All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King

“Champions adjust. Champions are masters at being resilient. To succeed, you have to find a way to reconcile everything – chasing goals, believing you will succeed but absorbing failure, and the loneliness of knowing that no one can help you on the court but you.” 

“Two of the unchanging, overarching lessons of my life are that people’s existence is rarely improved by sitting still in the face of injustice, and that the human spirit should never be underestimated. The human spirit can’t be caged.”

As an avid tennis fan and player, I was thrilled when I read that Billie Jean King (BJK) was coming out with an autobiography. While I knew she was a groundbreaking tennis player in her day, especially renowned for her historical “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973, I honestly didn’t know much else about her. With that said, let’s delve right into All In: An Autobiography. 

Published in August, this memoir gives readers a deep and comprehensive look into BJK’s life story. Born in Long Beach, California, her first encounter with tennis was in the fifth grade when a friend convinced her to attend a lesson with her. After her first few experiences playing, BJK dedicated herself to the sport and quickly set out to win Wimbledon (a Grand Slam tournament played in London) and become the #1-ranked player in the world. After undergoing intense training and an excruciating schedule of play for many years, BJK would come to accomplish much more than that; some of her career highlights include capturing 39 Grand Slam tennis titles and 20 career victories at Wimbledon, as well as winning the famous “Battle of the Sexes” match and holding the world #1 ranking in women’s tennis for six years.

While it was fascinating to read about what it took to become a champion on the court, I was dismayed to learn about all of the barriers she endured on her way to becoming the best in the sport. One incredibly significant barrier was the entrenched sexism present in the sports world at the time, BJK illustrating a vivid picture of just how different it was to be a female athlete in the mid-20th century compared to now. She was first barred from advancing beyond an amateur player (meaning she was not paid for playing) since being a professional athlete was not an acceptable profession for women. After breaking that glass ceiling and turning pro, she found herself in yet another uphill battle in which tournaments refused to pay women the same earnings/winnings as men.

She was also constantly barraged with society’s stereotypical expectations of women, always having to answer to when she would give up her fling with tennis to settle down and start a family, why she thought the world would want to watch female athletes, and how she had the nerve to take away money from the true breadwinners. These expectations didn’t even spare her at the very beginning of her young career; one particularly scarring memory involved being pulled out of a picture at one of the tennis clubs where she practiced because she was wearing shorts instead of a skirt or dress. On top of all of this, BJK also struggled with an eating disorder and her sexuality later on in her professional life, especially having to keep the latter secret in fear of losing everything she had worked so hard to achieve.

Despite all of the aforementioned struggles, BJK not only excelled in tennis, but also used her platform to make huge strides in several social justice issues off the court. She founded several initiatives and organizations to support and advocate for women’s rights, including the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation; established World TeamTennis, a professional tennis league in which men and women compete together on a team; and advocated for the passing of Title IX in 1972. She also set up the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, a nonprofit organization working to achieve diverse and equitable leadership in the workforce. She has and continues to engage in every opportunity she can to pave the way for all of the women who have and will continue to come after her; it is no wonder that she became the first female athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2009.

Overall, this autobiography is one of the most inspiring accounts I have ever read. I led this post with two quotes because expressing just half of BJK’s influence on the world wouldn’t do this book or her legacy justice; she is not only a champion of tennis, but also a champion of social justice and equal rights. She has been a trailblazer for women’s rights, not only throughout the sports world, but also across society and the world at large. She is still fighting for social justice today, especially for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and one of the greatest values she abides by is ensuring that tennis, sports, and the world are inclusive and accessible for everyone. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

This book is also available in the following formats:

Large Print

In addition to this book, I would also check out the 2017 motion picture Battle of the Sexes, featuring Emma Stone as BJK and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs (her opponent). This match was one of the most widely watched sporting events of all time, with an estimated 90 million people having tuned in to watch on primetime television.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”

Upon ordering Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s newest publication back in May, entitled Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, I was inspired to pick up her extremely popular and successful first book. While I plan to write a blog on her newest title in the near future, I firstly want to recognize how exceptional and vital White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism is to our country’s ongoing dialogue about and understanding of race.

Published back in 2018 and a staple of antiracist literature, this book approaches racism from a sociological perspective, considering the ways in which racism is so engrained in our culture, practices, and institutions that we, as participants of this culture, cannot possibly avoid it. When faced with this notion of inevitably being influenced by a racist culture, DiAngelo contends many white people are quick to put up their defenses, responding with anger and shame, as well as feeling attacked or insulted. She explains this common knee-jerk reaction is primarily due to the very narrow definition of racism that our society perpetuates; while many perceive racism as overt and intentional racist acts committed by immoral and unkind individuals, she asks readers to consider a broader context in which everyone engages with and acts upon unconscious biases, which stem from the simple act of partaking in a shared culture that is founded upon white racial frameworks.

Upon presenting this much-needed context, DiAngelo then goes on to identify the common responses and reactions of white people in the face of racial discomfort as “white fragility.” Drawing from her 20+ years of experience as a consultant, educator, and facilitator on issues of racial and social justice, she details how these reactions manifest and how white people often find ways to distance themselves from racial issues, thereby exempting themselves from conversations about race. Furthermore, she argues this fragility essentially inhibits individuals from participating in productive and empathetic conversations in which they recognize and accept their roles and responsibility in perpetuating the systemic racism in the United States today, whether intentionally or not.

