New Religion Titles at Main

Looking for a new religious title to read? Here are some books that hit the shelves at our Main Downtown Branch in December, January, and February. 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.

Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists by Chenxing Han

A must-read for modern sanghas–Asian American Buddhists in their own words, on their own terms.

Despite the fact that two thirds of U.S. Buddhists identify as Asian American, mainstream perceptions about what it means to be Buddhist in America often whitewash and invisibilize the diverse, inclusive, and intersectional communities that lie at the heart of American Buddhism.

Be the Refuge is both critique and celebration, calling out the erasure of Asian American Buddhists while uplifting the complexity and nuance of their authentic stories and vital, thriving communities. Drawn from in-depth interviews with a pan-ethnic, pan-Buddhist group, Be the Refuge is the first book to center young Asian American Buddhists’ own voices. With insights from multi-generational, second-generation, convert, and socially engaged Asian American Buddhists, Be the Refuge includes the stories of trailblazers, bridge-builders, integrators, and refuge-makers who hail from a wide range of cultural and religious backgrounds.

Championing nuanced representation over stale stereotypes, Han and the 89 interviewees in Be the Refuge push back against false narratives like the Oriental monk, the superstitious immigrant, and the banana Buddhist–typecasting that collapses the multivocality of Asian American Buddhists into tired, essentialized tropes. Encouraging frank conversations about race, representation, and inclusivity among Buddhists of all backgrounds, Be the Refuge embodies the spirit of interconnection that glows at the heart of American Buddhism.

Black & Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation & Freedom by Pamela Ayo Yetunde

Leading African American Buddhist teachers offer lessons on racism, resilience, spiritual freedom, and the possibility of a truly representative American Buddhism. With contributions by Acharya Gaylon Ferguson, Cheryl A. Giles, Gyōzan Royce Andrew Johnson, Ruth King, Kamilah Majied, Lama Rod Owens, Lama Dawa Tarchin Phillips, Sebene Selassie, and Pamela Ayo Yetunde.

What does it mean to be Black and Buddhist? In this powerful collection of writings, African American teachers from all the major Buddhist traditions tell their stories of how race and Buddhist practice have intersected in their lives. The resulting explorations display not only the promise of Buddhist teachings to empower those facing racial discrimination but also the way that Black Buddhist voices are enriching the Dharma for all practitioners. As the first anthology comprised solely of writings by African-descended Buddhist practitioners, this book is an important contribution to the development of the Dharma in the West.

The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other by Charlotte Donlon

Loneliness has reached epidemic proportions, according to many sources. In an age of mobility and fraying civic life, we are all susceptible to its power. But what if loneliness is a necessary part of the human condition? What if it is a current that leads us deeper into belonging–to ourselves, to each other, and to God?

In The Great Belonging, writer and spiritual director Charlotte Donlon reframes loneliness and offers us a language for the disquiet within. Instead of turning away from the waters of loneliness for fear they will engulf us, she invites us to wade in and see what we find there. In vulnerable, thoughtful prose, Donlon helps us understand our own occasional or frequent loneliness and offers touchpoints for understanding alienation. We can live into the persistent questions of loneliness. We can notice God’s presence even when we feel alone in our doubts. Ultimately, Donlon claims, we can find connection that emerges from honesty, and she offers tools, resources, and practices for transforming loneliness into true belonging.

This Hallelujah Banquet: How the End of What We Were Reveals Who We Can Be by Eugene H. Peterson

In this powerful new interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the late, revered author and translator of The Message Bible shows us how to live with profound joy and faithfulness–even when it feels like the end of the world.

When John the Beloved Disciple penned the Book of Revelation, Christians lived in a time of oppression, violence, deception, and injustice. There were temptations from outside the church and divisions within. Some days, it felt like the end of the world.

Two millennia later, the characters are different, but the story’s the same. The life of faith is anything but easy. So how can we learn to live with truth and power when challenges seem to be everywhere?

