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Library - Brown Bag Booktalk
Brown Bag Booktalk

Looking for something good to read? Why not join us at one of our quarterly Brown Bag Booktalks? You bring your lunch; we'll bring the coffee and some fresh-brewed book recommendations. At the end of the session, we’ll open the discussion for some recommendations of your own, so feel free to bring a book to share with the group!

The next booktalk will be Thursday, February 7 at 1:15 p.m. at the Velma Teague Branch Library. In the meantime, enjoy the booklist from the last booktalk! "JAC" are Judy's picks, "SCR" are Stephanie's picks, "HV" are Hannah's picks, "CJ" are Christine's picks, "SBB" are Sandy's picks, and "ON" are Olive's picks. Click on a book's title or cover image to find it in our library catalog.

For more information, please call 623-930-3446.

Brown Bag Booklist from November 1
Just in time

Bostwick, Marie  Just in Time (Fiction Bostwick) – I have read and recommended a number of novels by Marie Bostwick – especially from the Cobbled Court Quilts series. This story is about three women who describe themselves as grief support dropouts. They bond together in their own group. Grace married the love of her life fifteen years ago, but for the past two years he has been in an irreversible coma. She faithfully visits him several times a week and is working on a quilt made from scraps of their life together. Nan has been a widow for twenty years but now that her children and foster children are all grown, she is looking for a new fulfillment beyond the love for her golden retriever, Blixen, and a series of rescue dogs. Monica is described as feisty, and she has had to be since the sudden death of her husband combined with the revelation of his infidelity. She works very hard at the restaurant she owns and tries to be a good parent to her two difficult teenage stepchildren. As always, Bostwick creates characters with real depth and you will enjoy watching them blossom into new, joyful lives. – JAC

Careful! : a user's guide to our injury-prone minds

Casner, Steve  Careful: A User's Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds (Nonfiction 613.6 C339) – The author is a pilot and research psychologist who studies the accident-prone mind and the psychology of safety. Using examples of disasters and near-disasters from the airline industry, he covers topics including driving, being a pedestrian, climbing ladders and using tools while working around the house, following medical advice, watching kids and getting older. This is an excellent manual, written in a no-nonsense way to sharpen our senses and cultivate general and specific awareness of our own safety. – SBB

The stolen marriage

Chamberlain, Diane  The Stolen Marriage (Fiction Chamberlain) – In  1944, 23-year-old Tess is almost finished with nursing school and is soon to be engaged to a doctor devoted to fighting polio.  But during his frequent absences to Chicago, she goes to Baltimore with a friend, drinking too much and ending up in the bed of a stranger.  When she finds herself pregnant, Tess breaks off the engagement and marries the child’s father, Henry Kraft.  Kraft lives in Hickory, North Carolina and heads up a furniture company.  But the marriage is not one of love; Henry spends much of his time away from home, leaving her alone with a hostile mother and sister-in-law.  She is an outsider in a very insular southern town.  After Tess miscarries the baby, Henry refuses to grant her a divorce.  Feeling trapped, she does go against Henry’s wishes and finishes her nursing degree.  When polio begins its frightful local debut, she digs deep into fighting the disease at the local hospital where she again meets her old fiancé. –SCR

The masterpiece : a novel

Davis, Fiona  The Masterpiece (Fiction Davis) – Clara Darden is a talented but unknown illustrator in 1920s Manhattan.  Unable to find a steady job, she signs up to teach at the Grand Central School of Art.  At the school, she is kind of a low man on the totem pole until she meets poet Oliver Smith, who advances her career in commercial illustrations.  She also meets Levon Zakarian, a revered artist at the school, who stretches her talents to new heights.  Unfortunately, the Depression brings the school to financial ruin. Years later, Virginia Clay has to find a job because her husband has deserted her.  After an employment opportunity opens up at the now dingy Grand Central Station, Virginia uses her time to learn more about the landmark.  She also finds the time to explore the deserted art school where she comes across some of Zakarian’s paintings.  When she decides to take one for her apartment, she becomes part of a dangerous game. –SCR

The Romanov empress : a novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna

Gortner, C. W.  The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna (Fiction Gortner) – Danish Princess Dagmar, known to her family as “Minnie,” led a modest life until her father became King Christian IX of Denmark.  At that point, it became imperative for his children to marry royal allies.  Her sister, Alix, marries Queen Victoria’s son Bertie.  Dagmar becomes betrothed to the Russian Czarevich Nicholas in a real love match, but before the marriage, he becomes ill and dies.  Before his death, he exacts promises from Minnie to marry his brother, Sasha.  Though she does not love him, she understands her duties and marries him, assuming the name of Tsarita Maria Feodorovna. Russia is reeling from unrest.  Nihilists see the huge difference between how they and the royalty live, and begin staging violent protests.  Tsar Alexander II begins to make reforms, but these are cut short when he is assassinated.  Minnie begins to work with the Red Cross and is shocked to see how the other half lives. Minnie’s husband assumes the crown as Tsar Alexander III, but he believes in a strong monarchy and ends his father’s efforts.  Minnie does what she can to relate to the people, but cannot change her husband. When he passes away, his son, Tsar Nicholas II, takes over and marries an unsuitable German princess, Alexandra of Hesse.  She has none of the natural relatability that Minnie possessed as Queen and after she gives birth to her hemophiliac son, Alexi, she turns all loyalty over to Rasputin.  He is allowed to have so much influence that the entire kingdom is overthrown and many of the family are murdered. – SCR

A mother for Choco

Kasza, Keiko  A Mother for Choco (Picture Book Kasza) – This is a picture book, but as November is National Adoption Month, I thought this would be a fitting book to highlight. Simply, Choco is a little bird without a mother, so he sets off to find another animal who is similar to him in some way that he can call his mother. A very sweet story that is perfect for preschoolers and upwards. The art is brightly colored watercolor paint and adorably eye-catching; this is great for any family to read, not just one with adopted members. – HV

If you leave me : a novel

Kim, Crystal Hana  If You Leave Me (Fiction Kim) – Part of the attraction for me in this novel is the location. The story takes place in Korea during the Korean War. This is a time, place and culture that I know little about. In 1951 Haemi Lee is sixteen years old. She and her widowed mother and her very ill brother Hyunki are forced to run to a refugee camp on the Korean coast. Her best friend is Kyunghwan, who is secretly in love with her. He doesn’t realize that his older and wealthier cousin Jisoo is also attracted to the spirited young Haemi. The two young men go off to fight in the war and Haemi chooses the safer option of marriage to Jisoo and his wealth. Over the next twenty years we watch the evolving story of the larger family and their relationships. If you read the book, I suggest you start with a list of characters, as it is often difficult for westerners to keep track of names so unfamiliar. Each of the chapters is told from a different point of view, which aids in the author’s superb characterization. This is a debut novel and is beautifully written. – JAC

The Paris seamstress

Lester, Natasha  The Paris Seamstress (Fiction Lester) – These interconnected stories about several French women received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.  Beginning in 1941, seamstress Estelle Bissette is sent from Paris by her mother as the war hits closer to her home.  On the trip over from France, she meets Sam, a man with a strong interest in design, and Janie, a beautiful Australian model.  As Estelle attempts to break into the New York fashion industry with her cohorts, she meets Lena Shaw, who is the mirror image of herself; Alex Montrose, a British spy who has resurfaced in NYC; and the notorious Harry Shaw, who shot Evelyn Nesbitt’s husband in cold blood. Years later, Estelle’s granddaughter, Fabienne, has met the love of her life while struggling to find her own identity amongst the fashion industry.  For readers who enjoyed The Lilac Girls and The Nightingale. – SCR

The bookshop of yesterdays

Meyerson, Amy  The Bookshop of Yesterdays (Fiction Meyerson) – Books, libraries and bookstores are always an intriguing hook for me to pick up a novel. Miranda Brooks grows up in Los Angeles as an only child, but she has Uncle Billy in addition to her parents. Billy is the “fun” relative and Miranda loves spending time with him at his bookstore (known as Prospero Books) – especially when he invents puzzles and scavenger hunts to enliven their time together. But on Miranda’s twelfth birthday, Uncle Billy has a huge argument with his sister (Miranda’s mother) and he disappears from Miranda’s life. She never hears from him again until sixteen years later. At this point Billy has just passed away and he leaves Miranda his beloved bookstore, which is nearly bankrupt. He also leaves her one last scavenger hunt. The clues in various books lead Miranda on a voyage of discovery as she meets many of his friends, employees and the answer as to why he disappeared. This is an intriguing novel by another first-time author. – JAC