One especially powerful passage I’d like to share is DiAngelo’s explanation of a metaphor she cited that describes the “interlocking forces of oppression.” In this analogy, she compares a white person’s worldview of racism to viewing a bird in a birdcage. If a viewer stands close to the cage and views the bird through the bars, they aren’t actually able to see the bars of the cage holding the bird in; consequently, the bird looks as if it can fly away whenever it pleases. As the viewer moves back from the cage, they may start to see one or two bars of the cage and think that, while there are some barriers, the bird could just simply fly around them. Upon backing all the way up, however, the viewer can see all of the bars intersecting one another, ultimately barring the bird from escaping the cage. This metaphor, therefore, affirms that in order to truly understand the pervasive existence and profound impact of racism on our society, we must take multiple steps back to see the whole picture.

All in all, this book is incredibly eye-opening and illuminates how white people unconsciously continue to play a role in perpetuating racism, even when they don’t intend to. DiAngelo calls us all to action, stressing that we can no longer exempt ourselves from our white collective identity and say that this isn’t our problem. Rather, she maintains this is very uniquely our problem and that, whether we like it or not, we must carry our history with us and actively work to improve equitability and social justice in our society by engaging in lifelong acts of antiracism.

*Disclaimer: From the get-go, DiAngelo recognizes her privilege of being a white woman writing this book. While some readers may want to discount her work because of this status, I highly recommend giving her a chance. She has extensive experience and a unique perspective as a diversity educator, while also never pretending to have all the answers.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Book on CD

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

 

 

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho

“Know that when you say you are an ally, you are saying that you are willing to risk your white privilege in the name of justice and equality for marginalized voices.”

After watching Emmanuel Acho’s popular online video series, I was inspired to read his accompanying book by the same name. Released late last year, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man is an exceptional book tackling some of the hardest questions people have about race. According to Acho, engaging in these conversations is a necessary and pivotal step we must all take on the road to addressing systemic racism and achieving true racial justice for all, despite how uncomfortable they may be.

Structuring each chapter in the same way, Acho presents real questions he has received from viewers of his video series before giving thoughtful and empathetic answers to help readers better understand the ways in which racism impacts the daily lives of people of color (POC), as well as how it has adapted over time to uphold white privilege in our society. A sampling of these questions include the following:

  • “How do you bring race up with minorities? I honestly have so much fear of saying something wrong and being labeled as a ‘racist.’ I’m sure things will come out wrong, or sound unaware because they are. But how will I learn if we can’t discuss?”
  • “Do you believe that, with time, white privilege can be eliminated? Also, when I think about white privilege, I feel guilty and ashamed.”
  • “What systems are racist that need to be changed now? I have heard arguments about things related to housing and schools not being as well funded, which both seem to be more economic issues than race issues. I can see how in the past the now-grandparent generation may have suffered from racism under relining and other practices that are now illegal. I also see how that can have lingering effects. However, I see those racist issues as having been dealt with.”

In response to each question, Acho gives a brief background of the topic at hand, addresses why it may be uncomfortable to bring into conversations, and provides numerous ways for readers to not only talk about it, but also take meaningful actions as a result of these dialogues.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Whether you are looking for yourself, or for a friend or family member, this is the perfect title to begin learning more about the roots of systemic racism, the influence it has within our society today, and the steps you can take to become actively anti-racist. Acho not only writes in a very accessible way, but also offers readers grace and patience as they make their way through the pages. Additionally, Acho has compiled an exceptional list of further resources readers can consult in order to learn more; he lists several books, essays, reports, movies, podcasts, and music, as well as websites and additional topics to research.

I also highly recommend watching Acho’s online video series! If you are interested, you can find all of the episodes here.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook

Large Print

Playaway

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

“Books are what have brought us together. A love of the stories within, the adventures they take us on, their glorious distraction in a time of strife.”

Published just this past April, The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin is a historical fiction novel set during World War II, offering a candid glimpse into life in London during the Blitz. While I have read several excellent novels in this time period before (as I’m sure you have, too!) , I don’t recall one exclusively focusing on the Blitz in London, so this title was a unique perspective I had not yet afforded!

After losing her mother and essentially being disowned by her uncle in a rural town in England, Grace and her best friend, Viv, journey to London to live with her mother’s best friend. While both women had long dreamed of coming to London, neither expected it to happen forcibly, let alone on the brink of a second great war. While Viv quickly finds a job at the glamorous Harrods, Grace is offered a position at a local bookshop which, as someone who didn’t read, was a less-than-ideal assignment. With the intention of working just six months to gain a letter of recommendation to find a better position, Grace begins working in a disheveled, dusty, and dingy bookstore with a seemingly irritable owner who barely tolerates her presence.

