Our Favorites: The Peabody Library’s Favorite Reads of 2015


It’s time again, Beloved Patrons, for another round of staff favorites for this year!  This week’s selection comes from The Man Upstairs Who Pays the Bills, who you can thank for keeping the lovely heat/air-conditioning running (and…you know…the lights, too):

One of his favorite authors is Don Brown, whose Navy Justice series, featuring Navy JAG lawyers, are quite the page turners.  You can also check out his Navy JAG series:

3662985DetainedAfter a father and son, both Lebanese nationals, are imprisoned for terrorism on purely false charges,  JAG Officer Matt Davis is left to defend them against powerful federal prosecutors, one of whom is his love, Emily Gardner.  This high-stakes adventure takes Davis from the shores of the US to Lebanon and to Cuba is a race against time to save two people caught up in an international conspiracy.


2216423The Runaway JuryJohn Grisham’s thriller is a classic that still has the power to grab your attention…At the center of a multimillion-dollar legal hurricane are twelve men and women who have been investigated, watched, manipulated, and harassed by high-priced lawyers and consultants who will stop at nothing to secure a verdict.  But only a handful of people know the truth: that this jury has a leader, and the verdict belongs to him.  He is known only as Juror #2. But he has a name, a past, and he has planned his every move with the help of a beautiful woman on the outside.


1186476The Firm: And fans of Grisham shouldn’t miss this other classic legal thriller: When Mitch McDeere signed on with Bendini, Lambert & Locke of Memphis, he thought that he and his beautiful wife, Abby, were on their way. The firm leased him a BMW, paid off his school loans, arranged a mortgage, and hired the McDeeres a decorator. Mitch should have remembered what his brother Ray–doing fifteen years in a Tennessee jail–already knew: You never get nothing for nothing. Now the FBI has the lowdown on Mitch’s firm and needs his help. Mitch is caught between a rock and a hard place, with no choice–if he wants to live.


2221922The Hunt for Red OctoberAnd you can’t miss Tom Clancy’s smash-hit Cold War thriller, and the book that introduced his beloved Jack Ryan….Somewhere under the Atlantic, a Soviet sub commander has just made a fateful decision: the Red October is heading west. The Americans want her. The Russians want her back. And the most incredible chase in history is on….Word on the street is that Clancy’s novel is so accurate that he was rumored to have been debriefed by the White House….

Enjoy, Beloved Patrons, and keep your eyes out for our next round of our favorite reads of 2015!

Don’t be a Metrophobe

After talking with our beloved Free for All chief writer and coordinator, it’s clear to me that, like many average readers, we Free for All bloggers are suffering from a serious case metrophobia: fear of poetry. I get the impression that many readers want to read poetry, but when I mention that I read poetry on occasion, they usually respond with something like, “Wow, you read that stuff? Good for you. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” or “Poetry is interesting, but I don’t know how to talk about it.”

poetryThe trouble is, poetry makes many people apprehensive. You hear the word “poetry,” and suddenly you’re 16 years old, and Poetry is that cute guy you want to ask out, but are just too afraid to approach. Poetry is the hipster in the corner with its own format, language and social cues, and it’s just not worth the effort of trying to fit in knowing you’ll only make a fool of yourself anyway. You see where I’m going here. Poetry makes metrophobes feel awkward, clumsy and unsure of themselves, enough so that they avoid it altogether.

Today, I’m here to tell you one thing: Get over it.

https://montclairlibrary.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/poetry-flickr11209784283_cesar-viteri-ramirez.jpgI’m not going to tell you that poetry will change your life because it probably won’t. But it will make you appreciate things in new ways. Like a painting or a photograph, a poem asks you to take a character, a moment, a feeling or an image, and look at it very closely from angles you might not expect. A poem often has an “aha” moment that will speak to you, or two juxtaposed images that will shock or surprise you. Poems pack an emotional punch, made all the more impressive by their word economy, and you will find yourself thinking about a good one for days, months or years after the first time you read it. Good poems can make you laugh, make you cry. They can comfort and soothe you. Sometimes a good poem is just there for you when you need it, to remind you of something important you didn’t realize you forgot.

So what I’m asking you to do today is to go on a date with poetry. And if you don’t get along with your first poet, try another one. Just like novels, books of poetry vary widely in style, theme and format. When you find the right poet, you’ll know, and you’ll thank me for setting you up on this blind date.

If you’ve been living life as a metrophobe, it’s time for some immersion therapy. To get you started, the following books are available in the library’s collection, and just waiting for you to check them out.

