September’s Celebrity Book Club Picks

It’s the beginning of the month which means that Oprah Winfrey, Jenna Bush Hager, and Reese Witherspoon have picked new books for their book clubs! Reminder that if you join our Best Sellers Club, these titles will automatically be put on hold for you.

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Oprah Winfrey has selected The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

Curious what The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

The 2020 National Book Award–nominated poet makes her fiction debut with this magisterial epic—an intimate yet sweeping novel with all the luminescence and force of Homegoing; Sing, Unburied, Sing; and The Water Dancer—that chronicles the journey of one American family, from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our own tumultuous era.

The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words all too well. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans—the revered choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers—Ailey carries Du Bois’s Problem on her shoulders.

Ailey is reared in the north in the City but spends summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta, where her mother’s family has lived since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that’s made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma, as well as the whispers of women—her mother, Belle, her sister, Lydia, and a maternal line reaching back two centuries—that urge Ailey to succeed in their stead.

To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors—Indigenous, Black, and white—in the deep South. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story—and the song—of America itself.

This book is also available in the following formats:

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Jenna Bush Hager has selected Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang.

Curious what is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

An incandescent memoir from an astonishing new talent, Beautiful Country puts readers in the shoes of an undocumented child living in poverty in the richest country in the world.

In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Yet when seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994 full of curiosity, she is overwhelmed by crushing fear and scarcity. In China, Qian’s parents were professors; in America, her family is “illegal” and it will require all the determination and small joys they can muster to survive.

In Chinatown, Qian’s parents labor in sweatshops. Instead of laughing at her jokes, they fight constantly, taking out the stress of their new life on one another. Shunned by her classmates and teachers for her limited English, Qian takes refuge in the library and masters the language through books, coming to think of The Berenstain Bears as her first American friends. And where there is delight to be found, Qian relishes it: her first bite of gloriously greasy pizza, weekly “shopping days,” when Qian finds small treasures in the trash lining Brooklyn’s streets, and a magical Christmas visit to Rockefeller Center—confirmation that the New York City she saw in movies does exist after all.

But then Qian’s headstrong Ma Ma collapses, revealing an illness that she has kept secret for months for fear of the cost and scrutiny of a doctor’s visit. As Ba Ba retreats further inward, Qian has little to hold onto beyond his constant refrain: Whatever happens, say that you were born here, that you’ve always lived here.

Inhabiting her childhood perspective with exquisite lyric clarity and unforgettable charm and strength, Qian Julie Wang has penned an essential American story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility, and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light.

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Reese Witherspoon has selected L.A. Weather by María Amparo Escandón.

Curious what is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

FORECAST: Storm clouds are on the horizon in this fun, fast-paced novel of an affluent Mexican-American family from the author of the #1 Los Angeles Times bestseller Esperanza’s Box of Saints.

L.A. is parched, dry as a bone, and all Oscar, the weather-obsessed patriarch of the Alvarado family, desperately wants is a little rain. He’s harboring a costly secret that distracts him from everything else. His wife, Keila, desperate for a life with a little more intimacy and a little less Weather Channel, feels she has no choice but to end their marriage. Their three daughters—Claudia, a television chef with a hard-hearted attitude; Olivia, a successful architect who suffers from gentrification guilt; and Patricia, a social media wizard who has an uncanny knack for connecting with audiences but not with her lovers—are blindsided and left questioning everything they know. Each will have to take a critical look at her own relationships and make some tough decisions along the way.

With quick wit and humor, Maria Amparo Escandón follows the Alvarado family as they wrestle with impending evacuations, secrets, deception, and betrayal, and their toughest decision yet: whether to stick together or burn it all down.

This book is also available in the following format:

Join our Best Sellers Club to have Oprah, Jenna, and Reese’s adult selections automatically put on hold for you!

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I want to talk about The Plot, because it has so many interesting threads and tangents. However, it’s a somewhat difficult review to write. Any description of the characters (or plot) could, potentially, be a spoiler. The book was lauded for its creative storyline involving one writer appropriating the work of another. Periodically, a chapter from the stolen or borrowed book (depending on your point of view) is inserted into the narrative about Jake. This device is actually surprisingly effective in ratcheting up the tension.

So I’ll concentrate on the aspect I found most interesting.  Since childhood, Jake Bonner’s only ambition has been to be a writer. He’s a graduate of an MFA program that sounds suspiciously like the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. One of the great pleasures of the book is the insider’s view of such programs, the literary lifestyle and the publishing world. The book is sprinkled with the nuts and bolts of book tours, and the role of agents and editors.

The end of the book is, to a librarian, fascinating, as well. Jake becomes a more interesting character, as he becomes less passive. He becomes quite a skilled researcher, investigator and interviewer. His life may have been less stressful had he developed these talents and become a librarian.