As rumblings of the war draw closer to home, however, Grace slowly finds herself becoming more and more committed and interested in her work at the bookshop. This is in no small part due to George Anderson, a particularly attractive and frequent patron who shares his authentic love of reading with Grace before leaving to serve as a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot. Although initially doubtful about the impact reading would have on her own life, Grace becomes enraptured with The Count of Monte Cristo (one of George’s recommendations) and quickly becomes a voracious reader herself. With her newly found love of reading, Grace naturally begins to develop special relationships with several patrons, as well as with the owner himself, as she works to make the bookshop as accessible as possible. Not long after this, though, London itself becomes suspended in the throes of war, putting everything Grace loves at risk.

All in all, this is a wonderful story about someone who comes to learn the value of reading and eventually helps others in the community not only survive, but thrive in the stories of others during the unbearably difficult circumstances of wartime; it is truly an ode to the power of literature, and there were many lovely and moving quotes that warmed my heart as a librarian. I also really appreciated reading about a female protagonist who not only immerses herself, but thrives in a wartime position typically reserved for men; on top of working at the bookshop, Grace volunteers as an Air Raid Protection (ARP) warden to help those impacted by the daily bombings that would occur overnight. Lastly, I reveled in the obvious research Martin did on the Blitz to portray a captivating account of life in London during this time in history.

While there were some moments toward the conclusion that seemed to tie up a little too conveniently, I would still highly recommend this novel to anyone looking to dip their toes in a new perspective on WWII or just for a new historical fiction read in general! I would also like to note that, while Martin is a well-known historical romance author, this novel was not primarily focused on romantic themes or aspects.

 

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

“It is a cruel, ironical art, photography. The dragging of captured moments into the future; moments that should have been allowed to be evaporate into the past; should exist only in memories, glimpsed through the fog of events that came after. Photographs force us to see people before their future weighed them down….”

Have you ever reread a book you love when you feel in a rut and need an escape from the stresses of daily life? I recently did this with The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. Originally released in 2007 as her debut novel, this enthralling plot simmers with family secrets, doomed love, and the ruthless influences of war to create a beautifully tragic story that will captivate you from the first page to the last.

Set in England and alternating between the historical backdrop of WWI and 1999, ninety-eight-year-old protagonist Grace Bradley relates her past as a young housemaid for an aristocratic family at Riverton Manor as she reaches the end of her life. It isn’t long, however, before you realize this reminiscing is not just for nostalgia’s sake. Upon receiving a visit from a young filmmaker planning to produce a movie about the dramatic and devastating events that eventually befell this renowned family, Grace begins to relive her past and experience her own role in the harrowing affairs that unfolded, tearing open a wound and exacerbating a guilt she has carried her entire life.

These calamitous events began with the apparent suicide of a young poet at Riverton Manor during a summer party in 1924. According to newspapers and official records, the only witnesses were sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, who never spoke to each other again, and the family was seemingly cursed with several additional misfortunes thereafter. What the official records don’t show, however, is that there was a third witness and much more to the story than the public eye will ever know. As Grace tells some of her story to the filmmaker, the biggest secrets of all are only revealed in recordings she makes for her grandson, Marcus, as both grandmother and grandson carry guilt of a tragedy in their lives in which they feel at fault, despite truly extenuating circumstances.

One of the things I love most about Kate Morton’s novels are the ways in which she creates authentically complex characters who display such genuine portrayals of the human condition. While I have read several books with phenomenal character development in the past, Morton does so in such a masterful and poignant way I feel no other author does; this is especially true when considering the innocuous ways in which tragedy strikes in her novels. These tragedies truly create a haunting aura in which characters live with scars and guilt, but also often come full-circle when their struggles are used to help others get through similar hurdles, which often span generations. I also absolutely love the ways in which Morton effortlessly and seamlessly moves back-and-forth in time within her storylines.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well-developed fiction with rich, complex character development; historical ties, especially to WWI and the English aristocracy; and a suspenseful, haunting storyline that will leave you guessing until the very last page!

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eBook

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“Books and ideas are like blood; they need to circulate, and they keep us alive.”

One of my absolute favorite genres to read is historical fiction, but this particular book hits the jackpot because it is also about libraries and the amazing people who work in them! Just published in February, The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles, weaves together two primary narratives spanning across time and place to create a beautiful and haunting story about the strength of friendship, family, and libraries in the face of betrayal, loss, and war.

This story begins in 1939 France with the narrative of Odile Souchet, a fresh graduate of library school who interviews for a librarianship position at the American Library in Paris (ALP). She quickly finds herself at home in the stacks and among several new friends, including fellow librarians, devoted library subscribers, a volunteer who quickly becomes her best friend, and a police officer who becomes her beloved beau. Before long, however, Odile loses a part of herself as her twin brother, Remy, goes off to war and everything she loves, including the library, is endangered.

The second central narrative takes place in 1980s Montana through the eyes of a young teenager named Lily. After the death of her mother and her father’s eventual remarriage, Lily finds herself both lost and trapped in a small rural town she desperately wishes to escape. She eventually finds a sense of liberation in the friendship she develops with her elderly neighbor, who teaches her French, shares her love of literature and books, and essentially becomes a second mother during some of her darkest moments. Before long, Lily becomes curious about her neighbor’s past, as all she (and the rest of the town) knows is her status as a widowed war bride who left her entire life behind in Paris to come to Montana with her husband after the war. Despite the difference in age and background, these two characters have more in common than meets the eye and share a kinship of love and understanding that truly stands the test of time.

