Beach Reads: Summer 2021

Back for 2021, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

Fantasy Title: “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik

I highlighted “Uprooted” in this list several years ago, but I think now is as good a time as any to return to the well and select Novik’s follow-up fairytale fantasy, “Spinning Silver.” In theory, these two books exist in the same world. In practicality, they each can be read as complete stand-alones. This time, Novik tackles “Rumpelstiltskin,” but her complete expansion and unique take on the fable leaves only the barest hints of the original story. Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, and when forced to take up the role herself, find she has has a particular talent for the role. So much so that she draws the eyes of powerful magical beings who would put her skills to an even greater use. But this isn’t simply Miryem’s tale. We also follow the path of a nobleman’s neglected daughter and a peasant girl who is trying to protect her family. Honestly, it’s hard to say which I like better between this book and “Uprooted,” so just go ahead and read both.

Science Fiction Title: “Driftwood” by Marie Brennan

This was a favorite sci-fi read from last summer, and a perfect book for this summer’s beach read list. Not only is it a stand-alone title, but it’s also a short, quick read. Driftwood is the world where all other worlds go to die. After whatever apocalypse took them out, the final scraps of the land and its inhabitants find themselves mashed up against other failed worlds, slowly grinding themselves into oblivion. But even here, life flourishes and civilizations rise and fall. But where everything eventually comes to end, one being endures, a man named Last. Weaving through a variety of tales and worlds, Last’s story slowly unfolds, though there, too, histories and mysteries are layered one upon another. This was such a unique read that I’ve been raving about it pretty much since the moment I set it down. Definitely check it out if you want a quick, science fiction read.

Mystery Title: “Crocodile on the Sandbank” by Elizabeth Peters

I actually had to look past through our Beach Reads posts of the previous summers, because I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t featured this one yet! It’s been a while since I’ve read a book in the “Amelia Peabody,” series, but I will never forget the sheer joy of reading this first book for the first time. I was sitting outside a coffee shop in the summer, and I ended up sitting there for like four hours just blowing through this book and laughing out loud. Oh, the days before children! Of all the books I’m featuring this go-around, “Crocodile on the Sandbank” is by far the best fit for a Beach Read in that it’s just a sheer joy to read. Fans of historical mysteries have to check it out, and if you like intrepid heroines, this one’s also for you!

Historical Fiction Title: “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler

Technically, this book could fall under sci-fi/fantasy as well, as it features time travel at the heart of the story. But as most of it is focused on the historical aspects of time travel rather than the science fiction behind it, I thought it would work well here. Dana, a young African American woman, suddenly finds herself wrenched from her life in 1976 back to antebellum Maryland. She saves a young white boy from drowning and only barely escapes with her life. The story jumps back and forth through time as Dana’s life continues to intertwine with this same young man. This book is a staple of science fiction literature and, obviously, Butler is one of the genre’s most beloved authors. If you’re looking for good historical fiction novel as well as one to check off on many “must read” lists, definitely get your hands on “Kindred.”

Kate’s Picks

Horror Title: “Feed” by Mira Grant

I reviewed one of the spin off books on this blog, “Feedback”, which takes place in the same zombie tech universe, but I haven’t touched much upon the original story that started it all. In a world where cures for the common cold and cancer became a reality, the solutions merged into a virus that turns people into zombies. Now society has figured out ways to adapt and move on, and bloggers and vloggers act as sources of news. We follow Georgia and Shaun Mason, sibling reporters who are in high demand, and who have been hired by a Presidential candidate to cover his campaign. But as they get deeper into the politics, they start to find disturbing connections to the zombie hordes. It’s savvy, it’s fun, and it’s wholly unique, and a great read for a vacation.

Thriller Title: “Help for the Haunted” by John Searles

When Serena and I and some of our friends stumbled upon an Alex Award presentation about this book at ALA in 2014, we hadn’t heard of “Help for the Haunted”. But it became clear almost immediately that it would be a thriller that is right up my alley. Sylvie Mason is one of the daughters of a famous ghost hunting duo, and after a call in the middle of the night takes her and her parents to an abandoned church, her parents end up dead. A year later, Sylvie is living with her older sister Rose, who may know more than she’s saying about their parents’ deaths. On top of that, the family basement, which houses the haunted artifacts left over from their parents cases, has been acting up. Sylvie wants to find out the truth about her parents… no matter what that truth may be. Given that this is loosely based on Ed and Lorraine Warren, and that “The Conjuring 3” is now released, this thriller is a timely choice.

Graphic Novel Title: “Ms. Marvel (Vol.1): No Normal” by G. Willow Wilson and Adrial Alphona (Ill.)

While my reactions to the “Ms. Marvel” stories have had their ups and downs, I absolutely loved the very first book, “Ms. Marvel: No Normal”. In this first volume we meet Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City who suddenly has super powers thrust upon her. She becomes Ms. Marvel, and her life of fighting crime as well as trying to survive high school begins. “No Normal” has the perfect set up which introduces Kamala, as well as her family and friends, and shows us a dynamic and engaging superhero that gives voice to those who aren’t as represented in comics. And while the series does have moments of being a little aggressively quirky, “No Normal” is pretty much on point and excellent from start to finish. Definitely check this one out if you are looking for a comic series with a lot of heart.

Non-Fiction Title: “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish

Non-fiction is such a broad swath of genres, but I thought that for beach reading you probably want to keep it lighter! So instead of going for my usual true crime pick, we turn to humorous memoirs, and there we find “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish! Haddish has established herself as a gifted comedienne in the past few years, and her memoir is a collection of reflections about her life. Some of it is VERY funny (naturally), while other parts of it are poignant and at times hard to read. But through it all Haddish has wry self awareness and some really fun stories about her life. “The Last Black Unicorn” feels like a good mix of the fun and the painful, and I found myself laughing and shedding a few tears throughout. It’s the kind of memoir that you won’t want to put down, and will make you root for Haddish the whole way through.

What books are you taking to the beach with you this summer? Let us know in the comments!

Read Deliciously: Books and Food

Last week was Pi Day, a fun quirk of a holiday that celebrates the mathematical value of Pi (3.14) with pie! All this fun pie talk was certain to make us hungry, and books and food go hand in hand in many different ways! Here are just a few books that either have recipes, or food themed plots, or anything to do with food in honor of a food centric holiday!

Book: “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg

While this story is mostly about the power of female friendships, sapphic romance, and the unrelenting spirit of women in the face of societal roadblocks, “Fried Greed Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” is also a book that has many food references that just sound amazing! As the characters of Idgie and Ruth run their own diner by a train stop in rural Alabama, they serve up all kinds of delicious treats like pies, hearty meals, and, of course, fried green tomatoes. And, uh, a side of cannibalism here and there, but that was never the main menu item! And it isn’t included in the recipe section that can be found in the back of the book, holding treats and delights from cafe head cook Sipsy. Highly recommended and not too hard to make either!

