Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson


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From the Publisher: An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

There are few writers who can tell the real, deep story of a family as beautifully as Jacqueline Woodson. Here, she takes a seemingly simple story of 16 year old Melody and her “coming of age” ceremony and uses it to reveal the passion, desire, betrayal, trauma, and love that led to the moment she descends the stairs of her grandparents home to the instrumental music of Prince.

Woodson exposes family history with a scalpel – lifting up a flap of skin to reveal the bloody but strong sinew underneath which tethers a family together. She does not shy away from hard things like racism, violence, sex, and lost opportunities but uses those common experiences across generations to demonstrate how damn hard it is to keep your children from repeating your own stories.

Give this book to every teen you know.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Penguin
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg


palacesA few months ago, sociologist Eric Klinenberg wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times called “To Restore Civil Society, Start with the Library” and subsequently published the book Palaces for the People which describes his work around the concept of social infrastructure.

News of both publications immediately started flowing into my email box and social media feeds. The concept of public libraries as social infrastructure captured the attention of many people. As I read Klinenberg’s book, I recognized many of the concepts library leaders have for decades struggled to communicate to funders and stakeholders. Libraries aren’t always thought of as “essential services” when municipalities are facing difficult budget years, so having a different way of describing what libraries do as “infrastructure” is very valuable.

Klinenberg defines social infrastructure as “physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops and whether human relationships and connections are formed.” Simply put, it refers to places or things that bring people together, that help create a community. Libraries are an example. What happens when people gather in these places? People who are very different from each other come together and become part of a community. They very likely have differing political and religious views, support different sports teams, watch different television shows, or read different kinds of book. The *place* brings them together.

In his book, Klinenberg primarily gives examples of how people benefit from the social infrastructure created in certain places. He talks a lot about neighborhoods and opens Palaces for the People with a data story he collected on a deadly heatwave in Chicago. More people died during that event in neighborhoods he describes as “forgotten.” These are neighborhoods where there is little to no interaction among the people who live there and where neighbors don’t know each other because there are no places for them to gather. There were no relationships bolstered by community spaces so no one checked on each other to make sure people were okay during the heatwave.

He writes: “When hard infrastructure fails…it’s the softer social infrastructure that determines our fate.”

Klinenberg singles out public libraries as the ultimate example of social infrastructure that works. He provides example after example of how people connect at libraries. One woman he interviewed described the library as a “place of permission” where you can follow your own interests and not be pushed in a certain direction. Libraries are a place that is judgement free, where you can explore whatever interests you.

Libraries in Monroe County have a long and rich history, and most of our mayors and town supervisors and other entities responsible for funding our libraries understand the role libraries play in community and are committed to keeping our doors open.

Years ago, when I worked at the Ogden Library in Spencerport, I was doing some research for a book. I learned that when the Town of Ogden was founded in 1815, the first three institutions created were a church, a school, and a library.

Imagine that group of pioneers, who had literally cut their way west from Connecticut and Massachusetts through untamed wilderness, arriving in Ogden, building their homes, then setting about creating a community. I think it says a lot about those pioneers that they created a library in the middle of the wilderness. They knew that a library would provide something valuable and necessary in their new community.

Today, public libraries all over the world are providing social infrastructure for their communities. In Monroe County, there are dozens of examples of the library creating and enabling communities to form.

People who live in Rochester’s 19th Ward point to the Arnett Branch as an anchor in their community. The library provides a safe space for children to gather after school where they are supervised, fed, and given homework assistance until picked up by their parents after work is done for the day. Adults can apply for jobs, or participate in a writing group. Teens learn about college and work opportunities. All ages come to play. A local artist, Richmond Futch, has created beautiful murals on the exterior of the library, which only reinforces the role of the library as a community anchor and has made the library a selfie destination.

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The Phillis Wheatley Community Library is located at the corner of Ford Street and Dr. Samuel McCree Way in Rochester. In 2017, a community project called the Storywalk was completed there, where children and families created a story that is told through kiosks alongside the building and enhanced by gorgeous sidewalk murals that were painted by community members. This project brought dozens of people together and gave them ownership of the library. The people who live nearby consider library staff as family and the library as home. Recently, I was present at Wheatley when there was a shooting outside and several bullets hit the windows of the library. The library was locked down by police with no one in or out. Once the doors opened again, I was astonished and deeply moved by the crowd of neighbors who rushed in and enveloped staff members in hugs, making sure they were okay. The library staff and neighbors are like family.

