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Staff Picks

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Jen Jen

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Rivers of Fire
Patrick Carman

Tom and I finished listening to House of Power, the first book in the Atherton series by Patrick Carman, and moved on to the second book, Rivers of Fire. Once again, readers/listeners are following Edgar, Isabel, and Samuel as the next phase of what will happen to Atherton is revealed. Now that humans and monsters are no longer separated and all the humans are together, it's uncertain if the humans can survive the new Atherton and whether Atherton itself will survive. As an adult, I can see the allegory that the author is presenting. As a reader, I'm enjoying a good story!

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Hidden Valley Road
Robert Kolker

The Beagle Women's Book Group discussed Hidden Valley Road at its May discussion—WOW, what a book! This work of nonfiction tells the story of the Galvin family—12 children: 10 boys, 2 girls. Six of the boys are diagnosed with schizophrenia. The birth years of the children range from 1945-65. Interspersed with the family's struggles is an account of the progress of science regarding schizophrenia. These sections were just as personal as the writing about the Galvin family; the scientists were presented as humans with hopes and setbacks. Kolker's writing is even-handed, sympathetic, well-researched, and compelling. This book gave us so much to talk about, I highly recommend it for book groups looking for a good non-fiction read!

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Why Fish Don't Exist
Lulu Miller

In addition to listening to Rivers of Fire with Tom, I've been listening to Why Fish Don't Exist by myself.

I surprised myself in choosing this book, but I'm glad I did. Like Hidden Valley Road, Why Fish Don't Exist is a blend of science and biography. The focus of the book is taxonomist David Starr Jordan. Never heard of him? I hadn't either. Jordan lived 1851-1931. He and his students discovered more than 2500 fish species. His collection was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, yet he picked himself up and started over. Included in the book is the uncomfortable truth that Jordan was a disciple of Louis Agassiz, viewed in contemporary times as a racist. The audiobook is read by the author, and I'm enjoying her delivery. I was listening to this on my way to work one day and once I got to the bookstore I found the print version so that I could share a passage with a friend. I was astounded to discover that there are really cool drawings included in the book! The beginning of each chapter has an illustration which pertains to the subject matter of the chapter and drawn in the style of the time.
The book is fairly short, so the audio is less than 5 hours. If you need a day trip audio, give this one a try!


Sally Sally

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Diary of a Young Naturalist
Dara McAnulty

Dara McAnulty is passionate about nature and writes about it in gorgeous, poetic language. For example, his entry for Saturday, 15 September begins: “The first fallen leaves are pirouetting at my feet, rising, tumbling, skittering, falling again.”

The book chronicles the fourteenth year in the life of this singular young man. McAnulty is grounded in the natural world, and is also an activist, recognized around the world as a leader in the youth climate movement. He lives in Northern Ireland with his parents and two younger siblings. He says, “we are all autistic, all except Dad—he’s the odd one out…” Part of the life the diary chronicles are the challenges of living as an autistic person. This includes a particular lens on the world, as well as a great deal of misunderstanding and bullying.

Read the book to enjoy the beautiful language; to be inspired by what the activism of one person can accomplish; to be challenged to expand your understanding of autism; and to live into ways you might make a difference in the world.

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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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One Two Three
Laurie Frankel

The title of this novel refers to the 16 year-old Mitchell triplets: Mab (One), Monday (Two), and Mirabel (Three.) They live in Bourne, a small town decimated by the effects of chemical waste discharged into the water by an unscrupulous factory, which has since closed. As the book opens, townspeople learn that the company which owns the plant intends to re-open it. I listened to this book on The book has three narrators, one for each of the sisters, and their voices are perfect! The sisters are well aware of the damage caused by the plant: their father worked there and died of cancer; two of the three have disabilities caused by the poisoned water; their mother has pursued a class action lawsuit their entire lives. And yet, they’re normal kids in many ways. They do their homework, prepare for college, fall in love—and decide to block the re-opening of the chemical plant. Despite the serious social issue, the book is charming and often humorous.

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Writers & Lovers
Lily King

When you’ve read and enjoyed a book by a particular author, there’s anticipation but also a bit of apprehension when the next book comes out. Will it be as good as the last one? In the case of Writers & Lovers following Euphoria, the answer for me was a resounding “yes.” Writers & Lovers manages to both tell a great story and explore important themes. Casey Peabody is floundering. Her mother has just died, her boyfriend dumped her, she has a crummy job as a waitress with no health insurance, her massive education loans are due, and she’s been working on a novel for six years.

Over the course of the book, every part of Casey’s life seems to come to a crisis as she moves from one phase of life to the next. The book is gently humorous, yet treats Casey with great tenderness. It is a very satisfying read, and I highly recommend it.

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Home Waters
John N. Maclean

Reading Home Waters is like sitting around a campfire after a day of fishing on a familiar, beloved river. Stories are shared about family, history, the water, and of course, fishing. Maclean is the son of Norman Maclean, and this book builds on the novella the elder Maclean wrote, “A River Runs Through It.” Maclean, speaking of Montana, says, “It’s a land with a long-term memory,” and the same could be said of him and his family. Fishing is their legacy, and no matter how far away they may travel, they are grounded in the land and rivers of Montana. The reader receives a generous invitation to sit around that campfire and hear the family stories. It’s a book for anyone who feels grounded to a particular place, in a particular family. Fishing is not optional.

The book will be released on June 1, just in time for Father’s Day.

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Morningside Heights
Joshua Henken

Pru, a young doctoral student, begins a relationship with Spence, her Shakespeare professor, a dashing figure who is popular with students and is also a superstar in his field. It’s Columbia in the ‘70s, way before the #MeToo movement, but a time when female students in higher education are often derisively assumed to be pursuing their Mrs. Degree.

But that’s not the focus of this book. Although Pru drops out of school, has a baby, and settles into life as a faculty wife, her life changes when she and Spence are empty-nesters in their 50’s. Unsettling events begin, and eventually Spence is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

They have a complicated family. Both their daughter, Sarah, a medical student, and Arlo, Spence’s mostly neglected son from a brief first marriage, rally around, each offering the help which they can. Nonetheless, Pru is on her own in many ways, navigating a marriage and a life which she never anticipated.

In a time when an increasing number of people are developing Alzheimer’s, Henken offers a tender story of a woman dealing with its’ effects.

Henken has graciously shared this trailer of the book with us. Go to and scroll down.

Note: the book will be released June 15.




The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting

Lisa Genova

book coverAuthor and neuroscientist Lisa Genova is well known for her bestselling novel Still Alice, which is about a woman with Alzheimer’s Disease.

In her first non-fiction book, Genova returns to the topic of Alzheimer’s Disease. Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting describes the basics of how different parts of the brain apply to memory. Genova provides a wealth of information including why we remember some events and not others and strategies to support brain health and improve memory. The differences between the kind of forgetting that is a normal part of aging and Alzheimer’s are described. Remember is written in a style that is both informative and compassionate. I’m glad that I read Remember and highly recommend it.




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The Secret World of Weather
Tristan Gooley

Here is a book written by a guy who really pays attention to his surroundings. Who would guess that you could make a pretty fair prediction of the weather by watching the clouds? Well, it’s not ALL watching the clouds, but paying attention to the wind, the topography, animals, and plants. It seems those long-range TV weather forecasts are never good for more than a couple days. The bottom line is that people are most interested in local weather……and by “local” I mean like your backyard. But the forecasters can’t provide that many details in 15 minutes, so they go for the “big” picture. This causes them to discount changes in small areas, like modest hills, small bodies of water, or tree cover which really will affect your local weather. So you lose your true “local” weather and they give an averaged weather report over a county (or a state). But this book provides information and directions for you to formulate your own forecasts, for your own space. The book is fun to read with the author pointing out many facts and things to look for, while relating light-hearted stories. And for the most part, you can go to the table of contents and pick out things to read that are of greatest interest to you without a penalty for jumping around. A book for everyone.



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Into the Water

Paula Hawkins

This story revolves around the most recent in a series of drownings in the same river which have happened for a variety of reasons over many years. Nel’s drowning appears to be a suicide, but with her less-than-stellar reputation in town, foul play seems likely. Nel’s sudden death leaves her teenage daughter to be cared for by Nel’s estranged sister, Jules, adding a layer of tension between family members forced together on top of the ongoing mystery of Nel’s death. The novel is told through a variety of perspectives as each member of the ensemble cast has a different view of Nel and an idea of why she has drowned. Reading this mystery makes me really excited to check out Hawkins’ most popular novel, The Girl on the Train, which I can’t believe I haven’t picked up yet.