Through the dramatic symbolism of John’s Letters to the Seven Churches, Eugene Peterson encourages us to see ourselves in these ancient communities as they are examined by the Risen Christ. As we do, we’re forced to ask: What if the troubles that face us were intended to test our faith? What if the secret to deeper satisfaction in Jesus did not mean avoiding pain and trial, but living faithfully through it?

In this powerful, never-before-published work, we are given a new and timely message from one of our most iconic Christian voices. Our anxious longings for peace and joy will be met as we learn to live with overcoming faith, even in the most turbulent times.

My Heart Sutra: A World in 260 Characters by Frederik Schodt 

A cultural and personal journey into the famous sutra that teaches “form is emptiness; and emptiness is form.”

The Heart Sutra is the most widely read, chanted, and copied text in East Asian Buddhism. Here Frederik L. Schodt explores his lifelong fascination with the sutra: its mesmerizing mantra, its ancient history, the “emptiness theory, and the way it is used around the world as a metaphysical tool to overcome chaos and confusion and reach a new understanding of reality–a perfection of wisdom. Schodt’s journey takes him to caves in China, American beats declaiming poetry, speculations into the sutra’s true origins, and even a robot Avalokitesvara at a Kyoto temple.

The Second Happy: Seven Practices to Make Your Marriage Better than Your Honeymoon by Kevin Myers

What is the secret to a healthy, happy, fulfilling marriage?

Nearly every marriage starts out happy, and if we’re honest, nearly every marriage at some point becomes unhappy. Is there a solution? Can an unhappy marriage really get back to being happy? Can it be truly and authentically happy–even better than it was at first? Kevin and Marcia Myers, married for thirty-seven years through nearly every challenge a couple can face, emphatically say yes.

Revealing seven practices that offer help and hope for a happy and enduring marriage, The Second Happy is a captivating, practical resource that provides the tools necessary to tune-up, overhaul, or even rebuild your marriage. Practices to sustain and strengthen marriage include the following:

  • breaking the quit cycle;
  • picking a fair fight so both people win;
  • keeping disagreements from escalating; and 
  • removing pretense from your relationship.

Rooted in Scripture and contemporary insights from the Myers’ marriage, as well as real stories from other couples, this revelatory book shows how any marriage can regain depth, meaning and, yes, happiness.

New Religion Titles at Fairmount

Looking for a new religious title to read? Here are some books that hit the shelves at our Fairmount Branch 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.

The Night Lake: A Young Priest Maps the Topography of Grief by Liz Tichenor

Called “such a sad, tough story, but finally so life-affirming, filled with spirit and love” by Anne Lamott, this is a raw and intensely affecting memoir by a young priest about loss of a child, its grief and its aftermath, and the hard-won joy that can follow.

Liz Tichenor has taken her newborn son, five weeks old, to the doctor, from a cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe. She is sent home to her husband and two-year-old daughter with the baby, who is pronounced “fine” by an urgent care physician. Six hours later, the baby dies in their bed. Less than a year and a half before, Tichenor’s mother jumped from a building and killed herself after a long struggle with alcoholism. As a very young Episcopal priest, Tichenor has to “preach the Good News,” to find faith where there is no hope, but she realizes these terrible parts of her own life will join her in the pulpit.

The Night Lake is the story of finding a way forward through tragedies that seem like they might be beyond surviving and of learning to carve out space for the slow labor of learning to live again, in grief.

They Turned the World Upside Down: A Storyteller’s Journey with Those Who Dared to Follow Jesus by Charles Martin

Walk in the shoes of the disciples, as New York Times bestselling author Charles Martin brings their stories to life with his storyteller’s perspective. 

In the first century, believer didn’t just mean someone who heard and agreed with Jesus; it meant someone who acted on that belief. And when the outside world saw the faith of these new believers, they declared “they turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

That’s the kind of believer Charles Martin wants us to be. The kind who understands that the truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is so powerful, it reshaped history. The kind of believer who lives with that same world-changing faith today. 