The Late Bloomers' Club : a novel

Miller, Louise  The Late Bloomers’ Club (Fiction Miller) – Miller is also the author of The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. As with that previous book, the story takes place in small-town Guthrie, Vermont. This time the main character is Nora Huckleberry, who is now 42 years old and spent her entire life taking care of others. She runs the Miss Guthrie Diner, which was her father’s dream, not hers. Suddenly it seems that she may have some choices for her future, when she and her younger sister unexpectedly inherit the home, land and orchard of the town’s beloved town cake lady, Peggy Johnson.  Peggy had been in negotiations with a big-box developer to sell the land before a tragic accident ended her life. Nora could take the money (as her sister, the filmmaker, wants to) or try to find a way to save the town’s current way of life (as many other townspeople demand). While trying to make up her mind, Nora continues to run the diner and spends any spare time looking for Freckles, Peggy Johnson’s dog who went missing. I love Miller’s descriptions and her character development. As one reviewer said, the gradual unfolding of the story is perfect for this small-town drama. – JAC

Weather : an illustrated history : from cloud atlases to climate change

Revkin, Andrew with Mechaley, Lisa  Weather: An Illustrated History: From Cloud Atlases to Climate Change (Nonfiction 551.5 R454w) – Revkin is an award-winning environmental journalist and his wife, Mechaley, is a science educator. I would never have thought of describing weather and climate in an historical time-line, but this approach really works. There are one hundred different topical vignettes, from 4.567 Billion BCE when “Earth Gets an Atmosphere” to 102018 CE “An End to Ice Age.” In between we read about the contributions of Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin and Snowflake Bentley. We travel from Tibet to North Africa, China, London, the Arctic, China and Russia. Each narrative is paired with beautiful illustrations. For those wanting to explore any topic more fully, there is a chapter reference giving more information for further reading. You can dip into this book at will or read it from cover to cover but you will certainly learn something. – JAC

Shelter in place

Roberts, Nora  Shelter in Place (Fiction Roberts) – Nora Roberts has written hundreds of novels, romances and mysteries. In this thriller she looks at the stories of survivors of an unspeakable act of violence.  In our society we hear far too often of school shootings, theater massacres, arson explosions and more acts of unprovoked, incomprehensible, and random carnage. This novel begins on a typical summer evening at a mall near Portland, Maine. Three friends wait for a movie to begin, a boy flirts with a girl selling sunglasses at a kiosk, the manager at the video arcade tends to customers. Then the shooters arrive and eight minutes later the killers are taken down. Of the survivors, one dedicates himself to a law enforcement career, while another finds a way to pour the emotions into her art. Some people obsessively devour the details of the tragedy, while others avoid anything that might trigger a flashback. The survivors’ lives continue to play out and intertwine in surprising ways. This is not an easy novel to read, but we all know what a superb storyteller Roberts is. – JAC

Tiffany blues : a novel

Rose, M. J.  Tiffany Blues (Fiction Rose) – Many of us read Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland. If you enjoy such historical novels about art, here is another story to entice you. In 1924 Jenny Bell is one of a dozen new artists selected to study at Louis Comfort Tiffany’s prestigious artists’ colony, Laurelton Hall, on Long Island’s Gold Coast. While Jenny is an amazing talent, she is deeply afraid that her tragic past has followed her. That past is so traumatic that she sketches and paints only in monochrome black and white. Tiffany encourages her to open up her palette to the color of the beautiful surroundings seen on his estate. Rose’s descriptions of the estate, sculptures, fountains and jewelry will leave readers wishing they could see the originals. Alas, Laurelton is no more as it burned down in 1957, although some of the art is still viewable in various museums. Meanwhile this is a beautiful portrait of the dazzling Jazz Age seen through the eyes of fictional character Jenny Bell. – JAC

Beneath a scarlet sky : a novel

Sullivan, Mark  Beneath a Scarlet Sky (Fiction Sullivan) – This novel is based upon the true story of Pino Lella, who was sent by his family to Casa Alpina, a Catholic boy’s camp in the Alps, to get away from the bombing of industrial Milan, Italy in 1943.  Because he is young and fit, Father Re assigns Pino with the job of leading refugees over the mountains to Switzerland.  Risking his life with the possibility of being captured, he successfully led the novices through severe weather to safety. But after Pino reaches conscription age, he is forced to return to Milan.  His family wants him to enlist with the German engineering wing called the Organization Todt, rather than waiting to be drafted into their infantry.  Against his inclinations, Pino does as instructed, ending up as a driver to Colonel Leyers.  Leyers, whose forte is logistics, arranges for equipment to get to where it is needed.  Though Pino isn’t happy with the situation, he begins to use his position to feed information to the Allies. –SCR

The thief

Turner, Megan Whalen  The Thief (Youth Fiction Turner) – This book is technically for “youth” but is another great series to read along with a younger relative or friend. The fifth book in this series was just published this year (2018), and the finale is slated to come out next spring (2019). The Thief is the first one in the Queen’s Thief series, which focuses on “the thief” Eugenides (Gen to his friends) and his various escapades in the fictional lands of Eddis, Sounis and Attolia. While Gen himself is witty and crafty, the series has a serious undertone, and the characters themselves suffer many trials, tribulations and some violence. The details of such violence aren’t relished in gory descriptions by the author, but it is made clear what is happening to the characters, so if you recommend this book to a younger reader, be aware that there are some scenes which may be considered frightening or negatively evocative. This first book in the series is definitely the lightest in tone and is perfectly fine as a standalone read, however, for a young reader. The author spins many myths about the lands in her story - very reminiscent of Greek or Roman myths, so this series will most likely appeal to those who enjoy that genre (à la Percy Jackson and the Olympians). The author takes great care in developing her characters into distinct, human – though not always likeable - people while adding a few twists to the story by the climax. The adventures always begin and end with Gen, one of the greatest thieves to grace fiction. – HV

The last hours

Walters, Minette  The Last Hours (Fiction Walters) – Raised by nuns, the literate and knowledgeable Lady Anne of Develish is her own woman. This is unheard of in 1348, the time of the Black Death. As mistress of Develish, she hears of this Black Death (a curse from God?) while her husband is away from the castle. She decides to do more than pray; she closes the castle, brings her serfs inside the walls and refuses entry to all, even her husband. Her daughter becomes her enemy, as does her husband’s steward. Lady Anne’s ingenuity is tested again and again as outside enemies seek to gain entrance and her serfs stand by her to the very last sentence. – SBB

Meet me at the museum

Youngson, Anne  Meet Me at the Museum (Fiction Youngson) – This is a new book this year (2018) by first-time novelist Anne Youngson. The premise of the novel is predicated on a real letter written by a Professor Glob (an archaeologist) in the 1950s to a group of young schoolgirls. He was responsible for discovering the Tollund Man (a 2,000-year-old preserved male buried in a peat bog) in Denmark and later wrote a book called The Bog People; a group of young English schoolgirls wrote to him asking for more information, and he wrote them a response which was published in his book. The female protagonist of this novel is a fictional version of one of the schoolgirls addressed in Professor Glob’s letter, now a grown adult in modern times. Tina, now with grown children and young grandchildren, feels that life has perhaps passed her by, and her lifelong dream of visiting the Tollund Man in Denmark is a foolish pursuit. In her sadness, she reaches out to the archaeologist who so inspired her as a child and writes a tentative letter to him in hopes of receiving some sort of affirmation. The reply is not at all what she expects but is the beginning of a burgeoning friendship with the curator at the museum where the Tollund Man resides. Through their letters, the reader learns more and more about Tina and the curator as they slowly open up to one another; their opposite personalities force them to reevaluate their perceptions and lives, renewing feelings and emotions they thought they had outgrown. A sweet and rather sad book, but oddly compelling. – HV

Brown Bag Booklist from August 2
Modern romance

Ansari, Aziz  Modern Romance  (Nonfiction 646.77 A617m) – This is an interesting look at how technology has affected “modern romance” in America and other countries around the world; some of the statistics and opinions about dating and in-person interaction have become rather alarming! Comedian Aziz Ansari teamed up with a sociologist (Klinenberg) to methodically research dating and relationships in our technology-filled world. Ansari focuses on heterosexual relationships, looking at statistics spanning the last century. In addition to numbers, he conducted many in-person interviews with people of all ages to gain perspective about courtship and marriage. While certainly not a comprehensive study, the trends and opinions uncovered by the author were unexpected and aren’t necessarily uplifting. Finally, although this is a topical subject matter, the caveat is that the writing is not anything special. Also, given that the author is a modern comedian, he does use profanity throughout the book - not in excess, but if that is not something you like to see in the books you read, FYI. - HV

Lighting the fires of freedom : African American women in the civil rights movement

Bell, Janet Dewart  Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement  (Nonfiction 323.092 B433l) – If you have any interest in black history or women’s history, this book is a must-read. Bell tells the story of nine African American leaders during the Civil Rights movement. Their stories are told in their own words – this is an oral history memoir. I have to admit I had never heard of most of them, but their stories are just as important as their African American male colleagues. Bell does a tremendous job of editing the interviews so that they are very readable, as well as informative. Each story is preceded by Bell’s summary of the work of Leah Chase, Dr. June Jackson Christmas, Aileen Hernandez, Diane Nash, Judy Richardson, Kathleen Cleaver, Gay McDougall, Gloria Richardson and Myrlie Evers. The book was published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. – JAC

The lost for words bookshop : a novel

Butland, Stephanie  The Lost for Words Bookshop  (Fiction Butland) – I cannot resist books about books. That is what drew me to this title, but I enjoyed it for many reasons. The main character is young Loveday (pronounced Love-dee) Cardew. She works in a used bookstore in York, England, and really prefers the books to people. She has a prickly personality, but you will enjoy finding out more about her and her past. Butland skillfully tells Loveday’s story by focusing on three different time periods. We have her time with her families (both birth and foster) in 1999, the recent past with an abusive boyfriend in 2013, and, finally, the present day in 2016, as she gradually begins to connect with a sympathetic poet. The bookstore itself is owned by Archie, who is content to let Loveday work behind the scenes and organize the books in her own somewhat unconventional way. The mystery of her past is partly revealed through some unsolicited used books donated to the store. There is a collection of Penguin Classics, Delia’s Complete Cookery Course, and some Kate Greenaway titles. Loveday likes to collect things: seashells, poetry, and tattoos of the first lines of her favorite books (she has nine so far). So, at the very least we have books, mystery, and romance. If you enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, give this one a try. – JAC

Return to Oakpine

Carlson, Ron  Return to Oakpine  (Fiction Carlson) – Jimmy has returned home from the city of New York to die. Craig owns the only hardware store in town and yearns to be a builder. Mason, a lawyer from Denver, has come home to sell his deceased parents’ home. Frank never left; he owns the local bar with a craft beer set up in back. The four men had a rock band in high school and gradually decide to reform and relearn the only piece they ever learned to play. Parents, wives, ex-wives and girlfriends from high school days are part of the lives of these four men as they attend present day high school football games to watch Craig’s fantastic son Larry and his high school friends … who become part of the story of Jimmy. A very nice book! – SBB

Murder at the house of rooster happinessThe missing guests of the Magic Grove hotelCasarett, David  Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness  and The Missing Guests of the Magic Grove Hotel  (Fiction Casarett) – This new mystery series will be a real hit with fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Casarett is a medical doctor who is a recognized expert on improving systems of care for people with serious, life-threatening illnesses. He has traveled to Thailand frequently over the past ten years as a medical consultant. The charming and eccentric main character in these books is Ladarat Patalung, who is a nurse ethicist at the most important hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She has no desire to be a detective, but she must investigate mysterious deaths related to her hospital, especially when her friend Detective Wiriya Mookjai asks for her help. In the first book, a young woman brought her husband into the hospital just after he died. A hospital employee remembers seeing the same woman bringing in a recently deceased husband to a different hospital just a few months ago, but it was a different husband. In the second novel, wealthy foreign travelers go missing. All they have in common is that they stayed at a mysterious resort known as the Magic Grove Hotel and may have been briefly admitted to Ladarat’s hospital. You will enjoy the descriptions of Thai culture, food and a nearly unique attitude toward life and death, in addition to the mysteries. – JAC

The home for unwanted girls : a novel

Goodman, Joanna  The Home for Unwanted Girls  (Fiction Goodman) – Outside Montreal, Maggie works for her father sorting and packaging seeds. She dreams of the day when she can work on the sales floor and eventually inherit the operation from her Dad.  But when Maggie is fifteen, she falls in love with a handsome but poor French farmer, Gabriel. Her parents do not approve of the relationship, so Maggie is sent away to live with an aunt and uncle.  Despite the distance, Maggie continues to see Gabriel and then gets pregnant. After the baby girl is born, Maggie’s folks have the child taken away to a local Catholic orphanage.  Life goes on for Maggie and Gabriel, who go their separate ways. Their baby girl, Elodie, lives contentedly among the nuns and other children until she is around four years old. Then the church reclassifies all orphanages as insane asylums in order to draw more government funding. Elodie is transferred to another facility without the benefits of education and her little friends.  Maggie has never forgotten her child, and worries when she sees the headlines in the local papers.  Even though she has married, Maggie increases her efforts to find her daughter.  This story was inspired by a similar situation experienced by the author’s own mother. For those who were intrigued by the books Philomena and/or The Orphan Train. – SCR

Uncommon type : some stories

Hanks, Tom  Uncommon Type; Some Stories  (Fiction Hanks) – These seventeen stories feature typewriters in some way. In A Special Weekend, Kenny visits his mother for the weekend all by himself and we learn that he lives with his father and stepmother and step-siblings. Kenny types a note on his mother’s office typewriter while waiting for lunch and activities. The mother’s boyfriend flies Kenny back home as a special surprise. Three Exhausting Weeks features two friends who hook up for a short time. Anna multitasks and the narrator is a well-off, laid-back realtor who suddenly has to buy running gear and get ready for scuba diving lessons while she rearranges his kitchen and mows the lawn. Tom Hanks writes as well as he acts. – SBB

The library at the edge of the world : a novel

Hayes-McCoy, Felicity  The Library at the Edge of the World  (Fiction Hayes-McCoy) — In my opinion, there can never be too many books about books and libraries. Hayes-McCoy has been an actress and writer. She has written a couple memoirs and is now branching out to fiction. Hanna Casey is a librarian and former researcher who is finding a way to rebuild her life. She is divorced and living with her irascible mother. Meanwhile, her daughter is working for an airline and is seldom around. One of the few joys in Hanna’s life is driving a bookmobile between villages on the western coast of Ireland. Another possible way to reclaim her independence is to restore a derelict cottage willed to her by her great-aunt. Descriptions of the country and the local characters are very appealing, combined with Hayes-McCoy’s wit and charm. Fans of Jenny Colgan or Maeve Binchy should enjoy this book. Thank you to Olive for bringing this charming story to my attention. – JAC/ON

A good year

Mayle, Peter  A Good Year  (Fiction Mayle) – Max Skinner is a twenty-something financial advisor in London.  Life is pretty good for him until he is booted out of his job by his unethical boss.  Luckily, at the same time he loses his livelihood, he discovers that he has inherited an estate and vineyard in Luberon, France.  Max and his friend Charlie see this as a new financial opportunity. But once Max arrives, he discovers that the 200-year-old estate is sadly run-down; the stones are in need of new mortar, the shutters are falling off, the doors are desperate for new varnish, and the yard is totally overgrown with weeds.  The inside of the home is also in decrepit shape.  Most importantly, the grapevines have been neglected and produce dreadful wine. Fortunately, both Charlie and Mayle come to Max’s rescue and guide him through the fun of bringing the estate and the vineyards back up to par. – SCR

Beauty : a retelling of the story of Beauty & the beast

McKinley, Robin  Beauty  (Youth Fiction McKinley) – This is a novel-length retelling of Beauty  and the Beast. I personally adore retellings of fairy tales, and McKinley has written quite a few which I enjoy. Beauty focuses on the development of “Beauty’s” personality and her relationships with her family members, the “magical” beings in the castle and the Beast himself. Each character is given a more well-rounded history than the typical children’s rendition of the tale, and it is a pleasure to see “Beauty” exist in a loving, warm family instead of having shrewish siblings with no other purpose than to illustrate how good “Beauty” is by comparison. This version also dispenses with a “Gaston”-like villain, but retains all of the enchantment and romance demonstrated in the Disney version. This offers no surprising twists or deviations from the original and may be frivolous to some, but if you enjoy fairy tales, McKinley has an engaging writing style and provides sympathetic protagonists. Overall, this is a light, enjoyable story, which is great to read with a daughter/granddaughter/niece if you are an adult. – HV