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American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins

From the very first sentence to the last, this is a heart stopping, heart wrenching story of the refugee experience. A must read.
Lydia's family is gathered at a party for her niece. Shots ring out and 16 of her family, including her husband, crumple to the ground. Lydia and her 8 year-old son Luca survive, but they must run to get away from the cartel who will hunt them down. Lydia and Luca are transformed from the middle class to homeless migrants headed to "El Norte,” the United States, the only place the cartel cannot reach them. They ride La Bestia, the trains that travel north, in hopes of finding a coyote who'll get them across the border. The story is rich in authenticity and a testament in the power of fear, hope, and the belief that there are more good people than bad.

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The Clergyman's Wife: A Pride and Prejudice Novel
Molly Greeley

Molly Greeley has taken one of the lesser characters from Pride and Prejudice and expanded her story. At age 27 and not known as a beauty, Charlotte Lucas accepts a proposal from Clergyman Collins. She feels a marriage of convenience is better than becoming a spinster with her parents continuing to support her. She keeps house, visits the parishioners and patiently tolerates her awkward husband. but when she becomes acquainted with the local farmer, Mr. Trask, she wonders if she should have waited for love.


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Home Front
Kristen Hannah

Michael and Jolene's marriage seems to be falling apart. Suddenly Jolene, who is a helicopter pilot in the army reserves, is called up for active duty in Iraq. Michael, who is a lawyer and works long hours, needs to take over the household and learn to communicate with his two girls. When tragedy strikes, this fragile marriage has the biggest challenge of all. Many topics of discussion make this an excellent choice for book groups.

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Until I Say Good Bye: My Year of Living With Joy
Susan Spencer-Wendell

In June 2011, the author learned she had ALS, Lou Gehrig Disease. She was 44 with a loving husband and 3 great kids. She had only 1 year of good health remaining. She decided it would be a year of joy. She quit her job as a journalist. She took 7 trips with 7 of the most important people in her life and special trips with each of her children. Even with meticulous planning, things didn't always turn out as expected but Susan learned to accept what came and find joy in it. Also, she managed to write this book to leave as a legacy to her family. She finished by using only one finger on her phone that could still push a key. A heartbreaking story but also heartwarming.




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The Night Watchman

Louise Erdrich

The genesis of this novel was family history, letters written by Erdrich’s extraordinary grandfather. He was a night watchman and community leader, pivotal in stopping a bill that would have terminated the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. I usually read for pleasure, and this book brought me a great deal of that, particularly through the portraits of the characters and their experiences. But it also was eye-opening about the federal government’s horrible history in dealing with the first nation treaties, and it gave me increased understanding of, and respect for, the Ojibwe survivors. I highly recommend this book.

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Durable Goods
Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg is the best-selling author of some 30 books which have been translated into as many languages. She was in her mid-thirties when she first wrote for publication. Initially she wrote non-fiction, mainly for magazines. She was working on an article about what it’s like to be an “army brat” (which she had been) when she realized that she had the makings of a novel. The result, Durable Goods, changed everything.

Katie is 14. She has an 18-year-old sister. Katie’s father hits them: it’s a bit like The Great Santini, but not completely. He is good to his wife: “She was the place where he put his tenderness.” But it’s the 60s and fathers, particularly military fathers, act in ways that would be condemned today. At the beginning of the book the mother has been taken by cancer, and Katie’s ally in the home is her sister. But her sister may not be around next year. (Shades of Shuggie Bane?)

This little book, I’d call it a novella, is beautifully written, with characters that stay with you. I usually pass books I buy on to my family, but I think I need to keep this one to read again.

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The Confidential Agent
Graham Greene

This is classic Anglo-noire. The agent is mysteriously always referred to as just D. He was once a gentleman and a scholar, but has suffered so much in the war that he cannot feel any emotions. Still, he knows how important his mission is and desperately needs to fulfill it. The book opens as he’s landing at Dover. He has been sent to purchase coal that a continental government (never named but Spain) needs to keep the other side (unnamed in the book but fascists) from winning a civil war. He cannot purchase the coal without papers that the other side is attempting to steal. Everything goes sinisterly wrong, but a rich young woman and a 14-year-old girl working in his hotel are both attracted to his brooding intensity...

The Confidential Agent was written in 1939, two years before Greene undertook work for the Foreign Office. It reminds me of The Third Man, not surprisingly since Greene wrote that screen play. I haven’t read many of his books: I remember loving Travels with My Aunt, but I don’t think it’s typical. I need to find more of his work: he’s such a fine writer.

Note: this book is out of print, but we’d be glad to track down a copy on the used book market.



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Neon Gods

Katee Roberts

This book of fantasy is a retelling of the story of Persephone and Hades from Greek mythology. The story starts out from Persephone’s point of view (POV) and explains her life and how she met Hades. Once she and Hades meet, the story’s POV changes back and forth between the two characters, almost every chapter. I liked this because the reader can see how both characters feel and think. I really enjoyed this book because it was different from other books I have read. In other books, the “bad guy” is always bad, and the “good guy” is always good, but in this book, the “bad guy” might not be so bad, and the “good guy” might not be so good. I give this book a 9.5/10 because when reading it, I was never confused, and always stayed interested. Neon Gods is definitely in my top five favorite books. I would recommend this book to anyone 18 years old or older, because of some of the graphic scenes in the story.



The Maidens
Alex Michaelides

Each time I sit down to write a book recommendation, I’m convinced ‘THIS BOOK is the best.’ Of course, that’s not true. What is true is that it’s a succession of books, each ‘if we choose wisely’ [Ref; Raiders of the Lost Ark / the Holy Grail] sheds a bit more light on our individual path toward self-discovery. If we’re lucky, an author speaks personally to us through shared interests. Classical Mythology and Greek Theater, for me, provide a nearly endless number of situations and perspectives. Alex Michaelides’ book, The Maidens, is a mystery about a serial killer at one of the Cambridge Colleges. The main character is a young psychotherapist who is recovering from the accidental death of her husband. Intent on discovering the killer, her character is uniquely able to explore the possible motives of several suspects, some college professors, well versed in the psychology of Greek Theater and thought. Michaelide explores “liminal space.” That is the transitional space between what we think of as our lives (subjective reality), and what we’re about to be gob-smacked with (objective reality), the future. Bear in mind… nothing is static! The ONLY absolute is change. The Maidens, is a thoughtful, surprising revelation of what that might mean, as well as being just damn fine entertainment.

Note: this book will be released June 15.


Painting the Darkness
Robert Goddard

This book was a perfect treat! It's 1882, and James Davenall has come home to England. He left a suicide note eleven years ago, and hasn't been heard of since. Constance, his fiance, whom he'd left just a few days before their fairy tale wedding, has finally married, and is now being asked to swear it is indeed him, to prove his claim. James wants to recover his inheritance: the family estates and the title that would have come to him on the death of his father, Sir Gervase Davenall. Is it really him? His own mother and brother deny it. Is he a rank imposter, and why did he leave, why did he stay away so very long, and what sort of havoc will his return wreak on the lives of everyone who thought him dead? Goddard convinces you, the reader, that it is indeed James, and then makes you doubt it, only to convince you that he simply has to be, or not. I have never been so spun around in my head by a writer, as to what is or isn't true, and absolutely loved the whirl. I had not heard of Robert Goddard, but I've already ordered another of his books. Does anyone else know about this writer? He's written a ton of stuff, and if it's anything like as good, as this one, I'm looking forward to more of his work.

Note: this book is out of print, but we’d be glad to track down a copy on the used book market.





Note: Lee tells us “books travel best in pairs.” We agree. See the three books we’ve chosen for the fall retreats. What pairs of books do you recommend?



We Begin at the End
Chris Whitaker

This was one of my favorite reads so far this year. I apologize for a review that provides little detail, but it is hard to provide details without also presenting a handful of spoilers, and I never want to do that, so... with that said...

At first, I thought there were two heroes in this novel: Walk, a small town Chief of Police, and The Outlaw Duchess Day Radley. She is a 13-year-old girl doing her best to be a mother to her 5-year-old brother Robin since Star, their mother, is a drunk and an addict. Among the other major characters are a convicted murderer, a housing developer who also owns a strip joint, a neighbor who still lives in his high school glory days, a butcher who needs a friend, a prison warden, and Star’s father.

The novel progresses from one tragedy to the next, with an occasional respite, and eventually more heroes are uncovered.

When reading, I put off the last 35 pages for a day as I was not ready for one last tragedy if a more hopeful conclusion was not reached.

If you like novels that provide you with a feel-good bounce from one chapter to the next, this is nothing that you should be reading. It may not be technically flawless, but it is a great mystery/thriller/tragedy/character study.

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

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