Get Graphic Series: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Have you always wanted to read a classic, but find yourself picking up the latest beach read instead? I have a solution for you! Classic adaptations is our final topic in the Get Graphic Series. I have read many classics in my life; mostly from high school and college. I find my self now that I am older, forgetting the details of them. That’s why I like classic adaptation graphic novels. They are great at refreshing my memory of the classic I read long ago- and they are much shorter!

One of my favorite classics, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, was made into a graphic novel in 2020. It follows the story of Billy Pilgrim who has come unstuck in time. Traveling from his POW camp in World War II Germany to his Lions Club Meeting years later, Billy Pilgrim has no control over where he ends up next. And then in 1967, Billy Pilgrim travels to the alien world Tralfamadore. This is where he learns about time and how time “simply is.”

Ryan North and Albert Monteys create a Slaughterhouse-Five universe. They give faces and backstories to Vonnegut’s characters. They add timelines and comic strip like panels to give life to the numerous settings. This classic adaptation is never boring with the way North and Monteys portray it.

Several classics have been made into graphic novels. Here are a few we own at the library if Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t your first choice: 1984 by George Orwell, Anne Frank’s Diary by Ari Folman, Kindred by Damian Duffy, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, or The Great Gatsby by Fred Fordham.

So it goes.

World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

If you love natural history, biology, poetry, or lyrical memoir, you’ll probably love World of Wonders. Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil and illustrator Fumi Nakamura have created an enrapturing book-cum-artwork which shows the breathtaking biodiversity of our world alongside the mosaic of memories that makes a human life remarkable.

Nezhukumatathil (nuh ZOO KOO mah tah till) skillfully interweaves her own story of growing up and living in many different places (Kansas, Arizona, and Ohio to name a few, not to mention visits to family in Kerala, India) with profiles of vital plants and wildlife which feature in that locale and her memories of it. One of my favorite examples is the chapter in which she describes the corpse flower, an enormous plant which blooms into a foul odor only once every few years. Not only does she describe the plant’s origins and lifecycles, but she also tells the reader how she used to use this flower as a story to test potential dates: her date’s reaction to hearing her enthusiasm for the corpse flower told her whether or not they should get a second date. Only one reacted with interest and curiosity and without judgement, and she married him. It makes for a fascinating, funny, and ultimately heartwarming chapter.

Other entries take the reader to more serious places: the enigmatic smile of the endangered axolotl is woven into Nezhukumatathil’s memories of the casually racist comments she endured growing up and well into adulthood. The fabulous flair of the peacock is part of a painful memory of a prejudiced teacher who assigned the class to draw their favorite animal — so long as it was an “American” animal. Even the first chapter about the catalpa tree is a bittersweet memory of going with her sister after school to meet their mother at her workplace – a Kansas mental institution – and facing the ridicule of classmates. In any circumstance, Nezhukumatathil found comfort and advice in the myriad strategies and adaptations of nature.

A book full of wonder, hope, gratitude, and ecological appreciation, peppered with lovely sketch-like illustrations, World of Wonders is not something you’ll want to miss.

Death at the Crystal Palace by Jennifer Ashley

British cook and amateur sleuth Kat Holloway returns in the latest mystery by Jennifer Ashley,  taking place in and around London during the early 1900s.  Death at the Crystal Palace is the fifth book in the Below Stairs Mystery  series which focuses on the “downstairs” staff headed by cook Holloway and the rest of the staff,  whose lives intertwine with the “upstairs” aristocratic class and estate owners.  Kat and the rest of the below stairs staff keep the manor house running smoothly.  Kat spends her days preparing complex delicacies for the aristocratic family for whom she works.  Her position within the household makes for long hours in the kitchen, sometimes cooking for dozens of  household members and their numerous guests.  With all her obligations, she still finds the time to help solve a mystery or two.

Death at the Crystal Palace opens with Kat accompanying one member of the household, Lady Cynthia, to an academic lecture at the Crystal Palace in London.  At the conclusion of the lecture, Lady Covington, the widow of a railway owner, approaches Kat and declares that someone in her household is trying to poison her.  She is adamant that she needs Kat’s sleuthing skills to help find the culprit.  Kat is immediately suspicious of the claim.  Is Lady Covington being targeted by someone in household or is it all in her head?  Kat makes arrangements with Lady Covington to make a secretive visit to her household under the guise of recipe sharing with the Covington family cook, in order to find out more about the possible plot.

After learning more about the Covington family and their possible motivations for wanting to bring harm to the matriarch of the family, Kat finds herself yet again, at the Crystal Palace for an academic event.  With all the Covington family in attendance and able to be observed, Kat discovers another member of the family near death as the result of an attempted poisoning .