Felicity by Mary Oliver
In her latest book, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver explores themes of nature, faith, love, and being present to the wonder of life. For those looking for a book of poetry that is both approachable and gracious, this is it. In this particularly beautiful verse from “The World I Live In,” Oliver uses elegant and seemingly simple language to talk about faith:

You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:

only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.

And in the collection’s final poem, “A Voice from I Don’t Know Where,” she neatly ties together the whole of the book in a show of gratitude for the complexities and joys of life:

It must surely, then, be very happy down there
in your heart.
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”

If you’re just getting started with poetry, Mary Oliver is a wonderful place to begin. Her words will make you “very happy down there / in your heart.”

The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems
Even if you’re not a poetry reader, you’ve probably heard of New England poet Robert Frost. As part of a recent library discussion series, we discussed selections from this book which Professor Theoharis described like this: “Robert Frost’s poems are famous and loved for their wisdom and beauty.  Natural scenes, events, and people who live and work in the countryside of New England provide the topics on which the poems wax wise and lovely.  Although the tendency to read Frost sentimentally can probably not be checked, there is a darkness and comedy in his poems that often goes without comment.”

Transformations by Anne Sexton
If you enjoy fairy tale revisions, chances are you’ll love Anne Sexton’s darkly poetic takes on Grimm’s fairy tales. Dubbed by the Paris Review as a “caustic sequence of poems,” Transformations is one of the first books of poetry that ever captured my attention. As ever in Sexton’s poetry, these verses convey a discontent with 1950’s family life, and contrasting the oldness of the tales with similes from modern life, Sexton describes Snow White’s “eyes as wide as Orphan Annie” and a Cinderella who “slept on the sooty hearth each night / and walked around looking like Al Jolson.” These poems may not end with a “happily ever after,” but you’ll be glad you read them just the same.

I had some good ideas for a post today…

And then I found this recording of Neil Gaiman reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  And I realized I could never, ever, top that.  So here, for your listening pleasure, and as a salvation to your Monday (and Tuesday.  It’s grading period, sorry!), is Neil Gaiman reading A Christmas Carol, with unending gratitude to the New York Public Library for making this happen, and offering it to the Internets.

PS: Anyone else wondering if the good Mr. Gaiman borrowed his top hat from our Blog’s mascot, Theophilus?

Saturdays @ the South: In Transit


While there are many parts of the Internet that can be rabbit-holes designed to suck your free time away from you without you even noticing, there are many other parts of the Internet that I can’t imagine living without. Fun, interesting blogs like this one, and others that we’ve mentioned here where anyone can find cool, bookish topics are a continual source of joy. Pinterest straddles the line for me between time-suck and “what did I ever do without you?” But part of the wonderful randomness of the Internet involves coming across stories like this one, in which this year on World Book Day (which takes place every April) volunteers took to the public transit system of Sao Paolo, Brazil and gave out, not just free books, but free books that each came pre-loaded with 10 subway rides on an RFID card embedded on the cover. Commuters could not only bring their books along with them on their commute, but they could actually use those books to enter the subway system. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the covers were inspired by subway maps. I’m just going to let the awesomeness of this idea wash over you for a bit because it took me a while to fully grasp its genius.


Seriously, how cool are these book covers?!

We’ve talked a bit on the blog before about books allowing free transit passage in Romania, but we haven’t talked about that particular quality of books that can make a commute fly by and possibly make us miss our stop. There’s something about a public transit commute that welcomes the opportunity for reading. There’s no need to focus on driving, the train/bus often has other readers so there’s a sense of camaraderie and (maybe this is just me) the repetitive motion instills a sense of meditative calm which can easily induce a good state of mind for absorbing words on the page. To be fair, it’s been a while since I’ve commuted by public transit, so I may be romanticizing it a bit. I do, however, have several friends who regularly commute via MBTA and I polled them for some ideas. In addition to some very cool title choices which will be revealed below, one of them kindly let me in on one of her secrets, and I’m willing to bet it’s one many of us surreptitiously share:

I’m going to reveal my dark secret…reading over peoples’ shoulders (unbeknownst to them) is my favorite train, subway, and bus material.  Whether it’s the white-haired grandmother surreptitiously reading Fifty Shades of Grey on her kindle, the college student devouring the latest in George R.R. Martin’s saga or the businesswoman lost in the Wall Street Journal, I love glancing over their shoulder to catch a sentence here or a phase there. We sit, the miles falling behind us as the pages flip by, engrossed in a particularly compelling character like Maya in “I know why the caged bird sings” or a thrilling Grisham storyline, united through a long commute and a love of books. You just can’t get that experience in a car.