Book: “The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookie Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes” by Robin Davis

This cookbook is sure to be a treat for “Star Wars” fans of all ages! Pop culture cookbooks are definitely a thing, and while a lot of them will create and derive recipes from actual food that is found in the source material, “The Star Wars Cookbook” goes in a different direction and decides to make recipes that work on puns, rhymes, alliterations, and imagery. From the titular “Wookie Cookies” to “Boba Fett-ucine” to “Bossk Brownies”, you have character inspired goodies, as well as recipes that just look like things in the saga (such as the “Tatooine Twin Sun Toast”, which is essentially eggs in a basket but with two eggs that can look like the suns on Luke’s home planet). Lots of simple recipes, fun pictures, and encouragement for the whole family to get involved makes for a really fun day of cooking!

Book: “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain

Many people agree that the culinary and food world lost an icon when Anthony Bourdain died due to suicide in 2018. Not only was he a lover of food and cooking, but he also was a man who had a reverence and respect for the many cultures that he explored as he traveled the world doing his culinary adventures and research. “Kitchen Confidential” is probably his best known written work, and it still remains as a go to for memoirs about cooking and cuisine. While he talks candidly about the things in his own life, he also talks about the ins and outs of restaurant kitchens, and gives advice on what to definitely order, and what to definitely avoid, when it comes to eating out at a restaurant (someday we’ll get back to that, right?). Bourdain’s mark on the food world is positive and permanent, and his voice is missed.

Book: “Redwall” by Brian Jacques

This could hold true for the entire series, but I’ll list the first book here because, well, it’s first. None of the books in this long-running fantasy series about warrior animals and a mythical abbey inhabited by monk mice are overtly about food. HOWEVER. Anyone who has read even one of these stories will immediately understand why it’s on this list. Every book includes at least one feast scene with entire pages devoted to listing out the various forest food dishes the animals are eating. It’s all so lovingly and lavishly fixated on that you begin to forget that acorn pie is not really a thing. It all sounds delicious! Now, could it be said that there is a little bit too much talk about all the ins and outs of what everyone is eating at all times? Why, yes. But if you like to revel in fantasy food scenes, this is the book/series for you.

Book: “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquirel

This is a lovely book that perfectly combines a poignant love story and also includes recipes! This was a super popular book when it came out, but as I was a kid then, I didn’t get around to reading it until much later. I also don’t typically read this sort of book, but I found it absolutely delightful. It was surprisingly witty and the installment-style of storytelling worked much better than I had anticipated. I’m also not a big cook, but I grew up in a part of the country with a lot of Mexican immigrants who opened some amazing restaurants, so I recognized a lot of the recipes and dishes they included. Perhaps now would be a good time to re-visit this one, as I might be more capable of attempting some of these. Fans who want both a lovely book as well as some fantastic Mexican cuisine recipes should definitely check this out.

Book: “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal

And, of course, we could complete list this without including a book that touches on the cuisine of our beloved Midwest. Yes, we eat more than casserole here! More so than “Like Water for Chocolate,” however, this is primarily a fictional novel that also happens to touch on the food found in the Midwest. Told from a large variety of POV characters, it’s the story of a single father attempting to raise his small daughter, Eva. As she grows, her father, Lars, works to instill in her a love for the food of Minnesota, a combination of dishes ranging from the seemingly-strange Norwegian meals and to the homey, comfort foods found in an all-American meal. Each chapter introduces and focuses on a new type of food that connects to Eva’s story as she grows, highlighting how so often food is a focal point for communities and relationships. A must read for residents of Minnesota and a nice window looking in for those curious about Midwest culture and cuisine.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks or books that focus on food?

Tainted Love: Unromantic Couples in Literature

In honor of Valentine’s Day yesterday, we thought it would be fun to talk about relationships in literature. Specifically, unhealthy ones or ones that we personally cannot abide for whatever reason. Given that this kind of thing can get people riled up, these opinions are our own and anyone can feel free to disagree. But we have our reasons! So here are our least favorite couples in literature.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer

The Couple: Edward and Bella

We’re just going to get this one out of the way right off the bat. It’s not a unique pick and we all probably know the reasons why it belongs on this list. But it also can’t not be included. Edward and Bella are terrible. Edward on his one is terrible. Bella on her own is terrible. Together they are ultra terrible. That’s not to say I’m “Team Jacob” either; all the romances in this story were pretty messed up. But this one tops most YA lists for bad romances for a reason. Edward is centuries older than teenage Bella. He’s super creepy and possessive with his nighttime stalking and abusive antics, like cutting her car battery lines. And Bella becomes the worst version of the abused member in an unhealthy relationship: her life becomes a literal blank page without Edward, she becomes suicidal, and by the end, all of her own life goals and passions have been set aside in her obsessive drive to live her life with Edward. There’s nothing here that remotely resembles a healthy romantic relationship and what’s worse, it set the stage for solid block of years in YA fiction where this was the only type of romance to be found.

Book: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

The Couple: Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester

This one was tied with “Wuthering Heights”‘s romance for me. Both are lauded as great Gothic romances of their time, but I really struggled with them. I like the book “Jane Eyre,” and I’ve really enjoyed a few of the movie adaptatiosn I’ve seen (particularly the mini series featuring Ruth Wilson). But man, Mr. Rochester, he wasn’t all that. I neve really understood what Jane saw in him from the start. He came across as a creep to for most of the first half of the book, particularly with the gypsy ruse which I felt was a fairly cruel prank to pull on people you call your friends. And then, of course, the whole wife in the attic bit. Yes, she’s insane, but it also doesn’t feel quite right to be lauding a character as a romantic hero when he’s got his wife locked away in a tower. Beyond that, the fact that he seemed perfectly happy to marry Jane and just hope that this little secret never came out. I mean, if he had died and then Bertha was discovered, Jane could have been left with nothing considering her marriage was never legal. Not to mention poor Jane’s reaction finding this out some ten years into a marriage potentially. It’s all pretty bad.

Book: “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling

The Couple: Hermione and Ron

This one hurts my heart to include, for two reasons. One, I’m incredibly thankful that Hermione and Harry were never a thing. That pairing would have been so unoriginal and predictable that it would have underwritten many of the unique aspects that Hermione brought to the group, making her ultimately just the romantic interest/prize for the hero in the end. And two, I really do enjoy reading Ron and Hermione’s romance and think that they could be a good couple in the end. The problem is that we never really see it in the books we have. Some of that is understandable, they’re kids during the first several and teenagers during the last. And teenagers aren’t particularly known for forming healthy, balanced romantic relationships. So most of the actual romantic build up we see are a bunch of moments where Ron continually proves that he doesn’t really deserve Hermione. By the end of the seventh book, we begin to see how he can/will. But that still leaves the majority of the story highlighting these two clashing, and Ron repeatedly letting Hermione down. And then we jump to the epilogue. I think that’s probably a really good example of how the two could work well together, but there’s about 90% of Point A, a few brief moments in the last book that show the beginnings of a healthy relationship, and then bam! We’re at Point B and they’re married with kids. So as a romantic pairing in the books themselves, they’re not great. But I love them. But they’re not great. But…ugh!

Book: “Shadow and Bone” trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

The Couple: Alina and The Darkling

This probably goes down as one of the most frustrating “romances” I’ve ever read. Seriously, I can’t understand why people think this couple was ever a thing. I remember finishing the first book, and then the second especially, and reading reviews where people were wringing their hands about their worries that Alina and The Darkling weren’t endgame. What?? The guy’s a psychotic murder! “But in a hot way!” they all croon. What the actual hell. In my mind, this never even approached being a love triangle because, for me, that would mean to viable options. And The Darkling was a mass murderer. If you think he’s a viable love interest…well, we have very different understandings of romance I guess? I don’t know. Netflix is coming out with a show featuring character for the entire “Grisha” universe and I feel very conflicted about it almost exclusively because of my feelings about this relationship. I love “Six of Crows” and the relationships there. But I hate the Alina/Darkling stuff so much that it might tip the scales against the entire thing, depending on what direction they take it, I guess.

Honorable Mention: “Blood and Chocolate” by Annette Curtis Klausse

My sister reminded me of this one right when I was finishing up my list. But the romance in this book (another love triangle ultimately) and the endgame pairing between Vivian and Gabriel was so very bad that the movie actually swaps out the ending, switching which of the two characters she ends up with. That just proves how godawful terrible it was. I won’t go into all the messy details, but think Edward/Bella with a dash more abuse and heaping pile more “mating bond” nonsense.

Kate’s Picks

Book: “The Hunger Games Trilogy” by Suzanne Collins

The Couple: Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorne

So this may be a BIT of a cheat, as I don’t think that Katniss and Gale were ever REALLY together, at least not officially. But given that there was a huge love triangle in the fandom between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, I feel a need to explain why I can’t get behind the Katniss/Gale relationship that many people wanted. No, it’s not because I’m a huge Peeta fan or anything like that. It’s because Gale is a literal WAR CRIMINAL whose strategy of bombing civilians and medics gets Katniss’s sister Prim killed. Like, my GOD, that QUITE the deal breaker! Even if it hadn’t led to the death of Prim, the very fact that he thought that this was a justified and legitimate strategy is incredibly disturbing! It boggles the mind that people could come out of that series thinking that Katniss should have ended up with that guy!

Book: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Couple: Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan

I mean, obvious, but sometimes I see people kind of romanticize this relationship as forbidden and star crossed love, and guys, that isn’t what this is. On one hand you have Gatsby, who is so OBSESSED with a woman that he builds up his entire fortune and livelihood for her, in spite of the fact he’s more in love with an idea than an actual person. And then there’s Daisy, who certainly has a raw deal with her gross husband Tom (and has few choices as a woman of that time), but is perfectly willing to let both Tom AND Gatsby put her on pedestals until things become messy or inconvenient to her lifestyle. Also she ran over Myrtle and let Gatsby take the fall, and probably knew that her husband had a hand in his ultimate demise. Careless people, indeed.

Book: “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud

The Couple: David and Meg

This was a book club pick a few years ago, and while I did find “The Sculptor” able to convey the frustration of being an artist in a world that doesn’t see you, I just couldn’t abide the romance between the main characters. For the unfamiliar, “The Sculptor” is a graphic novel about an artist named David who, so frustrated with his lack of success, makes a deal with Death that if he is given the ability to sculpt anything into a masterpiece, he will give up his life in two hundred days. And then of course, he meets Meg, a care free performance artist, whom he falls head over heels in love with. My problem was that their ‘love story’ felt very toxic, in that David is a narcissistic whiner who is more concerned with his ‘legacy’ than his actual life and relationships, and Meg is merely there to be an emotional road bump in his deal with Death, and is the worst kind of ‘manic pixie dream girl’ stereotype who is only there to prop him and his pain up. The drama and emotions feel hollow, and it’s just dramatic to be dramatic without actually doing the work to make it feel real. On the plus side, the art is great. But that isn’t what we’re critiquing here.

Book: The “Temperance Brennan” Series by Kathy Reichs

The Couple: Tempe and Andrew Ryan

This has been a SAGA for many, many books, and while I know we are supposed to want Tempe and Andrew Ryan to be endgame, boy oh boy do I NOT like them as a couple. I’m probably being far less forgiving than I could be. But let me lay it out plain (and this is going to have spoilers for elements of the entire series, so watch out). Tempe and Andrew Ryan have some pretty fun will they or won’t they chemistry. They eventually decide to give it a go, and it’s going fine. Then, Ryan finds out that he has an adult daughter from a previous relationship that he never knew about, and she is an addict. Ryan decides that the best way to support this long lost daughter is to dump Tempe and try to make it work with her mother, a woman he hasn’t spoken to in years! And THEN, it’s all for naught, he and his former lover break up, his daughter dies of an overdose, and he proposes to Tempe and is IRRITATED when she is reluctant to give him an answer!!! To that I say SCRAM!! While it’s kind of mellowed as the series has gone on, I’m still not on board with their relationship. He did her far too wrong.

Honorable Mention: “Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

I think that the obvious choice is probably Romeo and Juliet, but let’s think outside the box and pick a terrible couple from a comedy. I present to you Hero and Claudio! This young couple is set and ready to get married, but then Claudio is tricked into thinking that Hero has had an affair with someone else. Then he truly and HORRIBLY humiliates her on their wedding day and leaves her at the altar, like REALLY humiliates her and basically calls her a whore, and her own father says that he wants her to DIE because of Claudio’s tirade. Of course the truth comes out and ALL IS FORGIVEN OR SOMETHING and they get married like it’s a happy turn of events, God it’s awful.

Well that was a nice cathartic rant! What romantic couples do you find genuinely awful? Let us know in the comments!

