Read While Isolated

The cover depicts an open pocket watch against a black cloth background with small, glowing astrological symbols.

by Piyali C.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I found it difficult to focus on books. It seemed like Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian novel, Station Eleven was playing out right in front of me. However, when physical distancing became a part of our daily routine, I took to reading so I could escape to other worlds created by authors. The books below are some of the ones that I truly enjoyed as I read them during isolation, borrowed from Howard County Library System.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook): A fascinating story of nurse Julia Powers, who works in the maternity ward of a hospital in war- and flu-ravaged Dublin in 1918. She takes care of expectant mothers fallen ill with the raging Spanish flu. With the help of a rebel woman doctor and a young orphaned woman, Nurse Powers tends to the needs of the quarantined pregnant women in her care to the best of her ability under the circumstances.

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate: (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook) Told in the alternating voices of Hannie, a recently freed slave in 1875, and Benedetta Silva, a young new teacher in a tiny town in Louisiana in 1987, this story takes us through the Reconstruction era in America with Hannie, as she travels to Texas with two unwilling companions, Miss Lavinia and Juneau June, in the hope of finding her family members who were sold as slaves in different cities and towns. Benny Silva, while trying to engage her unwilling students in their own history, comes across the story of Hannie’s journey in the library of a run-down plantation house. The discovery of this quest brings forth a fascinating story of freed slaves trying desperately to reconnect with family members lost to slavery in 1870’s America.

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (available in print, eaudiobook): Drawn from the author’s own experiences of growing up in postwar Vietnam and from interviewing countless people who lived through the horrors of the Vietnam war, Ngyuen Phan Que Mai writes this amazing story of a family torn apart, not only by the war, but also by the subsequent division between north and south Vietnam. While the story talks about the unbelievable horror that wars inflict on human life, it also sings an ode to indomitable human resilience and a desperate mother’s inexplicable courage and determination to keep her children safe.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook): Valerie is a 48-year-old Black woman, a single mom to Xavier, and an ecology professor who nurtures a deep love for plants and trees. Brad Whitman is an entrepreneur who has risen up in wealth and power from humble beginnings. Brad builds a gorgeous house next to Valerie’s and moves in with his wife Julia, step daughter Juniper and daughter Lily. As a relationship starts to build between Valerie and Julia, an incident regarding Valerie’s favorite tree causes a rift between the two families, resulting in a law suit. But Xavier, Valerie’s 18-year-old son, and Juniper, Julia’s 17-year-old daughter, are also building a beautiful relationship. How much acceptance will an interracial relationship receive, not only from society but also from Brad Whitman? Told from the perspective of the neighbors of both Valerie and Brad, this story explores complicated race relations between Black and White, loss of innocence, coming of age, struggles of women, and much more. 

What did you read during isolation? Tell us in the comments.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Books for Back to School

by Sarah C.

Ahhhh, back to school, it’s that time of the year, folks – yes, it will be a different kind of school compared to last fall, but we can still read some great books as school starts. I’ve got a selection here of my latest faves for your enjoyment and education:

The cover depicts a young woman dressed for work, in gray pants and shirt and a red headscarf, holding up a fist.

Amazons, Abolitionists and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight For Their Rights by Mikki Kendall                                                    
An excellent and diverse addition to your history section, this nonfiction graphic novel reads like a fast-paced movie. It’s full color and far-reaching, and it will keep readers interested (full disclosure: this is my second time reading it, because it’s just that good!). Teen and adult readers alike are guaranteed to meet many new faces from the past and learn their interesting and important stories.

The cover depicts two boys back-to-back, one wearing a yellow jacket and green hood and one in a red and black plaid shirt.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes (also available as an ebook)
How does it feel to go to school where you are one of the only Black boys, and you have a light-skinned brother there who, for some reason, doesn’t seem to face the same problems that you do? This novel tackles the hard questions as Donte learns about colorism, privilege, and racism in schools, as well as how to fight for justice, how powerful family support can be, and a new sport he was skeptical of at first and bullied into bypassing, but now loves — fencing!

The Cover depicts a split-screen image of two young women, one in front of a green background and one in front of a building with fire stairs.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (also available in ebook and eaudiobook)
Two sisters, one in the Dominican Republic and one in New York, unknowingly share the same father and live vastly different lives until those lives are shattered by a tragic accident. Now Yahaira and Camino have to untangle their father’s secrets in an achingly raw and emotional novel written in verse that tackles grief, anger, forgiveness, and family.

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories edited by C. Spike Trotman, Kate Ashwin, and Kel McDonald

Filled with mythology, monsters, and magic, this collection of 21 cautionary tales and fables from various Asian countries entertains and intrigues. Recommended for manga and anime fans as well.

Related, I just handed my teen The Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh, and he devoured them — if anyone is looking for fast-paced and epic fantasy adventures, battles fought for honor, brave warrior outcasts, and a ton of Korean mythology and monsters, look no further! (The first book in the trilogy is called Prophecy and is also available as an ebook).                                                                                                                                            
Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto (manga)

A bizarre but fascinating story, this book is written manga style, so read back to front (which I might have forgotten for the first six pages). This hefty novel is full of incredibly detailed and well-developed, yet still mysterious, characters (half of them being magical cat people), and is set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most famous art museums.

Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected by Nnedi Okorafor (also available in ebook and eaudiobook)

An inspirational mini-memoir by the author of Akata Witch and Binti (check those out, too) about how she was temporarily paralyzed as a young adult. A botched spinal surgery and subsequent painful journey of recovery and self-discovery led to the birth of her creative writing style and development of her amazing sci-fi/fantasy talent. Also of note: she discusses a handful of great artists and writers through history who also grappled with severe hardships and how it challenged them and brought them to new heights. The slim volume offers solid lessons for turning limitations/struggles into strengths/power.

Eight Will Fall by Sarah Harian

SCARY but I couldn’t put it down, this dystopian quest takes a group of young people with “illegal” powers deep down underground in a desperate bid to find a fabled king banished hundreds of years ago for his dangerous and incredible power. Along the way, they encounter many horrific cave beasts and various violent deaths, but also solve the mystery of why they were selected by the queen to make this doomed journey, and the origins of their powers. Above ground, their world is falling apart; can they survive the deep and deadly mission and rescue it in time?

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

This graphic adaptation blew me away, and if you have not read anything by this author (possibly one of the greatest sci-fi writers EVER) then do so immediately. Her many books usually contain themes of harsh survival in dystopian worlds and feature strong, fierce African-American female main characters. Read the print versions or the graphic novels, either way, just read her work!

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (also available in ebook and eaudiobook)

A truly adorable “meet-cute” and more, this realistic fiction novel follows Arthur and Ben as they collide in NYC and fall head over heels into love at first sight…but what happens after that magic moment? Opposites might attract at first, but what happens when real life interferes? And how many times will they lose each other and find each other, including awkward repeat date do-overs?  

Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga  (also available as an ebook)

Jude is a seventh-grade Muslim girl who flees Syria with her mother, leaving behind her father and older brother. They move in with an uncle in Cincinnati and try to begin a new life, and Jude navigates new customs, culture, and language while missing her family and friends. She is smart, hopeful, and brave but also sometimes fearful and confused, a very relatable character. The story is well-written and in verse, also age-appropriate (honest but gentle) when it touches on war, stereotypes, and prejudices – with inclusive perspectives and world views.

Disclaimer: As one of your teen librarians, I’m talking to ages 13-18 and their parents with my recommendations, but as always, everyone is free to read whatever they like.

Sarah C. is the teen instructor at HCLS Savage Branch and she always has time to talk and listen: about books, comics, school or whatever you need to talk about.

The Baking Bug

Cover of cookbook features a plum tart with luscious glossy fruit arranged in a swirl on a pastry shell, with a cherry in the middle.

by Kristen B.

My husband has a saying: When the going get tough, the tough bake. It certainly holds true that I have a tendency to stress bake. The precision of measuring and mixing, followed by having a tasty, tangible end product soothes me … as does eating whatever treat now sits on my kitchen counter (alas for the scale). Although I prefer sweet to savory, the occasional loaf of bread or cheesy rolls happens when I have the need to knead. Although I’m a frequent visitor to King Arthur Baking Company for recipes, their tried and true whole grain recipes are also collected in this book.

I like to try new recipes and often browse the cookbook shelves at the library. It’s how I came upon Great Pies & Tarts by Carole Walter, which has yet to disappoint (confession: I bought it). The blueberry pie always wins rave reviews, even if I trash my kitchen making it. This book also has one of the best step-by-step descriptions of how to make a standard American flaky pie crust, complete with photographs. With all the wonderful fresh fruit in season now (visit a Howard County farmers market), it’s the perfect time to make tasty desserts.

American pie crust you ask? As opposed to all the different kinds of pie crusts I’ve learned about on The Great British Baking Show. This show provides the perfect anecdote to anyone’s stress: it’s kind and funny and filled with every kind of baking, from scratch-made puff pastry to savory hot water game pies. If you’ve not visited The Tent, or if you need a little British humor to get you through the week, HCLS has several seasons available on DVD and via hoopla (also available via Netflix). It’s wonderful fun and perhaps a tad inspirational.

If you are already a fan (as clearly I am), and want to spend a little more time with GBBS, you can get the inside scoop from Mary Berry herself. HCLS has several of her cookbooks, and many are available on Overdrive. If you are interested, Chetna, one of the Season 5 contestants, published The Cardamom Trail with her favorite flavors from her home country of India. I found it tricky to follow from an American point of view, but it’s a gorgeous book to drool over (literally).

I wish you Happy Baking … though not tough times to prod you into the kitchen. Check out a cookbook and discover a new favorite treat, and maybe submit photos of your kitchen victories at createdwhileisolated.org, HCLS’ journal of our community’s wonderful creativity.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

The sepia-toned book cover depicts a young Black woman seated in a wooden chair, wearing a plain sleeveless white cotton dress.

Review by Piyali C.

This has to be one of the most difficult books that I have read in a very long time. Difficult, powerful and absolutely brilliant. I had to take frequent breaks because of the inexplicable cruelty that is described in the book. However, I realized I was thinking about the story and the characters even during those breaks.

Lilith is born as a slave in the Montpelier plantation in Kingston, Jamaica in the eighteenth century. She is born with skin as dark as midnight, yet her eyes are a startling green. She is also born with an indomitable spirit which refuses to be tamed even within bondage. There is a group of women on the plantation, the Night Women, who are plotting a revolution. The head house slave, Homer, who is also the leader of the slave uprising, recognizes something dark within Lilith’s spirit. She raises Lilith with the hope that she will use that darkness towards the cause of the slave rebellion. Their dream is to recreate the villages of Africa that they were forced to abandon after the uprising. Lilith’s life, however, takes a slightly different turn than the rest of the slaves in Montpelier, and her decision to join the revolution is highly influenced by that turn of events. Where does Lilith’s loyalty lie? Will she harness the dark power within her to help free her people?

Marlon James poses a challenge to his readers to live the lives of both his Black and White characters in 18th century Jamaica; he dares them to stomach the inexplicable cruelty that was meted out to the slaves by the White overseers, plantation owners and ‘johnny jumpers,’ and then he invites them to put this all into the current context and analyze how much has really changed in the world that we inhabit. The topic was harsh and this was not a pleasant read, but I am determined not to run away from hard topics that deal with race. This book, through a thoroughly captivating story, sheds a spotlight on the White mentality of objectifying and dehumanizing Black people so they could inflict the cruelest of torture on them, physically and mentally. This is a brutally honest look at the genesis of racism.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James is available from HCLS in print, audiobook on CD, and as an eaudiobook in Libby/Overdrive.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

The book cover is blue, with a dark sky and the full moon over the shoreline in Shetland.  An isolated white building is in the distance and the moonlight stretches over the water from the foreground to the horizon.

Review by Julie F.

Red Bones, the third book in the Shetland series of mysteries by Ann Cleeves, delves into the family of Sandy Wilson, the young policeman who works for main series character Jimmy Perez. Sandy’s family lives on one of the outlying Shetland islands, Whalsay, in a small community where an archaeologist has recently unearthed bones that may or may not be “ancient history.” When tragedy ensues, Detective Inspector Perez investigates how Sandy’s extended family, as well as the students and professor involved with the dig, might be culpable. Not just a family drama, the story also recounts how an isolated community of individuals gossips, lies, and hides secrets, even from those they love the most.

The novel is also an interesting exploration of Sandy’s character. Early in the book, Perez is, “surprised that Sandy had shown so much initiative, wondered if he should congratulate him or if that would just be patronizing. In the office Sandy was always considered a bit of a joke. Perez had shared the low opinion at times” (35). Based on that description and his actions in the first two books in the series, Sandy could easily develop into a stock plodding detective, uninspired and demonstrating little intelligence or motivation. Instead, we see Perez give him challenges and progressively more difficult assignments throughout the case. He struggles with hard questions, matures, and takes on more responsibility, which is a testimony to Ann Cleeves’ ability to keep her characters multi-dimensional.

One of the things I love most about these books is how the characters and their relationships to one another grow throughout the series. Although the book furthers Perez’s personal story, including his budding relationship with artist Fran Hunter and her daughter Cassie, it is equally Sandy’s story, and that of the generations on the island who share a collective past both desperate and painful.

I listened to the audiobook on CloudLibrary as I read along, and narrator Gordon Griffin, an actor and dialogue coach, conveyed Cleeves’ beautiful, remote setting with dramatic (but never overblown) narration in an authentic accent.

I highly recommend the first two Shetland books, Raven Black and White Nights. If you enjoy the work of Ann Cleeves, look for her DI Vera Stanhope series (the first one is The Crow Trap, available as an ebook) as well as her newest series, Two Rivers, set in Devon, England and featuring detective Matthew Venn. The first book, The Long Call, is also available in ebook and eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive. And if you enjoy the novels, both Shetland and Vera are available in DVD format at HCLS in television series produced by the BBC and ITV, respectively.

Ann Cleeves is a 2017 winner of the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honor in British crime writing. She also won the Agatha Award in the Best Contemporary Novel category for The Long Call. Visit her website to learn more about this remarkable author.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she facilitates two book discussion groups – Spies, Lies, and Alibis and Bas Bleu.

Virtual Author Visit with Fredrik Backman

The author, dressed in a dark grey button down shirt, stands with his hands in his jeans pockets. He has short brown hair, and a slight beard.

Frederik Backman discusses his newest book, Anxious People, on Thursday, September 10 at 5 pm. Signed copies of Anxious People are available for online pre-order through the Curious Iguana bookstore. This poignant comedy tells the story of a crime that never took place, a bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Rich with Backman’s, “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature,” according to Shelf Awareness, Anxious People’s whimsical plot serves up unforgettable insights into the human condition and a gentle reminder to be compassionate to all the anxious people we encounter every day. 

Backman is the New York Times bestelling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and Britt-Marie was Here, among other titles. He lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children.

A Man Called Ove is the classic story of a curmudgeon, but with a twist: he didn’t develop this attitude in old age, he’s been “a grumpy old man since he started elementary school.” As we learn more about Ove through glimpses of his past, we realize that the rule-following, the caustic comments, the meticulous planning, all ensue from a beautiful love story and Ove’s resulting losses. With dismayingly unconventional new neighbors, can he find a path forward and live up to the example of his wife, Sonja, a wonderful woman whose thoughtfulness and kind nature would welcome them with open arms? Or will he continue to be his cantankerous, resistant self? Read this delightful story to find out, if you are not already one of the millions who have loved this book full of hilarity and heart.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry describes a touching relationship between 7-year-old Elsa and her 77-year-old Grandmother. The two of them have a secret world, where they escape to tell stories and play make-believe (or so you think). The regular world holds many scary realities for a precocious little girl, including big dogs, bullies, impending new siblings, and cancer. Sometimes grandmothers, even the eccentric ones, know exactly what their grand-daughters need. This story rewards the reader’s patience, as all the seemingly disparate pieces slowly form a highly satisfactory, emotional resolution.

Whether you jump in with the newest book or treat yourself to some of Backman’s older titles, you will be entertained and enlightened. Register now for the online author event!

The event is cosponsored by Maryland Humanities, Frederick County Public Library, Curious Iguana, and the Weinberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Let’s Celebrate! Birthday Books

The book cover shows the title with a tabby kitten, Bernice, beneath. She is wearing a blouse and a peach jumper and has her hands on her hips. A green party hat lies on the floor next to her.

 By Laci R.
 
A favorite class of mine to conduct at the library is called The Unbirthday Party. Everyone has one birthday, but all the other days of the year are reason enough to commemorate your unbirthday! The class is a place for everyone to celebrate by enjoying themed books, songs, and party games/activities. The world might observe birthdays a little differently right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate at all. These two picture books, personal favorites of mine, can even become part of the celebration when given as gifts to be enjoyed for years to come. 
 
Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah Harrison
It’s a dreary day, and the weather suits Bernice’s mood just fine. This cat gets even grumpier as the forest birthday party festivities begin. Waiting for your slice of cake is like wondering whether you’ve hit the lottery. Will you get a corner piece? A frosting rose?… or a plain white square from the middle, like Bernice? When the drinks are distributed, everyone gets ice cold strawberry-melon soda. Too bad all that’s left for Bernice is prune-grapefruit… and it’s warm. Bernice doesn’t even get a turn hitting the pinata before someone else breaks it open and candy flies everywhere. Even then, all that Bernice can find is a gumball that someone stepped on. Bernice decides enough is enough and takes matters into her own hands. When the balloons are brought out, Bernice grabs them all and gets lifted into the sky. She reaches a brooding rain cloud and decides to share some of her vibrant balloon bouquet. Everything immediately starts to look and feel brighter for Bernice and those around her. Giving balloons away one by one to friends who need them along the way, Bernice makes it back down to the ground. With an improved mood and lots of sharing, the party ends in the sunshine with friends. This story is a favorite due to the relatability of getting the undesired cake slice, the expressive faces of all the animal partygoers, the stunning color palette, and the opportunity to talk about feelings and emotions in a natural way.  

The book cover shows a little boy, his animal guests in party hats, his birthday cake, and multicolored balloons and pennants.

The Backwards Birthday Party by Tom Chapin 
At the backwards birthday party, everything is out of whack. A wild pack of guests arrive and say “Good-bye,” with the cake served soon after. Clothes are on inside out, someone is heating up the ice cream, and the donkey is the one pinning the tail today. The longer the party goes, the earlier it gets: with time running backwards, the party ends before it starts. The birthday boy says “Hello,” pushes the guests out the door, and returns to his room once more. The silliness in this book is wholesome and delightful. There’s never a shortage of cheer throughout this unconventional day as friends all come together and have a blast. The story is told in a rhyming melodic tone because the words are lyrics to a song! Sheet music can be found on the inside of the front and back cover.   

Want to have a backwards-themed birthday celebration for the child in your life? Try writing the letters or words on the cake backwards, hang non-helium balloons with ribbon from the ceiling, and invite guests to dress with their clothes inside out.
 
Birthdays (and unbirthdays) are cause for festivity. The great thing about any celebration is that it can look however you like; I just wouldn’t suggest heating up the ice cream! I hope these stories make it into your reading routine, as they’re sure to be favorites enjoyed any day of the year.   

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books. 
 

The Night Circus

The Night Circus: Morgenstern, Erin: On a black background, two illustrated steampunk-era silhouettes in gray are depicted on either side of a black and white circus tent with stars dotting the background
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

By Kimberly J

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern’s debut bestselling novel, follows the story of “Le Cirque des Rêves,” a mysterious circus that opens at nightfall and closes at dawn and within its gates anything seems possible. French for “Circus of Dreams” – the circus mixes the dream world with reality as it hosts a unique and potentially deadly magical competition within its black and white striped canvas walls. The magicians challenge each other by making each new tent more fantastical than the last. 

This 19th century historical fantasy is a well-crafted story of rivals with fully developed characters that draw you into a surreal world of vision and artistry. The author employs first person, second person, and third person perspectives while writing, inviting the reader directly into the narrative.  The book is written with lush descriptions that leave you hungry for more…literally and figuratively, as some of the most tantalizing banquets are described in mouth-watering detail.  The smells, sights, tastes, and sounds are lavish beyond imagination.

I experienced this novel via the audiobook, which is read by Jim Dale. His other audiobook credits include J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  He is a skillful narrator who excels at making distinctive voices for each character.  His portrayal envelops the listener in this circus of dreams. The Night Circus is available in print, audiobook, ebook, or eaudio.  Explore this world of magic, illusion, manipulation, love, and loss by visiting hclibrary.org 

“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus. You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The background is deep blue with geometric drawing, against which a group of women are silhouetted in black.

Review by Kristen B.

I know we all feel like we’re living in a disaster movie or dystopian novel (ok, maybe it’s just me), but sometimes misery loves company. Particularly, when it comes with a good dash of ingenuity and a lot of hope in humanity’s ability to solve big problems.

At the beginning of The Calculating Stars, a meteorite strikes Earth at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay (basically right here), leaving ruin in its wake. Given this extinction-level event, Earth will become unlivable for humans within a century. The book takes place in the 1950s, as the space race has just begun. Now, it takes on a whole new level of importance as colonizing the moon, and maybe even Mars, appears to be our only hope for survival. The book is full of all the fascinating trials and testing required to put men on the moon.

Not just men. Emma York, Ph.D. mathematician and ace pilot (and baker of pies), is our point of view character. She and her fellow female pilots become part of the cutting-edge cadre of astronauts, because, as she argues, it makes no sense to send ONLY men for the future survival of the race…even Noah understood the principle behind two-by-two. For all of her smarts and derring-do, Emma suffers from fairly severe anxiety driven by perfectionism. The novel addresses both the need and the stigma of treating mental/emotional issues. Emma’s anxiety serves to complicate her fraught relationship with the program’s lead astronaut, a devoted chauvinist.

Kowal doesn’t shy away from the other pressing issues of the times – particularly racism. Black pilots face even more discrimination than female ones, and Black women receive the worst treatment (of no real surprise). Each chapter opens with a news clipping, many of which show the bigger societal picture, and it’s not entirely pretty. The debate rages about who goes to the lunar colony, including mention of fringe factions with all their many conspiracy theories.

As I noted above, there’s also hope and ingenuity and that feeling of “Yes, We Can.” For every setback, there’s a jump forward. For every human foible, there’s a shining example of people at their absolute best. We tackle the hard problems … because we must! I loved this book for its honesty and its hopefulness, and mostly for how Kowal wove them together. If you loved Hidden Figures, you will probably enjoy this.

The story continues with the mission to Mars in The Fated Sky, and a brand-new book, The Relentless Moon, takes a closer look at the trials facing the new colony. The Calculating Stars is also available as an ebook from Overdrive/Libby.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

The picture shows author Mira Jacob wearing a denim shirt against a purple background, next to a copy of the book, which shows the title and author in block letters of turquoise and orange with graphics of people contained in each letter.

Review by Claudia J.

I glanced over at my pile of “to be read” books and picked up Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob. I checked the book out long before the coronavirus pandemic kept us in and images of systemic racism made their way out. In a time when I was feeling particularly hopeless, with all of the events toppling onto each other, Good Talk provided a much needed respite from the day-to-day.

Told from the perspective of Jacob herself in discussion with her young son, she answers the many questions he has about race, his culture, and his family. In doing so, she bares the nation’s truth: that we as Americans are imperfect and have a lot of work to do. 

Thank you, Mira. Thank you for your beautiful, vulnerable, and at times uncomfortable account of your life as an imperfect American, as an Indian woman, but also as a human existing in our incredibly fallible nation. How were you able to make me feel so many emotions at simultaneous levels? How did you speak so honestly about colorism and pages later talk about the complicated relationship between Black and Brown people? How did you encompass the pain of watching a sibling, whom of course you’re happy for, find true love, but also just a short section away, haunt me with your memories of a paper city?

The illustrative design, the words, the soft voice I heard as I read, said, “It’s okay, I know this struggle too.” Reading this felt like the meditation we all need right now. Good Talk is not only one of my favorite graphic novels of all time, but it is one of the books that should be required reading. Mira, thank you again.

Available in print at HCLS as well as in ebook and eaudio through OverDrive/Libby.

Claudia J. has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.