Books and News to Give You Paws

Staff Picks

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

Jen Jen



book cover


Burning Questions:
Essays and Occasional Pieces, 2004 to 20
Margaret Atwood

You may know I am long-time, die-hard Margaret Atwood fan. I didn’t think my esteem and admiration for her could reach higher heights, but it turns out I’ll always have more love for the inestimable MA. Atwood has had a long career—her first published novel, The Edible Woman, was released in 1969. Now, in 2022, Atwood is 82 years old and still writing (I’m not sure true writers really have the option of retiring and in this case, thank goodness!) I’ve enjoyed both the literary novels and the science-fiction-y books that Atwood has written, and she’s also a poet! The essays in this collection showcase (without showing off) what a well-read, thoughtful, interesting human being Ms. Atwood is. She’s familiar with a LOT of literature—Canadian (no surprise there), English, American, French, and more. She’s also been a long-time book reviewer and this collection includes her positive review of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. (For some reason, I take great pleasure in knowing that Atwood occasionally dives into a good Stephen King novel.) At 496 pages (or 18+ hours), Burning Questions qualifies as getting a bang for your buck. While Atwood can talk circles around most of us regarding the complexities of Shakespeare, she also talks about zombies and introduced me to the concept of “potato-mancy” (divining by potato, duh.) She has a wry, fun sense of humor. One of my favorite essays is Reflections on the Handmaid’s Tale, which reflects on her most famous novel. In particular, I like the Atwood’s emphasis on the importance of a writer’s personal history when writing a story and how it shapes/influences the story. She takes the reader through her life as example, where she was living and what historical events were happening and her age at the time of those events. As a bonus for the audiobook listener, this essay is narrated by Ann Dowd, the actress who portrayed Aunt Lydia in Hulu’s adaptation of Handmaid’s Tale. I also took a special shine to the essay titled Shakespeare and Me, which talks about her history of Shakespeare, concluding with her writing Hag-Seed, a re-telling of The Tempest published by Hogarth as part of its Shakespeare Series of books. (Brief aside: Anne Tyler’s contribution to this series is Vinegar Girl. It’sa re-telling of Taming of the Shrew, and I highly recommend it.) Through Atwood’s essays and occasional pieces, we learn more about her family, from her girlhood which was divided between an urban setting and living in the forest, her parents and siblings, the family she created with Graeme Gibson, and the death of Gibson. I highly recommend this collection.

book cover

The House in the Cerulean Sea
TJ Klune

One of the fun places to get book recommendations is from co-workers, especially when you work in an indie bookstore! I’d had my eye on The House in the Cerulean Sea for some time, and when Gina offered to let me read her copy, I jumped at the chance! As I’m a sucker for magic, orphans, and good guys, this has been a fun read. Linus, a 40-something-year-old bachelor with a cat, works as a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He is ridiculously proficient at his work. When summoned by Extremely Upper Management, Linus is surprised (and admittedly suspicious) to learn he’s been assigned the very important and secret case of orphans on an island. The orphans are highly unusual – when Linus is reading their case files in preparation for meeting them, he faints upon his reading of the orphan Lucifer (“Lucy.”) It turns out the adult running the home couldn’t be providing a better home for these unusual orphans and it would do more harm than good to shut it down. In addition to the orphans, there is a lovely love story. When I read, I like to read for voice, and this book has wonderful voice to it—check it out! Then come chat with Gina or me about it.

book cover

Eragon and Eldest
Christopher Paolini

My husband Tom and I love a good fantasy, whether in book or screen form. We decided to re-listen to the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini, which has the added bonus of Gerard Doyle reading to us. After finishing up the first in the series, Eragon, we are now on to the second, Eldest. (Note: don’t ever watch the movie made of Eragon, it’s terrible.) For those unfamiliar with the series, Eragon is a farm boy who finds an unusual, highly polished blue “stone” in the mountains (spoiler: it’s not a stone, it’s a dragon egg.) book coverFrom there, adventures in the vein of Lord of the Rings ensue, complete with dragons, elves, dwarves, long journeys, magic, good vs. evil, and so on. If you never got around to these books, treat yourself!


Sally Sally

book cover

Fox and I
Catherine Raven

Our recent reading retreat was built around the memoir Fox and I. Often we’re asked how we select books for our retreats. There’s not an easy answer, because it’s an organic process, and often books come to us, seemingly out of nowhere, quietly demanding to be the centerpiece of a retreat.

Such was the case with Fox and I. I was intrigued by the cover of the advance copy I received of the book, which is the same as the cover pictured above. It’s a memoir by a woman with an interesting life story. Catherine Raven left home at the age of 15, after enduring years of abuse from her father and neglect from her mother. She’d internalized the thought that if your own parents don’t want you, surely no one else will either. For a number of years, she worked as a National Park Ranger in parks in the western part of the United States. In 1999, she earned a Ph.D in biology. A loner, she built a house in a remote part of Montana, intending it to be a way station before moving to the next phase of her life. She noticed that a scrawny fox came to visit every afternoon at 4:15. In large part, the book is about the friendship which developed between Raven and Fox, despite her training as a biologist, which insisted on not anthropomorphizing animals. Fox changed Raven’s life in significant ways. Her account of their friendship is touching on many levels. You don’t have to have an affinity for foxes, to appreciate this tender, but not sentimental, story.

I reviewed Pax, the other book we discussed at our recent retreat, in last month’s newsletter.

book cover


The Little Prince
Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

When Fox visited Catherine Raven each day at 4:15, he settled next to his favorite blue flower and she read to him. She reported that his attention span was 18 minutes! She read the classic story, The Little Prince, to him many times. Of course, that sent me looking for my copy of The Little Prince. When I couldn’t find it, I vaguely remembered that I’d discarded it after totally wearing it out. (And the great part of owning a bookstore is that I was quickly able to secure a replacement!) The book is a story for all ages, and apparently, foxes as well. It follows the travels of a little prince who visits a number of planets, including Earth, and explores themes of friendship, loneliness, and love. A fox whom the prince meets tells him his secret before they part, “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” If you haven’t read The Little Prince lately, it’s time to re-read it! The company of a fox is optional.

book cover

David Sedaris

I’m a David Sedaris fan and was thrilled by the recent release of his latest collection of personal essays! In it, he explores such varied topics as life during the pandemic, the decline and death of his father, and having his teeth straightened as an adult. He brings a quirky sensibility to his observations, as well as a deep humanity. Each essay is great, and I particularly enjoyed the one which was actually a commencement address. A particular joy in listening to the book on Librofm is that Sedaris is the reader. His sense of comedic timing is highly honed!


book cover

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 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’re always had one another, and the music they’re 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.



book cover


The Stationery Shop
Marjan Kamali

The story begins in Tehran, where Roya lives with her parents and her sister, Zari. On her way home from school, Roya often stops at her favorite place in Tehran, the Stationery Shop, a place of refuge in a city experiencing increasing political unrest. It is there that she meets Bahman Aslan. Roya and Bahman fall in love and plan to marry. On the day that they've arranged to be married, Bahman doesn't show up to meet Roya at their agreed-upon spot. Roya is heartbroken and unable to determine why her love did not keep his word. Eventually, both Roya and Zari, encouraged by their parents, move to America to pursue higher education. Life with its joys and sorrows goes on for the sisters. Years later, Roya sees a young man who looks remarkably like Bahman. The mystery of what happened on the day of Roya and Bahman's planned marriage begins to unravel. The Stationery Shop gives readers some insight and motivates me to learn more about the politics and culture of twentieth-century Iran, but most of all, it is a love story. 



book cover


Annalee Newitz

This is a great sci-fi book! It has all sorts of characters but mainly you follow two pairs…. the “good” guys and the “bad” guys. Sorting out which is which is the fun in this book. The setting is basically Canada (which is kind of refreshingly different) in the year 2144. OK, so the problem is with a new drug, Zacuity. The purpose of the drug is to make you more efficient, but it actually causes people to work themselves to death (some people set in a college environment so that’s easy to understand!) Our main character is a person called Jack who pirates drugs by reverse engineering them and selling or giving away these off brands to people who need the drug but can’t afford the big pharma price. Jack just happened to pick Zacuity as her latest drug to pirate. She’s positive it’s not her meds causing problems, but the authorities are putting on an intense drive to find her and pin the blame on her. The authorities are one of the couples mentioned above…a robot and a human and as they pursue Jack, they start to develop an “interest” for each other. Now I’ve had cars in the past that I really loved but these two take man and machine to a new level.

