All posts by Jessica FitzHanso

Join a book group!

September is just a few weeks away, and that means the return of our book groups! The Chelmsford Library hosts eight book groups, most of which meet from September through June every year. Whether you like fiction, nonfiction, classics, cookbooks, or mysteries; whether you prefer to meet at night, midday or morning, we have a book group for you. All of the book groups meet in a hybrid format (come in and connect, or join the group via Zoom) and are actively welcoming new members. Check out the line-up below, and take part in the conversation!

Novel Conversations – First Friday of every month at 12:30PM. The next meeting will be September 2 to discuss The Day the World Came to Town.

Upcoming titles:

Knit-Lit Book Group – Meets on the second Friday of the month, at 10:30am. The next meeting will be September 9  to discuss The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

What we’re reading: The group will decide the full calendar of titles at their September meeting. Past titles include:

Wednesday Morning Book Group – Meets on the third Wednesday of the month, at 10am. The next meeting will be August 17 to discuss The Other Black Girl.

Upcoming titles:

Evening Book Group – Meets on the fourth Monday of the month, at 7pm.The next meeting will be September 26 to discuss One, Two, Three.

Upcoming Titles:

Mystery Book Group – Meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month, at 2pm.The next meeting will be August 24, to discuss We Begin at the End.

Upcoming titles:

History Book Group – Meets on the fourth Thursday of the month, at 7pm. The next meeting will be September 22 to discuss Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.

Upcoming titles:

Bibliobites Cookbook book group: – Meets on the fourth Friday of the month. The next meeting is TBD.

Upcoming titles: We decide month to month, depending on our taste buds. Here are some of the titles we’ve read in the past:

SoJust Book Group: Chelmsford Library’s Social Justice-focused book group meets at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday evening once every three months for lively conversation, and includes a mix of fiction and non-fiction titles. Titles for the 2022-2023 year are to be announced soon.

Past Titles:

Summer Reading Challenge: Read a Banned or Challenged Book

Read a Banned or Challenged Book: It is tragic to hear news of books being challenged in 2022, but it’s happening with startling frequency of late. That is why we are challenging you to go a step further than those seeking to eliminate these titles and actually read them as part of the Adult Summer Reading Challenge. I have picked two, one classic and one contemporary, that both seek to address systematic racism, though in very different ways. The first is the classic novel by Toni Morrison, Beloved. Published in 1987, the book has been challenged repeatedly, even as recently as 2021. In the novel, Morrison depicts a ghost story of sorts, about Sethe, a slave living in post-Civil War Ohio who is haunted by the ghost of her dead baby girl. Yes, it is graphic, but it’s a story that needs to make an impact, to be visceral and to resonate long after the book is finished.

The second book I chose is The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. The book centers on a teen named Starr, who lives in Garden Heights, a fictional, middle class black neighborhood, but attends an affluent mostly white private school on the other side of the city. While riding home from a party one night, her and a neighborhood friend are pulled over by police, told to get out of the car, and then an officer shoots her friend. Starr is devastated by the incident, and equally devastated by the attitudes of those around her in the wake of her witness testimony. She struggles to realize how to act while being caught between the pressures of her family and her school community. It’s a moving portrayal of a smart young woman caught in an awful tragedy, and an excellent illustration of the systems of oppression the Black Lives Matter Movement aims to fight.

For The American Library Association’s lists of the most frequently challenged books of this year and years past, click here, and help defend the Freedom to Read.

Summer Reading Challenge: Read a Book by a New England Author

Our Summer Reading Challenge has reached the halfway point – how are you doing? My progress is slow this Summer, maybe I’m sluggish due to the heat, but I am working through the last column of the board! For the final weeks of the challenge, I’ll share what I chose for each of the five squares. This week: Read a Book by an author from New England

So, I didn’t realize it at the time that I read it, but author Danzy Senna is a Bostonian. I read her psychological thriller New People. In New People, Maria is engaged to the handsome Khalil and living the hipster lifestyle in Brooklyn in the mid-nineties. Her and her fiance are also stars in a reality show focused on multi-racial marriages (both characters come from mixed-race households). But Maria has a secret obsession with a young black poet she has never talked to, and her obsession with him grows once she begins to see him around the places where her and her friends hang out. When she takes it to the next level, breaking into his apartment and even posing as his neighbor’s nanny, she risks losing her grip on reality and her seemingly wonderful life. Senna, herself bi-racial, has discussed the identity struggle that can occur when a person is forced to code-switch so often, with in their own family or friend circle, or is pressured to favor one part of their heritage over another. The book is pretty fast-paced and lends itself well to discussion.

Another New England author I might recommend is Celeste Ng. Many of our book groups have read and discussed the events of her books Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. Both books reflect upon family relationships and dynamics, and questions from the past thought tucked safely away that unexpectedly rise up to haunt a new generation. She deftly incorporates to these seemingly domestic dramas contemporary social issues of race, class and identity.

 

Ng’s newest title, Our Missing Hearts, due out in October, takes on the problem of censorship in a society rampant with fear and anxiety and desperate to eradicate the influence, and maybe, existence, of a specific group of people. It is a frightening scenario, but certainly not one foreign to our current situation. It’s a thrilling and heartrending novel about a boy, in the midst of this fearful world trying to uncover the mystery of his mother’s influence and sudden disappearance, and the underground network of librarians that work to help him.

While you’re waiting for… Book Lovers

Nothing says Summer like those fun, colorful, romantic comedies. With tropes like “enemies to lovers,” “opposites attract,” and “fake relationship,” these books charm with strong characters, witty dialogue, and an upbeat, fast-pace to a heartwarming conclusion – the perfect beach companion.

This Summer’s hit is the latest from Emily Henry called Book Lovers. In Book Lovers, fierce publishing exec, Nora Stephens, encounters her New York nemesis, arrogant and brooding editor Charlie Lastra, while both are on leave from the city in small town North Carolina. The two big-city personalities clash at first, but, over a mutually adored manuscript they are both eager to work on, soon enough sparks fly. There are already over 100 holds on this new title, but don’t worry! We have some other great titles that will evoke those feelings of Summer love for you to enjoy while you wait.

The Wedding Date, by Jasmine Guillory: Jasmine Guillory is a major force in this genre. Her books incorporate diverse characters in fun settings, often involving food. The Wedding Date is the first book in her Wedding Date series. A minor character in one novel becomes the star of the next, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have to be read in order. In The Wedding Date, a chance romantic encounter in an elevator leads Drew, a doctor from LA, to invite Alexa, an executive chef from Berkeley, to be his plus one to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. What starts out as a purely physical attraction soon becomes much more as they continue to see each other. Cultural diversity in characters and settings adds depth to these romances, and side characters broaden the perspective and allow the author to show off some great wit.

The Ex-Talk, by Rachel Lynn Solomon: For more love between feuding professionals, like in The Book Lovers, try The Ex-Talk. Shay Goldstein has been working in her dream job as producer at Seattle Public Radio since she was 19. She couldn’t imagine doing anything else with her life, until she starts butting heads with arrogant newbie, Dominic Yoon. When Shay comes up with an idea for a program where exes give relationship advice, her boss, having noticed the tension between her and Dominic, suggests they team up as hosts. As the show’s success increases, so does the chemistry between Shay and Dominic. This is a smart, funny enemies-to-lovers story that’s perfect for pool-side.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston: If you like quirky, coming of age romantic comedies about characters living in the city, try Casey McQuiston’s latest novel, One Last Stop. August Landry has just moved to Brooklyn after a childhood playing detective side-kick to her conspiracy theorist mother. Now independent, August is also alone and figuring out who she is. On the subway, she meets hip punk-rocker Jane Su, and the two hit it off right away. From then on, every time August enters the subway train, Jane Su is there, and as their relationship develops a group of friends emerges too. There’s just one problem though: Jane can never leave the train. Find out how the two find happiness in this engaging and original story about discovering one’s place in the world.

While You are Waiting for….The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

I’ve been surprised lately how many big authors are incorporating the pandemic into their new novels. It seems too soon, right? Well, it is certainly a moment in our collective history and consciousness, and fiction, to me at least, has always been an excellent way to make sense of challenging, painful experiences.

One of the most poignant examples released this past Fall is The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. Erdrich’s writing is complex and moving, with a cast of very human characters experiencing the pain and joys of existence. She often incorporates her own heritage to tell stories about the intersection of European immigrant and Native experiences in the rural Midwest. However, in her latest, she has chosen to tell a story set in the very urban city of Minneapolis, which is also home to her very real bookstore, Birchbark Books, a major setting for her latest work. Erdrich also incorporates the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and the subsequent protests and demonstrations.

While I highly recommend reading this novel for yourself, there remains high demand, so here is a quick list of some other books to read while you’re waiting for your copy of The Sentence.

Recent fiction by indigenous authors: Another book I have finally had a chance to read is Tommy Orange’s prize-winning debut There, There. It’s a sharply written contemporary story about a group of indigenous characters that live in or around Oakland, California. Each has their own pain, and all are making a journey to a big Pow Wow set to be held in Oakland, seeking a solution, in one form or another, to their individual struggles. (I should also plug our Morning Book Group here, which is meeting to discuss this book next week.) If you’re looking for a great horror story, try Stephen Graham Jones’s work, The Only Good Indians, a blend of classic horror and social commentary that follows four childhood friends as they are followed by a mysterious and haunting entity representing the heritage they left behind. If you’re into science fiction, try Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, which blends Pre-Colombian culture, political intrigue, celestial events and forbidden magic to create a fresh, gripping new story.

Recent Fiction incorporating the pandemic: For many, it will be too soon, especially considering in many ways we have still not entirely put the pandemic behind us. For others, as I said above, these novels present an opportunity to work through some of the difficulties we’ve all experienced over the past two years. One of these titles is by the award-winning writer Gary Shteyngart, called Our Country Friends.  Modeled on the social satire of Anton Chekov, Shteyngart’s characters start out in the early days of the pandemic. Alexander “Sasha” Senderovsky has decided now would be a great time to invite his best friends to join his wife and child at his remote compound in upstate New York, allowing them to escape their city existences for a while. Also joining them is an actor with whom Sasha is working on a screen play, and a young acolyte of Sasha’s from his days as a college writing professor. Over the course of their relative isolation, stories will be shared, hilarious and crazy things will happen and even love will bloom and be rekindled. But there is also great loss, and the friends will endure this together. Other significant novels released recently in this category include, Jodi Picoult’s Wish You Were Here, Noah Hawley’s fantastical satire Anthem, and How High We Go In the Dark, which presents a chorus of voices, moving from an early pandemic through life and death and time telling the stories of pain, innovation, and adjustment to the changing world.

Hopefully among these titles you’ll be able to find something to tide you over until The Sentence comes around to you. For even more great recommendations, check out our Book Spots, every week on Instagram, and don’t forget to check out our Winter Reading Challenge, going on now through March 4, 2022.

Special Friends of the Library Book Sale, 12/1-12/10!

Find the perfect gift for the holidays, thanks to the Friends of the Library!

Across from the Main Desk, we’ll have a table full of like-new items, perfect for that special someone on your list. Each item will be individually priced and supplies may be limited! In addition, the usual sale carts with hardcovers, paperbacks, DVDs, and CDs will also be fully stocked! The sale starts today and continues through December 10.

It is with the fundraising efforts of the Chelmsford Friends of the Library that we are able to fund collections and programs, including our Annual one Book Chelmsford Celebration. Please consider supporting the Friends by shopping at the sale this year. To learn more about the Friends activities, and how to join, visit www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/get-involved/friends/ or find the Friends on Facebook!

Help us plan for future library programs!

Take our brief survey to help us plan for in-person, hybrid, and virtual programs. We would like your thoughts, even if you have not attended a virtual event in the past year and a half. Your responses are anonymous, and will be immensely helpful as we move forward.

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While You Are Waiting for… STATE OF TERROR

It’s finally here, the latest blockbuster pairing of an author and a political figure. The hotly anticipated new book, State of Terror, pairs Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton for a breakneck, plot-driven, political thrill-ride that is sure to have you turning pages deep into the night. Secretary of State Ellen Adams and her childhood best friend Betsy Jameson are in a race against time to stop a cabal of terrorists from turning the US into a satellite state of Russia. It’s a political thriller penned by women, starring women, but likely anyone that picks it up is sure to be captivated.

So, as there are currently over 200 holds on this book, you’re going to need something to read while you wait for your turn. Here are a few I can recommend:

American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson: Like Penny and Clinton’s decision to place two highly professional and intelligent women in opposition to a world of corrupt and egotistical men, so too does Lauren Wilkinson challenge the genre by writing a woman of color, and a mother, into the role of international spy during the Cold War in the 1980s. The narrative is told in the form of a letter from our spy, Marie Mitchell, to her sons, revealing her activities as a CIA operative employed to develop relations with a charismatic, intensely popular Marxist president of Burkina Faso, a country that sits in opposition to US interests. Marie learns to negotiate her world in a way that only she can, all the while keeping in mind the contradictions and the nuances of being an African-American female spy for the US against an African Country fighting against western dominance. It’s a refreshing take on a traditional genre. For another great cold war spy thriller featuring a compelling female protagonist, try Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews.

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams: Want more fiction from a political superstar? Stacey Abrams’ recent thriller centers on the dealings in the Highest Court in the Land. Avery Keene’s boss, the infamous Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn, has fallen into a coma, at the very same time he is expected to rule on a highly controversial case for which he would be the swing vote. Avery must go on a chase to uncover  corruption, a path that leads through very powerful corridors. Will Avery unravel the conspiracy in time? For a first effort at a legal/ political thriller from a very busy woman, this is a very entertaining read.

Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete unless we did include a classic entry in the political thriller genre. Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series, beginning with American Assassin from 2010, casts his CIA assassin against all sorts of political nemeses and terrorists, foreign and domestic. Rapp often has to be “creative” in his thinking and actions, and work around common protocols to get the job done. Other notable political thrillers include Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, Brad Thor’s Scot Harvath series, Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone series and Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller novels.

 

Vote Now for One Book 2022!

Each year, the Chelmsford Library selects One Book that brings the Town together through reading, discussion, and programming.  For 2022, we’re asking for you to help us decide what to read! We have picked four books that have been popular, are well-written, tell great stories and lend themselves well to issue-oriented discussion and programming.

Read through the descriptions of the four here, and then cast your vote anytime through the month of October, either in the library or online, to help us decide!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born. That history, whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam, serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but under-girded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

Why read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous?: Winner of the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction and nominated for the National Book Award, this is a novel about self-discovery and the redemptive power of storytelling.

There, There, by Tommy Orange
A novel that grapples with the complex history of Native Americans, with an inheritance of profound spirituality, but also of addiction, abuse and suicide, follows 12 characters, each of whom has private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. As we learn the reasons that each person is attending—some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent—momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.

Why read There There? : A finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, this is a rich novel that highlights a complex and painful part of American history – one we all should know.

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

Why read Kindred?:In this classic of American science fiction, Butler, a multiple recipient of the Hugo and Nebula awards grapples with the legacy of slavery and the struggle to reckon with generations of trauma.

Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy
Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica. Franny talks her way onto a fishing boat, and she and the crew set sail, traveling ever further from shore and safety. But as Franny’s history begins to unspool—a passionate love affair, an absent family, a devastating crime—it becomes clear that she is chasing more than just the birds. When Franny’s dark secrets catch up with her, how much is she willing to risk for one more chance at redemption?

Why read Migrations?:  An excellent addition to the “eco-lit” genre, this novel is an ode to a vanishing world, but still ultimately hopeful and beautiful.

While You Are Waiting… A Slow Fire Burning, by Paula Hawkins

A Slow Fire Burning is the latest tale of psychological suspense from the author of the blockbuster bestseller Girl on the Train. A young man, Daniel Sutherland, has been gruesomely murdered, and it turns out there are a number of people that could have wished him dead. Daniel is the twenty-something year old son of Angela, who died under mysterious circumstances a few years before, and through the inner testimonies of the other characters, we come to see that Daniel was extremely troubled, and had a mostly negative impact on each suspect. Also weaving through the narrative is a novel within a novel, a suspense tale penned by one of the suspects, Theo Meyerson, a novel that may have been plagiarized from the very real, unpublished memoir of another suspect, Miriam. Moving in and out of the main plot is Laura, a challenged young woman, who, besides ending up as the chief suspect in the murder, has her own tragic backstory.  With so much packed into this intricate plot, it’s no wonder there are over 200 holds!

So, put yourself in the queue if you haven’t already, and while you’re waiting for your turn, try one of these similar titles, sitting on our shelves right now:

The Girl Before, by JP Delaney: In The Girl Before, a young woman named Emma moves into a strikingly-designed, architectural masterpiece of a house. As much as she loves the house and the comfort it brings her, she must adhere to the increasingly restrictive, borderline oppressive rules of the house’s architect. When Emma dies suddenly and mysteriously, the house welcomes a new tenant, Jane, who unknowingly follows the same horrific path as her predecessor. Like A Slow Fire Burning, the plot unfolds through the alternating perspectives of the characters, twisting and turning around the central mystery that readers won’t see coming. For another great thriller where elegant living arrangements come at a twisted, possibly deadly cost, try Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear.

The Furies, by Natalie Haynes: A combination of past trauma and the claustrophobic atmosphere of a high school in Edinburgh, Scotland causes one drama teacher to descend slowly into madness. This novel is an excellent example of the unreliable narrator which features prominently among the characters of Hawkins’s novels. In the midst of the cold, dark Scottish winter, Alex, the teacher, begins to suspect that her students, a group of troubled teens, are playing a dangerous game with her, but is it really just all in her head? For more Campus lit, thrilling and otherwise, check out the current display in the library, or our recommendations, here.

 

Disclaimer, by Renee Knight: As with A Slow Fire Burning, Disclaimer has a book within a book, ostensibly of the fictive variety, except to one character for whom the mysterious book tells a story that hits way too close to home. Documentarian Catherine Ravenscroft discovers the novel on her nightstand, though she has no recollection of how it got there. Even more mysterious, the novel seems to be telling her story, an accounting of a secret from her past that if revealed would certainly spell the end of her seemingly perfect life. For another great twisting psychological thriller that uses the book within a book motif, put yourself on hold for The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz.