Award Nominees

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

This literary piece is the story of M, who, as a young mother meets the Devil on a train in Paris. Subsequently, everything in her life goes bad. “I don’t think I realized how many parts of life there were, until each one of them began to release its capacity for badness” she says at the beginning of the novel.

M, who is married to Tony, invites L, an artist, to stay at their “second place” to paint. The marshland is beautiful, and M believes it will inspire L.

M might be in love with L and she might not. Even she doesn’t know. But when he shows up with the young Brett, M doesn’t like it. 

A lot of the novel centers around M not feeling or looking like a female. She and Tony seem to simply co-habitate. She does the inside chores, he does the outside chores. Nothing seems to faze him and she wonders if he even sees her.

L is the devil, out to destroy M and her family. (He even tells M’s son-in-law that he’s going to destroy her.) Why she lets him stay on her property, I’m not sure.

In the end, L suffers a stroke. Tony and M’s adult daughter takes care of him. Then he leaves without notice. Later, the world learns that he has died in a hotel room in Paris. M then receives a letter from L from Paris (that someone found), apologizing for his behavior.

This book will appeal to literary readers who love introspection and symbolism with little action or dialog.

Read-alikes:
The Outline Trilogy by Rachel Cusk
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library



Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Reading this book felt like doing a puzzle with beautiful, imaginatively drawn pieces.  You don't know what the final picture will be, but you know it's got to be something fantastic. The book requires some close attention to recognize all the puzzle pieces, but your patience and attention are well worth it, as it all comes together to form an intricate and unexpected picture.

Made up of three stories from different time periods that intertwine and spiral together, each story contains elements of homecoming, identity, and searching. Anna and Omeir are on opposite sides of the siege of Constantinople in 1453. Seymore and Xeno are on opposite sides of an accidental hostage situation at a library in Idaho in 2020. Konstance is the only survivor on a generation ship in 2145 (or so she thinks). Wrapping around and running through each separate story is the tale of Cloud Cuckoo Land, a fictional ancient Greek comedy that is found and lost and found again throughout history.

Anna finds a codex in a ruin on which is written the tale of Cloud Cuckoo Land, in which Diogenes tells the tale of his attempt to find the mystical world of the birds. Anna keeps the codex safe, and it disappears until it is next discovered some 500 years later in a vault of the Vatican. It is very degraded, but Xeno attempts to translate it as the pages are scanned in and released to the public. He tells the story to a group of children, who decide to create a play based on the story. Konstance is told the story by her father, one of the few members of the generation ship crew who remember Earth, which has become an environmental disaster. When the rest of the crew is killed by a plague, she pieces the story together on scraps of fabric, and ultimately pieces together the reality of her world. It is primarily Xeno's and Konstance's stories that weave together, but no part of any of the stories could exist without the rest.

This is truly one of the most creative and intricate books I've ever read.  Doerr puts all the pieces together very well.  And not only does he keep the whole puzzle together in his head, he writes lines like:
        (on learning Greek) "Boil the words you already know down to their bones, and usually you find             the ancients sitting there at the bottom of the pot, starting back up."
        
        (describing the frozen north) "...it was so cold that when the hairy wildmen who lived there spoke,         their words froze and their companions would have to wait for spring to hear what had been said."

Read-alikes:
The Actual Star by Monica Byrne
Crossings by Alex Landragin
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library



The Final Girls Support Group by Grady Hendrix

If you know what a “final girl” is, this is probably the book for you! Within the horror movie genre, the last girl standing at the end of the film is referred to as the final girl. Living through the events of a horror movie leaves these girls psychologically traumatized, so they are brought together to form a support group. After several attacks on the members occur, it becomes obvious that a killer is targeting them and it’s a race to see who will once again be left standing. 

This fast-paced novel takes place in present day Los Angeles and is told from the perspective of one of the Final Girls, Lynnette, as she navigates the world living in constant fear. Lynnette is clever and hyper aware of her surroundings. Everything she does, including keeping her hair short to avoid someone being able to grab it and taking mental notes of what shoes people around her are wearing (“...if someone’s following they can change their jacket or their hat, but it’s a whole lot harder to change their shoes.”), are part of her all-consuming strategies to stay alive.

Adults who are fans of horror movies will enjoy this story and while they won’t recognize any of the names of the girls in the book, they will notice each survival story matches up with a final girl character from a real film. See if you can figure them all out!

Read-alikes:
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester
Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Jessicca Newmark, The Smithtown Library - Smithtown Building



How Lucky by Will Leitch

This book, nominated for the Edgar Award, tells the story of Daniel, who is confined to a wheelchair due to having Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a disease that will eventually kill him. Daniel was born with SMA and has a good outlook on life. He doesn't let his disease get him down even though most of his movement is down to the one hand that controls his wheelchair and he speaks through an computer. He lives on his own with the help of a day nurse and two night nurses as well as his best friend who keeps him entertained and doesn't treat him like he's different.

One morning, while on the porch, Daniel sees a girl get into a car but doesn't think much of it until she's reported missing and he was the last one to see her. Trying to help, he gets his friend to call the police, which turns into a bit of a Laurel and Hardy routine especially when an officer comes to the house and sees Daniel in the wheelchair. Daniel also inserts himself into the investigation by posting online, which leads him to getting in contact with the kidnapper. 

A lot of the book is spent with Daniel trying to show people that even though he's in a wheelchair and can't speak, it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with him mentally. His inner monologue has him speaking to the reader, explaining his disease, the things that happen to him, and his thought process for trying to help find the missing girl.

Learning about his disease was interesting as was seeing how people treat and often dismiss him because of his disability. Some of the antics he got himself into were a little farfetched, but his heart was always in the right place. Daniel is a very likeable character and the confrontation with the kidnapper will have you on the edge of your seat. Overall an entertaining read.

How Lucky would be a good read for those looking for a light mystery, books about inclusion and characters with a disability, and young adults as Daniel is in his early twenties and lives in a college town.

Read-alikes:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
1222 by Anne Holt
Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Azurée Agnello, West Babylon Public Library



The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

At Cooper’s Chase, a peaceful retirement community where not much happens, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron meet each week for the Thursday Murder Club to investigate unsolved murder cases. When the murder of Tony Curran, part owner of Cooper’s Chase, happens right in their community, and a photograph is left next to the body, these four septuagenarians decide to stick their noses in and solve it themselves. Their former careers provide them with expertise and the newest murder allows them to put those skills to the test. 

PC Donna de Freitas meets the Thursday Murder Club members while she is set to deliver a boring speech to them about security. They make her an offer to join them in being able to actually solve murders. It doesn’t take much for her to join and help the group and later her superior DCI Chris Hudson joins as well. 

The novel is full of new and old murders (none are graphic) that keep the reader guessing and trying to figure out who the murderer might be. The characters are quirky and fun and find so much joy in solving the case. The book is told from the perspective of most of the protagonists, so readers know their thoughts, as well as Joyce’s entertaining journal entries dispersed throughout. The beginning of the novel was a bit dragging and confusing with the introduction to many characters, but quickly picked up. 