This is a fun book to read outside of the normal science fiction storyline. Make sure you read the “dedication” page.



book cover

The Last Wild Horses
Maja Lunde

You may know that I am a sucker for any book that features horses in the title. Thus, I read a number of books that are not necessarily about horses, but rather about horses as a metaphor for much else in life. This book is no exception as it draws parallels between extinction, reincarnation, and the potential for hope and courage in the face of dismal statistics.
First, I want to give you a bit of background about the author, Maja Lunde, the most successful Norwegian author of her generation, and winner of the Norwegian Booksellers Prize. Her books have been translated into at least thirty-six languages. Her first book, a children’s novel, Over Grensen (“Across the Border”) came out in 2012. Other recent books to be found at Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery include The End of the Ocean and The History of Bees.

As Lunde stated in a recent video interview, “Climate change and nature have always been with me and have been the most important thing when making my decisions.”

For this book, she was drawn to the theme of how climate change is already impacting the world, and decided to place the setting in Europe and Scandinavia because as she said, “especially in Scandinavia, we are used to thinking of ourselves as safe, and that the droughts triggering extinctions and mass migrations only happen in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, this is not fiction, I wish it was. If southern Europe is hit by a five-year heat wave causing crop production to collapse and heat becoming so unbearable that people cannot actually live there anymore, then those internal migrations will become our reality.”

The Last Wild Horses follows three different time periods, featuring the Przewalski horse (Takhi) throughout. It is a true story about how a few deeply committed people managed to rescue these last truly wild horses that were found in Mongolia in the 1890s and brought to European zoos. One hundred years later, after exacting, painstaking attention to keeping their bloodline pure, from a stock of only thirteen fertile horses, there are now a couple of thousands of these horses, many of which were reintroduced to live in the wild in Mongolia.

The story opens in a dystopian Norway in 2064, where Europe has collapsed; there are no shops, no communication systems, barely any electricity and very few people. A woman named Eva and her daughter are struggling to exist by running a small farm that was formerly a zoo, and which now houses the last of the Przewalski horses, a couple of cows, goats and chickens. Life is very difficult and completely focused on getting enough food for their animals and themselves for the day and preparing for the winter ahead.

The reader is then taken back to the 1890’s, to follow Mikhail Alexandrovich, the assistant director of the St. Petersburg zoological gardens, at a time when these horses, known only to Europeans through cave paintings, were thought to be extinct. He rediscovers them and brings several of them to European zoos. No small task and one which is not well known.
The story of the recovery of this species then jumps to veterinarian and tenacious “keeper of the species”, Karin, whose involvement with the horses begins as a child in Germany in WWII and continues until she helps reintroduce them to their native Mongolia in 1992.

I found this to be a riveting accounting of the history of western European involvement with rescuing a nearly extinct species, written in a very readable, engaging way through the author’s development of the three time periods through the three main characters. Her humanizing of the undeniable message about the plausible direction of current global existence will stick with you. I hope that you will read this book, finding it as poignant and memorable as I did, and that you will join me in reading Lunde’s other books in her climate quartet, if you have not already done so.


book cover

Karen Joy Fowler

What about the families of individuals who commit heinous crimes, in this case John Wilkes Booth, wondered author Karen Fowler?

Her answer is this in-depth look at the Booth family, from the time John’s parents moved into a remote cabin in Maryland to the aftermath of the shooting of Abraham Lincoln. Booth’s father was a renowned Shakespearean actor of the time, and an alcoholic who caused drama and chaos at home and in the theater. John followed his lead into acting, but was often overshadowed by his older brother, a brilliant Shakespearean in his own right.

John was the second youngest in a family of ten children, six of whom lived to adulthood. John’s family were largely anti-slavery. John however, fought for the Confederacy and was a frequent and vitriolic critic of Lincoln.

The book follows the progress of Lincoln’s rise to power and the prelude to the Civil War, giving the reader a perspective of the times.

I listened to this wonderful novel on The narrator is a gifted performer and made the book a very enjoyable experience.




book cover


The Sun Does Shine
Ray Hinton

In 1985 Ray Hinton, a black man, was arrested and charged with two murders in Alabama. He was sentenced to be put to death. He was on death row for 30 years, even though he was innocent and could prove it. Statistics show that 1 in 10 on death row are innocent. He describes living in a 5 x 7 cell all that time. He could hear men being executed down the hall, many whom he had become friends with. Ray got permission to start a book club where men could fly free by reading the words in books. With the help of Bryan Stevenson, civil rights attorney and best-selling author of Just Mercy, Hinton won his release in 2015. One wonders if it is ever right for the state to take a life. Hinton gives us an intimate look at life on death row. I recommend this for all readers.