A New Year: Books About Hope and Peace

2020 was…a lot. No part of life felt untouched by the complete upheaval that was life during a summer full of powerful protests, a fall made up of an ugly election cycle, and an entire year burdened by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021 has started with an insurrectionist attack in D.C., but will soon see a new president sworn into power. We could all use a little hope and peace looking forward, so here is a list of books with themes such as these at their core.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

Not only is this just a good book to read during the winter any year, but it feels particularly apt now. Even though Christmas technically came, the general feeling of “always winter but never Christmas” definitely pervaded this last year. But at its heart, this is a story of hope in the midst of what feels like endless darkness. Even the part that is set in the real world, with the children sent to the country to escape the bombing in London during WWII. What could just be a grim war story turns into a magical adventure. And right next to the grand example of goodness and kindness set by Aslan himself, there are the smaller, quieter moments that stand out just as much. Mr. Tumnus inviting Lucy in for tea. The beaver family taking in the children and leading them across Narnia’s wintery forest. And while the cold of the White Witch is always present, it’s also impossible to miss the sense of peace and wonder that winter always brings with it as well. Especially when Christmas finally arrives.

Book: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World”

Yes, the premise of this book doesn’t sound too peaceful or hopeful. The world has ended. But life goes on and even sort of peace has come along with it. That is until Griz’s beloved dog is stolen away. And so begins a trek across a barely recognizable world, but hope burns eternal and beauty can be found even amidst the destruction that remains. It’s a lovely story, with perhaps some sad bits, but a nice message at the end about the rewards waiting for those who persist in the face of unknowns and seemingly hopeless cases. This book probably goes down as one of my “most recommended” titles in the last several years. I feel like it’s the kind of story that appeals to almost all types of readers and it has hidden gems that surprise even the most savvy reader.

Book: “44 Scotland Street” by Alexander McCall Smith

This is actually a book recommendation from my husband who is also an avid reader, though he tends towards long, Russian novels much more than myself (much to his dismay as he knows I’ll probably never read any of them myself!). But I was talking about this book list and looking for peaceful, hopeful books and this was one of the first ones he thought of. Unlike the first two books on this list, this recommendation is based more on the peaceful feeling he described as having when reading it. The story is essentially just a character study of a small community in Edinburgh and all the quirks and foibles that make up the lives of the people in it. Strong on plot it may not be, but full of warmth and laughs, it definitely is!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

So this may seem like an odd choice given that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world after a devastating pandemic. But “Station Eleven” is, at its heart, about hope and the human will to keep going, and finding joy and peace in the things that are left. After a virus wipes out a majority of the world’s population, groups of people who survived are scattered about in the wild. One of these groups is a troupe of actors who travel around and put on plays for those that they meet, bringing reminders of the old world and joy through art. True, there is conflict, and true, we still see the pain of the world falling apart through flashbacks, but even with all of that “Station Eleven” is a very hopeful tale about human perseverance even in the worst of times, and how important the arts can be when they provide happiness and escape.

Book: “I Am Malala: The Story of a Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

It’s been almost ten years since education activist Malala Yousafzai was nearly murdered for her activism while she was living in Pakistan. After she survived the attack, and given that she was only a teenager at the time, she became a symbol of tenacity and hope in the face of violence and oppression. Her memoir “I Am Malala” is a very hopeful and powerful book about doing what’s right, standing up against injustice, and the sacrifices that sometimes have to be made for the greater good. What I loved most about this book is that Malala is not only a very powerful writer as she talks about her life and her activism, but it’s also very much a story about a teenage girl with a lot of the dreams and anxieties that you would see across the age group. It’s a book that not only gives hope to me for younger generations, but also gives hope that things can get better if you fight for it.

Book: “Unbowed” by Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmental activist whose work had mostly been in Kenya, and her life story is written in this memoir, “Unbowed”. Her work in environmentalism as well as in feminism and political activism brought a number of positive changes to her home country. Not only did she help shift the Kenyan government system to a democracy (and then served in their Parliament), she also established the Green Belt Movement which encouraged the restoration of forests and trees, and put women in countryside communities at the forefront of the movement and action it took in the restoration efforts. While it’s true that she wasn’t without a little bit of controversy during her activism (there are questions about some remarks about HIV/AIDS conspiracy theories she was accused of saying, though she denied it and released her own statement HERE if you’re curious), her contributions to environmentalism and women’s rights cannot be overlooked, and her story is one that is filled with hope for what people of the world can do to make it a better place.

What books fill you with home and feelings of peace? Let us know in the comments!

Booksgiving: Books We’re Thankful For

There are many things to be thankful for, family, friends, experiences in life and challenges faced. But here at the Library Ladies we do tend to focus on one thing: books. So going into this season of thanksgiving, here is a list of some of the books that played an important part in our lives and for which we are thankful.

Serena’s Picks:

Book(s): “Song of the Lioness” quartet by Tamora Pierce

Why I’m Thankful: There are a lot of reasons why I’m thankful for reading this series as a middle school girl. There’s the obvious strong heroine who is making her way in a man’s world, proving her metal and taking names, of course. But there are also quite a few books that tackle this subject. What made this series stand out is how it also drew in other important aspects of Alanna’s life as a woman into the story. Always good at the fighting part, Alanna has more to learn about valuing her feminine side, learning the powerful magic of weaving and working with string. She also learns the crucial lesson that first love, while powerful, is not always the be-all, end-all of romance, and not to allow herself to be blinded by this first sweep of emotion. She goes on to have several romantic relationships before finally finding the one man who is right for her. As a young woman going through the angst of teenage years, this was a crucial lesson for me and one that is often missed in YA books today which often present the very trope-y, very silly “one true love” story as beginning and ending with the first guy the protagonist thinks is cute at age 16.

Book: “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

Why I’m Thankful: Between the book and the movie, I feel like “The Princess Bride” is the story that just keeps giving. It’s the ultimate comfort read book for me and was one of the first books I read that really showed what good comedy writing looks like. I have yet to find a fantasy comedy that even comes close (though I have read some other good ones). Goldman set a pretty high bar! Of course, it’s not just funny. It’s a high adventure fantasy where the action seems non-stop. Add on top of that the clever meta commentary of Goldman writing the book as if he is editing a dry, historical tome written by another author. Whenever times are tough, this is a book I’m thankful to have in my arsenal for re-reads.

Book(s): “Oz” series by L. Frank Baum

Why I’m Thankful: My family always read books together before bedtime. I think a lot of families do this, but my parents were super dedicated, and we were still doing it in junior high, I’m pretty sure. It was a really nice time, and we all enjoyed it. Of course, reading every night for so long, we had to have a bunch of books to get through. The “Oz” books were probably one of the first long series that we made it through with 14 books in total. Only a few of them stand out in my memory, but I do remember enjoying them all as we read them. I have a long list of books that I’m planning on reading to Will, and this series is right up there near the top! Not only do I hope that he enjoys them too, but I’m excited to revisit so many of the stories that I don’t remember as well.

