Beach Reads

The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner

A delightful page-turner that has an atmospheric New England setting, family secrets, and complicated relationships throughout, The Forever Summer is a perfect beach read. Thirty-year-old Marin Bishop seems to have it all, but when her law office affair is uncovered, she and her lover are immediately fired, thereby triggering the events that provide the foundation for the rest of the story. Devastated by her indiscretion, Marin wonders how she will ever recover—professionally or personally. The first people she must face are her parents, who are harboring a secret of their own—their idyllic marriage is on the verge of divorce. And then Rachel, a complete stranger, contacts Marin claiming to be her half-sister. Now, with everything else going on in her life, Marin must face the possibility that her father may not, in fact, be her biological parent. Rachel’s on her way to meet her newly-found grandmother in Provincetown and, on an impulse, Marin joins Rachel on her excursion—if only to run away from her problems. What was to be a one-week respite turns out to be a summer of familial intrigue, personal admissions, and self-discovery.

A cast of characters as colorful as Provincetown itself comprise this easy, multi-layered read. The plot is off and running on the very first page, and the short chapters make it easy to pick up and put down at any point. Twists and turns in the plot are plentiful, sometimes shocking, and the reader will not want to put it down—particularly if they’ve ever dreamed of sorting out their life by spending a summer at the beach.

Read-alikes:
The Outer Cape by Patrick Dacey
The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson
The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand
The News from the End of the World by Emily Jeanne Miller

Deborah Fermosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library



Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

Sunshine "Sunny" Mackenzie is an online culinary star, beloved for her down-home country cooking, which she first brought to the big city and then to her millions of followers. With a Food Network deal in the works, she's about to strike it big...then it all comes crashing down. A hack by #aintonosunshine reveals all of the secrets and lies on which Sunny has built her public persona, because her carefully constructed social media life is in fact one big, fat lie. As she begins to lose her reputation, her business deals, and even her husband, Sunny beats a hasty retreat to her hometown of Montauk, forced to turn to her estranged older sister for aide.

While all of this sounds incredibly terrible, Sunny is determined to get it all back. She just needs to get in good with the East End master of cuisine, Chef Z, become his protege, and create her redemption story. Easy, right? Except coming home makes Sunny realize that maybe honesty has some upsides. She gets to know her six-year-old niece, and meets Ethan, the local fisherman, both of whom help her to come back to who she really is. At the same time that she pursues her big comeback, she also begins to realize she may have misjudged her sister, and that her single-minded quest for fame and fortune has devastated her most important relationships. It's also exhausting to keep up with the lies. In the end, she eventually finds out who hacked her in the first place, and why, and makes some surprising decisions on how to move forward. While there is no "happy ending" in the traditional sense of all being knit back together, Sunny comes through the experience better for it and looking forward to the road ahead.

Hello, Sunshine is written in the first person from Sunny's point of view. She is young and somewhat naive, with a resilience that flies in the face of the mounting catastrophes that befall her. Her voice feels almost neutral in many places, which keeps the book light enough to keep in the beach read category. The events mainly take place over the summer on the shores of Long Island, which becomes the contrasting environment that allows Sunny to reclaim some authenticity. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a quick read (I plowed through it in two days), with local flavor and an upbeat tone.

Read-alikes:
The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews
The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig 
Pretty Woman by Fern Michaels

Christine Parker-Morales, Comsewogue Public Library



The Hideaway by Lauren Denton

Sara Jenkins learns that her grandmother, Margaret Van Buren, has died and left her the owner of the Hideaway, a rundown bed and breakfast, which had once been her childhood home. She leaves her New Orleans antique shop behind and begins restoring the old Victorian house in Sweet Bay, Alabama. While cleaning out the attic, Sara discovers an old box that unveils many secrets of a Margaret she never truly knew. She realizes she longs to know more about “Mags” whom she had dismissed as eccentric and now realizes that much like her, had kept many things to herself.  

Mags had been a young socialite growing up in post-war Alabama who married the man chosen for her. After enduring his unfaithfulness for years, she escaped to Sweet Bay, Alabama, where she found the Hideaway, a bed and breakfast that became her salvation.  Now, at her death, it will reveal the many secrets she kept hidden.

In this, her debut novel, Lauren Denton tells the heartbreaking story of true love that never dies. Her characters are well-drawn and appealing. This book will please inspirational, contemporary and historical fans alike. A good choice for YA as well.

Read-alikes:
Hurricane Season by Lauren Denton
The Inheritance by Heidi Hostetter
The Secret to Southern Charm by Kristy W. Harvey

Grace O'Connor, West Islip Public Library, Retired



The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The book opens with Anna Fox spying on her neighbors through the window of her gentrified, upper-Manhattan townhouse. She follows all of the neighbors moves, has lots of opinions about what she witnesses, and is particulary taken by the new family that has moved in, The Russells. Her husband and daughter aren't with her, but she speaks to them often and recounts what she observes. We also find out that Anna is agoraphobic. She hasn't left her house in over a year and her only contact is with family over the phone, her psychiatrist who makes home visits, a physical therapist who comes weekly and a tenant in the basement apartment. In addition to her condition and spying on her neighbors, Anna is a heavy drinker who often mixes her medications with wine. She doesn't eat right, is sloppy about housework and often doesn't brush her teeth or bathe. When the teenage son of the new neighbor stops by with a gift and Anna then meets the boy's mother, she is happy to connect to actual people who are friendly towards her.

The author skillfully builds interest and suspense in the reader. When Anna witnesses a crime and the police don't believe her because of her medication and alcohol consumption, the reader is left with even more questions --- why isn't Anna's family with her; what terrible thing occurred that caused her to not want to leave her house; what the story is regarding her tenant; why does the Russells' son seem to be afraid of his father; and what did the Russells leave behind in Boston? Very little is revealed and when the truth is learned, it leaves the reader reeling with surprise. 

With nods to movies such as Rear Window, Rebecca, and Strangers on a Train, this book is full of atmosphere and Anna's favorite movies add a cinematic effect. Although Anna's unreliable narration is similar to The Girl on the Train, Woman in the Window has even more twists and surprises. Just when you think Anna can't be trusted, there's a revelation that the reader didn't suspect at all. This book is the perfect read if you want to lose yourself in a well-paced, masterfully plotted and well-written novel. It's the perfect beach read as it pulls you into the plot and makes you forget everything around you.

Read-alikes:
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sara Pekkanen
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

Myrna Velez, Brentwood Public Library



Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Jennifer Dixon has two daughters in college and a son just starting kindergarten. When her daughters, the result of her few years as a band groupie, were in elementary school, she was class mom for a record seven years in a row. But she was much younger then. She finds herself revisiting the role of class mom with her son Max, and is highly aware of the large gap between her and the moms of Max's classmates. And that's not all Jen has on her plate. She's training for a mud run, trying to help her best friend through a crisis, suddenly reunited with her high school crush, and trying to figure out what the real story is with Max's teacher.

Jen may have settled down, married and be living a much more conventional life than when she was when her daughters were in elementary school, but she hasn't lost any of her snark. As a mother of a rising kindergartner myself, I had to imagine my reaction of I'd received emails like the ones she sends out to her fellow parents. I'd like to think I'd rush out and make Jen my new best friend, but if I'm being honest, I'd probably be a little offended. Reading about how she negotiates the class politics and deals with everything else going on in her life is very entertaining. Jen is a fun character, and her supporting cast is likable and realistic. This fast-paced book is both lighthearted and heartwarming.