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The Monroe Branch recently started a new service that relies on the kindness of strangers. They took an empty book cart and put some canned food and couple loaves of bread on it with a sign that reads “Take what you need. Leave what you want.” It is available for anyone who is in need and gives community members an opportunity to give to those who are in need. This is the result of staff noticing an increase in the number of homeless and hungry people taking shelter in the library.

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Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of social infrastructure when it is applied to libraries is that library space requires people to confront radical differences in a shared space. Nowhere is that most evident than at the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. At Central you are guaranteed to run into to someone who is vastly different from you. A person might be homeless, or of a different ethnicity, or transgender, someone with mental health issues, lawyers, doctors, techies, business people, young mothers, teens, grandparents, and so on.

Everyone is welcome there, and we attempt to provide the right service at the right time to the right person. When Midtown closed in 2008, the Central Library became the only public place downtown with clean restrooms, and where it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. That meant we had a great influx of homeless and transient people who no longer had Midtown as a hangout. Instead of viewing these newcomers as a problem, we adapted our services to help them. We created Health Central on the 3rd floor where people who need help can get connected to healthcare, housing, and legal assistance. We have Nurse Barb on duty a couple days a week. She’s a retired nurse who volunteers her time to take vitals and counsel people on their health needs. Central is also now a regular stop for mobile health services providing dental care and mammograms.

I am sometimes confronted with people who resent the inclusiveness at Central and see it as threatening. I have had librarians from suburban libraries say they will never attend another training session at Central because it’s too dangerous. I’ve had an older gentleman tell me he doesn’t understand why we allow “young thugs” in the library, and have had people voice objections about sharing space with the homeless. These reactions are based in fear of the unknown, and sometimes people are willing to learn, sometimes not. The people who are comfortable with the stew of visitors to Central outnumber those who are afraid, as seen in our annual attendance numbers, which top 600,000 visits. More visits than all our sports stadiums, more than Strong Museum, more than the Zoo.

How does all this fit with the concept of social infrastructure?

Libraries are adapting services in response to community needs and activities. We are creating community. Most libraries do that very deliberately, but libraries have also shown up during times of crisis.

When Superstorm Sandy hit the downstate region, the NYC boroughs were devastated. In Queens, many libraries were flooded, and some destroyed. Within days of the storm, Queens librarians had opened libraries and became disaster centers in their neighborhoods, handing out food & clothing, providing electricity for people to charge phones, and doing storytimes in makeshift encampments to entertain weary and bored children.

When riots erupted in Ferguson and Baltimore, libraries stayed open and provided safe spaces for neighbors afraid for their lives. And then those libraries turned around and started discussions on race and healing, providing a safe space for people to have hard conversations.

Libraries provide valuable social infrastructure in a community, not only by the things they provide, but by the experiences offered and the people who offer them. When the Rochester Public Library conducted a study of branch facilities and services last year, the overwhelming response from community members when asked what they liked the most about their library was….STAFF. Our staff are our lifeblood. It is through them that community is created.

Visiting a library will remind you that there are different people with different ideas out there, and that is not a bad thing. Libraries allow communities to form and reform organically. New parents connect at baby storytimes, people looking for work help each other out, kids come together to learn about any number of things. Adults come together to discuss books, for craft classes, or to build with legos and end up forming new friendships that extend outside the library.

There is emerging research on the alienating effect of the internet on human behavior. Anyone who is on any social media platform has probably experienced a “troll” – someone who deliberately says nasty things to elicit a negative response. The relative anonymity of online communication has provided an outlet for the worst in us. It’s easy to say something hurtful when you don’t have to look someone in the eye. I see people looking for alternatives, and they are looking back into their communities for opportunities to connect in real life with other people. What better place to do that than the public library?

Social infrastructure – real community – provides an alternative to that kind of negativity. Klinenberg ends his books with this: “We need smart civil engineering to fix the critical networks that are failing, but we also need to engineer civility in societies that are at risk of breaking apart.” Libraries can provide a conduit for growing that civility.

