native plants and wildflowers will always be welcome.  

Watch Monty Don's Paradise Gardens on Acorn TV

Monty Don’s Paradise Gardens: Planting Heaven on Earth 

(available on Acorn TV via RB Digital Streaming Video) 

If you are not yet acquainted with Monty Don, you cannot start getting to know him soon enough, I say! Monty is a major celebrity in the UK, due to his being the lead presenter of a BBC gardening show; he’s also produced a vast array of other gardening programs which you can access on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and just by searching YouTube. This particular program is accessible via the Howe’s access to Acorn TV. I am an unabashed fan of Monty’s. He is a gardening guru like no other—a most erudite imparter of gardening wisdom and knowledge, of unassuming manner, yet with unquestionable command of his subject. And he cuts rather a dash with his unfussy elegance and his ubiquitous scarves. I’m not his only admirer: in 2018, the Queen made him an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his horticultural broadcasting and promotion. In this program, Monty tours the paradise gardens of the Islamic world, beginning in Spain and traveling on to Morocco, Iran, Turkey, and India, ending back in the UK for a look at the influence Islamic gardens have had there. Paradise gardens are rich with symbolism, scent, and cooling waters. I dare you to watch this and not be intrigued by them—and by the fabulous Monty! 

-Kirsten G.

Three From Carlo Rovelli

Carlo Rovelli is an Italian physicist who has worked in Italy, the U.S., and France.  He is one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory, and fortunately, for us, he is also the author of three books for the layperson on physics, Seven Brief Lessons on PhysicsReality is Not What it Seems, and The Order of Time.  The first was translated into over 40 languages, and all have been named best science books and won awards.  Rovelli has the gift of putting impossibly abstruse concepts into words and images of startling clarity.  Again and again one’s perspective on the universe shifts, and one “aha!” moment follows another.  At times there is an almost poetic quality to his prose, whether he is exploring the universe on a vast scale or a microscopic one, or discoursing on our realm, the human realm, somewhere in the middle.  These books take us outside our usual vantage point on the world and snap us into a different perspective.  They are lucidly written, illuminating, and well worth the modest extra effort required to read them.

-Jared J.

Howe Library catalog link.

E-Audiobook available from the New Hampshire Downloadable Books Consortium.

Pandemics on Kanopy

Graffiti (2015)

Graffiti is the Oscar nominated short film by director, Lluis Quilez. In it we enter some sort of post apocalypse, where the last survivor, Edgar has learned to survive in a world without others, avoiding other contaminated areas, until one day he discovers some new graffiti on his wall. A name, “Anna”, is all that is written. They exchange messages back and forth until they decide to meet. It’s a commentary on how we connect today online, often confiding and trusting in those we know nothing about. This film, though in many ways a love story, is also a statement about our digital connection. 

It Comes at Night

It Comes at Night – A strange plague has decimated the world’s population. A family has fled into the countryside and barricaded themselves in an old house to protect themselves from the sickness. When another group arrives, the family must decide if it is better to take them in (strength in numbers), or if they risk getting sick themselves. When the family suspects one of the others of being infected, the tension rachets up. It Comes at Night is a horror film without monsters, or zombies, or a deranged murderer. Rather, It Comes at Night posits that it is us, human beings, who are the monsters. This isn’t a hopeful movie, but it was original, suspenseful, and unlike anything I’ve seen in a while. 

Watch The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague | Prime ...

The Black Death (The Great Courses) – When bad things happen some folks like to escape to other worlds: fantasy, science fiction, beach-reads. Others like to engage the subject in one way or another. If the latter is your preference, The Great Courses’ The Black Death is a great way to touch on the subject matter, while keeping yourself at a distance from the constant flow of bad news. It’s long. 24 half hour episodes. You might learn too much about the digestive system of fleas, or graphic firsthand descriptions of symptoms, but it’s worth it. Dorsey Armstrong, professor of English and Medieval literature at Purdue University presents the lectures in detail, with a great knowledge of the world at the time, the factors that contributed to the Plague and its spread, and how it changed the world. It’s the last part that is the most interesting. Though it devastated Europe and many parts of the world, Dorsey Armstrong explains how The Black Death left a better world in its wake.