Kate’s Picks:

Book: “Carrie” by Stephen King

Why I’m Thankful: It too me awhile in my younger elementary and high school years to find my people. As someone who went to the same institution from Kindergarten through senior year who was a misfit (and surrounded by a class of people who were notoriously awful), I was fairly bullied and lonely for a long time. So reading “Carrie” in middle school was INCREDIBLY cathartic for me. The story of a bullied teenage girl who finds out she has supernatural powers that empower her was something to strive for, and while I definitely knew the whole ‘and then she kills everyone at the Prom’ plot point, that was merely incidental (aaaand the cathartic part). But it was Stephen King’s rather authentic and wholly relatable teenage girl characters, Carrie and nice girl Sue Snell, that really spoke to me in the text. Plus, this was the second King book I’d ever read, and it solidified my love for the man.

Book: “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and David Gibbons (Ill.)

Why I’m Thankful: When I was a kid, I dabbled in comics on and off, but was more inclined to watch the movie or TV versions of my favorite DC superheroes and superheroines. Once I got to college, I did pick up graphic novels like “Maus”, “The Crow”, and “Bone”, but it wasn’t really my wheelhouse. And then I read “Watchmen” and everything changed. I was blown away by the intricate and dark storyline, the compelling and sometimes unsettling characters impressed,(Rorschach is a fave, even though he is a MONSTER in a lot of ways), and the inversion of superhero tropes and themes blew me away. I mean, when the big reveal about Ozymandias’s plan happened, I literally gasped in the middle of the library I was taking a work break in. It’s one of my very favorite books, and I credit “Watchmen” with my current love of graphic novels.

Book(s): “The Baby-Sitters Club” by Ann M. Martin

Why I’m Thankful: Soooo along with the scares of “Fear Street”, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, and “Goosebumps”, the other big series that I loved as a kid was “The Baby-Sitters Club”. And I think that it was this series that made me a compulsive reader, as I was always wanting to get my hands on the next in the series (unlike “Fear Street” or “Goosebumps”, where I skipped around based on plot). The stories of a group of middle school girls running a business, navigating friendships, and growing up were aspirational for me, as at the time I didn’t really have the ideal group of girl friends that the books presented. Mary-Anne was my favorite, but I wished I was as cool as Stacey, and all of them made me want to be a good babysitter (and I was, during the few babysitting jobs I had as time went on). “The Baby-Sitters Club” will always have a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to shape and change as time goes on (and for when my own daughter gets to be the age where she could read them)!

What books are you most thankful for? Let us know in the comments!

Whoa Baby!: Favorite Books for Babies

Given that the two of us are such heavy readers, it’s probably no surprise that our kiddos also really enjoy books (even if they’re still a little young to read themselves). So we thought it would be fun to give some recommendations of books that our babies have enjoyed, given that the holidays are coming upon us fast and you may have kiddos in your life that could use some fun books to read.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Kitten’s First Full Moon” by Kevin Henkes

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, March 2004

Why Will and I Like It: I obviously like it for the kitten aspect. And as I want to forcibly instill a love of cats into my son, this was a favorite to read to him right from the get-go. Luckily, he also seems to really like it. The black and white pictures provide a lot of contrast, making it a book that even very young babies can appreciate. The story is simple and sweet with just enough repeated words that, as he’s gotten older, he can follow long and repeat some of them back. This is a Caldecott winner, so obviously it’s a big favorite with a lot of people, and there’s a reason why!

Book: “Little Blue Truck” by Alice Schertle, Jill McElmurry (Illustrator)

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, May 2008

Why Will and I Like It: This has been a more recent favorite. I picked this book up on a whim before a long car trip this summer, and much to my surprise it became a quick favorite. The illustrations are lush and beautiful. And the bouncy, fun rhyme that makes up the story is fun for Will. He’s also recently begun to really like matching animal noises with the animal, and this book has been a perfect match for that neat, little trick. There are a bunch more “Little Blue Truck” books in this series, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be getting more for Christmas.

Book: “‘More, More, More!’ Said the Baby” by Vera Williams

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, 1990

Why Will and I Like this Book: This is an oldie, but a goodie. Another Caldecott nominated book, it’s been a favorite for many years. My mom got this book for Will this summer, and he had tons of fun reading it with her during our long visit. It features three short stories of babies running around being chased and loved on by their caregivers. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the rhythm and meter of the story are unique and beautiful. Will particularly appreciates having his nose, toes, and tummy tickled along with the babies in the book!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Baby Goes to Market” by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Candlewick Press, September 2017

Why Winnie and I Like It: My daughter has books that she obsesses over, and she has gotten to the point where she recognizes the spines on her shelf and grabs them with intent and vigor. “Baby Goes to Market” by Atinuke is a favorite of both of us, though probably for different reasons. For me, it’s the gorgeous artwork, the fun way of incorporating counting into a cute story, and a setting of an African marketplace with lots of different people and imagery. I think for Winnie it’s more about the colors and the repetition of the words as a baby keeps adding items to his mother’s basket. Regardless, “Baby Goes to Market” is one that we revisit over and over again.

Book: “Look, Look!” by Peter Linenthal

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, 1998

Why Winnie and I Like It: This was the first book that my husband and I read to Winnie, as the black and white pictures with splashes of red is great for infant eyesight. When we incorporated reading into her bedtime routine at about three months, “Look, Look!” was the book, and it’s still a nightly read. Winnie likes the pictures, the sun and the cat especially get big smiles each night. I like the unique drawing style that probably is designed specifically for infant optics in mind. It’s a simple and generally plotless read, but we haven’t gotten sick of it yet.

Book: “Rocky Mountain Babies” by Wendy Shattil

Publishing Info: Farcountry Press, 2009

Why Winnie and I Like It: This was an impulse buy while my husband and I were visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Who knew that it would become one of Winnie’s favorite books (one she loves so much that she once burst into tears because we weren’t getting to it fast enough)? “Rocky Mountain Babies” introduces the reader to various animals that you can find in the Rockies, all in baby form. If you like baby animals, which Winnie certainly does, this will be a hit. I, too, like cute baby animals, and the rhyming scheme is easy to memorize, so if your child is holding the book up across the room in hopes you’ll read the page they’ve selected, all you have to do is tap into the ol’ memory bank and voila. Everyone’s happy. The photos really are adorable.

Monster Mash: Books Featuring Cool Monsters

Happy early Halloween! Like everything this year, COVID is affecting everyone’s usual holiday traditions. But, while Halloween itself may not look the same as what we’re used to, there is still good ole reading holding down the fort as a prime socially distanced activity. So while you might be able to get out to the costume parties, you can still hunker down with a bowl of candy all to yourself and a few good books featuring the creepy crawlies! Here’s a list to give you some ideas!

