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Book of the Month
Archive

October, 2022
By: Lizzie Johnson, 2021

A well-researched and well-written account of the fire that destroyed the California town of Paradise. This book includes a minute-by-minute report of the progress of the fire, following individual residents and responders as they fight to save themselves and their town. Johnson also investigated the root causes, from runaway climate change to a flawed alert system to Pacific Gas and Electric’s long neglect of critical infrastructure. This is a cautionary tale for a new era of mega-fires.

September, 2022
By: Robert Harris, 2003

Pompei is not a new book, but it is a gripping and enjoyable historical thriller. It follows a few days in the life of a Roman water engineer trying to solve a stoppage of the water supply to the little towns around the Bay of Naples. The time is AD 79, so the reader knows he will soon have more severe problems than a water line break. All the warning signs of a coming volcanic eruption are ignored because they don’t realize that Vesuvius is a volcano: they call it a mountain. There is a very engaging depiction of the lifestyles and beliefs of the people of that time. I enjoyed this book very much, and we recommend it to all.

August, 2022
By: Rutger Bregman, 2019

If you feel distressed and disappointed by the news and the reported state of humanity, this book has a refreshing and encouraging message. Countering a common assumption that humans are selfish and governed by self-interest, this Dutch author marshalls much evidence to the contrary. "When we think the worst of people, it brings out the worst in our politics and economics. But if we believe in the reality of humanity's kindness and altruism, it could form the foundation for true change in society." We found the chapters on education and prison reform particularly interesting.

July, 2022
By: Jim Fergus, 1998

This book presented as the journal of May Dodd, who escaped incarceration in an insane asylum by accepting the US government's offer to travel west and marry into the Cheyenne tribe. This was to be a project to pacify and Christianize the indigenous population. This book is so persuasively written that the author documents both Before and After the text that it is fiction. Many readers found this hard to believe, including us! This book has a well-developed plot, unusual characters, and an intriguing glimpse of life with the Cheyenne Indians. There is an inevitable sad denouement of betrayal by the very Government that sent them.

June, 2022
By: Lisa Wingate, 2020

This book has two intertwined stories. In Louisiana in 1875 Hannie Gossett is dragged into a hazardous journey to Texas, which allows her to seek lost family members. In the current time, new teacher Benny Silva strives to reach her raucous and disinterested students. She initiates a project to investigate local history and find the links into their shared past. Both these tales were intriguing, and the characters are engaging. It's an interesting window into a sad part of American past. The final wrap-up was rather abrupt, but the stories are satisfactorily resolved.

May, 2022
By: Homer, translated by Emily Wilson, 2018

This version of an ancient Greek poem that tells the story of the long trip home taken by Odysseus is very approachable and a fine big tale. Along with the Illiad, it was a cornerstone of the education of a polished young person for many centuries. This new modern-English translation by Emily Wilson really moves along. The addition of 100 pages of introduction, plus translators notes and chapter summaries, made it easy to understand and appreciate. It is highly recommended as an enjoyable read — and will finish the education of anyone of any age.

April, 2022
By: E.B. White, 1970

Louis is a trumpeter swan who is born without a voice. His father steals a trumpet, so he can learn to communicate. Eventually, he becomes a famous musician and earns enough to pay for the trumpet! The Trumpet of the Swan is an easy read that is enjoyable for everyone. It would be ideal to read aloud to someone you love, old or young. You will end up feeling very good about the world.

March, 2022
By: P.C. Wren, 1924

A classic tale of 3 brothers, a missing jewel, and the foreign legion. Their story of suspense, betrayal, and bravery has inspired several movie versions and remains a favorite with readers who relish a classic adventure. A very good read.

February, 2022
By: Josh Waitzkin, 2007

An autobiographical book on learning by someone who knows what he speaks. Josh Waitzkin knows what it means to be at the top of his game. At age 16 he was an international chess master and later a martial arts world champion. Here he discusses in clear detail how a well-thought-out, principled approach to learning is what separates success from failure. The movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" was based on Josh Waitzkin.

January, 2022
By: Annie Jacobsen, 2017

Phenomena is a non-fiction account of some of the paranormal research conducted by our government as well as other governments. You'll never think about the paranormal the same way after reading this. Well researched and well written.

December, 2021
By: Anthony Doerr, 2021

Cloud Cuckoo Land has an odd title but is sure to be on all the Best Book lists this year. The book has multiple storylines involving an exciting variety of characters spanning hundreds of years, including breaching of the walls of Constantinople, a tragic bombing motivated by environmental terrorism, and a spaceship with a small group of humans traveling to a new home. Each storyline engages on its own, but how he interweaves them highlights his skillful writing: elegantly tied together by a single, fragmented text with existential life questions pondered within it. Throughout this novel, he weaves a love of books, libraries, and even librarians. Readers will be delighted at the conclusion of this chunky tome, though probably sad it is finished.

November, 2021
By: Dick Francis, 1985/2005

Dick Francis was a champion jockey turned crime writer who produced over 40 books related to horse racing. The main character narrates the stories, often a jockey, but sometimes a trainer, an owner, a bookie, or someone in a different profession, peripherally linked to racing. This honorable and intelligent person always faces great obstacles, often including physical injury, while solving a serious crime.

PROOF is a favorite of ours and has earned several re-readings over the years. The protagonist is a wine merchant drawn into helping police solve thefts involving tankers of raw whiskey. Read any of Dick Francis' books, in any order, and you will soon be haunting the used bookstore to find more.

October, 2021
By: Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican, 2018

This is a true story of a brave young man who becomes a double agent on his initiative and lures a Russian spy into his trap. Publishers Weekly described the epilogue on Russian spying as a "page-turner of a memoir" about an American civilian with a dream who worked as a double agent with the FBI in the early 2000s to bring down a Russian intelligence agent in New York City. We will soon see this story released as a motion picture.

September, 2021
By: V. E. Schwab, 2020

As we emerge from the chrysalis of Covid, it’s still fun to bury our noses in a good book to transport us to another realm and dimension, beyond space and time. The book "The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue" accomplished that tenfold. The main character, Addie LaRue, desperately made a deal with a devil-like, dark looming character (quite possibly even an angel of God as Schwab leaves it up to the reader to decide) to live forever with the catch that no one will remember her. To us, that’s quite ironic as she is a delightful character floating through time, spanning different continents, learning other foreign languages over 300 years. One day meets Henry, who in fact does remember her. He, too, has his own story to tell.

Henry is less interesting than Addie of these three characters, and we wanted more of Luc, the looming dark character. If, as a reader, you desire a definite plot, then this may not be for you. However, if you enjoy the style of a meandering journey, then you'll love this fantasy and romance book. Enjoy!

August, 2021
By: Susan Orlean, 2018

This book is definitely for anyone who loves books and libraries or the history of Los Angeles. There is a great mystery regarding the disastrous fire at the LA Public Library in 1986. In addition, it includes engaging biographies of LA citizens who influenced the library's creation, growth, and recovery. From the introduction: "Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean's thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country."

July, 2021
By: Richard Thompson Ford, 2021

This book explores the history of fashion and how it intersects with culture and values. The early chapters are a bit prosy, but the latter half of the book covers various current topics like the decline of the men’s suit and the clash over dreadlocks, yoga pants, burkinis, and even nudity as a fashion choice. As living witnesses of this chapter of our history, we found the context with longer human affairs refreshing. Dress codes evolved along with the social and political ideals of the day, but they always reflected struggles for power and status. It is not news that clothing is essential for signaling status. Still, it never occurred to us that the recent abandonment of the 3-piece suit as a costume for business was primarily due to the development of the pants suit for wear by professional women! The newer “casual” business outfits are much harder for women to copy.

June, 2021
By: Trevor Noah, 2016

This enjoyable book is a boyhood memoir by the Daily Show host Trevor Noah. Miscegenation was forbidden in South Africa, so his very existence was evidence of criminal behavior between his Black mother and European father. Caught between two worlds, he managed to turn each to his advantage. He was a very naughty little boy, and his Black caretakers were reluctant to curb him. His mother is a real heroine. The book does a very good job of describing life under apartheid. We hope he writes another book to tell how he left South Africa and found fame as a comedic commentator in America.

May, 2021
By: Kassia St. Clair, 2019

This book is an interesting compilation of information of great interest to those who love history AND to sewers and crafters. Historical chapters describe the earliest use of linen, wool, silk. and even spider silk, and describes how they are obtained and processed for use. There is enough detail to feel that the subject has been well explored, but it is still a quick and easy read. My favorite parts were about the fabrics used in space suits and high-tech sports gear.

April, 2021
By: Glendy Vanderah, 2019

A biologist studying birds in rural Illinois finds an abused girl in the woods. She seems to be lost or abandoned but claims she is an alien sent to Earth to witness five miracles. Miracles ensue. The charming story is both unusual and told very well. The characters have interesting backstories and understandable motivations; very good for a first-time author. It's a quick read and a lovely change of scene and pace.

March, 2021
By: Janice P. Nimura, 2020

This well-researched new book recounts the life of Elizabeth Blackwell, who in 1849 became the first woman in America to receive an M.D. degree. She was admitted to medical school as a joke among the student body, but she soon proved herself with intelligence and grit. It includes the story of her younger sister, Emily, who also became a doctor and Elizabeth's partner in the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, the first hospital staffed entirely by women.

Both sisters were tenacious and visionary, but their convictions did not always align with the emergence of women’s rights or with each other. Other notable women of the period are also covered in this interesting biography.

February, 2021
By: Isabel Wilkerson, 2020

This new book about American racism has received a lot of notice, and rightly so. Although it is a big book, it is quite quick to read. The reader’s challenge is to fathom how a rigid hierarchy of human beings is so tightly entwined in our history and our present culture. America pays a steep price for a caste system that runs counter to its stated ideals. Social cohesion, economic progress, and even our health is affected by this not-so-hidden hatred.

As an epilogue, the author directs us to serve a moral duty to develop empathy. It is not enough to be only tolerant. One must work to educate oneself to understand others' experience from their perspective and act when one sees another person treated unfairly. Each time a person reaches across the caste and makes a connection, it helps to break down the caste. It could be as simple as loving our neighbors — ALL of our neighbors.

January, 2021
By: Ursula LeGuin, 1990

Ursula LeGuin writes intriguing stories of an island-based civilization where magic of various kinds can be inherent or taught. Each short book has its own arc and resolution, but together they tell the larger story of Ged’s life, from an impulsive boy to the greatest Mage of his age, to an old man who has lost all his powers in a great cause. Though these books were originally labelled Young Adult, they are not at all trivial. Each is a variation on the theme of Coming of Age.

December, 2020
By: Peter May, 2011

This trilogy of mysteries is set on the Hebridean island of Lewis. You will enjoy the mysterious murders, complex characters, and unusual motivations. The best point is the setting: the fierce weather and primal landscape of the island are key to the stories. Lewis is compelling and repelling at the same time. We read these three books from a boxed set and recommend you do that too, because you will want to go on to the next and the next. Peter May is a prolific author, but these books carry our top recommendation.

November, 2020
By: Chandler O'Leary, 2019

This lovely book is a delight for armchair travelers, and also useful to those who really plan to drive the historic highways of the West Coast. Every page has lovely illustrations, so you can just browse and enjoy it that way. The advice on the roadside attractions and notable sites is succinct and helpful. The book covers the Coastal Route from San Diego to the Olympic Peninsula, and also the Inland Coast from Palm Springs to Bellingham. There are city guides (San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Seattle) and intriguing side trips to Catalina, Sequoia, Crater Lake and others.

October, 2020
By: Lois McMaster Bujold, 2006

This speculative fiction series (four books, the first is Beguilement) is exceptionally well-written. It has well-developed realistic characters with believable problems, an interesting alternate world, and two disparate cultures that are mutually suspicious. A runaway farmer's daughter meets a scorer-soldier whose job is to defend the land from a plague of deadly demons. They slay demons while traveling to their different homes and then throughout the land. Bujold has received numerous Nebula and Hugo awards for this and for her other series. This one is a light and enjoyable read.

September, 2020
By: Ruth Reichl, 2015

Anyone who enjoys good food, cooking and learning about new foods will enjoy "Delicious". The novel written by New York Times Food Critic Ruth Reichl captures a new world of flavors, aromas and recipes in detail that will make your mouth water. Woven into the story of a young woman's discoveries on the job as a writer for a food magazine, are fully realized characters, a historical mystery, and a love story. This engaging novel also explores family traditions, the intricacies of specialized business, and delightful relationships.

August, 2020
By: Joana Starnes, et al, 2018

This is an enjoyable anthology of sixteen stories about Jane Austen's romantic and feminist before their time ladies. What is behind the story of the women you know from Austen's popular yet observant and biting novels? This collection of "fan fiction" untold stories is a fun read with some poignant points and observations. By the end you just may need to find a copy of Mary Wollstonecraft's book A Vindication of the Rights of Women to see what was going on in their minds and the times.

July, 2020
By: Lisa Wingate, 2019

This is a novel of intrigue and heartbreaking injustice, based on the real-life scandal of a Memphis, TN adoption organization that kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the United States. It involves a family of wealth and privilege coming to terms with a buried secret that is revealed when the daughter of a US Senator has a chance encounter with an elderly woman she's never met before. This encounter leaves her deeply shaken and takes her on a journey through a history of stolen children and illegal adoption. This is both a sad and uplifting tale that reminds us that the heart never forgets where we belong.

June, 2020
By: Matthew Bogdanos, 2006

This book is about the looting of the Baghdad museum at the time of the U.S. invasion is a mashup of military history, world history, and antiquities theft investigation. Even the prologue chapters about the personal history of the author are of interest. Though somewhat dated now, it is an interesting and revealing story. We felt we had met a real hero.

May, 2020
By: Sy Montgomery, 2019

This series of annual collections of published articles is a great way to learn more about science topics that only get a headline in the news. The subject matter varies greatly: space, environment, human nature are all of interest. Its a great book to take with you to read in short snatches of free time. Similar collections of Essays, Short Stories and Travel Writing might also be of interest.

April, 2020
By: Katarina Bivald, 2016

A bookish Swedish girl travels to a small town in Iowa to meet her penpal Amy, but finds that she has just died. The failing small town rallies to host and entertain the visitor. Sara returns their welcome by starting a bookstore, and thus starting a revival of the town. This is a sweet story, and a nice read about people who rise to the occasion, and the importance of books in understanding life outside our immediate circle. Can you tell it was translated from the original Swedish version?

March, 2020
By: Robin Sloan, 2018

This novel is great fun. A Bay Area programmer inherits a sour dough starter and finds a new career baking bread. Then the starter gets some ideas of its own... This was fun, funny, and unusual. We loved it. There are some sly references to the author's previous book, Mr. Penumbra's Bookstore, which was also entertaining.

February, 2020
By: Alifirenks and Ganda, 2015

A Pennsylvania schoolgirl and a poor Zimbabwean boy exchange letters. They live in two very different worlds. She sends him American money and asks to see his version. He struggles to even eat. Eventually, her babysitting money is essential to saving his family from eviction and paying for his school fees. This is a charming story and well told, with chapters alternating in viewpoint between the two friends. It's sobering to learn the difficulties of the boy and amusing to see the gradual growth of understanding by the girl of another less privileged world. We liked this book much more than expected, and our local bookclub readers loved it too.

January, 2020
By: Daniel Oberhaus, 2019

This short book gives useful information about historical attempts to communicate with Aliens. There is discussion of the challenges of very-long-distance communication and of the theories of cognition and mathematics that may, or may not, be universal. Do Aliens even see or hear at the frequencies that we do? Even other scientists in the field have had small success in deciphering some of the messages that have been constructed and used in the past. There is a lot of nerdy discussion of algorithmic language, but there is also interesting coverage of the issues of METI (messaging extra terrestrial intelligences). Specific issues covered include "Shouting in the Jungle", "Is METI scientific?" the cost of transmissions, and "Who Speaks for Earth?" After you read this, its likely that you will have a new frame of reference on the topics and will want to talk over these issues with your family and friends.

December, 2019
By: Jane Harper, 2019

This relatively new author has produced a unique and gripping murder mystery. In the lonely and dangerous outback of Australia, a rancher is found dead, far from home and safety. There is no police assistance, no forensics, no technology. The only possible suspects are his family and employees. The clues are developed very gradually as each person reveals their view of the situation.

November, 2019
By: Stephanie Barron, 2018

Aside from her six novels, Jane Austen wrote thousands of letters, but only a few hundred have been preserved. This book purports to be a recently-discovered journal of Jane’s that describes a visit to a rich friend and a murder during the country house party. Jane detects and solves the mystery. In addition to the pleasure of hearing the ironic voice of the author again, this book (and the following series) gives an excellent depiction of the pattern of life and the limitations on women at that time. Jane cannot go out alone, speak to anyone without an introduction, write to a man, or travel more than a few miles. She is also very financially constrained. Nevertheless, she gets about, visits her numerous family members, talks to people, and uncovers the truth. For those who have enjoyed the works of Jane Austen, this series of historical mysteries is a pleasant re-creation of that time and that voice.

October, 2019
By: Claire North, 2017

This might be considered a time travel book. Or maybe it is another take on the Groundhog Day theme. It certainly is entertaining and thought-provoking. Harry August lives a simple life in early 20th century England. He dies, and is born again complete with his previous memories, and again, and again. He learns that others like him exist, and they work to support each other in secret societies. They pass information among themselves back and forth along the timeline (how? think about it...). Then information comes from the future about a threatening collapse of time and space— and it seems one of the Immortals is the cause. He is killing off the other Immortals too. Harry is a simple everyman who must find and prevent disaster. It really puts global warming into another perspective.

September, 2019
By: Fredrik Backman, 2015

This book poses the biggest questions of humanity and history. It's a long, ambitious book, but well worth the investment of time to read. Sapiens examines the whole of human history and explores how we will manage the future. Perhaps because the author is not American, his perspective is fresh and challenging. If you can find the Harper Collins hardcopy edition, it is a special sensual treat, with thick creamy pages, beautiful maps, and delightful illustrations.

August, 2019
By: Fredrik Backman, 2015

Ove (said OOOva) is a grumpy old man who is finished with life and planning to end it soon. He keeps being interrupted by neighbors needing his help. Can you guess what happens next? Though very predictable, the development of the story is charming and the voice of Ove is great fun. A very good movie was made of this book: one of the few that did justice to the original source. But if you love reading, you will enjoy reading this story from the book.

July, 2019
By: William Powers, 2011

Why have we become reliant on our gadgets at the expense of deeper relationships? As a guide to comprehending the digital distractions of our current age, the author shows how thinkers in the past handled technology innovations that threatened their current state. Plato, Guttenberg, Shakespeare, Thoreau are some of the examples he uses. He proposes that the solution to our dissatisfaction with the barrage of digital distraction is the management of connectedness. That is not a big new idea, but the presentation here is useful.






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