The Thursday Murder Club was a 2021 Edgar Awards nominee for Best Novel. The Edgar Awards are presented by the Mystery Writers of America.

Read-alikes:
Aunti Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (book 2 in series)
An Elderly Lady is up to No Good by Helene Tursten

Nanci Helmle, The Smithtown Library - Commack Building



The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Maeve and Danny Conroy are siblings who grow up in the “Dutch House,” a finely appointed mansion built outside of Philadelphia in the 1920s for Mr. and Mrs. VanHoebeek. When their father, Cyril Conroy, purchases it not long after the end of WWII, he buys the house fully furnished, down to the personal effects of the late occupants. His wife, Elna, is shocked, having believed herself and her husband to be poor. But Cyril has been investing in real estate, starting with a tip from a dying soldier during the war.

Elna, who had intended to become a nun before marrying Cyril, is horrified at their new circumstances, and leaves the Dutch House for longer and longer periods of time until one day, when Maeve is 10 and Danny is 3, she doesn’t come back. After eight years, during which their mother is rarely spoken of, Cyril marries Andrea, a woman who loves the house and brings with her two small daughters, Norma and Bright. Maeve and Danny struggle to adjust to the presence of the chilly and possessive Andrea, until their father suddenly dies four years later. The two siblings learn that their father has left them nothing but a trust to pay for the three youngest children’s education, Maeve having already graduated college. Andrea kicks them out, and Maeve decides that Danny will have the most expensive education money can buy, including medical school, even though Danny has no intention of actually being a doctor. 

For years, as Danny grows up, graduates medical school, marries, becomes a real estate developer, and has two children, he and Maeve, who stays in the same job and the same small house, occasionally park outside the Dutch House. They relive their childhood, and dwell on their resentment about everything that was taken from them. The house continues to cast a spell over the Conroys and others who have lived there, as current and former residents of the Dutch House come back into Maeve and Danny’s lives.

The Dutch House is a reflective family saga spanning five decades, with a strong sense of place. The story is told by Danny, who is an engaging narrator, though the reader will sometimes notice and appreciate details that he does not. Readers who like character-driven literary fiction might enjoy this novel, and it would be a good choice for book discussion groups. The Dutch House was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize and longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. The audiobook, narrated by Tom Hanks, was a finalist for two 2020 Audie Awards, Audiobook of the Year and Best Male Narrator.

Read-alikes:
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
Family of Origin by CJ Hauser
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
French Braid by Anne Tyler

Norah Gillman, Cold Spring Harbor Library



Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Emira, a young black woman who works as a nanny, is called by her employer, Alix Chamberlain to “please come and take Briar away from the house.”  It is 11 p.m. and Emira is at a party with friends. She agrees because she needs the money.   She takes two-year old Briar to the all-night grocery in the Chamberlain’s Philadelphia neighborhood. The police are called when a white woman grows suspicious of a black woman out so late with a white child. Emira stands firm with her explanation and denial of wrong-doing. The incident is resolved when Mr. Chamberlain arrives to rescue his daughter and her nanny.

Over the following months, there is growing tension between Emira and Mrs. Chamberlain.  Alix, embarrassed by the racial insult to Emira, is determined to show Emira that she loves her as a friend, not an employee--that there are no color or social barriers between them.  

Emira is a college graduate. Her friends have jobs in business and education, but Emira is undecided about her life. She loves Briar and the time they spend together. They have an extraordinary, endearing bond. Although she doesn’t make enough money, Emira is unhappy with Alix’ attempts to make her a friend and member-of-the family.  

“Such a Fun Age” is a fast-paced, sensitive and unpredictable tale of race relations, “millennial anxieties about adulting”, and the innocence of Briar set against a backdrop of 20 and-30-somethings experiencing changing race relations, careers, marriage, and parenting in the 21st century.

This is Kiley Reid’s first book, it was long-listed for the Booker Prize.

Read-alikes:
That Kind of Mother by Ruman Alam
They Could Have Named Her Anything by Stephanie Jimenez
Disgruntled by Asali Solomon

Grace O'Connor, Retired



The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

This is a story about identical, red-haired twin sisters. They are precocious and clever but most of all love learning about the meaning and usage of words. They are given a Webster’s dictionary by their beloved father that they cherish and use throughout their entire lives. This story begins when Daphne and Laurel are children and follows them throughout their lives. We get a front row seat observing the girls as little kids speaking their own language, which unnerves their mother, to them living together in NYC in the 1980s.

We watch as they find jobs, search for love, and eventually get married at a double wedding ceremony. Life seems to be fine until the big disagreement occurs. The twins feud over language usage, which is not surprising considering that they both work in the literary field. Daphne becomes a copy editor and Laurel, who is older by 17 minutes, is a poet/kindergarten teacher. It is not until after both parents pass away that the dispute really heats up. The treasured Webster dictionary is up for grabs and both girls want it. They become estranged for years, but it isn’t until after both women lose their husbands that they finally make amends. The twins decide to move in together just as they did when they were both starting out, and true to form keep their treasured dictionary close at hand.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but it didn’t get off to a great start. I usually listen to books but could not get into this one. So, I broke with tradition and picked up the hard copy and I’m glad I did. What a fun bunch of characters. I was delighted by the twins’ antics. I found them to be funny, clever, and devoted to each other and yet at times they could be stubborn, unkind, and difficult. True to life, I believe the author was able to demonstrate human nature at its best and worst.

I thought the story was unique and intriguing. I felt bad when the sisters became estranged and was really rooting for them to make amends.

I loved the author’s writing style and enjoyed learning the meanings of the words presented at the beginning of each chapter. I am a new fan of Cathleen Schine’s work and recently read the Three Wesismanns of Westport, which I liked a little bit better. In any event, I will continue to read and enjoy more of her novels.

Read-alikes:
The Keepsake Sisters by Lori Wilde
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

Karen McHugh, Harborfields Public Library



The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka

Long listed for the 2020 National Book Award, The Great Offshore Grounds is a sprawling epic that examines the messy dynamics of a dysfunctional family and it follows the journey that each family member embarks upon to find themselves. Half-sisters Livy and Cheyenne, their adopted brother Essex, and their mother Kirsten are reunited when they are all invited to the upcoming marriage of the estranged father that the two young women share. All three siblings are down and out, financially as well as emotionally, so they reluctantly attend the wedding festivities, if for no other reason than the prospect of free food and drink. Their wealthy father does not share any of his fortune with his children, as they had hoped he would, but instead gives them some information that can lead them to the “other” mother—information that may finally provide the answer as to which daughter was born to which mother and under what circumstances—something their current mother was never willing to share with them. Based on the information that their father gives them, the three take a cross-country road trip to track down their new-found mother, only to be disappointed when their pilgrimage proves to be unsuccessful. This then ignites a quest for each sibling to veer off on their own personal journey to find freedom as well as a life’s purpose. And as they all run off in different directions, they all seem to succeed in actually avoiding life itself, leaving wreckage in their wake.

What the reader will come to see is that the members of this family could not be more dissimilar. Kirsten is a bohemian-type that belongs to a coven of witches; Livy struggles to make her living refinishing boats and traversing the high seas; Cheyenne is unemployed and struggling to find herself after a failed marriage; and Essex drives a cab and ultimately joins the Army in his quest to find a direction in life.

This densely-written, character-driven novel weaves around and about as it alternates narratives and perspectives with a good amount of social, historical, and seafaring content. As the story progresses, love is found in the most unexpected places, surprising revelations about the sisters’ birthright are revealed, and there comes an understanding of disappointment, acceptance, and what it is to belong.

Veselka’s sweeping family saga alternates in writing style throughout—from familiar family dialogue, to detailed descriptions of settings, to poetic literary passages. Picking up The Great Offshore Grounds is definitely a reading commitment—it is a sweeping account of a family dynamic that is messy, evolving, and at times, unsettling.

Read-alikes:
Family Compound by Liz Parker
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Altruists by Andrew Ridker
The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi

Deborah Formosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library

Fantasy

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith
 
Did you ever think about what happens to the books that don’t get written?

In A. J. Hackwith’s imagination, they reside in the Library of the Unwritten, a lesser known part of Hell. There, they are presided over, protected by, and under the care of the Librarian. The Librarian is in charge of keeping the books quiet, and making sure none of the characters escape from between the covers (except for a few Damsels, who can clearly do better in life). When Claire Hadley, the current Librarian, gets word that, not only has the main character of one of the books gotten loose, but is talking to its author, she heads topside to intervene and get the character back into its book where it belongs.

Unfortunately, she and her team get caught up in a dispute over the Devil’s Bible, a book believed by those in both Heaven and Hell to hold great power. In an effort to keep it out of the hands of a demon who wants to use it for his own nefarious purposes, they seek to return the book to the Library for safekeeping, but must travel through several realms, including Valhalla, on their way. Meanwhile, the Library itself is under siege, and the team must split up. Will they be able to win the fight on two fronts, and still remain strong enough in the end to keep the Library intact?

As with any work of fantasy, this book requires more than a little suspension of disbelief, and readers who characterize themselves as religious may have an even harder time, given that the subject matter includes a somewhat jaundiced approach to Heaven and Hell, demons and angels. Other readers may appreciate Hackwith’s multi-cultural mythologizing, her notion of a literary duel, and her ideas about what can happen when characters become separated from their books.

 
Read-alikes:
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
 
Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library
 
 
 
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
 
Bella, Agnes, and Juniper Eastwood are estranged sisters who find themselves thrown together again in the fictitious town of New Salem in an alternate America in 1893 during the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Old Salem was destroyed by witchcraft, or “witching” as it is known in this reality, many years earlier. Witching is illegal and magic has seemingly been lost.
 
As fate would have it (or, perhaps, a little bit of witching…), all three Eastwood sisters are in the same spot at the same time in New Salem’s Town Square when the world appears to split open, briefly revealing a magical tower, known as the Lost Way of Avalon. Magic is no longer lost!
 
The New Salem Women’s Association is not pleased when Juniper, the youngest of the Eastwood sisters, demands that witching rights be sought along with women’s voting rights. After she is kicked out of the Association, Juniper starts the Sisters of Avalon, a secret coven/movement that is open to all women who wish to gain their power back. The Eastwood sisters are thrust into a battle for justice, with their lives ultimately on the line. They come up against several adversaries, but one in particular will stop at nothing to hold onto their own dark secret and keep their true identity hidden from the town’s residents.
 
The prose is lovely and this story alternates between the three main characters’ point of view. It would be best suited for young adults and adults alike that enjoy witches, female protagonists, feminism and strong women.
 
Read-alikes:
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
The Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. Malerich
A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan
 
Jessicca Newmark, The Smithtown Library - Smithtown Building
 
 
 
Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman
 
Magic Lessons tells the story of Maria Owens, abandoned in a snowy field in 17th century rural England and taken in by Hannah Owens, a spinster living nearby. When Hannah is murdered, Maria escapes, taking Hannah's knowledge of the "nameless arts" with her. She travels to Salem Massachusetts in pursuit of a man who claims to love her. 
 
This is a fast-paced book which should appeal to lovers of historical fiction.
 
Read-alikes:
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
 
Jackie Malone, Retired
 
 
 
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
 
Bridie Devine is an oddity in Victorian England - - a female detective who has worked with Scotland Yard. She is the ward and assistant of Doctor Howard Eames who purchased her as a child for one guinea. Working with Eames, she learns to be an “acute observer,” perfect for detective work.
 
One of her admirers is the pugilist Ruby Doyle whose last known address is the cemetery at Highgate Chapel. He frequently appears to Ruby and insists they knew each other in life and if she can remember where and when, he will be able to rest in peace.
 
Bridie is hired by Sir Edmund Berwick to find his missing daughter, Christabel. She is a shadowy figure -- no one knows her, not even Berwick’s servants. Bridie finds her room, a secret passage of sea water and sea shells.  
 
In her search for Christabel, Bridie solves a crime from the past and uncovers the truth about Ruby Doyle. By that time, Bridie has developed a growing affection for his ghost. No happy ending.
 
Suitable for YA. Pacing is slow.
 
Read-alikes:
Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogene Hermes Gowar 

Grace O'Connor, Retired



Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Wallace Price is the epitome of a stereotypical lawyer. He’s cold, calculated, and ruthless, his job is all he has in his life. Then he dies alone in his office. Wallace is shocked when he realizes at his own funeral that he is dead. It is at the funeral where he meets reaper, Mei. Instead of bringing Wallace to the afterlife, Mei brings him to a little tea shop, Charon’s Crossing, in the middle of a forest. Wallace meets Hugo, the ferryman and owner of the tea shop. As the ferryman, Hugo’s job is to help Wallace come to terms with being dead before he steps through the final door. A door where Wallace hears whispering underneath. Wallace slowly develops feelings for Hugo, making it hard for him to crossover. When the Manager, a powerful being, comes to the tea shop and gives Wallace a week to crossover, Wallace embarks on the most meaningful seven days he’s ever “lived”.

This queer fantasy novel explores love, family, and acceptance. Hugo’s grandfather, Nelson, has been a ghost living in the tea shop with his ghost dog, Apollo, for a very long time. He has not crossed over through the door, not ready to leave his grandson to be on his own. Nelson helps Wallace learn how to be a ghost, helping him accept who and what he is and recognize how to be a good person even though he is dead. The novel does a great job of tackling grief and accepting mortality, but is also filled with hijinks, humor, and romantic tension. The tea shop plays an important character throughout. The quirky design reflects the quirky lives that live in and visit it. When a newly deceased person comes to the shop, Hugo senses what tea they should have. Something that reflects on a memory of their living life or found deep within their soul. A sign hangs on the wall of Charon’s Crossing: “The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share tea, you become family.” This runs true to those who pass through Charon’s Crossing on their journey to crossover. 

I highly recommend this novel. It was an exciting and cozy novel. You can’t help but root for all the characters to find their place. It is a reminder that people come from all walks of life and to treat people with respect and compassion. 

Read-alikes:
Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins by Katarina Bivald
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Nanci Helmle, The Smithtown Library - Commack Building



The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

When Zachary Ezra Rollins finds a book that has a story about him in it, he begins searching for the origins of the book in order to get answers. Those answers lead him to secret societies, fables come to life, and an underground sanctuary that defies the laws of time. A story within a story within a story, the reader finds the forward progression of Zachary in his quest for answers, the melding of fables into the past and present both shadowing and creating new stories that Zachary must uncover, and a future in which Zachary has been lost because time isn’t the same inside the library where Zachary has taken refuge as it is on the outside where his friend has reported him missing after he suddenly vanished without a trace.

While the book sounds like a great read, at almost 500 pages, it was quite daunting. The multiple story lines between Zachary’s time, the past, the future, and the miscellaneous fables that are told throughout the book make it hard to follow. There’s a hidden library that’s been neglected, partly because someone who used to be part of the library has been getting rid of the secret doors around the world that lead to it and partly because the newer generation doesn’t have the same imagination as those in the past. But then to save the library, Zachary has to also save Dorian, a mysterious man with his own agenda that Zachary accidentally meets while he’s trying to save himself from a secret society who wants to close the library for good. While trying to figure out what’s going on with the library, Zachary begins to fall in love with Dorian only to have him disappear then have to go on a quest to find him. Meanwhile, the origin story of the library is threaded throughout the book intertwining itself with Zachary’s story. Then there’s the fables that pop up every few chapters in which the reader must try to decipher the tidbits that pertain to the library and Zachary as well as look for clues to figure out what’s going on. All the while, the deeper Zachary goes into the depths of the library, the longer he’s away from the real world because time in the library is slower than time in the real world.

The world building of the library and the intricacies of the fables are well written and magical, but the way the story goes from one plot line to another have the reader flipping back and forth trying to remember what happened from one chapter to the next. It is hard for the reader to remember how much time has passed, which timeline was taking place, and what exactly Zachary needed in order to fix what was happening to the library. In the end, there is no satisfying conclusion as the reader is left to wonder if Zachary will ever make it out of the library when it turns out he’s been missing from the real world for more than a year and especially since his friend who’s been looking for him is also being drawn into the library’s magical spell. Not as good as her first book, The Night Circus, The Starless Sea would be best for fantasy readers who enjoy stories like The Chronicles of Narnia where there’s magic mixed with made up worlds that are almost but not quite real.
 
Read-alikes:
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library
 
 
 
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
 
“. . . be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price.” Words of advice offered by an eccentric old spinster to Adeline LaRue—a young woman whose life is arranged by her community’s traditions. But an independently-thinking Adeline dreams of a more fulfilling life. One filled with adventure and opportunity. A life that surely exists outside of her small 18th century French town. So the night before her arranged marriage is to take place, Adeline literally runs for her life. In her haste to get away, she forgets the counsel that was given to her by her unconventional friend: “. . . never pray to the gods that answer after dark.” But in her frenzy, Adeline ends up doing just that. She conjures up a spirit that is willing to make a deal with her—one that will provide her with a life without restriction—a deal that requires her to ultimately surrender her soul.

Thus begins the 300-year-long tale of Addie LaRue—someone who’s been granted the gift of immortality; but in exchange is doomed to a world where no one remembers her. We follow Addie as she drifts through centuries, situations, and relationships—none of which have any lasting effect. No one remembers her from day to day, or even hour to hour. Surely this is a curse when bestowed upon a person who longs to make a difference in the world.

Addie does, however, find ways to leave a lasting impression throughout the years. Her seven freckles show up time and again in iconic works of art—classic paintings and sculptures that are recognized by everyone, unlike Addie herself. And then she meets Henry, a book store owner in New York City. He remembers her. But why? Schwab’s novel follows Addie and Henry as their friendship develops into a romance, and Henry lovingly records Addie’s stories of her immortal existence in a series of notebooks—ensuring that she is remembered. It takes some time before the reader learns why Henry is able to remember Addie, and the balance of the novel deals with the consequences of his revelation.

The reader will be absorbed by Schwab’s writing style which is poetic, introspective, and at times almost philosophical. For this reason, it would make an excellent choice for a book group discussion. It poses questions about joy, loneliness, the fleeting passage of time, and the basic human need to be remembered. The story is told in alternating timelines which may at first seem confusing, but Schwab handles the format so handily that the reader will become comfortable with the alternating chronologies.

The thought will linger: “. . . be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price.”
 
Read-alikes:
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Deborah Formosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library



The Keepers of Metsan Valo by Wendy Webb

Anni Halla’s beloved grandmother has died at her estate on Lake Superior, so Anni returns from her life in Paris for the reading of the will and the burial. Martin and Meri are the caretakers of the estate and have been at Metsan Valo with Mummo seemingly forever. Anni’s twin brother Theo joins her the next day, and the rest of the family the day after that.

Strange things begin happening right away, with fireflies chasing Anni and Theo out of the woods, someone ransacking Anni’s mother’s home, Anni and Theo walking in their sleep, and then Anni’s mother going missing only to found unconscious in a stream on the property. Anni’s aunt and her husband are in a car accident and Martin and Meri are acting strangely.

Then three members of the family are in the hospital and Anni can’t figure out who is doing these awful things or why.

Could Mummo’s stories of spirits in the woods be true? And if so, why are they trying to harm the family now?

Keepers is an easy, light read. A Gothic, not so suspenseful or scary story based on Finnish folklore of woodsy spirits that we never really get to know.

No harm, no foul.
 
Read-alikes:
Anything by Sarah Addison Allen
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Settefield
The Haunting of Brynn Wilder by Wendy Webb
 
Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library

Books to Film/TV

 

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

Get ready for another plot-twist book! Perfect and posh Emily and stay-at-home mom blogger Stephanie become best friends after their young sons form a bond at school. They drink wine and share secrets…but not every secret. It’s commonplace for Stephanie to watch Emily’s son at times, so when the phone call asking for a simple favor due to a work emergency comes in, nothing seems out of the ordinary. However, Emily doesn’t show up that evening to get her son, can’t be reached on her phone and no one knows where she is. Days pass and there is still no sign of Emily. Stephanie and Emily’s husband, Sean, begin to fear the worst. But things aren’t always as they seem…
This convoluted story is told from each of the three main characters’ point-of-view and the run-of-the-mill pacing is broken up by the inclusion of Stephanie’s blog posts. This book might appeal to those who enjoy a plot-twist/unreliable narrator story where none of the main characters are likable, like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. 

A film of the same name was released in 2018, starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. In this adaptation, the natural charm and likability of Anna Kendrick does make Stephanie a more appealing character and Blake Lively’s acting prowess definitely aids in Emily being a lot more captivating. This is one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the book!

