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Jen Jen

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The Betrayals
Bridget Collins 

Montverre is an old, elite (fictional) academy for boys that prepares the country’s brightest minds by focusing on the country’s pastime (obsession)—a game called grand jeu, the “great game.” The game involves math, music, science, art, philosophy, and languages. Leo and Carfax met at Montverre as students. Initially they were rivals, but after being forced to work together, eventually became friends. At the end of their second year, Carfax suddenly died. Years later, Leo is working as the Minister of Culture. When he makes the mistake of lodging a complaint about an upcoming bill with the Prime Minister, it is seen as anti-Party and he is forced to resign. The public excuse for his resignation is that he wants to return to Montverre and return to vigorous study of the grand jeu. When Leo returns to Montverre, he is surprised to learn that the Magister Ludi, the most sought-after position at Montverre, is held by a woman. More surprising, that woman, Claire Dryden, is the sister of Carfax. The narrative is told by Leo, Magister Ludi, a character known as “The Rat,” and Leo’s diary from his school days at Montverre. I was both excited and nervous to read The Betrayals because Collins’ first adult novel, The Binding, was one of my favorite reads. Once I started The Betrayals, I didn’t set the book down until I was nearly 100 pages in (and something pesky like the need to eat or sleep or work is what forced me to put it down at all.) Collins is likely the best contemporary writer of pacing and dialogue. There’s something about her writing that is so compelling. This book is about art, love, friendship, and of course, betrayal. It has so many secrets that I can’t share with you; you’re going to have to read it so we can talk about it.

Note: this book will be released May 18

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Charlotte McConaghy

I have been listening to this gem (and I’m not alone in feeling that way—it’s a “Bookseller Pick!”) Franny Stone has always been a wanderer. By following the ocean’s tides and the birds that soar above, she can forget the losses that have haunted her life. But when the wild she loves begins to disappear, Franny can no longer wander without a destination. She arrives in remote Greenland with one purpose: to find the world’s last flock of Arctic terns and follow them on their final migration. She convinces Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani, to take her onboard, winning over his eccentric crew with promises that the birds she is tracking will lead them to fish. As the Saghani fights its way south, Franny’s new shipmates begin to realize that she is full of dark secrets: night terrors, an unsent pile of letters, and an obsession with pursuing the terns at any cost. When the story of her past begins to unspool, Ennis and his crew must ask themselves what Franny is really running toward—and running from.

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Dusk, Night, Dawn
Anne Lamott

If you’re familiar with Anne Lamott’s work, you know her essays are not to be missed. This collection focuses on our current time, living during the pandemic, and of course (always with Anne Lamott) politics and spirituality. In this latest collection, Lamott is now married (really!), which concerned me initially, but I have to say, Lamott’s husband Neal has won me over (despite his flaws.) Although this is a relatively slim volume, I managed to savor it for a couple weeks. When you’re looking to treat yourself, pick up a copy.


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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Isabel Wilkerson

This is the Current Events pick for May and I’m so glad! I’m loving this easy-to-read, important, well-researched book about the social stratifications that exist in the United States. The title, Caste, of course refers to India’s caste system. Wilkerson’s last book, The Warmth of Other Suns, about the migration of non-whites in the U.S. was released nearly 10 years ago. While we as readers can be impatient, Wilkerson is worth the wait! 


Sally Sally

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The Woman with the Blue Star
Pam Jenoff

Life was perilous for Jews in Krakow in 1942. When the Nazis moved to empty the Jewish ghetto and send its residents to camps, eighteen year-old Sadie Gault and her parents sought refuge in the city’s sewer system.

One day, Sadie looked up through a grate and saw a young woman about her own age. Improbably, the two became friends and met regularly, despite the warnings each received about how dangerous this was.

While fiction, the book is grounded in extensive research. It is a stirring affirmation of the power of friendship, dedication to a cause greater than oneself, and the strength of the human spirit in the worst of times.

The book will be released May 4, and we will have signed copies.

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Unsettled Ground
Claire Fuller

What is the legacy of a mother’s lies? 51year-old twins Jeanie and Julius awake one morning to discover their mother has died in the night. (This is not a spoiler alert as it happens in the opening pages of the book.) They have lived with their mother, Dot, for their entire lives. Their father died in an accident when Jeanie and Julius were children, and life has been difficult. They live in poverty, barely eking out a living. Dot and Jeanie tend a large garden and sell vegetables, while Julius is a day-laborer. They’ve always had one another and the music they’ve made together. Now, as they struggle through the shock of their mother’s death and the difficulty of making arrangements for a burial, they slowly learn of the many ways their mother deceived them. Her intentions don’t seem malicious, but her children are adrift, losing their home and nearly losing each other. In their own ways, Jeanie and Julius gradually move forward and begin again.

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Things I Learned from Falling
Claire Nelson

The beginning of Things I Learned from Falling reminded me of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. In each book, a young woman turns to hiking in the wilderness as a way to sort out her life, but is unprepared for her journey. Cheryl Strayed emerged relatively unscathed; Claire Nelson did not. Nelson fell twenty-five feet in the Joshua Tree National Forest, shattering her pelvis. As she assessed her situation, she realized no one knew her plans, she was off the trail and out of cell phone range, with inadequate water and clothing for the range of temperatures in the desert. For four days she laid where she fell. During that time, she reviewed her life as well as ingeniously protecting herself the best she could. Against all odds, help came, and Nelson survived the experience. Her story is incredible and moving.

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Crissy Van Meter

Recently, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have become a concern for schools and other groups dealing with children and young adults. ACEs are never mentioned in Creatures, but the novel could be a case study of them. Evie’s mother abandoned her and her father when Evie was a young child. She reappears periodically, only to leave again. Evie’s father loved her and taught her to love the natural world, but was unable or unwilling to parent her, and gradually spiraled downward from the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Her best friend repeatedly betrayed her. Somehow, Evie was able to study at the Sea Institute (think Scripps Institution), work as a marine scientist, purchase a home, and marry. She continued to struggle with the legacy of the ACEs she experienced growing up, particularly when her marriage hit a rough patch. The book is both fascinating and thought provoking.




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Henning Beck

Occasionally, I drift away from sci-fi and historical space books and read something….. well, maybe insightful. This book caught my eye with the subtitle “How the Mind’s Mistakes Make Humans Creative, Innovative and Successful.” Years ago, my older sister bought me a book called “The Brain.” It dealt with the physiology of the brain and roughly what the different parts or lobes do. What the book did not do was tell me how the mind works the way it does. I always assumed that the mind is an enormous storehouse of information from which you could pick and choose past events by stimulating an area of the brain. What this book points out is that the brain sorts through information coming its way, dumps some information and keeps some, but not necessarily every detail it received. For example, I have listened to people relating stories of experiences we have in common and thought, “I don’t remember it happening that way” (and also correcting them which I learned can get you in hot water). Even though we saw and heard the same thing, our brains stored the experiences differently. My brain stored enough to recall the event but not the specific date or the color of the shirt I was wearing (although most engineers have a closet full of blue shirts). This book does a very nice job of explaining the why and how AND that we are also storing mistakes. Isn’t that interesting? The creating and storing of the mistakes leads to variety AND creativity.

The book was originally written in German, and whoever did the translation did a nice job of making it very readable in English. I think you will like this book and will find some insights by reading it. Just remember where you got the idea.



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Arctic Fury
Greer Macallister

Virginia Reeves and her partner, Ames, lead wagon trains to California. When Ames dies unexpectedly, Virginia accepts a proposal from Lady Jane Franklin. She is to lead a party of a dozen women to the Arctic to find Lord Franklin, long overdue from an expedition. The setting is the early 1900's, so there is no modern-day equipment to survive the cold. The book opens as Virginia stands on trial for murdering one of the women on the expedition. Five survivors of the trek sit in the front row as Virginia's support. What has happened to the others will keep you in suspense throughout the book.

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Finding Chika:
A Little Girl, An Earthquake, and the Making of a Family

Mitch Albom

I think everyone is familiar with Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. Finding Chika is his latest book. When a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Mitch organized teams to fly down to help with the recovery. One of their projects was at the Have Faith Orphanage. Eventually, Mitch became the director when he learned the orphanage might have to close. Three days after the earthquake, a little girl named Chika was born. He mother could not care for her so brought her to the orphanage. When Chika developed a life-threatening disease, Mitch brought her to the United States. She became a part of his family. This is the story of the search for a cure, and also how Chika became special in the hearts of Mitch and his wife.


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The Color of Our Sky
Anita Trase

This story is set in India in 1986. Mukta, 10 years old, has come of age and must fulfil her destiny by becoming a temple prostitute. She is fortunate that someone intervenes and she is sent to be a house girl in Mumbai. Mukta and Tara, the daughter of the family, become good friends. Then a tragedy occurs. Mukta is kidnapped and disappears. Years later Tara, who has been living in America, returns to search for her friend, Mukta. This is the author's first novel. She was born and raised in Mumbai so writes with authenticity and gives us a view of what life today is like in India. This is a story of love, betrayal, and ultimately, of redemption.




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The Bookshop of Yesterdays

Amy Meyerson

This novel has aptly been described as a love letter to independent bookstores. The idea for the plot came years ago when Meyerson saw an article about odd things people find tucked into used books. A girl’s beloved uncle (who owns a bookstore) likes to send her on scavenger hunts with riddles as clues. They’re estranged now and she gradually stops thinking about him. But years later she, now a history teacher in Philadelphia, receives a mysterious book in the mail, and learns soon thereafter that the uncle has died. She realizes that he’s sent her a riddle, the start of his last scavenger hunt. She flies back to LA for his funeral, staying with her mother who won’t talk, and visiting the uncle’s bookstore she remembers loving so much. This book is satisfying for people who are big readers!

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Extreme Prey
John Sandford

I’ve read some of Sandford’s Virgil Flowers novels, but this is my first in the Lucas Davenport series. I find Flowers a more appealing protagonist, but the setting in this book, the Iowa State Fair, and the suspenseful plot kept me riveted. While you know all along who the villain is and what the intended crime is to be, you don’t know how or even whether Davenport will snatch victory from the jaws of mayhem. Sandford is a master at making the Midwest, particularly Minnesota, a fine stage setting for exciting mysteries.

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The Crossing
Michael Connelly

Bosch (now a television series with Connelly as executive producer so it gets things right) is retired, so I was worried that this would be the end of one of my favorite mystery series. But his "Lincoln Lawyer" brother ropes him into taking a case investigating for the defense: a role he finds very uncomfortable, but of course does brilliantly. I thoroughly enjoyed going along for the ride, and was happy to see that, yes, there were to be more books in the series.





A Most English Princess
Clare McHugh

Queen Victoria's eldest daughter was named Victoria, after her mother. In an age of dynastic marriages, she was lucky enough to make a love match with Prince Frederick of Prussia. I've read biographies of the people surrounding Vicky, as she was known to her family, but nothing that really focused on her. McHugh has written a historical novel that has satisfied my interest. It’s a novel, as opposed to a strictly historical account of events, names, dates, third hand accounts of what happened or what was 'supposed' to have happened. Here we have characters breathing, moving, and talking through those very same events. Admittedly it's fictional, but the feeling is that you meet people you've read about and heard about all your life. This, for me, is a delightful way to experience history.


The Bookseller of Florence
Ross King

This is a biography of Vespasiano da Bisticci, born in 1422, who became known as "the king of the world's booksellers.” Such a title might seem odd, but remember, this was before printing, so in order to acquire a book, you had to: find a copy (with the fewest number of mistakes), source the vellum and other materials, find a scribe to do the work, and then wait, sometimes months, until the copy was complete. Great libraries, like that of the Vatican, or of princes all across Europe, were amassed through the agency of men like Veapasiano da Bisticci, but no one did the job better, or had more numerous contacts. At the height of his fame and influence, there came an account, by a man at a town fair, somewhere in Germany, where he saw a display of a new curiosity... an invention supposedly to print books with moveable type. Just like our recent experience with home computers and the Internet, this 'novelty' swept across the Europe, and suddenly things were very different. Ross King's book is as much about the unexpected changes brought on by new technologies, as it is about poor Veapasiano, whose life suddenly changed. Just as ours has, I'm realizing, as I type this on my laptop. If you're at all interested in books, this is an insight into how access to them (and 'information') has come about, and the astonishing accompanying changes.

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

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