In his second non-fiction work, he uses his talents as a novelist to walk you through the lives of the disciples in the aftermath of the Resurrection and as they spread the message of the Gospel and “turn the world upside down”, leading up to Paul’s ministry in Thessonalica. In his beloved lyrical style, Martin illuminates key moments from Scripture and shares stories from his own life as a disciple.

With the same depth, sensitivity, and emotion that have made his novels beloved to millions, Martin will helps you engage with your faith in a new and inspiring way.

A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal by Sarah Bessey

For the weary, the angry, the anxious, and the hopeful, this collection of moving, tender prayers offers rest, joyful resistance, and a call to act, written by Barbara Brown Taylor, Amena Brown, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and other artists and thinkers, curated by the author Glennon Doyle calls “my favorite faith writer.”

It’s no secret that we are overworked, overpressured, and edging burnout. Unsurprisingly, this fact is as old as time—and that’s why we see so many prayer circles within a multitude of church traditions. These gatherings are a trusted space where people seek help, hope, and peace, energized by God and one another. This book, curated by acclaimed author Sarah Bessey, celebrates and honors that prayerful tradition in a literary form. A companion for all who feel the immense joys and challenges of the journey of faith, this collection of prayers says it all aloud, giving readers permission to recognize the weight of all they carry. These writings also offer a broadened imagination of hope—of what can be restored and made new. Each prayer is an original piece of writing, with new essays by Sarah Bessey throughout.

Encompassing the full breadth of the emotional landscape, these deeply tender yet subversive prayers give readers an intimate look at the diverse language and shapes of prayer.

Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone by James Martin

One of America’s most beloved spiritual leaders and the New York Times bestselling author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and Jesus: A Pilgrimage teaches anyone to converse with God in this comprehensive guide to prayer.

In The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Father James Martin included a chapter on communicating with God. Now, he expands those thoughts in this profound and practical handbook. Learning to Pray explains what prayer is, what to expect from praying, how to do it, and how it can transform us when we make it a regular practice in our lives.

A trusted guide walking beside us as we navigate our unique spiritual paths, Martin lays out the different styles and traditions of prayer throughout Christian history and invites us to experiment and discover which works best to feed our soul and build intimacy with our Creator. Father Martin makes clear there is not one secret formula for praying. But like any relationship, each person can discover the best style for building an intimate relationship with God, regardless of religion or denomination. Prayer, he teaches us, is open and accessible to anyone willing to open their heart.

The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

From the New York Times-bestselling author of Stony the Road and one of our most important voices on the African-American experience, a powerful new history of the Black church in America as the Black community’s abiding rock and its fortress.

For the young Henry Louis Gates, Jr., growing up in a small, segregated West Virginia town, the church was his family and his community’s true center of gravity. Within those walls, voices were lifted up in song to call forth the best in each other, and to comfort each other when times were at their worst. In this book, his tender and magisterial reckoning with the meaning of the Black church in American history, Gates takes us from his own experience onto a journey across more than four hundred years and spanning the entire country. At road’s end, we emerge with a new understanding of the centrality of the Black church to the American story–as a cultural and political force, as the center of resistance to slavery and white supremacy, as an unparalleled incubator of talent, and as a crucible for working through the community’s most important issues, down to today.

In a country that has historically afforded its citizens from the African diaspora tragically few safe spaces, the Black church has always been more than a sanctuary; it’s been a place to nourish the deepest human needs and dreams of the African-American community. This fact was never lost on white supremacists: from the earliest days of slavery, when enslaved people were allowed to worship at all, their meeting houses were subject to surveillance, and often destruction. So it continued, long after slavery’s formal eradication; church burnings and church bombings by the Ku Klux Klan and others have always been a hallmark of the violent effort to suppress the struggle for equality for the African-American community. The past often isn’t even past–Dylann Roof committed his slaughter in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church 193 years after the church was first burned down by whites following a thwarted slave rebellion.