book cover


Miss Benson's Beetle
Rachel Joyce

This novel is an absolute delight. When I read the first couple of chapters, I thought the story was rather silly, but I soon discovered here were two very unusual women on a life changing adventure to discover a golden beetle. Along the way they risk everything and break all the rules. The women also discover true friendship between two very different people.

book cover

The Liar's Daughter
Megan Peterson

Piper was raised in a cult, but she doesn't know it. Father said they must stay inside the fence, so they aren't harmed from the outside. One day the government raids the compound and Piper is separated from her siblings and even from Caspian, the boy she loves. As Piper learns about the outside and herself, she begins to wonder if Father does know best. This is a good book for ages 14 and up.






book cover


Mieko Kawakami

Heaven is the story of two teenagers, navigating through middle school. They are both loners, bullied by their peers. She, for her messy appearance and he, for his lazy eye. They start writing letters to each other and find comfort in no longer feeling alone in their torment. 

As the story unfolds, we learn different perspectives as to why they are bullied, how they handle it, why they don’t fight back, why the abusers are “ok” with abusing. 

This little book makes you think about all the varied perspectives in life and how these perspectives can cause such dissonance.



book cover


Sara Paretsky

It’s strangely reassuring reading about Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski wearing a mask and socially distancing. V.I. is, as always, brave to the point of reckless, getting herself hurt protecting others while solving complicated crimes. Paretsky wrote this novel during the first year of the pandemic, and says it was very difficult to do and that the original story kept morphing while she wrote. It includes scenes of police brutality complicated by being exposed to the virus because the bad cops don’t bother with masks; sneaking into a nursing home when visitors are prohibited as potential Covid carriers; and just generally going about her usual crazy life with occasional reminders that we all have had to modify our behavior to respond to the new danger. V.I.’s lover is stuck is Spain, but her never-aging dogs and small group of good friends help her survive. We all get by with a little help from our friends.

Note: this book will be released May 10

book cover


The Paris Bookseller
Kerri Maher

This is historical fiction, the story of Sylvia Beach who created Paris’s famous English language bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, in 1920. Beach published James Joyce’s Ulysses when it was considered pornography, illegal in America so no publisher would touch it. Her shop was a gathering place for many authors, such as Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Ernest Hemingway. Ironically, the writing in The Paris Bookseller isn’t too impressive in my opinion, but it’s quite readable and the content is fascinating. The shop rivalled Gertrude Stein as a center of culture in the time and place celebrated in many classic and current books and films.

book cover

The Sentence Is Death
Anthony Horowitz

This is a sequel to The Word Is Murder. The books are ingenious mash-ups. The protagonist is the real Horowitz, who writes best-selling mysteries as well as screen plays, including Foyle’s War on PBS. In the opening chapter Horowitz is pulled away from the filming of Foyle’s War by a fictional ex-cop, Daniel Hawthorne, who wants Horowitz to shadow him on a murder investigation and write a book about it. They’ve done this together once before. Horowitz becomes a 21st century Doctor Watson: there’s even discussion of Sherlock Holmes in a book group meeting they attend. The parallels are strong, including a convoluted murder mystery with the detective seeing the same clues that the writers are shown, but only the detective can unravel their meaning. At least I couldn’t: see if you can!
(In the novel, Horowitz is said to have signed a three-book contract. So we can expect a third in this series to come eventually. What will the title be? The Final Chapter maybe?)



book cover

The Immortal King Rao
Vauhini Vara

The novel begins in India in the 1950s. King Rao has been born into a Dalit family of coconut farmers. (The Dalit are the lowest in the caste system.) We learn of him growing up in this family as it progresses into relative wealth, but with a great deal of turmoil generated by poverty and intra-family conflicts. (Don’t let some of the longer and unfamiliar Indian names put you off. The most important characters are easily remembered.) Eventually King emigrates to the United States, where he studies computer engineering. The company he builds with his wife becomes all-powerful in a global system of Shareholders who hold Social Capital and where The Algorithm makes the decisions.
King’s daughter Athena eventually joins up with the Exes, a resistance group sustaining tech-free communities on islands ceded to them. (Of course, these islands will also be the first to completely disappear in global warming.)

This is an excellent novel that combines some first-rate historical fiction dealing with post-colonial India with a dystopian future. And there are plenty of opportunities for the reader to ponder how much of our lives we have quite voluntarily given over to social media.