Trigger Warning: Incest 

Read-alikes:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks

Jessicca Newmark, The Smithtown Library -Smithtown Building




Virgin River by Robyn Carr

Virgin River by Robyn Carr is the first book in a 21-book series with the same name. Melinda (Mel) Monroe is a nurse practitioner and midwife living in Los Angeles. Mel is ready to escape the stress of her job at a dangerous inner-city hospital and more importantly escape the pain of tragically losing her husband almost a year ago. Without so much of a thought, Mel accepts a job offer in Virgin River; population 600, beautiful, remote scenery, and housing included. Upon arriving in Virgin River, Mel realizes she may have jumped too quickly. The free housing is not the beautiful cabin she was promised, but one that is unlivable; and the local doctor does not welcome her help. Realizing this was a bad decision Mel plans to leave, but the pouring rain and muddy backroads keep her for one night. She plans to leave the following morning, but fate has other plans. A baby abandoned on the doorstep of Doc’s office causes Mel to stick around a little longer. The bar owner and former Marine, Jack Sheridan may be the one to make her stay.  

Jack Sheridan came to Virgin River for some good fishing after retiring from the Marines and never left. He opened a bar where his friend Preacher is the cook. That first night Mel walks into the bar, soaking wet from the rain Jack immediately feels drawn to her and wants to do what he can to persuade Mel to stay. Quickly Jack becomes the rock Mel relies on while she struggles with her grief.

Virgin River is located in the middle of nowhere California. The closest hospital is a few hours away. There is a small town feel, but it is not picture perfect. While there are characters that are quirky, they are also flawed. There are groups of illegal pot growers that live in the woods and some people who are up to no good. This made the book feel more realistic. There are other smaller storylines throughout the book including a budding teenage love story between Ricky, the 16-year-old employee Jack has taken under his wing, and Lizzie, the promiscuous 14-year-old sent by her parents to stay with her aunt because she is out of control.  

This is not a fast moving book. You get to know Mel and Jack, as well as a number of other residents of Virgin River. While this is a contemporary romance novel, it borders on a women’s fiction genre. You see the growth in Mel as a character. She finds herself on the other side of her grief, and finds love along the way. As a first book in a series, many characters are introduced and focused on in later books. This book discusses hard topics including death, infertility, and teen pregnancy.

Virgin River became a Netflix Original Series in 2019 and currently has three seasons and has been signed for two more. The Netflix series shows off the scenic area of Virgin River. Season one takes stories from the first two books in the Virgin River series: Virgin River and Shelter Mountain. Several characters take on bigger roles in the show. There is the addition of a character in the show who plays a big role in the show, who is only briefly introduced in book one. The show is very entertaining, but is much more like a soap opera/drama with a bit of romance than the other way around. As a romance novel, each book ends with some form of a happily ever after, whereas the show continues to build and build. Mel’s husband dies differently between the book and TV series. There are also differences between Mel’s personal fertility background and a bigger focus on the illegal pot growers and crime in the show compared to the early books in the series. I personally found this to be a bit too dramatic. Overall, it is a good TV series, but does differ quite a bit from the books. I recommend both the book and the TV series, but be aware that they do differ quite a bit. 

Read-alikes:
The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
Lucky Harbor series by Jill Shalvis
Country by Danielle Steel
 
Nanci Helmle, The Smithtown Library - Commack Building



Gone for Good by Harlan Coben

The story begins with Will Klein going back to his neighborhood in the New Jersey suburbs he grew up in as a boy for his mother’s funeral. It’s not an easy place to be, as eleven years ago Will’s older brother Ken brutally murdered Will’s ex-girlfriend in her basement. Ken disappeared and had been presumed dead, however right before Will’s mom died, she told Will that he was still alive. Not believing her, Will and his girlfriend find a current picture of Ken, meaning that what Will thought for so long was untrue. 

Shortly after the funeral, Will’s girlfriend Sheila Rogers disappears and Will is questioned regarding her connection to deaths in New Mexico. Not knowing what to believe, Will and his best friend Squares try to track her down but soon find out that she has been killed. Devastated and desperately trying to piece everything together, Will must learn the truth about Sheila's hidden past and how she was connected to his missing brother Ken. Just as he thinks he is piecing things together, he gets hit with a series of stunning revelations that continue up until the last pages of the story. Throughout the story, no one is what they seem and the twists and turns continue. 

The setting of the story is mainly set in New York City where Will lives and works. He is a counselor for Covenant House which is a home and outreach for runaways that have become involved in drugs, prostitution and human trafficking. His best friend Squares, so aptly nicknamed for the tattoo on his forehead of 4 squares (which used to be a swastika), is a world famous yogi and runs Covenant House. As they are trying to piece things together, they are involved with a lot of prostitutes and pimps, drug dealers and users, and the seedier parts of the city all which are described in detail. 

The story is told in first person narrative by Will Klein. The pace is fairly quick, similar to a James Patterson novel with twists and turns in almost every chapter. The dialog is what really propels the story so quickly and is often funny and sarcastic, and includes Coben’s social commentary thrown in. There were a ton of people mentioned in the first few pages of the story to describe Will’s return to his hometown, however most were not mentioned later. Still, Coben included a multitude of memorable characters throughout with vivid descriptions. 

Gone for Good would appeal to fans of Coben and James Patterson. The descriptions are real and gritty, including blow by blows in violent encounters and rough language. This would also appeal to fans of Harlan Coben’s group of series on Netflix, where he has written the screenplays for most.

Read-alikes:
Memory Man by David Baldacci
The Late Show by Michael Connelly
One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

Jessica Brown, Patchogue-Medford Library



A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Enter the world of creatures where demons, witches, and vampires exist among regular humans and do their best to go unnoticed. This first book in a trilogy finds the witch Diana Bishop, a scholar visiting Oxford and working on a paper on alchemy, and vampire Matthew Clairmont, a professor at Oxford, who is also studying the genetics of creatures, meeting when Diana unearths a long-missing volume called Ashmole 782 that supposedly contains the origin of all creatures. Diana, after touching the Ashmole manuscript, unlocks latent magical powers she thought she didn't have and becomes the focus of powerful creatures from all three lines who want the manuscript for themselves. 

As Diana and Matthew grow closer, secrets about Diana's past and the governing body of creatures called the Coven draw the pair into a dangerous web where Diana is safe from no one including other witches. Diana's powers grow stronger as does the forbidden love between her and Matthew.

Moving from England to France then to the United States, where Diana's aunts try to help her develop and harness her power, Diana and Matthew find themselves forming their own coven of demons, vampires, and witches who are tired of the old ways and want to work together to discover why their powers are getting weaker instead of falling back on old stereotypes.

Part fantasy, part mystery, A Discovery of Witches draws the reader into the underground world of creatures that the common man doesn't know exists. The story unfolds quickly with glimpses into everyone's lives, focusing on Diana and Matthew and their quest to find Ashmole 782 to help both Diana and creatures of all kinds. The characters from all three groups are given separate characteristics and personalities allowing the readers to understand both their dastardly deeds and their ability to change themselves. This book was very entertaining and not easy to put down and would make a good read for anyone who loves books about witches or books where people with powers, etc. live unknown among humans.

The trilogy has been made into a series on AMC as three seasons. Season 1 followed the book fairly closely, although with a lot less detail, and with some changes to characters to condense the amount of characters since some things were cut out. I actually watched the show first and enjoyed it so much it made me want to read the book. I would recommend both although the book is better.

Read-alikes:
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
The Witching Hour Series by Anne Rice

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library



News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Movie: News of the World (2020) - available on DVD and HBOMax

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has fought in three wars, starting with the War of 1812 when he was just barely 16. Now, in 1870, he travels across Texas bringing the inhabitants news of distant places. He reads from newspapers from Philadelphia to India to London, and steers clear of politics as best he can.
 
On a pass through Northern Texas, he is entrusted with a young girl, recently rescued from the Kiowa, after having been abducted four years earlier. Now ten, Johanna has no real memory of her family, doesn't remember how to speak English, and, if asked, would consider herself a member of the Kiowa nation. But nobody asked her. The Kiowa are giving up all of their captives under threat of raids, and Johanna's remaining family has paid handsomely for her to be shepherded back to their home near San Antonio. It's a long journey (handy maps in the endpapers of the book help the reader follow along) and one fraught with dangers. 
 
The real story though, is what happens between Johanna and the Captain as they travel and begin to feel like family. Unfortunately, Jiles's spare writing style doesn't really do justice to the feelings she wants the reader to understand the characters are feeling. 
 
As for the movie, it is similarly spare, giving it the same overall tone as the book. Several major plot points are changed, for what I'm sure were valid cinematographic reasons, but the overall story arc is the same, and being able to see the expressions on the characters' faces certainly helps in understanding the feelings that Jiles writes into her story.
 
Read-alikes:
Far as the Eye Can See by Robert Bausch
The Son by Philipp Meyer
Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda
 
Mara Zonderman, Westhapmton Free Library



You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

It’s difficult to summarize You Should Have Known by Jean Korelitz without spoiling the suspense that it achieves. You may have seen the HBO series The Undoing which is based on the book. And while the book and the series have much in common, there are also significant differences in how the plot progresses and, of course, there’s the difference between reading a book and viewing the dramatization of an author’s work.

The main character in the book is Grace Sachs, a marriage counselor with a successful practice in Manhattan. She’s married to a pediatric oncologist and has a 12-year-old son that attends a prestigious private school in the city. Her life smacks of social privilege and prestige. The story begins with Grace granting interviews about a book she has written, You Should Have Known, a self-help treatise aimed at women who tend to make all kinds of excuses for the flawed men that they are attracted to. The title of the book captures the essence of Grace’s philosophy which proposes that a person should never be surprised by what appears to be a drastic change in their spouse’s behavior. She puts forth the idea that there are indications of a partner’s true character right from the start. A person either chooses to ignore those initial signs, or will spend a great deal of energy later on convincing themselves that they had no idea of what they were getting into. The irony of Grace’s theory and book becomes quite evident as the story unfolds.

When a mother of one her husband’s patients—a woman of modest means and whose son also attends the private school—is found murdered, Grace is unnerved. Not only by the crime, but also by the fact that she cannot reach, nor account for her husband’s whereabouts. He’s supposed to be at a medical conference in Cleveland. At least that’s what he told her. But why doesn’t he return her calls? Because he left his phone home, as Grace eventually discovers.

You Should Have Known is not a murder mystery (like the HBO series), but it does provide for a suspenseful read. It’s the psychological dissection of a woman who is slowly coming to realize that her life is not as exemplary as she thought it to be. Korelitz’s book will immediately grip the reader and will be hard to put down. The narrative is told through Grace’s eyes, and while her situation may be obvious to the reader, it takes a myriad of discoveries—about her family, her husband’s family, her friends—before Grace can navigate through the fragments of what had appeared to be an idyllic life. Personal revelations, old and new friends, and taking refuge in a family retreat in Connecticut make it seem that Grace may be able to recover from her ordeal and begin to live a more honest life. Though the book’s ending may be considered a little too tidy for some, it still makes for an engrossing reading experience.   
The book takes place in Manhattan and Connecticut while the series takes place in Manhattan and Long Island. The book is more psychological while the series is a murder mystery. In the book, Grace's book plays a prominent role while in the series it is barely mentioned. In the book, there is no question who the murderer is while the series keeps you guessing. Characters such as Alves and Jonathan are changed from book to series. The book ends with a letter and the possibility of a new life and closure while the series ends with a thrilling chase scene and keeps things open.

Read-alikes:
Watching You by Lisa Jewell
The Other Woman by Sandie Jones
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Deborah Formosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library



The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Fiona is a workaholic high court Family judge in London and has been married to Jack for almost 30 years. According to Jack, their relationship closely resembles a brother and sister bond, rather than husband and wife, and he would like to change that. He wants to have an affair. No secrets, no lies. Stay married but have sex with his 28-year-old protégé.

Fi refuses the suggestion and Jack leaves. She is too focused on (and always has been) her career to worry about Jack’s midlife crisis. Plus, she just made a judgement to separate conjoined twins, meaning one will die, leaving her feeling unsettled. And now she has to determine whether a 17-year-old boy can decide whether or not to have a blood transfusion (leukemia). He’s not an adult, but he doesn’t want the transfusion because he’s a Jehovah’s Witness.

Fi allows the transfusion and Adam (the boy) gets better. Then he calls Fiona, sends letters and poems, and ends up following her to another town. She does the right thing by sending him away but doesn’t see how confused and alone he feels.

During this time, she and Jack continue in a stalemate.

Months later Adam dies and Fi can finally cry about him, about the twins, and about her childlessness (mostly due to her career). She falls into bed crying. When she wakes up, Jack is lying beside her. They lay face-to-face and she tells him everything, leaving us to believe that the marriage will survive.

The book is just over 200 pages, and the movie follows it closely, being both character-driven and reflective.

Read-alikes:
The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Quarry by Celia Houdart
George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library



Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell

Rose Nemser is 19, newly married, and pregnant when she and her husband, Fred, move in with Shirley Jackson and her husband, Stanley. The reclusive Jackson is the well-known author of titles such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Fred is a graduate student who will be working with Stanley, a professor at Bennington College in Vermont. Rose and Fred will live in Shirley and Stanley’s spare bedroom instead of renting a place of their own, and Rose is happy to help out around the house both to make it easier for Shirley to write, and to feel needed. Over the course of the fall of ’64 and the winter of ’65, Rose has her baby, watches her husband fall under the spell of Stanley, a pompous serial adulterer, and develops an intense and turbulent relationship with Shirley.

Rose’s background is one of poverty and abandonment. She is painfully insecure and teeters on the verge of being an unreliable narrator, keeping secrets from both the other characters and the reader. She hears rumors that Shirley is a witch, grows interested in witchcraft, and thinks that she herself might have special powers. Rose also becomes obsessed with the mysterious 1946 disappearance of Bennington student Paula Welden, and believes that she was one the students who had an affair with Stanley, leading Shirley to kill Paula. Both Stanley and Shirley (who wrote a novel, Hangsaman, once thought to be loosely based on the disappearance) insist they did not know the young woman.

The plot moves slowly and would interest readers who enjoy atmospheric literary mysteries and psychological suspense with a menacing tone. Though Fred and Rose are fictional, many characters in the novel are not, and some of the plot (including the disappearance of Paula Welden) is inspired by real events. This title might interest those familiar with Shirley Jackson’s work, but it is not necessary to have read her books.

A film adaptation of this novel, also called Shirley, was released in 2020 (available on Hulu and Kanopy). The film is set about 15 years earlier than the novel. Shirley and her husband are much more unlikeable in the movie, and no longer parents, with their four children written out completely. Many events in the film deviate from the novel.

Read-alikes:
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller
You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
If She Were Dead by J.P. Smith

Norah Gillman, Cold Spring Harbor Library



Normal People by Sally Rooney

Set in Carricklea, a small fictional town in the west of Ireland, Normal People is the love story of high school students Connell Waldron, a popular sports star and quiet, nondescript Marianne Sheridan. She is a loner from a wealthy family, who lives in the mansion that Connell’s mother cleans, and this difference in their social stations creates tension in their friendship. They’re both bookish -- they discuss The Communist Manifesto and The Golden Notebook. They are curious about the wider world, and intensely private; however, their relationship is undermined by an inability to communicate at critical moments, leading to heartbreaking misunderstandings.

At school, Connell won’t acknowledge Marianne, though they are sleeping together nearly every night, for fear of losing his friends. He’s sick with guilt over the situation. Marianne seems to understand but when Connell asks someone else to the school dance, she is crushed. She withdraws from school and only returns for final exams.

When they move to Dublin to attend Trinity College, it is Marianne who is suddenly popular and Connell who finds himself lonely. From being the small-town hero to just another guy in a somewhat sophisticated setting…so different from his home. They are drawn together again by the electrifying chemistry of first-love. “It’s not like this with other people,” Marianne says.

The pacing is slow. Befitting the characters taciturn nature, the dialog is spare. At home, Marianne doesn’t speak to her family. She eats dinner in silence and returns to her room. Connell doesn’t waste words with his mother. He is afraid she will interfere in his life.

A thoughtful, soulful read recommended for teens and adults. This is a simple story well-told.

Read-alikes:
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Friends Like Us by Sian O'Gorman
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Grace O'Connor, Retired

Hispanic Heritage Month

Book cover of In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende with a sepia-toned city block background and a cherry blossom tree branch in the foreground
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Three lives intersect and are forever changed in this novel by award-winning author Isabel Allende. There’s Richard Bowmaster, a lonely 60-something university professor; Lucia Maraz, a visiting Chilean professor that rents a basement apartment from Richard; and Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented housekeeper who works for a wealthy family. Though there’s a raging blizzard outside, Richard needs to get his cat to a vet. He thinks his pet may have been poisoned and needs immediate medical attention. Then, a fateful incident/accident occurs when Richard collides into the back of another car, damaging the trunk. As Richard tries to exchange information with the other driver, she hastily drives away. But a few hours later, the young woman shows up at Richard’s door seeking help. Unable to effectively communicate with the girl, Richard invites Lucia to join them—perhaps if she spoke to her in Spanish. Then, with the help of a shared pot-laced brownie, the three begin to divulge their life stories. The story begins to unfold. We learn that Evelyn leaves the accident scene because she took her employer’s car without permission--but there is also a dead body in the trunk! She is deathly afraid that her employer may be involved in a homicide and that her knowledge of the crime may endanger her life, or have her sent back to Guatemala.

In alternating narratives and time lines, Allende reveals the background of each character—where they’re from; their fears; their desires—what has shaped them as a person. And they all have experienced extreme loss in their lives. An unprecedented blizzard brings them together and changes their lives forever.

The living conditions in Central and South America are described in great detail, and Allende’s descriptions give credence to the multitude of reasons as to why people leave their home country and immigrate to America. The perils that they are fleeing—the gangs, the human trafficking, the poverty, the political unrest—cannot help but conjure up a feeling of empathy and compassion in the reader. Insight into the very difficult decisions that must be made to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones—decisions that oftentimes tear a family apart—are presented.

If you’re a reader that enjoys being immersed in the background of a novel’s characters; or one that likes a story containing intrigue delivered in a backdrop of pertinent history and circumstance; or a reader who subscribes to the belief that love ultimately prevails, you’ll enjoy In the Midst of Winter.

Read-alikes:
It Would be Night in Caracas by Karina Sanz Borgo
Where We Come From by Oscar Casares
The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero

Deborah Formosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library



Book cover of Afterlife by Julia Alvarez with a yellow background with a painted tree of green leaves sparsely distributed on the branches
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

Antonia Vega is a recently retired college professor who is grieving her late husband, Sam, who died nearly a year ago. Antonia and her three sisters emigrated from the Dominican Republic as children and, though they are in their 60s and live in different states, they remain enmeshed in each other’s lives. A crisis occurs when Antonia’s oldest sister, Izzy, goes missing during a manic episode. At the same time, Antonia has found an undocumented, pregnant Mexican teen, Estela, hiding in her garage. 

Antonia is viewed by her sisters as the selfish one, because she values self-preservation and sometimes pulls away from the others. She believes that the best thing you can do for loved ones is to take care of yourself so as not to be a burden, and she struggles with her solitary grief, self-doubt, and the decision of who to put first in her life. She often reflects on what Sam, who was a decisive and empathetic local doctor, would have done. In their life together, people often assumed she was the activist because of her ethnicity, when it was the other way around. Antonia wants to embody the things she loved best about her lost loved ones while still being who she is.

The story is filtered through Antonia’s inner voice, filled with the remembered words of writers who have inspired and sustained her. Afterlife is domestic fiction that includes the themes of the immigrant experience, class and race, relationships, and grief. It’s a hopeful novel about living a life of purpose and meaning that would be a good choice for book discussion groups.

Read-alikes:
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
L.A. Weather by Maria Amparo Escandon
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Norah Gillman, Cold Spring Harbor Library



Book cover of Where We Come From by Oscar Casares with a clear, blue sky with one small cloud and the corner of a pink house on the bottom right corner
Where We Come From by Oscar Casares
 
Twelve-year-old Orly is staying with his aunt in Brownsville, TX for a few weeks in the summer.  He’s sure he’s going to be bored, but his aunt has some big secrets.  At night, out back by the vacant pink guest house, people are coming and going.  Turns out Nina is harboring illegal immigrants until their rides come to take them to their end destination.  
 
The book is written in four parts: the Favor, de camino (on the way), la madrina (godmother), and chivito (goat.)  The favor is Nina hiding her cleaning lady’s daughter and grand daughter for a couple of days so they can cross the border, which starts the story rolling.  Each part has one or two vignettes giving a closer view and understanding of particular minor characters, some of which you only meet once (El Kobe, who runs the illegals only has two more jobs before he can become a real estate agent.)  In de camino, a man pays to bring his son over, but the son ends up going back to Honduras as he suffers severe brain damage from a lack of oxygen in the overcrowded truck that the refugees travel in. And an older woman, Odilia dies trying to walk across the border, never seeing her daughter and grandson in Missouri.
 
In La Madrina, Orly’s teacher Mr. Dominguez is deported during the summer for having an expired work visa.  And in Chivito, we learn of Daniel’s experiences (15-year-old hiding by himself in the pink house) trying to get to his father in Houston.
 
A story of life on the border between Mexico and Texas, seen from Nina and Orly’s eyes, but seen deeper through the vignettes. The writing is literary, and the story is thoughtful, and suspenseful.  I would recommend this title to older teens as well as adults.
 
Read-alikes:
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
American Dirt by Jeanne Cummins
Life of Pi by Yan Martel
The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward
 
Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library



Book cover of Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton with a woman sitting on a sofa in a 50s style orange dress and a picture of the  Malecon in Havana at the bottom.
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

After her beloved grandmother, Elisa, dies, Marisol decides to fulfill her grandmother's wish to have her ashes spread in her native Cuba. What proceeds is a dual story of her grandmother's childhood in Cuba before she and her family had to flee and Marisol's story of discovering who her grandmother really was, what her roots are, and falling in love with a man she meets while there all while still needing to stay under the radar of the Cuban government.

Next Year in Havana is set both in the past during 1958 when Batista was trying to stay in power and Castro was trying to take over and 60 years later in the present when Cuba is open to tourists and is supposed to be a better place. Staying with her grandmother's childhood best friend allows Marisol to experience Cuba from a native point of view and as her stay there begins to mirror her grandmother's, each falls in love with a revolutionary, Marisol uncovers secrets about her family have been long buried.

This book would appeal to both readers of light historical fiction and romance with its descriptions of 1958 Cuba making you feel like you are living through the revolution as well as the love stories of both Elisa & Pablo in the past and Marisol & Luis in the present. Cuba is depicted both beautifully in vibrant color and music, but it's also shown as the dangerous and poverty stricken country it was and still is for those who want a better life and are trying to survive. And with its political intrigue, family secrets, and danger in both the past and present, it will hold the reader's interest.

Read-alikes:
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go
Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner

Azurée Agnello, West Babylon Public Library
 


Book cover of Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras with a dark blue background and one orange, bell-like flower facing down.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Chula Santiago lives in Bogotá with her older sister Cassandra and their mother.  Her father works for an American oil company and isn’t home often.  Chula’s 7-year-old world is fairly narrowly-defined, largely consisting of her gated neighborhood, and her school, until her mother hires Petrona Sánchez to be the next in a long line of maids.  The story is largely told from her perspective.

Petrona is a just a teenager herself, but is the main support of her family since the paramilitary burns her family’s farm and kills her father and two of her brothers.  What remains of her family lives in one of the slums on the outskirts of the city, a place fraught with danger.  Her voice alternates with Chula’s to fill in some of the gaps in the story of what happens when Chula’s world and Petrona’s collide.

The bulk of this story is autobiographical, as we learn in an author’s note.  Knowing that much of what Chula experiences in the book was experienced by the author herself during her childhood in the era of Pablo Escobar brings an added sense of horror to scenes of assassination, car bombings, and kidnappings.

Read-alikes:
The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico
The Color of our Sky by Amita Trast
Songs for the Flames: Stories by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library



Book cover of Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia with ocean water at the bottom half and a solid peach color at the top with one pink flower.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

This character driven novel follows the lives of generations of Hispanic women from nineteenth century Cuba to the present-day United States as they struggle to survive in a hostile world. It would appeal to liberal minded American readers who sympathize with women who do not enjoy our freedoms. 

Read-alikes:
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade

Jackie Malone, Retired



Book cover of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia depicting a drawn temple on blues, greens, and yellows with the profile of a woman's face at the top.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This is a coming of age story of Casiopea, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood whose existence consists of daily toil and drudgery. Treated as a second class citizen by her rich and powerful grandfather and Cousin Martine, she dreams of leaving their small village and exploring the world. One day she if left alone in the house while everyone is away and stumbles upon a small black box in her grandfather’s room. Hoping that the box contains gold she opens it and to her astonishment she has unleashed the Mayan God of Death Hun-Kamé, who must gain back his throne from his evil twin brother Vucub-Kamé. So begins a fantastic journey as the two strike out on a harrowing tour of Mexico and the underworld to reclaim his kingdom. At first Casiopea is an unwilling partner, but she soon becomes an energetic participant as she realizes that this is her chance at freedom and possibly love. 

Taking place in Mexico during the 1920s Jazz age, the characters are rich and complex. Instances of magic, demons and sorcery are easily woven throughout the storyline engaging readers as extraordinary events unfold. The story concludes when the main characters Casiopea and Martine are transported to the underworld to compete in a harrowing race on the Black road through Xibalba where the future of mankind will be decided once and for all. 

This was a fantastic book. I would highly recommend this book to patrons who enjoy historical fantasy. Silvia Moren-Garcia is a gifted storyteller and takes the reader on a thrilling journey using Mayan mythology and folktale.  

Read-alikes:
The Bear and the Nightingale by Kathrine Arden
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Circe by Madeleine Miller

Karen McHugh, Harborfields Public Library



Book cover of The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero with a white background and the words written in multi-colors.
The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero

Ana Falcón, her husband Lucho, and their two young children fled the financial and political conflict of Peru for a chance at life in New York City in the early 1990s. Being undocumented severly limits the opportunities for Ana and Lucho to find work and a place to stay. Ana is in debt to a loan shark called Mama, and is stretched thin by her long hours working at the factory. This is added to the stress of living with Lucho’s cousin, who constantly judges and makes it clear that Ana and her family are not welcome to stay in her spare bedroom much longer, and the unwanted advances made by Mama’s slimy husband. While Lucho dreams of returning to Peru, Ana is determined to survive and thrive for the American Dream. 

The Affairs of the Falcóns is an upsetting story that needs to be told. With undocumented immigrants being in the news often, reading this novel gives a voice to the ones who are overlooked. Ana is forced to sacrifice so much that the reader cannot help feeling for her. With Ana and her family being undocumented, the constant impending doom of whether immigration will be called is prevalent throughout the novel. Readers will learn about the classism and racism in Peru. Ana is dark-skinned from a rural area of Peru. Her husband Lucho is light-skinned, middle class Peruvian. Lucho’s family thinks less of Ana based on her skin and upbringing. Ana and her family do not speak English, so throughout the novel while she is conversing many lines are in Spanish. This heartbreaking novel will stay with the reader even after they are finished reading.

This novel won the 2019 New American Voices Award and the 2020 International Latino Book Award. Author Melissa Rivero was an undocumented Peruvian child who came to New York City. This novel was not set out to be autobiographical, but as the writing progressed, Rivero did begin telling some of the stories her mother had told her. I recommend this novel to adults looking to read about undocumented immigrants from their perspective and a slow burning novel. 

Trigger Warning/Possible Spoiler: There is a storyline that focuses on adultery, and another about abortions, so readers should be prepared.  

Read-alikes:
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Nanci Helmle, The Smithtown Library - Commack Building