Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

Domestic fiction is one of my favorite subgenres, especially novels that are set in situations that are different than my normal life. Domestic fiction is usually written by, for, and about women. It is also usually told through multiple viewpoints. My latest read fits all the above criteria!

Dava Shastri’s Last Day tells the story of Dava Shastri and her family. Dava Shastri is one of the world’s wealthiest women. Devastated by a brain cancer diagnosis at the age of seventy, Dava is determined to approach her death like she approaches everything else in her life – with planning and determination.

Dava’s reputation has always been important to her. She wants her name to live on for generations. Both her public and private legacies are of utmost importance, but her family members don’t feel quite as strong about keeping the Shastri name alive.

Dava summons her four adult children, their spouses, and children to her private island where she tells them her news. In addition to having a terminal illness, Dava has also arranged for the news of her death to be released early, so that she can read the obituaries and articles written about her before she dies. Since she spent her life dedicated to the arts and to the empowerment of women, Dava expected that the articles written after her death would focus on those topics. Instead she finds the articles to be significantly more scandalous, focusing on two secrets that have the power to destroy her life, secrets she hoped would stay buried forever.

Now that her secrets are published, her children know and the fallout is not great. Dava must use what little time she has left to come to terms with the life she has lived and the various decisions that have led her to this point.  Most importantly she must use that time to talk it out with her family and make peace with their past, present, and future.

This book is also available in the following format:

Cozy Mystery Reads: Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson

Victoria Thompson is an Edgar nominated author who writes both historical mysteries and historical romances. She has also won the Romantic Time Career Achievement award and was an Agatha Award nominee five years in a row. Before she started writing mysteries, Victoria Thompson had written twenty historical romances. I was introduced to this author through her Gaslight Mysteries series which is set in turn-of-the-century New York City and features midwife Sarah Brandt who does a bit of detecting on the side.  The Gaslight Mystery series was Edgar and Agatha Award nominated. Thompson also writes the Counterfeit Lady series, which features con artist Elizabeth Miles and attorney Gideon Bates. That series has been nominated for the Sue Grafton Memorial Award.

Thompson currently lives in a suburb of Chicago with her family and teaches at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. She is a member of Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime, as well as serving on boards and being a founding member of many other organizations: Novelists, Inc, PENNWRITERS, Romance Writers of America, and New Jersey Romance Writers to name a few.

Murder on Astor Place is the first book in the Gaslight Mysteries series. This series came highly recommended to me by other library staff. This series can be seen as both cozy and as historical, so I leave that distinction up to you readers. I have only read the first book so far, but I understand the appeal!

Murder on Astor Place introduces readers to midwife Sarah Brandt. She lives in turn-of-the-century tenements in Manhattan. Sarah was born into a prominent wealthy family, but is now estranged from them. When Sarah is called to help a woman in labor, she recognizes one of the young women boarding in the house. After the baby is safely delivered, Sarah returns to visit the patient and young baby a few days later. Upon that visit, Sarah learns that the young woman she previously recognized had been killed. Sergeant Frank Malloy is on scene and requests that Sarah help him search the girl’s room. In the midst of the search, they discover that the victim is also from one of the most prominent New York families, like Sarah. In fact, she is the sister of one of Sarah’s oldest friends. Knowing what she knows about these wealthy families, she has doubts that the family will want to investigate and she is sadly proven correct. They are feaful of scandal. Having doubts that Malloy is putting his full effort into solving the case and wanting to get justice for the victim, Sarah starts searching for information about what really happened. Malloy reluctantly helps her, but her investigations quickly turn dangerous for all involved.

Complete series list can be found at the end of this blog post. Certain titles are also available in other formats: for example, CD audiobook, large print, and OverDrive eAudiobook.

Gaslight Mysteries

  1. Murder on Astor Place (1999)
  2. Murder on St. Mark’s Place (2000)
  3. Murder on Gramercy Park (2001)
  4. Murder on Washington Square (2002)
  5. Murder on Mulberry Bend (2003)
  6. Murder on Marble Row (2004)
  7. Murder on Lenox Hill (2005)
  8. Murder in Little Italy (2006)
  9. Murder in Chinatown (2007)
  10. Murder on Bank Street (2008)
  11. Murder on Waverly Place (2009)
  12. Murder on Lexington Avenue (2010)
  13. Murder on Sisters’ Row (2011)
  14. Murder on Fifth Avenue (2012)
  15. Murder in Chelsea (2013)
  16. Murder in Murray Hill (2014)
  17. Murder on Amsterdam Avenue (2015)
  18. Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue (2015)
  19. Murder in Morningside Heights (2016)
  20. Murder in the Bowery (2017)
  21. Murder on Union Square (2018)
  22. Murder on Trinity Place (2019)
  23. Murder on Pleasant Avenue (2020)
  24. Murder on Wall Street (2021)
  25. Murder on Madison Square (2022)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Published in 2019, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow has lived on my to-read shelf for much too long. Deciding to read it based on my love of Harrow’s 2020 book The Once and Future Witches, I was not disappointed. The Ten Thousand Doors of January contains many elements that I enjoy: magical realism, fantasy, antiquities, multiverses, books, and strong-willed women.

January Scaller just wants to find her place in the world. Growing up as the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, January grew up roaming multiple sprawling mansions filled to the brim with peculiar and mysterious treasures. Her father travels the world hunting antiquities to add to Mr. Locke’s collection and as a result, he is seldom home with January. Mr. Locke treats her as well as can be expected, but January never quite fits in. She is instead largely ignored, while simultaneously given fancy clothes and is groomed as yet another piece of his collection. She feels out of place and just wants to find where she truly belongs. Mr. Locke treats her as a precious treasure to be trotted out in front of his rich friends. He can mold her into whatever he wants. January and her father become increasingly separated from each other, leaving January to feel imprisoned in this sprawling mansion and longing to see her father.

One day while January is looking around the rooms, she finds a strange book. The more she reads the book, the more she begins to see that there are other worlds out there full of breathtaking impossibilities. It tells the story of secret doors hidden everywhere that lead to other worlds full of danger, love, and adventure. One story has a deep pull on January. It becomes increasingly difficult for January to separate herself from the book as that one story has woven itself deep into her life.

This book is also available in the following format:

Get Graphic Series: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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

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

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

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

So it goes.

Get Graphic Series: Audubon: On the Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau

Up next in our Get Graphic Series is a non fiction title by Fabien Grolleau. Audubon: On the Wings of the World, takes the reader on a journey through 19th century rural America. John James Audubon was an ornithologist with a goal to create a pictorial record of the all the birds in North America. Traveling with only his drawing materials, an assistant and a gun, Audubon encounters dangerous animals, wild storms, and some not so friendly people.

Audubon: On the Wings of the World highlights not only the beauty of birds in America, but how Audubon’s life revolves around them. As he travels the US, he meets with prominent scientists in the hopes of publishing his book of bird paintings. But, the scientist believe his paintings are more “artistic” than “scientific”- which is something Audubon does not want to hear. This fuels his desire to prove the scientists wrong. He soon becomes obsessed with painting the animals and begins to disregard his family, friends, and even his health. An unlikely stranger meets with Audubon and pulls him from his fascination, changing the course of his career and life forever.

One of the things I love about nonfiction graphic novels is the chance to learn about something or someone I would have glanced over in the biography section. I wouldn’t have picked up a 300 page biography on John James Audubon, but Audubon: On the Wings of the World was just long enough to give me the facts and keep me engaged. Graphic novels are great starting points if you find yourself interested in a nonfiction topic.

Illustrations are key for nonfiction graphic novels. Some might find nonfiction “boring,” but the illustrations create a fun environment for the facts to live. Audubon: On the Wings of the World has wonderful illustrations of not only the story, but of the birds Audubon loved.

If you want to learn more about John James Audubon, give this graphic novel a try!

 

 

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.*

Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell

According to a few online sources I found, June is National Iced Tea Month in the United States (International Tea Day is April 21). In honor of this observance, I’d like to tell you about a nonfiction book I read recently which is (somewhat) related– Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell.

Published in 2019, Infused is Lovell’s memoir / travel diary about the global tea industry, highlighting all the places, people, and methods which help to create the amazing teas we (or I, anyway) drink every day. Lovell, also known as “The Rare Tea Lady”, includes recipes and photography to help capture the wonder of tea growing, processing, and of course tea drinking. She starts with her early journeys into China, mixed with meditations on why tea is so meaningful in her everyday life, and also mentions tidbits of tea’s history as a global product. Gradually she traces her growth into The Tea Lady, taking the reader on breathtaking journeys into the hidden places we’ve probably never been in countries like China, Russia, and even the UK.

I’m not a connoisseur by any means, with only a vague sense of ‘that tastes good’ (or not), but I found this book compelling for the care and detail that Lovell put into it. It’s fascinating to meet individual growers and chefs that make the creation of tea their life’s work, especially those that are carrying on deeply rooted local traditions. Lovell also makes a good case for choosing quality, loose-leaf tea over industrially-produced string-and-bag products, though of course the transition is easier said than done (and she can come across as snobbish on this point). Moreover, the writing style is readable, engaging, and thorough, with a restful, poetic level of description. The author’s love for tea and a strong sense of wonder shine through on every page.

For better or worse, I probably won’t change my tea habits too much going forward, but I definitely came away feeling enriched. Tea lovers, history buffs, travel enthusiasts, and devotees of whole, natural food products should try this book.

Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson

“Our bodies carry memory – not just our own, but the memory of the group as well. We feel the history in our bones as much as we witness it with our eyes.” 

This is just one of the many profound quotes in Long Time Coming, the latest publication by Michael Eric Dyson, a distinguished scholar of race and religion, as well as a prolific, New York Times bestselling author. In this short, powerful book, Dyson considers how race has shaped our nation from its very founding, tapping into both historical and contemporary insights to guide readers on how we can truly reckon with race in America.

The profundity of this text impacts readers from the very beginning, as each chapter is a letter addressed to a black martyr of racial injustice, including Elijah McClain, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Hadiya Pendleton, Sandra Bland, and Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In each letter, Dyson considers significant aspects and examples of injustice plaguing Black Americans, relating how the systemic racism inherently planted to enable slavery still permeates today’s society in a myriad of ways. This book  is also extremely timely, as the title itself denotes the momentum of a cultural and social movement, one that has been a long time coming, that spilled over after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Since then, powerful and reverberating calls for change and reform to achieve true justice for all have been a large part of the history being made today, not unlike the passionate calls for change that occurred in the 1960s.

When reflecting on this book as a whole, one particularly striking moment for me was Dyson’s metaphor of racism illustrated through a tree and its offshoots. When considering the idea of racism as either a seed that is planted or one that merely falls to the ground, thereby growing into both intentional and unintentional forms of racism, he depicts how the change that must occur is bigger than any individual’s thoughts or actions regarding race. Rather, Dyson contends this change must be structural in order to truly combat the cyclical nature of racism and the notions of Anti-Blackness in our country. After drawing this comparison, Dyson ponders whether a reckoning of this scale will occur in today’s world to bring true justice and equity to Black Americans.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book for everyone to read. Not only is it accessible in length and language, but it also delivers an earnest, compelling, and passionate message of racial justice that could not be timelier for the history being made today.

*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.*

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Do you have authors whose new books you anxiously await? I’m sure you do. One of the newest authors I have added to this list is Stuart Turton. Turton wrote The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastlewhich was published in 2018. That book is a mix of an Agatha Christie novel and the movie Groundhog Day as readers learn that Evelyn Hardcastle keeps dying and Aiden must solve her murder or relive the day over and over. It kept me engaged from start to finish, so when I learned that Turton had a new book coming out at the end of 2020, I knew I wanted to read it.

The Devil in the Dark Water is Turton’s latest novel and it’s a gloriously written complex historical mystery telling the story of people trapped on a ship traveling across the high seas to Amsterdam. Stuck on a ship means that there has to be a bad guy and, OH BOY, are they bad! It’s a bit of a closed room mystery mixed with Sherlock Holmes and a strong dab of history. Read it and let me know what you think. Let’s get into this review!

It’s 1634. Samuel Pipps is the world’s greatest detective, traveling the world with his bodyguard Arent Hayes solving cases that no one can solve. He sees things others miss and can easily figure out the answer to whatever is plaguing him in a case. Arent believes Sammy is gifted and can solve anything. When Sammy ends up being arrested for a crime he may not have committed, Arent is devastated. The two end up boarding a ship to Amsterdam where Sammy is locked away in a small dark and musty cell. He is being transported to Amsterdam to stand trial for his crimes and Arent’s job to keep him safe becomes immensely harder.

As soon as they head out to sea, issues start to plague the ship. Devilry wreaks havoc on the ship and passengers and crew alike are scared. Pipps is shackled inside his cell, leaving Arent to solve the mystery without him. A leper who should have been dead is stalking the ship. Livestock is brutally killed. A strange symbol connected to Arent’s past starts showing up all over the ship.

When the deaths start, panic reaches a fever pitch. Could a demon be responsible for everything happening on board the ship? Voices whisper to people promising their heart’s desire for a small price. Arent needs help solving this mystery and reaches out to other passengers he deems safe. Multiple passengers are connected to this mystery with past secrets and hidden questions that threaten to sink the ship, killing everyone onboard.

This book is also available in the following format:

Let’s Talk by David Crystal

I live for well-written books that explain how the world works and/or give tips on how to build up or improve skills. My latest discovery in this genre is 2020’s Let’s Talk: How English Conversation Works by David Crystal. This slim, well-written volume breaks down the conventions and nuances of conversations in clear, simple language with lots of examples. Here’s how the publisher describes it:

Banter, chit-chat, gossip, natter, tete-a-tete: these are just a few of the terms for the varied ways in which we interact with one another through conversation. David Crystal explores the factors that motivate so many different kinds of talk and reveals the rules we use unconsciously, even in the most routine exchanges of everyday conversation. We tend to think of conversation as something spontaneous, instinctive, habitual. It has been described as an art, as a game, sometimes even as a battle. Whichever metaphor we use, most people are unaware of what the rules are, how they work, and how we can bend and break them when circumstances warrant it.

Crystal does very well at writing out and explaining the hidden, unwritten rules that underlie all our everyday interactions, leading to many ‘aha’ moments while reading that made me say “Wow, we really do do that!” His source materials and examples are particularly compelling, drawn from his 1970s recordings of authentic informal conversations as well as other modern examples. He also makes the text readable and interesting with relatively short chapters and engaging, well-written text. He tends to be academic, delving into the history of conversation in English and using some linguistics jargon (and he also writes his own take on a battle rap) but overall he shares relevant, useful, or interesting tidbits about how people talk to each other.

For me personally, as an English language and literature nerd, this book was fascinating and enlightening; I felt like an extraterrestrial anthropologist studying the communication habits of humanity (and the book’s British English was charming and familiar from my favorite UK shows)! This book would be good for other language or history nerds, social science enthusiasts, those for whom English isn’t their first language (though strong familiarity with the language is helpful), and anyone who enjoys talking to people and/or wants to have better conversations and relationships.