But as Gates brilliantly shows, the Black church has never been only one thing. Its story lies at the vital center of the civil rights movement, and produced many of its leaders, from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on, but at the same time there have always been churches and sects that eschewed a more activist stance, even eschewed worldly political engagement altogether. That tension can be felt all the way to the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of today. Still and all, as a source of strength and a force for change, the Black church is at the center of the action at every stage of the American story, as this enthralling history makes vividly clear.

Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter by Timothy Keller

The Resurrection accounts of Jesus in the Gospels are the most dramatic and impactful stories ever told. One similarity unites each testimony–that none of his most loyal and steadfast followers could “see” it was him, back from the dead. The reason for this is at the very foundation of the Christian faith.

She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. (John 20:14)

Hope in the Time of Fear is a book that unlocks the meaning of Jesus’s resurrection for readers. Easter is considered the most solemn and important holiday for Christians. It is a time of spiritual rebirth and a time of celebrating the physical rebirth of Jesus after three days in the tomb. For his devoted followers, nothing could prepare them for the moment they met the resurrected Jesus. Each failed to recognize him. All of them physically saw him and yet did not spiritually truly see him. It was only when Jesus reached out and invited them to see who he truly was that their eyes were open. Here the central message of the Christian faith is revealed in a way only Timothy Keller could do it–filled with unshakable belief, piercing insight, and a profound new way to look at a story you think you know. After reading this book, the true meaning of Easter will no longer be unseen.

Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living by Charles J. Chaput

With a balance of wisdom, candor, and scholarly rigor the beloved archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia takes on life’s central questions: why are we here, and how can we live and die meaningfully?

In Things Worth Dying For, Chaput delves richly into our yearning for God, love, honor, beauty, truth, and immortality. He reflects on our modern appetite for consumption and individualism and offers a penetrating analysis of how we got here, and how we can look to our roots and our faith to find purpose each day amid the noise of competing desires. Chaput examines the chronic questions of the human heart; the idols and false flags we create; and the nature of a life of authentic faith. He points to our longing to live and die with meaning as the key to our search for God, our loyalty to nation and kin, our conduct in war, and our service to others.

Ultimately, with compelling grace, he shows us that the things worth dying for reveal most powerfully the things worth living for.

Beauty in the Browns: Walking with Christ in the Darkness of Depression by Paul Asay

You can find beauty in life, even when your world is painted in bleak shades of brown.

Let’s face it, no one wants to be depressed. So if we’re prone to this disquieting malady, we try to hide it, to fake the smile that isn’t really there—especially if we’re Christians. Author Paul Asay knows all about that. He knows the ins and outs of depression from personal experience, and he wants to help you work your way out.

But don’t worry, this isn’t some simplistic how-to book, promising rainbows and unicorns in three easy steps. Paul knows “fixing” depression isn’t that easy. He gets the complexity of the darkness—but he also knows you can’t stay there. And he can’t stay there, either. In Beauty in the Browns, he’ll share what he’s learned about how to live with hope, with Christ—and not let the darkness win.

This book will make you laugh (really!), and it will make you cry in that good way when something touches you deep inside. Most of all, it will give you the hope and the certainty that you can go on, you can find life again—with the Lord by your side.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

As someone who doesn’t read a plethora of science fiction books, it has been a while since I have read anything like Christopher Paolini’s latest release, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. While I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book while browsing at the library, this title has been on my to-read list since it was announced due to my love of the Inheritance Cycle series, a fantasy tetralogy Paolini began writing at the age of fifteen. For anyone who has read Paolini or enjoys a good space opera, I assure you that this title will not disappoint!