Overall, this novel is a heart-wrenching and tragic, albeit beautiful, story filled with memorable characters who are tested by unimaginable hardships. I reveled in the development of several characters, especially since I felt I was able to connect with their complex and flawed personas. While you learn the fate of many of these individuals, I definitely found myself wanting more information on others! I also really enjoyed Charles’s writing style – in addition to writing beautifully, it is obvious how much research she did in the creation of this book by the way she is able to truly whisk you away to another time and place as you read.

While I definitely loved the fictional aspects of this novel, I was delighted to learn that several librarians in the story, along with their remarkable and heroic actions, were based on real individuals. Despite the dangers and risks war posed to both the people and resources of the library, the ALP stayed open to subscribers, maintained a service in which they delivered around 100,000 books to soldiers fighting overseas, and risked their own lives to deliver books to Jewish subscribers who had been barred from entering the library. Charles first learned about this incredible history upon becoming the programs manager at the ALP and, feeling wholly inspired, decided to delve deeper into the history by writing this book. The result? An ode to the truly incredible and impactful roles libraries will always have in our society.

All in all, I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who loves libraries and books, remarkable character development, and experiencing the strength and resiliency of the human race, especially through relationships formed with others.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

“The things we fear the most are often the things we should fear the least. It’s irrational, but it’s what makes us human. And if we’re able to conquer those fears, then there is nothing we’re not capable of.”

If you are looking for a whimsical and darling story to whisk you away from reality for a bit, you need not look any further than The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune. One of the most popular fantasy titles of the past year, this book invites readers to indulge in moments of introspection about living life to the fullest while remaining light, fun, and magical. Intrigued? Without further ado, let me tell you more about this exquisite book that is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year thus far!

This story begins with Linus Baker, a middle-aged man who lives a very solitary life in a world with magical beings. A caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), he works to ensure that orphanages under the jurisdiction of the government are up to code and treating their young wards well. A strict follower of the rules, Linus never allows himself to form attachments with the magical children he visits; nor does he question the state of their well-being after he leaves. Although with good intentions and a kind heart, Linus naïvely and passively wades through life doing and believing everything he is told. This also carries over into what he tells himself, as he believes his life – complete with his verbally abusive coworkers and boss, his daily walks home in the rain without an umbrella, and listening to the same music at home each night alone with his cat – is as good as life is meant to be for him.

That is, until Linus receives a special assignment from Extremely Upper Management. Due to his impeccable attention to detail and impressive impartiality to magical orphans, Linus is selected for a month-long, confidential assignment in which he must observe six exceptional children, as well as their master, at an orphanage on an island no one knows about. What Linus also doesn’t know, however, is just how exceptional these children are. Despite his lack of comfort with the assignment, he is given no choice and leaves for this island the very next day. What unfurls at the orphanage after he arrives is the beautiful, comedic, and heartwarming story of how six magical children – a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, a were-Pomeranian, an unidentifiable green blob, and the Antichrist, to be exact – as well as their master, completely change Linus’s life forever.

Overall, this story pulls at your heartstrings and is truly innocent at its core. I wish I could meet all of the children – they are the sweetest, funniest, and most resilient set of characters, despite all of the challenges each has faced due to the prejudices hurled at them for having a magical background. One of the strongest tropes in this story (and also a favorite of the author himself) is that of the “found family,” or characters bound as a family not by blood, but by pure unconditional love for one another. Not only is this trope strong with the bonds shared between the children, all of whom come from different backgrounds, places, and lives, but also for Linus, as he develops relationships and finds love he never knew he needed or deserved. This story also features a beautiful, “slow-burn” romance between Linus and Arthur, the master of the orphanage, as Klune aspires to include positive LGBTQ+ representation in his stories. This book truly epitomizes how sometimes you can find love when you aren’t even looking for it.

It is also clear that some of the struggles faced by the magical beings in this story are also faced by people who are marginalized in our society today. With thoughtful and profound quotes from Linus, Arthur, and the children regarding the ways in which to make the world a kinder place, this story exudes empathy, love, and kindness toward those who are different. It urges characters and readers alike to choose love over hate, empathy and an open mind over prejudice, and understanding over fear. This message of unconditional kindness and love for others was absolutely my favorite part of this book, as it allows for the hopeful and optimistic vision of a future in which love does conquer hate.

All in all, I would highly, highly recommend this to anyone who is up for a book that will leave you laughing, thoughtful, teary-eyed, and in love with a family that finds itself together in the cerulean sea.

This title is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eBook

This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism by Don Lemon

“We can be simultaneously fearless about our future and truthful about our past. We can be equally conscious of our country’s failings and proud of our country’s progress. The very essence of progress is to build a bridge that takes us from here to there, but what good is progress without healing?”

This exceptional quote was one of many that resonated with me upon finishing Don Lemon’s recent publication, This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism. As the only Black prime-time anchor in America, Lemon wields his unique position and extensive journalistic experience to provide insightful, moving, and passionate calls for racial justice in this impressive and timely title. Lemon also incorporates his personal experiences and narrative into the text, lending this book a rich and personal dimension to impress the significance and urgency of its content.

