Five Book Friday!

Holy cow, it’s cold!  You know what that means, beloved patrons–it’s getting to feel a lot like Blanket Fort Season!  So get ready, start stock-piling pillows and snacks, and get that list of books that you’ve been putting off during the chaos of the year, and get ready to snuggle in.

If you’re casting about for just such a book for your blanket fort, while not check out some of these books that have braved the cold and made it on to our shelves this week.  It’s nice and warm here in the Library, and we’re more than happy to help you find your perfect Blanket Fort read!

Nightblind: If you want a perfect wintertime read, then Ragnar Jonasson’s series (translated by Quentin Bates), featuring Icelandic police officer Ari Thor, is a perfect choice.  In this second book in the series, Ari Thor is continuing to make a home in Siglufjörður, an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.  He hasn’t had an easy time of it, and as a result, his relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him. The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman – shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will. Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all.   These books are delightful,  oddly funny, insightful, slow-burns that so beautifully capture a sense of place that you will be immediately transported to the stunning, alien, homey little village.  It’s also an ingeniously structured mystery, which earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who noted in their review, “Jonasson plants clues fairly before a devastatingly unexpected reveal, without sublimating characterization to plot.”

The Sun and Her FlowersRapi Kaur’s first book of poems held a position on the New York Times’ bestseller list, a wonderful statement about the fierce power of her work.  This second book is vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing, honoring one’s roots, and rising up to find a home within yourself.
Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur, this is poetry unlike anything you’ve grown accustomed to reading, and has made poetry lovers out of the most confirmed prose devotees.  The Economist agrees, cheering “Rupi Kaur reinvents poetry … (she) is undeniably equipped with the poet’s ability to articulate emotions that readers struggle to make sense of.”

It Devours Any fans of This is Nightvale–the book or the podcast–are going to love the new addition to this remarkable world.  Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working for Carlos, the town’s top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all of that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world views as they are faced with the Congregation’s darkest and most terrible secret.  The NIght Vale world is nothing if not weird, but that weirdness allows authors Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor to play some really big questions and ideas, and to explore not only their world, but the bigger issues at play with fun-loving freedom.  Booklist loved this book, saying in its review, “With a gripping mystery, a very smartly built world (a place similar to our own world but at the same time distinctly other), and a cast of offbeat characters, the novel is a welcome addition to any library’s SF shelf.”

Enchantress of Numbers: a Novel of Ada Lovelace: A lot of people know about Ada Lovelace, but few people know the person behind the myth, and sometimes, fiction is the best way to explore historic characters fully.  In this novel, author Jennifer Chiaverini is the kind of stilled, insightful author who can present Ada to us in all her complexities.  The only daughter of Lord Byron, Ada’s mathematician mother is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada’s mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination–or worse yet, passion or poetry–is promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes. When Ada is introduced into London society as a highly eligible young heiress, she at last discovers the intellectual and social circles she has craved all her life. Little does she realize that her delightful new friendship with inventor Charles Babbage–brilliant, charming, and occasionally curmudgeonly–will shape her destiny. Intrigued by the prototype of his first calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and enthralled by the plans for his even more advanced Analytical Engine, Ada resolves to help Babbage realize his extraordinary vision, unique in her understanding of how his invention could transform the world. All the while, she passionately studies mathematics–ignoring skeptics who consider it an unusual, even unhealthy pursuit for a woman–falls in love, discovers the shocking secrets behind her parents’ estrangement, and comes to terms with the unquenchable fire of her imagination.  This book is getting named as a ‘best of’ from a number of sources, and the USA Today waxed eloquently about it, saying, “Cherished Reader, Should you come upon Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini…consider yourself quite fortunate indeed…Chiaverini makes a convincing case that Ada Byron King is a woman worth celebrating.”

Peabody: 100 Years of a City in the Making: It’s finally here!  The commemorative volume of Peabody’s centennial and first hundred years is available here for you to check out.  Take a look at the city as you know it…and see what now-familiar areas once looked like in this beautiful illustrated volume!


Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

Planning for Next Year…

Here at the Library, we’re already writing “2018”, as well plan our upcoming programs, classes, and workshops, and please believe me when I tell you it’s really super-duper confusing.  We shall persevere, however, because we have a terrific line-up of events at the Main Library, as well as the Branches, to help you start 2018 in the best way possible.  In fact, just check out a few of the programs on offer from our Events Calendar–are you looking to learn a new skill for the New Year?  Eager to learn how to use the new devices you got for a gift or on sale?  Looking to be carried away by a performance?  Look no further than your Library.

And, as always, if there is a program you would like to see, a class you would like to attend, or a new skill you’d like to learn, please let us know.  We are super excited about the programs we’re offering, but we’re even more excited to learn how we can best serve you, our beloved patrons!

Upcoming Events for January 2018:

At the Main Library:

Creating a Resume
Friday, January 12 & 19, 2018

In this 2-week workshop, we will talk about the basics of constructing a resume, common resume types and their differences, and how to get started with a document in Microsoft Word 2013. In week two of this workshop, we will continue working on creating Word resumes and provide formatting and content feedback, as well as additional helpful resources.  If you encouraged to bring your own laptop to this event.  The library has just (5) laptops available for use during class. Sign up soon, as space is limited!

At the Main Library:

Close Encounters With Music
Monday, January 22, 2018

Chamber ensemble Music at Eden’s Edge opens this four-part lecture/performance series, Close Encounters with Music, with ‘The View is Longer than the Sum of the Parts.’ Violinist Daniel Stepner joins Maria Benotti, violin and viola, and Lynn Nowels, cello, to offer an eclectic mix of string trios by the Mozarts (father and son), John Harbison, Beethoven and Zoltán Kodály. Sometimes a trio is much more than just three -in-one. Ramble with us and enjoy the view. The Close Encounters with Musicseries aims to deepen the music listening experience for audience members, from new listeners to committed music lovers, by offering context for and exploration of the music performed live.
Close Encounters with Music is generously supported by the Peabody Institute Library Foundation.

At the Creativity Lab:

3D Printer Training
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A 3D printer is a device that can make nearly any plastic object imaginable using only a digital model. This course will teach you how to use the Creativity Lab’s 3D printers to print models downloaded from the Internet. You will have the opportunity to print a model of your choosing during the course.  If you are interested in learning how to design your own models to be printed, also check out Basic Design for 3D Printing, which is held on the following week.  For ages 9-adult. Space is limited; please sign up. This course counts as training for use of the 3D printer during Open Lab (for ages 13+; ages 9+ allowed with adult supervision) and Teen Makers (for ages 11-18).

At the West Branch:

Jordan Marsh: New England’s Largest Store, a lecture with author Anthony Sammarco
Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Massachusetts-based author Anthony Sammarco will be giving a lecture on his latest book, Jordan Marsh: New England’s Largest Store. Come learn more about this fascinating piece of local history!   Mr. Sammarco will have books for sale (he can accept cash or check). Purchasing a book is not required to attend the lecture.  Please be sure to register in advance to reserve your space at this lecture!

This program is generously sponsored by The Friends of the Peabody Institute Library. 


Our Staff’s Best of 2017, Part 2!

Here at the Peabody Institute Library, we are truly fortunate to have a staff with wonderfully diverse tastes in books, graphic novels, films, audiobooks, and more.  And so we are always on-hand to help you find whatever you are looking for when you come into the Library.

It also means that when we at the Free For All ask our staff for their favorite books/films/audiobooks from the past year, the results are fascinating, beautifully varied, and totally engaging.  So it is our pleasure today to begin our survey of our staff picks for the “Best of 2017”.

The rules are simple: the media in question doesn’t have to have been created during this year, they just have to be enjoyed this year.  As a result, you’ll see books from the nineteenth century and films made released in the past few months, and audiobook adaptations of classic novels, as well as recordings of new thrillers.  We hope you enjoy these suggestions, and that you find some books to help usher in the New Year!

Best of 2017

From the Upstairs Offices:

Flawless : Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History: On February 15, 2003, a group of thieves broke into an allegedly airtight vault in the international diamond capital of Antwerp, Belgium and made off with over $108 million dollars worth of diamonds and other valuables. They did so without tripping an alarm or injuring a single guard in the process.  Although the crime was perfect, the getaway was not. The police zeroed in on a band of professional thieves fronted by Leonardo Notarbartolo, a dapper Italian who had rented an office in the Diamond Center and clandestinely cased its vault for over two years.  The “who” of the crime had been answered, but the “how” remained largely a mystery…Enter Scott Andrew Selby, a Harvard Law grad and diamond expert, and Greg Campbell, author of Blood Diamonds, who undertook a global goose chase to uncover the true story behind the daring heist. Tracking the threads of the story throughout Europe—from Belgium to Italy, in seedy cafés and sleek diamond offices—the authors sorted through an array of conflicting details, divergent opinions and incongruous theories to put together the puzzle of what actually happened that Valentine’s Day weekend, in a story that earned a starred review from our staff, and from Booklist, who called it “an exciting and suspenseful story, and it reads like the best caper fiction, with lively characters and some surprising twists.”

A Court of Mist and Fury:  In the second book of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy, we find Feyre returning to the Spring Court–but the cost of her journey is a steep one.  Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save her fiance. Tamlin, the High Lord of the Spring Court.   Though grateful for her sacrifices Tamlin is all too happy to lock Feyre up in his castle and protect her from the many dangers of his world, making Feyre’s depression that much more difficult to handle.   She is rescued by Rhysand, the feared High Lord of the Night Court, who draws her into a dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power that is both fascinating and terrifying.  As dark political tensions brew, Feyre realizes that she has to power to shape the world for the better–but only if she can learn to harness her powers before it is too late.  This is a phenomenal series, with some dazzling world-building, and any fan of fantasy would do well to start this trilogy from the beginning, and learn just why USA Today called this series “A thrilling game changer that’s fiercely romantic, irresistibly sexy and hypnotically magical.”

From the Reference Desk:

A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel For Humans:  A tail-wagging three hanky boo-hooer, this delightful fiction debut from Bruce Cameron proposes that a dog’s purpose might entail being reborn several times, and examines the life (lives) of one doggie as it journeys from family to family, story to story.  A book for anyone who admire canine courage, this is a heartwarming, insightful, and often laugh-out-loud funny book that offers a dog’s-eye commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bonds between man and man’s best friend. This moving and beautifully crafted story teaches us that love never dies, that our true friends are always with us, and that every creature on earth is born with a purpose.  Temple Grandin, a world-respected animal scientist praised this book, saying “I loved the book and I could not put it down. It really made me think about the purpose of life.”  Bailey’s story continues in A Dog’s Journey, which is also a staff pick for this year!

 Slow HorsesSlough House is where the washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. The “slow horses,” as they’re called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated here. Maybe they messed up an op badly and can’t be trusted anymore…Maybe they got in the way of an ambitious colleague and had the rug yanked out from under them…One thing they all have in common, though, is that most of them would do anything to get back in the game─even if it means having to collaborate with one another.  River Cartwright, one such “slow horse,” is bitter about his failure and about his tedious assignment transcribing cell phone conversations. When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. But is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone has his own agenda.  This is a funny, emotionally gripping, and absolutely sensational novel that proves that the spy genre didn’t die out in the Cold War.  Also, River Cartwright is one of my favorite characters of the year, and I cannot wait to follow him through the rest of the Slough House adventures!

Introducing: The Teen Room!

This week we are delighted to introduce a new voice to the Free-For-All–the marvelous members of our Teen Room–the same incredible people who brought you last year’s PILCon, and who are always on hand for the most up-to-date book recommendations around!  It’s a genuine pleasure to have this list of recommendations from the Teen Room, and we look forward to all the terrific announcements, book titles, and shenanigans that they will be bringing to the Free For All in the future! 

Here are some of the Teen Room’s Top Picks for this month:


Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

We’re pretty positive that you’ve heard about Youtube famous author John Green’s new book Turtles All They Way Down, but hey, if you’ve been living under a rock playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for weeks then here’s the scoop on the hottest new YA book on the press right now. Turtles All They Way Down combines heartfelt companionships with an amazing cast of characters as John Green continues his niche talent for writing emotion filled teen drama. The avid melodrama of Aza’s mental health battle leaves the reader rooting for her success and still wondering “what comes next?”. Plus, a murder mystery best friends super sleuth duo? Sign me up! This story focuses on first loves, best friends, and the harsh reality of dealing with mental health issues. One thing I will warn to readers is that the description of Aza’s symptoms can be triggering to some readers who also experience anxiety disorders or who have any mental health issues. The description of Aza’s compulsions to pick at her scab was enough to cause my skin picking compulsion to act up as well. Honestly, I chalk that up to Green’s incredible talent to bring such a visceral sensation to life through words. I’ll finish up by saying this book comes highly recommended and with my favorite quote from the story… “I, a singular noun, would go on, if always in a conditional tense.”


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

If you have been looking for a Europe vacation, LGBT, pirates, and hijinks filled novel, then let me say have I got the perfect one for you. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is Lee’s third novel and is already making its home into bookshelves and libraries. Nominated for Goodread’s YA Fiction Book of the Year The Gentleman’s Guide boasts a rich world full of life, characters that you’ll fall in love with, and more adventures than you can ever imagine. The journey is told through main character Henry “Monty” Montague, a debaucherous bisexual teenage boy, who has landed himself with a less than excited sister and a less than exciting chaperone on his and his best friends’ holiday across Europe. With his best friend (and longtime crush) Percy alongside him, the pair seek to have adventure despite the minor setbacks of unwanted company, but when Monty ends up putting his nose where it doesn’t belong their journey takes a turn for the unexpected. Lee’s characterization of Monty kills the male protagonist macho-ism trope quicker than The Cure can sing “Boy’s Don’t Cry”. His character has a full rounded feeling as we see different facets of his personality throughout the entire story. This can be said for all of the characters such as Felicity, Monty’s “kick-ass and take names” sister who shows incredible intelligence in extreme situations and devotion to her brothers wellbeing (though she may not admit it). This novel tackles issues such as race-inequality, disabilities, and homophobia in a realistic and heartfelt way that leaves a lasting impression after the book is closed. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to pretty much anyone who wants a much deserved contender for Book of the Year. … “I don’t think it’s a good idea to go courting trouble, is all.” “We’re not courting trouble,” I say. “Flirting with it, at most.”


Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani

Since 2012, the organization Girls Who Code has been leading the charge to get girls interested in technology and coding. Now its founder, Reshma Saujani, wants to inspire you to be a girl who codes! This book is bursting with beautiful artwork, basic breakdowns of coding principles and stories from young girls and women in the career of coding! If you are a coding fanatic or someone who’s just getting started this book will hit all the points of learning and application that you will need. If coding is something you would like to explore further, you may also be interested in the Teen Makers class in our very own Creativity Lab located in the Lower Level of the Main Library Branch. Click on the link for more info!


Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Listen. I’m obsessed. I’ve always been a sucker for Nintendo’s cutesie side, whether it be Animal Crossing, Miitomo, or that tiny Toon Link in Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. No matter what, they get me everytime…hook, line, and sinker. AC: Pocket Camp is a great game to keep on your smartphone or tablet and itches the scratch of completionists and game grinders. The app has a faithful feel to the original GameCube game as well as adding new features that integrate well with touch screen capabilities. You can definitely find yourself spending hours running requests for campers, fishing, crafting, and just enjoying the overall scenery. I haven’t found the need to purchase any leaf tickets yet, because the game offers log-in bonuses as well as rewards for completing daily goals that keep your inventory fairly stocked and money at a reasonable level. Right now the server needs improvement with the surge of players signing up, the crafting can be somewhat tedious and time consuming, and I wish I had more room to build new amenities but otherwise the game is enjoyable and great if you want to leave behind the real world for a few hours for some cute virtual glamping. This game requires a constant internet connection and I would definitely recommend sticking to WiFi because this app is a data eater. Have fun happy campers!



Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

The Death & Life of Zebulon Finch by Daniel Kraus

Snotgirl by Bryan Lee O’Mally and Leslie Hung

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday to Anna Margaret Ross,  who is alleged by some to be the worst poet in the world.


McKittrick was born on this day in 1860, in Drumaness, County Down,  Ireland, where her father was the principal of Drumaness High School.  She herself became a teacher, securing a position at a school in Larne, County Antrim.  During her first visit to Larne, she struck up a friendship with the station master, and they married in August, 1887.

It was Anna’s husband who financed the publication of her first novel,  Irene Iddesleigh, as a tenth anniversary present, launching her notorious, if not quite illustrious literary career.  She went on to write three novels and dozens of poems under the pen name Amanda McKittrick Ros.  In a biographical essay, McKittrick wrote She wrote: “My chief object of writing is and always has been, to write if possible in a strain all my own. This I find is why my writings are so much sought after.”  She also predicted that she would “be talked about at the end of a thousand years.”…Well, she was, but perhaps not in the way she might have wished.  Mark Twain read her novel, and called it “one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time.”  An 1898 review called it “the book of the century”. ..again, not in a complementary way.  But she very well may have had the last laugh–according to McKittrick, she earned enough money from her writing to build herself a house, which she named Iddesleigh.  

Ros believed that her critics lacked sufficient intellect to appreciate her talent, so we’ll let you read them for yourself and judge.  This is the opening sentence of her novel Delina Delaney:

Have you ever visited that portion of Erin’s plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?

If you’d like some more, McKittrick’s last novel, Helen Huddleson, features characters who are all all the named after fruits, including Lord Raspberry, Cherry Raspberry, Sir Peter Plum, Christopher Currant, the Earl of Grape, and Madame Pear. Of Pear, Ros wrote:

…she had a swell staff of sweet-faced helpers swathed in stratagem, whose members and garments glowed with the lust of the loose, sparkled with the tears of the tortured, shone with the sunlight of bribery, dangled with the diamonds of distrust, slashed with sapphires of scandals….

And finally, here is her poem about Westminster Abbey.  C.S. Lewis and his writing group, the Inkblots, used to have a competition to see who could get through McKittrick’s poetry without laughing.  See how you fare:

On Visiting Westminster Abbey

Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with ‘blue’
Undergoes the same as you.

Famous some were–yet they died;
Poets–Statesmen–Rogues beside,
Kings–Queens, all of them do rot,
What about them? Now–they’re not!

And now, on to our books, which are, we think it’s safe to say, of an entirely different class than Mrs. McKittrick’s…

No Time To SpareUrsula K. Le Guin has taken readers to imaginary worlds for decades, creating and re-creating the science fiction genre. Now she’s in the last great frontier of life, old age, and exploring new literary territory: the blog, a forum where her voice—sharp, witty, as compassionate as it is critical—shines. No Time to Spare collects the best of Ursula’s online writing, presenting perfectly crystallized dispatches on what matters to her now, her concerns with this world, and her unceasing wonder at it: “How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.”  This is a book that any reader, from sci-fi fans to literature devotees, will be able to adore.  Le Guin’s commentaries on life, feminism, race, and the world at large are precious and insightful and wonderfully accessible, even though they contain huge, big, beautiful ideas.  Critics are over the moon about this collection, with The New Republic noting that this book “feels like the surprising and satisfying culmination to a career in other literary forms…Even in the familiar relationship of an old woman and her cat, Le Guin finds an ambit for challenging moral insight and matter for an inquisitiveness that probes the deep time of evolution…Blogs may not be novels, but a blog by Le Guin is no ordinary blog, either. It is a comfort to know, as reality seems to grow more claustrophobic and inescapable, that she remains at her desk, busily subverting our world.”

Where the Wild Coffee GrowsCoffee is one of the largest and most valuable commodities in the world. This is the story of its origins, its history, and the threat to its future, as told by Jeff Koehler, who wrote the fascinating history of Darjeeling tea.  Deftly blending in the long, fascinating history of our favorite drink, award-winning author Jeff Koehler takes readers from the forests of Ethiopia on  the spectacular journey of its spread around the globe. With cafés on virtually every corner of every town in the world, coffee has never been so popular–nor tasted so good.  But diseases and climate change are battering production in Latin America, where 85 percent of Arabica grows. As the industry tries to safeguard the species’ future, breeders are returning to the original coffee forests, which are under threat and swiftly shrinking.  This book, at once a fascinating history and an environmental warning, will captivate foodies, armchair travelers, and science-minded readers alike.  In fact, the Smithsonian rated it as one of the ten best books about food in 2017, calling the book “A deep dive into the fascinating history of coffee that meanders from the once-isolated, deep forests of Ethiopia’s Kafa region to the warm embrace of your local bodega. Coffee’s path to world domination is anything but straightforward and this story might be unwieldy in the hands of a lesser talent, but Koehler is more than up to the task. A must-read for coffee enthusiasts.”

Bryant and May: Wild ChamberFans of Christopher Fowler’s delightful Peculiar Crimes Unit Mysteries–wait no longer!  Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are back on the case in a wonderfully quirky locked-room mystery.  Helen Forester’s day starts like any other: Around seven in the morning, she takes her West Highland terrier for a walk in her street’s private garden. But by 7:20 she is dead, strangled yet peacefully laid out on the path, her dog nowhere to be found. The only other person in the locked space is the gardener, who finds the body and calls the police. He expects proper cops to arrive, but what he gets are Bryant, May, and the wily members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.  Before the detectives can make any headway on the case, a second woman is discovered in a public park, murdered in nearly identical fashion. Bryant delves into the arcane history of London’s cherished green spaces, rife with class drama, violence, and illicit passions. But as a devious killer continues to strike, Bryant and May struggle to connect the clues, not quite seeing the forest for the trees, putting innocent lives, the fate of the city’s parks, and the very existence of the PCU in peril.  This series is a treat from start to finish, and if you haven’t started it yet, it’s definitely a recommendation, from us and from The Guardian, who gushed “[Fowler] takes delight in stuffing his books with esoteric facts; together with a cast of splendidly eccentric characters [and] corkscrew plots, wit, verve and some apposite social commentary, they make for unbeatable fun.”

Hiddensee: Gregory Maguire gives us another alternative version of the classic tales we’re grown up hearing–this time, the tale of the man who would become Dr. Drosselmeier, who crafts the Nutcracker in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story (that became Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet).  This is a story rooted in, and told like a Bavarian fairy tale, mixing stories about elfin folk and forest creatures with deep questions about death and life, disadvantage and power, and the hope that remains even when everything else seems destroyed.  It’s a wonder-full, intriguing tale, unlike others that Maguire has told, but still full of his trademark whimsy and insight, and earned a starred review from Kirkus, who described it as “A delightful, mystical, mythical confection by zeitgeist whisperer Maguire… A splendid revisitation of folklore that takes us to and from familiar cultural touchstones into realms to make Freud blanch. Wonderful.”

The Girl in the Tower: Katherine Arden continues her tale, rooted firmly in Russian folklore, but featuring a marvelous unique heroine, who grew up hearing the tales of her people and family.  Vasilisa’s gift for seeing what others do not won her the attention of Morozko—Frost, the winter demon from the stories—and together they saved her people from destruction. But Frost’s aid comes at a cost, and her people have condemned her as a witch.  Now Vasilisa faces an impossible choice. Driven from her home by frightened villagers, the only options left for her are marriage or the convent. She cannot bring herself to accept either fate and instead chooses adventure, dressing herself as a boy and setting off astride her magnificent stallion Solovey.  But when the Grand Prince of Moscow anoints her a hero for her exploits, Vasilisa realizes she cannot reveal to the court that she is a girl, for if her deception were discovered it would have terrible consequences for herself and her family.  This is a glorious fantasy/fairy tale, full of heart, hope, emotion, daring, action, and adventure that is winning rave reviews from readers and critics alike.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, cheering it as a “sensual, beautifully written, and emotionally stirring fantasy . . . Fairy tales don’t get better than this.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

The Beverly Library’s Best Books of 2017!

We are enormously lucky to be part of NOBLE (North of Boston Library Exchange).  As many of you know, the NOBLE network allows you, our beloved patrons, to borrow books from the other libraries around us–including academic libraries at North Shore Community College and Salem State University–and utilize the programs and resources at our fellow NOBLE libraries.  It’s a fantastic system that we all value enormously.

So this year, we thought it might be fun to invite the other NOBLE libraries and staff members to join us in our end-of-the-year celebrations!  This week, we bring you Beverly Library’s list of the Best Books of 2017.

The Beverly Library, via

The Beverly Library (located at 32 Essex Street in Beverly) was established in 1855, three years after the Massachusetts Legislature became the first in the nation to authorize cities and towns to expend tax funds to support free public libraries.  The institution was originally known as the Social Library, a private subscription library which traced its founding to a collection of books seized by Beverly privateers from a British merchantman during the Revolutionary War (I think that might be one of the coolest starts a library has ever had).  Elizabeth P. Sohier, a trustee of the Beverly Public Library, led the fight to establish the first state library agency in the country, and served as the State Library Commission’s first secretary.  The Essex Street site was opened in 1913, and was  designed by architect Cass Gilbert, who was also the architect of the Minnesota State Capitol, the Woolworth Building in New York City and the United States Supreme Court.  The building was subsequently enlarged in 1993.

In addition to its stunning Essex Street location, the Beverly Library also has a branch in Beverly Farms (located at 24 Vine Street, Beverly) and a Bookmobile!  On average, the Beverly Library loans over 280,000 items annually to almost 27,000 regular borrowers. The Main Library collection consists of over 125,000 books and the Beverly Farms Branch of 22,000 books.  They also have regular programs, displays, and book clubs–you can learn more about them by checking out their Events Calendar.

And, just as we in Peabody have Breaking Grounds, the Beverly Library is right near the Atomic Cafe, as well as number of small restaurants, cafes, and shops–so why not pay them a call and tell them we say Hello?  You can also check out their selections for the best books of 2017.  The full list can be found on their website here, and a few selections can be found below!

Beverly Library’s Best Books of 2017:

Startup : a novel: Mack McAllister has a $600 million dollar idea. His mindfulness app, TakeOff, is already the hottest thing in tech and he’s about to launch a new and improved version that promises to bring investors running.   Katya Pasternack is hungry for a scoop that will drive traffic. An ambitious young journalist at a gossipy tech blog, Katya knows that she needs more than another PR friendly puff piece to make her the go-to byline for industry news.  Sabrina Choe Blum just wants to stay afloat. The exhausted mother of two and failed creative writer is trying to escape from her credit card debt and an inattentive husband–who also happens to be Katya’s boss–as she rejoins a work force that has gotten younger, hipper, and much more computer literate since she’s been away.   Before the ink on Mack’s latest round of funding is dry, an errant text message hints that he may be working a bit too closely for comfort with a young social media manager in his office. When Mack’s bad behavior collides with Katya’s search for a salacious post, Sabrina gets caught in the middle as TakeOff goes viral for all the wrong reasons. As the fallout from Mack’s scandal engulfs the lower Manhattan office building where all three work, it’s up to Katya and Sabrina to write the story the men in their lives would prefer remain untold.  Doree Shafrir’s debut has been hailed as one of the most anticipated books of the year, and which called “a dramedy-of-errors, a Shakespearean yarn of secrets, sex, miscommunication, misogyny, and money…Crack this one open on the beach and you just might find yourself a little more enlightened when you return to the workplace.”

Boundless This is one of those books that proves just how far comics have come, and the real power that they have to convey stories, and move readers with images as well as text.  This collection of short stories from Jillian Tamaki features stories about the virtual realities and real-world stories of a number of ‘normal’, and beautifully unique women: Jenny becomes obsessed with a strange “mirror Facebook,” which presents an alternate, possibly better, version of herself. Helen finds her clothes growing baggy, her shoes looser, and as she shrinks away to nothingness, the world around her recedes as well. The animals of the city briefly open their minds to us, and we see the world as they do. A mysterious music file surfaces on the internet and forms the basis of a utopian society–or is it a cult? In addition to earning top praise from the staff at the Beverly Library, Boundless also earned a starred review from Booklist, who called it “A profoundly honest, bittersweet picture of human nature, made all the more haunting by her enchanting artwork.”

Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World: Historians are some of the best people to help us avoid the mistakes in our past, and in this fascinating work, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman addresses how we can avoid the endless rounds of depressing jobs and needless purchasing in order to live a better life.  Bregman offered two TED talks in the past three years on the concept of universal basic income, an idea which seemed utterly far-fetched originally, but is being seriously considered by leading economists and government leaders the world over.  Using this idea, and building on some engrossing and enlightening global examples, Bregman argues that every progressive milestone of civilization–from the end of slavery to the beginning of democracy–was once considered a utopian fantasy.  Bregman’s book, both challenging and bracing, demonstrates that new utopian ideas, like the elimination of poverty and the creation of the fifteen-hour workweek, can become a reality in our lifetime. Being unrealistic and unreasonable can in fact make the impossible inevitable, and it is the only way to build the ideal world.  This is a challenging, thought-provoking work that won praise from economists, academics, and reviewers alike (no mean feat, that!), with The Guardian noting that Bregman’s book “is not a dry, statistical analysis-although he doesn’t shy from solid data-but a book written with verve, wit, and imagination. The effect is charmingly persuasive, even when you can’t quite believe what you’re reading . . . Listen out for Rutger Bregman. He has a big future shaping the future.”


Check out this link for the rest of the Beverly Library’s picks for the Best Books of 2017–or pay them a visit today!

Our Staff’s Best of 2017!

Here at the Peabody Institute Library, we are truly fortunate to have a staff with wonderfully diverse tastes in books, graphic novels, films, audiobooks, and more.  And so we are always on-hand to help you find whatever you are looking for when you come into the Library.

It also means that when we at the Free For All ask our staff for their favorite books/films/audiobooks from the past year, the results are fascinating, beautifully varied, and totally engaging.  So it is our pleasure today to begin our survey of our staff picks for the “Best of 2017”.

The rules are simple: the media in question doesn’t have to have been created during this year, they just have to be enjoyed this year.  As a result, you’ll see books from the nineteenth century and films made released in the past few months, and audiobook adaptations of classic novels, as well as recordings of new thrillers.  We hope you enjoy these suggestions, and that you find some books to help usher in the New Year!

Best of 2017

From the West Branch:

Miller’s CrossingIn a small town on the verge of big change, a young woman unearths deep secrets about her family and unexpected truths about herself in this emotionally powerful story about a family you will never forget.  For generations the Millers have lived in Miller’s Valley.  As Mimi Miller eavesdrops on her parents and quietly observes the people around her, she discovers more and more about the toxicity of family secrets, the dangers of gossip, the flaws of marriage, the inequalities of friendship and the risks of passion, loyalty, and love. Home, as Mimi begins to realize, can be “a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel content.”  Miller’s Valley is a masterly study of family, memory, loss, and, ultimately, discovery, of finding true identity and a new vision of home that The New York Times Book Review called “Overwhelmingly moving . . . In this novel, where so much is about what vanishes, there is also a deep beating heart, of what also stays.”

From the Main Library, Circulation Desk:

House of Mirth: Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Edith Wharton used her inside knowledge of upper class New York life in the early part of the 20th century as the basis for her 1905 novel, the blackly-comic tragedy of Lily Bart.  who seeks to secure a husband and a place in the society life of New York’s upper class. Lily, who was raised to strive for a socially and economically prosperous marital union, finds herself at the edge of thirty, her youthful beauty fading and her matrimonial prospects dwindling. The novel follows Lily’s descent down the social ladder over a period of two years as she circles the margins of New York’s upper class drawing closer to what seems an inevitable loneliness. Central to the theme of the novel is how the Victorian era offered women relatively few other alternatives to achieve upward social and economic mobility than through marriage. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth,” warns Ecclesiastes 7:4, and so does the novel by Edith Wharton that takes its title from this call to heed.

Sum: Tales from the Afterlifes:  At once funny, wistful and unsettling, Sum is a dazzling exploration of unexpected afterlives—each presented as a vignette that offers a stunning lens through which to see ourselves in the here and now.  In one afterlife, you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. In another version, you work as a background character in other people’s dreams. Or you may find that God is a married couple, or that the universe is running backward, or that you are forced to live out your afterlife with annoying versions of who you could have been.  With a probing imagination and deep understanding of the human condition, acclaimed neuroscientist David Eagleman offers wonderfully imagined tales that shine a brilliant light on the here and now.  Even better, the narrators of this audiobook (including Stephen Fry,  Gillian Anderson, and Emily Blunt) are stellar at conveying the humor, insight, and emotion of Eagleman’s work.  You can also check out the book via this link.

From the Main Library, Reference Desk:

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich: The Nazi regime preached an ideology of physical, mental, and moral purity. But as Norman Ohler reveals in this gripping new history, the Third Reich was saturated with drugs. On the eve of World War II, Germany was a pharmaceutical powerhouse, and companies such as Merck and Bayer cooked up cocaine, opiates, and, most of all, methamphetamines, to be consumed by everyone from factory workers to housewives to millions of German soldiers. In fact, troops regularly took rations of a form of crystal meth—the elevated energy and feelings of invincibility associated with the high even help to explain certain German military victories.  Drugs seeped all the way up to the Nazi high command and, especially, to Hitler himself. Over the course of the war, Hitler became increasingly dependent on injections of a cocktail of drugs—including a form of heroin—administered by his personal doctor. While drugs alone cannot explain the Nazis’ toxic racial theories or the events of World War II, Ohler’s investigation makes an overwhelming case that, if drugs are not taken into account, our understanding of the Third Reich is fundamentally incomplete.  In addition to being a terrific learning experience, this book is a pleasure to read, which isn’t an easy thing to say about all academic historical works!

We’ll see you next week, beloved patrons, with some more recommendations from our Best of 2017 Picks!


"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass