Books and News to Give You Paws

Staff Picks

Page One | Staff Picks | Youth Yak | Book Groups News

This month and next, we share Jen and Sally’s book recommendations from Night In.

Jen Jen

book cover


The Twenty-Ninth Day
Alex Messenger

This book is the true-life adventure of the author who, at age 16, went on a canoe trip with five other young men in Canada. Now remember what a big, big place Canada is. The area where this group went is northwest of Hudson Bay—it was just as far to Minneapolis from where they were as Minneapolis is to Texas. As much as possible, the group travels in canoes during the day, and camps at night. On the 29th day of the trip, the author decides to climb a hill near the campsite on his own. Unknown to him, a grizzly bear was climbing the other side of the hill and when they happen upon each other, the bear is none too pleased. The bear attacks, but Alex survives and manages to make his way back to camp. The rest of the group is faced with how to care for Alex and when or if they should radio for an evacuation. The leader of this group is absolutely astounding in his role as leader. I was also interested in the old voyagers’ journals the group researched before leaving on the trip. It reminded me that use of libraries and historical societies can be so varied. I became aware of this book when I attended a bookseller event in Cleveland. The author, now a decade beyond the bear attack, was one of the most upbeat, positive people I’ve met. It also turns out that I didn’t need to travel to Ohio to meet him because he lives in Duluth! This book is a great read for book groups, especially those who are wilderness-inclined.

book cover


The Book of Science and Antiquities
Thomas Keneally

Thomas Keneally is the author of many, many books; Schindler’s List being his most well-known. The Book of Science and Antiquities is the book that left me thinking about it more than any other I read for Night In this year. There are two stories going on in this book – two men in their later years, reflecting on their lives. One is Shelby Apple, an Australian documentary filmmaker. The other man is known as Shade. The two never meet during their lifetimes because Shade lived 40,000 years ago. Despite the difference in time, it turns out the two men had some things in common. Both suffered losses, made mistakes, and experienced victory. Both were married. The voice of Shade, who is hardly ever identified by name, is that of an intelligent, thoughtful man. For example, when the reader first meets Shade, he says, “I am thinking pleasantly of the wrestling that comes at the start of the cold season, when we occupy equal days of moon and sun, the days when the half of everything yearns for the half of everything else, when ice sings to light, and when there should be efforts made at wholeness.” The font of the two narrators is different, but only slightly. I alternated between reading the print book and listening to the audio book on I found both to be excellent and am glad I dipped into both formats.

book cover

Eliese Colette

Rust is a memoir by a woman from a conservative Catholic family in Cleveland. While studying at college, Eliese suffers an assault that triggers her first bipolar episode. She leaves school to heal, but as you might expect, runs into financial trouble. Upon learning that a person could make a great deal of money as a steelworker at a Cleveland steel mill, she applies for and gets a job at the mill. The people and the experiences at the mill are unlike any she has ever experienced in her life. This book is about Cleveland, the steel mill and its workers and the workplace culture there, the differences in the treatment of men and women when an assault occurs, family, and mental illness. This is a book that I think, with the right attention, could be as popular as Educated or Hillbilly Elegy. The subtitle of Rust is A Memoir of Steel and Grit, which may be the most apt title I’ve encountered. 

book cover

Everything Sad Is Untrue
Daniel Nayeri

The middle grade novel Everything Sad Is Untrue is a book I have been championing. (And I’m not the only one—it just won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature!) I read it by listening to it on It’s narrated by the author, who does an excellent job. Everything Sad is about a kid from Iran who is growing up in Oklahoma. Daniel, actually Khosrou, but everyone calls him Daniel, is overweight and self-conscious about his family, appearance, and culture. He shares all kinds of Middle Eastern folklore as well as his own family’s history, which his classmates dismiss as made-up. Daniel’s family is complicated—his dad still lives in Iran, and his mom has married a man named Ray, who has been abusive in the past. One of the funniest passages I’ve ever read is in this book. Daniel and his dad are on the phone and his dad is trying to explain why a particular Iranian pun is funny. Much of this novel is in fact autobiographical. You get the feeling that the author poured his whole heart into this book and it shows. We recommend reading and discussing juvenile literature periodically in book groups for several reasons. One of the best is that if you have a young person in your life, a grandchild, niece or nephew, neighbor, whatever—sharing a book with that kid is a great connection.


Sally Sally

book cover

When We Were Vikings

Andrew David Macdonald

Zelda is a Viking enthusiast, and I don’t mean the football team. She is fascinated with Viking legends, and admires the loyalty and courage of Vikings. She has decided that she wants to be legendary like them. To help with this quest, she has created some basic rules for her life:
A smile means “thank you for doing something I liked.”

Fist bumps equal respect.

Strange people are not appreciated in my home.
Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.

Sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.

Zelda, who lives with her brother Gert, has cognitive disabilities as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome. She’s 21 and wants love, acceptance, and the opportunity to make decisions about her life.

This novel is similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Zelda’s quirky charm and naïve world view are endearing. The plot is fast paced, the story is sometimes raunchy, and the book shatters our conceptions of what is means to have disabilities.

Be legendary, and give this unusual coming of age story a try.

book cover

The Grammarians
Cathleen Schine

When we pick books for Night In, we try to make selections which will appeal to particular audiences, rather than books that everyone will love—whatever that might be. Our hope is that you will love some of the books you’re hearing about, but we don’t expect that all of them will appeal to you.

The Grammarians is a book for people who love language for its own sake, and it’s a plus if you’re a fan of dictionaries. Really. It’s also a book for people intrigued by family dynamics, and particularly the dynamics between twins. And people who appreciate comic novels.

Daphne and Laurel were red-headed identical twins, and like many twins, they had their own language when they were young. One day their father brought home the Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition—with its own stand no less, and the girls were off and exploring. They were fascinated by words, the more obscure the better.

They were also preoccupied with what it meant to be a twin. Daphne shared everything with Laurel, but Laurel deliberately withheld thoughts and experiences from her sister.

As the girls moved into adult life, they gradually became more and more competitive. Daphne became a columnist about language—a sort of Miss Manners making pronouncements about Standard English while Laurel was attracted to the changing nature of language and usage. Finally, a Rift occurred between the twins when, after their father’s death, they began fighting over his Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition. The book is comic, and I don’t think you have to be a grammar geek to appreciate the humor.

if you’re a bit of a book snob, enjoy comedy, and would appreciate entries of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, this book is for you! Thanks to Niomi for introducing it to me.

book cover


Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn,

Most often, our book groups read and discuss one book per meeting. Occasionally, especially if we have extended time, such as during a retreat, we’ll read two or three books on a theme. At Night In, we suggested that Rust, which Jen reviewed above, might be paired with Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope. The book is written by the husband and wife team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Each is a distinguished journalist, and some of our groups read their earlier book, Half the Sky.

Tightrope examines the crisis in working-class America in a way that’s unusually personal for journalists. Nick grew up in Yamhill, Oregon. It was an area that was thriving when he grew up, but much has changed as blue collar jobs in the area have disappeared. Nick and Sheryl were startled when they realized that one-fourth of the people in his high school graduating class had died from preventable accidents, abuse of drugs and alcohol, and suicide. This book tells stories of these people, and spreads out to other parts of the country.

When I started the book, I was curious how Nick, who left Yamhill for Harvard and on to a successful career, could go back and research a book about his less successful classmates. It turns out that he never really left Yamhill. His family still owns the small farm where he grew up, and he’s frequently visited over the years, and kept up relationships. There are examples of his klutziness. For example, he accidentally backed a vehicle into the doorway of a garage, and one of the people profiled in the book had the skills to repair the damage. So, there’s not a feeling of him flaunting his success over his less fortunate friends. Kristoff and WuDunn examine the policy failures which they feel are responsible for the situations they describe. They relate heartbreaking stories, but also stories of people who are making it, despite the odds.

One thing I appreciate about their books is that they offer concrete ideas for the ways you and I can become involved and work to address problems.




book cover


Fugitive Telemetry
Martha Wells

This is another in the Murderbot Diaries by the same author who brought you Network Effect, which I reviewed last May.

The story opens up with a dead human (I guess if you’re reading a murderbot series there have to be bodies!). The thing is that on Preservation Station nobody ever gets murdered. It’s just various ships coming and going with their various cargo including humans, bots, and other “stuff.” There are strict identity records with body scans of everybody assigned there AND everyone entering the station, so its’ pretty easy to ID someone…..except this body. The station does have Station Security but they mostly deal with “accidents and intoxication-related stupidity.” Which maybe explains why the Medical group has its bot, who handles body scans, off doing preventative health checks at the school. Our SecUnit (basically a bodyguard) is called in to assist in solving this case which is good, except everyone is afraid of him(?).

I love reading these books. There is little to guess as you are always in the loop (the SecUnit is constantly talking to himself or other mechanical devices). This is a quick, fun read under 200 pages.

Note: this book will release April 27 and may be pre-ordered.




book cover


Sapiens: A Graphic History
The Birth of Humankind (Vol. 1)

Yuval Noah Harari

This is the graphic version of Harari’s bestseller of the same name. It tackles the biological, cultural, and psychological aspects of early humans eloquently with excellent visual aids throughout. I think this adaptation could make Harari’s original book more accessible, especially for teenage readers. I am anxiously awaiting the next volume of this beautiful and fascinating adaptation.



book cover

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Iain Reid

This short literary thriller will confuse and intrigue you until the last pages. The story holds a very ominous tone, especially as you progress through the plot and things just don’t seem right with the world that is created through the eyes of the main character as she takes a trip with her new boyfriend to visit his parents. I think this novel would hold up to multiple re-readings as there are a lot of nuance and hidden meaning that only make sense once the twist is uncovered. It pairs well with the film adaptation that was released on Netflix late last year, although I would highly suggest reading the novel first, as I usually do. 

book cover


Alias Grace
Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s writing talents are on full display in this novel which reads like a modern classic. This book tells the story of Grace Marks, a woman convicted of killing who barely escapes being hanged and is now imprisoned for life with no memory of the killings. Grace’s guilt has been under speculation for years when a doctor who is interested in mental illness comes to try and uncover the truth once and for all. This story takes its premise from an actual murder case that occurred in the mid-1800s, which I had no knowledge of until Atwood detailed the original case in an author’s note at the end. 



book cover


The Jane Austen Society
Natalie Jenner

The setting for this novel is in the village of Chawton, England just after World War II. Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, whose books, while written in the late 1700's, are still classics. The people and events are fictional but the place is not, which adds lot of interest to the story. A local farmer comes to the village doctor and proposes that they gather some Jane Austen enthusiasts together to organize and start a museum. Eight people meet, including a Hollywood star, an employee of Sotheby's, the anticipated heiress of the estate, and a house girl. Each struggles with the loss and trauma of war and other tragedies. They find hope, solace, and connection as they rally together to create the Jane Austen society. This book is not only for lovers of Jane Austen but for anyone who enjoys a good story.

book cover


The Bean Trees
Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver has written a number of best sellers through the years. The Bean Trees was one of her first. Taylor grew up poor in Kentucky with two goals: avoid pregnancy and get away. The story opens as Taylor heads west in her old car. It works fine, except you have to push it to get it started. That's not so easy when she reaches the flat land of Oklahoma. Taylor suddenly acquires a passenger. She is a 3-year-old Native American girl who has been traumatized. Taylor names her Turtle. I found myself rooting for Taylor and Turtle as they face a number of problems and meet some wonderful people along the way who are so helpful. This is a novel about love, friendship, abandonment and belonging.

book cover


The Giver of Stars
JoJo Moyes

There is something about fiction that makes it more compelling to me if it's based on incidents that really happened. This is especially true with The Giver of Stars. In the 1930's, the WPA organized libraries to service people in remote areas of the country. The Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky was one of those places. Women on horseback delivered and picked up books in all kinds of weather: heat, rain, snow, and ice. The Giver of Stars gives you the stories of those women and the reactions of the people in the communities they served. I may be sounding like a broken record, but this is another book not to be missed.

book cover


The Pioneers:
The heroic story of the settlers who brought the American Ideal
David McCullough

This book is for history buffs. The story begins right after the end of the Revolutionary War. A group of men travel over the Appalachian Mountains into the Ohio River Valley to plat out the first town in the territory. It is called Marietta. The first job is to fell the huge trees so they will be able to plant crops and build cabins. They face many hardships: Indians, epidemics and weather. But they persevere. The ideals they pursue are public education for all and no slavery. David McCullough is a well- known historian writing best sellers like 1776, John Adams, Mornings on Horseback, and others. Because people of that time wrote and saved the letters they received, he was able to make these early pioneers come alive for us.



book cover


The Land

Thomas Maltman

In the weeks leading up to 2000 there was concern that computers were all going to crash on January 1, the “Y2K panic.” A young man who has undergone trauma is house-sitting in northern Minnesota and visits a church, one where the congregation believes that Y2K will bring about the Biblical end of days. His experiences range from being in the middle of a riot of ravens, one where they actually attack and kill each other, to being fed sandwiches made of peanut butter, mayonnaise, bananas, and raisins. Do ravens actually do that? Is that sandwich edible? These are metaphors for the book, a mixture of disturbing developments and details that make it all feel very real.

book cover


American Gospel
Lin Enger

This book has a lot in common with The Land, but they’re very different. A preacher in Minnesota announces that the Rapture will happen on August 19, 1974. However, to me American Gospel is a novel about a family, about people trying to find each other. Still, it does have things to say about the mentality that leads people to believe in a charismatic figure predicting the End of Days:

“Who believes that…”
“People who need clarity,” Peter says, “who can’t deal with paradox.”
“Religious people, you mean.”
“Some religious people, yeah. There are different kinds, aren’t there? Boom, here it is, nice and simple. People who would rather be deceived than have to figure things out for themselves. Who can’t imagine Nixon might be lying to them.”

 Sound familiar?

book cover


Blue Moon
Lee Child

One of the best things about the Reacher novels (Jack Reacher, the modern day Paladin who roams the country, meeting people who need his help overcoming evil-doers...a large, ugly man unlike Tom Cruise!) is getting inside his head, seeing the world through the perspective of a man who thinks in terms of math. This book is a fine example of that. However, if you cannot tolerate reading about organized crime gangsters being mowed down, this book isn’t for you.

book cover


Gone Tomorrow
Lee Child

If you are a fan of Reacher (have toothbrush, will travel), or if you are considering trying him, I recommend this one. It opens in a subway in New York City. Reacher knows the military’s checklist for identifying suicide bombers, and a woman on the train ticks every box. You know he isn’t going to get blown up in the first chapter, but Child makes it very hard to imagine how he’s going to get out of this one.




The Salt Path
Raynor Winn

This book was recommended by a U.K. Allotment Gardening blog that I follow on YouTube. It’s the story of a middle-aged couple who have a small farm they’ve spent their adult lives refurbishing and renovating, and where they’ve raised their adult children. Along comes the Financial Crisis, and through a series of misunderstanding and missteps, they find themselves in serious financial trouble with the homestead. At that point, the husband is diagnosed with a rare fatal disease, and that pushes them over the edge. They find themselves homeless. They essentially become vagrants, and it’s this fall from middle-class propertied respectability, and their life-changing transformation to “other” (existence and identity outside of normal) and the discovery of what that means, that is the essential narrative of this story. What their relationship actually is, when condensed and stripped down to its essentials – what you carry, physically and subjectively, to the next as yet unknown campsite. It’s a deeply self-reflective telling of the events and discoveries of what love, life, ageing and commitment mean… and I think that this ‘truth’ is rare. By the way, it’s a true story. Not depressing in the least, but it will put you through some changes.



Silent in the Grave
Deanna Raybourn

Julia Grey’s husband, Edward, collapses at dinner, and dies of a weak heart. It’s a congenital heart ailment that runs in his family. One of the dinner guests comes to Julia after the funeral and suggests it might be something more sinister. He reveals he had been hired by Edward to investigate the threatening letters he had received. But he has no proof. Edward had kept the letters. A year passes, and Julia comes across one of the letters hidden in her husband’s papers, and she’s confronted with the very real possibility Edward was indeed murdered. If you can imagine a Holmes and Watson mystery, where Watson is played by a progressive Victorian widow, and suddenly there’s a romantic interest, between her and Holmes, you have some idea of Raybourn’s story. There are six volumes to the Lady Julia Grey series. I confess to their being something of a guilty pleasure for me. I’ve mentioned several times, my failure to appreciate ‘fiction mysteries,’ in general, but I think I’m hooked. Raybourn’s writing is clear and clever enough she has you smile over something she’s written, as if the two of you have put your heads together in agreement that it’s been done well, and you both know it.


Guest Reviewer




The Nature Cure
Dr. Andreas Michalsen

When I read this book, I was very curious why a medical doctor was writing a book about naturopathic medicine. Apparently in Germany, naturopathic medicine is a specialty in which you complete a residency after graduating from medical school (similar to pediatrics, oncology, cardiology, etc).

Here are statements I tabbed in the introduction: " Naturopathy aims to support or complement conventional medicine--it's the best of both worlds! … the use of naturopathy results in a reduced need for medication… I've witnessed an increasing demand for naturopathic and integrative medicine. . .if we do not succeed in staying healthy longer, our increased lifespan will only result in more years of living with disease(page xvii)… The healing power of nature is amazing. Science-based naturopathy can help us live longer and stay healthy as we age. Up to 80% of chronic diseases can be prevented or treated by naturopathy and lifestyle methods (page xviii).

Chapter Two, entitled "Therapies of Antiquity Rediscovered: Leeches, Cupping, and Bloodletting" was absolutely fascinating; these are NOT modalities taught at naturopathic medical schools in North America. He offers a convincing explanation of these therapeutic options.

My other favorite chapters are Chapter Nine "My Treatment Methods: Treating Eight Common Chronic Diseases Successfully" and Chapter Ten: "Strategies for a Healthy Life: How to Find Your Own Way.” In chapter 9, he covers hypertension, coronary artery disease (CAD) & arteriosclerosis, arthrosis, depression and anxiety syndromes, back and neck pain, diabetes, rheumatism, and gastrointestinal diseases. In chapter 10, he recommends: two meals per day, vegetarian diet, two superfoods a day, daily intermittent fasting, one week of therapeutic fasting once or twice a year, a cold stimulus every day, regular yoga, daily meditation, daily physical activity, avoid sitting for too long, sufficient sleep.

The entire book is filled with useful information. My only hesitancy in recommending the book wholeheartedly is the differences in training between North American and German naturopathic doctors.


Would you like to be a guest reviewer? Email Sally at

— page top —


Page One | Staff Picks | Youth Yak | Book Groups News

About Us|Book Groups|Events|Bindery|Newsletter|Place an Order|Life in Community   
How to Find Us|Contact Us|Links|Home


Newsletter Archives Copyright 2015 Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery: Designed by Hannah Jennings Design