Read-alikes:
Life After Coffee  by Virginia Franken
How to Party with an Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Other People's Houses by Abbi Waxman

Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library



The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

When their parents divorced, twins Harper and Tabitha Frost, who were teens and had been so close growing up, were split. Tabitha stayed on Nantucket with their upper-crust, fashion designer mother Eleanor Roxie-Frost and Harper moved with their working-class father Billy Frost to Martha’s Vineyard. Neither twin wanted to live with their mother due to her perfectionist tendencies and high expectations so the twins threw rock/paper/scissors in order to decide thus starting the rift between them. Several years later, the rift was complete after Tabitha blamed Harper for the death of her son. Now, almost forty, Harper’s life is falling apart. She’s having an affair with a married man while dating a local deputy and everyone has just found out. Meanwhile, on Nantucket, Tabitha’s daughter Ainsley is throwing wild parties, drinking, and is completely out of control. Tabitha is also unable to move on from her son’s death causing her to not be able to form true bonds with anyone. When Billy dies, Tabitha, Ainsley and Eleanor travel to Martha’s Vineyard for the funeral and old feelings are brought to the surface again. After Eleanor falls and breaks her hip and Billy’s house needs to be sold to pay his medical bills, the twins decide to get away from the drama surrounding them on their respective Islands and switch houses. Tabitha moves to Martha’s Vineyard to renovate Billy’s home and in the process, falls in love, while Harper moves to Nantucket to deal with a rebellious Ainsley and try to salvage what’s left of their mother’s failing clothing boutique realizing she is capable for more than anyone gives her credit. Each twin then deals with what it’s like to be mistaken for the other and to live in the other’s shoes leading to a better understanding of each other and starting the healing process.

Identicals is a quick read moving back and forth between the sisters and the Islands and how their lives change once they move. Unfortunately, the characters are stereotypical, the plot is predictable and the story is repetitive with the same scenarios hashed out repeatedly. Tabitha takes after their mother, who isn’t very motherly at all, and is more concerned with appearances than feelings. She worries more about how many calories are in something and what clothes she and Ainsley are wearing over how lost Ainsley is and how bad an influence her mean-girl best friend is on her. She constantly sees everything that Harper does as a slight against her and continues to judge Harper when there’s nothing to be judged. Harper was the party girl in college and has never held down a real job so every mistake she makes plays on that. No one will let her forget her mistakes either and the people of Martha’s Vineyard are very judgmental. It’s no surprise when Harper ends up being more of a mother than Tabitha or how Ainsley does a complete turn around and realizes she has been a bad person and needs to change. Give this quintessential beach read to women looking for books set during the summer on popular tourist Islands, and/or those looking for enough drama, family and otherwise, to keep them hooked but not weighed down. 

Read-alikes:
Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews
The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank
Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library



Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

Sylvie and Dan are the happy, compatible parents of twin daughters, contented with their lives and their marriage. All this begins to unravel when they visit the doctor and learn, based on longevity statistics, that they will likely have 68 more years of marriage before them! Sylvie decides that introducing surprise into their lives will help to keep their marriage fresh and contented, but “Project Surprise Me” brings, instead, stress and confusion. Misunderstandings arise, and a long-buried secret concerning Sylvie’s beloved father is revealed.

Kinsella’s characters are original, quirky and engaging. Her writing style is smooth and witty. While most of the mishaps resulting from “Project Surprise Me” are comical, Sylvie must face a serious, heart aching situation, which she does, with Dan’s help, discovering in the process new reasons to admire him. “Surprise Me” will appeal to lovers of “chick-lit “authors Meg Cabot, Jane Green and Lauren Weisberger. 

Read-alikes:
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library



On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

Thirty-two-year-old Faith Frankel has returned from living in Brooklyn to her small hometown in Massachusetts and taken a “stress-free” job at her alma mater, Everton Country Day School, where she handwrites thank you notes and meets with potential donors. Her fiancé, Stuart, is 41 and has quit his job to travel the U.S. on foot “searching for awesomeness in the everyday,” a journey he documents on Instagram.

In his absence, she purchases a small fixer-upper home on her own and begins uncovering the secrets of the previous owner (and her three deceased husbands), which include possible murders that lead to the local police excavating her cellar. She’s not alone in her new house for long, as her attractive coworker Nick rents her spare room after breaking up with his girlfriend. An accusation that she has been misdirecting work funds, the separation of her parents, her retired insurance agent father’s new career as an artist, and her divorced older brother’s struggling love life are all distractions as she decides whether to move on from her relationship with Stuart, and if Nick is the right person to move on with.

Despite some of the serious subjects, the tone is lightly comedic and witty. Though Faith is an underemployed millennial, the characters are quirky, timeless, and should appeal to a wide range of readers who enjoy comedies of manners.

Read-alikes:
How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life by Mameve Medwed
Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine
Today Will Be Difference by Maria Semple

Norah Gillman, Cold Spring Harbor Library



Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Brit Louisa Clark is in Manhattan now, working as an assistant for a high-strung socialite while she ponders her future. This is the third book in a popular British series that follows Louisa’s adventures and loves. The setting has relocated to the Upper East Side of New York City where Louisa is working in the world of the super-rich and making new friends while still trying to hold on to a long-distance relationship with Ambulance Sam.

This is a character-driven novel about a young woman trying to find herself. It is told from the first-person point of view and it’s a fast-paced and engaging story, infused with good humor and charm. Moyes is a good storyteller and she places Louisa in situations outside of her comfort zone where she learns to maintain her integrity. Society and class is an underlying theme and librarians will love Louisa’s efforts to save the Washington Heights branch of NYPL that is in danger of being unfunded. There are several supporting characters of diverse ethnicities. This novel will appeal primarily to women who enjoy light, romantic comedies.

Read-alikes:
Bridget Jones Series by Helen Fielding
My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

Candace Reader, Northport-East Northport Public Library



A Nantucket Wedding by Nancy Thayer

After losing her husband of almost 30 years, Alison is getting married again. Her fiancé, David has a house on Nantucket Island, where the wedding will take place. During the summer, Alison’s adult children and David’s adult children will spend time on the island, getting to know each other.

Unfortunately, Poppy, David’s daughter, is against the marriage, fearing she will lose some inheritance money, and is constantly trying to drive a wedge between the happy couple. Alison’s two daughters are going through their own family trials, and David’s son Ethan, is flirting with both women, adding to their distress and confusing them.

A beach read if ever there was one, this is an easy, breezy read that keeps you turning the pages happily, watching the children play in the sand and surf, enjoying local seafood and shopping, and trying on dresses for the wedding (dresses that Poppy refuses to wear, of course.)

Throughout all the trials and tribulations, Alison and David remain steadfast in their plans, not allowing their children to derail them, and the wedding is a beautiful success.

Read-alikes:
Jane Green
Elin Hilderbrand
Ann Rivers Siddons
Danielle Steel

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library

Coming to America - Immigration Fiction (2018)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah opens with the main character, Nigerian Ifemelu, on her way to get her hair braided. She lives in Princeton but has to go to Trenton to have her hair braided because "the few black locals she had seen were so light-skinned and lank-haired she could not imagine them wearing braids." She has just finished her fellowship at Princeton and she writes an anonymous life blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. She has an African-American boyfriend named Blaine, but her thoughts are turning toward a young man she loved and left in Nigeria. When the book opens, she is thinking about returning home.

