On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

June 18, 2021 by


With Juneteenth having recently become a federal holiday, now is a great time to read this brief, powerful new book by historian Annette Gordon-Reed, author of the Pulitzer Prize winner “The Hemingses of Monticello.” The book is a compelling combination of memoir and family history, mixed with a fascinating discussion of the complicated history of Texas. Gordon-Reed was born and raised in East Texas, and as a young girl in the 1960s was the first Black student to integrate the all-white school in her hometown. She writes movingly about how for her great grandparents, the celebration of Juneteenth was not just an abstract celebration of the end of slavery, but a commemoration of the end of slavery for people they had actually known. She does a great job of unpacking the cultural mythology surrounding Texas – the large- than-life image we have from movies like Giant and The Alamo of cowboys and cattle ranchers and oil rigs – and how this narrow image obscures the history and lived experiences of African Americans in Texas. Gordon-Reed is a very proud Texan, and part of her love for her home State involves bringing this history to light and helping people understand the many reasons that Juneteenth is such an important holiday.

On Juneteenth is available at the Library and on Libby/Overdrive.


Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova, by Ty Gagne

June 18, 2021 by


I attended our library program by Ty Gagne talking about his most recent book: The Last Traverse: Tragedy and Resilience in the Winter Whites,” and, wow. Gagne is an excellent speaker who brings you right inside the real stories he writes about. If you live in New Hampshire and/or if you are a hiker, then the phrase “Winter Whites” gives you a shiver of fear or a real sense of danger.

I’ve been meaning to read Gagne’s first book about a hiker’s deadly experience hiking the Northern Presidential Range in the winter so I picked it up right after the program. A tragedy like this is compelling for the archetypal human vs. nature struggle but Gagne adds the element of risk assessment and decision-making under extreme conditions. Fascinating.

I’m looking forward to reading The Last Traverse. From the library program, I know that the Mountain Rescue Service and other brave men and women play an even larger role in this book and I want to know more.

In our catalog:
Where You’ll Find Me
The Last Traverse

Other books you might like:
Not Without Peril
Critical Hours

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

June 14, 2021 by


This is a beautiful, thoughtful, personal memoir. It might seem strange to say that it is personal, given that is a memoir, but the author is very forthcoming about her commitment to being open and vulnerable, and about her determination to be known and understood, both in her life and through this book. That openness and vulnerability are hard won. There are many reasons why her defenses might be up. Growing up Black and poor in Indiana, her father, whom she adored, was incarcerated when she was a young child, leaving her to be raised by her mother — a very complicated woman with whom she has an intense, fraught relationship. She grows up constantly surrounded by family – her grandmother, her cousins, her siblings, and especially her mother. While in many ways her family is a source of strength and joy for her, that closeness also comes with expectations and demands that inhibit her and contribute to the feeling that she can’t truly be herself, even around those closest to her. She paints a vivid portrait of her family that is both brutally honest and loving. The book is particularly effective in depicting what it is like to grow up with an unpredictable parent who is at times fun and loving, and then suddenly, explosively abusive. She also movingly articulates what it is like to suffer from anxiety, which is heightened after she is sexually assaulted as a child. It is painful to watch this funny, smart, inquisitive child start to close herself off from the world. But throughout the book you also have the strong, reassuring voice of the adult Ashley telling the story. As the narrator of her own story (and the very effective reader of the audiobook), she is strong and open and fully herself. It is a wonderful reminder of the power of telling your own story, and having kept herself hidden for so long, this memoir is a beautiful way to bring herself back into the world.