Author Spotlight – Kate Morton


mortonDo you like secrets? Author Kate Morton is a master at telling tales that revolve around secrets. I found my way to Morton’s work with her second novel, The Forgotten Garden, which is one of those books that just transfixes you and everything else fades to gray while you read. After that, I went back and read her debut, The House at Riverton, and was just as enthralled; that experience has been repeated with each new book she’s published. Morton is set to publish her sixth book this year – September/October in Australia & New Zealand, and October in the U.S. I just got my hands on an advanced reading copy of that new book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, and thought I’d share my fondness for the author here.

On her website, Morton writes:

“I started writing because I wanted to recapture the joy of reading as a child. As soon as I learned that the black marks on white pages were doorways, and that it was within my power to go through them (and the back of a wardrobe) whenever I chose to, I was hooked. I read everything that I could get my hands on and could usually be found hiding in the bough of one of the avocado trees in our garden, book in hand. I’m still chasing that feeling of complete immersion, which makes the real world disappear.”

It seems Morton’s reading experiences as a child have informed her writing as an adult, given the addictive nature of her books. Storytelling is an art, and Kate Morton’s work is a masterful example of the art form at its best. Much of her work reminds me, in its basest form, of the Gothic novels I read when I was a child – Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, for example – but Morton has taken the form to a new level. Her stories are typically told across time and in multiple voices, with meticulously researched history, and memorable character development. I encourage you to add one of Morton’s books to your summer reading list.

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The House at Riverton – Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy this debut novel set in England after the First World War. The “war to end all wars” signaled a major change in the lives of England’s aristocracy, and Morton chronicles the trials and tribulations of one family buffeted and bound by secrets, tragedy, and misunderstanding.

 

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The Forgotten Garden – The first Morton book that hooked me on the author. A young woman comes into an unexpected and shocking inheritance from her beloved grandmother, and travels across the world to discover long-buried secrets that will change her life forever.

 

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The Distant Hours – A compelling story featuring a decaying manor in the English countryside, the trio of odd sisters who live there, and (of course) secrets from the past better left buried. This includes a fascinating look into the era when children were sent to the country from London to keep them safe from bombings during World War II.

 

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The Secret Keeper
– A young girl witness an unexplained act of violence involving her mother, which becomes a distant memory as she grows up. As an adult, that memory begins to haunt her as the family celebrates her mother’s 90th birthday.

 

 
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The Lake House
– Heartbreak and tragedy destroy a family in the early 1930s, then 70 years later, a burned out police inspector on a forced holiday picks up on a cold case and re-opens old wounds.

 

 

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter
– Scheduled for publication in the U.S. in October 2018. Murder, intrigue, art, tragedy – all these things coalesce during a heady summer in 1862, observed by the clockmaker’s daughter, whose voice carries over the decades to be heard once again by an archivist.

Micro-Reviews, December


I’ve been reading a lot, but not finding much time to write full-on reviews. So, here are some micro-reviews, all for books that are either just published, or coming out in the next few months.

8703F7E4-AA98-463F-9179-F2CB1EB0CEA1Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins – New fantasy series get started all the time; some are better than others. This one, my friends, is going to be EPIC! There is nothing here not to love, from the gorgeous cover to the big, fat, luscious story that features women in non-traditional roles (well, at least one of them!) The power held by the women in this story is remarkable, even if some of the characters aren’t always likable. Bluebell is a character to remember. Is there anyone like her in literature today (I haven’t read Game of Thrones, so maybe there is…). Even so, she is the alpha and omega here, the male and female, hero and antihero, and oh, how I love her! Highly recommended.
Publication Date: March 2018

 

2A530BA3-E296-46CF-A7B5-6FF5B4FD18BBChord of Evil by Sarah Rayne – Sarah Rayne has become a go-to author for me – I eagerly read anything she writes, and I constantly recommend her to people in the library and friends in my Reader world. Rayne has a remarkable ability to weave history, horror, mystery, and a little bit of romance into can’t-put-it-down books. She succeeds again with Chord of Evil, the second in her Phineas Fox series. Not every author can pull off a parallel narrative with one set of characters in the present day and another in the past. Rayne has mastered this technique in previous books, and uses it again here as we learn the present day story and how it entwines with the past. If I have one issue with this book, it’s Phin’s reaction to actually meeting the fabulous Arabella in person. He’s disappointed? Are you freaking kidding me? At that moment, Phin is pretty much a jerk, but he comes around. Despite this one issue, this is a winner.
Publication Date: December 2017