Americanah is told in flashback; we watch Ifemelu as she struggles in America to find a job to support herself as she goes to college. Every perspective employer seems to like her, but no one will give her a job. Thanks to a long-time Nigerian friend, she interviews with a wealthy family and is finally hired as a life-in babysitter. She is not completely alone in America - an aunt and nephew have preceded her there. Although she physically resembles me in no way, shape or form, I found myself identifying with her - the desire to reverse a decision that seemed like the right thing to do at the time but now feels like a mistake, the searching for any mention of my hometown yet being afraid to make another big move, and the feeling of not fitting in with other young women. She has a wonderful sense of humor and an interest in learning about other people.

Read-alikes:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Kathy Carter, Riverhead Free Library



The Leavers by Lisa Ko

When he is 11-years-old, Deming's mother goes to work one day, and never returns. Deming is soon put into foster care and then adopted. We meet Deming again 10 years later, and struggling with an identity crisis. Does he want to try to be the academic his academic adoptive parents want him to be, or does he want to follow his own love of music and try to make it as a musician? Ko is more than a little heavy-handed in making the reader understand that this is something of a stand-in for his mixed feelings about being an American-born Chinese who spent half of his life in a lily-white upstate New York college town.

This character-driven story will appeal both to readers who enjoy books about immigrants, as well as those about characters searching for their own personal identity. Told through the point of view of Deming (in the third person) and his mother (in the first person), the full story of what happened to Deming's mother, both how she came to America and what happened the day she disappeared, is gradually revealed, sprinkled throughout Deming’s quest to find himself. This is a grim, but ultimately hopeful and redemptive novel that lays out the difficulties of immigration and assimilation without being overly preachy.

Read-alikes:
Across a Green Ocean by Wendy Lee
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library



What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera

Ganga grew up in Sri Lanka as an only child of a well-to-do family with cooks, maids, and a gardener. She played with her friends at school and in the gardens and river at home.

Woven through her childhood, the author writes poetically of Ganga being sexually abused, but the reader doesn’t know by whom.

After her father dies, Ganga and her mother immigrate to California, living with Ganga’s cousin and family. All Ganga knows of America is from the Tiger Beat and Teen Beat magazines and clothes that her cousin in California used to send her. She learns to style her hair, shave her legs, and use a knife and fork. Her mother works with the family at their travel agency.

She lives the American Dream, graduating from college, becoming a nurse, and moving to San Francisco. Her cousin accepts an arranged marriage, but Ganga doesn’t date and wants nothing to do with men – until she meets Daniel, an aspiring artist.

They marry and are living happily until Ganga gives birth to a daughter. Then old wounds reopen sending Ganga into a dark tailspin, where Daniel can’t reach her. Separated, she receives a postcard from him that reads: “I’ll never forgive you. I’ll always love you.”

A sad story of mental illness and the terrible things that can happen when not addressed. Much of the writing is lyrical and poetic. An easy read that is slightly suspenseful, which keeps one turning the pages.

Read-alikes:
Romesh Gunesekera
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
Jhumpa Lahiri
The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library



The Mortifications by Derek Palacio

In a violent confrontation with her husband Uxbal, Soledad Encarnacion takes her children and flees Cuba in the Mariel boat-lift of 1980. Her husband remains in Cuba to support the revolution. This is how Palacio’s family saga of an immigrant family begins.

Soledad and her children travel north to Hartford, Connecticut rather than settling in Miami, because they have a family contact there. The family adapts to their new surroundings, with an irreverence for the life they left behind. Soledad secures a job as a court stenographer; her son excels in school; and her daughter has a spiritual revelation that steers her towards life in a convent. Soledad meets a local tobacco farmer and begins a torrid love affair that will sustain her through the tumult that is to come—an estrangement from her daughter and a cancer diagnosis. Then a letter arrives from Cuba. Uxbal has tracked down his family. The letter becomes a strong call to home, and one by one the characters are pulled back to their homeland.

The storyline unfolds in a dramatic fashion from the first page. Each character is thoroughly fleshed out, and Palacio employs biblical and mythological references throughout the novel—a familiarity with these themes, though not necessary, can enhance a reader’s experience. The novel ultimately raises the question “can anyone ever really escape the strong ties to their personal past, their family, or their homeland?”

Read-alikes:
A Free Life by Ha Jin
The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
Broken Paradise by Cecelia Samartin

Deborah Fermosa, Northport-Eat Northport Public Library



The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Lisa See explores the lives of Li-yan, a Chinese woman and her daughter, Haley, who has been adopted by an American couple. Li-yan lives in a remote village in the Yunnan region of China. The story begins in 1988 and the first revelation is the life of the Akha tea growers in comparison to modern civilization. One of China’s ethnic minorities, they live in primitive conditions in tiny homes isolated from the world outside their village.

When she secretly has a baby out of wedlock, she defies the Akha law which dictates killing the infant. She wraps her daughter in a blanket with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling and leaves her on the doorstep of an orphanage in the nearest city. The tea cake becomes the only key to a reunion many years later.

One day a stranger arrives in the first automobile the villagers have ever seen and finds the rare pu-er tea he has been seeking. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls in the village, translates for the stranger and a deal is made which will lure Li-yan out of her village into the modern world and the business of tea. Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while her daughter Haley grows up in a privileged home in California. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her birth mother and her origins and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Living on two different continents, they begin to search for each other using the only clue they have – the tea cake which Li-yan placed with her infant daughter. A powerful story about mothers and daughters, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and explores the bond between parents and children. It is also an exploration of the lives of immigrants. First Haley and other Chinese girls adopted by Americans and then Li-yan, as she takes up residence in the United States.

The pace is slow but necessary to evoke the passing of time. An excellent choice for YA and readers of every age!

Read-alikes:
The novels of Lisa See

Grace O'Connor, West Islip Public Library, Retired



Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Soli​, a young Mexican woman, embarks upon a dangerous journey for the chance of a better life. She narrowly avoids drug traffickers, rides the tops of trains, and endures violence at the hands of callous men before finally arriving at her cousin’s California apartment. There she is set up with work cleaning the home of a well-to-do Berkeley family and caring for their daughter -- when she finds out she herself is pregnant by a boy she barely knew. She later gives birth to a healthy baby son and manages to care for him that first year as she lives under the radar hoping not to be discovered by the authorities.

Kavya ​is a second generation Indian-American woman living relatively comfortably in Berkeley. She finds herself at a point in life where her biological clock hammers away loudly in the foreground. She and her husband, Rishi, do everything they can to conceive until it becomes Kavya’s obsession. After fertility treatments end in heartbreak they apply with the state to be foster parents, hoping to one day care for a child and maybe even adopt him or her as their own.

And then it happens. Soli loses track of her employer’s child. In a search of the area her cousin runs a red light. Sirens, a chase… and she is caught. Ignacio, her baby son, is taken from her and becomes a ward of the state. As Soli enters detention, Kavya receives a call that there is a baby in need of care. The following year traces Soli’s journey through what amounts to a de facto prison system devoid of empathy and oftentimes human decency. Meanwhile, as Kavya and Rishi care for Ignacio they fall head over heels in love with him and can never imagine one day having to give him up. Kavya embraces motherhood wholeheartedly while knowing all the while that “she’d built her love on a fault line” (p351).

Lucky Boy explores how love and the bonds we form can bring us both unfathomable joy and devastating loss. It portrays an immigration system that glances over the humanity of the people caught within it, and speaks to the indifference of our institutions. Halfway through it becomes truly compelling as events begin to accelerate. Both of the main female characters live in a sense on borrowed time, and the bittersweet ending, while not tragic, leaves one with mixed feelings about who deserves the reader’s sympathy. Written by turns in lyrical language and a quirky, relatable tone, Lucky Boy is a novel for all readers, and especially those interested in themes of motherhood and immigration.

Read-alikes:
We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Mallado
The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

Christine Parker-Morales, Comsewogue Public Library



Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven

This story caught my interest from the very first, shocking opening scene, and the “how’s” and “why’s” of that event reverberate throughout the story as the reader meets all Soliven’s characters and comes to understand the connections between them. And their secrets. We meet Manila’s very affluent Duerta-Guerrero clan, as well as the servants who make it possible for them to lead privileged, indulgent lives, lives that cause great harm to others. One of these damaged others, Amparo, is exiled, by her family, when she becomes pregnant by a scion of another wealthy Philippine family who chooses not to marry her. The other central character, Beverly, becomes a mail order bride (the mango bride of the book’s title) to escape the desperate poverty in to which she is born. Amparo and Beverly’s lives intersect in California, uniting several plot lines and revealing major secrets.

Soliven is a wonderful writer: rich, descriptive detail of scenery and cultural life make the Philippines come alive on the page. Émigré life and the longing to recover connection are both beautifully evoked. Even the minor characters feel real, enlisting the reader’s empathy. I hope we can expect a sequel from this talented author!

“The Mango Bride” would make a fabulous choice for a book club specializing in women’s issues or matters of social justice. A very helpful feature is an excellent, well thought-out Conversation Guide created by the author which includes some great questions for discussion.

Read-alikes:
America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library



The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

Carla is six when her mother leaves to try to make it to America leaving Carla and her younger twin brothers with their grandmother. Now age twelve, we learn of Carla’s hard life, the fear every time she leaves the house and the once-a-week phone calls with her mother, who sends some clothes and as much money as she can to try to help. After her mother pays for her brother Carlos to be brought across the border and her grandmother gets sick and passes away, Carla must figure out a way to save both herself and her remaining brother Junior and get them out of a town where it’s not safe to leave the house and everyone has taken to sniffing glue to get through the desperation of day-to-day life.

Meanwhile, Alice has a nice life in Austin, Texas with a loving husband and a barbecue restaurant that’s beginning to make it big. However, the one thing Alice really wants, but can’t have due to having cancer in college, is a baby. Alice and her husband Jake have just suffered the loss of adopting a baby boy and having him for one night before needing to give him back when the birth mother changes her mind. Alice is at a crossroads having so much love to give and no outlet to share it.

Told in alternate chapters, The Same Sky is the story of Carla, who is trying to escape the poverty and desolation of her small village in Honduras and of Alice, who is unable to have children but wants one with all of her heart. Each has a strong will and has to endure many hardships before there is any chance at happiness and each one does with as much grace as possible given the difficult situations they are in. The story is not a happy one, but there is happiness and hope throughout. Alice is easy to relate to while Carla is easy to sympathize with and the novel is written in a simple language that keeps the reader turning the pages to find out how each character’s story will end. This book would be great for book groups and readers who like authors like Jodi Picoult and Sue Miller.

Read-alikes:
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library

Mysteries (2017)

Memory Man by Amos Decker

Amos Decker’s NFL career was over before it began when he was seriously injured in a “helmet-to-helmet” collision during his first play. While he eventually recovers from his injuries, he is left with two side effects: “hyperthymesia, which means [he] never forgets anything,” and synesthetes – he counts in color, “sees” time and sometimes associates color with people or objects.

Twenty years after his wife, daughter and brother-in-law are murdered, Amos is called back in to help his former police colleagues investigate a horrific crime. Are the two incidents related? Is the man who confessed to killing his family truly guilty?

Memory Man is riveting. Baldacci aptly balances the description and dialogue and will keep your attention till the very last page.

This book will appeal to Baldacci fans and those who like a fast-paced thriller with an urban tone.

Read-alikes:
The Amos Decker Series by David Baldacci
The Kendra Michaels Series by Iris Johanson
The Lucas Davenport Series by John Sandford

Sue Ketcham, B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library, LIU Post



Deadfall by Linda Fairstein

This is the 19th and most recent entry in the Alexandra Cooper series, all but one of which are set in the Metropolitan New York City area. Cooper is an assistant DA working as the Chief of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit of the NYPD, but she often finds herself involved in a murder investigation with her longtime friends and colleagues: NYPD Detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace. All of the Fairstein books feature a particular part of New York City of which she gives a history of that location...in Deadfall, that location is the Bronx Zoo and the crime is trafficking, both of exotic animals and drugs. Working without the guidance of her mentor District Attorney Paul Battaglia, and still recovering from her own kidnapping, Alex joins the investigation of the murder of her boss.

Linda Fairstein was the first head of the Sex Crimes Unit and brings authenticity to her mysteries. The history and background of the different areas of New York City is interesting and makes the books more enjoyable. For readers who like action, police and NYC history.

Read-alikes:
Patricia Cornwell
Kathy Reichs
Lisa Scottoline

Kathy Carter, Riverhead Free Library



The Night Bird by Brian Freeman

As the novel begins, roommates Lucy and Brynn are stuck in a traffic jam on a San Francisco bridge. Lucy has an extreme fear of bridges, so the moment traffic will move again can’t come fast enough for her. Suddenly, Brynn begins to scream and flail about maniacally. She exits the car and, ultimately, jumps off the bridge. Why is a puzzlement—to Lucy, to Brynn’s boyfriend, and  to her family. Enter Frost Easton—the detective assigned to the case. As his investigation proceeds, other deaths with similar characteristics—a psychotic episode followed by suicide—come to light. Each takes place as a particular song plays somewhere in the background, and with each incident a person wearing a macabre face mask is noticed lurking nearby. The most significant similarity is that all of the victims are former patients of psychiatrist Dr. Francesca Stein. A doctor renowned for administering a controversial and apparently successful method of erasing a patient’s memory of a traumatic incident—an incident that manifests itself in a lasting and extreme phobia. Detective Frost makes the connection between the doctor and the victims, but the doctor’s reluctance to share confidential information makes the investigation a race against time before the next victim is claimed.

An extremely suspenseful read, The Night Bird is a psychological thriller that will keep a reader guessing throughout. With a roster of possible suspects, the characters are fully developed, and as complex relationships develop, we learn about their own personal fears and secrets. Freeman’s style of writing creates an element of tension that will engage the reader from the very first to the novel’s provocative conclusion. Though some bizarre crime scenes are depicted, they are more creepy than hard-core, making this a palatable read for a general audience.

Read-alikes:
J.T. Ellison
It Takes One by Kate Kessler
Cold Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

Deb Fermosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library



The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

We meet Private Detective Cormoran Strike just as his luck is about to change. Battered and tired, Strike has just broken up with his fiance and resolved to living in the office of his agency, which is also in dire straits. Despite his service in the Special Investigative Branch of the Royal Military Police and the war in Afghanistan, for which he lost a leg, Strike currently has a lack of clients and and a growing debt. Enter Robin Ellacott, the unexpected secretary and John Bristow, the wealthy new client. Robin, a fortuitous arrival from a temp agency, proves to be an enthusiastic, resourceful and intuitive partner to Strike’s sleuthing when his next big case is presented to him by John Bristow, the brother of a childhood friend.

Bristow is also the brother of supermodel Lula Landry, whose lethal fall from a third floor window, covered heavily by the press, was ultimately ruled a suicide by police. Refusing to accept this verdict, Bristow hires Strike to reopen the case, thrusting Strike into the world of the rich and famous.  Although Strike himself is the son of well-known singer Jonny Rokeby and supergroupie Leda Strike, the glitz and glamour of fame is unfamiliar to him. As Strike brushes shoulders with the likes of musicians, fashion designers, film producers, drug addicts and supermodels during his investigation, the secrets he uncovers about Lula, her social circle, and her family are much darker than what appears on the surface.

Galbraith draws this mystery to a satisfying close, with an ending that is both surprising and completely logical once it is revealed. Fans of this novel will be happy to learn this is the first in a series. The second book, The Silkworm, and the third, Career of Evil, are available to read now, with a fourth book, Lethal White is in the works. The series is also quite enjoyable to listen to on audiobook, with Robert Glenister providing the narration. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, the BBC series Strike has been picked up by HBO for broadcast in the United States.

Deception also surrounds the author of this book. Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for none other than Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Galbraith’s writing is suspenseful and descriptive; his characters Strike and Ellacott immensely likable. This page-turner is recommended to any reader who enjoys a mystery, and has an interest in celebrities and Hollywood. Fans of entertainment news shows like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood and those who enjoy gossip magazines would like this book as well.

Read-alikes:
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George
Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta

Jill Wylie, Hauppauge Public Library



The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

After his last case, recounted in Nesbo’s tenth Harry Hole thriller titled “Police”, the Oslo detective is physically and emotionally exhausted. In fact, he has left the force with the firm conviction that he must concentrate only on protecting the family he loves from experiencing further horrors because of his dangerous career. This resolution falls away when Harry learns of a serial killer who targets Tinder daters, a monster whose MO reminds Harry of an old nemesis only Harry can stop: the story of how he does makes this one of the darkest Nordic noir reads ever!

This serial killer is a vampirist, so the story is certainly not for the faint of heart. Victims are bitten to death (with a metal set of teeth), and, yes, the killer drinks their blood. The story is very dark.  Several of the “side” characters are villains of different sorts: Harry’s boss Police Chief Mikael Bellman who blackmails Harry to lead the investigation, and academic expert Hallstein Smith who consults regarding vampirism. Further, Harry’s beloved wife Rakel becomes seriously ill during the course of what may well be the most difficult case of Harry’s career, made all the more difficult by Harry’s constant inner demon and alcohol battles.

Read-alikes:
The Lisbeth Salander Series by Steig Larrson
The Kurt Wallander Series by Henning Mankell
The Harry Hole Series by Jo Nesbo

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library



Though This Be Madness by Penny Richards

1881, Chicago. In the second of her Lilly Long Mysteries, Richards has Lilly assigned to her second case as a Pinkerton agent. Lilly still needs to prove herself—both as a novice detective and as a woman in a man’s world. Agent Andrew Cadence McShane needs to redeem himself for conduct unbecoming to a Pinkerton—a grief-driven drunken brawl. As if their forced partnership wasn’t bad enough, the agents must pose as husband and wife servants in the troubled household of a wealthy New Orleans Cajun family, the Fontenots.

Once in the Fontenot mansion, the detectives uncover secrets, betrayal, voodoo curses—and murder. Lilly and Cadence must work together to expose the true villain in this case and rescue the hapless Patricia Ducharme, a Fontenot, thrown into an insane asylum by her husband in order to get at her share of the Fontenot fortune.

The plot is intriguing with humor, drama, suspense, and a very satisfactory ending. Richards makes use of historical details and vocabulary of the Gilded Age to enrich the narration. The third book in the series, Murder Will Speak is due in April 2018.

Read-alikes:
Alice and the Assassin: An Alice Roosevelt Mystery by R.J. Koreto
Murder at Chateau Sur Mer by Alyssa Maxwell
What the Dead Leave Behind by Rosemary Simpson
An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards

Grace O'Connor, West Islip Public Library, Retired



Golden Prey by John Sandford

Lucas Davenport, who’s been with the Minneapolis BCA for the last several years, makes a shift to the U.S. Marshalls after he receives an offer from the Presidential candidate, whom he helped save in the last novel. Part of his new job is being able to pick the cases he wants without interference from bureaucracy and red tape so when a drug cartel killing happens in Mississippi that includes the death of a six-year-old girl, Lucas decides to get involved especially when he suspects the killer is a fugitive the police have been after for more than a decade.

Lucas is a hardened cop through and through and has the “shoot first ask questions later” attitude to go with it. He gets the job done and doesn’t have a problem helping other cops and asking for help in return. As he travels from Mississippi to New Mexico trying to not only track down the killers but also the cartel hitmen who are after the killers, he encounters mutilated bodies, money, gold, and a ton of trouble. The story line moves quickly and Lucas’ dry wit is evident as he gets in and out of trouble time and again. Other than his family, Virgil Flowers is the only other reoccurring character from previous books who makes a brief appearance so those looking for interactions between his old team may be slightly disappointed although it doesn’t detract from the story or from Lucas’ personality. 

The book is action-packed with shootouts, manhunts and a final showdown in the New Mexico desert when the killers try to cross the border into Mexico. The story moves as the reader follows the multiple storylines of Lucas’ investigation, the killers trying to escape and the cartel’s hitmen trying to retrieve the stolen money and avenge the death of their people. Great for guys, those who love hardened cops and aren’t very squeamish and anyone who enjoys the process that goes into solving a case and tracking the criminals until the end no matter what.

Read-alikes:
The Harry Bosch Series by Michael Connelly
The John Corey Series by Nelson DeMille
The D.D. Warren Series by Lisa Gardner

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library



The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter

The Kept Woman opens with a murder. It's a bloody scene with Angie Polaski cradling the body of a stabbed woman, the daughter she abandoned as a baby. The killer is just at the door to the room in the warehouse where Angie is hiding. Slaughter build suspense with detailed descriptions of the blood-soaked room and the noise of the approaching killer. It is a difficult novel to put down even if gritty murder mystery isn't your first choice. 

Will Trent is called to the investigation because a former Atlanta cop was found dead at a construction site near the warehouse. The construction site is a former nightclub that belongs to a professional basketball player who Will investigated for rape and who beat the charges with high profile attorneys. Sara Linton, the medical examiner, is called to the scene. She happens to be Will's girlfriend although no one knows this.

Slaughter gives details of the medical examiner's examination of the crime scene as well as details to the investigation. The reader is drawn in to how the evidence is reviewed and used to piece together what could have happened at the crime scene. A gun is found and traced to Angie Polaski, who is Will's estranged wife. Blood samples from the scene are taken for testing. Will fears that the blood is his wife's and even though he has been trying to file for divorce, he still cares about her. 

Slaughter creates complicated plots and subplots with many surprise results. Her characters are drawn with depth and complexity. While a character may seem despicable, Slaughter makes the reader see other sides to their character, which may make for a redeemable side to them.

There are several story lines in the novel to keep the reader intrigued. There is the love triangle between Will, Sara and Angie. There is the interest in how the pro-basketball player may be involved in the murder. There is the death of the cop and Angie's husband who is implicated in other crimes as well. There are many loose ends that Slaughter manages to tie up all the while keeping the reader wondering what will happen to the main characters in the end.

This type of gritty mystery may not appeal to everyone. The plot takes may turns and the reader will meet violent and tough characters. But the surprise plot turns and clues make putting the novel down difficult. The reader will want to know how it all ends. This book is recommended for readers who enjoy fast-paced, plot-driven mysteries and do not mind a little violence and tough characters.

Read-alikes:
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

Myrna Velez, Brentwood Public Library

Humor: Fiction & Non-Fiction (2017)

Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Seinfeld, the show, truly needs no introduction: it has become so pervasive in our popular culture that readers readily understand what Armstrong means with her phrase “Seinfeldia”. This acclaimed show ran for nine seasons, from 1989-1998, heading the Nielsen ratings for several years, and nearing this top spot in five other years. The monetary value of Seinfeld is nearly incalculable:  it was the first show to earn more than $1 million a minute for advertising, made NBC a fortune, and its actors, and producers, very wealthy.

Armstrong describes how this groundbreaking show was created by comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. She tells the stories behind the scenes, especially how the writers, and the cast, were urged to mine their own experiences for unique plot lines. She explores the unforgettable characters, the inside jokes and references that served to create the unique “Seinfeldian” world. 

The book is very well written, with an engaging, humorous style that suits Armstrong’s material well. Quick paced, this book will appeal not just to lovers of the show, but to those interested in television history, comedy and popular culture.

Read-alikes:
The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved
SeinLanguage by Jerry Seinfeld
Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library




Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum works as a bounty hunter for her bondsman cousin and employer Vinnie in Trenton, NJ. Helping Stephanie to bring in bail skippers is Lula, a former ‘ho and file clerk with a lot of “bodacious voluptuousness” and an attitude of “Say what?”

Rounding out the cast of characters is Joe Morelli, a Trenton plainclothes cop and Stephanie’s on and off boyfriend; Ranger, a “former Special Forces operative now turned businessman and security expert”; and Grandma Mazur, Stephanie’s maternal grandmother – think Sophia Petrillo, Estelle Getty’s character on The Golden Girls TV show. 

In this story, Stephanie will go after Larry Virgil, who hijacked an eighteen-wheeler full of bourbon and has now skipped his court appearance; work undercover at an ice cream factory to help Ranger out; and if that wasn’t enough she also has to keep tabs on Lula, who has started a new work side line; and of course, there’s always the trouble Grandma Mazur seems to get into. Along the way, you can count on a lot of laughs and at least one car being either blown up or set on fire! 

Although each book in the series can stand alone, I recommend starting from the beginning to fully experience the character development and dynamics not to mention all the crazy situations Stephanie and usually Lula find themselves in. 

One movie was made based on the book series, One for the Money (2012) starring Katherine Heigel as Ms. Plum. Hardcore Twenty-Four (Stephanie Plum #24) has an expected publication date of November 21, 2017.

Read-alikes:
Stephanie Plum, #1 – 22 by Janet Evanovich. The first one is One for the Money.
Kate Holly mysteries by Charlotte Hughes. The first one is What Looks Like Crazy.
The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. The first one is The Spellman Files. 

Sue Ketcham, B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library



Housebroken: Admissions of an Untidy Life by Laurie Notaro

In Notaro’s eleventh book about her life, she covers topics such as learning to make her own dresses because no one fits into designer clothes; her family and their holiday traditions; teaching her eight-year-old nephew to wipe his butt and the life lessons that can be learned at the waffle house; how to beat the “Kiss-Cam” at sporting events and how to get the neighbors you want while also discouraging them from keeping livestock, as well as various other topics one might encounter including what to do when there’s a Twinkie shortage.

Notaro’s humor abounds throughout the short essays and stays consistent until the last few essays which fall a little flat. Now in her 50s, her stories relate to the current time in her life with short flashbacks to her younger years and how she’s gotten to where she is today. Her husband makes frequent appearances as does her mother and the opinions she will have on the situations that Notaro gets herself into. Living in Eugene, Oregon for the past twenty years, she also talks about her experiences with the people there and how they differ from when she was growing up in Phoenix. Overall, this book has essays for all seasons and would work for someone looking to laugh out loud. With short essays, the book can be picked up and put down depending on time constraints and the essays can be read in any order as they don’t occur in a linear timeline. More for women because of the situations Notaro gets herself into, this book can also be enjoyed by men looking for insight into why women sometimes do the crazy things they do.

Read-alikes:
Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
Live Fast Die Hot by Jenny Mollen
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library



How to Weep in Public by Jacqueline Novak

When Novak, a stand-up comedian, recognized that she was suffering from depression, she decided to write this book. She makes it clear that this is not a self-help book. She does not offer advice or solutions for combatting depression. She only hopes that this book may be a soft place to fall for other “depressos” — or, at the very least, act as a “small book-shaped headrest.” Novak describes, in uproariously humorous detail, how one actually embarks on the path to depression from the earliest age—a mental state that one can experience from birth, cultivate through young adulthood, and perfect in adult life. Novak ultimately professes that there is a beneficial way to “weep in public” — bending over at the waist and letting the tears drop perpendicularly, thereby avoiding puffiness of the face.

Reading Novak’s memoir is like witnessing a hilarious stand-up routine. At times, it is laugh-out-loud funny. Other times it can be bawdy and graphic, so it is not necessarily a read for those that may be offended by coarse language or narrative. It’s written in a conversational tone that is best taken in small doses, which the chapter-like format nicely facilitates — there’s a lot to digest.

True depression is not a laughing matter, but comedy often tackles the most serious of subjects providing a way to cope, a way to relate, and often a way to shed light on the shared situations that comprise the human condition.

Read-alikes:
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Crash and Burn by Artie Lange
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

Deborah Fermosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library




Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

Stand-up comedian and actor Patton Oswalt writes about his love of movies, including a list of every movie he watched in theaters from 5/20/95 to 5/20/99 while giving a behind-the-scenes look at life working at comedy clubs and seeing movies (to be prepared when the opportunity arises to direct a movie). 

This is not a laugh-out-loud book but a funny and loving book from the brain of a smart man who has a love and knowledge of movies.

Read-alikes:
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
Keepers: The Greatest Films and Personal Favorites of a Moviegoing Lifetime by Richard Schickel

Kathy Carter, Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, Retired



Not Working by Lisa Owens

Twenty-something Claire has just quit her job in order to find herself and her passion.  Unfortunately, she has no idea how to find herself or what her passion might be.

Without work, she can’t get into a regular routine, so she does what she believes a good daughter/granddaughter/girlfriend would do. She visits her grandmother, offering to cook or clean. She cooks dinner for her boyfriend, a promising neurosurgeon, who doesn’t mind her not working, as long as she’s actively pursuing something. And since saying the wrong thing at a dinner party, she is consistently trying to repair the damage to her relationship with her mother, 

With the extra time on her hands, Claire tends to drink too much; she picks fights with her boyfriend, who has an abundantly good sense of humor and patience; she sees her friends, who don’t understand why she’s not working; and pretty much does everything she can to avoid finding a new job or passion.

This book has been compared to Bridget Jones’s Diary, and I can see why. Claire’s thoughts and ruminations are very Bridget-like, though she’s not as sad and unorganized as Bridget. She’s not stupid or vapid, she’s just a bit lost and wants to do more with her life. Fortunately, unlike Bridget, she’s well-off and can actually afford to leave work to find herself.

This is an easy read, divided into sections of no more than 3 pages, with headings like:  Wallflower, Liquid Meal, No Change, Mixed Messages, etc. This can be read in one sitting or in many sittings, as it’s easy to put down after any section. As far as humor goes, it isn’t knee-slapping, laugh-out-loud funny, but more of a smirk or chuckle kind of humor. It is just this side of chick-lit, only because it doesn’t dwell on Claire’s love life. Mainly for women in their 20’s.

Read-alikes:
Helen Fielding
Sophie Kinsella
Anna Maxted

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library



Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

Mister Monkey, is a dark comedy about the sad, disappointing lives of everyone involved in a way-off-Broadway revival of a bad musical based on a fictitious classic children's book called Mister Monkey.

Like the famous children’s character Curious George, Mister Monkey is a pet chimp living in the city. He likes to pickpocket people's wallets as a party trick, though he always returns them. Unlike Curious George, who always manages to get out of trouble with his charm, Mister Monkey is arrested, accused of stealing a wallet and is put on trial.

The characters are sad and funny at the same time, an odd bunch involved with the musical, each giving their own perspective on the production: Margot, the Yale drama school graduate who is coming to grips with the fact that her career has been reduced to playing a lawyer defending a monkey in a failed musical; Adam, the 12-year-old playing the monkey onstage, who can’t seem to separate his adolescent emotions from his stage life; and Ms. Sonya, the Xanax-popping teacher of young Edward, who goes to see the musical with his dying grandfather. Then there is Ray himself, who wrote the Mister Monkey children’s book that inspired the play as a way to get over PTSD after his deployment.

With each character's narrative, Prose reveals a new connection between strangers, turning a seemingly silly story into a profound example of the human psyche. Her wit and dark humor make this an excellent read. 

Read-alikes:
A Gambler's Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Grace O'Connor, West Islip Public Library, Retired

Non-Fiction that Reads Like Fiction (2017)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in  Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Along Airport Road, running adjacent to the international terminal of the Sahar Airport in Mumbai, India, stands a concrete wall advertising Italianate floor tiles that promise to remain “beautiful forever.” On the other side of the “beautiful forever” wall lies the slum of Annawadi, where, in the shadows of luxury and opulence, residents live in cramped, ramshackle huts next to a sewage lake.

Katherine Boo, Pulitzer Prize winner, former reporter and editor for The Washington Post and staff writer at The New Yorker, spent nearly four years learning the stories the residents of Annawadi. Through interviews, notes, video recordings, audiotapes, photographs and public records, Boo presents an honest, detailed account of India’s urban poor living in a time of economic growth. Her work won Behind the Beautiful Forevers the National Book Award in 2012.

Boo’s chapters alternate between the different residents of Annawadi. As their stories unfold throughout the book, the reader comes to know and care for each of them. We first meet Abdul Husain, a quiet teenager with a successful business buying and sorting waste gathered by scavengers and selling it in bulk to a recycling center. His neighbor, Fatima, known as the “One Leg” to the slum dwellers because of a physical deformity, alters the course of the Husain’s lives after she lights herself on fire and accuses Abdul and his family. There’s also Asha, a woman eager for power, who manipulates political connections and depends on corruption as she aligns herself for the position as the first female slumlord. She is most proud of her daughter, Manju, the first female college student in the slum and its greatest hope. In Kalu, we meet a young thief who suffers an untimely demise, while Sunil, another young scavenger, hopes to make enough money so he can buy food and grow. Other residents of Annawadi, spouses, siblings, parents and friends round out the stories of those we come to know most intimately.

The tone of this work is sobering. The residents of Annawadi struggle with extreme socioeconomic inequality, poverty, hunger, religious differences, corruption, gender inequality, and caste differences. Yet underlying these challenges, an acknowledgement of hope is also conveyed to the reader in the way the residents maintain a belief that opportunity is always possible.

This book would appeal to fans of narrative nonfiction and readers who enjoy a well-written newspaper article, as Boo’s journalistic background is clear in her writing. Readers who have an interest in economics, globalization, or travel would enjoy this book as well. It could also serve as an adult to young adult crossover, especially for older teens.

Read-alikes:
Dancing with the Devil in the City of God by Juliana Barbassa
Calcutta: Two Years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri

Jill Wylie, Hauppauge Public Library



The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

A rich history of the United States during the Great Depression particularly in the Western United States. It is the personal history of eight boys of the rowing team at the University of Washington, who went to Berlin in 1936 and against all odds, took a Gold Medal, beating Italy by six-tenths of a second and the German team by one full second. 

This is the story of how the eight sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers, defeated the elite East Coast teams at Poughkeepsie where the annual intercollegiate rowing regatta had been held since 1852, and went on to shock the world by challenging the German boat rowing for Adolph Hitler.

It is also the story of George Pocock, a British ex-patriot who designed and built the winning shell, the Husky Clipper. He also counseled the boys about achieving an almost mythical state called the swing, which some teams never find. "It only happens when all eight oarsmen row in such perfect unison that no single action by any one of them is out of sync with those of all the others. If they can find their swing, it allows a crew to conserve energy, to move through the water as efficiently as possible, and often more rapidly than another crew that appears to be working much harder." 

Shaped by the social, economic and political challenges of the Depression and the simmering hostilities in Europe, these young men developed the "harmony, balance and rhythm" necessary not only to triumph in Berlin but to thrive in life. This would be a good read for men, women, boys and girls.

Read-alikes:
The Red Rose Crew: A True Story of Women, Winning and Water by Daniel J. Boyne
The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko
The Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of Everest by Broughton Coburn 

Grace O'Connor, West Islip Public Library, Retired



Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

As of January 2017, Between the World and Me has spent 68 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. The author's stated purpose for writing the book was to educate his teen-aged son about what it is like in America to be a black man and to tell him how to survive. Coates shares with his son - and readers - the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in American culture through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields; from the South Side of Chicago to Paris; from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children's lives were taken far too soon. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, re-imagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past and bracingly confronts our present. 

Read-alikes:
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith
Multiply/Divide by Wendy S. Walters
The Fire this Time by Jesmym Ward (editor)

Kathy Carter, Mastics-Moriches-Shirly Community Library, Retired



When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air is the story of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer and how he deals with not only his mortality, but also with not being able to see his medical career through to the end and become the promising neurosurgeon he was on his way to becoming. It is also the story of dying gracefully and finding meaning in all things and the humanity in both yourself and others.

From the beginning of the book, the reader knows that Kalanithi succumbed to cancer and that the publishing of this book is posthumous. What the reader gets instead is a feel for who Kalanithi was as both a person and a doctor. Beginning with his childhood and his love of literature and thirst for knowledge, Kalanithi is ever the scholar torn between wanting to be a writer and wanting to do good things in the world and help people. As he ages, his quest becomes stronger until, after completing dual degrees in literature in biology and a master’s in literature, he decides to become a doctor and not just an ordinary doctor but a neurosurgeon. After years of being on the fast track to be one of the world’s best neurosurgeons comes his cancer diagnosis at the age of 36 in the prime of both his life and medical career. Separated into two parts, When Breath Becomes Air, divides Kalanithi’s life into the before and after of his diagnosis and sees the doctor become the patient and try to deal with all of the changes that are thrown at him and his family – How long will I live? Should we have a child? Can I still perform medicine or should I spend my time in other pursuits? With no definitive answers, Kalanithi does his best to navigate his new life and make the most of the time he has. In an afterward by Kalanithi’s wife Lucy, the reader sees is death from her point of view and the time they spent together with their new daughter.