While tending to the crisis at hand, Kat’s close confidant, Daniel McAdam, is up to his neck  in his own case and recruits Kat to assist him in much larger matters of national security.  Toggling between the matter of Lady Covington’s potential poisoning and assisting Daniel with his undercover endeavor, Kat is at risk of having her true identity discovered which could potentially have catastrophic consequences for the future!

This series keeps getting better and better with each book.  Author Jennifer Ashley not only gives the reader a complex and intricate mystery to solve, the series is also a great example of historical fiction, detailing the lives and customs of the British at the turn of the last century.  Although this book is able to be read as a stand alone mystery, I highly recommend starting with the first book in the series Death Below Stairs.

 

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

Another exciting YA mystery from the author of One of Us is Lying, 2019’s Two Can Keep a Secret is the story of cold cases, twins, secret family histories, and haunted houses which I read in exactly one day. It’s got echoes of Pretty Little Liars and There’s Someone in Your House, though more grounded in realism than either, and is most like A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.

Ellery and Ezra are twins, just like their mother Sadie and her sister Sara were twins. When Sadie and Sara were high school seniors in Echo Ridge, Sara went missing and was never seen again. Sadie left town as fast as she could, settling in California. Now, Sadie’s in rehab, forcing high school seniors Ellery and Ezra to come to Echo Ridge for the first time to live with their Nana, Sadie’s mother. As soon as they arrive in town, they learn that Sara wasn’t the only one – five years ago homecoming queen Lacey disappeared, and her body was found in the local fright theme park. Her boyfriend Declan was suspected, but nothing was ever proven. As Ellery and Ezra settle in, making friends with Declan’s younger brother Malcolm, history chillingly starts to repeat itself as anonymous threats against Homecoming start to appear around town – and then one of the Homecoming Court goes missing. True crime buff Ellery and an implicated Malcolm scramble to uncover the culprit before it’s too late.

To be honest, this is very, very similar to A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder in premise: the smart quirky girl and the younger brother of the unjustly accused unite to solve a mysterious disappearance of the town golden girl. HOWEVER, McManus puts her own twists on it which makes this book stand apart. For one, Malcolm’s brother Declan is no saint, with a hot temper, secrets of his own, and a shaky history with Malcolm – this means that Declan’s innocence is nowhere near certain for most of the book. Secondly, Ellery and Ezra’s relationship with each other and their flawed mother adds dimension to the book; Sadie’s struggle with opioid addiction feels timely. Third, and maybe most importantly, the police play a much larger role in the investigation than Ellery and Malcolm. I really appreciated the realism of teens getting it wrong, repeatedly, while ‘the professionals’ (who amateur detectives love to dismiss) actually do their jobs and get it right.

Overall a solid, plausible, and compelling mystery with twists and revelations to keep you reading; LGBTQ representation in side characters and awareness of ethnic diversity (particularly the difficulty of being one of the only non-white families in town) are plusses. My only request would’ve been to flesh out the side characters more – Ezra and Malcolm’s friend Mia fade into the background where I would’ve liked them to stand alongside Ellery and Malcolm as equals. If you liked any of the YA mysteries listed above, or McManus’ other works, definitely try Two Can Keep a Secret.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

Told through flashbacks to various family members throughout the years, Gabriela Garcia has written a novel of fierce familial pride in her debut work, Of Women and Salt. Five generations of women are linked through blood and the love of story as they each navigate life.

1866, Cuba: Maria is the only woman employed at a local cigar factory. Each day, a man comes in and reads to them from various books. The current book he reads is by Victor Hugo. Dangerous political times rock her life. As Maria realizes that she won’t be able to escape her current life without getting married and starting a family, war descends on them all.

1959, Cuba: Dolores is often stuck at home feeding and caring for her daughter while her husband disappears for long stretches of time. Her husband is a supporter of Fidel Castro and frequently heads to the mountains in order to answer Castro’s call to arms. Dependent on what little money her husband brings home and with his income drying up with him gone, Dolores knows that in order to survive she will do whatever it takes. What she decides to do may end up destroying her daughter Carmen’s life as well as her own, but she is hopeful that in the long run, they will be able to survive.

2016, Miami: Carmen is struggling. Her feelings of displacement have never completely evaporated. When her daughter Jeanette tells Carmen that she will be traveling to Cuba to visit her grandmother Dolores, Carmen is shocked and confused. Why would Jeanette want to travel? What will Dolores tell her? Carmen and her mother Dolores have a very complicated relationship that she has had to wrestle with for years. Meanwhile, Carmen and Jeanette also have a rocky relationship, something that Carmen has been working through while trying to keep her wayward daughter from going too far off-track. All Jeanette wants is to understand her family’s histories. The best way to do so she believes is to travel to Cuba and visit with her grandma. The secrets in her grandma’s house hold the power to give her answers while also destroying the fragility of the past.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Get Graphic Series: Dancing After TEN by Vivian Chong

The Get Graphic Series continues with a memoir by Vivian Chong. Dancing after TEN  tells the story of how Chong suffered a severe medical reaction which caused her to lose her eyesight.

It begins with an island vacation Chong takes with her current boyfriend and his family. A couple days into the vacation, Chong becomes ill. She takes ibuprofen in hopes of relieving some symptoms, but they become worse. Chong is then airlifted from their tropical paradise to Canada. The doctor’s discover Chong is suffering from TEN (toxic epidermal necrolysis). As her condition worsens, the doctor’s place her in a medically induced coma. When Chong wakes up, her life is changed forever.

After undergoing a cornea operation, Chong begins to draw her memoir. She invites the help of fellow artist, Georgia Webber, to fill in after Chong begins to lose her eyesight again. Throughout the novel, the reader can see the difference between Chong and Webber’s illustrations. You can see and feel the vulnerability Chong had while struggling to draw. Her illustrations coexist with Webber’s creating a beautifully told narrative.

Memoirs and biographies are similar in way they tell the life story of a person. What I love about memoirs more than biographies, is the author relies heavily on the emotional factors of their life. Dancing after TEN offers us the facts, but Chong also provides us with emotional dialogue. She shares with us her breakups, her physical insecurities, her worries about the future, and more.

Dancing after TEN  is a great example of how someone can experience a tragedy, but can come out dancing in the end.

 

Board Games: Forbidden Island

Did you know you can check out board games and puzzles from the library? If you hadn’t heard, we have a great variety of games at all three branches of the library, from classics like Pictionary to kids’ games like Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes! Today I’m here to review a cooperative (as opposed to competitive) board game called Forbidden Island that was recommended to me by a fellow book lover.

In this game, your team of 2-4 players must work together to retrieve four sacred treasures from an island which is steadily sinking into the sea! The game is played on a set of tiles laid out in a grid, with each tile representing a location on the island. There are only a few tiles where treasures can be found, and only one tile which gets you off the island. But on every turn, you have to draw a Flood Card, which tells you which tiles to flip over. If a tile gets flipped over, it has flooded, and is one step away from being lost forever. On each turn, you can also move your pawn, rescue a tile that has flooded (turn it back over), and draw Treasure Cards. If you collect four cards featuring a given treasure, and you’re on the right tile, you can claim that treasure – but watch out, because you might draw a “Waters Rise” card instead, flooding even more tiles!

The excitement comes from racing against the cards, and trying to strategize your movements and which cards you have. Teamwork is key, because you can only keep 5 cards in your hand at a time, which means that in order to accumulate four cards each of all four treasures, each player will have to focus on one treasure at a time. The aesthetic is a fun bonus — the art on the tiles and the way the treasures are crafted adds fantasy atmosphere to the gameplay. In my opinion the whole thing is complicated enough to be interesting, but not so complicated as to be daunting. The cooperative, story-like elements are refreshing, and it works pretty well with two players, though four is better, especially because each player is assigned a role with special abilities.

I personally recommend this game for those who don’t like conflict but enjoy adventures; it reminded me a bit of the new Jumanji movies, so liking those might help too.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Morgan Rogers has created a masterful debut novel full of raw emotion and expressive language. Honey Girl is a coming-of age novel that deals with tough topics that many adults may find themselves dealing with today.

Grace Porter is confused. A 28-year-old woman who recently completed her PhD in astronomy, Grace and her friends are in Las Vegas to celebrate her major achievement. What no one expects is for Grace to get incredibly drunk and marry a woman whose name she doesn’t know. She wakes up the next morning with vague memories of what happened the night before, remembering that she got married to a mystery woman who she wants to know better. Armed with friends who support her no matter what, Grace goes back home to deal with the aftermath.

Back home with her friends, Grace struggles with her mental health, with her existing relationships with her family and friends, and with what she wants to do with her career. Hitting barrier after barrier as Grace works to get a job in her field, she is unable to find solace in her father who grows increasingly frustrated with Grace’s ability to adhere to her established life plan. Fed up and exhausted with her current life, Grace decides to search for the person who she believes may hold the answers: her mystery wife. Traveling across the country, Grace finally meets her wife and is forced to deal with all of the conflicting emotions raging inside. Grace cannot outrun reality though and even though she finds some escape with her wife, she must find a way to balance her fears, her new love, her career, and her family.

This book is also available in the following formats:

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