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

Culinary Fiction (2016)

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew

Take a heroine like McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe, a supportive circle of friends, a villain straight out of Agatha Christie, a setting as dangerous and remote as South Africa’s Klein Karoo, a host of recipes for local treats, and a budding romance, and you have Sally Andrew’s series debut.

Our story opens as Mevrou van Harten—Tannie Maria—widow of an abusive husband, dreamily stirs a pot of appelkooskonfyt (apricot jam) in her isolated home outside Ladismith.  Her editor bursts in to announce that the higher-ups at the gazette want to replace Tannie Maria’s recipe column with advice to the lovelorn, an assignment which forces her to become more involved in the community.  Fifty pages later, Mevrou is a witness in a murder investigation, weighing her chances for romance with the lead detective.  By now, we’ve been introduced to a host of colorful locals including the gazette’s daring investigative reporter, and the victim’s explosive husband and her short-tempered best friend.

The setting is at once exotic and familiar.  Much like our own Wild West, the Klein Karoo supports colorful and self-reliant plants, wildlife, and people.  It borders on Botswana, home to McCall Smith’s Mme. Ramotswe and Michael Stanley’s Detective David “Kubu” Bengu.  Our author calls it home.

Read-alikes:
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks
One Foot in the Grave by Kelly Lane
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu by Michael Stanley
Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu

Jackie Malone, Bellmore Public Library



Too Many Cooks by Donna Bate

Too Many Cooks is a light-hearted story about a young American woman, Kelly Madigan, who takes a job ghost writing a cookbook for a movie star living in England. The novel grips the reader in its opening with Kelly’s mother’s funeral and Kelly discovering a letter written to her by her mother. In that letter her mother encourages her to find adventure in her life, to leave the Mid-west, and to not lead the average, ordinary life she lived. Kelly leaves for England to ghost write a cookbook and finds herself working for a beautiful but self-absorbed actress, Natasha Spencer, who just happens to be married to a handsome and rising Member of Parliament.

Celebrity cookbooks usually have some sort of angle to tie recipes together, but Natasha does not really want to reveal anything about her personal life to fans. She actually doesn’t know the recipes for the dishes she wants to include in her cookbook. She just expects Kelly to come up with recipes for dishes she remembers from places she’s lived.  She wants her to recreate her grandmother’s chocolate mousse, but all she knows is that it was smooth and chocolaty and had some liquor in it, or kale burgers that are toothsome and gluten free. Kelly spends days working on recipes while Natasha is away at the spa, or gym or in France with her lover. Natasha’s husband, Hugh, however is around to test the recipes and before long, there is a love affair between Kelly and Hugh.  

There are many funny moments in the story such as Kelly’s off-beat family back home and the lengths Kelly goes to in order to please her control freak boss. And there is also suspense with Natasha driving Kelly crazy with her demands to redo recipes and her condescending manner thus leaving the reader braced for Kelly to lash out at any moment. The romance between Kelly and Natasha’s husband builds suspense also. The reader can’t help hoping that the romance will turn into something permanent with the evil Natasha losing her husband to Kelly.

This book can be recommended to readers who are looking for something light and fun.  Readers who enjoy cooking will find it interesting to read about recipe preparations.  

Read-alikes:
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Myrna Velez, Brentwood Public Library



At the End of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck - in a muddy, stagnant swamps of Northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from the local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can only run so far, even in America, and when Robert's past makes an unexpected appearance, he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last. 

Recommend this book to adults who like historical fiction with a personal look at the lives of those headed west.

Read-alikes:
The Fugitive Wife by Peter C. Brown
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Under this Broken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

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



Three Blonde Mice by Jane Heller

Elaine and her two friends go on a Farm-to-Table vacation at Whitley Farms in the Connecticut countryside, joining eight other foodies, all eager to watch and cook with renowned chef, Jason Hill, whom they unfortunately find out is a rude, coke-snorting, boor.

About half-way through the week’s stay on the farm, Elaine is perusing the items in her Whitley Farms tote bag and finds a letter threatening to kill the chef during the Saturday’s Bounty Fest finale. She goes to the Whitley Farms manager, who doesn’t believe the threat. The police also don’t believe the threat. Therefore, it’s up to Elaine and her friends to stop the murder.

This is an easy, summer beach-read that one can blow through in an afternoon. It is also easy to put down. Only one character grew/changed, and that was Simon, Elaine’s ex, a minor character.  I can’t determine whether this book is satire or not. The jokes were not funny; the mystery was silly. None of the characters have any depth – they were all over-the-top caricatures. The reader can’t begin to question who the murderer might be, as they don’t have enough information on any of the suspects. There is a little romance between Elaine and another guest, Jonathan, who might be the murderer, but there is never any sense of danger or suspense.

Three Blonde Mice is the second book concerning the three friends, Princess Charming was written in 1997 and is about a hitman coming after one of the three friends.

Perfect for the beach or a plane ride. Check your brain at the door and enjoy, but don’t expect too much.

Read-alikes:
Mary Kay Andrews
Princess Charming by Jane Heller
Nancy Thayer

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library



All the President's Menus by Julie Hyzy

Olivia Paras is the White House Executive Chef, recently married to Secret Service agent, Leonard Gavin, in Julie Hyzy's eighth White House Chef series. There's a sequester going on at the White House so entertaining, planning and executing White House dinners has been curtailed and for the time being, Olivia is running the kitchen with only Bucky as assistant and the world-renowned pastry chef, Marcel. 

For highly-sensitive diplomatic reasons, President Hyden cannot cancel a planned visit from the first female candidate for the presidency of fictional Saardisca, where female leadership is unheard of and where dissidents to the government are harshly handled. Coinciding with the visit, the White House kitchen is hosting four Saardiscan chefs anxious to learn the secrets of organizing and presenting State dinners efficiently. 

The plot begins to thicken when Marcel passes out and later claims to have been drugged. Soon afterwards one of the Saardiscan chefs collapses and dies in the White House kitchen. Are these events merely the result of natural causes or is something else cooking? Olivia finds herself embroiled in an international mystery and true to form, she makes it her mission to find the truth and save the White House from an international incident. 

Author Hyzy convincingly conveys the atmosphere of the White House Kitchen describing the food they prepare and the relationship between Olivia and her staff. The characters are fairly well realized. An important scene takes place at Blair House, the president's guest house on Pennsylvania Avenue, details of which add to the novel's sense of place. Meanwhile, the suspense bubbles along like soup simmering on a stove. 

Recipes included.

Recommended for all readers: YA to Adult, both women and men.

Read-alikes:
Goldy Schultz Mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson
Hannah Swenson Mysteries by Joanne Fluke
White House Chef Mystery Series by Julie Hyzy

Grace O'Connor, West Islip Public Library, Retired



Dying for a Taste by Leslie Karst

After her mother’s death, attorney Sally Solari takes a leave of absence to help her father run their family restaurant. Shortly after, Sally’s Aunt Letta is found murdered in Gauguin, her own more “upscale” Santa Cruz eatery. The police immediately target Letta’s sous chef as their prime suspect, but Sally, convinced of Javier’s innocence, sets out to find the real killer, launching this first entry in what promises to be a pleasing, and colorful, new cookery/cozy mystery series. One back story of the tale concerns the contemporary issue of organic and sustainable farming and fisheries practices. A (conflicted) love interest for Sally is another plot thread, and it is all set within the beautifully described area of coastal California. Sally is an appealing heroine, witty and winsome. The story is carefully plotted, the dialogue well written, and the author “peoples” the story with many convincing characters. 

Read-alikes:
The Five Ingredient Series by Maya Corrigan
The Domestic Diva Series by Krista Davis
The Kinsey Millhone Series by Sue Grafton

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library



All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes by Betsy St. Amant

In All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, Kat works at her aunt’s bakery making nothing but chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cupcakes because, to her aunt, anything else is just weird. What Kat really wants is to have her own shop. She’s gone to business school and has so many ideas, but to her family, Kat’s dreams are unimportant and she seems to be a constant disappointment. Her best friend Lucas is the only one who ever gives her the support she needs, but Kat thinks it’s only because she’s been friend-zoned and that’s what good friends do. What Kat doesn’t realize is that Lucas is in love with her just as she’s in love with him only neither knows how to tell the other for fear of ruining their friendship. When Lucas sees that the reality show Cupcake Combat is looking for new contestants, he signs Kat up without her knowing figuring this will be the ultimate gesture. What he’s not prepared for is all of the little things that seem to get in the way. Will Kat and Lucas get their happily ever after or will Lucas have to let Kat go to follow her baking dreams?

This was a cute, romantic book and an extremely quick and easy read. The reader sympathizes with Kat about the way her family treats her, wants Kat to succeed and prove everyone wrong and roots for Lucas to tell Kat his feelings so they can be together. However, the will-they-or-won’t-they story line was a little overplayed as each chapter had both main characters constantly second guessing themselves throughout the entire book. The book also had religious undertones with one of Lucas’ friends texting him scripture notes to bolster his courage and with Kat’s dad being a pastor, as well as her epiphany to “seek God’s will and ask him to guide her to his plans, in his timing.” Although the story isn’t overtly religious all the way through, there’s just enough that it may bother a reader who’d prefer it not be there or may attract a reader who’s looking for something a bit more spiritual. This book is good for readers looking for a nice, clean love story, those who like reality cooking shows and those who enjoy small-town stories with happy endings. 

Read-alikes:
The Cake Therapist by Judith M. Fertig
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughn

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library 



Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J., Ryan Stradal

As the daughter of a chef and sommelier, it is inevitable that Eva Thorvald would have a once-in-a-generation palate. After losing both her parents at a tragically young age, it becomes even more clear that Eva’s skill and palate come from her genes. Raised by her well-meaning, if not culinary-refined, aunt and uncle, this novel is very much a coming-of-age story as Eva transforms from an awkward teenager to one of the most sought-after chefs in the country.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view, and while seemingly disparate from the start, all eventually connect to Eva and to the dramatic conclusion of the book. These differing perspectives tell the story of Eva’s life, dish by dish. As a middle school student, she grows hydroponic chocolate habanero peppers in her closet, which she then uses to forge a friendship with the chef at local Mexican restaurant, impart revenge on bullies at school, and develop a tolerance so high she is able to win a chili-eating contest. The teenage Eva finds herself landing an internship at a restaurant following a first date. Regular attendance at a supper club inspires twenty-something Eva to make a key career move and start hosting exclusive pop-up dinner parties in remote locations that, at their height, boast a waiting list of several years and garner $5,000 a plate. The final dinner of this book draws it together to a satisfying conclusion.

Set in Minnesota, the tone of this novel is as down-to-earth as Midwesterners themselves, interlaced with a charming quirkiness. Stradal weaves Midwestern cuisine and culture throughout each of the stories to give it an authentic feel of time and place; Eva’s father is raised making lutefisk for the family; a romantic interest’s brother goes on a hunting trip; a baking competition has a category specifically for bars.

This book is a story of both family and food, and would appeal to readers who appreciate a story with relationships at its heart, as well as those with a penchant for good food, creative dining and food culture. Readers will find themselves rooting for Eva while their mouths water for her cooking. It would also make a good adult-to-teen crossover novel, and will appeal to teens following Eva’s struggles and journey.  Author Stradal has also sprinkled recipes throughout the book for the reader to try. I can vouch personally for Pat Prager’s bars on pp. 211-212. They are very tasty! Overall, a delicious read!

Read-alikes:
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Jill Wylie, Hauppauge Public Library



Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen

On the outskirts of Philadelphia, two brothers run a popular restaurant called Winesap. With a chic atmosphere and an inspired menu, Britt and Leo have successfully established Winesap in their own little corner of the world of fine cuisine. Enter their younger sibling Harry who has plans to open his own trendy restaurant. As he approaches his brothers for advice, support, and approval, Harry sparks a series of events that make up the crux of Wildgen’s novel. Sibling relations, the rivalry of competing businesses, and the politics of running a successful restaurant are fully examined in this delectable story.

The story unfolds slowly, allowing the reader to savor every passage, much as they would every bite of a tasty dish. Strong character development with realistic dialogue and character interaction, Bread & Butter is sprinkled with romance, drama, realistic sibling portrayal, and a genuine glimpse into the inner workings and culture of the restaurant business. Foodies will thoroughly enjoy the read with all of its scrumptious detail, as will those that are interested in the complexity of the relationships between siblings. Bon appetit!

Read-alikes:
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Deborah Fermosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library