Access all of these videos using Howe Library’s access to Kanopy. If you have any further questions email reference@thehowe.org.

-Mike M.

Three Great Books for Children

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – Somehow I missed reading this Newbery Award book. I have since noticed that several children’s authors have had characters in their books mentionThe One and Only Ivan as their favorite book. Quite a recommendation, so I dove in!

Ivan is a silver back gorilla who is a major draw in a shopping mall in Georgia. There are other animals in the mall’s habitat – an elephant and a mutt dog. The gorilla’s main attraction is that he can draw, and his human “owner” sells these illustrations. Ivan decides to make a big drawing, showing that he can communicate. Ivan’s illustration draws significant attention.

Beware of reading this book aloud with sensitive children, though. I don’t want to give away any plot developments but please know that there are a few examples of abusive language and the death of an animal character.

Also, The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate will be published in early May 2020.

Link to downloadable formats.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman – For those of you who have read the trilogy His Dark Materials, you definitely want to add this book to your reading list.   This trilogy starts with Lyra’s infant beginnings.        

The title La Belle Sauvage refers to a boat owned by main character Malcolm.   Malcolm becomes involved in safeguarding young Lyra, meeting along the way characters who were very well established in the trilogy.   

Pullman has created a wonderful fantasy.  Malcolm navigates through so many varied obstacles that by the end, you’re exhausted– for and with Malcolm.   

We also own Book 2 in this new series, next on my reading list.

Link to downloadable formats.

Max Einstein: the Genius Experiment by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein (Book 1 in a series of hybrid graphic novels) – Max starts out as a homeless kid in NYC who’s being watched because she’s a genius.  She goes through a process of tests (which she hates taking) in order to be participate in a contest between genius kids from around the world.  Eventually she is chosen as the top genius, but after the contest, she does this really cool thing of including all the other genius contestants. Then, as a team, the genius kids go to an African city to help fill a need for cheap electricity and to stop mines from employing children as miners.         

Not my top choice of literature but it has merits for younger readers making the transition from early readers to series reading.

– Gary B.

Anne Lamott Is Good Company

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – I would recommend Bird by Bird to anyone who writes, has written, aspires to write, or who doesn’t even have any particular plans to write anything but loves to read. This is a book, first and foremost, for readers. Especially readers who like to laugh. And like to be told stories. And like being reminded of how mysterious and funny and enormous life is. Each chapter is about some aspect of writing, which I think could be just as illuminating for those who who want a glimpse of what goes into the making of their favorite books as for those who write. And since, for Anne Lamott, writing and reading the world are also about living, the book lays out a life philosophy along the way. Wonder is big for her, and she wants writers to help us see things anew. “When this happens,” she says (as though she’s in the room talking to you), “everything feels more spacious. Try walking around with a child who’s going, ‘Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!’ And the child points and you look, and you see, and you start going, ‘Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!’” Wow! Look at Anne Lamott! She’s a wonder-infuser. 

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith: Lamott, Anne ...

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith – Similar to Lamott’s book about writing, this book is about more than its ostensible subject (“faith” in this case). As in Bird by Bird, she’s writing about life—her own life, as this is memoir, but she manages to convey much about Life with a capital “L,” life as we all recognize it, at the same time. Lamott writes about what have been her particular challenges, from struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, and failed relationships; to the agonies of being a mother, a daughter, a friend; to the searing pain of losing two of her most beloved people. Each chapter is an essay that could stand on its own, and each of them illustrates that life, for Lamott, is about love, awe, and gratitude. That, as well as her abundant and often self-deprecating humor, is what makes her such good and comforting company. The San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle pays her this tribute: “Anne Lamott is walking proof that a person can be both reverent and irreverent in the same lifetime. Sometimes even in the same breath.” 

-Kirsten G.

Though we aren’t currently open and don’t have access to e-book copies of these titles, here are a couple of local bookstores where you can obtain physical copies:

Still North Books

Norwich Bookstore

Stay safe!

-Mike M.

Staying Near Home — Northern New England Regional Mysteries

The Poacher's Son: A Novel (Mike Bowditch Mysteries Book 1) by [Paul Doiron]

The Poacher’s Son: (Book, E-Book & E-Audiobook)

The Poacher’s Son – Newly sworn in Maine Game and Fish Warden, Mike Bowditch is thrust back into his dysfunctional family’s past when he receives a troubling message on his answering machine from his poacher father.  The next morning the police call Mike with more bad news:  they’re searching for his father who is the prime suspect in the killing of a well liked local police officer.  With little sympathy, let alone help, from the local community, Mike sets out to discover whether or not his father is, indeed, a murderer.  Will Mike be able to find a balance between his commitment to family and his support for the law?  Will he be able to save his father by finding the real murderer?  The Poacher’s Son is both a thoughtful and tension filled debut in this series.  Mike Bowditch is a skillfully realized character — young, willful, conflicted and likely to grow as this series progresses. 

The Skeleton's Knee - Audiobook

The Skeleton’s Knee: (Book, E-Audiobook)
 
Brattleboro based police lieutenant, Joe Joe Gunther, has a strangely “cold” case to solve.  A local market gardener has fallen victim to a twenty year old bullet wound.  The victim, Abraham Fuller, isn’t well known in the community, having preferred a private existence on his hardscrabble land.  When another body is discovered on Fuller’s land, along with a bag full of money, Joe begins to wonder if his victim has other buried secrets as well, and if someone was willing to kill in order to keep those secrets buried.  As with other entries in this series, the careful attention paid to the development of Joe’s character and those of his fellow officers makes reading this mystery a very satisfying experience. 
 

A Borrowing of Bones: A Mystery (A Mercy Carr Mystery Book 1) by [Paula Munier]


A Borrowing of Bones: (Book, E-Audiobook)
 
Mercy Carr has returned from her last deployment wounded in both body and spirit.  Her boyfriend was killed and his bomb sniffing dog, Elvis, whom Mercy has adopted, are both struggling to regain a sense of normalcy while they recuperate in the Vermont woods.  Rural quiet is short lived, however, when Elvis alerts to explosives during a walk and Mercy discovers an abandoned baby in the woods.  U.S. Game Warden Troy Warner and his search and rescue Newfoundland, Susie Bear, respond to Mercy’s 911 call, and the four combine their skills and resources to track down the missing mother, solve a murder, and restore some calm to their small Vermont community.  Another series debut, A Borrowing of Bones, overcomes some first book awkwardness by introducing readers to engaging new characters, both human and canine. 

-Marilyn B.

Two About Spain, and Much Else Besides

(Read in preparation for a trip to Spain that has been put on hold, but will one day happen!) 

Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell 

I started this to learn something about the Spanish Civil War but soon realized I was at least as interested in Orwell—the human being and the writer. Orwell the human being who went to Spain in 1936 and was so inspired by the fight he saw there against fascism that he joined one of the militias and was wounded (his doctors proclaimed him the luckiest man alive to have survived a bullet through the neck; his rejoinder: “I could not help thinking that it would be even luckier not to be hit at all.”) Orwell the human being, whose conscience dictated that he must tell the truth about the infighting on the Republican side, no matter how little anyone wanted to hear it. And Orwell the writer, with his understated wit and his eye for detail, who shows us so vividly everything from child soldiers whose shouts sound more like the cries of kittens than like war cries, to the coming of spring to the hillsides, where he finds “here and there in the soil … the green beaks of wild crocuses or irises poking through.” Lionel Trilling’s introduction, wherein he proposes that Orwell was a virtuous man, is also an excellent read. 

A Woman Unknown, by Lucia Graves 

Graves tells the story of growing up straddling two cultures: the daughter of British writer Robert Graves (I, ClaudiusGood-Bye to All That), she spent her childhood in a Majorcan village and later married a Catalan and lived for twenty years in Barcelona. In between she went to Oxford and studied literary translation, which became her profession: Graves is the translator of the novels of Carlos Ruiz Zafón into English. As she tells her own life story, beginning with her indoctrination in a Franco-era Catholic school, she weaves in stories of other women’s lives that intersected with hers, among them the village midwife, her family’s housekeeper, and her Latvian-born ballet teacher. Graves shows how the Civil War affected each of these women’s lives, and shows how constricting life could be for women in the Franco era. I particularly liked the glimpses of life in Graves’s mountain village in the late 1940s and early 50s, where the fisherman’s wife would stand outside the town hall on mornings she had fish to sell and blow a conch shell. Everyone heard it, Graves writes, “because those were the days before mechanical noises had invaded their homes, before televisions and telephones closed houses upon themselves, when people’s ears were alert to every sound and could tell what was happening around them.” 

-Kirsten G.

Not Leaving the House?

If you’re staying in this week here are some ways you can use the library from home!

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Howe Library cardholders can sign up and start streaming films instantly (up to 8 a month). Films can be streamed from any computer, television, mobile device or platform by downloading the Kanopy app for iOS, Android, AppleTV, Chromecast or Roku.

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With your library card you have access to thousands of free audio & e-book titles 24/7. Search the New Hampshire Downloadable Books Consortium and read or listen on your PC, or laptop.

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To read or listen to e-books and e-audiobooks from the NH Consortium on a mobile device download the Libby app from your app store.

To watch a video tutorial, click “Libby” on the help page.

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Howe Library cardholders can access high-quality, current, and engaging video tutorials on myriad subjects taught by recognized industry experts through Lynda.com.

If you have further questions about any of our digital services please email reference@thehowe.org.

Not Just for Kids – Children’s Nonfiction Adults Will Love Too

For those who enjoy learning fascinating facts as well as beautiful visuals, these children’s nonfiction books are sure to delight any age reader.

Camp Panda – Catherine Thimmesh

Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds—poaching, habitat destruction, pollution, human overpopulation, and global climate change—the panda is making a comeback. How? By humans teaching baby pandas how to be wild and stay wild.

HerStory: 20 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World – Katherine Halligan

Uplifting, inspiring and gorgeously illustrated, HerStory conveys the stories of fifty inspiring and powerful women from around the world. Each descriptions of their childhood, the obstacles they faced, and the impact of their achievements is brought to life, presented in a concise and visually appealing way.

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island – Jennifer Thermes   

Through dazzling maps, informative sidebars, and accessible text, the rich 400+ year history of Manhattan Island comes alive in this Beautifully illustrated oversized book.

-Cynthia T.

Funny (but more than funny!)

I love funny books, but only if there’s substance behind the funny. Here are a few authors that, I think, succeeded in this difficult venture.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – This novel is formatted as a collection of linked short stories (think Olive Kitteridge or A Visit From the Goon Squad) with one character connecting them all: Eva Thorvald, a food protege who becomes a star chef behind a super chic and exclusive dinner club. This book is a hilarious look at foodie culture (with some excellent audio book actors, if you choose to go that route) but at the same time has a lot of heart, taking a look at motherhood, love and loss. 

Less by Andrew Sean Greer Finally – a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that’s funny! Less is hilarious in the same way that Bridget Jones’s Diary is. Terrible things happen to protagonist Arthur Less, but they’re terrible in the way that it’s terrible Bridget Jones lands in a pig sty while skydiving. There’s a lightness in the style of the writing, but at the same time, the book’s themes are heavy, about love, loss, growing up and growing old.

Baby You’re Gonna Be Mine by Kevin Wilson Generally, short stories are not my favorite form of fiction; I often find they’re too dark, too dense and too serious, like the writer is trying really, really hard to be “literary.” But I love this collection, which contains a lot of adults acting like children (which, for me, is always funny) and stories that are so interesting conceptually. My favorite is “Wildfire Johnny,” which is kind of like a dark comedy that ends in a very resonating place.

-Kelly S.

Poets You Should Know

You like poetry. But don’t spend that much time with it. You know Frost. You know Whitman. Maybe you know Mary Oliver, or Billy Collins. If you’d like to spend a little more time with it, here are some contemporary poets we think are worth knowing.

Ada Limon writes poems grounded in our world that contain an intimate vulnerability. Her poetry lays bare her love, fear, anger, and happiness in language that feels like someone confiding in an old friend. In each poem the author explores her life with you, asking for your trust. She’s been the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award. Her latest is The Carrying: Poems.

Tracy K. Smith‘s poems contain a serenity and elegance about profound, and sometimes difficult topics. They have a lyrical beauty on their surfaces, but underneath is the vast weight of history, both political, and personal. She’s less a lecturer and more of a revealer, pulling back the curtain, inviting us to inhabit the lives of others. She is a former U.S. poet laureate, and host of The Slowdown, a daily poetry podcast, and of winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest is Wade in the Water: Poems.

Ted Kooser crafts poems full of tender moments in clean, simple compositions that draw attention to those small, uncategorized experiences in life that we often forget. Kooser accumulates these objects, feelings, and scenes with a soft, casual tone, producing poems of deep sincerity. And while many of the poems illustrate the mundane, the everyday, the unremarkable, Kooser is able to tease out the nostalgia, warmth, empathy, and reminiscences of things in life we rarely stop to ponder. He is a former U.S. poet laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. His latest is Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems.

-Mike M.

Re-imaginings, or famous mystery writers who end up in other authors’ books

Death in a Desert Land by Andrew Wilson

Baghdad, 1928. The explorer and writer, Gertrude Bell, died of a presumed overdose in the city of Ur.  But did she really take her own life, or was she killed?  A letter has recently surfaced in which Bell expressed the fear that her life was in danger.  At the request of her friend at the British Intelligence Service, Agatha Christie travels to Ur to investigate.  When she arrives, she discovers a group gathered at the archaeological dig whose secrets and motives rival those of Christie’s own characters.  There is, indeed, a killer in the camp, and Agatha must race to discover the culprit even as more violence takes place.

London Rain by Nicola Upson

 London, 1937.  Best selling writer and playwright, Josephine Tey, is in London to supervise a BBC production of her play, Queen of Scots.  When one of the BBC’s best-known broadcasters is murdered, Josephine’s friend, Detective Chief Inspector, Archie Penrose, asks her to help with the investigation.  Shortly thereafter, another murder occurs, and this time the victim is the lead in Josephine’s play, and the mistress of the dead broadcaster.  With Archie’s attention taken up by another case, Josephine works to determine if adultery and jealousy led to the murders, or if there are older, more complex motives at work. 

-Marilyn B.

Slow Tech

Slow Tech: The Perfect Antidote to Today’s Digital World: Forge, Carve, Weave, Mould, Ignite, by Peter Ginn

Our world is largely digital and it moves fast.  There is a recent crop of books on the beauty and power of slowing down and working with one’s hands.  One of these is Slow Tech by the British archaeologist and historian Peter Ginn.  “Forge-Carve-Weave-Mould-Ignite” emblazon the cover as a sampling of the fundamental technologies he explores.  The book is structured around materials, with sections devoted to Fire, Earth, Wood, Stone, and Water.  Most of the projects are given 2-4 heavily illustrated pages.  These mini-chapters include “The art of smithing,” “Smelting,” “Make a Coil Pot,” “Wattle and Daub,” “Make a loom and weave cloth,” “Distil scented oil,” and “Steam-powered toy boat.”  I have put none of these projects to the test for clarity of explanation or efficacy of instruction, but browsing the book is a pleasure in its own right.  It makes one hungry to do something with one’s hands.

Primitive Technology: A Survivalist’s Guide to Building Tools, Shelters, and More in the Wild, by John Plant

This book on working with the hands was born directly of the digital world.  The Australian John Plant became a YouTube star with his Primitive Technology channel, which has 10 million subscribers and an average of 5 million views per video.  Unlike Slow Tech it is geared specifically to wilderness survival with the most primitive of tools.  Chapters are structured around neither technologies (forge, carve, weave) nor materials (fire, earth, wood), but around the necessities of life: Heat, Hunt, Clothing, Shelter, and Basic and Advanced Toolkits.  Illustrations include both drawings and photographs.  Having watched a handful of Plant’s videos, I found it hard to see them reduced to a handful of photographs.  The book is a smaller format than Slow Tech and not as lavishly illustrated.  But it remains a fascinating window onto the rudiments of turning just about nothing into the minimal tools and materials necessary to survive in the wilderness.

Victorinox: Swiss Army Knife: Whittling Book; Fun, Easy-to-Make Projects With Your Swiss Army Knife, by Chris Lubkemann

Despite an unhealthy proliferation of subtitles, this is a charming little book on the pleasures of whittling.  One of the oldest forms of self-amusement with the hands, whittling requires nothing but a stick and a sharp knife.  The book begins with a guide to swiss army knives, both a brief historical overview and selection of knife exotica (the Swiss Champ XAVT has 118 implements), and a guide to choosing a more practical knife for one’s own use. The rest of the book consists of projects to be carved from sticks and twigs: crochet hooks, alligators, hens, jewelry trees, and bristly-tailed squirrels.  It’s a practical little guide, with none of the deep romanticism of the other two books.  They are built on a yearning for what is fundamental in human life.  This teaches you how to make a chicken from a branch.  It is diverting and fun and probably a great occasional alternative to Netflix.

-Jared J.

Noteworthy Graphic Novels

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Kahlil

This graphic novel was first serialized in the form of a webcomic in 2010. The story is set in 2009 in Iran following the contentious national elections that took place there. Medhi, a student activist, goes missing after the demonstrations that followed the election. Medhi’s mother and brother, along with friends, initiate an epic mission to find him, knowing very well that he could be seriously injured or even dead. This graphic novel highlights the power of individual perseverance, especially in the character of the protestor’s mother, who will stop at nothing to find her son. This book is not for the faint of heart as there are some gruesome moments that call for reader caution. However, such moments highlight the unjust political atmosphere in which the characters live. Some reviewers have praised this work, comparing it to the illustrious Maus books by graphic novel genius, Art Spiegelman. 

Epileptic by David B.

This engrossing graphic novel caught my attention with its rigorous, stark, expressionistic illustrations, as well as its touching story that describes a family desperately searching for a cure for their epileptic child. The book is a complicated work that deals with themes as diverse as contemporary French history, to holistic medical remedies, to the psychological dynamics of sibling relationships. The artwork is rendered in a frantic, symbolic way that takes the reader to the haunting atmosphere of David B.’s emotions (which at first glance seem to mimic a type of madness) as he struggles to comprehend the pain that his brother endures daily. The story of the family caring for the epileptic, and the author’s hardships as both friend and caregiver, carry the reader through a dreamlike, hallucinatory visual world. If a reader chooses to explore the works of David B., they should think about starting with this autobiographical piece before checking-out any of his more abstract and fictional titles, such as Incidents in the Night and Black Paths.

-Peter A.

Women Journalists

by Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World

Two women determined to beat the record set in Jules Verne’s novel, going in opposite directions, recorded their quests for two rival New York publications in 1889.  Their journeys captivated the public and catapulted the two women – both who were already successful writers but came from very different backgrounds – into the spotlight.   

by Nancy Caldwell Sorel

The Women Who Wrote the War

Caldwell tells the story of a small, but determined, group of women journalists who risked their lives to report from the front lines of World War II.  Some names may be familiar (Margaret Bourke-White and Martha Gellhorn), but the stories from those who were unfamiliar are what really made this book one I could not put down. 

by Sheila Weller

The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News

A look at what are arguably three of the biggest female television journalists from the late 1990s and 2000s.   

-Megan C.