Note: the book will be released May 3.

book cover

Holding Her Breath
Eimear Ryan

This is a most excellent debut novel by a young Irish author.

The novel focuses on Beth Crowe, a student whose is just entering the university as a 20-year-old. Early on, we learn that she has undergone some personal crisis in a life-long pursuit of excellence in competitive swimming. As she begins school, she has only peripheral knowledge of her heritage: Her grandfather was a famous Irish poet. She never knew him, as he committed suicide before she was born, but she is very close to her grandmother.

This family history helps open a path for her roommate, Sadie, to become a friend.

The history also brings her closer to Justin, an English post-doc, though perhaps he is more interested in the grandfather than Beth.

Beth finally realizes that she must discover what she can of her grandfather’s life, and particularly his final months.

This is a very, very good book; and I can highly recommend it.

Note: This book will be released May 17

book cover

The Red Arrow
William Brewer

The narrator is a painter/author/ghostwriter who suffers from severe depression. He believes that “The Mist” is there to keep him from ever being truly happy or successful.

He failed as a painter, but then put together a fine collection of short stories. This leads to a large contract for a new book, with a significant advance ... which he spends. And then the book never materializes. His last chance is to ghostwrite a memoir for The Physicist, whom he has never met but who specifically required him to be the writer.

The narrator barely holds on, with the help of his soulmate Annie, until he can be given a treatment involving psilocybin mushrooms, which is what ultimately provides the key to understanding for both the narrator and the reader.

As he moves across the Italian countryside in The Red Arrow, his entire story unfolds, from growing up in the shadow of the Monongahela River oil spill to his Brooklyn studio to Silicon Valley and then, finally, to his meeting with The Physicist.

This is a marvelous story, told well, with a view of time not unlike Billy Pilgrim’s.

Note: the book will be released on May 17.



book cover

Electric Idol
Katee Robert

Electric Idol is the second book in the Dark Olympus series. The story is a modern-day retelling of Psyche and Eros. Eros’ mother, Aphrodite, orders her son to do her dirty work for her, which includes sending threats, harming others, and even murder. Her most recent task for her son is to kill Psyche but after Psyche shows kindness to Eros, he is unable to finish the job and finds himself wanting to protect her. The only way he can think to do this is by binding her to him through marriage. Psyche is very opposed to the idea at first, but then agrees, realizing her only other options are death or leaving Olympus for good. Getting married was their one chance and hope to protect Psyche, but as word gets around it’s not as sunshine and rainbows as they thought it be. I absolutely LOVE Katee Robert’s books and highly recommend them to anyone who likes romance books. Her books are definitely 18+ because of the graphic scenes, but this is a fantastic read nonetheless!





book cover



Chanel's Riviera
Anne De Courcy

Coco Chanel had a wildly diverse life. She, of course, had a huge presence in Paris, but less well known are her deep associations with the Cote de Azur, or France's southern Gold Coast. Just after World War I, people with pinched finances looking for a sunny and warm place to go to escape the dreary grey winters of war ravaged Northern Europe, found the undeveloped, sunny and CHEAP, southern coast of France. Suddenly everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was making their way to stay in undeveloped sunny little villages, perched on the coast overlooking the sunny Mediterranean Sea. Coco Chanel bought 12 acres, with an old house and olive grove, near the tiny village of Roquebrune, and developed it into an elegant country house she named La Pause. This book concentrates mainly on the history of the area that's come to be referred to as The French Riviera and is told focusing on Chanel and her friends. Artists, architects, politicians, writers, actors, everyone you've ever heard about who is, and was, famous and infamous, all told as the years slowly pass, and the Riviera develops into the fabled, glittering, impossibly expensive and influential resort it's become.

book cover


Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd's novel, Paris, is the story of both the city, and maybe six different families who live there. It begins in the early Middle Ages, and each short chapter leads the reader through the history Paris, and the history of these families. For anyone who has ever been to Paris (I have been only once), it's a life changing experience. I know that sounds trite, but it is nonetheless true. The magic of this book is that it takes what you've seen in person, and then fills in the history of what you've been looking at. It begins with a young metal worker who lands himself a job for Monsieur Eiffel, who is building a colossal copper statue, to be transported to New York, in North America, where it's to be set up in that city's harbor. Yes, Eiffel, is the same man who built the tower! See! This is what Rutherfurd's gift is. He's able to change the way we see Paris. If you've ever been charmed, in any way, by the mystique that surrounds Paris, let Rutherfurd deepen and add color to the mystery.

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