Happy All Hallows Read!

We wish you the very best for this years official All Hallows Read, beloved patrons and readers!  May you sample all the candy you desire, may you be filled with treats and free of tricks.  And, for those who would like a little spooky reading for your All Hallows Read, we are happy to present you with a classic and shiver-inducing story: “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs.

Portrait of W.W. Jacobs by Elliot & Fry, via Wikipedia


Jacobs was born in Wapping, London in 1863, the son of a wharf manager.  He was well-educated, and eventually began work as a clerk in a post office savings bank.  The work afforded him both a living and time to write, and by 1885, he had his first short story published.  He married Agnes Eleanor Williams, a noted suffrage activist, in 1900.  Though Jacobs is remembered as a writer of horror stories (“The Monkey’s Paw” being the story for which he is most well-remembered), his career was mostly as a writer of humorous stories, predominately about mariners and sea-faring.  He was successful enough that he retired from the post office in 1899.

There are aspects of this story that are certainly dated, not the least of which is the “magical thing that comes from a faraway part of the Empire to destroy British people” trope.  It’s a theme that pops up everywhere in Sherlock Holmes stories, it was the basis for Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, it’s the main premise of Dracula…safe to say, it’s a well-worn theme that helped create the idea of the “other”–a figure that was frightening and dangerous and needed to be controlled.  And we should recognize that.  On the other hand, this story is still read, and still shared, because it is wonderfully constructed, finely wrought, and genuinely unsettling.  It is a perfect embodiment of the old maxim “be careful what you wish for”, but without feeling pedantic or rehashed.   Jacobs’ talents as a humorous shine through in places, as well, helping him create characters who are sympathetic and real, even down to their inability to play a good game of chess.  And it’s that connection to these people, and this ability to relate to them, even when they make the most dire of mistakes, that makes this story such an effective–and affecting–one.

So, we hope you enjoy “The Monkey’s Paw”, and that your All Hallows’ Read, or Halloween, or Tuesday evening, is one that brings you great joy.  And maybe a few shivers.  Just click on the title below to access!

The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs

Five Book Friday!

Happy Friday, dear readers!  If you’re looking for a fun adventure this weekend, be sure to check out the Boston Book Festival, a glorious weekend of book-loving, book-buying, and book-discussing!  It’s all taking place in Copley Square, and the line-up of authors this year is really impressive, diverse, exciting, and engaging.  You can get all the details at their website: https://bostonbookfest.org/

And if that isn’t enough books for you for one weekend, then feel free to check out these books (and many others!) that gamboled onto our shelves this week!


The Power: The winner of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has at last arrived, both on our shores, and on our shelves!  This is a book that is both outlandish and challenging–but Naomi Alderman possess a phenomenal talent for making the world of her book feel normal, believable–and all the most chilling for it.  In this story, Alderman creates a world that looks remarkably like ours, with a wealth of intricate characters from around the globe, whose lives converge when a vital new force takes root and flourishes: Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.  This is a book is as much about our own world as that of the world that Alderman has created, and offers plenty of commentary on the state of gendered and age power structures.  Perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing is the correspondence that frame the main book, which highlights in painful clarity the language we use in talking about women, and how absurd it is taken out of context.  The Boston Globe‘s review echoed this sentiment, saying, “Alderman has conducted a brilliant thought experiment in the nature of power itself…Turning the world inside out, she reveals how one of the greatest hallmarks of power is the chance to create a mythology around how that power was used. In that sense, The Power is a testament to its own force – it begins and ends in the voice of the author herself – as if to say, lightning would be nice, but for now – and here – there’s the pen. It can do a lot.”

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: In 1916, at the height of World War I, brilliant Shakespeare expert Elizebeth Smith went to work for an eccentric tycoon on his estate outside Chicago. The tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government, and he soon asked Elizebeth to apply her language skills to an exciting new venture: code-breaking. There she met the man who would become her husband, groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman. Though she and Friedman are in many ways the “Adam and Eve” of the NSA, Elizebeth’s story has always been overshadowed by William’s…until now.  In this well-researched and very well-told story, Jason Fagone presents Elizebeth’s life, her genius, and the real import of her work, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence.  Fans of Hidden Figures are sure to find plenty to enjoy here!  Booklist gave Fagone’s work a starred review, too, hailing it as “Riveting, inspiring, and rich in colorful characters, Fagone’s extensively researched and utterly dazzling title is popular history at its very best and a book club natural.”