We’ve all done it at some point…

Since we’re having a bit of True Confessions: Books Edition here, I’ve always had a similar approach when I commuted on the train. I loved to take a look at what everyone else was reading and not necessarily read over their shoulder, but make a mental note of the cover or title to check out later. Clearly, the daily commute is not only a way to catch up on your reading or improve a country’s literacy rates, it’s a great way to gather reading suggestions as well! In that spirit, here are some books that may just make your commute go by a little faster:

3188153Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

This recommendation comes from the aforementioned, self-admitted “over-shoulder reader,” lest you think she only reads the bits and snatches she catches from other people. According to her, this light, funny, epistolary novel made for a great commuting read. It was engaging and went by quickly.

thirteen-ways-of-looking-fictionThirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann

This was recommended by our wonderful regular blogger Arabella who is also a transit commuter. This is a book consisting of 4 separate novellas that are easily digestible in a trip or two. According to her: “there is a very nice sense of accomplishment that comes from being able to read a whole story in one commuting session” and she would recommend any type of short story collection for commuting. Apparently George Saunders’ books make good choices as well because “his stories are like little baby novels in terms of depth, if not length.”

2920463One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare

Another recommendation from Arabella who also enjoys romance novellas on a commute “because they are like little bite-sized pieces of escape.” Most of Dare’s novellas are available through the library in ebook format, but we’ve got this full-length novel in paperback available here at the South. And really, when you’re crowded like a sardine or waiting in the cold/snow/rain/etc., who couldn’t use a bite-sized piece of escape?

2974211As Always, Julia
edited by Joan Reardon

I know I just mentioned this book just a couple of weeks ago, but it’s great commuting book. None of the letters in this book are more than a few pages long, which makes it ideal for reading in bits and snatches if you’re trying to fit some reading in before the next stop. The overall arc of the book, however, is engrossing so you can read longer to get a great sense of the evolution of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the friendship between Child and deVoto.

2404022Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Lest we forget those who commute by car, audiobooks are great for a car commute. As a matter of fact, many of our wonderful South Peabody patrons are fellow commuters who, like me, prefer to spend their driving time productively. Audiobooks allow you to safely “read” while you’re driving which I think is the best possible kind of multitasking. This book is brief but beautiful with the added bonus that it’s narrated by the author in all of his wonderful Britishness and delightful characterizations. Gaiman is not a man who is afraid to “do the voices” of his characters which makes any audiobook he narrates an engaging read, but this one is particularly well-suited for shorter commutes as the narrative is easily picked up again from short snatches. Plus, Gaiman’s prose is so immersive, it’s nothing to dive right back in where you left off.

Many thanks again to my wonderful friends who always manage to indulge me when I put out a call for suggestions. Till next week, dear readers, I hope your commutes are uneventful in the best of ways, but your reading during that time is exciting !

Five Book Friday!

“There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that’s a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don’t fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything’s quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep—then they appear.”
― Tove Jansson, Moominland Midwinter

By Tove Jansson. Clearly, I must be part Moomin.

Happy Friday, beloved patrons!  It is the end of the school semester for some, and a ridiculously lovely winter weekend for many, so we shall err on the side of brevity today.  Some of us, who see cold and snow as nature’s invitation to stay home and read in our pajamas are deeply offended by this weather, but we shall, no doubt, have our snow days soon enough.  In any event, I wish you a safe and pleasant weekend, and good reading, whether you’re cozy inside, or in defiant short sleeves outside!  Here are some of the new books that have made their way to our shelves for your browsing pleasure:


3658386Conquerors : How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire
Roger Crowley has made his career telling big, sweeping histories of seafaring empires, and post-Crusades encounters of East-meeting-West.  This newest release focuses on the small country of Portugal that, for a time, ruled the largest empire on earth.  Using eyewitness accounts and personal papers, Crowley describes some of the gutsy, clever navigators who brought Portuguese ships farther than any other, and brought back spices and tales of far-flung adventures.  This is no triumphant tale–at least not entirely.  Crowley also deals with the brutality of these adventurers towards the natives they encountered, and the destruction they wrought on the hunt for mythical treasures.

3695487Perchance to Dream : Selected Stories
Charles Beaumont may have made his name writing scripts for The Twilight Zone, but his imagination was simply too big, and his storytelling instinct too strong to stay bound by one form of writing.  These stories are a giant mish-mash of genres, from straight science fiction to horror, to noir-ish tales of suspense and weird pulp magazine thrillers.  Robots and aliens creep across the page beside lions and even the Devil himself, offering what may be the most comprehensive “escape read” to hit the shelves this season (and the cover is like a fever-dream in and of itself!).  NPR raved about this collection, saying “Twist endings get a bad rap in our oh-so-sophisticated millennium, but in Perchance to Dream, they’re in the hands of a master…Throughout the book, Beaumont challenges perception, norms, and our smug reliance on appearances, using supernatural and science-fictional elements to drive home his points — sometimes gently, sometimes jarringly…[Beaumont’s] imagination, as Perchance to Dream amply shows, was more than most writer’s enjoy in the longest of lifetimes.”

3637437City on Fire
Garth Risk Hallberg’s debut is making waves amongst reviewers, publishers, and readers alike.  Set in 1976, this story swirls around a shooting that took place in Central Park, and the tangential connection that a group of people may or may not have to the crime.  Though the mystery itself is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, the events that occur during the blackout of July 13, 1977, sets this story apart, bringing it into the realm of the unforgettable.  The list of rapturous reviews for this book is considerable, but I’ll leave it to the New York Times to have the last word here: “[In] Hallberg’s XXL tool kit as a storyteller: a love of language and the handsprings he can make it perform; a bone-deep knowledge of his characters’ inner lives that’s as unerring as that of the young Salinger; an instinctive gift for spinning suspense. He also possesses a journalistic eye for those telling details that can trigger memories of the reader’s own like small Proustian grenades . . . A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power—a novel that attests to its young author’s boundless and unflagging talents.”

3621540Brown-Eyed Girl
Lisa Kleypas finished off her Travis series with the story of wedding planner Avery Crosslin and the wealthy Joe Travis, whom she mistakenly assumes to be the photographer for her latest project.  Joe is happy to play along, so long as it means spending some more time with Avery, but she is not about to let her guard down, especially when she realizes who he is–and what loving him could mean for her.  Kleypas’ historical romances are the stuff of legends, but her contemporary romances are also highly recommended, with Booklist giving this installment a starred review, and saying, “When it comes to delivering a pair of perfectly matched protagonists whose heart-melting romance is fueled by an abundance of smoldering sexual chemistry, Kleypas is a class by herself, and the conclusion to her Travis Brothers quartet deserves an A+.”

3703937The River Cottage Booze Handbook
: John Wright makes the often-intimidating process of home-brewing seem easy in this easy, well-written instructional book.  These tips on home-brewing your own ciders, beers, wines, liqueurs and spirits may help you with your winter projects, and the hangover-cure recipes included in each chapter may very well prove useful afterwards….

Our Favorites: The Peabody Library’s Favorite Reads of 2015


It’s time again, Beloved Patrons, for another round of staff favorites for this year!  This week’s selection comes from one of our children’s room staff, and my favorite Saturday afternoon circulation desk friend:

1546310Snow in August: Pete Hamill’s tale is a moving story of friendship, crossing cultures, and loving baseball, between  a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic altar boy in 1940s Brooklyn. The rabbi, a Czech who fled the Nazis on the eve of World War II, teaches the boy Judaism while the boy, who is Irish, teaches the rabbi English and baseball. When anti-Semitic hoods attack the rabbi, the boy goes to his defense.  The New York Times Book Review called this one “Magic….This page-turner of a fable has universal appeal.”

2263056The Kite Runner: Khaled Hosseini’s modern-day masterpiece is an epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present. The story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, it is set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption, and it is also about the power of fathers over sons-their love, their sacrifices, their lies

2408543A Thousand Splendid SunsAnother winner from the great Khaled Hosseini, this one about two women, Mariam and Laila, who are born a generation apart but are brought together by war and fate. They witness the destruction of their home and family in war-torn Kabul, losses incurred over the course of thirty years that test the limits of their strength and courage. Together they endure the dangers surrounding them and discover the power of both love and sacrifice, as they become allies in their marriage to the violently mysogynistic Rasheed.

3110716The Glass Castle: Jeannette Walls book has been featured here before–and with good reason.  Her writing is wonderfully powerful, and this memoir, though heartbreaking, also the life-affirming about surviving a willfully impoverished, eccentric and severely misguided family. The child of an alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother, Walls described her family’s nomadic upbringing, during which she and her siblings fended for themselves while their parents outmaneuvered bill collectors and the authorities in a story that is hard to forget.