Taking place in a future in which humans have established colonies on planets beyond Earth, this story revolves around Kira Navárez, a xenobiologist who studies new planets to gauge their habitability for human life and future societies. While Kira is truly passionate about studying and discovering new worlds, she and her fiancé, Alan, decide they want to begin a life of their own together in one of the established colonies. They plan to marry and settle down after their last mission on Adrasteia, an Earth-sized moon they had been surveying for a few months. Just before this mission ends, however, Kira stumbles upon an alien relic that quite literally transforms her life and world. Soon afterward, she finds herself in the middle of an intergalactic war in which she becomes humanity’s greatest hope for surviving in the face of a violent extraterrestrial species.

While this book is full of aliens and space travel and warfare, as well as a string of catastrophic events that never seems to end, this book was also full of introspection and camaraderie, capturing the true resiliency and depth of what it means to be human. I will admit that this book was intense – definitely more so than Eragon and the rest of the Inheritance Cycle series, but it truly was out of this world (pun fully intended!). It was both exhilarating and humbling to find myself lost among the stars alongside the unforgettable characters in this story. Another neat aspect of this novel was the obvious research Paolini did to familiarize himself with the scientific background of space travel and space itself. While some of the explanations went right over my head (physics class was a long time ago), it was still interesting and didn’t detract from the story at all.

Additionally, according to Paolini’s website, this book is the first of many in the Fractalverse series and it is slated to become a movie, scripted by Paolini himself. While I find that movies rarely do their respective books justice I am, nevertheless, excited at the prospect of losing myself in this story on the big screen.

Overall, I cannot wait for the rest of the series to be released and would highly recommend this book! Despite its nearly 900 pages in length, I flew through the story and didn’t want it to end upon reaching the last page.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Book on CD

Overdrive eAudiobook

Overdrive eBook

Playaway

Spanish text

On Writing by Stephen King

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” 

While I have always been a fan of Stephen King, I had no idea he had written a memoir about the craft of writing itself until very recently. Published in 2000, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft delves into King’s thoughts and philosophies on writing and how his life experiences have contributed to his own craft.

King aptly titles the first half of this memoir “CV,” which details significant moments and experiences in his life that have shaped him into the writer he is today. While I was surprised at some of the traumatic experiences he recounted as both a child and young man, I was admittedly more surprised to read about how many rejection letters King received when he first started writing science fiction stories. It is mind-boggling to think that Stephen King, a staple name in the horror genre, experienced so much rejection when he first started out. Consequently, I was extremely inspired by his perseverance to continue writing, despite countless setbacks. For him, writing wasn’t (and isn’t) a job – he is truly passionate about the craft and it is a part of who he is.

In the second half of the memoir, titled “On Writing,” King reflects upon the craft of writing itself. He definitely isn’t afraid to say what he thinks (NOT a fan of adverbs or passive voice!), but gives much encouragement to the aspiring writers who read this book. I found it absolutely fascinating to see inside the mind of one of the most brilliant and prolific authors of our time – not only through the lens of an autobiography, but also through the lens of how and why he writes the way he does. One of the most engrossing sections of this book for me was when he described how he plans and details his plots… he doesn’t! He describes his process as starting with a “what if” question and, if the situation arising from that question is strong enough, he lets his characters lead him through the actual writing of the story. How amazing is that? Some examples he gives in the text include the following:

  • What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (‘Salem’s Lot)
  • What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
  • What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)

Overall, I found this memoir to be a captivating read and would highly recommend it for both aspiring writers and fans of King alike!

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

“We cannot solve our most intractable problems unless we are honest about what they are, unless we are willing to have difficult conversations and accept what facts make plain.”

Upon the groundbreaking milestone of Kamala Harris becoming the first woman, first Black, and first South Asian American to serve as vice president-elect of the United States, I made it a priority to get my hands on her book The Truths We Hold. In this book, Harris recounts memories of her upbringing, including the monumental role social justice played in her life from a young age; chronicles her career path from prosecutor, to district attorney, to attorney general, to U.S. senator, to vice president-elect; and asserts truths behind key issues affecting our world today.