Beginning with a letter he wrote for one of his black nephews, Lemon relates the tragic injustice of George Floyd’s murder, the overall injustice of racial inequities in the very roots of America’s foundation, and the fact that silence is no longer an option. He also identifies the cyclical process of America reacting to such instances of racial injustice: Weeping. Rage. Blame. Promises. Complacency. Finally, he expresses to his nephew his deep fear of what will come next if the world grows numb to racial injustice, leaving those oppressed with only a “wax-museum visage of complacency.”

After this striking letter, Lemon delves into his reporting and personal experience to identify several major areas of racial injustice through seven primary chapters. These subjects range from highly-discussed issues, such as police brutality and the removal of monuments, to perhaps lesser-known topics and histories, such as the intentional subjugation of Black Americans throughout this country’s history, the connections between racial injustice and the economy, and how change is actually supposed to happen. One uniquely interesting facet of this book is how Lemon draws parallels between these subjects and the history of racial injustice in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not far from where he grew up. One such instance of this was his explanation of the 1811 German Coast Uprising, the largest slave revolt in American history; I had never heard of this major historical happening before reading this book.

In retrospect, one of the most moving moments in this title is learning alongside Lemon himself that he is the descendant of a white plantation owner and a black-owned slave. Upon further research, evidence suggests his great grandfather tried to sincerely do right by his wife and child. Rather than feel resentment or shame about his heritage, Lemon feels that he embodies “both the struggle for survival and the hope of reconciliation” and that this is what ultimately makes all of us American. After reading several books with a focus on social injustices experienced in this country, I am absolutely inspired and in awe of the hope, optimism, and compassion held by marginalized and oppressed groups of people in the United States, such as Lemon.

In addition to reading this title, I also had the opportunity to watch a recording of the keynote speech Lemon presented at this past year’s Library Journal Winter Summit, in which he discusses how this book was a response to friends, family, acquaintances, and even viewers asking him how they can start and engage in conversations about race. An ode to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Lemon additionally felt compelled to write this book because of his unique and far-reaching platform, hoping this work could help facilitate these conversations and provide both adults and children with the language needed for these dialogues.

Overall, this book is another key title I would recommend if you are looking to dip your toes in anti-racist literature. In addition to being an accessible length of fewer than 300 pages, Lemon also cites a myriad of additional resources to help readers continue their education and research into topics of racial injustice.

*On this topic of racial justice, I also wanted to share a new resource recently added to the Davenport Public Library website for those interested in finding more books about social justice. Titled “Social Justice Reads,” this guide features new and notable titles in our collection for many types of social justice issues, such as racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights. This guide will be continually updated to showcase and reflect the newest titles regarding social justice added to our collection. You can access the guide here.*

New True Crime Titles

Looking for a new true crime book to read? Here are some titles that hit the shelves in January, February, and March. If any of these titles interest you, you can use the links below to place a hold in our catalog, or you can always give us a call to put one on hold for you. The following descriptions were provided by the publisher.

At Any Cost: A Father’s Betrayal, a Wife’s Murder, and a Ten-year War for Justice by Rebecca Rosenberg

At Any Cost unravels the twisted story of Rod Covlin, whose unrepentant greed drove him to an unspeakable act of murder and betrayal that rocked New York City.

Wealthy, beautiful, and brilliant, Shele Danishefsky had fulfillment at her fingertips. Having conquered Wall Street, she was eager to build a family with her much younger husband, promising Ivy League graduate Rod Covlin. But when his hidden vices surfaced, marital harmony gave way to a merciless divorce. Rod had long depended on Shele’s income to fund his tastes for high stakes backgammon and infidelity–and she finally vowed to sever him from her will. In late December 2009, Shele made an appointment with her lawyer to block him from her millions. She would never make it to that meeting.

Two days later, on New Year’s Eve, Shele was found dead in the bathtub of her Upper West Side apartment. Police ruled it an accident, and Shele’s deeply Orthodox Jewish family quickly buried her without an autopsy on religious grounds. Rod had a clear path to his ex-wife’s fortune, but suspicions about her death lingered. As the two families warred over custody of Shele’s children—and their inheritance— Rod concocted a series of increasingly demented schemes, even plotting to kill his own parents, to secure the treasure. And as investigators closed in, Rod committed a final, desperate act to frame his own daughter for her mother’s death.

Journalists Rebecca Rosenberg and Selim Algar reconstruct the ten years that passed between the day Shele was found dead and the day her killer faced justice in this riveting account of how one man’s irrepressible greed devolved into obsession, manipulation, and murder.

The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan

A chilling true story—part memoir, part crime investigation—reminiscent of Ann Rule’s classic The Stranger Beside Me, about a little girl longing for love and how she found friendship with her charismatic babysitter—who was also a vicious serial killer.