3541473 (1)Heaven is for Real: When four year old Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival. What they weren’t expecting, though, was the story that emerged in the following months, a story as beautiful as it was extraordinary, detailing their little boy’s trip to heaven and back. This true story, retold by his father but using Colton’s uniquely simple words, in a tale that was also made into a feature film.

In praise of the letter….


I love a fair amount of the things that make up the holiday season…I love candy canes.  I love strings of lights wrapped around tree branches (though, frankly, the blinking ones make me a little uncomfortable, but if that’s your thing, go for it!).  I love how many different holiday are happening all at once, and hearing about everyone’s wonderful, bizarre, utterly unique traditions (my dad reads us A Child’s Christmas In Wales every Christmas Eve.  I love when you find a flicker of common sympathy with a total stranger while you’re waiting for your latte, or when someone holds the door for you, and suddenly the world isn’t such a horrible place anymore.  I have been known to start dancing to the holiday music while waiting in line–and I love the people who dance with me.

But most of all, of all the things, I LOVE HOLIDAY CARDS.

Like, the ones in the mail.  The ones with stamps.  That people use a pen or a pencil to write out.  Ones with glitter and snowmen on the front, or the weird, bookish ones, or the ones with pictures of people’s families standing in front of a picturesque sunset mountainscape.  I don’t care.  I love cards.  I tape them up around the kitchen doorway and they are the last part of the holidays that I take down again.

mary-oliver-snow-cardThis is not a plug to get holiday cards, don’t worry.  But it is a passionate plea for the letter, for the written expression of human feeling.  For the tangible expression of human interaction that can be read years and years later…and thereby, make us immortal.

And then, today, the internet bestowed upon me a recording of the near-perfet Tom Hiddleston reading a letter from naturalist and zoologist Gerald Durrell, author of My Family and Other Animals, to fellow naturalist and zoologist Lee McGeorge, before their wedding in 1979.  Brought to you courtesy of the people who brought you Letters of Note:



*Passes round the tissues*

And now since nothing I will write here can top that, I thought I’d offer you a few recommendations of works that feature letters.  Maybe they’ll inspire you to send some of your own?  Or maybe to cherish those than find their way into your mailbox…even if Tom Hiddleston isn’t there to read them to you…..

3560371Letters of Note: We’ve quoted from this site a few times in the past, and with good reason.  The letters featured show the beautifully human side of some of the great names in history, from responses to fans and letters to editors to notes to their children and missives to librarians.  This book is the first collection of letters to be published in tangible form, and makes for some sensational reading.  I think my favorite is “Things to worry about”, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter Scottie, but I hope you’ll soon find your own!

3486864Eugene Onegin: True story–the first time I read this book, I missed my stop on the bus and was only alerted to said fact when the bus driver got up and asked me to leave so he could go eat dinner.  Pushkin’s masterpiece is a stunningly beautiful, surprisingly funny, insightful and remarkably accessible story about human beings and love, and the mistakes that we make on the spur of the moment.  The foundation of the work are two love letters, one from the young and naive Tatiana to Onegin, and one from him to her, but the circumstances surrounding the writing of both couldn’t be more different.  For more information, you’ll have to read this yourself.

downloadThe Documents in the Case: Though Dorothy L. Sayers is best known for her mysteries featuring the marvelous Lord Peter Wimsey, she also wrote this cunning little epistolary novel with Robert Eustace (the pen name of Dr Eustace Barton, who wrote medical-mysteries).  This mystery is a fascinating blend of art and science, about tiny little slips of the pen, and grand theories of life all contained in the letters between Mrs. Harrison, the young, lovely, and somewhat silly young women, and Lathom, the artist with whom she carries on an affair…but as many of the letters contradict each other, it’s up to the read to decide which of these characters to trust…

1368226The Color Purple: Alice Walker’s award winning novel of two Black sisters is not an easy read, mostly because Walker doesn’t shy away for a moment from the realities of being Black, being a woman, and being poor in the South.  But her insight and empathy are so overwhelming that it makes this book a thing of beauty.  This tale of two sisters is told almost exclusively through letters between two sisters, one of whom is a missionary in Africa, and one of whom is the young bride of a man who cannot love her.  This book is a constant reminder of the power of words, and the strength of those words to define our lives.

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