Death in the Air: the true story of a serial killer, the great London smog, and the strangling of a city: Fans of Erik Larson and David King should not waste a minute in checking out Kate Winkler Dawson’s fascinating and unsettling history of the deadliest air pollution disaster in world history…and the murderer who worked alongside it.  In winter 1952, London automobiles and thousands of coal-burning hearths belched particulate matter into the air. But the smog that descended on December 5th of 1952 was different; it was a type that held the city hostage for five long days. Mass transit ground to a halt, criminals roamed the streets, and 12,000 people died. That same month, there was another killer at large in London: John Reginald Christie, who murdered at least six women. In a braided narrative that draws on extensive interviews, never-before-published material, and archival research, Dawson captivatingly recounts the intersecting stories of the these two killers and their longstanding impact on modern history.  Authors from Douglas Preston to Simon Winchester have written blurbs for this all-around winner of a book, with the latter providing a poignant reminder of how close to these events we still are, and what a rare gift it is to be able to discuss such events in an insightful way.  He writes: “I was seven, and living in London, when these two dreadful and murderous events uncoiled, and I–asthmatic as a result–remember them still. It seems to me that only an outsider, a non-Londoner, could possibly bring them so vividly, so excruciatingly and so unflinchingly back to life. Kate Winkler Dawson has done the history of my city a great service, and she is to be commended for telling a terrible tale memorably and brilliantly.”

RighteousFans of Joe Ide’s debut mystery, IQ, should definitely check out this follow-up story featuring the compelling  Isaiah Quintabe.  Ten years ago, when Isaiah was just a boy, his brother was killed by an unknown assailant. The search for the killer sent Isaiah plunging into despair and nearly destroyed his life. Even with a flourishing career, a new dog, and near-iconic status as a PI in his hometown, East Long Beach, he has to begin the hunt again-or lose his mind.  But at the same time, I.Q. and his volatile, dubious sidekick, Dodson find themselves plunged into a case featuring Chinese gangsters, a terrifying seven-foot-tall loan shark, and a case that threatens not only I.Q. and Dodson, but the love of I.Q.’s life, as well.  This series is a hit with fans, critics, and other mystery writers alike, with its gritty scenarios, trash-talking characters, and the deep emotionality that Ide brings to the hardest of hard-boiled characters’ interactions.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this case a starred review, declaring it “Outstanding . . . Ide again makes his hero’s deductive brilliance plausible, while presenting an emotionally engaging story that doesn’t shy away from presenting the bleakest aspects of humanity.”

The Written WorldWhat is better than a book?  A book about books!  In this groundbreaking book, Martin Puchner leads us on a remarkable journey through time and around the globe to reveal the powerful role stories and literature have played in creating the world we have today. Puchner introduces us to numerous visionaries as he explores sixteen foundational texts selected from more than four thousand years of world literature and reveals how writing has inspired the rise and fall of empires and nations, the spark of philosophical and political ideas, and the birth of religious beliefs. Indeed, literature has touched the lives of generations and changed the course of history.  From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter, Puchner’s delightful narrative also chronicles the inventions—writing technologies, the printing press, the book itself—that have shaped religion, politics, commerce, people, and history, making this a book that history buffs, techno-geeks, and book lovers alike will savor.  Any time Margaret Atwood composes a Tweet to your book, it’s a good day, and this tweet says it all: “Well worth a read, to find out how come we read.”

All Hallows Read: The Haunted House, Part 3

This week, we’ve been talking about the haunted house in literature, and detailing the kinds of haunted houses that one can find in traditional horror novels/ghost stories/All-Hallows Read selections.

Via The Business Journals

But as I was working on these posts, it occurred to me how many other kinds of haunted sites have been cropping up in fiction, especially lately.  According to many scholars of genre, the horror novel is entering a new phase, that isn’t wholly defined as yet.  Some of its core themes, however, deal with 1) our growing unease with the unknown, especially amidst the information explosion brought about by the internet, 2) a kind of existentialist despair–being faced with the realities and future threats of global climate change, nuclear armageddon, and other issues over which we have comparatively little control has introduced the fear that perhaps doom is inevitable.  That perhaps we can’t vanquish all the monsters with technology and fortitude.  Whether these genre tropes will grow and mature into a new era of horror has yet to be seen.  But what we do know is that we’ve already been treated to a host of horror novels that up-end conventions, while still providing the fears, dreads, and very human journeys that make horror novels so pleasurable to read.

Via Youtube

One of the noticeable themes that these books overturn is the notion of the haunted house.  In an age where fewer people are buying houses, it makes sense that the living situations reflected in horror novels needs to change, too.  You can’t really be scared of something if you have no frame of reference.  But while some of these books looks at a haunted apartment building, others keep pushing the line, giving us haunted superstores and haunted ships.  They enrich our thinking about the spaces we inhabit and the memories they carry inside them.  They challenge us to remember, even as we are told to look forward to the future, to not be held back by the past.  They also allow us to explore the dark secrets and troubling pasts that our characters carry with them, and how our own personal darkness can affect our perception of the world and each other.  No longer are our characters hapless victims of the spirit world–they are the dry charge themselves that make the spaces ugly and scary by bringing their very real-world ugliness and scariness into it.

So what are some of these new haunted spaces?  Take a look below and see what you think!

Horrorstör: Grady Hendrix is a really interesting author, who plays with conventions while still delivering interesting and engaging stories.  He’s also written a book that is laid out like a high school year book, which is perfect for those with 1980’s nostalgia.  But this book is very much of the moment, set in a generic Ikea, known as the Orsk furniture superstore.  Strange things have been going on in this Cleveland store, but when three employees volunteer to work an overnight shift to investigate, but what they discover is more horrifying than they could have imagined.  This book is a model of good design (thanks to designer Andie Reid, illustrator Michael Rogalski, and cover photographer Christine Ferrara).  It is laid out like a glossy catalog, complete with showroom shots and maps of Orsk’s labyrinthine layout, providing a delightful contrast between the ironic and the horrific.

The Graveyard ApartmentThis Japanese horror novel, originally published in 1986,  takes us into an enormous apartment building that was constructed next to a graveyard. The young couple and their daughter who move into this household are dealing with their own inner darkness and wrestling with secrets they are fighting to keep hidden.  The longer they stay in their new place, though, the stranger and stranger things seem to get.  People around them move out one by one, until this small family is left alone in the building.  Alone, except for whatever is living in the basement. Mariko Koike is a master of the psychological novel, and this book doesn’t always show, and resists answering all the questions it asks.  Instead, it leaves it up to the reader to slide their own fears and doubts to the reading experience, and playing on our inherent fears of the dark and the unknown to create a genuinely chilling reading experience.

The Apartment: Another haunted apartment, this one set in the glamor of Paris.  This young family and their daughter (is there a trend here?) move from Cape Town after surviving a violent break-in that left them traumatized.  At first, the house-swap plan they find sounds perfect.  But upon moving to their European haven, they quickly realize that nothing is as advertised.  This is a story where the ‘haunting’ is a way to get to the heart of these characters, breaking down their defenses and facades and forcing them to confront each other’s worst (and sometimes best) qualities.  This is very much a story about people bringing out the worst, not only in each other, but in the space they inhabit, and that interaction makes it feel very modern, indeed.


Happy reading, beloved patrons.  And Happy All-Hallows Read!


All Hallows Read: The Haunted House, Part 2

Yesterday,  we started talking about haunted houses, about the kind of moods they create in us, and the different kinds of haunted houses that are to be found in literature.  Our exploration started with the irregular, or the illogical houses–the kind that seem to grow or change…the kind that seem to be reacting to their occupants throughout the course of the story.

The second kind of house is the rational one.  These houses conform to all the laws of physics, and look the same on the inside and the outside, regardless of where you are standing.  What marks these houses is the evil that lives within them.

From Dracula, by Bram Stoker

These kinds of houses are alive, just as the irregular ones are.  But, rather than playing with their occupants, they just outright hate them.  These houses are malevolent, and they tend to attract malevolent people, actions, or events to them–Stephen King called it a “dry charge for evil”.  Even if you know these houses inside and out, even if you know where all the doors and windows might be, this kind of house is still a source of terror.  Indeed, it’s precisely the fact that you do know the house so well that they are scary.

Because there are always questions–why someone did what they did in that house.  What drove them to madness.  When they will reappear….and will you be able to bear it?

From the cover of Hell House by Richard Matheson

It’s tricky to get these kind of houses right.  They often rely on terror, rather than horror, meaning that they act on characters, rather than act themselves–people living in them get nightmares, like in Hell House, or they hallucinate (or do they?!), as happens in Hill House.  Other times, characters have evil visited upon them, as happens in the Marsden House, or the house on Neibolt Street.

There aren’t many technicolor effects in these houses–no growing hallways or moving rooms.  Instead, these houses rely on the threat implicit in a slammed door…or a creaking floor board….the kind of things that under normal circumstances wouldn’t be at all scary.  But in these circumstances, in this place, with this history, it is absolutely terrifying.

Want to experience some of these houses for yourself?  Why not take a visit to some of the most ghastly houses in literature for this year’s All Hallows Read?

ItStephen King is not only a prolific author, and a favorite here at the Free For All–he’s also crafts some of the best haunted houses around.  If you saw this summer’s blockbuster hit It, you’ll know a bit about the house on Niebolt Street, but, as per usual, the book does it better.  The house at 29 Niebolt Street is Pennywise’s liar, and the entire building reeks of his malevolence, but nevertheless, the Losers, the young children brave enough to face down this evil clown, forge their way in.  27 years later, they return to Derry, Maine, to face the evil again.  Stephen King does a brilliant job discussing issues of trauma and memory, nostalgia and horror in this epic story, making it one you won’t want to put down, and will be eager to read again and again.

The Haunting of Hill HouseShirley Jackson’s haunted house is a bit of a puzzler.  We’re not told specifically what is wrong  with the house.  But we are told that it’s not sane.  But how much of what happens in the course of this story is a result of the house’s inherent insanity, and how much is due to the instability of Eleanor Vance, the main character of this novel, and one of a small group of people invited to stay inside Hill House and witness its strangeness?  We aren’t given any answers–at sometimes, the narrative itself seems to defy logic.  But it’s that instability and inscrutability that makes this story so affecting.

Hell House: If you want to meet the embodiment of Cold War, mid-century despair, look no further than Richard Matheson.  His writing is stunning, but it’s also brutal, unsettling, and challenging on a number of levels.  In this story, a group of paranormal researchers take a visit to a house that is known to have killed inhabitants before–in fact, they are taking a survivor of the house, who escaped as a child, back, to see what it will do to him as an adult.  The Belasco House seeps inside the mind of those who live there, making them confront the very worst of their own natures.  As a result, there is a lot that is off-putting about this story, but there is also a lot of insight into the human mind and the limits of each character, making it a really interesting addition to this list.

Happy reading, beloved patrons….and don’t mind that noise on the stairs…..

All Hallows Read: The Haunted House, Part 1

Literature is full of memorable dwelllings: From Dracula’s Castle to Manderley in Rebeccafrom Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre to the Little House on the Prairie.  But there are no houses quite like the haunted house.

Bran Castle, Romania (aka: Dracula’s Castle, via CNN)

This time of year, there are any number of ‘haunted houses’, populated by generally well-intentioned and costumed actors whose job it is to leap out in front of you screaming bloody blue murder.  The psychological enjoyment of these houses comes from the adrenaline high that you receive by activating your ‘fight-or-flight’ response every time a new person throws themselves in front of you in the strobe-lit dark.  At least that’s what I’m told.

According to Psychology Today, there are reasons for feeling creeped out by a house that have nothing to do with other people leaping out in front of you and yelling very loudly.  In a fascinating article about the “feel” of a haunted house, they note,

Evolutionary psychologists have proposed the existence of agent detection mechanisms — or processes that have evolved to protect us from harm at the hands of predators and enemies.

If you’re walking through the woods alone at night and hear the sound of something rustling in the bushes, you’ll respond with a heightened level of arousal and attention. You’ll behave as if there is a willful “agent” present who is about to do you harm.

via Shutterstock

Moreover, these places usually lack what environmental psychologists refer to as legibility, or the ease with which a place can be recognized, organized into a pattern and recalled.  Indeed, it can lead us into thinking that a house may be consciously trying to trap us.  To keep us there forever.  To consume us whole.

Generally speaking, there are two kids of haunted houses that you can encounter in books: the horribly rational, and the cripplingly unknowable.  Both carry their own kind of fears, as well as their own kind of appeal.  Depending on what actually makes the hair on your arms stand up, you might be drawn to one kind or the other in your reading.  Rest assured, however, that the Library is well-equipped to help you navigate both these sorts of houses in your All-Hallows Reading (and any other time of the year, as well!)

Via Rebloggy

The first, and perhaps the more well-known sort of haunted house (or, perhaps the correct term is the animate house) is the irrational one.  These houses may look ‘normal’ on the outside (depending on your architectural definition of ‘normal’), but once a hapless guest crosses the threshold, they abandon all pretenses and become absolutely irrational.  They lose all legibility.

These houses generally trap their occupants inside, foiling all their attempts to escape.  Rooms grow out of nowhere, corridors grow uncommonly long or short, and doors appear where no doors ever opened.  There is a temporal element to these houses, too…often, they sit on a rift in space-time (like Slade House), or they straddle multiple times (like the house in You Should Have Left or the hotel in Travelers Rest) .  Sometimes, they are a conscious character in the book; in The House of Leaves, the house seems to growl as it reshapes…it is both the labyrinth and the monster that guards it.  All of these houses challenge our understanding of space and of time, making anything, and everything, seem chillingly possible.

Readers eager to explore these houses should definitely check out the following:

Slade HouseDavid Mitchell’s contribution to the horror genre is a weird book…The entrance to Slade House appears (and disappears) along a brick wall in a narrow London alleyway every nine years to admit a guest chosen by the brother and sister who dwell within–a loner, someone who probably won’t be remembered…This book features five such episodes in the ghastly house’s history, and, once you understand how Slade House works, there is very little surprise about what will happen in each tale.  That being said, it’s genuinely terrifying each and every time.  I have never been bored and scared out of my wits at the same time by the same book.  So for that reason alone, Slade House is a book I won’t soon forget.

Travelers Rest: Rather than a house, the entity at the center of Keith Lee Morris’ book is a hotel, the titular Travelers Rest, located in the nearly-abandoned mining town of Good Night, Idaho.  The story starts when a family, Tonio and Julia and their son Dewey, who are taking Tonio’s alcoholic brother home, are forced off the road in a blizzard, and into the Travelers Rest.  Each member of the family experiences a different, labyrinth-like hell in this hotel, and in this town, and in time, making it a surprisingly complex book.  This is one of the most deep-thinking on this list of haunted domiciles, but, for that, it’s also one of the most interesting.

You Should Have Left: Though it’s only 111 pages, German author Daniel Kehlmann’s contribution to the haunted house genre is packed from the very first pages with subtle hints and warnings about the insanity of the mountaintop home he has rented for a family vacation.  Told in journal form, this book chronicles a single week in this odd house…to tell you more would be to give away the best aspects of this story, but I guarantee that you’ll be flipping back and forth as you read in order to confirm if your own grasp on reality is slipping…or if you did just read that….



Tune in tomorrow for our look at some other kinds of haunted houses…

All-Hallows Read: Bite-Sized Horrors

First and foremost, dear readers, since we’re speaking of all things ghoulish, be sure to mark your calendars for this year’s Nightmare on Main Street, which will be held on Wednesday, October 25, from 3-7pm.

The festivities begin at East End Veterans Memorial Park, 45 Walnut Street (located behind the Main Library).  Here’s the schedule:

3:00-4:00pm Registration for Peabody Recreation‘s annual costume contest will be from 3-4pm. Parade will begin at 4pm and prizes awarded in 3 different age categories; 0-3 years, 4-8 years, and 9+, as well as family/group category. Activities will include Halloween corn hole, donut on a string and cauldron toss.

Kids can “Touch a Truck” as several First Responder cehicles will be on display at the park as well.  You can also visit with the Tooth Fairy and get a healthy goody bag from Growing Smile Pediatric Dentistry and Braces.

4:00-7:00pm Trick orTreating at businesses along Main Street between Washington & Central St.  Be sure to stop by the Library, as we wait all year to see your creative costumes!  You can stay up-to-date on this wonderfully popular event via the Peabody Recreation Department’s Facebook Page.

And even if you’re not wearing a costume or face paint, you’re always welcome to drop buy the Library for a bit of a literary treat!  We’ve got plenty of bite-sized reads and single-serving shivers to add to your Halloween haul.  Here are just a few of the mini-frights on offer:

This Census Taker: “In a remote house on a hilltop, a lonely boy witnesses a profoundly traumatic event. He tries–and fails–to flee. Left alone with his increasingly deranged parent, he dreams of safety, of joining the other children in the town below, of escape. When at last a stranger knocks at his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation might be over. But by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? What is the purpose behind his questions? Is he friend? Enemy? Or something else altogether?” Pithy though this publisher’s description of China Mieville’s haunting and deeply unsettling novella may be, it really doesn’t do justice to the creepiness of this book, or the way that Mieville can make a tiny house into a threatening enemy.   This one won’t take you long to read, but will certainly take you a while to forget.

Skeleton Crew: This book is the second collection of short stories published by Stephen King, and features some of his most well-known tales, such as “The Mist”, in which the small town of Bridgton, Maine is suddenly enveloped in an unnatural mist that conceals otherworldly monsters.  There are also plenty of lesser known stories to savor, such as “The Reaper’s Image”, about a haunted antique mirror that shows the Grim Reaper to those who gaze into it.  Fans of King’s Dark Tower series should keep an eye out for the free-verse poem “Paranoid: A Chant”, which features references to “A dark man with no face”, the original description of Randall Flagg.

Collected Ghost Stories: For those looking for some classic creepy stories, it’s hard to go wrong with M.R. James.  Montague Rhodes James was a lifelong academic, and, as such, his stories tend to focus on haunted libraries, cursed books and documents, or the terrible secrets hidden in ancient churches.  But it’s his ability to make the absolutely normal seem odd, dangerous, and alien that continues to make him a stellar choice for those looking for a good (and quick) tale of terror.  In fact, there are many who credit him with crafting the modern ghost story as we know it today.  This collection features all of James’ published ghost stories, as well as his writings about the ghost story genre, which are fascinating reads in and of themselves.

Happy reading, beloved patrons, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next Wednesday!

Five Book Friday!

And a loud and joyful “Congratulations” to Margaret Atwood, who was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize in Prague earlier this week!

Via the Washington Post

The Franz Kafka Society has presented its prize annually 2001 to “contemporary authors whose literary works are exceptional in terms of artistic quality and can appeal to readers irrespective of their origin, nationality and culture, similar to the works by Kafka (1883-1924).”  Past winners of the Czech Republic’s only literary award include American Philip Roth, Austrian novelist, playwright and poet Elfriede Jelinek, British playwright Harold Pinter and this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature winner Haruki Murakami.

Though most people currently know Atwood as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, which was made into an award-winning mini-series this year, she is also the author of more than 40 books across forms and genres.  Her novel Alias Grace will be released on Netflix starting November 3rd.

In accepting the award, Atwood noted that Kafka, the Prague-born Jewish-German writer whose writing revolutionized the world of fiction, was her first literary love.  And since Margaret Atwood was so many of our first literary loves here at the Library, we all take enormous pride in wishing her heaps of congratulations!

And now, on to some of the books that have tumbled down like leaves onto our shelves this week….

We Were Eight Years In Power“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”  But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period—and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective—the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.  This is a book for anyone who was touched or educated or inspired by Coates’ previous work, as well as for those who have not yet encountered his powerful insights and gentle way of educating.  This book has been winning acclaim across the country, in addition to earning a starred review from Kirkus, who celebrated it “Biting cultural and political analysis from the award-winning journalist . . . He contextualizes each piece with candid personal revelations, making the volume a melding of memoir and critique. . . . Emotionally charged, deftly crafted, and urgently relevant.”

The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age: The internet is a place where we live, though it’s not a place we can physically inhabit.  It has changed our lives, without being a physical presence.  And in these three essays, writer Andrew O’Hagan explores those porous borders between cyberspace and real life…from a consideration of  Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to how a dead man’s name was used to create a whole new life on the internet, O’Hagan’s searching pieces take us to the weirder fringes of life in a digital world while also casting light on our shared predicaments. What does it mean when your very sense of self becomes, to borrow a term from the tech world, “disrupted”?   This book is also being cheered as one of the best of the year, and earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly who hailed it as “Splendid . . . O’Hagan’s grasp of storytelling is prodigious…Taken as a whole, this is an unmissable collection of up-to-the-moment insights about life in our digital era.”

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: An ambitious title if there ever was one!  In our unique genomes, every one of us carries the story of our species—births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration, …but those stories were always largely inaccessible, until recent scientific pioneering has led us to understand the smallest parts of our makeup.  In this fascinating and insightful work, Adam Rutherford explores how geneticists have suddenly become historians, and the hard evidence in our DNA has blown the lid off what we thought we knew. Acclaimed science writer Adam Rutherford explains exactly how genomics is completely rewriting the human story—from 100,000 years ago to the present.  This is a book filled with provocative questions that we’re on the cusp of answering: Are we still in the grasp of natural selection? Are we evolving for better or worse? And . . . where do we go from here?  Renowned science writer Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote a forward for this book, as well as providing a stellar blurb, which hails this book as  “Ambitious, wide-ranging, and deeply researched, Rutherford’s book sets out to describe the history of the human species—from our origins as a slight, sly, naked, apelike creature somewhere in Africa to our gradual spread across the globe and our dominion over the planet.”

Rebellion: Molly Patterson’s stellar debut crosses time and geography to tell a powerful story about four women whose rebellions, both large and small, change their worlds.  At the heart of the novel lies a mystery: In 1900, Addie, an American missionary in China, goes missing during the Boxer Rebellion, leaving her family back home to wonder at her fate. Her sister Louisa—newly married and settled in rural Illinois—anticipates tragedy, certain that Addie’s fate is intertwined with her own legacy of loss.  In 1958, Louisa’s daughter Hazel has her world upended by the untimely death of her husband.  Nearly half a century later, Juanlan has returned to her parents’ home in Heng’an. With her father ill, her sister-in-law soon to give birth, and the construction of a new highway rapidly changing the town she once knew, she feels pressured on every side by powers outside her control.  This is a work being celebrated by writers and critics alike, with Booklist calling it  “[A] remarkable debut… This is a book about the quiet unfolding of lives and the kind of rebellion that comes from following one’s heart.”

Here in Berlin: Cristina Garcia is a fascinating and insightful novelist whose work is utterly transporting.  This newest release brings us to the heart of Germany during the Second World War, delivering haunting scenes of survival, hope, and heartbreak.
An unnamed Visitor travels to Berlin with a camera looking for reckonings of her own. The city itself is a character―vibrant and postapocalyptic, flat and featureless except for its rivers, its lakes, its legions of bicyclists. Here in Berlin she encounters a people’s history: the Cuban teen taken as a POW on a German submarine only to return home to a family who doesn’t believe him; the young Jewish scholar hidden in a sarcophagus until safe passage to England is found; the female lawyer haunted by a childhood of deprivation in the bombed-out suburbs of Berlin who still defends those accused of war crimes; a young nurse with a checkered past who joins the Reich at a medical facility more intent to dispense with the wounded than to heal them; and the son of a zookeeper at the Berlin Zoo, fighting to keep the animals safe from both war and an increasingly starving populace.  This book also earned a starred review from Booklist, which said in its review “García, a transcendentally imaginative, piquantly satiric, and profoundly compassionate novelist, dramatizes the helter-skelter of lives ruptured by tyranny, war, and political upheavals with sharp awareness of unlikely multicultural alliances . . . García has created an intricate, sensitive, and provocative montage revolving around the question: ‘Do people remember only what they can endure, or distort memories until they can endure them?'”