Throughout the text, Harris stresses how she is motivated by the opportunity to give those without voices fair and just representation in government and, thereby, in the laws and policies governing their everyday lives. Upon finishing, I was inspired by the ways in which Harris has used her various positions of power to be a voice for the people she represented, despite the countless frustrations and setbacks she faced. No matter who may have doubted her or her ideas, she did what she knew needed to be done to serve and truly represent those counting on her.

I also appreciated the humanistic lens applied to this text. Rather than just write about her views on issues on a broad and general scale, Harris illustrated the human beings who she was able to help by listening to their stories and directly responding to their needs. From representing sexual assault victims, to creating initiatives aimed at reforming the criminal justice system, to helping pass legislation at the federal level to ensure the legality and legitimacy of same-sex marriage in the state of California, Harris’ experience and work has not only served as models for other states, but has also demonstrated her true passion for helping those who need help with the power she possesses. Additionally, she has blazed a path for up-and-coming women of all backgrounds and will undoubtedly inspire countless women to participate in U.S. government and politics.

At its conclusion, Harris takes the time to consider some of the truths she herself has learned from her experience in government over the years and one of the most powerful of these is this: “You may be the first. Don’t be the last.” Reading this immediately gave me goose bumps, as she used those very words in her address upon becoming vice president-elect with respect to her becoming the first woman to hold this office. She is truly an inspirational figure and this book was definitely one of the most interesting and motivational titles I have read this year.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Book on CD

Overdrive eAudiobook

Overdrive eBook

Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami

“Conditional citizens are people who know what it is like for a country to embrace you with one arm, and push you away with the other.” 

In the recently published title Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, Laila Lalami reflects upon what it means to be an American citizen as an Arab, Muslim woman who immigrated from Morocco after studying abroad in the United States. In this book, she designates individuals such as herself as “conditional citizens,” or those who are unable to participate and share in the traditional liberties and equalities promised upon becoming a citizen due to their race, nationality, religion, or gender.

In this collection of essays, Lalami explores her place in America by focusing on different spaces in which she experiences conditional citizenship, spanning from allegiance and faith to caste, inheritance, and assimilation. She considers how conditional citizens are all too often attributed a collective narrative based on race, gender, nationality, and religion, which can lead to demeaning stereotypes, dehumanizing rhetoric, and destructive notions of “the Other.” Lalami also elaborates upon how the very foundations of the United States are upheld by a caste system supporting white supremacy, in which white males are upheld at the top of the social order. All in all, this account asks the monumental questions of what it means to be an American and what it means to truly belong in the United States of America.

Overall, this deeply personal and moving narrative provides a vital perspective and addresses a variety of undeniably important topics in short, insightful essays. For me, this was not only an extremely enlightening read, but also a disheartening one as Lalami illuminates the hardships many people experience in the United States each and every day, despite being citizens. One of the most poignant experiences Lalami recounts is when a white woman asked her about the formation of ISIS at a book talk for her novel The Moor’s Account, which is a fictionalized memoir of the first black explorer in the United States. In other words, a work that has absolutely nothing to do with ISIS, but asked based on an ignorant, collective narrative drawn solely from her nationality and appearance. Unfortunately, these generalizations are by no means uncommon and can be extremely dangerous for so many people, which is why I especially recommend this title to everyone.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

Any Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell fans out there? If so, I am happy to share that Susanna Clarke has recently published a new book called Piranesi. While this title doesn’t have any direct ties to Clarke’s first novel, it does share magical and fantastical elements in a world you won’t want to leave. Let’s jump right in!

This novel follows the journal entries of Piranesi, one of two humans living in “the House.” This setting is described as an endless labyrinth of halls, corridors, and vestibules filled with statues, an entombed ocean, and various types of wildlife, such as the majestic albatross. Piranesi lives to explore this world, documenting his travels by mapping its contents and cataloging all of the statues he finds, all while utilizing the House’s resources in order to survive.

In this world is only one other human besides Piranesi, aptly called “the Other.” They initially work together in an attempt to find and unleash the “Great and Secret Knowledge,” or the God-like powers the Other believes are harnessed in the House. Over time, Piranesi begins to fall away from this quest, as he doesn’t view the House as merely a means to an end, but still assists the Other with anything he requests of him. As the story progresses, however, Piranesi comes to question the world as he knows it upon discovering journals in his own handwriting he can’t remember writing and the existence of another person in the House. This story then blurs the lines between magic and reality, identity and purpose, as Piranesi endeavors to solve the mysterious and mind-bending plot he finds himself in the middle of.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the dream-like escapism this story provides and reveled in Clarke’s suspenseful writing style that leaves you guessing until the end. While Piranesi is a very innocent protagonist, he also proves to be unreliable as the story unfolds, which lends an additional interesting twist to the story. I did find myself wanting more, though, as this book is a mere 245 pages in comparison to the 1,000+ pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (I even missed having footnotes!).

I would also recommend taking a look at the name “Piranesi” before or while you are reading this book. It is named for Giovanni Battista Piranesi, an 18th century Italian artist who is well known for his prints of dizzying and fantastic imaginary prisons. Interestingly enough, Piranesi always considered himself to be an architect, which absolutely shows when viewing the architecture he brought to life in his etchings. Viewing his work definitely helped me visualize and wrap my head around the extraordinary world Clarke creates in this story.

All in all, if you are looking for a quick read in which you are immersed in a surreal labyrinth of beauty, fantasy, and discovery, I would highly recommend this title!

This book is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook

 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The world might indeed be a cursed circle; the snake swallowed its tail and there could be no end, only an eternal ruination and endless devouring.”

If you are looking for an uncanny and spine-chilling read for Halloween, you won’t want to miss Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico in the 1950s, young socialite Noemi Taboada is asked to visit her cousin, Catalina, in the country upon her father receiving an unusual and seemingly delusional letter from her. In it, she claims her newlywed husband and the mansion they live in are trying to poison her, among other ramblings Noemi and her father can’t make much sense of. While Noemi isn’t keen on leaving her life in Mexico City, she embarks to the countryside for an undetermined length of time to attend to her cousin’s well-being, half-expecting to bring her back to Mexico City to see a psychiatrist.

It doesn’t take long upon arriving, however, for Noemi to experience the unnatural, isolating, and menacing ambiance of this mansion, also known as High Place. Along with Catalina and her husband, Virgil, the manor is home to Virgil’s ancient father, aunt, cousin, and a handful of servants. In addition to the family living with no electricity and in complete silence most of the time, which is very unnerving for the loquacious and lively Noemi, she is also made very uncomfortable when introduced to Virgil’s father, a man completely enamored by the notion of eugenics.

In addition to the dismal demeanor of the house’s occupants, the decrepit house itself is a character of its own. It is truly the epitome of a Gothic setting from beginning to end, complete with the dark and derelict interior, the haunted neighboring cemetery, and the insane, enigmatic descriptions of the house coming to life. Within the grasp of the house, Noemi begins to have horrific dreams of the house as a living organism and of inhumane events occurring within its walls, and she soon realizes her cousin has been subjected to something far worse than she could have ever imagined.

For me, this Gothic tale was Jane Eyre meeting “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which then met Stephen King. I have always been a fan of Gothic literature, and this was a fresh, chilling, and creepy story I didn’t want to put down. While I didn’t initially relate with the protagonist and the story had a bit of a slow start, I found the suspense, plot, and imagery to be completely worth the small wait. I will make a disclaimer that it does have some pretty morbid descriptions and imagery at parts (hence, Stephen King’s shout out), but if you want something to leave you haunted and squeamish, even with the lights on, you will definitely enjoy this novel!

This book is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eAudiobook

Overdrive eBook

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

“We all live in an unwalled city, that was it. I saw lines scored across the map of Ireland; carved all over the globe. Train tracks, roads, shipping channels, a web of human traffic that connected all nations into one great suffering body.”

I have to admit, I took a risk reading The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue due to its extremely timely and grisly content but, that being said, I am extremely glad I read this novel and am excited to share it with you.

This historical fiction novel is set in Dublin, Ireland, and takes place during the most lethal wave of the 1918 Flu Pandemic and WWI. The story primarily revolves around Nurse Julia Powers, who works as a midwife and cares for expecting mothers who have contracted the virus. Not unlike conditions we have witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals were described as being completely overrun with patients, severely understaffed, and lacking necessary medical supplies. With that being said, there were also some very different hardships people experienced over a century ago, so this is a very enlightening and humbling glimpse into the experiences of a past pandemic. Taking place over the span of three days, you will experience a whirlwind of emotions as you follow Julia through her incredible work at the hospital and meet several unforgettable women who will haunt you long after you finish the story.

Overall, I found this book to be extremely intense, but definitely worth the read. Not only does this subject hit close to home as we are living through a pandemic ourselves, but the fact that Julia spends most of her time working in the maternity ward lends itself to several passages with explicit descriptions of medical procedures (albeit they are noted as being extremely accurate for the time according to the notes at the end of the book). While I definitely found myself feeling squeamish at times, I was truly in awe and astounded by the seemingly impossible work Julia did for her patients during such a trying time.

This story is also brimming with character development, as you get a chance to intimately meet several women in the confines of the maternity/fever ward and learn their stories over the course of three days. You will definitely find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster, experiencing sorrow and sympathy, hope and love, shock and awe, life and death, and everything in between. I was extremely inspired and humbled by the strength and resilience of humanity in this novel, and this is what ultimately made it well worth the read while living in the midst of COVID-19.

I also found myself extremely interested in the setting and time period of this story itself, as I didn’t know too much about either the 1918 pandemic or the history of Ireland during this period of history before reading. In fact, I was drawn in so much that I immediately found a documentary and podcast to listen to after finishing the book.

All in all, I found this novel to be worth its intensity and, while it may not be the best time to read this particular book for some, it may be relatable and inspirational to others as we live through a pandemic in our own time.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

In the bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the title The Warmth of Other Suns, draws parallels between the often-unspoken caste system in the United States with those of India and Nazi Germany to elucidate the innate, systemic racism that is intentionally rooted and entwined in the history and core foundations of our country. This work combines deep, immersive research and moving narratives, such as Wilkerson’s own experiences, to express and relate how this invisible hierarchy affects the opportunities, safety, and day-to-day life of black Americans today.

Wilkerson first shines a light on current events, painting a disturbing picture. She describes the escalating racial tensions in America as “pathogens” or “toxins” that were never completely eradicated with the end of slavery or the implementation of civil rights legislation, but were rather buried beneath the surface in the “permafrost” until certain circumstances brought them back to the surface. She then considers the arbitrary construction of human divisions across America, as well as in India and Nazi Germany, before exploring eight distinct pillars of caste she believes are the foundations of the caste system in the United States.

After elaborating upon these powerful pillars, ranging from topics of divine will and endogamy to dehumanization and stigma, Wilkerson discusses the “tentacles” and consequences of the caste system lingering in the lives of black Americans today. One of the most telling parts of this book for me was learning about the many forms of backlash that transpired after President Barack Obama’s election and re-election, as many claimed the accomplishment of a black man in the Oval Office was a sign that racism was “dead.” This could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, Wilkerson calls for an awakening and the need for action in order to combat the dangerous, debilitating, and ever-present caste system preserving and prolonging systemic racism in the United States and has a strong response to those who dismiss racism based on the reasoning that it isn’t “their fault,” or the fault of their ancestors:

We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Overall, this title is extraordinarily written as Wilkerson writes in a compelling, thoughtful, and revealing way about this subject, and if you are looking for a raw, honest, and thought-provoking title to learn more about the origins of systemic racism in America, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook