Category Archives: Staff Picks

Recommendations from Newton Free Library staff.

Book Review: Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen

The Old indexWest and fantasy meet in Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen.  The work is gritty and fantastical, while discussing issues that women, people of color, and the LGBT community face in this historical setting.  The main character, Nettie Lonesome, grows dramatically from her start as a slave in the Old West and fights her way to become a cowhand at a local ranch before even more adventure is thrust upon her. The suspense keeps the reader on the edge of their seat as Nettie continues her adventure and learns more about who and what she is.

The rich mythology of the world of Wake of Vultures draws from Native American and European folklore to create a version of the old west that is both beautiful and dangerous.

There is a sequel in the works, but Wake of Vultures ties its plot threads together nicely, allowing the readers to finish the book wanting more, but without feeling like they have been left with a cliffhanger.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

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Reviewed by: Anne F

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Filed under Fantasy, Staff Picks

Book Review: Imagine Me Gone, by Adam Haslett

index.phpWhen mental illness exists in a family, how deeply does it emanate? Can it ever be eradicated? Adam Haslett seeks to answer these questions in his devastating and witty new novel, Imagine Me Gone. In 1960s England, Margaret opts into a marriage with a charismatic man (John) whose past is checkered with depressive episodes, a decision that she later recalls “not in sadness, but in wonder at all that followed.” What followed was the birth of three children, whose accounts of coping with their father’s precarious existence are told in vivid first-person voices. While precocious Celia and ambitious Alec manage to rise above a fraught past, their father’s demons live on in their older brother Michael, fiercely intelligent but struggling to make it from one day to the next. Repeated attempts to save Michael from himself beg the question: why do we indefatigably try to fix the ones we love? Do we do it out of love or to protect ourselves?

In the book’s most delicious chapters are Michael’s sardonic self-analyses, which read like a curriculum vitae of his drug prescriptions and failed relationships. Music buffs will appreciate allusions to Michael’s favorite artists, ranging from Aphex Twin to Donna Summer to Neil Young, and locals will recognize many Greater Boston locations that serve as the backdrop for much of the story.

Rating: * * * * Very, very good
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Reviewed by: Susannah B.

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Filed under General Fiction, Staff Picks

Book Review: The Waters of Eternal Youth: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery, by Donna Leon

index.phpLeon is closing in on 30 books about the Commissario and still in top form. The same themes appear and we greet the characters like old friends. This time the aged, wealthy, Contessa Demetriana Lando-Continui, a close friend of Brunetti’s mother in law wants to find the truth about the tragic accident that left her then teenaged granddaughter brain damaged some 15 years earlier. Brunetti is not optimistic about discovering new information given the state of the Italian bureaucracy and indeed the police report about the accident has fallen victim to a computer malfunction. But Brunetti does know how to work the system in search of the truth. Well written and atmospheric as they are, I always enjoy the books in this series. I appreciate Brunetti’s abiding sense of what is right and wrong.

Rating: * * * A good read

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Reviewed by: kh

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Filed under Mysteries and Thrillers, Staff Picks

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

index.phpA well written but very sad novel about the death of a teenage girl and how family members can love each other while totally misunderstanding each other. The Lees are a mixed race family in 1970’s Ohio. Father James Lee, whose parents came from China, is a college professor and mother Marilyn is a reluctant homemaker and mother of three children. The parents have focused all their expectations and dreams on daughter Lydia with unfortunately disastrous results for all their children. You may see aspects of your own family or one that you know in these pages.

Rating: * * * A good read

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Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

index (1)This novel starts with the birth and death on the same night of Ursula Todd in the snowy English winter of 1910. However, in the next chapter Ursula is born under slightly different circumstances and lives. Atkinson begins and ends Ursula’s story many times. It reminded me of the “Choose your own adventure” children’s books of a generation ago. I found the chapters on life in London during the Blitz bombing of the Second World War quite compelling. Atkinson  shows how a life can turn on a trivial decision, to accompany a  friend home or leave her to walk alone on a lonely country lane or whether or not to rescue a frightened dog in the midst of a bombing raid. Definitely worth reading.

Rating: * * * * Very, very good

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If you enjoy Life After Life, check out the 2015 sequel A God In Ruins.

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Review: Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith

indexThis is the third novel in the Cormoran Strike series. Galbraith is a pen name for J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. In this novel we learn more of Strike’s and his secretary, now partner, Robin Ellacott’s background. A package is delivered to Robin at the office in London of their detective agency which Robin assumes to contain favors for her upcoming wedding to Matthew. Instead there is a severed woman’s leg. Strike is convinced that one of three dangerous, violent men from his past has sent the gruesome package. Rowling shows here that she can write suspense novels as well as she has written about the fantasy world of Harry Potter.

Rating: * * * * Very, very good

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Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, by Bill Bryson

Two of our staff members share their thoughts on Bill Bryson’s latest travelogue.

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Inspired to reprise his “Notes from a Small Island” of twenty years ago, Bryson traveled from the south of Britain at Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath in far northern Scotland with dozens of stops along the way. He laces his travelogue with humor and history and often with a sourpuss attitude I didn’t care for. Visiting many coastal resorts of now faded glory (too many cheap flights available to Spain and the Mediterranean islands) Bryson relates fascinating historical anecdotes and lyrical descriptions of the beautiful English countryside. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Ancient Britain and the mysterious stone circles found in many parts of the country.

Rating: * * * A good read

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Reviewed by: kh


Good travel writing can be tough. But Bill Bryson is different funny, perceptive and poignant. In this book he decides to travel from Bognor Regis in the south of England, to Cape Wrath in Scotland.  He chooses the end point mostly because when folks ask him where he’s going he can say “Cape Wrath, God willing.” He gripes about the cost of visiting various museums and bemoaning park and ride lots outside of historic towns (another expanse), while marveling that if you wanted to visit all the medieval churches in the country at the rate of one per week, it would take 308 years?
There’s a lot to like about this island, the 13th largest landmass on the planet, but so slender in profile that no one in the country is ever more than 70 miles from one of its edges. Villages with ridiculous names like Shellow Bowels and Nether Wallop.
And let’s face it, the Brits are ripe for lampooning. He asks what kind of sandwiches are on on offer, the proprietor laconically notes ham and cheese.  Bryson says yes please and the shopkeeper looks at him .
‘Yes please what?’
“Yes please, ham and cheese.”
“No it’s ham or cheese.” he explained.
“You don’t do them together? “
“No.”
“Oh,” I said surprised, then leaned in toward him and in a friendly but confidential tone said “Why not? Too flavorful?”
God willing, there will always be an England.

Rating: * * * * Very, very good

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Reviewed by: Kathleen Hennrikus

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Filed under Non Fiction, Staff Picks