Although sad in subject matter, this book is a quick read flowing between life and death as Kalanithi experiences it from both his literary and medical perspectives. It’s not overly academic with medical jargon, although it does appear in places, and it’s not overly philosophical, although there is that too. What the reader finds is a blend of the two worlds and a man dying with dignity. Give to readers who are looking for depth and insight on what it’s like to die leaving things unfinished but knowing the unfinished life was worth living.

Read-alikes:
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Gratitude by Oliver Sachs

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library



The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century by David Laskin

David Laskin’s research into his family’s history uncovers so much more than he expected. As he delves into the story, Laskin is quickly fascinated, compelled to follow the descendents of his great- great-grandfather Shimon Dov HaKohen, a Torah scribe who lived in any area that belonged to the nineteenth century Russian Empire. Three branches of that family are described: one branch becomes pioneers in the establishment of Israel, one branch remains in Russian ghettos where they fall prey to Stalin and Hitler, and the other immigrates to the United States where one descendent founds the fabulously successful Maidenform Company.

It is a tremendous story, well told and fast paced. It will interest readers of history, especially Jewish history. There is further interest in the sub-plot involving Laskin making connections with new found relatives in the United States, Canada and Israel. Also, the author expresses how influential this knowledge of his family roots has been to his own sense of identity and spirituality as he’d been raised a secular Jew. Of even greater import are the many ethical and moral questions raised.

Read-alikes:
My Mother's Wars by Lillian Faderman
A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry by Sheila Isenberg
The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library



Jewels and Jackboots: Hitler's British Channel Islands [The German Occupation of the Channel Islands 1940-1945] by John Nettles

The Channel Islands are a cluster of islands in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. It consists of two Crown dependencies: The Bailiwick of Jersey, containing Jersey, the largest of the islands; and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which contains Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and some smaller islands. (Wikipedia)

On June 19, 1940, the Islands’ governments were told that the Islands are to be demilitarized. They were also warned to keep quiet about this due to security reasons. It worked so well that even the Germans didn’t know anything about it! “The Channel Islands were the only British soil to be occupied in the War, the islanders the only British citizens to fall under German rule.” 

Using a time line to guide readers through the occupation, Nettles explores how the islanders dealt with the German invasion, beginning just prior to the bombing raids on St. Helier and St. Peter Port on June 28, 1940 to the final liberation on May 9, 1945. Some saw the occupation to be “unpleasant but not unendurable” and therefore a model occupation but as he shows us, it was far from that. After five long years of German occupation, “what was the damage, what was the loss?” Nettles tells of the outstanding courage and the hardship of a group of people who were thrust into a disastrous situation, deserted, and left to survive the best they could by their own government.

The book is well researched and contains photos and chapter notes. In addition, throughout the narrative there are numerous entries taken from letters and diaries of both Islanders’ and Germans alike.  

John Nettles is well-known to fans as DCI Tom Barnaby on Midsomer Murders and previously as Jim Bergerac on Bergerac which is set in Jersey.

Read-alikes:
The Model Occupation: The Channel Islands Under German Rule, 1940-1945 by Madeleine Bunting
The Channel Islands at War (DVD) by John Nettles
John Nettles' Jersey: A Personal History of the People and Places by John Nettles
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Sue Ketcham, B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library



The Lovers: Afghanistan's Romeo and Juliet by Rod Norland

This is the story of Zakia and Ali, an Afghan couple that defies their religion and their families when they fall in love and elope. When a New York Times reporter writes an article profiling the lovers, they attain international notoriety—a status that both helps and hurts them. On the run, Zakia and Ali do manage to avoid being captured by the authorities, or worse, by family members that are committed to killing Zakia for tarnishing the family honor.

The Lovers knew each other from an early age. Innocent flirtation turned into romance and the couple fell in love. But the fact that she is Sunni and he is Shia prohibited them from marrying. Islamic/Afghan tenets force the couple to run away and embark on a journey that consists of seeking asylum in shelters, living in caves, and hiding in the homes of sympathetic relatives. Other young couples in a similar situation have not survived to tell their story. Zakia and Ali have.

Nordland has relayed a story, a true story, that can spark serious discussions about women’s rights, oppression, political corruption, and even the ethical boundaries of reporting a news story. This read is overwhelming disturbing, and riveting.

Read-alikes:
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
A Thousand Spendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Deborah Formosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library



Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick

Everything you never knew about the American Revolution.

Philbrick serves up a fascinating popular history which turns on the difference between a statesman and an opportunist. George Washington fights to free himself and his fellow colonists from a government which has become oppressive, while Benedict Arnold seeks to advance himself alone.

Benedict Arnold had, in his brash and abrasive way, prevented the British from taking control of the Hudson River and thus crushing the Revolution early on. Now crippled and in love with a Tory socialite, he has little hope of proper compensation from the government he had served so well. Expecting the Revolution to fail, he offers his services to the enemy, this time for a pre-arranged fee.

Philbrick manages an impressive number of secondary characters who, taken together, form a cross-section of a colonial society divided by region, social class, political sympathies, and perceived self-interest.  He does not stint on detail, including maps of battlegrounds, contemporary portraits of many of the principals, detailed notes, and a bibliography.

The book should appeal to New Yorkers with scant knowledge of the war and to anyone curious as to what made an American hero turn traitor.

Read-alikes:
The War Before Independence: 1175-1776 by Derek W. Beck
Treacherous Beauty by Mark Jacob
First Entrepreneur by Edward G. Lengel
1776 by David McCullough
The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution by Jeff Shaara

Jackie Malone, Bellmore Public Library



Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Preston’s account of an expedition he joined to locate an ancient city in the Honduran mountains reads like a fairy tale minus the myth. In 2012, Preston was present (as a writer for National Geographic magazine) as an expedition team attempted to use light detection and ranging technology to identify the city’s location in the uncharted wildernesses of Honduras. The effort succeeded in locating two large sites, apparently built by the civilization that once inhabited the Mosquiteria region. The discovery led to a return trip in 2015 to explore the sites on foot that resulted in remarkable archaeological finds, specifically a cache of stone sculptures.

With historical and cultural facts, Preston brings readers into the field while maintaining a sense of humor while in the jungle (with monkeys, poisonous snakes and insects, torrential downpours, and muddy campsites) and upon his return home, where he finds he (and most of the team) is infected with leishmaniosis (an incurable disease).

However, the disease does not hinder Preston and the others (all but one) from returning to the jungle in 2016 to begin excavating the site, where they find a jaguar artifact leading the president of Honduras to rename the hidden city, the City of the Jaguar.

After writing about North Americans contacting the leish virus, he ends the book on a somber note - “No civilization has survived forever….None, including ours, is exempt from the universal fate.”

Read-alikes:
Into Africa by Martin Dugard
Lost City of Z by David Grann
River of Doubt by Candice Millard
Jungleland by Christopher Stewart

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library