72ADCE41-784A-46A7-BC38-AE7768839B2EThe Darkling Bride by Laura Anderson – This transported me back to the 1970s, when I would spend hours browsing the Gothics section of bookstore and library shelves. Everything I loved about Gothics is here – the spunky heroine with a tragedy in her past, the brooding but ridiculously handsome “lord of the manor,” his disagreeable sibling, and the forbidding matriarch – all squished up together in a remote castle or manor with a mystery and maybe a few ghosts. If you love Irish folklore, you will love this book. The story here is original and well developed, the characters appealing, and the outcome satisfying. I had a hard time putting this one down. Recommended for lovers of mysteries & family drama, and for the YA audience.
Publication Date: March 2018

400E1E62-1235-4258-B8FD-77893114B8EADemon Crown by James Rollins – James Rollins delivers another pulse-pounding, action-packed, roller-coaster ride of a story. Once again, we’re dropped down into the world of Sigma Force, and are carried along with the action as Gray and the team race against time to stop a deadly enemy from ending the world. There’s no question about Rollins’ writing ability. He *knows* how to write in a way that grips you by the throat and doesn’t let you go until the very last moment, when you need to breathe more than anything in the world. And that definitely happened here. I’m still having dreams about those effing bees! There are a lot of authors writing action-adventure like Rollins, but where he draws ahead of the pack is in his ability to weave non-fiction elements into whatever global disaster he’s cooked up. In Demon Crown, we learn about bees, a little bit about Imperial Japan, and about amber. Pair that with likable, kickass characters, and there’s no way this one won’t shoot to the top of the charts. Highly recommended.
Publication Date: December 2017

Hide A Book Day – September 18


HideABookDayDid you hide a book today? I did!

I hid this lovely book somewhere in downtown Rochester. It didn’t take long for someone to find it and pick it up. Where did YOU hide books today, or did you find a book?

 

 

 

 

 

 

EmmaGoodreads, that corner of the internet occupied by Readers, turns 10 years old this year. To celebrate, they have partnered with the Book Fairies to create Hide a Book Day, scheduled for September 18. What is Hide a Book Day? Literally what it says – you pick a book you really love and leave it somewhere in public for someone else to find and enjoy.

I found out about this whole Goodreads/Book Fairies partnership too late to order the stickers they are recommending you put on the books, but really, the stickers aren’t necessary. Just write a personal note on the inside of the book and leave it. Someone picks it up and starts reading. Bam! Same result.

The Book Fairies are based in the U.K. and are probably best known for their most famous “Fairy” – Hermione Granger herself, Emma Watson. She has hidden copies of the books discussed in her book club, Our Shared Shelf, and is a self-proclaimed Reader.

Hide a Book Day reminds me a bit of World Book Night, which used to be celebrated on April 23. We in Rochester participated in that a couple years in a row and had a blast handing out free books to people all over the area. The good will that activity generated was immeasurable.

If you live in the Rochester area, you know we have a problem with literacy. Local newspaper columnist Erica Bryant wrote about Rochester’s reading crisis just a few days ago, positing that solving our literacy issue would go a long way towards affecting the other issues that go hand in hand with illiteracy – unemployment, poverty, and crime.

How do we, as a community, tackle this issue? It’s not through another task force, initiative, or blue ribbon panel. It’s grassroots. It’s Readers. It’s you and me, talking to the community about books, giving books away, helping people learn to read. If you want to make a difference in our community, try some of these actions:

  • Go see Bob Mahar at Literacy Volunteers and sign up to be a tutor and actually help someone learn to read.
  • Volunteer at a school or daycare and read to kids a couple times a week.
  • Model your own reading behavior whenever you can. Talk about what you’re reading.
  • Always carry a book with you and be willing to give it away or leave it somewhere for someone else to enjoy.
  • Organize a book drive to collect new and gently used books for schools and libraries to give away.
  • Start a Little Free Library in your neighborhood.
  • Wear Reader gear as often as possible. Try BookRiot, Out of Print, and Bas Bleu for ideas. Identify yourself as a Reader with a capital R.

Finally, on September 18, Hide A Book! Hide dozens of books! Share the love…our community will thank you!

Anticipated Fall Releases


Autumn is my season for many reasons, not the least of which is the slew of brand new books that hit the market. Here are some I am anticipating:

September

Blood Card by Elly Griffith – The third in Griffith’s Max Mephisto series and every bit as good as the earlier entries. In this case, Max, his comrade in arms Edgar, and his daughter Ruby help foil an anarchist’s attack during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Secret History of Witches by Louise Morgan – See my full review of this captivating tale of a line of Romani witches.

October

Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman – If you loved Practical Magic, this prequel is a must-read. Telling the stories of the Aunts and Sally & Gillian’s parents & grandparents from Practical Magic, as well as filling out the history of the Owens family, this one gives you all the feels.

Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle – See my full review of this wonderful story where fantasy and fairy tales collide.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende – A story of love, kindness, and humanity revolving around three people brought together by accident in Brooklyn. And really…it’s Isabel Allende. How can you go wrong?

Strange Weather by Joe Hill – Thinking this will be just the ticket for the cold, dark days leading up to Halloween. Horror stories from the current Master of the genre.

Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire – Maguire takes on the Nutcracker story in this imaginative look at the German origins of the story blended with the tale of Drosselmeier, the toymaker who carves the title character.

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush – A funny, readable memoir from the former First Daughters.

Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan – The first official biography of the man who shaped rock-n-roll and defined generations through the last four decades. Total juiciness!

Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake – A fresh take on the Manson Family from its youngest member who helped prosecute Charlie and the others.

December

Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – I’ve been waiting for the sequel to Arden’s clever, lyrical debut, The Bear and the Nightingale. This is it. For anyone who loves Russian folktales, or a skillful blend of fairytale, adventure, and romance featuring a strong female lead.

What are you anticipating this fall?

 

Reading Apps

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A couple days ago, my friend Mr.Book (aka Jason Vigorito) posted a question on Litsy asking everyone to list their favorite reading or bookish apps. I dutifully went off to look at my Reading folder, and realized I might have a teeny-tiny problem.

I have A LOT of book-related apps. However, they are all there for a purpose, meaning I use most of them at least once a month. Some are better than others, some are spectacular. I thought I’d share them with you here.

Apps for Reading E-Books

I source my e-content from multiple locations, and some require different apps to download and open the content.

  • Kindle – probably my most frequently used app. Judge me if you will, but I adore Amazon.
  • Bluefire Reader – an alternative to Kindle which I use most often to open advanced reading copies from NetGalley.
  • Aldiko Reader – another alternative, when Bluefire won’t format the content in a readable size.
  • Adobe Digital Editions – the Momma of PDF readers. Sometimes a little quirky depending on which device I’m using.

Apps for Acquiring Content

I read widely – current fiction and non-fiction, stories, essays and recipes published in earlier centuries, self-published work, longreads, shortreads, and so on. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Overdrive/Libby – The BEST source of free content, offered through your local public library. As a New York resident, I have library cards for my home (Monroe County), New York Public Library, and Brooklyn Public Library, which triples the amount of content I can access. The Overdrive app has dramatically improved since it was first launched so downloading and opening content is a breeze.
  • BiblioBoard/Self-e – Provides access to classics, rare volumes, and independent publishing.
  • Playbooks – Provides access to reading content via GoogleBooks.
  • Audible – The best source for quality e-audiobooks. Pricey, but they often run amazing deals.
  • BookShout – Another source for purchased content which frequently offers great deals.
  • Open eBooks – I have access to this huge database of children’s books because I am a librarian and have worked to make this content available to kids who qualify for it. This was an initiative of the Obama Administration.
  • Serial Reader – Very like “Chapter a Day,” an email reading “club” from the 90s. A portion of a selected title (usually a classic) is pushed to your app daily. This is one I use less than most. I have found that Wuthering Heights is no more engaging in small chunks than it is in full.
  • Simply-e – The fabulous app from New York Public Library that makes selecting, downloading, and reading from their enormous e-book collection a total snap. You’ll also find content here that is not available in other library collections.
  • Gutenberg – Gives you access to a variety of public domain books.
  • FanFiction – A treasure trove of fan fic, heavy on the sci-fi/fantasy side but still entertaining.

News Readers

I use fewer news readers, but do find different content on each that I regularly check.

  • Pocket – You can save longreads from various websites to Pocket so you can go back later when you have time to spend with your selections.
  • Flipboard – Aggregates stories based on my preferences; I really like the grid layout of the app.
  • Feedly – Sort of a grown-up version of a RSS aggregator.
  • Medium – My current favorite for longreads written by real people on topics that matter. Each article tells you how long it will take to read. Slightly similar to Reddit in that articles get more exposure as people “like” them.

Miscellaneous Apps

  • NYPL Biblion – This was an early product from NYPL that opened access to some of their marvelous collecitons of images and documents. Get lost in the World’s Fair, or Frankenstein collections. My iPad keeps telling me Biblion is not compatible with future versions of iOS, so I hope NYPL updates it.
  • BookOut – This is a neat little app that lets you track how long you spend reading.
  • Litsy – I’ve saved the best for last, so I hope you’ve read all the way through. Litsy is the best thing to happen to Readers…maybe ever. Simply put, this is a mashup of Instagram and Goodreads and is a community of people who (gasp!) are nice to each other! There’s no judgment – people share romances next to graphic novels next to classics next to whatever.

So, are you beginning to see why I say I am a Reader with a capital R? I hope you check some of these apps out and find one or two that speak to you.

The Library of Light & Shadow by MJ Rose


IMG_0110MJ Rose continues the La Lune series begun in Witch of Painted Sorrows with this story of Delphine Duplessi and her gift of painting people’s secrets. The pattern is familar to fans of the La Lune series – a passionate love affair gone wrong, a young artist struggling with her gift, and people who want to use her and her gift in nefarious ways.

We first meet Delphine in New York City, where she is engaged to a wealthy young man and is the current cause celebre at all the fabulous parties where she performs her “party trick” of drawing people’s secrets while blindfolded. That, you see, is her talent. Having been blinded at age 8, then her vision miraculously restored by her witch of a mother, she can see all the things people want to keep secret when she puts on a blindfold, or when she looks in a mirror. Her talent is a form of scrying and makes her constantly in demand at parties, until one night when the “party trick” reveals a dangerous secret that results in tragedy.

Shocked and numb, questioning her art and her purpose, Delphine slides into a deep depression, rescued only when her twin, Sebastien, arrives to take her home to France. Once there, Delphine continues to struggle with her art, refusing to put on the blindfold again in fear of creating more tragedy. At the same time, Sebastien, who is also Delphine’s manager, pushes her to put the blindfold back on and resume her work, specifically for Madame Calve, who wants Delphine to draw the secrets of her castle in order to find a valuable book hidden there for centuries. Underpinning all this is a failed and painful love affair, which is what initially sent Delphine to NYC. We learn about her passionate affair with Mathieu through entries in Delphine’s diary, all leading up to the two meeting face to face at Madame Calve’s.

Rose layers on more fascinating detail to the world of the Duplessi’s with each entry in this series, while still keeping some key elements common to each story. In addition, there are connections to and mentions of characters from Rose’s earlier books worked in throughout, which add a great deal to the world-building going on here.

My only issue is the pace of the storytelling, which is super slow for the first half, then very rushed at the end. For me, the best part of the story is what happens once Delphine and Sebastien get to Madame Calve’s, which doesn’t happen until halfway through the book. All the angst and self-pity Delphine experiences in the first half just bored me, as did her diary entries about Mathieu. Rose is known for incorporating some pretty steamy sex in her books, and that remains true here in the diary entries; however, I find it is getting repetitive and not adding much to the story. I wish there had been less of the first half and more of the second half of this book. I found the ending to be very rushed and would have liked to see a resolution between Delphine and Sebastien, given the surprising revelation that occurs near the end.

All that said, I continue to be fascinated with the world of the Duplessi’s and all who inhabit it. The story is, as always with Rose’s work, captivating. I expect the final entry in the La Lune series will focus on youngest sister, Jadine, who can read people’s tears. I look forward to it!

Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald


IMG_0117The concept of this book strongly appealed to me: a young woman visits a dying midwestern town and revives it by opening a bookstore. To anyone other than a complete and utter Book Fool, this sounds….improbable-dull-ridiculous? To me, it sounds like love.

Sara Lindquist sets out from her home in Sweden (yes, that’s right. Sweden. The Country.)  to visit Amy Harris, a woman in Iowa with whom she has corresponded for a while. The two bonded over books, and Sara feels she knows Amy’s hometown of Broken Wheel, Iowa through Amy’s descriptions of the people and places there. For Sara, this is a huge step forward out of a quiet, unremarkable life as a bookstore employee. Sara’s anticipation of an entertaining visit talking with Amy about books is deflated upon her arrival when she discovers Amy has died. But then a remarkable thing happens. The town takes her in as Amy’s guest, just as though Amy were still alive. Sara comes to really know all the people Amy wrote about, and their stories, blended with the quiet desperation of a dying town, change course as they merge with Sara’s own story.

Truth be told, I nearly gave up on this book after the 100 pages. There wasn’t much happening and it just seemed incredibly sad. However, all the positive reviews this was getting kept me pushing through, and I am glad I persevered. The pace of the story remained slow through much of the book, but it accurately matched the pace of life in a town slowly fading away…until the last quarter of the book, that is, when everyone’s story seems to speed up and change.

The author uses Sara as a catalyst for change in this little town. Her arrival sets in motion a whole pattern of events that dramatically change the lives of several Broken Wheel residents. It’s as though Sara is Amy Harris’ parting gift to the people she loved, and that Broken Wheel is her gift to Sara.

This is a gentle, homey type of story that will appeal to book clubs, especially those in small towns. Bivald has captured some of the sadness and helplessness felt in Small Town America, but tempered that with the message that things can always change.

Helen by Anita Mishook


IMG_1299A dream turned inside out. That was California.” Helen Rice, the protagonist in Anita Mishook’s masterful debut novel, Helen, certainly finds truth in this statement. We first meet Helen as she travels from New York to California to join her older sister and her family in lovely Glendale, California. The sisters, Polish Jews orphaned jointly by the Great War and influenza, survived great hardship and made it to New York, where Sarah labored to ensure Helen acquired the best education possible. Now an adult, Helen finds herself drifting and decides to join Sarah, her husband Harry, and their two children in the land of golden opportunity.

However, Helen soon learns that sunny California has a dark and dirty underbelly which includes gangers, corrupt cops, and Nazis. Helen, passing as a “Good German Girl,” becomes the darling of a dangerous group of Nazi supporters known as the Silver Shirts. At the same time, Helen’s friend from New York, a spy for the Anti Defamation League, arrives and immediately enlists Helen as a spy. Helen, by default, begins to live a dangerous double life, culminating in foiling a Nazi plot and triggering a new life as a double agent.

Mishook, a psychologist, developed Helen’s story out of research into her own family history. She uncovered evidence of the emergence of an American Nazi Party in California in the 1930s as she researched her mother-in-law’s immigration from Poland to California, and spun that family history into a readable, informative novel. There are wonderful and disturbing nuggets of historical information here about the motion picture industry and American Nazis, much of which I never knew. Mishook’s writing is smooth and conversational, and she handles dialog well, especially given this is her first novel. The character development is skillful, resulting in some very well-drawn personas. Helen, for example, walks a fine line between irritating, charming, shallow, and badass. She’s a rather vain, unformed young woman who has drifted through her life pretty much guided by her older sister. We watch her move from uncertain girl still depending on older sister Sarah to tell her what to do, to a more confident, daring young woman who has a purpose.

Other characters like Harry and Ralph are interesting, while Joe and Winona could have used a bit more development. However, these characters all fit their roles just fine and contributed what was needed to the story. If I have one quibble with this story, it’s a small one. Sometimes authors really, really like a descriptive phrase and tend to repeat it multiple times throughout a book. That happened here, with the author repeatedly describing Helen as “chewing the soft interior of her cheek/lip” during moments of uncertainty. By the end of the book, the inside of Helen’s mouth should have been a bloody pulp if she chewed her cheek so much! But, that is a minor quibble with an otherwise wonderful book. I hope Mishook continues to produce novels and am looking forward to her next one! Recommended.