How is everyone doing in the Winter Reading Challenge? The Readers Advisory team at CPL is reading right along with you and this week, in honor of Black History Month, we are working on this Level One challenge:
Read a book written by a contemporary Black author
Deanna is reading…
These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall
Michaela, or Mickie, Lambert has a really interesting job. She curates people’s memories, creating holographic 3-D type memory book for clients. She is hired by Nadia Denham, who owns a curio shop, to create a memory book for her. Nadia is losing her memory to Alzheimer’s and wants to make sure that she remembers a small collection of objects that are important to her. Mickie meets with her, but then the next day Nadia is dead, seemingly a suicide. Since Nadia had already paid for the service, Mickie continues to work on the memory book. But she has to deal with Rachel, the strangely hostile shop manager, and Dexter, Nadia’s mostly absent son, who has come back to town to mourn his mother. Strange things begin to happen to Mickie – someone is leaving notes in her apartment, someone follows her home, someone is sending her threatening text messages, her parents seem to be keeping secrets. Learning how all of these things tie into Michaela and her project, and exactly why Nadia wanted to remember these objects, is the fun of this twisty thriller. Hall writes a series about a black female detective, but this one is a standalone, like last year’s And Now She’s Gone, which I would also recommend. If you are looking for other Black thriller writers, try While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams, All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, or When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
This month, our Online Classics Book Group is reading Kindred by Octavia Butler. Written in 1979 and considered a classic in the science fiction genre, this novel actually crosses boundaries between science fiction, slave narrative, and “grim fantasy”, as characterized by Butler herself. The main character is a young Black woman named Dana, who on her birthday, finds herself unexpectedly transported back through time. She is just in time to save a young white boy named Rufus from drowning. She quickly returns to her own time and place, scared and confused, but safe. Before Dana knows it, however, she is transported again, this time to stop Rufus from accidentally burning down his house. She stays for longer this time and learns that she has gone back to 1815 Maryland, and as a Black woman, she is in grave danger for as long as she is there. Again, she returns to her own time and place, this time more frightened and a little worse for wear, but closer to understanding why she might be drawn through time to save Rufus. Dana returns again and again to slave-era Maryland, each time for longer, each trip more dangerous. She is in a race against time itself, to save herself. I had not read this book before, and I was totally drawn into the premise, and into the danger that it represented for Dana. It is powerfully and realistically written, a necessary story about a shameful part of our history that I won’t soon forget. Interested in discovering more Black science fiction authors? Try some of these great writers – Tomi Adeyemi, N. K. Jemison, Nnedi Okorafor, Tochi Onyebuchi, or Rivers Solomon.
Wahala, by Nikki May
Though set in and around London England, this debut contains many of the issues relevant to discussions of race and identity anywhere. In Wahala, three friends, all of mixed race with ties to Lagos, Nigeria, have successful, more or less content lives in London. That is, until a mysterious woman from their past reappears suddenly and injects a great deal of uncertainty into each of their existences, threatening to break up their friendship in horrible ways. Nigerian food features prominently in the novel. It is consistently a major way that the women, as modern as they are, remain tied to their roots. The author even includes recipes for a few of the dishes described at the conclusion of the book. In reviews, the novel is being compared to Sex and The City, for the ways in which each of the women is a distinct example of a successful version of the modern woman. I would compare the novel to The Other Black Girl, as in both, a new character with a mysterious past amplifies the deep insecurities of each character. I would also liken this novel to others that explore the complicated clashes of modern relationships and the demands of cultural traditions, like Ayesha At Last, or Love, Chai and Other Four Letter Words. I’ll talk more about this book at this week’s Book Brunch, Wednesday, February 7 at 10:30am.
This month, the Morning Book Group will be reading the Colson Whitehead’s prize-winning 2016 novel The Underground Railroad. If you have not had a chance to read this book yet, it’s a work of historical fiction that re-imagines the real-life Underground railroad network to be an actual network of railway tracks beneath the ground, staffed by actual conductors. As the main character, Cora, and her companion Caesar, progress through the stations hoping to get North, the horrors and brutality of the Antebellum South and the danger experienced by all black people held as slaves seeking freedom is very vividly expressed on the page. Whitehead uses Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, The Odyssey, and the whole tradition of epic literature as a framework to create this new classic. It’s hard to find a parallel in contemporary works, but two other more recent, well-received, character-driven and imaginative novels depicting the antislavery movement are James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird and Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black.
Don’t forget to check out our book displays in the library, our many virtual programs, and our wonderful new Art Exhibit commemorating this significant month. Let us know what books you are reading – and remember to celebrate Black authors and Black history not just in February, but all year long!
It’s time! One Book 2022 is here! Starting this week, you can stop by the library to pick up your copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Sign up to join us on Zoom for his visit on Thursday, May 26 at 7:00 pm when he’ll be in conversation with poet, Professor Sandra Lim of UMass Lowell.
The narrator of this story is Little Dog, a young Vietnamese American. It is written as a letter to his mother and in it he tells the story of his family – from his grandmother to his mother to himself – encompassing their hardships in Vietnam, their immigration to Hartford, CT, and Little Dog’s childhood which was filled with both love and abuse. The story is painful and powerful, in part because Little Dog’s mother is illiterate, having left school at age seven, and will likely never read the letter. In fact, he feels that the impossibility of her reading it is what allows him to write it. Little Dog is using the letter as a way to process his memories – at one point he writes, “Memory is a choice” – and that choice will perhaps allow for healing and forgiveness. It is a story about family, about self-discovery and acceptance, and about the redemptive power of storytelling.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction and was nominated for the National Book Award. Vuong is a poet – his other two books are Night Sky With Exit Wounds and Time Is a Mother (coming in April) – and you can see this in the rich, lyrical, and evocative language he uses throughout the novel.
A few of us have listened to the audio version of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It is read by Ocean Vuong himself, which lends another layer of context and complexity to the narrative. If you are inclined to listen to audiobooks, it is available through Overdrive.
We will be celebrating On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous over the coming months. Stay tuned for programming, events, and more reading suggestions from the readers advisory team.
Now it is time to get reading Chelmsford – stop by and get your copy today!
Have you been downstairs at the library lately? If not, the Winter Reading Challenge is the perfect opportunity to take a peek! This year, our challenge has several categories that encourage us to read bigger by venturing into nonfiction categories.
READ A TRUE CRIME BOOK ABOUT A HEIST, A CULT, OR AN UNSOLVED CRIME
Sure, this category isn’t for everyone, but there are some interesting titles to be found here. The most recent bestseller is I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, or you could try The Gardner Heist, about the still unsolved theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. You can’t go wrong with some of the best-known authors of the genre – Ann Rule is the first to come to mind – but you will also find books by thriller writer James Patterson here. A few last suggestions: Killers of the Flower Moon, The Devil in the White City, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Under the Banner of Heaven and If You Tell.
READ A BIOGRAPHY OR MEMOIR
There is such a wide variety of titles in our Biography section. You can find straight biographies or gripping memoirs. Interested in Jane Austen? Try Jane Austen at Home. How about women aviators? West With the Night by Beryl Markham is a classic. What about some of the hot titles that everyone has talked about – Educated, Wild, Hillbilly Elegy, or Untamed. We have books about writers, politicians, presidents, sports figures, war heroes (and villains!), actors, historical figures and more. Or, how about picking up a title about someone you have never heard of, and thought you were not interested in? My favorite biography is a graphic novel called Radioactive about Marie and Pierre Curie – it was fabulous, and I never once thought I wanted to know more about them until I read it.
READ A NONFICTION TITLE ABOUT A SUBJECT THAT INTERESTS YOU
This one is my favorite, because it encompasses everything found in the nonfiction section! There are so many amazing narrative nonfiction reads that you can try: The Boys in the Boat, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Hidden Valley Road, Hidden Figures, Fly Girls, The Devil’s Teeth, and The Gratitude Diaries – just to name a few! How-to books work just as well – do you want to learn a craft, or get a head start on your spring gardening, or get some tips for your job search? We have a book for that too! You can also see our list below for some of our favorites from 2021!
What else will you find downstairs? Glad you asked! You will find our Reference Desk, staffed with a librarian or two that are glad to help with any questions you might have. You will find study rooms, computers, printers, copiers, microfilm readers, and scanners. We have laptops and tabletop games that can be checked out for use in the library. And of course, you will find more books! Not just our entire nonfiction collection, but also our Young Adult section, our Career Help area, and our Local History Room.
We hope to see you downstairs soon!
Our Winter Reading Challenge is up and running – be sure to pick up your game card in the library or print a copy HERE. We in Readers Advisory have gotten in the spirit too, what with a fresh new year and so many good books to read! Here are a few suggestions from us to get you started:
LEVEL ONE: READ A GOTHIC NOVEL
Sure, gothics aren’t for everyone. But there is something about a gloomy castle, the potential for romance, and the certainty of the supernatural that always piques my interest. I read a few good ones this past year, including Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Both honor the gothic genre before deftly giving it their own spin. I also read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson for our online Classics Book Group.
One of the more recent titles I have read is The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. Set in a re-imagined post-war Britain, Jane (of the title) is an independent woman trying to make her way in the world. She finds herself in need of a new living situation, so decides that she will find a groom. She approaches Dr. Augustine Lawrence, a physician of her acquaintance, with a business proposal – she will be his accountant, if he will marry her and give her a home. Neither expect there to be romance, but they find themselves drawn to each other in spite of their very unromantic arrangement. The only condition from the doctor is this – Jane would spend her nights in town, at his home and surgery, and he would spend it in the country at his family’s crumbling estate. She was never to go there. But of course, fate intervenes, and Jane ends up there on a dark and stormy night. Cue the supernatural happenings, the locked doors, the discovery of a dead wife – it has all the makings of a classic gothic and I promise you will keep reading to see how it all ends for poor Jane.
LEVEL TWO: READ A ROMANCE NOVEL BY A DIVERSE AUTHOR
Who doesn’t like a good romance? This level two category urges you to read bigger by choosing a title by a diverse author, someone with a different life experience than you. I recently finished How To Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days by K. M. Jackson, which I very much enjoyed. Sonali Dev has a series of romances based on Jane Austen novels (start with Pride, Prejudice & Other Flavors), which are quite popular with several CPL librarians. And who can resist a book called You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria?
I just finished an upcoming title called Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn. Yinka is a 30-something British Nigerian woman trying to just live her life, fending off her mother and aunties as they continually ask, “Yinka, where is your huzband”? Things are not going great for Yinka – she has just been laid-off at work, her younger sister is married and about to have a baby, her ex-boyfriend moved to America and is recently engaged, and she needs a date for her cousin Rachel’s wedding in six months. Commence Operation Wedding Date! Yinka tries various ways to meet a new man, some of them funny, some of them painful to watch. Over the course of her “project”, she begins to lose sight of herself, and her best friend worries that she is trying too hard to change, all because of a man, and continually points to her own mantra “I am who I say I am”. Tune into our next episode of Bookmarked later this month to learn more about why I liked this book so much. Or better yet, get yourself on the hold list today!
LEVEL ONE: READ A BOOK THAT IS UNDER 200 PAGES LONG
Jessica Au is an Australian Writer based in Melbourne and Cold Enough for Snow is her second novel. It starts with a young, unnamed woman meeting her mother in Tokyo for a work vacation. The two of them, in the first part of the novel, have a series of conversations about family, love, relationships, horoscopes, traditions as they walk from gallery to gallery, stopping in cafes and shops along the way. The woman’s introspection begins to increase and the present conversations between the mother and daughter start to recede until it becomes easy to forget there is a present, that the conversation involves two people. It soon becomes less clear whether the daughter is in fact talking to anyone at all, whether this is the daughter’s words, as her memories and the various stories of others in her life are transcribed. What is the purpose of the journey? Who is having these conversations? What do we really know of those we believe we are most close too? Au’s writing is sensual and evocative, especially when describing food and clothing. Reading this brief novel is a moving and meditative experience that lingers long after.
LEVEL TWO: READ A BOOK INSPIRED BY REAL PEOPLE OR EVENTS:
So we’re just two years removed from the start of the pandemic and already there have been a pretty remarkable number of major novels addressing the events and effects through various stories. Noah Hawley’s latest novel, Anthem, kicks off with the COVID-19 pandemic. A few years after the pandemic, teens have started committing suicide at alarming rates, and many believe it is a side-effect of having spent a year and half of their formative years in relative isolation. With each new death the mysterious symbol A11 appears. Parents are alarmed, the president has declared a state of emergency, but what can possibly be done to stop children from losing hope in a world of catastrophic climate events and preposterous politicking. One teen in particular, a precocious young woman named Claire, commits the act by overdosing on the Oxycontin peddled by her father’s pharmaceutical conglomerate. Claire is found by her younger brother in their parents opulent bathroom. She has plastered the entire space with the tiny silver wrappers of the medication. Hawley does not pull any punches when it comes to describing grisly scenes like this one, but also in describing the absolute degradation and corruption that leads to scenes like this. This book is full of context, much of which will be all too familiar to the reader. Claire’s brother, Simon, rocked by his sister and his parents subsequent refusal to acknowledge the loss and it’s meaning, is shipped off to a mental rehabilitation center called Float Rehabilitation Services. It’s there that he meets a group of teens, including the mysterious Prophet, who declares that God has summoned them on a mission to defeat The Wizard and Simon is the chosen one to lead the way. The teens manage to escape the facility and begin their journey to confront and defeat the Wizard, a Jeffrey Epstein like criminal who seduces and impregnates teens. It’s a frenetic and fantastical plot that incorporates just about everything. Throughout though, it quickly becomes clear that it’s the youth that will save the day.
Other recent releases seeking to explore different aspects and possibilities emerging from the pandemic crisis include: The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich; Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult; Violeta, by Isabelle Allende; Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart; and How High We Go In The Dark, by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Happy New Year from the Readers Advisory team at CPL!
As usual, we are thinking about reading, and since it is the new year, we are thinking about our annual Winter Reading Challenge. We don’t see it as a New Year’s resolution, but as a way to keep reading AND earn a chance (or two or three) to win great prizes!
We hope you will join us in our challenge. Simply print the card from home, or stop by the library or curbside pick-up for a printed card. You can read in as few or as many categories as you choose, earning raffle tickets for each one completed. We encourage you to stretch yourself to read bigger, in as many different categories as you can.
Need help choosing what to read next? We’ve created lists for many of the categories, which you can find in the library or online below.
Complete your card and return it to the library by March 4, 2022 for a chance to win great prizes.
It’s a New Year – let’s read bigger, together!
You heard from us about our staff picks of 2021, but how about what YOU were reading this year? Here are Chelmsford Public Library’s most borrowed Fiction and Nonfiction titles of the year. How many did you read?
Librarians like to talk about books EVERY day, but it is especially fun to put together our lists of favorite titles at the end of the year. Use the list to buy the perfect gift for the book-lover in your life, or use it to find your next great read. And if you are in the library, be sure to tell us what some of your favorites were!
Thanks to all who joined us for our Book Brunch book share meeting this month! Jess and Deanna shared some new titles coming into the library, and attendees (readers just like you!) told us what they have been reading and recommending.
This month’s list has a bit of everything – books for when you want to think and books for when you just want to escape. Titles this month included literary fiction, twisty mysteries and thrillers, historical fiction, family sagas, books about books (we love those!), and even a few interesting nonfiction titles. Need more recommendations? Check out our Reading Room blog, watch our latest episode of Bookmarked!, and sign up for the next Book Brunch on February 9, 2022!
What is the best way to get to know a librarian? By getting them to dish about books, of course! Each month, we will introduce you to one of the librarians of Chelmsford Public Library. This month, we talked to Melissa McCarthy, our Office Administrator.
You may not see Melissa very often, but the library would not run smoothly without her! She is the first person you’ll encounter going into the Administrative Offices on the lower level. Besides handling payroll, managing library supplies, and lots of other internal duties, Melissa is also the point person for most general library questions. When not at work, Melissa likes to play board games, spend time doing outdoor activities (swimming, sledding, walking local trails and sitting by a fire pit roasting marshmallows), and most of all she enjoys going on spontaneous road trips with her family.
We asked Melissa…
What was your first library?
“My first library was the Moses Greeley Parker Memorial Library in Dracut, MA. I still remember the day that I got my first library card. I was so excited and could not carry all of the books I wanted to borrow in my hands. Growing up, we did not have a computer in my home until I was a Junior in High School. I spent a lot of time doing research at the Library.”
What is on your nightstand right now?
“The Art of Happy Moving by Ali Wenzke.”
What book do you like to recommend to patrons?
“The book I like to suggest to patrons is Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It is an empowering book for women that makes you take a deep look at the choices that you make and analyzes if you make decisions based on what you want for your life or based on the expectations placed upon you as a mother, daughter, spouse, etc. A major lesson to take away from this book is that a good responsible mother does not neglect their needs and happiness for their children but instead shows them how to live authentically and to do things that make you happy even if it isn’t always the easiest thing to do.”
Who is your favorite character from a book?
“Isabelle Rossignol from Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. She is rebellious, strong, and fierce. The story takes place in France during World War II. Instead of following orders and staying quiet, Isabelle joins a Resistance Group and helps transport airmen across the Pyrenees mountains into Spain. This gives them the opportunity to rejoin their military forces and to avoid being captured by the Nazis. At that point in the book, her codename becomes the Nightingale and Nazi soldiers are desperate to find out who the Nightingale is and capture them. I love her strong personality and inner strength.”
What is the last book that made you laugh or cry (or both)?
“The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It is a powerful work of fiction that truly highlights the race disparity in our country. I enjoy reading books that open my eyes to the world around me and help me to better understand the struggles that other people face. We all struggle and have difficulties in life and I think it is important to know what makes us different and what makes us all the same.”
Who are your top five favorite authors?
Where is your favorite place to read?
“It is actually in the staff room at the Library. Typically, you walk in the room during lunch hours and will find people sitting down and reading. It is an enjoyable space to read and talk about the latest books you have read. I get most of my book recommendations during my lunch time – chatting with co-workers and hearing about their favorite books.”
Why do you like working at the library?
“There are so many reasons why I love working at the Chelmsford Public Library. Almost too many to name but here are a few of the top reasons: The staff is like a family – somehow there is a beautiful dynamic amongst the people I work with and it really feels like we are a family. We have so much support from the Town, our community, and the Friends of the Library. I love attending programs and after-hours events and seeing the glow of amazement on patron’s faces when they see all that the Library offers. Additionally, I love that inclusiveness and diversity are big priorities and that we work hard to make everyone feel like they are seen and heard at the Library.”
You might be waiting for the very popular novel by Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me. You are in good company, as the hold list for this Reese Witherspoon book club title is long. Never fear – we have some great suggestions to keep you busy reading while you wait your turn in line!
Who Is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews: The book is told from the point of view of Florence Darrow, a young twenty-something living in New York City, working at a small publishing house, dreaming of becoming a writer. Her mother has instilled in her this feeling that she is destined for big things, so she is frustrated that nothing is happening for her. She is offered a job as personal assistant to a very successful author, Maud Dixon. The catch is that she will have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, because nobody knows the real identity of the author – a woman named Helen Wilcox. Soon, she is wishing to impress her new boss, and they take a trip to Marrakesh to research the new book. Then Florence wakes up in a hospital room, not knowing how she got there, and everyone thinks she is Helen. You will want to keep reading this one, pulled along in the wake of Florence’s bad decisions!
If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier: We learn right away that Serra is a troubled woman. She stays mostly in her house, listening to her favorite true crime podcast over and over, obsessing about the stories of women who just disappear. When the podcast abruptly goes quiet, Serra worries that the host Rachel Bard has gone missing herself, and that she should be the one to find her. Serra is a very unreliable narrator, but in an interesting way. She has clearly had some problems and has not dealt with them well, so it is hard for the reader to tell what is real and what is her delusion, in her obsessive quest to find Rachel. You will keep turning the pages to find out what happens!
The Talented Miss Farwell by Emily Gray Tedrowe: There are two Miss Farwells – Miss Rebecca Farwell, art dealer, and Miss Becky Farwell, a small town treasurer and comptroller. What people don’t know is that they are the same person and that Becky is siphoning funds from the town to fuel her life as Rebecca. As her success as an art dealer grows, so do her financial needs. While she keeps promising herself that she will pay the town back, her other life keeps throwing temptation in her way. Here is a character that is going to frustrate you by her spectacularly bad decisions, and one you are going to root for, despite your better judgement!
Girl A by Abigail Dean: Lex Gracie is your typical type A lawyer – she works hard and plays hard. She is also Girl A, one of seven siblings who escaped her parents and their infamous House of Horrors. Now, her mother has died in prison and appointed Lex as her executor. She has left the family home, long abandoned, to the siblings, though none of them want anything to do with the house or its memories. Lex and her sister Evie decide to turn the house into a place for good, but first Lex must get the approval of her brothers and sisters. From there, the book follow Lex as she navigates each relationship and all their sibling complexities. This book is a thriller, but it is also an exploration of family trauma and dynamics – how each child, especially Lex, Girl A – has managed and coped with their shared past. Its hard not to feel sympathy for them, especially Lex, who it becomes increasingly clear has not completely left the past behind.
Gone For Good by Joanna Schaffhausen: Twenty years ago, the Lovelorn Killer terrorized Chicago. He killed seven women and then just disappeared. It has been an open case for twenty years, with no new leads or clues to the killer’s identity in all that time. Grace Harper belongs to an online true crime group called the Grave Diggers. She has a theory about the killer and her plan is to go on TV and draw him out. It works a little too well – she is found murdered in the same style as the Lovelorn Killer. What did she know? Detective Annalisa Vega is part of the team assigned to the case. She has a personal connection to it – the last victim twenty years ago was a beloved neighbor and the mother of her high school boyfriend. The search for the truth is going to take Annalisa back to the past, and in ways she never could have expected. This is a great page-turner and Annalisa is a strong character…I hope it will be the start of a series. Once you read it, I suspect you will too!