Dear Mrs. Bird : a novel

Pearce, AJ  Dear Mrs. Bird  (Fiction Pearce) – Emmaline Lake works by day for a solicitor and at night as a volunteer dispatcher for the Auxiliary Fire Service during World War II in London.  She lives with her best friend Bunty and is engaged to marry a nice young man.   One day, she spots an ad for her dream job as a war correspondent at the London Chronicle.  After she gets the job, she discovers that the work is not as a wartime journalist, but just helping Mrs. Henrietta Bird, a cranky old advice columnist at Women’s Friend. Emmy’s main duty is to screen letters for Mrs. Bird, who refuses to answer anything remotely carnal or immoral in nature.  But Emmy feels sorry for all the women who will never get advice for their problems.  She takes it upon herself to privately answer some of the letters and even goes as far as inserting a few into the column without permission. Toss in some troubles with her fiancé and Bunty, inevitable wartime losses, and new romantic possibilities, and you will have an enjoyable afternoon of reading.  For those who enjoyed The Lilac Girls and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. – SCR

What unites us : reflections on patriotism

Rather, Dan  What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism  (Nonfiction 323.65 R234w) – Rather asks the question “What is patriotism?” He then divides the book into five chapters with three subtopics each to elaborate on the answer. His first paragraph is the story of his family’s trip from his home in Texas as a first grader to watch a fireworks display. It was one hundred miles away and they weren’t sure their car would make it. The family sang America the Beautiful and The Star Spangled Banner on the way down. They slept in their car because they had no money for lodging and the trip was perfect. He intermingles his text with stories of his father and teachers who set his first examples of citizenship, his broadcasting career, the ups and downs of history, public figures from the days of the revolution to the present time, and essays on being American that remind us to do the right thing. I could only read the book for short bursts as it was so powerful. – SBB

Chasing new horizons : inside the epic first mission to Pluto

Stern, Alan  Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto  (Nonfiction 629.435492 S839c) – Space exploration is a fascinating subject to me. This is the account of the New Horizons spacecraft and its journey to Pluto. While there were no human explorers on the ride, this story of the incredible odds of completing the adventure is just as thrilling. The book is written from the inside by Dr. Alan Stern, who is the principal investigator and mission leader. The odds of the tiny spacecraft being built, let alone taking off from earth, and actually fulfilling its mission, are mesmerizing. The full-color pictures of Pluto included just show how impressive this journey was. Library Journal said that “Armchair space explorers and budding scientists will relish this inspiring aerospace adventure.” - JAC

An Irish country doctor

Taylor, Patrick  An Irish Country Doctor  (Fiction Taylor) – This series is set in rural Ireland in the 1960s. Newly minted doctor Barry Laverty accepts a physician’s assistant ad in a small, rural Northern Ireland town, Ballybucklebo, and is thrown into a world with which he is quite unfamiliar. Barry’s “conventional” medical training has not prepared him for his new boss, doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, who turns out to be unorthodox, shrewd and not above telling outright lies to his patients for the sake of harmony. Barry slowly learns to adapt to country ways, and begins to loosen up as he endeavors to strike up a romantic relationship with a Ms. Patricia Spence, a local civil engineering student – although she is much more focused on her studies than having a boyfriend. With a tendency towards the ridiculous, though never overbearing, this series will generally appeal to those who enjoy lighthearted historical fiction. It could be considered to be similar to the TV series Doc Martin, although the doctors in this story have a much more genial manner than the eponymous Doc Martin. – HV 

Clock dance : a novel

Tyler, Anne  Clock Dance  (Fiction Tyler) – Out of the blue, Willa gets a call from a stranger in Baltimore to help out her “daughter-in-law” Denise and “granddaughter” Cheryl. Denise has just been shot in the leg and is recuperating in a hospital, leaving nine-year-old Cheryl alone.  It is not long before she is on the first plane from Tucson to come to their aid.  Oddly enough, Willa does this knowing that Denise was never married to her son and that Cheryl is not her granddaughter.  This is so unusual for a woman like Willa, who has always followed the rules, that her husband feels the need to tag along. Thus begins Tyler’s latest story of odd characters and quirky neighborhoods. Tyler slowly reveals the women’s personalities and the neighborhood residents, showing us the importance of taking new opportunities to enlarge what we call family. – SCR

Also Recommended
The cafe by the sea : a novelThe endless beach : a novelColgan, Jenny  The Café by the Sea and The Endless Beach   (Fiction Colgan) – If you have read any of Colgan’s books (especially the ones set in Cornwall, England), you will love her latest stories. These books are set in the remote and hauntingly beautiful Scottish island of Mure. Flora MacKenzie has a legal career in London which is not at all fulfilling. But when the death of her mother brings her back to the island of her birth, Flora is once again swept into her rambunctious family. Now she has three adult brothers and her father to take care of. Flora gradually discovers a passion for cooking and restores a small pink shop on the harbor. She gradually decides to stay on Mure. To her surprise, her difficult but adorable boss decides to follow and a fledgling romance begins. - JAC
The patchwork bride

Dallas, Sandra  The Patchwork Bride  (Fiction Dallas) – Ellen is working on a wedding quilt for her granddaughter June, when June arrives and announces she is going to call off the wedding. While being supportive, Ellen begins telling the story of one of their family members. Nell came from Kansas to live with her aunt and uncle in New Mexico territory. While there, she fell for a cowboy named Buddy, but things didn’t work out. Nell ran away from marriage twice more before finding the love of her life. The stories may lead June to rethink her wedding plans. - JAC

All we ever wanted : a novel

Giffin, Emily  All We Ever Wanted  (Fiction Giffin) – This is described as “a timely and absorbing portrait of the complexities of modern life” by fellow author Kristin Hannah. - SCR

The daughter of Sherlock Holmes

Goldberg, Leonard  The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes  (Fiction Goldberg) – There are literally hundreds of novels written about the iconic character of Sherlock Holmes. This is one of the best I have read in quite some time. In 1914 Joanna Blalock has become a highly skilled nurse. After she and her young son witness an apparent suicide, they are visited by the elderly Dr. John Watson and his handsome son, Dr. John Watson, Jr. The three set up a plan to catch a murderer. In the process we find out that Joanna (not to her knowledge) is actually the daughter of the now deceased Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler (the only woman to defeat Holmes). If you have enjoyed the mysteries by Laurie R. King and Charles Finch, you will like this new series. - JAC

Honeysuckle dreams

Hunter, Denise  Honeysuckle Dreams  (Fiction Hunter) – Library Journal reports that this is "a feel-good romance with a happy yet realistic ending. With several of Hunter's books already adapted as Hallmark Channel movies, this offering by a master of the genre is sure to be another hit with her fans." - JAC

The temptation of forgiveness

Leon, Donna  The Temptation of Forgiveness  (Fiction Leon) – In October the Velma’s Clues Cozy Mystery Book Club will be reading the first book in Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series. This is the most recent entry in the series and should be enjoyable for both long-time and new readers. Venice policeman Brunetti is both very astute and sympathetic to the reasons that may lead an otherwise honest man to crime. I love the Venetian descriptions and the ambivalence that a compassionate detective can bring to the job. - JAC

Welcome to Moonlight Harbor

Roberts, Sheila  Welcome to Moonlight Harbor  (Fiction Roberts) – This is the first book in a brand-new romantic series set on the charming Washington coast. Jenna Jones is about to turn forty and as a birthday gift she is getting a divorce. When her aging great-aunt Edie asks for help in running the Driftwood Inn, it may be the new chance that she’s looking for. - JAC

The gate keeper

Todd, Charles  The Gate Keeper  (Fiction Todd) – Charles Todd is actually a mother-and-son writing team. Their historical mysteries are outstanding. The plot is very intelligent, the historical research (post World War I period) is impeccable, and the complex characters have kept up the interest through twenty novels in this series. The protagonist is Inspector Rutledge, who suffers from shell shock. In this story he is just out driving to escape his dark thoughts when he comes upon a woman standing next to a car with a dead man at her feet. She says a stranger fired a shot at the victim and while Rutledge did not witness the shooting, he is assigned to the case. - JAC

Brown Bag Booklist from May 3
Island of sweet pies and soldiers

Ackerman, Sara  Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers  (Fiction Ackerman) -- This historical novel takes place in Hawaii in 1944. Violet Iverson and her young daughter, Ella, have been traumatized, not only by the destruction of Pearl Harbor, but by the disappearance of their husband and father. The story is told by both characters: Violet’s story is told in the second person, while nine-year-old Ella’s story is told in the first person. These differing points of view are an interesting way of shifting the story between the adult point of view and that of a child. Ella is keeping a big secret from all of the adults in her life and refuses to tell anyone what is really bothering her, other than the obvious distress of wondering where her father is. Violet, however, realizes that life goes on. Violet, her housemates and friends decide to make sweet potato and chocolate honeycomb pies to sell to the recently arrived American Marines. Ella finds some joy in her animal friends. There is a cat, a nearly bald chicken that she rescues, and a lion cub that the Marines have brought along as a mascot. There is romance, mystery and deeply felt descriptions which aid in telling the story. The issue of how Americans of Japanese descent are treated is sensitively demonstrated by haole Ella asking to go to Japanese school with her friends. The author lives and writes in Hawaii and this is her debut published novel. -- JAC

The taster

Alexander, V. S.  The Taster  (Fiction Alexander) -- In 1943, Magda Ritter’s parents sent her to relatives in Bavaria to escape the allied bombings in Berlin.  After she arrived, her uncle used his influence in the Nazi Party to get her a job in the Civil Service.  But Magda is not happy to learn that her new position is at Hitler’s retreat, as one of his fifteen food tasters.  As she becomes acquainted with other staff, she realizes that not everybody is on board with Hitler’s viewpoint of the world.  Apolitical in the past, her involvement with the silent resistance becomes more solid after she is shown pictures of atrocities involving Jewish men, women, and children. When the allies advance into Germany, Magda must decide how to best help both herself and the resistance. -- SCR

The handmaid's tale.

Atwood, Margaret  The Handmaid’s Tale  (Fiction Atwood) -- In 2005, the United States suffered a devastating blow when the U.S. government was overthrown and replaced with a military-style dictatorship.  The nation was renamed the Republic of Gilead, the U.S. constitution was suspended and women’s rights were totally eliminated. Before the coup, Offred had been married to Luke and was the mother of a little girl.  Because she had the proven ability to bear children, she is assigned a spot as a Handmaiden to the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy.  Offred’s only function is to conceive and give birth to the Commander’s child and then relinquish all rights to the baby.  Serena Joy is resentful of Offred, but understands that the Commander will not be able to father a child.  She is willing to help Offred go outside the established legal methods to conceive.  Offred’s involvement with both Serena Joy, the Commander, and the local resistance leads her into a very dangerous position. -- SCR

White chrysanthemum

Bracht, Mary Lynn  White Chrysanthemum  (Fiction Bracht)  -- Hana lives on the island of Jeju, once belonging to the country of Korea and now under the protectorate of Japan.  It is tradition for the women on the island to train as haenyeos, or sea divers.  As World War II spreads to the east, 16-year-old Hana continues in this tradition of her ancestors, and she dives each day with her mother to harvest food from the sea floor.  Her mother has also tasked Hana to watch over her little sister, Emi.  When a Japanese soldier comes to the beach where the two are diving and Emi is playing, Hana hides her sister, risking her own safety.  The soldier abducts Hana and assigns her a role as a “comfort woman” for Japanese soldiers.  Years later, Emi discovers that she has terminal cancer.  Because she now has limited time, she must accelerate her search for Hana.  -- SCR

Paris by the book : a novel

Callanan, Liam  Paris by the Book  (Fiction Callanan)  -- Robert and Leah Eady first met over a couple of French classic children’s stories, The Red Balloon (screenplay and movie by Albert Lamorrisse) and Madeline (a series of books by Ludwig Bemelmans). They subsequently marry and have two daughters and still dream about going to Paris. Robert is an author who struggles with his muse. He is in the habit of leaving home on writeaways - short periods of time to immerse himself in writing. But this time it is different; Robert doesn’t leave a note behind and he is missing for months. Leah and her young teen daughters finally do track down some clues leading to Paris. So, they go to Paris hoping to find Robert. Before long Leah has purchased a struggling English language bookstore specializing in dead authors and the girls are enrolled in a French school. Leah and her daughters feel like they are constantly catching glimpses of Robert – but are they? The descriptions of Paris and of many books add greatly to the enjoyment of the story. -- JAC

The Mitford murders

Fellowes, Jessica  The Mitford Murders  (Fiction Fellowes) – Fellowes is known for her companion books to her uncle’s Downton Abbey television series. This mystery novel  builds upon our knowledge of post-World War I and the English aristocracy.  The Mitford sisters were a real family with six sisters. Two of them would later become fascists, one becomes a communist, and one marries and becomes a duchess. Two of them became authors. Two of them married nephews of Winston Churchill. The murder to be solved in this novel was also based on fact. A nurse, Florence Nightingale Shore, is killed on a train in broad daylight. The nursemaid, chaperone and confidante Louisa Cannon is fictional. She and the oldest Mirtford girl set out to solve the murder. They are assisted by Guy Sullivan, a young railroad policeman who hopes to work for Scotland Yard. Apparently there are plans for subsequent novels which will feature the younger Mitford sisters. -- JAC

Crimson Lake

Fox, Candice  Crimson Lake  (Fiction Fox) -- Fox has written two bestsellers with James Patterson and has published several best-selling crime novels in her native Australia. I don’t often read suspense/thriller novels, but I was intrigued by the premise of this novel and ended up enjoying it quite a lot. Sydney police detective Ted Conkaffey has been accused of a brutal abduction. He was not convicted, but all of Australia is convinced that he is public enemy number one. In order to escape his notoriety, Conkaffey has moved to the steamy crocodile swamps of Crimson Lake. His lawyer introduces him to another of his clients, eccentric private investigator Amanda Pharrell, who has already served time as a convicted murderer. Ted agrees to help Amanda solve a crime case filled with deception and obsession. At the same time, the two detectives try to find evidence that the crimes that each other has been accused of were not, in fact, committed by them. This is the first novel in a new series. -- JAC

Every note played

Genova, Lisa  Every Note Played  (Fiction Genova)  -- Richard Evans is a 45-year-old Boston concert pianist.  He has a college-age daughter named Grace, and an ex-wife, Karina, who was also a renowned pianist.  Early in the marriage, Richard accepted a teaching position in Boston, taking Karina away from the vibrant jazz scene in NYC.  Karina’s interest in jazz piano gets replaced by the birth of their daughter and with giving piano lessons to school children.  In the meantime, Richard finds fulfillment and fame in his career, but also feels the need to have frequent extramarital affairs.  It is not long before they divorce. At the peak of his fame, Richard’s right arm begins to twitch, and he is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).   When he begins to have symptoms on the left side, he realizes that his career is finished, and he can no longer live on his own.  Karina feels obligated to take care of Richard.  As Richard’s condition deteriorates, he is forced to make decisions about advanced life support options.  He also realizes he must atone for his past behavior with family.  At the same time, Karina and Grace must also learn the art of forgiveness. -- SCR

The room on Rue Amelie

Harmel, Kristin  The Room on Rue Amélie  (Fiction Harmel)  -- Ruby Henderson is just finishing college at Barnard in NYC when she meets a handsome Frenchman named Marcel Benoit.  They fall in love, marry, and move to Paris in 1939 despite her father’s warning about Hitler moving across Europe.  It is not until they are confronted with Hitler in France that the two lovebirds face reality. Despite the dangers, they stay in Paris and Marcel becomes an active member of the resistance.   Ruby befriends her Jewish neighbor’s daughter Charlotte and takes her in after her parents are arrested. After Marcel’s death, Ruby and Charlotte work hard to convince the network that they are worthy of also joining the resistance.  Under a new identity and in a new location, the two women begin to hide fallen allied pilots.  Ruby meets Thomas, an English pilot who stays with them, and falls in love.  He escapes back to England and the operation continues through the rest of the war, at great danger to Ruby and Charlotte. -- SCR

Sweet tea and sympathy

Harper, Molly  Sweet Tea and Sympathy (Fiction Harper)  -- This is a romance novel with a good dose of humor. Margot Cary is an exclusive event planner for Chicago’s high society. She is abruptly fired when an event goes horribly wrong – it involved a seafood tower and flamingoes. She is unable to find a new job until a distant family member reaches out to hire her for the family business. By the way, the business is in sleepy Lake Sackett, Georgia. The business? It is the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop. Organizing wakes and fishing trips is not something Margot has experience with, but how hard could it be? Eventually she gets a job offer back in her society life. Margot has to decide if she wants to leave her newfound family and a possible love interest (the hunky widowed principal of the local elementary school) in order to jump back into the rat race she knows. -- JAC

The bookshop at water's end

Henry, Patti Callahan  Bookshop at Water’s End  (Fiction Henry) -- I cannot resist novels that include the word bookshop or books in their title. Bonny Blankenship’s most idyllic memories are the summers she and her family and friends spent in Watersend, South Carolina. She needs someplace to start over after her marriage fizzles and her career as an emergency room doctor comes to an abrupt end after a mistake. She packs up her life and teenaged daughter, Piper, to return to the beach house. She also convinces her childhood best friend, Lainey McKay, to join her. Lainey is an artist with a happy marriage and two small children, but she is still haunted by the memory of when her mother disappeared one summer’s night – never to reappear. Despite the underlying angst of both women, the spell of the beach and the bookshop still owned by their friend Mimi remains. If you like Mary Alice Monroe, Mary Kay Andrews and Dorothea Benton Frank you will enjoy this summer read. -- JAC

I was Anastasia : a novel

Lawhon, Ariel  I Was Anastasia  (Fiction Lawhon) -- Is Anna Andersen the real Anastasia Romanov?  She has spent the years living on the generosity of different sponsors while trying to prove her identity. Now she and her husband are awaiting an official verdict from the courts. When the phone call comes in from Germany’s Prince Frederick, Anna understands that the verdict is not in her favor.  There will be no official recognition. Woven into the story are the last days of the Romanovs during the Russian Revolution.  Confined to a lesser palace, the family hears shots are being fired into the air and noisy rioting in the nearby city.  As time passes, the servants flee, the palace loses electricity, and all lines of communication are cut.  Another move is made to Siberia where the family meets its final fate.  The question remains whether Anastasia survived the massacre, and lives on as Anna Andersen.  -- SCR

As bright as heaven

Meissner, Susan  As Bright as Heaven  (Fiction Meissner) -- This is a historical novel featuring a time and place that I knew little about. Thomas and Pauline Bright lived in the Pennsylvania countryside with their three daughters. With the death of their infant son, they realize that it is time to move to the big city where there are better chances for employment and education and it might become easier to overcome their grief. They move to Philadelphia and Thomas becomes apprenticed to his great-uncle Fred, who is an undertaker. Things are not necessarily better, but they are different, and the loving family is adjusting well and making friends. Unfortunately the specter of World War I is ever looming, and then the Spanish flu pandemic reaches America. The flu claimed more than 12,000 victims, including some friends and family members. Even as they lose some loved ones, they take in an orphaned baby who becomes a source of hope. The story is skillfully told by Pauline and her three daughters and ends by being a novel of hope. -- JAC


The pearl sister : Cece's story

Riley, Lucinda  The Pearl Sister: Cece’s Story  (Fiction Riley) -- Three years ago Stephanie introduced us to the D’Apilèse family. The family consists of six daughters that Pa Salt adopted from around the world. Pa Salt died suddenly in the first novel, The Seven Sisters, and now each sister in turn learns more about her true heritage by following clues left by Pa Salt. CeCe is the fourth sister and is feeling very much alone. The sister she felt closest to, Star, is embarking on a new life and CeCe feels both abandoned and an outcast. She has clues to her origins in a black and white photograph and the name of a female pioneer who once lived in Australia. The female pioneer was Kitty McBride, who travels to Australia as a paid companion. She ultimately winds up on the northwest shore of Australia in the heart of the pearl fishing industry in Broome, Western Australia. CeCe eventually reaches the searing heat and dusty plains and something deep within her responds to the energy of the area and the ancient culture of the Aboriginal people. The interlocked stories of Kitty and CeCe are fascinating and compelling. The novel can be read as a stand-alone, but I intend to read all of them in the series. -- JAC

The glass universe : how the ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the measure of the stars

Sobel, Dava  The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars  (Nonfiction 522.197444 S677g) -- Sobel has written several nonfiction best-sellers: Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter and The Planets. In the late nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began hiring women as calculators to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. Sobel has sifted through an immense amount of material, including letters, diaries and memoirs, to bring the ground-breaking study of the stars to the attention and understanding of present-day amateurs. The contributions and lives of the women of the observatory during the directorships of Edward C. Pickering and Harlow Shapley are examined and recounted in some detail. Harvard College Observatory under Pickering arguably contributed more to the advance of astronomy than any other single institution. By 1920, the telescopes of HCO began to be dwarfed by new large instruments at other institutions, but under Shapley HCO remained at the forefront of astronomical research and education in many areas. During these years, Henrietta Leavitt discovered the Cepheid period-luminosity relation that would be vital to determining the distances to other galaxies, Annie Jump Cannon studied the spectra of hundreds of thousands of stars, and Cecilia Payne pioneered methods for determining the chemical composition of the stars. These and other stories are followed in Sobel's fascinating work. Sobel also writes of the lives and motivations of the wealthy sponsors of the observatory's research, including scientifically-minded women such as Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce. Numerous appendices aid in making the book more accessible, including a Catalogue of Harvard Astronomers, Assistant and Associates, various bibliographies and an index. -- JAC

The woman's hour : the great fight to win the vote

Weiss, Elaine F.  The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (Nonfiction 324.623 W429w) -- I assumed that this book of women’s history would focus on the lives and times of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Instead it is the fascinating account of the final struggle to get the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution passed.  In August 1920, the amendment must be ratified in Tennessee. It is the last state still in play. Thirty-five other states have approved it and the rest have turned it down. Weiss concentrates on the last six weeks of the campaign. It is one of the most important political campaigns of all time and Weiss does an excellent job of bringing it back to our attention. -- JAC

Educated : a memoir

Westover, Tara  Educated: A Memoir  (Nonfiction Biography 92 Westover, Tara) -- Tara was the daughter of two survivalists, brought up in rural Idaho.  After the Ruby Ridge raid in 1992, her father became convinced that government agents would burst through their door at any time.  In his bid for total self-reliance, he forces Tara’s Mom to apprentice as a midwife to learn critical medical skills. They kept their 7 children off the radar, and never even registered the youngest four children at birth. Mom “homeschooled” the kids, but her idea of schooling the children was to assign 50 or so pages to be read on occasion, with little or no oversight.  The kids spend most of their days helping dad salvage materials, often at great danger to themselves. Despite the lack of guidance, Tara’s older brother Tyler left home to seek a formal education.  Moving in with an aunt, he managed to take and pass the ACT, stating that his schooling conformed to state educational standards.  Against the wishes of her parents, Tara followed Tyler’s path, studying basic high school subjects, taking the ACT, and affirming her homeschooling as required.  But earning a PhD degree came at a high price to Ms. Westover and her brother. This memoir will appeal to readers of Hillbilly Elegy or The Glass Castle.  -- SCR

Also Recommended :
Death of an unsung hero

Arlen, Tessa  Death of an Unsung Hero  (Fiction Arlen) -- This is the fourth novel in the Lady Montfort Mystery series. Arlen has set her series in the Downton Abbey time frame. There are actually two main characters: Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson, who was her housekeeper, but now functions as the quartermaster for a World War I hospital. The hospital, which was formerly the dower house of the Montfort family, is for officers who are recovering from shell shock. Needless to say, not everyone in the community supports this idea. Real trouble begins when one of the officer patients is murdered. Who would murder a decorated captain who is suffering from amnesia? The two women are afraid that this will be the excuse that the War Office will use in order to close the hospital. They combine their efforts to find the murderer. -- JAC

Tears of salt : a doctor's story

Bartolo, Pietro  Tears of Salt  (Nonfiction Biography 92 Bartolo, Pietro)  -- This saintly doctor was born on the island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily.  This island was so small that it lacked educational facilities past an elementary school level.  Though his father wanted him to become a fisherman, Bartolo continued his education on the Italian mainland and eventually obtained his medical degree. He returned to the island with his wife (also a doctor), children, and in-laws, and eventually became the director of the local medical clinic.  It is this position that puts him at the forefront of the immigration wave coming in from the Mediterranean, often meeting refugees on the edge of death and starvation.  This is a remarkable story about a remarkable man. -- SCR

Brown Bag Booklist from February 1
The secret, book & scone society

Adams, Ellery  The Secret, Book and Scone Society  (Fiction Adams) – This story is a delightful combination of mystery and women bonding. Adams has written numerous mysteries in at least five other series, but this new series is a bit of a departure. Nora Pennington has a small book store in Miracle Springs, North Carolina. She specializes in helping her customers choose just the right book, which will ease that patron’s deepest pain and lighten their heaviest burdens. She knows exactly what book to prescribe for a visiting businessman, but before she can meet with him he is found dead on the train tracks. Nora reaches out to three others to help solve the crime. The group also includes baker Hester, beautician Estelle and health spa manager June. Each of them has her own deep dark secret and must be willing to gain trust and redemption by helping others to divulge their own secret. They meet in the bookstore to share books, scones and their deepest secrets and solve the mystery along the way. This book has gathered many positive reviews and appeared on several “best of the year” lists. -- JAC

The other Einstein : a novel

Benedict, Marie  The Other Einstein  (Fiction Benedict)  - I didn’t really know much of anything about Einstein other than E = mc2. This is the fascinating fictional biography of his first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Maric. The story begins in 1896 in Zurich, Switzerland. Mileva has arrived to take her place at the prestigious Swiss Polytechnic campus. She will be studying physics and mathematics in a class with five other students (all male, of course) and the intimidating Professor Weber. Mileva is from Serbia and has been encouraged by her family to pursue the most rigorous studies she can. They all assumed she would never marry because of a hip deformity that caused her to limp. In the class with her was the charismatic and brilliant Albert Einstein, a student whose work habits left a great deal to be desired. Almost inevitably they fall in love. First, the relationship causes Mileva to take a semester off to study in Heidelberg, which puts her behind her classmates. Then she falls pregnant and returns to Serbia. She leaves their daughter with her parents and the child subsequently dies. Einstein never saw the baby and never even asked about her. Mileva returns to Switzerland to continue her studies and eventually, she and Einstein marry and have two sons. Again, unfortunately, all this turmoil results in Mileva never receiving her degree. She and Albert definitely worked on the theory of relativity together and she was, by far, the better mathematician, but he never gave her full credit. This is another novel of a woman who is forgotten by history in favor of a more famous man. -- JAC

The Story of Arthur Truluv : a novel

Berg, Elizabeth  The Story of Arthur Truluv  (Fiction Berg) – Arthur Moses makes a habit of visiting his wife every afternoon at the cemetery where she was buried just six months ago.  On many of those days, he sees a teen girl named Maddie.  Maddie visits the cemetery to escape the harassment from her fellow students at high school, and to get over her broken heart.  Slowly over time, she and Arthur become friends and when Maddie discovers she is pregnant, she moves in with Arthur and his neighbor Lucille, who is getting over her own heartbreak.  The three learn to make accommodations and become family when Maddie gives birth.  If you liked A Man Called Ove, then The Story of Arthur Truluv would be a good follow-up selection. –- ON

The German girl

Correa, Armand Lucas  The German Girl  (Fiction Correa) – In reading about the Holocaust there are many references to the S. S. St. Louis. This is the story of one of the few survivors of that incident. The St. Louis was a transatlantic liner that offered Jews a safe passage out of Germany to Havana, Cuba. Twelve-year-old Hannah Rosenthal and her parents embark on a hopeful journey that turns into a nightmare. The bureaucracies of Cuba, the United States and Canada decide not to issue visas to the vast majority of passengers. Hannah was one of only thirty or so passengers who were allowed to land in Havana. The rest of the passengers were sent back to Europe, where many of them ultimately perished. Correa tells the story primarily through the eyes of Hannah, but also introduces Anna, who is her great niece living in New York after 9-11. This is not an easy read, but it is well worth it to reinforce (if that were ever necessary) the horrors and lessons of the Holocaust. – JAC

Prairie fires : the American dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Fraser, Caroline  Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder  (Nonfiction Biography 92 Wilder, Laura Ingalls) – Life on the prairie was not at all like the television series of the 1970s and 80s.  Instead, Prairie Fires documents the time as darker than chronicled through the popular children’s books and television drama.  The Wilder family moved over a dozen times, and needed Laura Ingalls Wilder to seek outside employment to help support her family.  Money, or lack of it, was always the driving force in a time that had its own economic depression. But clearly Ingalls-Wilder revered her father and loved listening to the stories from his youth, eventually passing them down to her own daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.  Though Lane was the first in her family to use her writing skills as a professional journalist and ghostwriter, Ingalls Wilder also wrote local newspaper columns, eventually beginning her autobiographical volumes when she was 65.  Though it has been rumored that Lane wrote the books instead of Wilder, Fraser credits Lane with a heavy hand as an editor, not as the ghostwriter. -- SCR

The orphan's tale

Jenoff, Pam  The Orphan’s Tale  (Fiction Jenoff) – In 1944, 16-year-old Noa gave birth to a German soldier’s child.  Kicked out of her house by her parents, her fair hair and Nordic looks made her eligible for the German Lebensborn organization.   After she delivers her baby, she has second thoughts about the process, but is still forced to give the child to the state. While recovering from her losses, she hears whimpering noises at the train station.  When she investigates the sound, she finds several tiny babies that have been left to die in a train car.  Noa impulsively grabs one and hides from nearby German soldiers.  Though she understands there are risks to her actions, she runs away with the child until they are finally discovered almost frozen to death near the circus.  The local circus master takes them in, nursing the two back to health.  Since they are short of acrobats for the flying trapeze program, it is decided that she will join the team to earn her keep.  But life at the circus is fraught with both the inherent danger of learning how to function on the trapeze and is further complicated by anxiety-inducing visits from the Gestapo.  -- SCR

The widows of Malabar Hill

Massey, Sujata  The Widows of Malabar Hill  (Fiction Massey) - Perveen Mistry is the young adult daughter of a solicitor, a golden girl with a seemingly golden life. But things have not always been this good; after she met and married a handsome young man, life takes a turn for the worse.  She is forced to give up her dreams of education, loses all freedom, and must follow her mother-in-law’s strict rules, which include being secluded in a tiny dank room for 8 to 10 days each month.  When the behavior toward her becomes downright abusive, she escapes her prison, returns home, and successfully sues for a legal separation. One of her first cases involves settling the estate of Mr. Omar Farid, who has left three widows and four children behind.  The women have lived their lives in full purdah, away from the public. They are now at the mercy of Mr. Mukri, who wants them to sign over most of their inheritance to set up a boys’ school.  When he ends up dead on the day Perveen visits the home, it leads to a fascinating look at what life is like behind closed doors.  – SCR

Caroline : Little House, revisited

Miller, Sarah  Caroline: Little House Revisited  (Fiction Miller) – Little House on the Prairie has turned into quite the cottage industry. At least half a dozen books have been released in recent years treating various aspects of the saga. Sarah Miller has chosen to tell this story from the viewpoint of Caroline “Ma” Ingalls. It is the tale of the first journey of the Ingalls family in 1870. The family leaves the Big Woods of Wisconsin to travel to the Indian Territory of Kansas. There are obvious differences from the books by Wilder, in that Laura is only three years old – too young to remember the journey except as it was told to her later.  Also, be warned that this book is for adults and can be a bit graphic in descriptions. Another big difference is that Carrie was born in Kansas. Imagine making that journey while pregnant, and first meeting your neighbor when she arrives to help you give birth. I had never realized that at the end of their time in Kansas the Ingalls were forced to return to Wisconsin due to monetary constraints. In all, this is a worthwhile addition to the saga and has been approved by the Little House Heritage Trust. -- JAC

The radium girls : the dark story of America's shining women

Moore, Kate   The Radium Girls:  The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women  (Nonfiction 363.179908 M822r) - “Dip, lip, and paint,” were the precise instructions given to the lucky women who were employed at radium dial factories during World War I.  The work was difficult and precise, but had generous financial rewards if you followed the instructions.  It was possible to make 3 to 4 times the salary of other positions, placing these girls in the top 5% of female wage earners. At the time, radium was thought to have great health benefits.  Called “liquid sunshine,” it was used to cure some cancers, and was put into health-giving dressing and pills.  But, almost from the beginning, there were clues to the dangers of radium.  At first, there were mouth sores, low blood counts, fatigue, arthritic aches and pains, weight loss, and extracted teeth that would not heal. But because it often took time for these symptoms to develop, it was not until 1928 that the first lawsuits were filed.  Working up through the court system, it was 1939 before the company ran out of appeals and was forced to pay for some of the medical costs.  -- SCR

A rising man

Mukherjee, Abir  A Rising Man  (Fiction Mukherjee) – Captain Sam Wyndham was a broken man.  The former Scotland Yard CID man fought in the Great War for the Brits where he was seriously injured, and became addicted to morphine.  To make things worse, his young wife Sarah died from influenza.  When the Commissioner of the Imperial Police Force in Bengal recruits him to work in India, he packs up his morphine and sails to Calcutta. Almost as soon as he arrives, he is assigned to investigate the murder of a senior British civil servant.  The victim, whose mouth was stuffed with a note telling the British to get out of India, was an unpopular man even among the British.  At a time when India was rebelling against Britain, he spent his days making sure life was good for the ruling class.  When the investigations lead to a notorious revolutionary group leader, it looks as if the crimes will be solved quickly.  But Wyndham and his aide are not convinced the man is the killer. Character development, strong writing, and a compelling mystery set amidst a colorful historical time frame, earned this debut novel a place on Lisa Holstine’s list of best mysteries this past year.   I am looking forward to the next volume of this new mystery series. -- SCR

The Lost City of the Monkey God

Preston, Douglas  The Lost City of the Monkey God  (Nonfiction 972.85 P937l) – This volume documents the true story of the discovery of Ciudad Blanco, located in the dense overgrown jungles of Honduras.  Long an unconfirmed legend, finding the ancient city became a real possibility with the advent of laser mapping.  In fact, 2012 was the first time that such advanced technology would be tried to locate ruins.  And when the laser maps showed shapes that were indicative of man-made structures, the crew got permission from the Honduran government to explore further. Since the land was so dense and hostile, they must helicopter onto a small patch near a river.  From there, the team uses machetes to find the site and set up camp.  They spend their days surrounded by lethal snakes, quicksand, jaguars, spider monkeys, mosquitos, and sand fleas.   But these efforts are rewarded with the discovery of untouched and pristine archeological relics.  Since they had just a short period of time to explore, they make plans to excavate the relics on their next visit. After the group returns home, several of the team members begin to develop rashes that later turn into deep lesions.  When the men are finally diagnosed with a rare parasitic infection, leishmaniasis, scientists begin to theorize that this parasite may have been tied to the demise of the civilization.  Scientists now think that this area just may be too dangerous to fully examine.  – SCR

The second Mrs. Hockaday

Rivers, Susan  The Second Mrs. Hockaday  (Fiction Rivers) – This is a debut novel that is outstanding. Rivers chooses to tell this story of the Civil War through letters and diary entries and really pulls off quite a tour-de-force. The Second Mrs. Hockaday is about a seventeen-year-old girl who marries an older man and has two days with him before he is called back to fight for the South in the Civil War. This young wife, Placidia, is left alone with a few slaves to care for her infant stepson and manage Major Hockaday's three-hundred-acre farm. Despite all odds it turns out to be a love story with a happy ending. The novel is based on a true incident and is the result of a great deal of painstaking research. -- JAC

The stowaway : a young man's extraordinary adventure to Antarctica

Shapiro, Laurie Gwen  The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica   (Nonfiction 919.8904 S529s) – This is Shapiro’s first full-length work of nonfiction. The young man in question is Billy Gawronski, a new high school graduate, seventeen years old, who desperately wants adventure. He has idolized explorer Richard Byrd for years and is determined to go to Antarctica with him. The adventure begins in 1928 when Babe Ruth is hitting home runs, the economy is booming, and the music is jazz. You can tell from the writing that Shapiro is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Her choice of protagonist is an inspired one and her grasp of the social history of the time is evident everywhere. Billy does not want to enter the family upholstery business, and while he is very bright, he is not really committed to getting an advanced education. The night before the expedition’s flagship departs Billy jumps into the Hudson River, swims to the ship and stows away. It ends up being an incredible voyage despite all the odds. This is a true story that reads like a Jack London adventure. -- JAC

The hidden thread : a novel

Trenow, Liz  The Hidden Thread   (Fiction Trenow) – This historical novel takes place beginning in 1760 during the reign of George III. Anna Butterfield has just arrived in London, and is living with her uncle’s family in the Spitalfields area of London, the center of silk weaving.  She has come to London following the early death of her mother. Her clergyman father hopes that she will be able to find a husband. Anna does not really fit in and is bored with nothing to do. She has always been something of an artist, but it is difficult to find subjects to sketch in the city landscape. While her uncle is in the silk trade, Anna is more interested in the design and weaving of the luxurious fabrics. She meets a very young apprentice weaver, Henri, who is a French Huguenot and clearly not of the same social class as her uncle’s family. When Henri sees some of Anna’s colorful drawings from nature he is captivated and they figure out a way to translate her designs into silk. The story is based on that of Anna Maria Garthwaite. The author’s family have been silk weavers for several hundred years and she also diligently researched the subject before writing this compelling novel and social history. This book has also been published as The Silk Weaver. -- JAC

The hidden light of Northern fires : a novel

Wang, Daren  The Hidden Light of Northern Fires   (Fiction Wang) –  This historical novel takes place during the American Civil War. The unique hook is that it takes place in the tiny hamlet of Town Line, New York (just outside Buffalo and very near Canada). That location is important because it was the only town north of the Mason-Dixon line to “secede” along with the southern states. That had no real legal effect, but it does show just how conflicted the citizens of the hamlet were. They did not vote to rejoin the union until 1946. Some of the citizens fought for the Union and several fought for the Confederacy. The main character in this first novel by Daren Wang is Mary Willis, a recent graduate of Alfred University and a staunch abolitionist. She worked on the Underground Railroad and even hid runaway slaves in her family’s barn. Joe Bell was one of the negroes she rescued. He stayed hidden for a long time to recover from a leg amputation. Other important characters include the requisite slave catcher. This is a beautifully written novel, based on true stories. I look forward to Wang’s next book after reading this riveting story. -- JAC


Also Recommended

The seafront tearoom

Greene, Vanessa  The Seafront Tearoom  (Fiction Greene) – Four women are brought together through tea. I couldn’t resist that premise. Letty owns the Seafront Tearoom in small-town Scarborough, England. She doesn’t really want to attract massive numbers of tourists, but prefers to keep things low-key and homey. Journalist Charlie Harrison, who is on a visit to her sister Pippa and her family in Scarborough, would love to give the tearoom a boost by featuring it in her foodie magazine. Local tea obsessive Kat and French au pair Séraphine also love the tearoom just the way it is. However, Charlie works out a compromise. Letty suggests other worthwhile and quaint tearooms in the area and Kat and Séraphine arrange to visit them and write mini reviews. Charlie returns to London to edit her magazine. The descriptions of the tearooms and the recipes are mouthwatering and the developing friendships are heartwarming. -- JAC

The leavers : a novel

Ko, Lisa  The Leavers  (Fiction Ko) – Deming Gou was just 11 years old on the day his mother Polly disappeared from his life.  Stunned by the loss, he stops going to school and stays home with the mother’s boyfriend Leon, his sister, Vivian, and her son, Michael, until he is finally turned over to foster care.  Deming, now Daniel Wilkensen, becomes the child of two well-meaning professors in upstate New York.  Deming drifts through life with his only interest being music.  Things change when Deming turns 21, after Michael contacts him with information about Polly.  When Deming calls Polly and discovers what happened all those years ago, we learn Polly went back to China in search of a better life.  Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and Electric Literature, this is a moving story of a son in need of stability, and a mother who must come to terms with her past choices. -- SCR

The wedding bees : a novel of honey, love, and manners

Lynch, Sarah-Kate  The Wedding Bees: a Novel of Honey, Love and Manners   (Fiction Lynch) – Sarah-Kate Lynch is the author of eight novels and travel editor of New Zealand Woman's Day, New Zealand's bestselling weekly magazine. Sugar Wallace is a “runaway bride” from South Carolina, who has been running to a different city for over ten years. She travels with a bare minimum of possessions and her hives of bees. She lets the bees decide their next destination by setting the queen free to crawl on a map of the United States. This year Queen Bee Elizabeth VI has chosen New York City. The naturally gregarious Sugar soon bonds with her eccentric neighbors in the East Village apartment building (the bees live on the balcony). The neighbors include Ruby with her scrapbook of wedding announcements, reclusive chef Nate, single mom Lola who owns a balloon store, a courtly ex-doorman named George and a charming Scotsman named Theo. This is a heartwarming story with a little magic woven in. -- JAC

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