Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz

May 5, 2015

[Lesley] From the beginning, I loved the voice of Aristotle Mendez. Much of this book is the interior landscape and monologue of this young Mexican American boy who is coming-of-age. His life is complicated in the usual and unusual ways: his parents drive him crazy (his dad is a Vietnam War veteran who doesn’t talk much and not at all about the war), he doesn’t have a lot of friends (but he is also a bit of a loner who doesn’t wish for lots of friends), he isn’t close to his siblings (twin sisters who are much older and a brother who is in jail and whom no one talks about). Ari meets Dante and through their friendship all the characters seem to come of age – including the adults. At one point, I wondered who the audience for this book was… would many teenage boys see themselves in thoughtful, inquisitive Ari? But, I decided that it didn’t really matter. I have known kids who would have loved this book and even if they are the minority, they are the kids I’ll never forget. I loved this book, loved the characters, and learned things about myself through reading it. I listened to it on audio and the reader added a lot to the authenticity and charm of the voice.

The Opposite of Spoiled, by Ron Lieber

May 5, 2015

[Lesley] This is a straightforward look at talking with your kids about money. Lieber includes some practical examples of how to deal with allowance, saving, family decisions, etc. but the real value I found was the discussion about the need to talk honestly with kids about all kinds of topics relating to money: what we make, how and why we make decisions about what to buy when, giving, delayed gratification… His approach to allowance wasn’t new to me (don’t use allowance as a reward for chores that kids should be doing as contributing family members) but his thoughtful explanation of why he thinks that way and what consequences result from different methods was illuminating. Not everything in the book felt applicable to me but I appreciated his approach and have been more conscious of how I talk about money with my daughter.

Unforgettable, by Scott Simon

May 5, 2015

[Lesley] Often we think that a book about a lost loved one will be depressing – how couldn’t it be? But, some of the best ones are truly a celebration of that loved one, about the life that person lived and not the sadness of those left behind. Scott Simon manages to tell the story of who his mother was through tweets and short chapters. Her personality, joie de vivre, and love for her family are alive in these pages. Instead of feeling sad at the end of the book, I felt lucky to have gotten a glimpse of someone who made a difference. “It was a sad, cold, raw, rotten day,” she remembered. “So I thought: Let me try to give it a small kindness.” Patricia Lyons Simon Newman was the kind of person I would like to be. Though we know that losing his mother was painful, we are left with her humor, strength, and common sense wisdom rather than pain.

See also: The End of Your Life Book Club

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

March 30, 2015


This book was so much fun to read. If you like 1980s pop culture want a good science fiction story, this is the book for you.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

March 30, 2015


This is a lovely book, warm and funny. It also deals with end of life issues and grief. It is a quirky, interesting mix of a book that I found very appealing.

The Red House, by Sarah Messer

February 18, 2015

[Lesley] The subtitle for this book is: being a mostly accurate account of New England’s oldest continuously lived-in house. It’s another quirky, interesting book/memoir. If I was making a mini-collection of these, this one would go with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Dogtown. This is the kind of book that I love discovering in the library stacks and why I would never want to be without the eclectic selection at the library (vs. the mainstream/most popular selection at chain bookstores).

Sarah Messer’s family buys the Red House of the title – the first owners not of the original family line. In her quasi-memoir we get the history of the house and some of the people who lived there – in typical fashion, pieced together from stories, rumors, letters, wallpaper, how the house was built/added to, etc. – and the history of two families, one of which Messer is growing up in.

The “characters” are what you would expect of old New Englanders and I loved getting to know each of them. Some of the stories are haunting (like the one about the mother and child and a fire), and some are funny. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

January 20, 2015


I really enjoyed this book. I liked that each chapter was dated, and was told in the voice of one of the three women, Rachel, Anna, or Megan. The plot was interesting, set in the UK, and I finished the book quickly (I couldn’t put it down). There have been comparisons with Gone Girl, which I really liked, but I thought this book was even better. Kept me guessing until the very end. It was thrilling and suspenseful. I will never ride a train again without thinking of Rachel.


Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

November 20, 2014

There have been a number of terrific books in the last few years, including The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, Euphoria by Lily King and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett that offer vivid and compelling stories of women who were in many ways ahead of their time. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan is a wonderful addition to that list. It is based on the real life love story of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They have a complicated and fascinating marriage and at the heart of the story is Fanny’s struggle to maintain her own identity, creativity and sanity while caring for her talented and chronically ill husband and constantly moving, from Europe to California to Samoa, in search of a healthy climate to keep him alive. Stevenson was an author I knew in name only and this book made me want to learn more about both of these fascinating people.

Forever, by Pete Hamill

July 21, 2014

[Lesley] I checked this out from the library because I couldn’t believe that journalist Pete Hamill had written a fantasy novel*. I’m really glad I did. His writing is straightforward but doesn’t dismiss the lyrical and mystical elements in the story. Both Ireland and NYC are described intimately and the history that Cormac lives through in New York City is astonishingly related. This was a great read – one of those fantasies that doesn’t read like fantasy.

*Shameless plug: I was perusing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section to prepare for an “intro” to that part of the collection, recommending some great books you might not be familiar with, that is happening on Monday, July 28 at 11 a.m. You can sign up on our events calendar or just drop in!

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

June 24, 2014

[Lesley]  What a perfect summer book! This is the story of a therapist who is about to publish her first book titled “You Should Have Known” all about how women could see the clues to the problems in their marriages or relationships early on if they would just pay attention. Her own life is neatly stable: Married to a pediatric oncologist, raising one smart, sensitive, musically-inclined 12-year old son, involved with her son’s private school (of which she is an alum). She lives in the apartment where she grew up and has everything under control.

With that set up, you can guess some of what starts to unravel in the story. We discover what is happening along with the main character and I was totally wrapped up in what was happening. Grace’s reactions and emotions are easy to identify with and we really care what happens to her and her son Henry. I also found her theories about relationships interesting and loved the portrayal of snobby nouveau riche New Yorkers. Grace learns a lot about family – her own parents & stepmother, her in-laws – and the whole book left me with a real respect for the strength we carry within us.

The story moves along fast – I often couldn’t stop at the end of a chapter and stayed up way too late reading!


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