Makes You Think, Teens, Women

The Gospel of Orla by Eoghan Walls



“A consistently surprising, evocative, almost impossible to put down, and gloriously original work.” —Booklist

A stunning debut novel from the Northern Irish poet Eoghan Walls, The Gospel of Orla is the coming-of-age story of a young girl, Orla, and the man she meets who has an astonishing and unique ability.

It is also a road novel that takes us across the north of England after the two flee Orla’s village together. Here the mysteries of faith charge full bore into the vagaries of contemporary mores. A humorous, wise, deeply human and sometimes breathtaking work of lyrical fiction. 

“A melancholic, funny, and magical coming-of-age story, The Gospel of Orla is glorious, wise, and totally weird. I loved it.” —Annie Hartnett, author of Unlikely Animals

“Utterly convincing and fresh and original.” —Colm Tóibín, author of The Magician

“In his debut novel, poet Eoghan Walls imagines the intersection of the material and the mystic. . . . As the troubled teenager ricochets between circus illusion and divine touch, she and the reader are beckoned to ponder where magic ends and miracles begin.” —Kia Corthron, author of Moon and the Mars

Advance Praise

“A melancholic, funny, and magical coming-of-age story, The Gospel of Orla is glorious, wise, and totally weird. I loved it.” —Annie Hartnett, author of Unlikely Animals

The Gospel of Orla is written with immense control and precision so that the voice of the protagonist emerges as alive, individual and memorable. Eoghan Walls manages to make every single emotion Orla feels—every thought, response and action—utterly convincing and fresh and original.”—Colm Tóibín, author of The Magician

“In his debut novel, poet Eoghan Walls imagines the intersection of the material and the mystic when a grieving adolescent stumbles upon a struggling savior. Walls provides an authentic and page-turning narrative from the perspective of his restless and ever-beguiling protagonist. As the troubled teenager ricochets between circus illusion and divine touch, she and the reader are beckoned to ponder where magic ends and miracles begin.” —Kia Corthron, author of Moon and the Mars

The Gospel of Orla is an astonishing feat of characterization and storytelling. The prose is both earthy and sparkling and the story—equal parts bravado and vulnerability—is told with both wit and tenderness. Everyone should read this.” —Jenn Ashworth, author of Ghosted

My Thoughts

I will be thinking about this short book for a very long time.

The anger, confusion, pain, and loneliness Orla experiences following the death of her mother peeled back years of forgetting for me. I was Orla in 1984 when my mother died and so I immediately connected with this character. Grief is a lonely and solitary thing. Each person affected experiences it differently, and Walls does a masterful job of depicting the monumental changes to Orla’s life and that of her father.

That feeling that everything will be okay if Orla can just get to Ireland – that’s part of the grieving process. This is a raw look at how grief tears people up and makes them do things they never would have done before the grief took hold. If you know, you know.

Publication Date: March 7, 2023
Published By: Seven Stories Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Author Spotlight, Makes You Think

Author Spotlight – Willie Lightfoot

Willie Lightfoot is a Rochester City Councilmember and a former Monroe County Legislator who represented the 27th Legislative District in Monroe County, NY. Lightfoot was appointed to the Monroe County Legislature in 2006 and termed out after three consecutive terms, doing a total of 10 years of service. It is Lightfoot’s belief that the purpose of government is to serve the needs and address the concerns of the community, and not to put up barriers between the bureaucracy and the governed. That is why in his first 100 days in office, Lightfoot held community town hall meetings. These meetings served to cultivate an environment in which our community members were encouraged to share their vision for change in their neighborhoods, build a greater understanding of issues directly affecting their families and homes, and start a dialogue in which all voices are heard. Being a representative of for his community is more than sitting in an office and attending closed door meetings. It is about transparency, shared goals, and building a better Rochester for our families now, and for generations to come.

Lightfoot recently published his first book, The Intersection Between Pain and Purpose. He agreed to answer questions about the book and how he came to write it.

What led you to write The Intersection Between Pain and Purpose?

I was led to write this book out of a sermon that I preached at my church Tent revival that I have every year outside. The response from the people was so receptive to this topic that I turned it into a 5 part series that I taught for 5 weeks during Sunday services.  As a result of the series, I was inspired to write the book.

One of the first things you write about is the importance of being a good listener. What advice do you have to help people become better listeners?

I believe God gave us two ears and one mouth so we would listen more and talk less.  The Bible says to be swift to hear and slow to speak. (James 1:19)  My advice is to be intentional about listening.  So you have to work at it and make it a habit. 

You make a distinction between physical and emotional pain. Now, this is a big question – what can the people of Rochester do to help one another through emotional pain?

I believe we all have to be willing to first be present with ourselves.  We have to deal with our own physical and emotional pain first.  Like an airplane in an emergency, we have to put our masks on first before we are able to assist others.  We have to be more present with each other as well and recognize that we are a hurting community that is deeply wounded and be willing to take ownership of that truth.  Then have conversations on what role can we play in healing ourselves and our community.

Throughout the book, you pose questions for readers to reflect on. I’ll ask you one, given your position as a Councilperson and a Pastor: You and your colleagues are often the targets of misinformation and anger. How do you show up every day?

I show up every day with new mercies as a Pastor because if you allow the negative narrative to take over it can consume you and turn you into a very callous person.  We as elected officials and leaders are human as well and we are all deeply impacted by the decisions we and others make in these positions.  We also are deeply impacted by how we are perceived by the community at large as well. The key is to stay focused on the goals of bettering the quality of life for all and making sure we fight bad (misinformation) with good (accurate information).

You also write about words having power. My work has focused on literacy, especially early literacy and I know you have done some interesting things in your shop. Can you talk a little about the impact of having books in your barber shop and any other work you’re doing to support early and family literacy?

Books in the shop was a program started under the former administration (Mayor Warren). It was an amazing program that got national attention.  Allowing families to have access to free culturally appropriate books while waiting on a cut was transformative. I have seen many parents or guardians reading to their children while awaiting a haircut and it makes a difference in a child’s development.  The whole experience can be life-changing. 

Your book shows the progression people take from pain to purpose, and you write on page 66 “our scars are our testimony and help solidify our purpose.” Can you talk about that?

The Bible says people overcome by the words of their testimony (Revelations 12:11).  We all have a story and we all have a testimony of what we have been through and made it out of.  Many don’t write a book or have a chance to tell their story on a large scale as others.  However, is extremely important that we find safe places to express ourselves and the journeys we have taken.  These experiences become a blueprint for whom we become or not become as a result of how we have healed or not healed by the scars of challenges we have faced. 

You write about overcoming addiction. What is your typical advice to someone who is struggling with addiction?

My advice for someone who had been there myself is to acknowledge and seek help.  You can’t do it alone.  You are not alone and others have been there and can help.

The strength of your faith in God shines through the pages of your book. Can you share how your faith drives you to do the work you do?

I would be nothing without my faith.  It means everything to me.  It keeps me grounded, focused as well as strengthened. 

Is there another book in your future?

Yes, I would like to turn this book into a workbook.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

John Bevere and TD Jakes.

What book are you recommending to people right now?

Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy

Where can people buy your book?

Online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and my website (

On a personal note, Mr. Lightfoot’s book came to me at a difficult time in my own life. My family has experienced significant losses in the last two years. We lost four family members in 2021, and most recently lost a beloved brother. Mr. Lightfoot’s words have brought me great comfort.

General, Makes You Think, Race & Equity, Young Adult

Come Home Safe by Brian Buckmire


A normal day. Until two siblings are accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Come Home Safe explores the pain, the truths, and the hopes that come with growing up as a person of color in America, as well as why “the talk” and discussions about social justice are so important in the community. This engaging YA novel from ABC News legal analyst Brian Buckmire is told in a way that can help foster conversations about what it means to navigate today’s world, as well as inspire ways to work toward change.

When Reed and Olive left home, they never imagined they’d find themselves questioned, searched, and thrown to the ground by police looking for suspects in recent crimes. As their worst fears become reality, they must find a way to “prove” their innocence and make it home safe once again.

From ABC News legal analyst and NYC Legal Aid Society public defender Brian Buckmire, this compelling story draws from real-life advice, lessons, and conversations with attorneys, law enforcement, and the wrongfully accused to help turn the whispers and family discussions about racial inequality and mistreatment into wider conversations, healing, and one day … change.

My Thoughts

Several years ago when I was first learning about systemic racism, a friend – a Black Mom and Eldress – shared with me her personal story of having “the talk” and giving “the look” to her children in certain situations. A Mom myself, with children of a similar age, I found this information hard to comprehend coming from my experience as a white, middle-class woman. I made it a point to educate myself about the realities children of color experience. Brian Buckmire uses his platform as a legal analyst and public defender to describe in detail what happens to people of color. While this is a work of fiction, my sense is that Buckmire is writing about clients he has defended and people he has known, and perhaps even personal experience.

No one should have to experience what these children experience in this story.

This is a short book, but one that contains a powerful insight to the everyday experiences of people of color. The text is a bit dense at times as Buckmire frequently includes a good dose of legalese associated with Reed’s and Olive’s experiences. While this is short in length, it is hard to read.

Publication Date: February 7, 2023
Published by: Blink
Thanks to the Publisher for the review copy

Historical, Makes You Think, Women, World Literature

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer


The master of the Providence plantation in Barbados gathers his slaves and announces the king has decreed an end to slavery. As of the following day, the Emancipation Act of 1834 will come into effect. The cries of joy fall silent when he announces that they are no longer his slaves; they are now his apprentices. No one can leave. They must work for him for another six years. Freedom is just another name for the life they have always lived. So Rachel runs.

Away from Providence, she begins a desperate search to find her children—the five who survived birth and were sold. Are any of them still alive? Rachel has to know. The grueling, dangerous journey takes her from Barbados then, by river, deep into the forest of British Guiana and finally across the sea to Trinidad. She is driven on by the certainty that a mother cannot be truly free without knowing what has become of her children, even if the answer is more than she can bear. These are the stories of Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy. But above all this is the story of Rachel and the extraordinary lengths to which a mother will go to find her children…and her freedom.

My Thoughts

This stunning novel will take you on an emotional journey that you will not soon forget. The experiences of mothers, fathers, children, and siblings born into slavery and ripped away from each other are just too horrific to fully understand, and Shearer skillfully conveys the raw emotions – rage, heartbreak, despair but also hope, love, and resilience – experienced by Rachel, her children, and her allies. Rachels’ story drives home the capacity for humans to torture each other physically and mentally, and that makes this a difficult book to read. However, it is also ultimately a story of redemption and reunification driven by the incandescent love of a mother for her children. This is a book that will change you.

A GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • This beautiful, page-turning and redemptive story of a mother’s gripping journey across the Caribbean to find her stolen children in the aftermath of slavery is a “celebration of motherhood and female resilience” (The Observer).

“A powerful novel that explores how freedom and family are truly defined”—Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling coauthor of The Personal Librarian

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2023 by Real Simple, Goodreads, AARP,, BookBub and BookRiot

Her search begins with an ending.…

Publication Date: January 31, 2023
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Fantasy, Makes You Think, Psychological

Sign Here by Claudia Lux


A darkly humorous, surprisingly poignant, and utterly gripping debut novel about a guy who works in Hell (literally) and is on the cusp of a big promotion if only he can get one more member of the wealthy Harrison family to sell their soul.

Peyote Trip has a pretty good gig in the deals department on the fifth floor of Hell. Sure, none of the pens work, the coffee machine has been out of order for a century, and the only drink on offer is Jägermeister, but Pey has a plan—and all he needs is one last member of the Harrison family to sell their soul.

When the Harrisons retreat to the family lake house for the summer, with their daughter Mickey’s precocious new friend, Ruth, in tow, the opportunity Pey has waited a millennium for might finally be in his grasp. And with the help of his charismatic coworker Calamity, he sets a plan in motion.

But things aren’t always as they seem, on Earth or in Hell. And as old secrets and new dangers scrape away at the Harrisons’ shiny surface, revealing the darkness beneath, everyone must face the consequences of their choices.

My Thoughts

This is one of those books that is hard to characterize. Is it a mystery? Horror? Weirdly devised chick/bro lit? Bitingly witty workplace angst? This is ALL that! The author offers brilliantly imagined facets of Hell, ranging from the C-suite to never-ending puddles, and every page offers some new observation about daily life.

Keeping everything straight was a little chaotic, but well worth the effort. This is a multi-layered book that I can see generating some really lively book discussions about what it means to live a decent life. There is a lot to unpack here in terms of what it takes to tip people to the dark side.

If you’re familiar with the legendary story of Dr. Faust, you’ll recognize some of that. There is more of Marlowe’s original Faust here – the successful but unsatisfied man who sells his soul to the Devil for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasure – than Goethe’s intellectual Faust. Why do people want more and what is it about those in our society who are obscenely wealthy and fortunate that makes regular people idolize them? What kind of person would sell their very soul for unlimited wealth? Timely questions I’d say.

Final word – this is some of the best modern satire I’ve read in a long time.

Books About Books, Makes You Think, Mystery

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett


Forty years ago, Steven “Smithy” Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. When he showed it to his remedial English teacher Miss Iles, she believed that it was part of a secret code that ran through all of Twyford’s novels. And when she disappeared on a class field trip, Smithy became convinced that she had been right.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Smithy decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. In a series of voice recordings on an old iPhone from his estranged son, Smithy alternates between visiting the people of his childhood and looking back on the events that later landed him in prison. But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code holds a great secret, and Smithy may just have the key.

“A modern Agatha Christie” (The Sunday Times, London), Janice Hallett has constructed a fiendishly clever, maddeningly original crime novel for lovers of word games, puzzles, and stories of redemption.

My Thoughts

I’ve been searching for a book that really captures and holds my attention and makes me think about the story and the clues.

The Twyford Code is it.

The firts part of the story is told in the unusual format of transcribed recorded messages which require the reader to pay attention in order to keep to the plot. I did find this a bit difficult to follow at times and thought there could be some editing done, but it all works out in the end.

I can often predict the twist in mysteries, but this one had me completely unsuspecting the action in the last part of the story, which is AMAZING!

This book makes you work – I found myself going back and re-reading passages several times to keep everything straight, and spent a lot of time re-reading parts after I got to the end.

Puzzle aficionados will adore this and I can see book clubs chewing on this one. Very well-done.

The mysterious connection between a teacher’s disappearance and an unsolved code in a children’s book is explored in this fresh novel from the author of the “clever and often wryly funny” novel The Appeal. (PopSugar)

Publication Date: January 24, 2023
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

General, Makes You Think

The Man Without Shelter by Indrajit Garai


Lucy, a young lawyer, is on the fast track to partnership in her firm. Arnault, a convicted felon, leaves prison after two decades through a new piece of evidence in his favor. The two of them come together during a rescue operation at the centre of Paris, and then go on with their separate lives. Months later, their paths cross again at a camp for migrants on the edge of Paris, where their stories merge in a surprising way.

My Thoughts

This book came to me at a time when I was reviewing spending proposals for the Rochester (NY) Peace Collective project. Several of those proposals involved services and programs for people re-entering the world after incarceration, so the opening chapters describing Arnault’s challenges after release resonated with me.