 Growing up on Cape Cod in the 1960s, Liza Rodman was a lonely little girl. During the summers, while her mother worked days in a local motel and danced most nights in the Provincetown bars, her babysitter—the kind, handsome handyman at the motel where her mother worked—took her and her sister on adventures in his truck. He bought them popsicles and together, they visited his “secret garden” in the Truro woods. To Liza, he was one of the few kind and understanding adults in her life. Everyone thought he was just a “great guy.”

But there was one thing she didn’t know; their babysitter was a serial killer.

Some of his victims were buried—in pieces—right there, in his garden in the woods. Though Tony Costa’s gruesome case made screaming headlines in 1969 and beyond, Liza never made the connection between her friendly babysitter and the infamous killer of numerous women, including four in Massachusetts, until decades later.

Haunted by nightmares and horrified by what she learned, Liza became obsessed with the case. Now, she and cowriter Jennifer Jordan reveal the chilling and unforgettable true story of a charming but brutal psychopath through the eyes of a young girl who once called him her friend.

Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels by Ioan Grillo

From the author of El Narco, a searing investigation into the enormous black market for firearms, essential to cartels and gangs in the drug trade and contributing to the epidemic of mass shootings.

The gun control debate is revived with every mass shooting. But far more people die from gun deaths on the street corners of inner city America and across the border as Mexico’s powerful cartels battle to control the drug trade. Guns and drugs aren’t often connected in our heated discussions of gun control-but they should be. In Ioan Grillo’s groundbreaking new work of investigative journalism, he shows us this connection by following the market for guns in the Americas and how it has made the continent the most murderous on earth.

Grillo travels to gun manufacturers, strolls the aisles of gun shows and gun shops, talks to FBI agents who have infiltrated biker gangs, hangs out on Baltimore street corners, and visits the ATF gun tracing center in West Virginia. Along the way, he details the many ways that legal guns can cross over into the black market and into the hands of criminals, fueling violence here and south of the border. Simple legislative measures would help close these loopholes, but America’s powerful gun lobby is uncompromising in its defense of the hallowed Second Amendment. Perhaps, however, if guns were seen not as symbols of freedom, but as key accessories in our epidemics of addiction, the conversation would shift. Blood Gun Money is that conversation shifter.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale

Internationally bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author Kate Summerscale follows a ghost hunter in 1938 London in a case that illuminates changing social attitudes toward psychoanalysis, sexuality, and the supernatural

London, 1938. In the suburbs of the city, a young housewife has become the eye in a storm of chaos. In Alma Fielding’s modest home, china flies off the shelves and eggs fly through the air; stolen jewellery appears on her fingers, white mice crawl out of her handbag, beetles appear from under her gloves; in the middle of a car journey, a turtle materializes on her lap. The culprit is incorporeal. As Alma cannot call the police, she calls the papers instead.

After the sensational story headlines the news, Nandor Fodor, a Hungarian ghost hunter for the International Institute for Psychical Research, arrives to investigate the poltergeist. But when he embarks on his scrupulous investigation, he discovers that the case is even stranger than it seems.

By unravelling Alma’s peculiar history, Fodor finds a different and darker type of haunting, a tale of trauma, alienation, loss and revenge. He comes to believe that Alma’s past has bled into her present, her mind into her body. There are no words for processing her experience, so it comes to possess her. As the threat of a world war looms, and as Fodor’s obsession with the case deepens, Alma becomes ever more disturbed.

With characteristic rigor and insight, Kate Summerscale brilliantly captures the rich atmosphere of a haunting that transforms into a very modern battle between the supernatural and the subconscious.

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

The gripping true story, told here for the first time, of the Last Call Killer and the gay community of New York City that he preyed upon.

The Townhouse Bar, midtown, July 1992: The piano player seems to know every song ever written, the crowd belts out the lyrics to their favorites, and a man standing nearby is drinking a Scotch and water. The man strikes the piano player as forgettable.

He looks bland and inconspicuous. Not at all what you think a serial killer looks like. But that’s what he is, and tonight, he has his sights set on a gray haired man. He will not be his first victim.

Nor will he be his last.

The Last Call Killer preyed upon gay men in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s and had all the hallmarks of the most notorious serial killers. Yet because of the sexuality of his victims, the skyhigh murder rates, and the AIDS epidemic, his murders have been almost entirely forgotten.

This gripping true-crime narrative tells the story of the Last Call Killer and the decades-long chase to find him. And at the same time, it paints a portrait of his victims and a vibrant community navigating threat and resilience.

Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, A Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice by Ellen McGarrahan

In 1990, Ellen McGarrahan was a young reporter for the Miami Herald when she covered the execution of Jesse Tafero, a man convicted of murdering two police officers. When it later emerged that Tafero may have been innocent, McGarrahan was appalled by her unquestioning acceptance of the state’s version of events. The revelation propelled her into a new career as a private investigator.

Decades later, McGarrahan finally decides to find out the truth of what really happened in Florida. Her investigation plunges her back into the Miami of the 1960s and 1970s, a dangerous world of nightclubs, speed boats, and cartels, all awash in violence. She combs through stacks of court files and interviews everyone involved in the case. But even as McGarrahan circles closer to the truth, the story of guilt and innocence becomes more complex, and she gradually discovers that she hasn’t been alone in her need for closure. Because whenever a human life is forcibly taken—by bullet, or by electric chair—the reckoning is long and difficult for all.