Somebody’s Daughter is available at the Library and as both an ebook and an audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Somebody's Daughter

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

June 11, 2021 by


This is a sweeping, propulsive, in some ways old fashioned, work of historical fiction that, even though I resisted it at times, I ultimately loved. It tells the story of Marian Graves, an Amelia Earhart-like early woman aviator whose dream is to circumnavigate the globe from North to South Pole. It also tells the contemporary story of Hadley Baxter, the disgraced young star of a Twilight-like film franchise who has been hired to play Marian Graves in a biopic. I initially resisted this use of dual timelines which has become common in historical fiction and can sometimes break up the flow of a novel for me. However, I came to appreciate the value of Hadley’s storyline. For one thing, the story of Marian and her twin brother Jamie, from the very start when they are rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner, is almost relentlessly eventful, both in terms of world events (Prohibition, World War II), and their own lives. I found myself worrying about their well-being so much that the contemporary story of Hadley and her mostly surface level Hollywood problems came as a relief. Also, I appreciated that Hadley seemed to mirror my own feeling of being more interested and invested in Marian’s story than in the world of contemporary Hollywood. And Hadley’s story does serve as a commentary on how in some ways the roles assigned to women can still constrain and stifle as they did in Marian’s time.

But the pulse of the book is Marian’s story, and it is quite a story. The events of her life alone are riveting: growing up mostly unsupervised in Montana, working as a driver for bootleggers during Prohibition to earn money for flying lessons, serving as a pilot in the British Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II, and of course her attempt to fly from North to South Pole. But what interested me most about Marian was her struggle to figure out how and where she fit, mostly due to a lifetime of being forced into roles that didn’t fit. In terms of her dreams, her identity, her sexuality, she just did not fit the conventional mold for women. What she did have, however, and what drove her, was her love of flying, and the freedom and sense of self she found in flight. And that is what set her apart from other characters in the book who also struggled to find their place, particularly Jamie and Eddie. A wonderful aspect of this book is the richness of the surrounding characters. There are so many memorable people in this book I wished I could spend more time with. Although the book is long (over 600 pages), I think it is important that the author takes the time that she does to tell this story. You are with Marian long enough that you come to cherish some of her memories and miss the people that she loses. Highly recommend to historical fiction lovers.

Great Circle is available at the Library, and on Libby/Overdrive.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Guest Post from one of our Library Teens: Five Feet Apart by Mikki Daughtry, Rachael Lippincott, and Tobias Iaconis

June 10, 2021 by

[Guest post by Bhumika Prem]

Seventeen-year old Stella Grant has been a patient at Saint Grace’s Regional Hospital since she was a child. She likes being in control of her life, but her out of control lungs are the complete opposite. With her lungs functioning at35%, she can’t risk contracting any disease that could jeopardize her from getting a lung transplant, from being a normal and healthy teenager. That means staying six feet apart from any other patient with cystic fibrosis. No exceptions.Will Newman, a fellow patient with cystic fibrosis, has been counting down the days to his eighteenth birthday so he can finally get away from hospitals, and actually see the places he’s been, not just their hospitals. He just wants to be in charge of his life, and not let his condition stop him from living.Stella and Will spend more time together and learn that they love each other. They can’t be together, or go within 6 feet of each other because Will has a bacteria in his lungs, that if he so much as breathes on Stella, she could die. But they decide to steal back one of the many things that their disease that taken from them; one whole foot of space.Could five feet kill Stella? Would stealing back one foot of space worsen their broken lungs? But also, would five feet save them from heartbreak?
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to middle school kids who enjoy touching, heartfelt, and realistic books. I would give this book a five out of five star review because it’s well-written and it gives awareness about life with cystic fibrosis.

Five Feet Apart is available at the Library and as an eBook on Libby/Overdrive.

Five Feet Apart

My Houseplant Changed My Life: Green Well-being for the Great Indoors, by David Domoney

June 8, 2021 by


I am perhaps the absolutely most unlikely person to check out this book. I am pretty much whatever the opposite of a plant whisperer is (a plant shouter?). Despite my best efforts – and recommendations from others for plants that are impossible to kill – no plant lasts very long under my “care.”

This book inspired me though! In part because it had good information to help me decide which plants might be more suited to my environment (places in my house or at work), and more suited to my actual potential (admittedly low, but with the right match, maybe higher).

Domoney’s detailed descriptions of what each plant needs are paired with the benefits of each plant for humans and our surroundings. For example, the Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata – if you like that sort of thing). “This is probably the toughest houseplant you can buy – it’s low maintenance, tolerant of neglect, and a hardworking air purifier. It also has an interesting form, with its upright swordlike foliage and fascinating variegated leaf markings, that will provide a positive mental distraction from your worries.” Sounds like it was made for me! The simple two-page spread has four brief tips to help the plant thrive (position, potting, growth rate, and care) and four other facts to help you take care of the plant and about its benefits. After an introduction about the benefits of houseplants on our well-being and our living spaces, each plant gets its own two-page spread with this simple, easy to use and refer to format. It’s really a usable book and fun and interesting to browse through even if you don’t decide to bring any plants into your home.

Plants I’m considering as a result of looking at this book: The Snake Plant (obviously), Velvet Plant, Sword Fern, Joseph’s Coat (mood-enhancing beauty, symbolizes change), and Zebra Plant. Most of these clean air, have striking foliage and/or color, don’t get huge, and are a bit less fussy about watering and fertilizing. One that I’m definitely not going to get but was so odd and unfamiliar to me is “Living Stones.” I probably should get one since you don’t even water it at all from early fall to midspring!

I mentioned inspiration… The introduction includes reasons why to consider bringing plants into your indoor environments. One of these is “A sense of achievement: Plants can boost self-esteem. To see a living thing thrive thanks to your care and attention evokes a feeling of pride. And success in the form of propagation or seeing your plant flower releases serotonin, another hormone that lifts and stabilizes your mood.” I don’t even think I would need to see propagation or flowers (in fact I mostly looked at plants that don’t flower) – I would feel successful just to have the plant live longer than six months.

I haven’t gotten any plants yet, but will keep you posted if I do! Find this book in our catalog here.

Books about houseplants and how to take care of them on Hoopla:
All titles
Happy Houseplants
What’s Wrong with my Houseplant
Pocket Guide to Houseplants
Handmade Houseplants: Remarkably Realistic Plants you can Make with Paper

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

June 3, 2021 by


I’ve been on a bit of a historical fantasy kick lately, which is a genre I love because you get the wonderful time and place perspective of historical fiction, plus magic! Add a touch of police procedural to the mix and you get this extremely enjoyable new novel, which takes us to Cairo, Egypt in 1912. In this alternate history, the world is still reeling from the fact that the gates to the magical realm were suddenly thrown open by the mysterious al-Jahiz about 50 years earlier, and now Djinn and other magical creatures live among humans. Tensions start running high when someone claiming to be al-Jahiz returns to Cairo, causing chaos in the city. When murders begin to occur, Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, is called in to investigate. Fatma is a wonderful character, brilliant, a little battle-weary, and a spiffy dresser in fancy suits and bowler hats. She teams up with her new partner, Agent Hadia, who is fresh out of the academy and eager to impress, and Fatma’s girlfriend Siti, to tackle the mystery. The book weaves themes of colonialism, racism, sexism, class struggle and sexuality into this extremely engaging, enjoyable novel. It’s the first in a series and I will definitely be reading more from this author!

You can find A Master of Djinn at the Library.

The Parisian, or al-Barisi, by Isabella Hammad

May 31, 2021 by


Brief review: Stunning book, compelling protagonist, historical fiction in a time and place that is less familiar. Ultimately a deeply human story written in beautiful, masterful prose.
Find the Parisian in our catalog here
Read it on Hoopla here
Read it on Libby/OverDrive here

And… the longer review:

This novel takes place in two places: France and Palestine. However, it really takes place singly in the life and mind of our protagonist, Midhat Kamal. We begin as Midhat leaves Nablus (“a town north of Jerusalem, south of Damascus”) for France to study medicine at The University of Montpellier. There he stays with the Molineau family, comprising Doctor Molineau and his daughter, Jeannette.

We follow Midhat’s relationships (especially with Jeannette – which is a complicated and mysterious one) and his trajectory at first the University and then the Sorbonne in Paris until he returns to Nablus to step into his father’s business in textiles and clothing.

The remainder, and bulk, of the novel takes place in Nablus, where the history of “Greater Syria” and Palestine is unfolding. While historical fiction often teaches us a lot about a time and/or place that we aren’t very familiar with, this book does it all from the particular point of view, and experience of, Midhat — an outsider no matter where he is. So, this “view” of historical events is both participant and observer.

That is the frame of the story — but the driving force of this sad, beautiful, human story is Midhat’s inner life and interaction with the people and world around him. He is a sympathetic, flawed character who never quite finds a home. Against the backdrop of both Arab and Jewish struggles to establish a territorial home under outside machinations of large powers (France, Britain, Turkey, the Ottoman Empire), we still experience everything from the personal instead of the political.

The writing is exceptionally beautiful and masterly, in some places almost more like being immersed in a painting than a novel. Strikingly, this is the author’s first novel – she is 19! [for those Top Gear fans, her father is Richard Hammond, long time co-host of that program.] Our sympathies (not surprisingly) lie with those Arabs who live in Nablus (what many characters think of as Greater Syria), but given the deeply personal point of view of a man who isn’t blantantly political, the reader (ie: me) doesn’t necessarily feel strongly partisan. More so, there is a loneliness of not quite belonging in the way that others do, that seems far beyond the author’s years.

Find the Parisian in our catalog here
Read it on Hoopla here
Read it on Libby/OverDrive here

Author photo: (c) Kathy Coulter
Winner of The Plimpton Prize, O. Henry Prize, and National Book Award “5 under 35” Honoree.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

May 19, 2021 by


This coming-of-age story of a fourteen year old girl in Nigeria is by turns hopeful and completely heart-wrenching. I have to admit that if I were to read that in a review it might keep me from reading it, but I will say that to me the book ultimately leans toward the hopeful. I am particularly glad I listened to the audiobook. The book is told in the voice of Adunni, and her dialect, and the frequent songs she makes up, are beautifully rendered on the audiobook by Adjoa Andoh (Lady Danbury for any Bridgerton fans out there). Adunni lives in a small rural village in Nigeria, and is grieving the loss of her beloved mother who instilled in her the optimism and passion for education that sustain her throughout the book. However, her father arranges for her to marry a much older man for her “bride price” in order to pay for the family’s housing, and Adunni becomes the youngest of three wives to an abusive man. Eventually she runs off to Lagos where she becomes trapped in servitude to a rich business woman and her predatory husband. Fortunately there is a library in the home, and Adunni finds a dictionary and a book of Nigerian facts, through which she learns, among other things, that child marriage is illegal in Nigeria (the book is set in 2014). The combination of poverty and sexism make things very bleak for girls like Adunni, and even in the upper classes the sexism is stark in the book. But there is kindness around her as well – at every stage she finds people who are willing to help her, and those relationships sustain her hope and determination to get out and to help other girls in similar situations. Adunni is a lovely character – funny and smart and kind, and her struggle to find her voice and get the education she deserves is a memorable one.

The Girl with the Louding Voice is available as both an ebook and an audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Title details for The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré - Wait list

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

May 13, 2021 by


I’m finding a theme in a lot of the books I’m reading lately of people in difficult circumstances choosing kindness and compassion. In this fantasy novel, it is Maia, half-Goblin, half-Elf, who is making this choice. Maia is the exiled and mostly forgotten youngest son of the Emperor of the Elflands, who finds himself thrust into the role of Emperor when his father and his older brothers are killed in an airship crash. Maia is only 18, and has grown up isolated and unloved after the early death of his beloved Goblin mother. Raised by an angry and abusive cousin, he knows nothing of the politics or etiquette of the Court, and is ill at ease among others in general, and particularly among the aristocratic Elf Court. His anxiety and sense of isolation only increase when he learns that the airship accident that killed his father and brothers was sabotage.

What I liked so much about his book, as strange as it may sound, was the lack of action. Maia is a very lonely and anxious character, and in the midst of trying to understand the political intrigue and ways of the Court, he is just trying to figure out who he can trust, who he is, and who, if anyone, he can count as a friend. There is no real love story, no epic battles in this book. Just a thoughtful, cerebral story of a young man trying to figure out how to be a good person, how to be a good leader, and how to find a friend. It is a surprisingly gentle and heartfelt book, and it was nice to see goblins get some love for a change. I listened to this audiobook on Hoopla and very much enjoyed it.