Garai goes on to weave an intricate story about the unexpected connection made between two unlikely people, and how that connection stretches, unbroken, over time. The themes of redemption and forgiveness are layered with intense description and skillful storytelling leading up to a satisfying ending.

The challenges faced by people re-entering the world after incarceration are very real, and Garai accurately describes the seemingly endless circle of frustrating experiences faced by former prisoners.

This would make a good book club selection. Recommended.

Published By: the author
Publication Date: September 5, 2022
Thanks to the author for the review copy

Magical, Makes You Think, Suspense

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd


From the critically acclaimed author of The Book of M, a highly imaginative thriller about a young woman who discovers that a strange map in her deceased father’s belongings holds an incredible, deadly secret—one that will lead her on an extraordinary adventure and to the truth about her family’s dark history. 

What is the purpose of a map? 

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field, and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable, and also exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence… because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why?

To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret, and discover the true power that lies in maps…

Perfect for fans of Joe Hill and V.E. Schwab, The Cartographers is an ode to art and science, history and magic—a spectacularly imaginative, modern story about an ancient craft and places still undiscovered.

My Thoughts

I devoured this book in one night! There’s adventure, mystery, danger, and daring imagination here all spun into one of the best stories I’ve read in ages.

The vibe reminded me a bit of Mr. Penumbras 24 Hour Bookstore, but the story is wholly original. As a librarian, the setting in NYPL added an extra appeal.

While this is a fantastic adventure, there is also an underlying cautionary tale about mapping and the increasingly intrusive role of AI in mapping our locations and movements. The megalomaniac mapmaker in this story is probably out there in real life and that is a bit scary. This would be a fascinating topic for book discussion group debate regarding the value of all the information gathering that occurs without our knowledge today through things like Alexa and Siri, our cell phone location services, our smart cars, our computers, our smart TVs, etc.

I’ll be recommending this a lot in the coming months.

Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: 3/15/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Detective, Makes You Think, Mystery

The Maid by Nita Prose


A charmingly eccentric hotel maid discovers a guest murdered in his bed. Solving the mystery will turn her once orderly world upside down in this utterly original debut.

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

“Smart, riveting, and deliciously refreshing . . . a murder mystery with tremendous heart.”—Lisa Jewell, #1 New York Timesbestselling author of The Family Upstairs

My Thoughts

If you love well-crafted mysteries with a surprising end, this is your book for January. The character of Molly the Maid is one of the most original and endearing characters I’ve come across, and the cast of characters here is remarkable.

This isn’t just a mystery. It is a sensitive and heartwarming treatment of what it means to be different and how those things that make a person “different” also make them exceptionally human. The peek into the inner life of someone who interacts with the world differently than other people, someone who is considered “weird,” is handled with such compassion and matter-of-factness that the reader feels what it’s like to be Molly and comes away knowing that “weird” isn’t “bad.”

The surprise ending is a bit jarring but I think it could generate some great discussion among book clubs regarding Molly’s aversion to liars and cheaters expressed early in the book and how the story ends.

Nita Prose is an author to watch. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: January 4, 2022
Published By: Random House – Ballantine
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Children's, Folktales, Magical, Makes You Think

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo


A 2021 People Magazine Best Books of Fall Winner!

From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall comes a fantastical meditation on fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world.

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all—for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories—powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves—ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her—a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone—will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

My Thoughts

Kate DiCamillo just keeps on writing perfect books. The Beatryce Prophecy is storytelling at it finest, with endearing characters and a compelling, folktale-like story led by a remarkable and memorable trio of characters. However, if you count the goat, it’s really a group of four!

All the elements of a story are here – characters that leap off the page; a well-constructed plot that keeps the reader turning pages; a setting defined by vivid description; and a tension that grips you by the hands and pulls you along to the very satisfying conclusion.

This would make a lovely classroom read-aloud that could be used to spark discussion on a number of topics, including equity in education.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Published By: Candlewick Press
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for the review copy