A fascinating glimpse into the mind of a private investigator, Two Truths and a Lie is ultimately a deeply personal exploration of one woman’s quest to find answers in a chaotic world.

We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper

You have to remember, he reminded me, that Harvard is older than the U.S. government. You have to remember because Harvard doesn’t let you forget.

1969: the height of counterculture and the year universities would seek to curb the unruly spectacle of student protest; the winter that Harvard University would begin the tumultuous process of merging with Radcliffe, its all-female sister school; and the year that Jane Britton, an ambitious twenty-three-year-old graduate student in Harvard’s Anthropology Department and daughter of Radcliffe Vice President J. Boyd Britton, would be found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment.

 Forty years later, Becky Cooper a curious undergrad, will hear the first whispers of the story. In the first telling the body was nameless. The story was this: a Harvard student had had an affair with her professor, and the professor had murdered her in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology because she’d threatened to talk about the affair. Though the rumor proves false, the story that unfolds, one that Cooper will follow for ten years, is even more complex: a tale of gender inequality in academia, a ‘cowboy culture’ among empowered male elites, the silencing effect of institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims.

 We Keep the Dead Close is a memoir of mirrors, misogyny, and murder. It is at once a rumination on the violence and oppression that rules our revered institutions, a ghost story reflecting one young woman’s past onto another’s present, and a love story for a girl who was lost to history.

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption by Justin Fenton

Baltimore, 2015. Riots were erupting across the city as citizens demanded justice for Freddie Gray, a twenty-five-year old black man who had died while in police custody. At the same time, drug and violent crime were surging, and that year, Baltimore would reach its deadliest year in over two decades: 342 homicides in a city of six hundred thousand people. Under intense scrutiny–and a federal investigation over Gray’s death–the Baltimore police department turned to a rank-and-file hero, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, and his elite unit, the Gun Trace Task Force, to help get guns and drugs off the street.

And yet, despite intense scrutiny, what The New York Times would call “one of the most startling police corruption scandals in a generation” was unfolding. Entrusted with fixing the city’s drug crisis, Jenkins and his posse of corrupt cops were instead stealing from its citizens–skimming from the drug busts they made, pocketing thousands in cash found in private homes, and planting fake evidence to throw Internal Affairs off their scent. Their brazen crime spree would go unchecked for years, and would result in countless wrongful convictions, the death of an innocent person–and the mysterious death of one cop who was shot in the head the day before he was scheduled to testify against the Force.

Award-winning investigative journalist Justin Fenton has been relentlessly exposing the scandal since 2017, conducting hundreds of interviews and poring over thousands of court documents. The result is an astounding feat of reportage about a rogue police unit, and the American city they held hostage.

The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough Art Heist by Anthony M. Amore

The extraordinary life and crimes of heiress-turned-revolutionary Rose Dugdale, who in 1974 became the only woman to pull off a major art heist.

In the world of crime, there exists an unusual commonality between those who steal art and those who repeatedly kill: they are almost exclusively male. But, as with all things, there is always an outlier – someone who bucks the trend, defying the reliable profiles and leaving investigators and researchers scratching their heads. In the history of major art heists, that outlier is Rose Dugdale.

Dugdale’s life is singularly notorious. Born into extreme wealth, she abandoned her life as an Oxford-trained PhD and heiress to join the cause of Irish Republicanism. While on the surface she appears to be the British version of Patricia Hearst, she is anything but.

Dugdale ran head-first towards the action, spearheading the first aerial terrorist attack in British history and pulling off the biggest art theft of her time. In 1974, she led a gang into the opulent Russborough House in Ireland and made off with millions in prized paintings, including works by Goya, Gainsborough, and Rubens, as well as Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid by the mysterious master Johannes Vermeer. Dugdale thus became – to this day – the only woman to pull off a major art heist. And as Anthony Amore explores in The Woman Who Stole Vermeer, it’s likely that this was not her only such heist.

The Woman Who Stole Vermeer is Rose Dugdale’s story, from her idyllic upbringing in Devonshire and her presentation to Elizabeth II as a debutante to her university years and her eventual radical lifestyle. Her life of crime and activism is at turns unbelievable and awe-inspiring, and sure to engross readers.

Nutrition & Wellness Titles

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, one aspiring ambition I’ve had is to become a healthier person, both physically and mentally. One aspect of this ambition has been learning more about nutrition and how to eat healthier. With this in mind, I would like to share and recommend a few books I have recently read about food and nutrition, as well as highlight some similar titles in our library collection.

How to Eat: All Your Food and Diet Questions Answered by Mark Bittman & David L. Katz (2020)

Written in a Q&A format, this book essentially reads as a conversation between renowned food writer Mark Bittman and physician and health expert David L. Katz as they answer a myriad of health questions pertaining to food and nutrition. A sampling of these questions include the following:

  • Why do I crave salty foods?
  • Which is better, diet soda or the real thing?
  • Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
  • What is the microbiome?

This title is primarily broken down into sections detailing specific diets, such as the Mediterranean, Paleo, Keto, and Whole30 diets; dietary patterns and lifestyle; foods and ingredients; and basics about nutrition. While it was interesting to learn about several popular diets, one key takeaway for me was simply how they defined “diets” themselves: a lifestyle, or a dietary pattern that can be maintained in the long term. I admit, whenever I think of “dieting,” I think of a food regimen to engage in for a limited period of time to achieve a certain result before reverting back to “normal” eating habits, so this definition definitely provided a helpful perspective.

In addition to detailed information about diets and dietary patterns, Bittman and Katz also dive into information about several types of foods, as well as how their nutrients affect your body and overall health. An enlightening aspect of these sections for me was the authors’ framework of considering the “forest for the trees” when thinking about the impact of eating any given food, or acknowledging the food as a whole rather than obsessing over each and every nutrient within it. I personally tend to get stuck in the weeds when reading nutrition labels and, while it is still important to know what exactly is in your food, Bittman and Katz emphasize appreciating the overall benefits of the whole food as you work to improve your diet.

While I found that a little bit of background knowledge was needed at times during this read, I learned so much from this book and essentially read it in one sitting. I would highly recommend this for anyone looking to dip their toes into information about general food and nutrition.

How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet by Sophie Egan (2020)

Filled with a plethora of information and interspersed with colorful graphics and images, this title considers ways in which we can make more conscious food choices in our lives. Sophie Egan, a renowned food and health journalist, as well as the former Director of Health and Sustainability Leadership at The Culinary Institute of America, contends there are three questions we should ask ourselves when making decisions about food:

  • Is it good for you?
  • Is it good for others?
  • Is it good for the planet?

These questions are asked throughout the entire book as Egan dives into four main areas of “stuff” to consider: stuff that comes from the ground, stuff that comes from animals, stuff that comes from factories, and stuff made in restaurant kitchens. Within each of these sections are several short, accessible chapters designed to help readers consciously make healthier choices, especially for the next time you go to the grocery store.

One aspect of this title separating it from the others in this post is Egan’s deep dive into the background, context, and processing of food. While this isn’t the first time I have tried to consciously eat healthier in my life, this is admittedly the first time I have truly stopped to consider the process of how the food on my plate gets there. These considerations span from water and carbon footprints; to animal, environmental, and social welfare; to the larger impact current practices have on our planet, especially those contributing to global warming. Not only was I enlightened by this knowledge, but also disheartened and disturbed by the ways in which the food industry works.

Overall, this is a solid read if you are looking for not only ways to eat healthier, but also to learn more about the bigger picture when it comes to food practices. I would also recommend this to anyone interested in the overall intersection of food, health, and climate in today’s world.

How to Be Well: The 6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life by Frank Lipman (2018)

While this title also includes information about nutrition and how to adopt healthier dietary patterns, bestselling author and doctor Frank Lipman takes a more holistic approach to wellness in general, encouraging the consideration of six “rings” to achieve a happier and healthier life: how to eat, sleep, move, protect, unwind, and connect. This approach, termed by Lipman as the Good Medicine Mandala, essentially puts you at the center of these rings and considers how changes made in each of these rings can, in turn, create healthier changes in other areas of your life. Divided into six primary sections devoted to these topics, Lipman presents practical ways in which we can improve the ways we eat, sleep, move, protect, unwind, and connect with easy-to-digest scientific background information.

While this book may not be as comprehensive on nutritional topics as the former two titles, it isn’t really meant to be; I would argue this is a major perk of the book! By engaging in the six different rings, Lipman introduces a diverse spectrum of topics beyond just nutrition, ultimately giving readers multifaceted options to improve their overall health. (On this note, it is important to mention that readers do not need to read this book all the way through or in order to benefit from its content.) There is also a really neat shorthand section at the end of the book noting and cross-referencing content in the text about what you can do to help yourself in certain scenarios, such as when you are frequently overwhelmed and anxious, always tired, or want to lose weight.

One overarching takeaway from this book for me was considering Lipman’s multiple metaphors for how the rings essentially work together to create healthy change. He illustrates the integration of the rings in three ways: (1) as an archery target, in which you practice your aim and allow your arrows to touch the rings you most wish to improve upon; (2) as the rings of a tree trunk, in which the rings form and evolve as it grows; and (3) as a ripple on a pond that spreads from a single pebble, in which one change you make will impact all of the other aspects of your life in a healthy way. In all of these scenarios, Lipman depicts how one small change today can lead to larger and more significant changes for your life tomorrow. So what better time to start getting healthy than today?

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a more holistic way to tackle wellness (rather than exclusively focusing on nutrition), or for anyone who is looking for a blueprint of small actions to engage in to start their journey to wellness.

Read-Alikes available at the Davenport Public Library

If you enjoy any or all of these titles, here are some other similar reads in our collection that may interest you!

Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal by Mark Bittman (2021)

Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? by Mark Hyman (2018)

Food Fix: How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities, and Our Planet – One Bite at a Time by Mark Hyman (2020)

Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life by Max Lugavere (2018)

How We Eat With Our Eyes and Think With Our Stomach: The Hidden Influences that Shape Your Eating Habits by Melanie Muhl & Diana Von Kopp (2017)