Book: “The Beast is an Animal” by Peternelle van Arsdale

I mean, the cover speaks for itself, right? Even having read it and knowing the story and ending, looking at the cover still gives me the creeps. This is the story of Alys, a girl growing up in a village near the woods. In the woods lurks the soul eaters as well as the Beast, each as powerful and mysterious as the other. For her part, Alys knows too much, making her an object of fear by her neighbors as well. Try and hide as she might, Alys and her secrets are dragged into the light, and she soon finds herself deep in the woods itself. There she will discover not just the Beast, but the beast within herself.

Book: “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

This book definitely falls more firmly in the “fantasy” category than “horror.” But I wanted to included it for those of you (coughmecough) who are often a bit wary about wandering too deep into the scary stuff. Plus, it features some really neat monsters that are born from evil books, which is pretty unique as far as monsters go. Elisabeth has grown up in one of the Great Libraries, the massive fortresses built to not only house books, but to protect the populous from the books. Grimoires are powerful, and if not carefully warded, can burst forth into powerful monsters that can wreak havoc. But when disaster strikes and one makes its way free of the Great Library, Elisabeth is suspected and thrust out into the greater world to fend for herself. Soon she discovers that there may be more to the libraries, books, and magic altogether than she had thought.

Book: “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” by Stephen King

Of course a Stephen King book was going to make this list! Unlike Kate, I haven’t read as many of his books, but I did read this one as a teenager. I think the fact that it is equal parts a woodsy survival story as it is a horror novel is what initially drew me. The story features a 9-year-old girl, Trisha, who gets lost in the woods. But as if surviving alone in the wilderness while trying to find home isn’t hard enough, Trisha soon begins to suspect that she’s not completely alone. Something is out there. Something more than just wildlife. Following the good old horror trick of keeping the monster off the page for most of the book, this story will definitely raise the hairs on your arms!

Short Story: “The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce

Though this is a short story as opposed to a full on novel, “The Damned Thing” is too good to be left off such a list. I read it in high school for my English class, and I was completely taken with the build of dread and partial epistolary narrative (I remember me and my friend Blake being like ‘what the HECK’ after reading it). After a man named Morgan ends up dead on a hunting and fishing trip with a friend, an inquest is called in. His companion says that he and Morgan kept hearing things, but not seeing anything, and Morgan kept referring to ‘that damned thing’ before being attacked by some invisible force. Then diary entries are produced, which chronicle Morgan’s final days as he has started to hunt a creature that cannot be seen. It’s so strange and unique, especially for the time it was written (the 1800s), and not really knowing what is going on just adds to it.

Book: “Mongrels” by Stephen Graham Jones

I just recently discovered Stephen Graham Jones and am kicking myself for not looking into his works before. So a book added to my list is his novel “Mongrels”. One might think ‘ah, a typical werewolf story’, but I have the feeling that this is probably so much more than that. Sure, it DOES have to do with a boy who is potentially going to age into his lycanthropy, but it also has a coming of age story at its very center. A boy who lives with his Aunt and Uncle has been on and off the road for his entire life, the group moving on when they’ve needed to to stay ahead of the law and suspicion. But now things are starting to catch up to them, and the boy starts to sort out his identity. Jones is known to bring in some really good social commentary into his stories, and issues of identity, poverty, and family are sure to come together in powerful ways. All while dealing with werewolves!

Book: “The Devil In Silver” by Victor LaValle

If the setting in a run down and underfunded mental institution isn’t enough to give you the creeps, why not throw in being held there against your will AND a monster with a bison head terrorizing the patients? If that sounds up your alley, “The Devil in Silver” should definitely be a monster book on your list. When Pepper is thrown into the psychiatric ward at New Hyde Hospital, he knows he doesn’t belong there as he doesn’t have a mental illness. He doesn’t remember what he did to get committed, however. And it becomes clear that being involuntarily committed is the least of his problems, as a monster with a bison head is running around at night, scaring people nearly do death. Pepper recruits a few other patients to try and help him fight the monster, and to hold the hospital accountable for its misdeeds. Super weird, and definitely unsettling as well as scary.

What monster books do you like? Let us know in the comments!

Who Wrote It: Lesser-Known Titles from Favorite Authors

Many authors don’t come out the door swinging with a blockbuster book. And even when they do, over the course of their careers, there are usually some quieter novels that somehow seem to slip beneath the radar of the general reading public’s notice. So today we’re going to dig into those backlists and highlight some lesser-known titles from a few of our favorite authors!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The Near Witch” by V.E. Schwab

Schwab seemed to come onto the scene around 2013 when her book “Vicious” first came out and took readers by storm. Since then she’s gone on to write a number of high profile works, including one of my favorite trilogies ever, the “Shades of Magic” series. But before that came this quiet, little fantasy novel originally published in 2011. In fact, it was so quiet that it was re-released in 2019 (after Schwab’s name had gained so much more buying power) with the hopes that it would garner more readership than it did in its first outing. It’s a lovely book, and as one of her earliest books, it’s easy to see the building blocks forming here for themes that she will dive more deeply into in coming books. It’s also a stand-alone, that rare and magical beast of fantasy fiction.

Book: “Warbreaker” by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve already highlighted “Elantris” in previous lists, so while I do think that that book ranks as Sanderson’s most unknown title, I thought I’d go with another one that often gets overlooked in the huge list of titles this author’s produced. This is all subjective, of course, but I think that Sanderson first really came onto the epic fantasy scene with the release of “Mistborn,” published in 2006. So that makes this book, published in 2009, one of those strange cases where a book by an already-popular author seems to fall through the cracks. Mostly this is probably due to the stand-alone nature of the book when Sanderson was already beginning to make a name for himself as an epic fantasy series author. But this book is simply fantastic and probably has my favorite cover of all of his works. It features his usual strong female-characters and intricate magic system, this time based around color and music. It’s a delightful book and one definitely worth checking out for fans of Sanderson’s work or of epic fantasy in general.

Book: “Heart’s Blood” by Juliet Marillier

Not only is Marillier one of my favorite authors ever, but she’s been consistently producing fantasy works for over twenty years now since her first book,”Daughter of the Forest,” came out in 1999. Over that period of time, her “Sevenwaters” books and their off-shoots have been by far her most popular and well-known titles. But she’s also quietly produced several stand-alone novels and duologys. Like her first book, “Heart’s Blood” is a fairytale re-telling. What’s more, it’s a “Beauty and the Beast” re-telling! My favorite! But among the many interwoven books that Marillier has produced over time, this one stands on its own and often gets left unnoticed. Which is such a shame given how beautiful a story it is. Plus, it has a very unique approach to re-imaging one of the most popular (and challenging!) fairytales out there. If you love “Beauty and the Beast,” or fairytale re-tellings in general, this is one to add to your TBR list!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “20th Century Ghosts” by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is becoming more and more popular thanks to adaptations of his works “Locke and Key” and “N0S4A2” being brought to the TV screen, but I think that one of his lesser known titles, and one of my favorites, is the short stories collection “20th Century Ghosts”. Hill runs a complete gamut in his storytelling her, from the legitimately disturbing “Best New Horror” (in which an editor for a horror anthology tries to meet the elusive author of a twisted story), to the bittersweet “Better Than Home” (the story of a relationship between a boy with special needs and his father), to the fascinating “Abraham’s Boys” (a spin off to “Dracula” where Van Helming moves to America and raises his two sons to be vampire hunters). This collections makes it easy to find a story of Hill’s that you can relate to and enjoy, and it also shows off his vast talent as an author with a deft ability to hop from genre to genre and give them all solid representation. If you are just discovering Hill now, you definitely need to read “20th Century Ghosts”.

Book: “Fevre Dream” by George R.R. Martin

While these days most people associate George R.R. Martin as the guy who created (and has neglected to finish) “A Song of Ice and Fire”. This probably means you think high fantasy when you hear his name. But did you know that he wrote a story about a vampire on a steamboat traveling down the Mississippi River? It’s true! “Fevre Dream” was actually the first thing of Martin’s that I read, and it took me years to actually make the connection between these two very different works. In the mid 19th Century, a riverboat captain named Abner Marsh is approached by a wealthy mysterious man named York. York wants Marsh to take him down the Mississippi, though he isn’t very forthcoming as to why. Marsh, needing the money, takes the job… And then finds himself a travel companion to someone who may not be human. If you like vampire stories and Martin’s other works, give this one a shot!

Book: “The Running Man” by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

This one may be a bit of a cheat, but too often have I been talking about the movie “The Running Man” with someone only to blow their minds that not only is it based on a book, it’s based on a book by Stephen King (writing as his old alias Richard Bachman). While it’s true that the movie and the book are pretty different in plot and tone, the basic premise is the same: in the first quarter of the 21st century, the U.S. has become a dystopian nightmare in which poverty, strife, and fascism have run rampant, and the most powerful man in America is the host of the show “The Running Man”. On this show people have to evade people who are trying to kill them. In the novel Ben Richards signs up in hopes of winning the prize to support his wife and baby, and has to stay alive long enough to collect. It’s dystopian angst to be sure, but it’s pulse pounding and suspenseful, and was one of the books that King got to push beyond expectations.

What are some of your favorite books that aren’t as well known by authors you love? Let us know in the comments!

Faster Than a Reading Bullet: A DC Characters Book List

While some may think that this is a reference to the much, uh, chattered about “Snyder Cut” of “Justice League,” it’s more due to the fact that 1) We are both DC fans and thought that they, too deserved a list of books, and 2) ARE WE EVER GOING TO GET TO SEE “Wonder Woman: 1984”!?!?!?! The heroes, heroines (and yes, villains) of the DC Comics universe have been around for a long time, and if we thought that while they, too, wait for their time to come back into the spotlight, we could recommend some books that a few of them may enjoy!

Wonder Woman: “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner

Like Diana, in Spooner’s take on the Robin Hood legend, Maid Marian must face what it means to be a hero in a world that’s not ready to see women in this light. Unlike Wonder Woman, however, Marian doesn’t have any super strengths, other than some skill with a bow. So instead of operating in the light, she must take on the name and persona of the recently deceased Robin of Locksley. Her story is one of bravery in the face of those who would tell her to stay in her place and that of a woman working to carve out her own space in a time and place that sees only one future for her, much like Wonder Woman’s own story.

Superman: “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien

This may seem like an odd choice, pairing up a more “sci fi” hero with the most traditional fantasy series out there…but stick with me. One of Superman’s defining characteristics is his strong sense of moral obligation to his self-appointed role as protector of Earth. He’s by no means forced to do it and, largely, suffers from taking on this burden more than he possibly gains. But he does it because he knows that only he can do it and thus feels that he must do it. In this way, he’s a perfect match for many of the reluctant heroes found in the LOTR series. Most, if not all, of the members of the Fellowship join because they feel that it is the only way forward and they are the only ones who can take on their particular role. Frodo just wants to go back to the Shire. Aragorn has no interest in his kingly heritage. But they, like the others, see a void that only they can fill and so they sacrifice their own wants for the greater good. Pretty Superman-like, huh?

Joker: “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

Who wants to see the world burn and feel justified in his belief that, removed from any societal pressure, humanity would break down into chaos?? Joker would! This classic tale of a group of boys stranded on an island who, over time, slowly lose sight of their own humanity is the perfect pairing for a villain who revels in trying to prove Batman wrong in his faith in the good at the heart of humanity and Gotham. The book description itself lists it as a novel about “the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.” You can’t get any more Joker than that.

Batman: “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

Batman has gone through many interpretations, versions, adaptations, and characterizations since his debut as a superhero for DC. But we must remember that before he was known for being a brooding vigilante or a playboy millionaire, he was known as the world’s greatest detective. Which is why a nice noire would undoubtedly appeal to him, and where else can one turn but to Dashiell Hammett’s classic “The Maltese Falcon”. This story serves as the introduction of hard boiled private eye Sam Spade, and is one of the go tos for old school noire mystery love. Like Batman, Spade searches for the truth relentlessly, gets caught up in his darker feelings, and has a weakness for the bad girls that he meets while on assignment. There’s no doubt in my mind that Batman would at least find this book relatable, if not entertaining.

Lois Lane: “Ten Days in a Mad-House” by Nellie Bly

Lois Lane, intrepid reporter and super-heroine in perhaps a more subtle way (as searching for truth in journalism is pretty darn heroic!), would have so many things to love about “Ten Days in a Mad-House”. For one, Nellie Bly was one of the first really well known woman journalists in this country, doing her work during the Victorian Era. “Ten Days in a Mad-House” would also appeal to Lois because it’s the story of Bly going undercover, pretending to be ‘insane’ so she would be committed to a mental institution so she could investigate claims of abuse and neglect of the inmates. Lois is known for being fearless, and I’m sure that she would love seeing the process and the work of a pioneer in her field.

Harley Quinn: “Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls” by Carrie Goldberg

Much like Batman, Harley Quinn has gone through a number of changes, though hers have been comparatively fast. While she used to be Joker’s codependent (and much abused) lady ‘love’, now she has found herself more independent, though still off the wall and a bit nutty. That said, the girl has a Ph.D in psychiatry, so with her own personal experiences and her love of the human mind, “Nobody’s Victim” would certainly be right up her alley. Carrie Goldberg is a victim’s rights attorney who targets serial harassers, violent exes, rapists, trolls, and stalkers, getting the kind of justice that her clients seek in hopes of preventing further victimization in the future. Her work has put her in dicey situations, but she’s tough as nails and doesn’t take crap from anyone while she confronts misogyny and abuse. Harley has had her own emancipation from this kind of thing as of late, and I think that she would love this book because of that.

There are so many other DC heroes and villains that we haven’t talked about. What books do you think some of them would like? Let us know in the comments!

 

Beach (Backyard?) Reads: Summer 2020

Back for 2020, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” (responsibly for a pandemic of course!) but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. Or maybe staycations this year. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

36524503._sy475_Fantasy Title: “The Bone Houses” by Emily Lloyd-Jones

This book took me completely by surprise last fall and ended up making my “Top 10” list for the year easily. I also feel like it went largely unnoticed by most fantasy fans. For whatever reason, the hype train seemed to have missed it, and that’s a huge shame! This book is everything I look for in my YA fantasy titles. An excellent leading lady. A humorous side kick (this time in the form of an undead goat). A great romantic lead. And a fantasy tale that verges on a fairytale retelling, this time pulling themes from “The Black Cauldron.” And, of course, per the rules of this lists, it’s a stand-alone title that is completely and utterly satisfying to read all on its own. Not going to lie, I’ve been pretty much online stalking the author ever since to see when/if she’s coming out with something new soon! You’ll be sure to hear about it when I do!

13138635Science Fiction Title: “These Broken Stars” by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Man, that cover really dates this book. I mean, it’s not even ten years old (it came out in 2013), but the whole “ballroom gown” cover art for YA titles is definitely a thing of the past. While this book is technically the first in a trilogy, each book in this series tells a complete story of its own and each features a new set of characters, even if familiar faces pop up now and then in the later books. This, being the first book, definitely reads as a stand-alone. It also falls on the romantic side of science fiction and is that rare YA unicorn: a science fiction title written for young adults. It’s pretty much a survival story, as well, when our two leading characters find themselves crashed landed on a strange new world and have no one but each other to depend on. It’s been a while since I read this (and I wasn’t a fan of the sequel when I got to it and never read the third one due to that failure), but I definitely remember enjoying it, and I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

51318896._sx318_sy475_

Mystery Title: “The Body in the Garden” by Katharine Schellman

I read this one just this last spring, but it’s really stuck with me since as an exciting new beginning to a historical mystery series. Yes, yes, it’s the beginning of a series. But many mystery novels that I read are, but most can still be read individually, and this one definitely fits that bill with a solid beginning, middle, and end. Those who follow this blog know that I was pretty disappointed by the last Veronica Speedwell book to come out, so that made it all the more exciting to find a new lady sleuth. Lily Adler is a very different heroine than Veronica Speedwell. She’s a recent widow, for one things, which puts any romance plotline firmly on the backburner. She’s also a more quiet, introspective detective ala Sherlock Holmes than very flashy and bold. I really enjoyed the mystery itself, and she collects an interesting assortment of sidekicks along the way. One of whom is named Serena, so bonus!

32618152._sy475_Historical Fiction Title: “The Phantom Tree”

This is one of those historical fiction titles that definitely includes time travel, so it all borders on fantasy. But the historical fiction aspect of it is by far the predominant and other than the fact that time travel exists, it doesn’t stray much further into the realms of impossibility. The story follows Alison Bannister after she discovers a rare painting depicting a woman who is a historical mystery. But the woman in the painting, Jane Seymour, holds much closer ties to Alison than anyone would suspect, and in tracking down what happened to this woman, Alison begins to put together more puzzle pieces about her own life. The story features chapters from both Alison’s and Jane’s perspective, and the way the two’s story weaves together is both beautiful and tragic. It’s a lovey historical fiction title that is a great choice for a stand-alone read on a hot summer day.

Kate’s Picks

13129925Horror Title: “Horrorstör” by Grady Hendrix

This was my first experience with Grady Hendrix, and right away I knew that it was going to be super wacky! The book is designed like an Ikea Catalog, which told me everything I needed to know about Hendrix as an author. And “Horrorstör” is a great introduction to Hendrix’s work if you haven’t picked it up already. At the Orsk Furniture store, strange things are happening. Items are being destroyed overnight and no one knows what is happening. Amy, who works there any hates her job, is offered six hundred dollars to stay over night along with a few other employees, to keep an eye on things. But instead of vandals, they find some pretty angry spirits are at play. It has its scares, but it’s also a fun hoot as only Hendrix can deliver!

36388243._sy475_Thriller Title: “Something in the Water” by Catherine Steadman

I couldn’t pass up the chance to pick a book that takes place on a literal beach! Though this one might make you think twice about searching for oceanic buried treasure… Erin and Mark are a married couple who go on a luxurious honeymoon in Bora Bora, hoping for romance and pampering. But after a tropical storm runs through, they find a mysterious bag in the ocean… and it’s filled with a lot of money. Seeing an opportunity, they decide to keep the money, as there are no markings as to who it belongs to. But an owner it does have, and that owner will do almost anything to get it back. This apropos setting and thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat!

45754737Graphic Novel Title: “My Brother’s Husband” by Gengoroh Tagame

You want something sweet, and perhaps a little melancholy? A story about relationships between brothers, between lovers, between parents and children? A story with an adorable little girl and a delightful Canadian and a slightly neurotic single father? Then you definitely need to pick up “My Brother’s Husband” by Gengoroh Tagame! It follows the story of Yaichi, a single dad living in Tokyo, whose twin brother Ryoji has been out of touch with the rest of the family after being ostracized for being gay. When Mike Flanagan, a Canadian gay man, arrives on Yaichi’s doorstep to tell him that he is Ryoji’s widower, Yaichi’s world starts to change. You may need a tissue or two for this book, but it is lovely and adorable. I should note that it is manga and reads back to front and right to left, but it’s easy to get the hang of. And don’t let that stop you from reading this charming book.

44153387Non-Fiction Title: “The Feather Thief” by Kirk Wallace Johnson

I figured that for my non-fiction selection I should stick to a topic that is super interesting and intriguing, but isn’t steeped in blood, gore, and violence. So instead we look to a true heist story! In 2009 an American citizen strolled into the Tring Museum outside of London, and stole a number of rare bird feather specimens because he wanted to turn them into fly ties for salmon fishing. He then basically faded into thin air. Years later Kirk Wallace Johnson heard about this story, and immediately wanted to know what happened next. So he did his own investigation into it, and what he found out was staggering and strange. So if you want a true crime story that isn’t going to upset you but will still totally take you to the criminal mindset, “The Feather Thief” may be a good choice to read on a hot summer day by the backyard kiddie pool.

What books are you hoping to read this summer? Let us know in the comments!